GM Intrusions E41 - The Cypher Conundrum

This week I’ll answer some listener questions and discuss my own Cypher System gaming. I have some recommendations for some good published adventures if you’re just starting out, and I’ll also talk a bit about using artifacts and identifying numenera items in Under the Lens. I’ve got a couple Kickstarters to share with you, and Scott Robinson’s Strange Encounters segment returns. 

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Opening Segment

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Daniel Bekmand’s ideas of using tokens for pools—brilliant!

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JediLion asks about a good beginning adventure to use for a one-shot on Reddit:

Both Vortex and Beale will likely take at least 2 sessions to run.

If you're able to play more than one session, I think Vortex is a great way to start out.

If you're limited to one session, check out The Hidden Price, as it's a decent intro to Numenera and can be done in one session.

I really like Seedship, but it doesn't work well as a first adventure.

Three Sanctums is cool too, but also doesn't work as a first adventure, and you'll want to come up with a better hook. The default hook is very contrived.

The Beale of Boregal works well as a first adventure, but it's hard to get through it in one session. If you're beginning a campaign, it can be good though as you can have the beginning of the campaign (or even the whole campaign) consist of the PCs' adventures on the Wandering Walk.

The Nightmare Switch works as a first adventure if you have it, but you're right, it's not really very weird. But it can be done in one session (although it will likely take two).

One thing I've learned with Numenera is that adventures often take longer than you think they will, and often longer than they would in another game. Because the game is about exploration and the Ninth World has weird mysteries everywhere, the PCs tend to investigate every little strange thing you throw in their path.

Another great way to do a one-shot is to find a creature in the corebook or the bestiary that you like, check out the Use section, and come up with a short scenario involving that creature. Ultimately an adventure you come up with yourself with your own players in mind will be better than any published adventure you can find. 


Non-Player Cards by Andreas Walters and Andrew Montgomery-Hurrell

Hurry up! The Kickstarter ends this Wednesday.

Precision Polyhedral Dice w/ Metal Dice Vaults

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My Strange corebook is on the way! More strange content.

Strange Kickstarter fulfillment video

If you want to learn more about The Strange in the meantime, check out the articles on Monte Cook Games’ website.

Strange Encounters

Under the Lens

Artifacts rule

Thank you Brian Kearns for pointing out this rule for artifacts I’d never noticed before. In addition to rolling to identify an artifact, you must also make an Intellect roll when you use it (at least the first time). The difficulty is usually the artifact’s level, but is ultimately up to the GM’s discretion (could be easier or harder, depending on how complicated the artifact is to use).

Wolfoyote sent me a question by email, asking how I would handle a child PC mechanically.

 Personally, I don't think I would give the PC any mechanical hindrances or bonuses, but would cover it with roleplay. For instance he might not be able to get into certain areas, and he may find it hard to get NPCs to take him seriously. Really depends on the age.

Alexandrian Blog

The Pools represent stamina as opposed to ability, and children have just as much stamina (maybe more) than adults. Edge represents more the ability in that area. I suppose what you could do is have the PC trade any Edge that they have as a starting character for a +4 to the Pool for that attribute. E.g. if the character is a Glaive, he has 0 Edge for Might and Speed but gets +4 to his starting Might and Speed Pool. This would show that he has more stamina, but isn't as strong or quick. 

I'm taking this idea from the insanity rules in the Strange Aeons glimmer in which as you go insane, you lose 4 Intellect Pool but gain 1 Intellect Edge.

I would then let the PC gain Edge through advancement as normal, and if, in the course of the game, he grows up, I would have him trade the extra 4 Pool back for the 1 Edge.

You could go even farther and make an actual Child Descriptor, but I'm not a fan of that idea personally, as it removes the ability for the player to play an actual Descriptor beyond being young.

And a follow-up from Wolfoyote asking how I handle identifying pills and other cyphers in Numenera.

 That's a really good question. Part of the scavenging and identifying process often involves cobbling together different bits of tech to make something that will do something, so I often envision it as the PC saying, "I think this part would do x, and I think this part would do Y, so I'll cobble them together like so, and it should do Z." 

You're right, though, this really breaks down with pills. Identifying cyphers is usually a difficulty 1 or 2 task, and I always make pills difficulty 1, so a roll is usually not needed because the PC is usually trained. Perhaps the ancients were very good at being consistent with their pills (if capsules, a blue capsule always does this, a green capsule always does that, etc), or maybe like modern pharmacies, they score information on the tablets that PCs have learned to recognize.

 I think because of all this, and excellent GM Intrusion to use when someone uses a cypher is to have it do something other than what the PC thought it would do. This would really bring home the fact that unless it's a fashioned or bonded cypher, it's usually an educated guess at best as to what it does.

This brings up what I’ve started calling the Cypher Conundrum. You want cyphers to make sense from what you’re salvaging. You want cool descriptions. You want the identification and cobbling process to make sense. But so often they’re thrown out, not used, or traded away.


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