Oddity or Otherwise? (A Dual-use Numenera)


One time, event or day, an oddity changes from what it always did before… the holographic character stutters or the crystal takes a different form, colour or shape.

What would happen if some oddities were something more than an amusement for their current possessor? Is it possible that one or two oddities that come into the possession of any given owner, somewhere in the Ninth World, are actually more then what they seem? Only at very specific times, places or under very special circumstances?

I’ve been dwelling on this nugget and think yes! That’s not to say that this should be a regular occurrence, but it never hurts for GMs to have a trick, treat or even a get out of jail free card ready and waiting in their back pocket. Consider the possibilities beyond the entertainment value of oddities. GMs may hold this in reserve to surprise their players, move the story forward or save an epic campaign. To that end, I present some thoughts on other things oddities might be, above and beyond odd and entertaining, as an adjunct to cyphers, artifacts or discoveries. In some cases, you might introduce the new strange twist on the oddity as a GM Intrusion. On the other hand, maybe it just is what it is.

Let’s start with a “key”, complete and whole, or maybe it’s one part of several (do I hear a quest on the horizon?) Yes, it looks and acts like a black leathery ocarina that produces multiple feather-shaped fractals of wavering coloured lights when you blow into it, although you cannot fathom where your breath actually goes to when you blow into it, nothing ever happens except the pretty dancing lights. Then one day the lights change shape and colour and it summons a nearby service or defence automaton, catches the attention of an ethereal intelligent entity, or inconveniently opens a swirling and sucking vortex in the middle of the town square while your Charming Jack who Entertains is regaling the local populace with said oddity. Options are endless but should first and foremost be entertaining.

Again, much like a key, but maybe more of an ID, possibly in the form of recognizable symbol or insignia. Actual possession of the oddity and/or openly displaying it may allow or bar access to services, things or locations. Certain creatures, usually but not always automatons, might be programmed to acknowledge, ignore, protect, follow, attack or otherwise avoid the person in possession of the specific oddity. Perhaps it provides access to personal financial accounts that have no more relevance? Lots of other options are possible, limited only by imagination. Maybe the effect becomes noticeable when the item falls to the floor of the ancient complex while the player sifts through their pack looking for some other item?

Thinking beyond a key or ID, it’s a remote control. In and of itself, it does nothing other than emit a stream of signals to another piece of Numenera, possibly long lost, forgotten or destroyed? Then again, maybe not! Properly used or experimented with, in the correct place or time, the oddity could affect one or more operations or functions in a given facility or locale. Could it start or control portions of on an assembly line, open a door in the side of a mountain or deactivate a Pellone as if it was an alien controlled drone? Who knows? There are lots of examples in real life. Garage door openers, auto-car starters, DVD and TV remotes, etc. Is it multiple use, one shot or contains an endless power supply? Does it work on only one floor or within only one room? Does it only function with one type of creature or some other piece of technology? It’s your call as GM.

The oddity is nothing more than it seems. In it’s original incarnation it was a gift, an art piece, a joke in poor taste or something other. It really has no comprehensible function in the Ninth World at all, it only qualifies as one of many kinds of “beads and trinkets.” Not a bad thing all-in-all if the creature that has trapped the whole party at the back of the cave is mesmerized or taken with it. Maybe the bizarre, but none-too-bright Glaive that was sent to hunt down one of the characters gets distracted by the oddity once it is confiscated, displayed or used? Perhaps with some parley a mutually agreeable trade occurs and all parties go off in separate directions, everyone satisfied.

Perhaps the oddity is one element, a page, or even a complete set of instructions on doing some action, activity, skill or function that has become long lost to the annals of time. Sensory display and recognition of the instruction or activity might only be properly understood by some alien creature or might only be relevant under a very specific context? By default it could be a memory storage device, but what is required to access more or all of it?

What if the oddity was a singular lead, or one of several clues meant to lead the possessor to a specific destination, to wealth, to fame or to their demise? What about a reminder, it’s time to take your pills? Much like the previously mentioned instruction, maybe the purpose of this oddity is to provide a direction for those that possess it where to go, more so than an indication as to how things are done or what needs to be done.

The oddity is a fob or similar device that once was part of an alarm or monitoring system that can send or receive or communicates both ways with some larger system. Maybe it issues a homing signal whenever it is used or displayed? There are many other options or examples in use today in home, vehicular, office or industrial use, look around your immediate environment, choose one and develop it from there.

The magnet. Could it be an attractant, a repellent or both? Strange things and creature encounters are always happening to the character or group in possession of a given oddity, at least once per session. Maybe the characters are drawn to a given location, and often as not in the Ninth World, maybe the location is drawn to them. If the character(s) figure out that this is the case, or not, and dispose of an oddity, or sell it and eventually hear back that the new possessor has inherited their issues, maybe they’ll follow up?

The oddity is a specialized tool that can be used to activate, monitor, diagnose or otherwise repair some other piece of numenera. Which numenera is a question best left to the GM. But maybe it counts as an asset in this one instance? Whether it becomes a one shot like a cypher, deactivates and becomes lump of carbon or carries on as an oddity but never operates as an asset once again is at the GMs discretion.

Another option, it’s is a statistical collection device that gathers data on its use, the person or creature carrying it or the surrounding environment. Who or what it feeds this data to is up to the GM. In many of the above examples, it becomes obvious that the device may have a secondary communications function, if so, is it one way, both, directional or omnidirectional? Does it collect data and zip squeal it or is it always on? Does it affect other numenera? All questions for consideration and clues to be fed to your players, if you think it advances some segment of your ongoing story, or just adds to the weird.

As usual, with Numenera, the sky is the limit. Make the weird even weirder. When and if you actually shop to hand out oddities to your players keep in mind possible secondary uses for those oddities. Scribble down a note with your ideas. Whether the oddity was handed out at character design and outfitting or planted in an ancient buried complex for characters to find in your latest scenario design, it never hurts to have other options on hand for GM intrusions, game fixes, red herrings, confounding players and an assortment of other uses.

Remember, form does not always follow function in Numenera! As some of the prior inhabitants of the Ninth World were so totally alien from human, it does not always go that the form of any numenera discovered, no matter how interpreted by it’s current owner, is associated with the intended function, if any. Ergonomics, shape, materials, texture, aesthetics, mechanics, power source, sensory apparatus and a wide variety of other features of any numenera can be as weird or alien as you desire, and no, you still should not work very hard on explaining it, if at all.


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