Instant Adventures, Part III — GM Intrusions

Let’s return to the subject of Instant Adventures. In part I we took them apart and saw how to build our own. In part II we had an example using Numenera, complete with toadling queens.

Today let’s talk about GM Intrusions. You need to have GM Intrusions for your players to get xp and to keep the game interesting. We want to be sure to use GM Intrusions in our own Instant Adventures.


Many GMs new to the cypher system say they forget to do GM Intrusions. Hint: pass out physical objects for xp when you do a GM Intrusion. Use cards, poker chips, dragon tears, whatever.  The deck/pile of xp objects in front of you will remind you to keep on doing it.

Monte Cook Games sells xp decks; I like them, but anything will do.

Almost all creatures for Cypher System games come with a built in GM Intrusions. (All of the creatures from Dread Unicorn Games’ Cypher System books do.) I like to start combat with a GM Intrusion. It shows off a cool ability and I can do it again if the players roll 1s.

Floater; Numenera; Dread Unicorn Games

Now if you just made up a bunch of creatures, like my toadlings in the example Instant Adventure, you can make up GM Intrusions for them. Let’s go!

  • Margrs and Nibovian Wives are from the Core book, and already have GM Intrusions in their callouts. See pages 244 and 249. The Nibovian Wife’s GM Intrusion is an escape, which is great for avoiding combat, particularly if time is running short.
  • Toadling GM Intrusion: a swarm frenzies, attacking at 2 levels higher (6) and doing 12 points of damage.
  • Toadling Queen GM Intrusion: She spits a glob of acidic poison at a character’s face. Level 6 attack for 4 points of ambient damage, plus the character has to make a Level 6 Might defense check or take another 4 points of poison damage.
  • Toadling King GM Intrusion: He hops into the air and lands on a character. This is a level 7 attack which does 5 points of ambient damage and dazes them for one round.

Note: these attack GM Intrusions are extra attacks, so the creature can follow up with it’s normal attack.

MasksNow, let’s make up some social GM Intrusions:

  • Uncle Liskal GM Intrusion: a character in Liskal’s chamber must make a level 6 Intellect defense roll or for the next 28 hours refer to the AI as “Uncle Liskal” and feel compelled to impress the machine. “When Uncle Liskal hears how I dealt with this problem, he’ll really be impressed.” (Probably not.)
  • The Song of Love GM Intrusion: if none of the male characters are falling for Klaru’s charms, use a GM Intrusion to change one of their minds. “Despite you better judgement, there is something about her that makes you throw your caution (and clothing) to the wind.”
  • Faux pas with the Queen GM Intrusion: the slimy floor is too much for a character, causing them to slip and fall, right onto one of the queen’s offspring. The little toadling croaks in pain!
  • Jealous King GM Intrusion: If the characters fixed the moon pool to gain the queen’s help, she plants a slimy kiss on a character before they go to see the king. He sniffs the character “You’ve been fooling around with one of my queens! I can smell her on you!”

You get the idea. Things to make the game a little more interesting, to keep the story exciting, and to give everyone at the table a good laugh. And xp.

John WS Marvin Interview Part II

Game Master's Journey Interview with John WS MarvinLex Starwalker, of Game Master Journey podcast fame, released the second half of his interview with me. We talk about Instant Adventures (here’s my Part I and Part II) and other support for improv adventures, Gods and Icons for 13th Age, intrigue in 13th Age, The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady, and more. Give it a listen.

You can hear part one of the interview here, where we talk about montages, fronts, and The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady.

Talk to the Fish: Instant Adventure — Part II

Last time in Planning to Improv: Make Your Own Instant Adventure, Part I, we looked at what goes into an Instant Adventure. In Part III, we look at GM Intrusions for your Instant Adventures.

Here’s the example using Numenera. Talk to the Fish


Ignore the references to mooks in Numenera unless you have Dread Unicorn Game’s The Sun Below: City on the Edge, or The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady. If you don’t know how to run an rpg montage, see the Sun Below adventures, or the Blogger’s Roundtable of Doom: The Montage.


Liskal is a stunted machine intelligence that would like to repair itself. Its mind is truncated by being forced to exist in our dimension. In the past its mind was transdimensional, but that was a long time ago. Liskal needs a sphere from Le Temple De Toadue to start to reclaim its own mind. It can’t go itself, but it can teleport people. Which is where the players come in.


  • Liskal wants the sphere of night.
  • The sphere is at Le Temple De Toadue.
  • The Toad King regards this sphere as a prized possession. The Toad King can’t remember his own name.
  • Klaru, a Nibovian Wife is in the temple. The Toad King fell for her tricks once, not again. Yet he lets her stay.
  • There are 3 Toad Queens. Queens Deepi, Onea, and Sloomah.
  • Sloomah wants the moon pool fixed. If the PCs do that, she can help convince The Toad King to give up the sphere of night.

Starting Point

The PCs have heard of the giant stone fish, high in the mountains. As they approach, they see blinking lights inside the mouth. Inside is a busted up synth column with 2 shins per PC strewn about.

Wrap Up

The PCs acquire the sphere of night, either through force of arms or by enlisting Queen Sloomah’s help. They bring it back to Liskal, who awards them each 15 shins and a cypher.

Future adventures: If you like, Liskal is not done, and you can use the machine mind to teleport the PCs all over the ninth world and beyond as it slowly builds itself up, piece by hard to get piece.


  1. Toadling servant of Queen Sloomah. Will try to take PCs to the Queen.
  2. Moon Pool Power device. It’s a head-sized green gelatinous egg that glows.
  3. Dead explorer with a detonation (desiccating) cypher. Journal’s last entry: “I got away from the Toad King, now I just have to survive his damned poison.” If found in the fish, it will mention teleporting on “a fool’s errand for a machine.”

Making Instant Adventure Notes:

Each node should have a way for the PCs to interact with it. A person is either at a place or will find the PCs. A location should have something to do there.

What Not To Do

I ran an Instant Adventure using 13th Age rules, and had three “people” (a nasty cultist and two devils) that could find the PCs. And an item that could summon a really nasty devil as a key. I put all four in the secret temple location, and it was a mess. Not every person who wants to find the PCs has to show up at the same time. Doh!

Planning to Improv: Make Your Own Instant Adventure, Part I

Monte Cook Games has been talking a lot recently about their Instant Adventures. You can even purchase Weird Discoveries: Ten Instant Adventures for Numenera.

Weird-Discoveries-Cover-2015-02-23-464x600The idea of an instant adventure is you have just enough prepared to let you improv your way to a good game session. Instead of an item, clue, or other plot point attached to place (under the rug is a hidden map), plot points are fluid and can be placed in whatever scene fits your session’s pacing. GUMSHOE GMs will note the similarities with floating core clues.

So, what can we steal to make our own instant adventure? In this post I’ll look at the building blocks of an instant adventure. In the next, I’ll make my own.

Instant adventures can work not just in Numenera, but in any system.

First you have a list of bullet points about what is really going on. The characters won’t have a clue about this information at the start of the session. For example, an ancient machine has awoken and is capturing people and “improving” them in tragic ways.

Then a hook (starting point):  The guide the PCs are counting on has vanished, as have a number of people.

And and ending (wrap-up): The PCs stop the machine and maybe have rescued a few of the people, including the guide.

Next you come up with two to four floating plot points, or keys. A key can be a clue, knowledge, evidence (say in a murder mystery), an item, or something that “summons” a creature. A person who knows where the vanished people went. A device that will fix a sparking sphere. An item that makes the machine think the PCs don’t need improvement.

Next, seven to twelve nodes. These are people or places. You can sketch a graph or map that shows all the nodes and which keys might be at any node. Any key could show up at a number of nodes. In play, the GM picks one based on the session, pacing, and what has hooked the player’s interest. The players really really like this stupid rock in front of the glowing house? Then it’s not a stupid rock, it’s a key!

People can have information or items. They can sometimes be opponents. Places can have items, clues, weird numenera, and/or creatures.

Note which key(s) might be with this node. Nodes can point to other nodes. Some nodes can be bottlenecks, the PCs must get past this node to continue the session.

Example node: A deep well with a sparking sphere at the bottom. Next to the sphere is a door that leads to the rest of the session, but won’t open until the PCs repair the sphere. If the item that makes the machine think they don’t need improvement is here, the PCs must remove it from the sphere and take it with them. Past the door is the dancing reptile woman.

You can tie your instant adventure into your campaign as extra credit if you with.

Then run and enjoy. Let the keys show up when it feels right for the pacing and whatever lunacy your players are up to.

Next time I’ll build a tiny instant adventure.