Races in Numenera & the Cypher System

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?

Numenera Dread Unicorn Games

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.

Two Descriptors

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.

Racial Flavors

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.

Slithik from The Sun Below adventures for Numenera; Dread Unicorn Games

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.

The Dread Unicorn Speaks

The Gods Have Spoken ships, The Gods and Icons Player’s Companion goes on sale, and a look at games to come.

The Gods Have Spoken

We’ve shipped The Gods Have Spoken, a supplement for 5th Edition D&D full of new gods, new domains, new character customizations, new creatures, new magic items, a holy weapon creation system, and a brand new set of rules for using factions in your games that let your players decide what factions come into play.

Dread Unicorn Games - The Gods Have Spoken

 

What’s Next?

5E

Factions and Conditions Cards
Cards to track how factions feel about the PCs, plus cards that track conditions such as Blinded on PCs and NPCs. Less looking up rules, more fighting dragons! (in design)

Factions and Icons Mock UP Cover 500w

The Gray World
An introductory 5E adventure that showcases The Gods Have Spoken. Comes with pregens, and serves as an example of how to use the new faction system. (in editorial and playtest)

13th Age

Brightvarna Red

Flash fiction and epic poetry from the world of Gods and Icons. The last deliverable from the Gods and Icons Kickstarter. (in editorial)

The Gods and Icons Upgrade Pack

This supplement will include new artwork of the three pantheons, a list of saints to use in your games, and new 13th Age creatures that have ties to the gods and the icons from Gods and Icons. (in development)

Dread Unicorn Games Gods and Icons Upgrade Pack 13th Age

Numenera

Dread Unicorn Games The Sun Below That's How the Light Gets InThe Sun Below: That’s How the Light Gets In

A transdimensional adventure focusing who, or what, is draining the power of The Sun Below. When PCs come up against adversaries that can’t be hurt, and won’t listen to reason, the PCs just might have to run a con game with transdimensional stakes! (in design)

On Sale Now!

The Gods and Icons Player’s Companion. On sale at DriveThruRPG

GaIPC Cover 500w

Using the Numenera Ruin Mapping Engine with the Sun Below

In Jade Colossus: Ruins of the Prior Worlds, Monte Cook Games has come up with a ruin mapping system that allows you to flesh out parts of the Ninth World that you don’t have details for.

Most of the book is about the Jade Colossus, but like many Numenera ruins, it’s enormous and there is no point in detailing hundreds of rooms and corridors that players will never see. The ruin mapping engine lets you roll a few dice and create weird Numenera environs on the fly.

Let’s roll some dice!

d20 Dread Unicorn Games

Example One: A 5m x 10m rectangular chamber with a machine that grinds small objects into drit. It has one exit sealed with a force field, and two additional exits.

Example Two: A sealed vault (seals are level 7 with level 7 defenses that do 7 points of energy damage). The interior is made of self-repairing level 8 synth. The vault is 15m x 30m and contains a vortex of energy that swirls above a raised circular platform surrounded by complex (level 8) machinery. The vortex is painfully bright and hot, and induces a sense of awe in observers. The vortex is a wormhole that leads directly to the sun.

The Sun Below

Using the ruin mapping engine to flesh out when players go “off the path” in any Sun Below adventure is perfect. You can roll dice, or use the tables for inspiration.

Then use the background of the adventures as window dressing for your on-the-fly creations. In example two above, that vortex obviously leads not to some lame sun at the center of the solar system but directly to the Sun Below!

The Sun Below: City on the Edge

The Sun Below; City on the Edge; Dread Unicorn Games; Numenera

Like the Jade Colossus, Urbamorr, the city on the edge, is enormous. Unlike the Jade Colossus, it’s mostly inhabited. Use the ruin mapping engine, and 50% of the time decorate the places with praithian statues, burial chambers, and enormous artwork. Above ground sections will have dh’lann features (like dream-vapor bowls), while below ground areas will feature slithik items (like floating tubes of blood).

Since the city is inhabited, 50% of the time use a creature as the main feature, the rest of the time roll as normal. If you do have a creature, 50% of the time use dh’lanns, floaters, praithians, praithian war snakes, pyronic sentries, or slithiks.

Praithian Ruins from The Sun Below: City on the Edge adventure for Numenera

The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady

Commisions Numenera Orb Mountain

Liluna is also massive, and, like the Jade Colossus, mostly uninhabited. 50% of the time you should decorate the areas you roll up with displays that show lido automatons, Liluna in flight, gibbering murken, Lebby with her red bouncy ball, or an aspect of Storm. Depending on what’s going on in the stricken moon, you could show the forces of Liluna or of Golthnor doing well or doing poorly.

If you roll up a creature, 50% of the time use a child of Golthnor, cultists of Golthnor, data demons, gibbering murken, lido automatons, Lebby, skratts, Storm, or synites. Look at the Orb Encounters section of the adventure for ideas.

raparator final

Piggybacking Part II

Before we steal Piggybacking from GUMSHOE, check out how it works there in Piggybacking Part I.

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The Noisy Cleric Problem

The problem piggybacking solves can be found in all sorts of roleplaying games with all sorts of skills, but the example that comes to mind is sneaking into a castle in a fantasy game like Dungeons and Dragons. In fantasy books and movies, the heroes sneaking into places is a staple of the genre. In D&D games, sneaking is left to the rogue and the ranger for scouting. Once the GM tells the entire table to roll dice to see if they sneak into the castle, somebody always misses, and the exciting infiltration turns into a frontal assault.

GUMSHOE Roots

In games like TimeWatch, Nights Black Agents, or Trail of Cthulhu, the whole spend resources to piggyback fits perfectly, since they are all GUMSHOE games. Most of my players have points to spend in Infiltration, but some have zeros. Every general skill is like that. You aren’t giving the party something for free, they are spending resources they might need later to succeed now.

Let’s look at other systems. I haven’t tested these, but I will.

Cypher System Piggybacking

In games like Numenera, Predation, and The Strange, GUMSHOE style piggybacking is easy, since you’re already spending the resources of Might, Speed, and Intellect to do anything.

The expert spends from their pool as normal, but the difficulty is harder because they are pulling the rest of the party with them. For a sneak into the castle test, the expert has their difficulty raised (+2 sounds good, +1 for less than 3 followers) and uses Speed. While the expert can use their Edge to lower their costs, the followers can not. They each spend one point, no discount.

If the expert succeeds, everyone sneaks in. Move on with the adventure.

Nothing to Spend Piggybacking

In games as varied as Call of Cthulhu, 13th Age, and Dungeons and Dragons, you don’t have resources to spend to sneak into castles or climb up icy cliffs. You’ve got hit points, and while spending those might make sense in a few cases, usually not. Same with Sanity, Recoveries, or Spell Slots. These games are not about spending resources on skill tests, so it seems wrong to try and force them do that just for piggybacking.

In these games I’d boost the difficulty for the expert (+5 for d20, +25% for Call of Cthulhu), but then I’d require the rest of the party to roll just to assist. And if someone fumbles, well then, we’re right back where we started from. That’s the cost right there, the more players rolling, the greater the chance of a fumble. 🙂

 

When a Big Scene Becomes Small, Part I

Sometimes when you are GMing, scenes end quicker than you expect. The PCs enter the scene, and immediately trigger the exit. In most cases this isn’t a problem. You find out what scene they want to do next and make it happen. Ripping through an adventure at warp speed can be fun.

Drama Masks 2Sometimes it is a problem.

Sometimes a big action scene turns into a yawn.

Maybe the PCs got lucky. Or the players were just that good. Which is wonderful most of the time, but this was the boss you been foreshadowing for four sessions. And the players don’t look pumped, they look sad because they were expecting an exciting challenge, and found a marshmallow.

Extending Combat

A major fight that ends in one round feels anti-climatic. Some players won’t mind, but many will.

There’s a few tricks to keep an important fight going. The trick is to not negate the players’ victory, just keep the fun going a while longer.

Reinforcements You already have the stats for your opponents, and as they are mowed down, have more of the same show up. To preserve the player’s victory, use less of them, and/or have them show up at some disadvantage.

  • The PCs hear the reinforcements coming, allowing them time (1 round!) to prepare.
  • The reinforcements have to climb up a ladder to get to the PCs.
  • The reinforcements are second stringers, and have less hit points.
  • The reinforcements are quick to flee if the PCs are obviously winning. This lets you keep the fight going, but not turn it into a slog.

Throne Room from The Sun Below: City on the Edge adventure for Numenera

Fake Boss! The boss you planned for just went down, and then you have the *real* boss you just made up step in to continue the fight. To give the PCs their victory, the first boss drops an important item, something that has “made to fight the next-boss” written all over it. The anti-undead sword-cane of doom, the reveal-invisible dust of St. Silverius, the armor shattering bolt of victory…

Or the victory can be tactical. They have the “real-boss” at a disadvantage, and you give them a bonus to show them that. For example, you could give them advantage in 5E, increment the escalation die in 13th Age, or lower the difficulty for the PCs by 1 in Numenera.

Great, but what is this new boss? Who can make up a boss on the fly? Not me; even in a rules light game like Numenera, a boss should offer unique challenges.

Your choices are to find one quickly or make one quickly.

Find one from an adventure, bestiary, or other game supplement. That could work, but might take a while. What’s the next boss you planned on using? Bring them on now? Or a weaker version of the next boss, just add a few weaknesses? This could be good foreshadowing. It helps if the two bosses are thematically related to each other. Cultists to the same dark god, dragons working for the same queen, and so on.

toys1Jack in the Box This is easy and can be a lot of fun for the players. They bring down the demon, and they look at each other. “That was easy.” Too easy.

Make one or more creatures get back up after they fall dead. If they are not undead, have them rise as undead. Drop their offensive and defensive powers a notch, give them typical undead features, and resume the battle.

If they are undead, you could make it obvious that a “dark ray came from the unholy altar and when it touched the creature, it jumped up, ready to continue the battle.” Now the PCs know they will have to stop the altar from doing that or this could go on and on. Since you just made this up, let whatever crazy idea they come up with work.

cc00_ne_fantasy_mutateddragonwithinsectparts_7-25x5-5_q_cnbI built a Jack in the Box into my 13th Age adventure The Tower in the Mist: Too Easy? Consider Fulvos coming back as a zombie mutant dragon the round after he goes down, with half hit points and -1 on all attacks, defenses, and damage.

13th Age is a high hit points game, so I cut the zombie Fulvos’ hit points in half. He’s up and undead, just long enough to scare the players and make the encounter fun. And who doesn’t like a zombie mutant dragon?

Extending a Chase

Say a big exciting chase is over because your PCs caught the vampire with the horse/Mercedes/hover-bike in the first block, and you wanted it to drag the party to a major plot point that has to be outside town?

mercedes-benz-c63-mercedes-benz-c-class-mercedes-benzYou can make the chase continue, but you need to do so in a way you don’t negate their victory.

If it’s not the vampire itself that’s the goal, you could have the creature throw the magic item/deed/holo-chip to a confederate who carries it away. The party still has a high value prisoner, who may have other valuables, and they can follow the confederate.

If the vampire is the goal, you could have it escape at great cost. The PCs might be annoyed they haven’t caught it yet, but they’ve wounded it terribly, and made it drop something valuable. It’s keeping its distance, but the PCs know they are winning.


Part II: When Social Scenes End Too Quickly