GM Intrusions E44 - Quoth the Quotien, "Shut the Door!"

I have some listener feedback for you in the Opening Segment, and I’ll give some ideas on running a solo campaign in Under the Lens. I’ll also have some more thoughts on making cypher acquisition more realistic in your game. Finally, in A&P I’ll cover the Quotien.

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Opening Segment

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My week in gaming

Listener Feedback

Felbrig has some great ideas for identifying pill cyphers (E41).

I got a voicemail from another listener, I believe his name is Nick. I didn’t quite catch it. He has some comments about the Numenera money system.

I really welcome feedback like this! I get on this mic every week and give my opinions on things. But Numenera, like any game, is best when the GM and players make it their own. That’s part of what makes tabletop RPGs awesome. So it’s great when you give you opinions, even if you disagree with me. Especially if you disagree with me! I can only really present my point of view. I rely on your feedback to give differing points of view. Ultimately it’s up to each individual to choose what works best for your game.

NOTE: If you leave me a voicemail I may play it on the show (no promises)! I believe the show benefits greatly from what listeners have to say. So if you don’t want me to play your voicemail, be sure to tell me!

Under the Lens

Flying Solo

Stille on Reddit asks:

I was thinking of running Devil's Spine for a single player, but I'm worried about the increase in difficulty that comes with that. Worst comes to worst, I could have them play 2 characters at once, or introduce a DMPC, but I would prefer that not being necessary. I'd welcome any advice about the whole deal - this is my first time DMing anything so there's probably lots of stuff I'm missing.

I think it's definitely doable. This kind of play is much easier to manage than in a lot of other games I've played. I think there are two main concerns to address.

Lack of social interaction.

I don't know that this is something that you can fix, just the nature of the beast. With only the GM and one player, social interactions will be very limited. For me, at least, that's the best part of roleplaying. However, a solo campaign can allow the GM and player to really dig deep into one character.

I think with a solo campaign you will want to almost always (maybe even always) have at least one NPC with the PC. That way you can always talk to the PC in character. I wouldn't recommend using a "GM-NPC". In my experience that seldom goes well (that's a whole other topic) and the Cypher System doesn't really lend itself to it. Just have regular NPCs. You can even have the PC roll for the NPCs, which will be more fun for both of you.


There is quite a bit of combat in The Devil's Spine. You will have to handle each one on a case-by-case basis. If you have a lot of experience running Numenera, this won't be a problem. If you don't, it could be challenging.

One resource you can use to give some guidance is in The Devil's Spine itself. At the beginning of each adventure it gives advice on how to modify the encounter to challenge higher tier characters. You can reverse engineer this to get some ideas of how to modify encounters so that one PC can do them.

Again, having one or more NPC in the party will help with this.

Also, you might want to encourage the PC to take a focus that involves a companion, such as Controls Beasts, Exists in Two Places at Once, or Leads. This will help with combat as well.

Finally, you may want to consider starting the PC at tier 2 with 1 xp to help him/her survive the combats.

This advice, unfortunately, is all theoretical. I did run the Beale of Boregal for 1 PC, and I did have to tone down the combats a little bit (but not a lot), but other than that haven't run a solo campaign.

I have run most of The Devil's Spine though, and I'm still running it, so if you have any questions let me know.

Finally, I would encourage the player to find non-violent solutions whenever possible. Luckily in Numenera this is often a possibility (though sometimes it's not). Also, if the PC is having trouble, you could always seed in an artifact to help, perhaps something like Armored Flesh, Battle Armor, or a Battlesuit (*Numenera* corebook pages 300-301).

Making Cypher Acquisition More Believable

Jim Flory on G+ asks:

Why does nearly every encounter need to result in "potions"? Everything is assumed to be stripped down and looted. Constantly. And the result is usually a handful of single use items that are the traded around or used up so nobody goes over their, seemingly arbitrary, allowed limit.
It reminds me, somewhat, of how one finds good pieces or a dagger after killing a wolf or rat in a variety of video games.

I think it makes a lot more sense than creatures pooping out potions.

Personally, for verisimilitude, I think it's important to consider where the cyphers are coming from when coming up with them. Many creatures encountered in the Ninth World are machine automatons (like the Accelerator) or biomechanical creatures. In these cases it makes a lot of sense that the PCs would be able to scavenge and assemble some cyphers from their remains.

When finding cyphers in a complex, they are scavenged from ancient machines, control panels and the like.

Many cyphers found in the field will be cobbled, which is to say the PCs assemble them from various pieces they find (connect this power source to that emitter).

Also, I don't think it's at all assumed that everything is picked over and looted. There is a billion years of history between our world today and the Ninth World. That's a lot of strati! Every earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc. may reveal an ancient site never explored before. Also remember that much of the Ninth World (even within the Steadfast) is empty and unexplored.

A few things to consider:

Ancient numenera sites are DANGEROUS! Ancient diseases to which there are no cure, genetically engineered horrors, mechanical horrors, uber high-tech security systems, radiation and nano swarms are just a few of the dangers that might be encountered. Because of this, only the extremely learned, brave or insane venture into them.

The Order of Truth limits the exploration of these sites for the safety of the people (also, coincidentally I'm sure, to give them first dibs on any goodies). I think it's likely known numenera sites (in the Steadfast at least) are designated "holy sites" by the Order and are off limits to all but Aeon Priests (perhaps enforced by cultural taboo or even law).

Understanding and using the numenera is beyond the abilities of all in the world except PCs, Aeon Priests, members of the convergence and the like. For most people, cyphers are useless and dangerous unless instructed how to use one.

Although the use limit is arbitrary in the sense that the number was arbitrarily chosen (or at least chosen for mechanics and game-balance reasons as opposed to in-world reasons), the fact that there is a limit isn't arbitrary at all. Cyphers a made from bits of uber tech put together in ways that weren't intended and/or being used in ways that weren't intended, and they're never completely understood--not even by PCs or Aeon Priests. Not only are they inherently dangerous, but this danger magnifies exponentially as more and more cyphers are brought together. They may be emitting various energy fields, radiation, nano particles, etc. that will not interact well with other cyphers in vicinity.

As the PCs advance in tiers, they can carry more cyphers. This reflects their growing knowledge of the numenera and understanding of how to carry/contruct/improvise cyphers that are safer to handle and or less likely to react with the PC's other cyphers.

I recommend going over chapters 17-20 in the corebook again, as well as pages 335-337 and 357-360. This is all explained pretty well. 

Antagonists & Protagonists – Quotien



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