So how do you translate cypher stats and abilities into the narrative?

Hey guys. I'm preparing my first ever campaign as a GM in Numenera, and I'm having a blast thinking of different scenes and locations for my friends to explore. Finding new cyphers and artifacts seems like the most suitable reward when out adventuring, but I'm having trouble imagining this within the narrative.

For instance, the PCs find a lvl 2 cypher which throws a fire ball or something on use. Now mechanically this all makes sense, but how does this work IN the Ninth World?

I would presume that there are people who are more versed in the way Numenera work (ie: the science behind it), so they may -as a service- "identify them". Like, pay a couple of Shins to an NPC and they'll tell them "Be careful, for this wand encases the burning heart of a blabla". After that description, I could give them the actual stats for the cypher for them to write down.

It seems to me like part of Numenera's charm is the way the Ninth World perceives these ancient heirlooms, not always capable of properly understanding their use. Going all "so you found a lvl 2 wand of cast fireball" in the middle of the narrative sounds like quite the bummer to me.. but maybe expecting my party to pay vendors for an identify service is way too much of hassle.

How do you guys do it in your games?



  • I believe it's a low level intelligence roll to identify a cypher or artifact. Of course it may be more difficult at gm discretion.
  • This is a copy of a post I put in my 'Tears of the Gods' PbF over on RPGGeek.

     is the core of the setting, and yet it is in some ways the weakest part. For example; I find a round metal ball, about the size of a tennis ball. What is it? In the CR, anyone can try and identify it; nanos just happen to be better at it. The difficulty is so low, success is almost guaranteed.

    And even if they fail; it can just be handed to the next person for them to try. This smacks too much of “cast ‘Detect Magic’ on everything until we succeed.”

    I could just tell you what it does (which is what happens in ‘Tides’), but then all those nano abilities are wasted and there is no uncertainty (or accidentally setting the thing off, Tempus).

    What I’m proposing is that anyone can try and identify a cypher; the difficulty is based on the level and on whether it is Anoetic or Occultic. If they fail; then any further attempts require a level of Effort (same as re-attempting a task, CR page 89) If that fails, then it needs two levels of Effort etc. This doesn’t stop you using Effort on the original roll of course.

    If you fail the roll, you still know HOW to use it (throw it, eat it, sniff it, fire it); but not what it does. If you roll a '1' then you get a GMI (as usual)

  • I like that a lot, up until the last sentence. Why should I know HOW to use a thing I can't identify? I would add a skill check to attempt to use a thing you haven't identified, as well – along with the implied basic risk that comes with toying with unknown powers, of course!

    Honestly, this echoes a lot of my feeling about the entire setting, which feels a bit upended to me in terms of dramatic presentation. I love the world that's been built and the background, but I've all but told my players NOT to read even a little of the background material, because I find it really undermines the core premise!  If you've created this wonderful world full of technology indistinguishable from magic, and mystery, and the unknown, why is the first thing you learn that "this is Earth, a billion years in the future." Why are so many of the numenera presented as basically-identifiable objects like tablets and tubes with wires and buttons and switches? That completely contradicts the idea that your characters are existing in this world beyond belief... or at least, it makes getting truly immersed in-character immediately more difficult.
  • Ok, let's use a real-world analogy.
    I have found a battery-powered electric go-kart. I roll and successfully identify it. I know that if I push certain buttons and move certain controls; then it will move and carry me as fast as a running brehm.

    This time, I fail the roll (but don't roll a '1'.) Now I know that lights come on when I push buttons; but I don't know how to make the motor run. I have found out that if I release the brake, then it will roll downhill. So now, I push or carry it, but freewheel down any hill I find.

    I rolled a '1'. One of my NPC companions shorted out the battery and died. I have found a weapon. I take out the battery and lug it around; leaving the kart behind.
  • The example makes sense... however the issue I have with it is the same: it's very "real-world."

    As I interpret the sheer impossibility of the ancient super-tech hidden throughout the world, it requires a sense of wonder that wouldn't even be comparable to a go-cart. After all, there are pack animals and carts in this world. A go-cart is clearly something of the sort, but with a strange mechanical thing that probably isn't cargo, because it's carefully bolted to the frame. So I can start guessing at what it is and turn switches and press buttons but all of this presumes a very contemporary cultural understanding of the very concept of "buttons" and "switches." Not hard concepts to figure out? Perhaps not, but what would an ancient Assyrian think of such a thing? That begins to approach the gulf of knowledge we're talking about here, and Numenera insists that (in theory) that gulf is even further. In any case I think creating devices that are sensible to the players but shouldn't be to their characters undermines good roleplay. I have a hard time imagining that the 7th Worlders (for instance) would have such primitive concepts as "buttons" - they could just manifest the functioning through space and time. If they had time-hopping starships, surely they just willed them to work in ways that would be obvious to them and all but unknowable to primitive dirt-dwellers. Let's imagine that Assyrian trying to unlock your iPhone and use Siri (in English) to find a map to a place that exists on no world you know of, some sort of facility for creation of an artifact called "pizza" – and we've still given our Assyrian a few eons worth of headstart on this problem. What if the iPhone battery is dead? Or there's a mandatory iOS upgrade waiting? This would be unfathomable to the extreme. Now, obviously the completely unknowable does not lead to good adventure gameplay.

    So my take on how the numenera should function is quite a bit more esoteric. Based on odd compulsions and feelings and extra-sensory perceptions rather than obvious visual signs or physical manipulations. What if the Siri of the 8th worlders subtly manipulates the user's emotions rather than relying on speech? What if go-carts 3d print themselves in moments when activated, and when not in use, they don't exist at all? Of course, this is quite a bit harder to GM consistently, but it's something I'm working on. Technically, it's not incompatible with the entire house rule you posted above... but I still prefer the idea that if you end up with a cypher or artifact that you simply can't comprehend, maybe it's worth a journey in itself to take it to someone who might! Entire economies must be built on this, after all.
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