I love Numenera, but using a descriptor for your race bothers me. It keeps non-humans from having “regular” descriptors like charming, rugged, or lonely. And if they really want to lean into their race, they lose their choice of focus, like murders or masters insects. What can you do?
Don’t use the Racial Descriptor
This is the “Doctor it hurts when I do this,” “Then stop,” solution and the one found in the Cypher System rulebook. You’re PC is a varjellen because you say they are, and you get to use any descriptor you want. You don’t get the varjellen abilities in the core book, you just use your descriptor powers.
I like this for Numenera if you make it optional, and you let your players use racial foci without the descriptor. Some players like to lean into their race.
For the Cypher System, it’s fine if it works for you, but if a player wants to really embody a race, I’ll have to look elsewhere.
I’ve heard Monte Cook and others say, “just use two descriptors for each player.” The idea is everyone gets two, and now you can be that lonely mutant you’ve always pined for. After all, real people have more than one adjective.
I like this simple change. I don’t think this makes PC’s too powerful. The descriptor does not scale with tier, so the worst effect would be a little more resilient 1st-tier PCs, not a bad thing at all.
You use flavors, from the Cypher System rulebook, to represent a race. This lets a player really lean into their golthiar character. A flavor lets the player choose to add a flavor ability, instead of a standard type ability. Just like type abilities, flavor abilities become available by tier. A player could choose to be a little more golthiarish, and a little bit less glaivish. Those are words.
The character can have access to regular descriptors and foci, yet still be cool because of their race. This allows the player to choose how much they lean into their race. One player might have one race flavor ability, the other three.
The downside is this is work. Unlike the other two solutions we talked about here, you need to come up with a few new abilities for each tier. You can always use type abilities from a variety of types.
I’ve seen a great example of using flavors for races for Cypher System fantasy in Megan Tolentino’s Fantasy Ancestries.
I put in a racial descriptor and foci in The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady. Maybe I’ll put in a racial flavor in The Sun Below: That’s How the Light Gets In. No promises, but I’m kind of excited to do one.