GM Intrusions E36 - Digging Deep into the Cypher System & the Ninth World

I’ve got an announcement to make in the Opening Segment as well as my first listener voice mail! I’ll also talk about group size, making the most of bad luck, the sun of the Ninth World and Language and Literacy.

In Under the Lens I’ll have some rules clarifications for you, including touch attacks and ability costs, calculating edge cost, using abilities tied to a depleted stat pool, swarm rules, and I hope, once and for all, to put to rest the confusion of might vs. speed defense. Finally, I’ll show you how to break down rules text for yourself and answer many of your own questions.

Tom Dullemond and I time travel from the past to talk a bit about The Nightmare Switch, and in Antagonists and Protagonists I’ll talk about the Hontri.

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

This episode of GM Intrusions has been archived and is available to Patrons of Starwalker Studios. You can listen to the episode on Patreon. You can also learn more about becoming a patron

Opening Segment

The Obsidian Monolith podcast is happening!

Group Size

Bad luck

  • Rolling a 1 or a GM Intrusion can often lead to the most memorable RPG moments.
  • Don’t fear or hate bad luck, embrace it! 
  • A story where nothing bad happens to the main character is not a story anyone would want to read or watch

The Sun of the Ninth World

There seems to be some confusion out there about what the sun should be like in a billion years compared to how it is in the Ninth World. This is the passage that's causing the confusion:

"The people of the Ninth World don’t realize it, but at its current age, the sun’s luminosity should have increased to a point where life on Earth (as we know it) is impossible. And yet it continues. Something happened millions of years in the past to prevent life from disappearing. Most planets in the solar system remain, although their orbits have altered somewhat, but the planet we call Mercury is long gone. (Ninth Worlders don’t know it ever existed, so they don’t wonder why it’s absent)"  [Numenera Corebook, page 130].

A lot of people seem to think this is referring to the sun's future evolution into a red giant and expansion to consume Mercury. However, this is not the case. 

The sun will evolve into a red giant when it has consumed all its hydrogen and begins fusing helium. This will not happen for 5 billion years, far far beyond the time of the Ninth World. At this point the sun's outer layers will begin expanding, consuming Mercury, Venus and even Earth. Earth will be consumed in approximately 7.6 billion years.

Here is a nice diagram of the life cycle of our sun.

What the corebook is referring to is that in a billion years the sun should have grown hot and bright enough that it would have burned the atmosphere off of Earth, making it uninhabitable to human life. This is what one of the prior 8 great civilizations managed to prevent or forestall.

To learn more about this, check out episode 8 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey - Sisters of the Sun. Or better yet, watch the whole season. You'll be glad you did.

Language & Literacy

Cjcrashoveride asks on Reddit:

Checking the main book I see that there are two "main" languages, the truth and shin talk, but it also mentions a massive number of other languages. 
Does anyone have a good way of determining what and how many languages a character should have?
Also how should you determine if your characters are literate or not? 

There are two sections in the Numenera Corebook that deal with language:  The Language and Literacy sections on pages 132-133 and the Language section on page 339.

The Truth is the only language widely spoken in the Ninth World. 

"The Truth is the predominant language in the Steadfast, where it is spoken by about 80 percent of the people; in cities, that number is closer to 100 percent. In the Beyond, about 60 percent of the people speak the Truth as their primary language, but many isolated villages have their own tongue" (Numenera Corebook, page 133).

Characters start out knowing the Truth and maybe one other local language/dialect that fits their background.  

As the game progresses, they can buy additional languages as a short-term benefit for 2 XP each (it's short term because, other than the Truth, each language is only spoken in a very small area, and it's likely the PCs won't be there long).

"Characters should begin the game knowing the language(s) that make the most sense for them. For the vast majority, that will be the Truth, and maybe a bit of some local dialect or unique language. As the game progresses, characters can learn new languages by spending XP [2 XP] to gain short-term benefits. More than likely, learning a new language will have only a limited or short-term benefit because most languages other than the Truth aren’t widely used" (Numenera Corebook, page 339).

On page 132 of the Corebook it states that in the Steadfast about 50% of people are literate, and in the cities about 70%, although most people can recognize a few words in the Truth. I think it's safe to assume that PCs fall into the percentage (however small) of literate people unless a player specifically wants to play an illiterate character.

Not only does every settlement beyond the Steadfast likely speak its own language, but many of the creatures, abhumans and visitants of the Ninth World have their own languages as well. 

Although you as the GM can ignore language in your games, I highly recommend that you don't do that. Communicating with entities that don't speak their language is a unique challenge to PCs that will really add a new degree of depth to your games and roleplaying.

Question for the Listener: 

Is there such a thing as TOO much weird? Where do you draw the line?

Under the Lens - Clarifications

  • Adjectives Rather than Tiers
  • Confusion with section on touch attacks paragraph, corebook page 91.
  • Edge can be used once per action and is subtracted from the total cost of that action (ability cost + effort cost).
  • Yes you can use esoteries when you run out of Intellect!
    • Scroll down to Monte Cook's comment.
  • Might defense is NOT used for “blocking” attacks!
    • “A successful Speed defense roll might mean dodging, blocking with a weapon, or ducking behind a pillar” (Numenera Corebook, page 344, second paragraph under Describing the Action).
    • Also, shields are an asset to shield defense, not might defense.
  • Swarm rules page 349 in the Corebook and page 13 of The Ninth World Bestiary.

Breaking down rules text

Tenawa asked the following question on the Ninth World Hub. This is a great opportunity to show how you can break down rules text.

I have a short question regarding Anticipation (Tier 1 from Travels through Time in Numenera Character Options): How many times can I use it in a round? Can I use it once? Only at the beginning of the round (for the FIRST task in a round)? Or can I use it for every task in a round?

Here is the direct text from the book:

"Tier 1: Anticipation (1 Intellect point). You look ahead to see how your actions might unfold. You have an asset for the first task you perform before the end of the next round. Enabler" (Numenera Character Options, page 80).

First, it’s an enabler, not an action. This means that you can potentially use it as many times in a round as you like (or at least, until you run out of Intellect points). The fact that it has a cost (1 Intellect point) tells us that it’s something that must be activated as opposed to something that’s always active (like the Ward esotery is, which has not cost).

“You have an asset for the first task you perform.” This means that the bonus applies to the next task you perform. You can’t activate the power, and then “hold” it until a later task in the round. You must use it on the next roll you make.

For example, if it’s your turn in the round, you can’t use this power, make an attack roll, but save the asset from Anticipation for a Speed Defense roll later. You must use it on the attack roll because that was your next task after activating the power.

Also, the fact that the bonus Anticipation gives you is an asset means that it falls within the limitation of only being able to use two assets on one roll. So if you already have two assets, Anticipation doesn’t do anything additional for you.

“...before the end of the next round.” (Note, I got a little confused on this in the cast. I misread it in my notes as "before the end of the current round".) This is the corrected interpretation. If the next round ends and you haven’t used the asset from Anticipation, it doesn’t “carry over” to the round after that. So you have the current round and the next round to use your Anticipation asset before it "wears off".

So, to answer the question, Anticipation can be used as many times in a round as you have Intellect points to spend. Each time you use it, it applies to the next roll you make. So you could use it on your turn to get an asset to your attack roll (or whatever roll you make), and you could also use it every time you have to make a defense roll in that same round.

However if the next round ends, and you activated Anticipation, but haven’t used the asset, it is lost at the beginning of the round after that.

I know that’s a long answer to the question, but I’m hoping to illustrate how one can break down something like this to answer most/all questions. The only time it gets wonky is when there’s a typo, but thankfully there are very few in the Numenera books thus far.

I wonder, however if there is a typo in this case, as the "before the end of the next round" is quite a bit more confusing and cumbersome than if the rules text instead read "before the end of the current round", which is actually how I originally misread it.

Starwalker Review – The Nightmare Switch

Tom Dullemond's The Nightmare Switch walk-through

Antagonists & Protagonists – the Hontri

  • Use as Protagonist – perhaps higher tier characters COULD use hontri as mounts.
  • Foci that may make this possible:
    • Controls Beasts
      • Tier 2 Soothe the Savage & Communication
      • Tier 6 Control the Savage
    • Commands Mental Powers
      • Tier 1 Telepathic
      • Tier 2 Mind Reading
      • Tier 5 Mind Control
      • Tier 6 Telepathic Network
    • Talks to Machines
      • Tier 3 Intelligent Interface
      • Tier 5 Information Gathering
      • Tier 6 Control Machine
    • Or better yet, a combination of all these foci and/or cyphers/artifacts that do similar things.