GM Intrusions E37 - Kicking Numenera in the Shins

I’ll dig into the Cypher System some more and answer some listener questions. I’ll talk about the money system in Numenera and offer what is perhaps my first real criticism of the game. I’m also going to finally review the Numenera Character Options supplement.

Opening Segment

New Patron system is live!


Using Multiple Edges on an Action

John Marvin commented on the GM Intrusions Google+ page on E36: "In your discussion on Edge, you said if someone was using two stats for a particular action, they could only use edge from one of them. Unless I'm missing something, that's not what the rules say:

You can use Edge for a particular stat only once per action. For example, if you apply Effort to a Might attack roll and to your damage, you can use your Might Edge to reduce the cost of one of those uses of Effort, not both. If you spend 1 Intellect point to activate your mind blast and one level of Effort to decrease the difficulty of the attack roll, you can use your Intellect Edge to reduce the cost of one of those things, not both (Numenera corebook, page 22).

As I read those rules, if my focus is Carries a Quiver, I can use Speed and the speed Edge for my attack, and Intellect and the Intellect Edge for damage. This make sense, as many foci force you to split your stat and edge points."

Yes, he’s absolutely correct. I’ve never encountered this corner case in my games, so I hadn’t really thought about it that way. I like this because it encourages players to develop Edge in multiple pools instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.

However, keep in mind the Cypher System is designed to usually use one pool per action, so unless you have an ability that specifically allows you to use two pools on an action, you’re still limited by the general rule. So instances of using multiple Edges on a roll will be relatively rare and limited to certain foci.

Regarding Aniticipation 

The asset lasts till end of “the next round”, not the current round. Wow this is cumbersome! Typo maybe? 

Anticipation isn’t over-powered because it’s an asset All things that aren’t skills that give you a step reduction to a roll are assets. You can only use two assets on any given task. Assets are everywhere—you will usually be able to find at least one asset to any task, and often you will be able to find two. I see Anticipation as more of a flavor thing—where is your asset coming from? In this case it’s coming from your ability to slightly see into the future.

Listener Questions:

Killyox asks on the Ninth World Hub:

I am making a couple of profiles for characters and one of them is Rugged jack, who Controls Beasts. I am Specialized in Training Animals. As a Tier 1 it says I can have level 2 beast companion. So how can I actually make use of Training Animals ?
Can I have pet and increase his abilities or something or what? How do you guys play around with it? Don’t want to make things too strong or too useless. Would be cool to allow that character teach his animal something special or maybe increase his prowess (level)?

I don't think training an animal would increase its capabilities. It won't change its level or any other abilities. In Numenera logic always prevails. Think of the real world. Does taking your dog to obedience school make is suddenly faster, tougher or smarter? No, it doesn’t. What training DOES do is increase communication between you and your pet/companion. 

So if you spent the time to train your pet, I, as GM, would ask you what specifically you were training the animal to do (which commands--again, in the real world animals are trained by teaching them specific commands). Each new command would require a roll to see how successfully you trained that command, and would require some time.

This would increase the capabilities of the animal in that it would have more tasks you could instruct it to do, but it wouldn't change any of its game stats. Common commands you could train would include heel, stay, guard (a person), defend (a place), scout the perimeter (of an area), hit the dirt (to avoid ranged weapon fire), etc. To get more ideas of what's possible research things like police dog training and the training done with animals for circus performances. You can teach pretty amazing things, but each is a discrete task with a specific command (verbal or otherwise).

Also, training an animal is a matter of days or even weeks, depending on the complexity of the task and how far it strays from the animal's natural behavior.

Under the Lens

 My issues with the shin system as stands in Numenera:

  • No division of the shin.
    • This really breaks down when you look at things that cost 1 shin:
      • Glass of Ale/wine/other alcohol
      • Pair of boots or shoes
      • Clothing
      • Meal
      • Dagger
    • I don’t think a money system with only one unit and no subunits would ever work, would ever evolve, or would ever be put in place.
  • No prices given for very common things like:
    • A mount
    • A pack animal
    • A draft animal
    • One night’s stay at an Inn
    • You will constantly run into such common purchases in the game that you have no example or frame of reference for.
  • There is no way in a world as large and diverse as the Ninth World, where most communities are completely isolated, that EVERYone would share one wealth system.
  • Shins can be almost anything. You can pretty much “make money”. The economy should be a mess.

I get that MCG wanted to Keep It Simple Stupid with money in Numenera. However, I think it could have been better handled, and in fact the system is SO simple that it actually makes things harder. 

Question for the Listener:

Does this need fixed? If so, how would you fix it?

Matt DeKrey’s solution is one way. It's a bit complicated and abstract for my taste, but it may be just what you’re looking for. Definitely check it out.

My solution would include a much more extensive set of tables with example prices (like in D&D/Pathfinder, this would be an “average” price, obviously it would vary from place to place based on supply and demand).

Also, there needs to be a subunit of the shin. I would also vary the currency from place to place, or come up with a really good in-world reason why it’s the same in all these unconnected places. 

A bit more about Effort costs and Edge.

This passage rears its head again….

You can use edge for a particular stat only once per action. For example, if you apply Effort to a Might attack roll and to your damage, you can use your edge to reduce the cost of one of those uses of effort, not both. If you spend 1 Intellect point to activate your mind blast and one level of Effort to decrease the difficulty of the attack roll, you can use your Intellect Edge to reduce the cost of one of those things, not both (Numenera corebook, page 22).

Yes, that passage is a common source of confusion. I believe that section is talking about a character with a lower Edge score (say 2). Notice they are referring to two levels of Effort. 

So if you are Tier 2, with 2 Effort and 2 Might Edge, and you were spending two levels of Effort, one to do more damage and one to the attack, you couldn't subtract that 2 Edge from the 3 Might cost to Effort on attack (first level of Effort) AND from the 2 Might cost to Effort on damage (second level of Effort), because you'd be applying that 2 Edge twice (effectively subtracting 4 from the total cost).

However, if you had 4 Might Edge, you would apply it to the total cost of the action, which would be 5 Might (3 for first level of Effort, 2 for second level of Effort), bringing the final cost down to 1 Might. 

Again, this is all much easier to wrap your head around if you just total the costs and subtract Edge. In the first example total cost is 5 Might minus 2 Edge equals a final cost of 3 Might. In the second example total cost is 5 Might minus 4 Edge equals a total cost of 1 Might.

I hope that helps alleviate the confusion. I'm not sure why they worded that particular passage that way, because it does make things more muddy than they need to be. However, Shanna Germain has confirmed on the Ninth World Hub that you do total the cost and subtract Edge. Here’s Shanna Germain’s statement on it:

At its simplest:
You can only use Edge once per action. So if you are using an action that is Intellect-based and you have a point of Edge in Intellect, then you can apply it once. This could be in the form of offsetting a special ability (say you want to use an esotery that costs 1 Intellect Point) OR to offset effort (by reducing the cost from 3 points out of your Intellect pool down to 2 points). But not for both. 

Again this seems to be assuming a lower Edge score. Which makes sense, really, why use a Tier 6 character for an example?

If you’re using both the special ability and the effort, it doesn’t really matter which one the Edge comes out of (if you don’t want to keep track, you could definitely add the points together and just subtract your Edge, since it gives you the same number in the long run). 

Not only can you total cost and subtract Edge, but IT DOESN’T MATTER, which further supports my argument.

The game isn’t designed for players to use two different pools on the same action. It’s designed to be one action = drawing from one pool. But if you wanted to run it that way, you could definitely give it a try and see how it works.

This last bit I wonder about. My best guess is that this is the “general rule” but that there ARE specific abilities that allow you to “break” that rule. D&D always had the idea of specific trumps general. 

This leads me to Brian Kearn’s Question:

Tier 2 Bear a Halo of Fire – Hurl Flame
(2 Intellect points). While your shroud is active, you can reach into your halo and hurl a handful of fire at a target. This is a ranged attack with short range that deals 4 points of fire damage. (Numenera corebook, page 53). 

This is obviously an Intellect action because there's an Intellect activation cost. However, Brian wanted to know whether he could use Speed Effort and Edge to the attack roll and Intellect Effort and Edge to the damage roll since the flavor text describes hurling the fire with your hand. After much deliberation, I decided that no you can't use Speed Effort or Edge. This is an Intellect action. The flavor text doesn't change the mechanics, just like the flavor of saying you block an attack doesn't make it a Might Defense instead of a Speed Defense. Although there are times that you can use more than one Pool on an action, this can only be done when an ability specifically says you can do this (such as the Archer ability discussed above).

Exists Two Places at Once

Patrick Bolӓnder submitted the question: 

If a player takes the Focus “Exists in Two Places at Once” (Numenera Character Options, pages 56-57), how would you handle such a Duplicate? How does the Level of the duplicate interact with the game mechanics? As far as I see it doesn’t matter at all, since the player will roll for it and difficulty will be determined by the task and not the creature(duplicate).  Also what is the benefit of getting a level 3 duplicate versus a level 2, other than the Health?

There are a few ways you can handle it. Which one you pick will determine the interaction of the duplicate with the system (note that this is the same with a companion from Controls Beasts or any companion a PC gets through roleplay, like a Shanu—see E28 for more).

  1. The core assumption is the player will roll for the companion or duplicate. Player cannot spend effort for the creature/duplicate, and creature can’t spend effort (NPCs can’t use effort).
    1. With this method the only influence the duplicate’s level will have will be on its health and the amount of damage it does on a successful attack (usually NPCs have health equal to their level x3 and do damage equal to their level).
    2. I discuss the pros and cons of this more in E28, but in a nutshell this is nice because the PC gets to roll for the duplicate (and is even more appropriate than with a creature).
    3. However it does slow down gameplay, effectively adding another PC/turn to the table.
  2. The GM could just handle the duplicate/companion as an NPC (higher level wins). I used to do this. However it really rips of the PC, because if the duplicate/companion is lower level than the adversary, it’s completely ineffective.
    1. In this system the higher level duplicate/companion can be effective against more adversaries.
  3. Monte’s alternate system, found here. Again, more info in E28
    1.  This is really the best of both worlds.
    2. Duplicate/companion gives a static bonus to everything the PC does.
    3. Probably not as appropriate for a duplicate as a creature companion, but will still work if you want to speed up gameplay.
    4. In this system, the level of the creature determines the bonus you get. I believe this would stack with Four Hands are Better Than Two.
Would you allow the duplicate to have clothes when created?

The power specifically says that the duplicate has no clothing, and I think this would be fun to roleplay. However if the player really wanted the duplicate to appear with clothing, I might let them spend a level of effort to do it and/or 1 xp, however I wouldn’t let them do this all the time. Of course if I did allow this, the clothes would disappear with the duplicate.

Will such a duplicate have any skills or even abilities of the player’s character?

No, it would not. It is just an NPC with the basic abilities given. 

Since the duplicate can last as long as the player wants it, can it wear cyphers and even use them?

This is definitely a GM’s call. The duplicate can, by the rules, use basic equipment. For me personally, it would depend on the cypher. If the cypher were relatively easy to use (like a pill), then I would allow it. I would also probably only allow a duplicate to use a cypher of its level or lower. However, I would only allow the duplicate to safely carry one cypher at a time (any more than that and I’d roll on the mishap table, effectively giving the duplicate a cypher limit of 1). And I would never allow a duplicate to use an occultic cypher.

Again, by the rules, the duplicate is not a true duplicate of the PC—it doesn’t get esoteries, skills, etc. I think even allowing it to use one cypher is a bit of a stretch, but many NPCs use cyphers, so why not. Just keep an eye on it, and if it’s being abused, or you don’t like what it’s doing to the balance of the game, then stop allowing it.

I always weigh these things based on game balance. How does this ability compare with other similar tier abilities? If everybody suddenly wants to play Exists in Two Places at Once, then I know I’ve gone too far.

Starwalker Review – Numenera Character Options

  • $24.99 cover price
  • Softcover, 95 pages
  • Full color
  • Corebook Callouts
  • Chapter 1 – Intro
  • Chapter 2 – New Glaive fighting moves, Jack tricks of the trade and Nano esoteries
    • At least as many as are in the book, for each tier
  • Chapter 3 – Descriptors
    • “Negative” descriptors as well as some new “positive” ones (all are balanced)
    • Location descriptors
  • Chapter 4 – Racial Options
    • New visitant, the Diruk, which are creatures of living rock.
    • Some info on playing some nonhuman species (I don’t like the term race) from the Core and/or Bestiary
      • Golthiar (the plant guys, these guys are awesome, need more sentient plants!)
      • Mlox – crazy third eye
      • Nalurus – human transformed by a bizarre disease
    • More mutations! Beneficial, harmful, powerful, distinctive, but no cosmetic
  • Chapter 5 – Foci
  • Chapter 6 – Optional & Additional rules
    • Skills from backgrounds
    • Trading abilities 
    • Modifying abilities
    • Additional connections to the Foci in the core (bringing the total to 4 for each)
    • Changing Descriptors & Foci
    • Advancing beyond tier 6
  • Character portraits – this is nice, and will be really nice if continually expanded upon, perhaps via images on MCG website (that would be nice) 
  • Bottom line - I highly recommend this book. However, if you are a new GM with new players, you don't need it right away.


Support the Podcast and get a free trial from Audible

Audible Free Trial Details

Get an audiobook of your choice, free, with a 30-day trial. After the trial, your paid membership will begin at $14.95 per month. With your membership, you will receive one credit every month, good for any audiobook on Audible.

Cancel anytime, effective the next monthly billing cycle. Cancel before your trial ends, and you will not be charged. Check out the full terms and policies that apply to Audible membership.