Old GM - New to Numenera

I am about to start my first Numenera Campaign and I would love some advice on a couple of topics...

  • I want my campaign to have more of a Medieval Fantasy feel and less of a SciFi feel. How do you suggest I accomplish this with cyphers, cyborgs and such everywhere?

  • The source material indicates that there are people with fairly advanced knowledge of cybernetics, chemistry, bioengineering, etc. With this knowledge available, why is the society still so low tech (muscle, wind and water power primarily). I just find it very difficult to wrap my brain around how to GM these two very wide extremes.
Thanks in advance for any and all comments.



  • edited June 2015
    I'm in much the same situation as you, so here are my thoughts. Bear in mind there are probably far more experienced Numenera buffs and GMs here who will give you better answers. :)

    As I understand it, the Science in Numenera is so advanced it is considered magic to some of the populace. So for your campaign, why not have the prevailing thought process among the masses be that it *is* magic. They're not robots, they're Golems. Cyphers are actually magical items, potions and the like. As for Cyborgs, some denizens of the Ninth World actually hide the fact they're machines as they're unsure how they will be accepted from city to city. Perhaps they are viewed with deep superstition or 'cursed' in your campaign.
    For an example, the Iron Wind, a cloud of rogue nanomachines that happily rearrange your cells into new, interesting and almost certainly fatal combinations, are viewed as malevolent spirits by some.

    As for the disparity of technology, the Ninth World is effectively built upon the ruins of the eight great civilisations that went before it, some of whom harnessed amazing technology or had power over reality itself. The setting is so far in the future that all of these civilisations eventually fell or possibly moved to a different plane of existence. Some of their advanced technology was left behind to be scavenged by those living in the Ninth World today.
    Some have only found the knowledge to build primitive weapons, or don't have the resources to build the items they have blueprints for. Others have found or crafted items of great power. Since not everyone in the Ninth World is altruistic it's possible some people have horded knowledge and items for themselves. Much like today, some areas of the world are highly advanced and mechanised, whereas in some places people still live in mud huts and carry spears. It's your campaign, you could decide that technology is a lot scarcer than it is in the 'default' setting.

    Hope some of that was of use. :)

  • If I had to make one suggestion, go watch something like Army of Darkness and then think on how the characters and such reacted to the introduction of the various aspects of Ash's life, tools, etc.
  • Thanks Stormhamster.

    I have already told the players that cyphers and other numenera are synonymous to magic items. and that even the nano "sorcerers" don't understand that billions of nanites are the reason their spells function. They just know if they do X, Y & Z, a particular result happens (most of the time).

    I quess, for the knowledge thing. I will treat those people who are trained in numenera science as sages and lore masters. One of my characters has the Skill Knowledge of Numenera. I have told him that the skill doesn't give him the ability to create such items, on to recognize potential uses for items they find.

    I am using the Cypher's Level as an initial difficulty to be able to understand its use (intended or otherwise). The general time frame to evaluate an item is as follows:
    * Inspection (1 Minute) = Difficulty: Cypher Level +1
    * Thorough Inspection (1 hour) = Difficulty: Cypher Level
    * Research (10 Hours) = Difficulty: Cypher Level -1

    This gives them three attempts to identify a cypher, if they don't get it after this they will need to seek out an NPC who is more knowledgeable than they are.

    I am not sure if this is how the level is intended to be used, but I think it will work.
  • edited June 2015
    The one thing I would say is that if you were going to use the Cypher level for the difficulty of identifying items, just use the items level as a flat value. For example most random Cyphers have a level of anything from 1d6 to 1d6+4. Your players are going to have a fairly hard time identifying a level 6(18) Cypher, even with Numenera training which will bring it down to level 5(15). That way, low range cyphers will be easier to identify, whereas the higher level ones will be more of a mystery, which perhaps lines up with technology being less understood?

    Also bear in mind with a lot of the non-weapon Cyphers level bears little meaning on it's actual in game effect. So the players could spend considerable effort identifying a cypher, only to find it keeps the rain off for five minutes. Which I suppose is in keeping with not knowing how the tech works. :)

    Or of course, give your method a try and see how it works out, it's your campaign after all. :)
  • edited June 2015
    Maybe it would be better like this?

    * Inspection (1 Minute) = Difficulty: Cypher Level
    * Thorough Inspection (1 hour) = Difficulty: Cypher Level -1
    * Research (10 Hours) = Difficulty: Cypher Level -2

    Coming from Pathfinder, the openness of the Cypher System is taking a bit to fully grasp. My players and I are all looking forward to our first game session though.
  • edited June 2015
    I like it. The lower level cyphers are moderately easy to figure out whereas the higher level ones require more time and study, very scholarly. Just bear in mind they're still going to have issues figuring out what Level 9+ cyphers do without spending Effort to bring the difficulty down further.

    I'd give it a spin and see how it feels and plays out. :)

    To be honest, with Cyphers, they're less like all powerful magic items and more like one shot things like potions. Players are only capable of holding two or three at a time without running the risk of detrimental effects, so when they're used up it's fairly easy in the main setting to get another one through scavenging or adventuring. It also encourages players to experiment because they know there are probably more to hand fairly soon. They seem to lend themselves to interesting solutions to in game obstacles.
    I come from D&D myself, so a lot of this is largely still theory for me. :)
  • Yeah, maybe having the research for Cyphers is a bit much and would be more appropriate for Artifacts. I'm still learning here.
  • edited June 2015
    Same here, trust me, I'm far from an expert. I have the rulebook PDF open in another tab. :)

    Actually, in the main book identifying artifacts works almost exactly like your idea for Cyphers (P.298). The level of the artifact sets the difficulty for the test, because their effects are largely more potent and longer lasting. The effort the players put in to the research would have a bigger payoff. So you're not as far adrift as you think. :)
  • I have one character that is like a Kinder. He stopped growing at age 12 physically, but is actually about 30 years old mentally. He wants to play the character as one who likes to experiment and push the limits. For example, if having more than 2 cyphers on them is problematic, what happens if he keeps more than two separated by a 10' pole? Or in a small wagon 25' behind him? That is just the way he thinks.

    I don't want to discourage his RP, but I don't want him abusing the rules either.
  • I'd let him experiment. :) Going one or two cyphers over the limit is only potentially harmful if you roll really high on the table or hoard 13 cyphers over your threshold. P.279 has a little boxout that gives you an option to enforce the limit entirely though roleplay if you so wish.

    Also if the other players know about his habit, they might keep a safe distance out of safety concerns. :)
  • Urlord said:

    One of my characters has the Skill Knowledge of Numenera. I have told him that the skill doesn't give him the ability to create such items, on to recognize potential uses for items they find.

    That skill doesn't give *anyone* the ability to create this stuff. The numenera is dead tech; it can't be reproduced, only repurposed.

    There is a tone and feel to the Ninth that I think may have been missed in haste or excitement. I want to give you a more detailed reply to your initial post but sadly I am at work and haven't the time right now.
  • Worker said:

    ...There is a tone and feel to the Ninth that I think may have been missed in haste or excitement. I want to give you a more detailed reply to your initial post but sadly I am at work and haven't the time right now.

    I am looking forward to your reply.
  • Okay, I have time at last.

    The first and easiest answer that comes to mind is to suggest you get into The Strange and run your campaign in Ardeyn. Or close your eyes and count backwards until the Cypher System Rulebook comes out.

    Barring that, and being the huge Numenera fan that I am, here's how to approach your situation from my point of view.

    First, take a piece of the Beyond and make it your own. Populate it, decide on a few local phenomena caused by the numenera and past worlds that are very "fantasy" in their feel as opposed to the default science fantasy of the setting. You'll have the campaign you want without having to change the parts of the Ninth that you may want to use later in their as-is form. Travel isn't necessarily advanced (except in the cases where it is, and you can just not have them be a part of your corner of the Beyond) and fast communication is rare (except when it isn't, and again, your power to ignore things you don't like is only augmented here). Nothing from outside will interfere with your carefully crafted slice of fantasy you've carved from this delicious science fantasy cake (except when you want it to, which might happen sooner than you think). You can go one step further and have that area be surrounded by some sort of numeneric effect that keeps outsiders out and insiders in. Imagine the possibilities!

    Second, get to know the look and feel of the Ninth. Spend a bit more time with it. Let it creep in and set roots. If you see science fiction, you're looking at it through the wrong lens and need to reframe. The people who deeply understand this stuff are special. When I say "deeply understand" I mean "could write a book on it" like the book on the numenera that certain Types and Focuses get to use as an Asset on their Skill rolls. Someone had to write that book and compile some empirical data on the subject. NPCs do that sort of thing, or PCs once they gain some experience and reputation to play on to actually make that book sell. The rest of your world? They think it's magic. Or spirits. Or they know the word "nanite" but when they say it they picture little sprites or machine elves or they simply shrug and say "I dunno, captain. Heard meself an Aeon Priest say it one time and it sounded smart?" You don't really need to change the Ninth, you need to change the way you're looking at it, and ultimately the way you present it to your players. If you're stuck in deepfield, doors open, player facing mode you'll present it that way and then yeah, you're right, it's full of cyborgs and spaceships and lasers. Adjust your POV to that of a citizen of the Ninth, as that's what your PCs are. Adopt a nearfield, doors closed, character facing way of presenting the Ninth.

    Third, start thinking about what all this dead tech lying around would do to a society. If you give a caveman a smart phone he'll use it to break open some nuts and when the screen cracks he'll use that to make a knife. Now look at a PCs weapon. Maybe it's a long quarterstaff with glowing bluelights down it's length. It's really really light, but when you swing it at someone it's momentum increases exponentially and there's a small sonic crack as it descends towards the target. BAM! It hits hard, doing the damage of a heavy weapon instead of the medium weapon it should be. Maybe the player just said "I want a heavy weapon that glows and doesn't look as dangerous as it is", but that doesn't mean it has to be boring. It certainly doesn't mean that he needs to know that that piece was once part of the docking structure on a downed space station that is buried in the desert miles and miles from where the campaign is set, and that on re-entry it broke apart and that piece landed nearby, and was found by a scavenger, sold for profit, bent straight, and sold in the weapons rack where his PC found it. Even *you* as the GM don't need to know all of that. It simply doesn't matter. Numenera isn't about answering questions about the distant past, it's about finding a way to have a future in a world that in many ways isn't friendly to the sentient beings that live on it. It's dangerous here. So so dangerous.

    Fourth; for the fourth I have to make assumptions and for that I'm sorry. Don't take it the wrong way. I'm about to display a strong bias that has rubbed people the wrong way in the past. Me? I'm not a gamer. I never have been. I'm a storyteller. That isn't some finicky distinction I make about myself, like the whole new school vs. old school thing. It's a fact. Roleplaying is my chosen medium to tell stories, but all of my favorite players have been actors or storytellers first. This isn't a judgment or an insult to gamers. So try this if you want, don't if it doesn't apply to your sensibilities; stop thinking of Numenera as a rules set and setting within which to play a game. Think instead that it is a set of narrative tools for verbal storytellers to collaborate and exert narrative control over a story that you, as GM, are editing and directing. Explain the setting to them over a couple of get togethers (drinks, dinners, a bowl of soup, whatever you're into) and work the rules into the conversation. Explain how these are a storyteller's tool set, not a game's rules. Explain how the setting is the story's milieu, not the game's setting. Build a shared understanding of all of that before ever talking about characters and what the point of the campaign will be. It sounds like a minor distinction to make, but I have found it wonderfully useful at setting the tone I want. It usually only takes one get together like that to weed out the people who will not be happy with what I do and how we do it; not because they are "doing it wrong" but because I am not "doing it right" for what they want. You made it clear you're an old GM, so I'm not trying to step on your toes and give advice like you're a rookie.

    Fifth, have a great time being *totally f'ing awesome*. Seriously. Change things if you want, but only after using them as they are. Only a fool changes things before fully understanding why they are the way they are first. Try things as they're written for a bit after getting your head into the look and feel and you might just find that you don't have to do all that work. If you find yourself thinking "this is too easy for the players, I'll make it harder" then there is a strong chance that you either didn't get it, or it isn't supposed to be hard for them anyway. In one of my campaigns there is a character named Cord Congruen. Cord is a Learned Jack who Explores Dark Places. He is specialized in the numenera and trained in things mechanical. He has a reference work called On Numeneric Effects & Practical Living and another called Encyclopaedia Mechanica. Put Cord in front of some super challenging mechanical numenera he has to figure out and he applies three levels of Effort (Cord spends Effort like most people sweat)...with those Skills and those books as Assets and that Effort applied he has lowered the difficulty by 8 freaking steps (we ignore the "you can only lower 2 steps with Skills" part as it doesn't make any sense after practical application of the rule...if you're good at it you're good at it). That's almost as easy as it gets...but that's because Cord is an expert in his field. Like in the GUMSHOE system...if you know how to do it, then you're going to do it right, right? You don't need to change things to make them take longer or be harder to succeed at...these are the heroes of the story. There are lots of other ways to make their lives difficult (GM Intrusion, first, foremost, and most of all), you don't need to tinker with rules. If you're tinkering with rules you're playing a game.d that's okay if that's what you want to do. But it doesn't sound fun.

    Sixth...sixth, I'll quote Crowley. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

    Have fun.
  • edited June 2015
    Urlord said:

    The source material indicates that there are people with fairly advanced knowledge of cybernetics, chemistry, bioengineering, etc. With this knowledge available, why is the society still so low tech (muscle, wind and water power primarily).

    And to address this specifically...it's because no one really knows how to use it (except when they do). Compare Qi to Stirthal to any village nestled in the Beyond. Tech levels vary wildly. And most of what is done with it is a million miles from its original purpose. I have an NPC who uses an ancient frozen head of some highly advanced precursor civilization in a brass lantern puzzle box to keep their keg room and root cellar cold.

    (...and for what it's worth, I'm aware I didn't directly address what you're trying to do. LOL.)
  • edited January 2016
    Worker, new to Numenera, new to this website, and I know your posts are old, but that was really good advice. One of my group members has mentioned his problem, which is the same. I was a little drunk last night, and it was over text, but I tried to tell him similar things. I mention those things because my answer wasn't as elaborate as yours was, but I'm totally going to use your comments.
  • Deeply rooted in the game's rules is the fact that it is a way to make the world a cooperative storytelling experience. I suggest that if you are confused or frustrated by some aspect of the setting ask the characters to explain it, if not to you then to the other characters or an NPC that way they are more involved in the world creation process too. I find that every now and again that works wonders.
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