Monday, 18 November 2013

Numenera - Convention Tips & Cypher Deck Houserule

This past weekend I had the privilege of running Numenera at the local ConCentric event.

I decided to run my first two-slot adventure at a convention, and that adventure was Vortex. I was planning on running the original two-halves of the adventure; The Temple and then Through the Vortex; but the time I spent introducing the setting and system after a late start combined with my players' slow progress through the story meant I ended up splitting just The Temple between the two-sessions; finishing off and picking right up after they dealt with the whispering lurker in Jutte. I felt no need to rush my players as we all seemed to be enjoying ourselves very much. :)

At the beginning of the first session I gave my four players 2 XP each so they had the option to spend them on rerolls, denying GM Intrusions, short-term benefits like specific skills, and my cypher deck houserule (see below).

At the beginning of the second part I awarded my players 3 XP each (on top of their 3 XP from the previous session), for discovering the mystery behind the whispering lurker as the source of the disappearances in Jutte, to spend on a taste of character advancement benefits. One of the players didn't show up due to illness, but a buddy of mine got the chance to try out Numenera by filling the vacant seat.

Our second session ended with my clever players using a visage-changing cypher on their Clever Glaive Satha to disguise her as Evanna to find and assassinate Abrassal, whilst the rest of the group snuck through the darkened areas of the narthex to find where Evanna's brother was being held. The disguised Satha ran into her male doppelgänger Norrid, and fainted from shock to later to awaken alone in a dormitory with Abrassal; whilst the rest of the party dealt with the dangerous mysteries of the facility. Everything culminated in a big climatic showdown in the dwelling area between Evanna (Satha) vs. Abrassal on one side, and the rest of the group vs. Gregor and Relle on the other with the remainder of the stunned worshippers looking on. I pushed the PC's limits and their player's did not disappoint.

I ended with the teaser to the beginning for Part 2: Through the Vortex with a telepathic message from the Vortex itself... ;{١

A few of my students players. It was fun running my sessions from a lecture hall, I got to use the blackboards and feel like a professor!
They were both awesome sessions; and I think my players really enjoyed both the system and the story. I am also happy to report one of my players informed me at the end that she hadn't played many RPGs before (she could've fooled me though, she had the cadence of a seasoned veteran!) and she really liked Numenera as well as my friendly and animated playstyle! (I might have blushed...)

And since we only made it through the first part, I'm hoping to run a local game in the future with all of my players to conclude their character's adventure. Again I thank everyone who showed up to play Numenera last weekend!

Enough about me gushing about my con games, onto more tips and my houserule:


To bookkeep my play sessions better, I prepared a one-sheet reference following the guidelines listed on page 345-346 of the corebook, with focus on recording player/PC names with any personal GM Intrusions; a list of NPCs/Monsters with their base level, modded levels, gear, disposition and appearance. I borrowed some pointers from convention advice by Mr. D. W. Brown at the Ninth World Hub topic on Vortex.

I also printed out a very concise rules reference from The Alexandrian.

My tools: print copy of adventure, reference sheets, notepad and pencil, bag of glass XP beads, cypher cards, and my iPad with my Numenera playlist!

Numenera is also a great game to GM from a podium because you don't need to roll dice!

Cypher Deck Houserule

I came up with this houesrule idea when I was printing out cards from the Cypher Deck (I am looking to order a full copy in the future) for the con game. As I was running Vortex's provided pre-generated characters, I decided to search through the PDF I had of the Cypher Deck and print out a copy of each card that lists the rules for each cypher the pregens had, sleeve them, and clip them to each character sheet. I did this to avoid the hassle of looking up and referencing cypher's effects, and having each player or myself write it all down. I also printed 10 additional cards that could be drawn to replace the cyphers the players use with ones their characters discover.

A frequent concern is that each card lists two, sometimes three different cyphers and their effects; and one might not want their players spoiled with the knowledge of other potential cyphers. I read a DTRPG review where the solution their group came up with was to sleeve the card and then cover up the other cyphers listed.

This wasn't a concern for me at a convention game, where I figured that additional insight into the cypher possibilities for players may increase their general interest in Numenera. I decided to take this concept one step further and introduced this houserule:

When a player receives a new card after discovering and identifying a cypher, determine (randomly) which of the cyphers listed on the card their PC now has, as well as its level. After the outcome has been determined, the player has the future option of spending 1 XP to select another cypher option listed on the card. All the cyphers listed on a card share the same level. A player may not elect to change from an Anoetic cypher to a Occultic cypher, or vice versa.

This houserule allows a bit more versatility and player choice when acquiring cyphers via the Cypher Deck, particularly with smaller groups, as well as eliminating the concern for cypher "teasing". Of course the GM is well within his bounds to curtail this option if the "metagaming" aspect of it is unappealing, or if the constant selection the PCs make of cypher types appears to be uninspired and/or repetitive; although I do see this option as costly in XP for the players to be constantly tweaking their ideal cyphers, so I don't believe it would be a huge concern. (I believe it only happened twice in each of the two sessions I ran, once per.)

I also think this houserule probably works best over a limited number of sessions rather than long-term campaigns, to avoid the players seeing the majority of the cypher options available in the deck and dulling the mystery therein.

Have any tips of your own or thoughts on my houserule? Leave a comment!

Cheers! ;{١