GM Intrusions E48 - Experience the Cypher System

I’ll start the episode off by giving some advice on the Cypher System for new players. I’ll also give a bit of advice to GMs when deciding whether or not to allow something not explicitly covered by the rules. In Under the Lens I’ll talk a bit about xp usage in Numenera and The Strange. I’ll also be talking about The Strange corebook in Starwalker Review.

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Opening Segment

Richard Punch on Reddit:

1) I really want to make the most Numenera-like character I can to get at the juicy center of the setting and mechanics. Is there a specific adjective, noun, or predicate that will help me do this?

You can't go wrong with any character in Numenera. But if you really want to interact a lot with the numenera, I would recommend a nano. As far as descriptors, mystical/mechanical is a great one for this. Talks to Machines is a great focus for this as well as Commands Mental Powers.

 2) Anything mechanics-wise that I'm likely to get wrong at first? What's the right way to do these tricky things, if they exist?

The mechanics of this game are super easy. It's a lot like chess. The basics are easy to learn, but there is some more advanced strategies in how you apply that understanding.

That said, if one thing trips you up, it might be how Edge is applied to an action. You can only use Edge once per action, but your Edge applies to the total cost of the action. So say you want to use one level of effort (3 cost) and an ability like pierce (1 cost) and you have 4 Edge in that stat, you could do it for free (total cost 4 minus Edge 4 equals 0).

As far as the strategy of the game, you want to remember that using Effort has the same effect mechanically as taking damage (i.e. depleting pools). The main differences are the pool that is depleted (physical damage comes from Might first), and the fact that Edge will discount a pool expenditure but won't reduce damage (but Armor will if it's physical, non-ambient damage). However, with many creatures in Numenera, the damage isn't the scary part, it's what else happens if it hits you.

I've many times seen PCs spend way more Speed Pool to avoid getting hit than they would have taken in Might damage if they would've gotten hit. However, a lot of creatures in Numenera do horrific things if they hit you, so if you're fighting something you've never encountered for, avoiding the hit may be worth it, even if you're spending a lot of Speed to do it.

Also remember if you have a nano in the party with Scan, he can scan a creature to learn it's level, which will tell you the difficulty of most rolls involving that creature.

Don't be afraid to use xp! The biggest mistake I see new players make is hoarding xp. Use it for rerolls, use it for the short, medium and long term benefits! Numenera isn't a game focused on advancement like D&D. "Leveling up" isn't the point, and isn't the only path to success. For 2xp you can get a short-term skill that can really help you out--something like identifying the numenera in the complex you're in, dealing with a specific type of automaton that guards that complex, detecting traps in said complex. Those limited skills will do a lot more to further your success in the game than hoarding xp to buy a character advancement will.

Spending xp for rerolls is also very powerful. Also remember that if you can lower the difficulty to 0, you succeed without a roll. Don't be afraid to spend Effort on a roll that may not be super-important, but that you don't want to fail either, to lower the difficulty to 0.

Be descriptive when you explain what your character is doing. This is a narrative game. A good GM will be on the lookout for assets (a step reduction in difficulty) that she can give you due to how you describe what you're doing. This can be very useful in combat and all other situations.

 3) Is there anything I should really do with the build to make it work in combat? Will I be OK in the core book dungeon crawl starter adventure thing? What will a party want me to do, and what do I need to do it?

No. This isn't that type of game. This isn't a game about builds and combat. Any build can be effective in combat because all characters can spend Effort and use descriptive roleplaying to gain assets. The point of the game isn't combat. You don't have to "defeat encounters" to "win". Make a character you're excited to play, and roleplay that character to the hilt, and you're doing it right.

 4) If I get my own copy of the core book and already have dice, do I need anything else?

That's all you need, and really, you don't need all that. All you need as a player is the Players' Guide, a d6, a d20, and 2d10.

 5) Anything else I should know?

This isn't a game like D&D or Pathfinder, it's a very different animal. Things like combat positioning, character builds, min-maxing, etc. aren't as important as good storytelling and roleplaying. If you can "unlearn what you have learned" and just roll with it, I think you'll really enjoy it and find it scratches different itches than a more systems mastery game does (not to say one is better than the other, just different experiences).

My final advice: don't refuse GM Intrusions. You'll have more xp for rerolls and short-term benefits, and they add a lot of fun to the game.

Also remember your recoveries. The first 3 (1 action, 10 minute and 1 hour) are relatively easy to use at pretty much any time. So it's relatively easy to get points back.

Also remember the healing mechanic. Any PC can make a heal check--difficulty is equal to the number of points you're trying to heal. It's an intellect-based action, and even if you don't have training in it, you can heal 1 or 2 points pretty easily. Every little bit adds up.

There are penalties for having a pool go to 0.

When your first pool hits 0, you're impaired. Each level of Effort you spend costs 1 more point (so one effort costs 4, two effort costs 7, etc.). Also, your maximum bonus damage from a roll of 17 or higher is capped at +1. Also you don't get any minor or major effects on rolls of 19 or 20.

If your speed is 0 you can't move.

When your second pool hits 0, you're debilitated. At this point you can't take any actions except to move an immediate distance per round (crawling basically). Again, if your Speed pool is 0, you can't move at all.

When your third Pool hits 0 you're dead (or in a coma if the GM doesn't want to kill you).

Anytime you use a recovery roll (or cypher or someone heals you) to raise a pool above 0, you lose those penalties. The Impaired or Debilitated state is always based on how many pools are at 0. So if you have one pool go to 0, you become impaired, and then you roll recovery and get that pool up to 1 or more, you're no longer impaired.

If a pool is at 0, you can still use abilities with a cost from that pool, they just come from the next pool in the order: might->speed->intellect->might. E.g. if your Intellect is at 0, but you want to use an esotery, the cost (and effort) comes from Might.

 In the cypher system logic prevails. Allowing a player to integrate a large tripod into his body isn't logical to me. Allowing a power that affects machines to affect cyphers doesn't make sense either. If the power were meant to affect cyphers, it would say so. I hope your player is just curious and not trying to "cheat" by stretching things beyond what they're intended. If he is, I'd nip it in the bud. :)

Something to consider when a player wants to do something not covered by the rules.

If you wanted, as GM, you could allow the player to use Coaxing Power on cyphers, but it would involve an Intellect roll and spending more Intellect points (see Modifying Abilities core 114-115). However, I wouldn't personally allow it as it's just asking to be abused. Your call though. :)

I not only weigh these types of decisions based on logic, but also game balance (which is even more important). An intelligent and creative player can often make a good argument for why what he wants to do makes sense, but as GM I have to think about what it will do to a game. Will this make one type or focus or ability better than all the others? If so, I don't allow it, no matter how good the argument is. In the end, the Cypher System isn't trying to perfectly simulate reality, the goal is to provide a game that is well balanced and fun.

Under the Lens

Player Driven XP Awards

Numenera corebook page 110

Handling XP Expenditures in the Cypher System

Numenera corebook sidebar page 111

Numenera corebook Page 110—idea of the game is players spend half of xp on advancement & long term benefits and half on immediate, short and medium term benefits.

I really recommend variant rule on Numenera page 119—spend GMI xp on immediate, short, medium & long term benefits; only xp that can be spend for advancement is xp earned between sessions (from discoveries and story goals).

Or half total xp on advancement & long term benefits and half on immediate, short and medium term advancements.


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