The Alexandrian

Untested Numenera: NPC Allies

November 19th, 2014

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesNumenera features player-facing mechanics: Whenever an action requires diced resolution, it’s always the player who rolls the dice. If a PC is being attacked, the player rolls to dodge. If the PC is attacking, the player rolls to hit. There are a lot of advantages to this system, particularly in the ways that it seamlessly interacts with the pool-spend, GM intrusion, and difficulty adjustment mechanics.

But the drawback of player-faced mechanics is that they can’t be used to resolve contests between NPCs. Numenera opts for one of two relatively straightforward work-arounds (to be used at the GM’s discretion):

(1) In keeping with other mechanics in the system, the NPC with the highest level automatically succeeds.

(2) If that’s undesirable for some reason, “the GM should designate a player to roll for one of the NPCs. Often, the choice is obvious. For example, a character who has a trained attack animal should roll when her pet attacks enemies.”

The problem with this method is that, because of the way NPC stat blocks and pools work in Numenera, the result doesn’t factor in the NPC’s skill whatsoever: There is no modifier applied to the roll, so an NPC that’s level 2 at attacking has the exact same chance of hitting an NPC opponent as an NPC that has a level 7 attack.

What makes the problem even more vexing is that a large number of character options feature allied NPCs (like the aforementioned trained attack animal).


NPC allies have an effort pool equal to level x 3 per day.

NPC allies also gain one recovery roll per day. This recovery roll can be used as an action at any time, restoring 1d6 + level points to their effort pool.

When rolling for an NPC, adjust the die roll by +1 or -1 per difference in level. For example, a level 5 NPC attempting a level 3 task would gain a +2 bonus to their die roll. The same NPC attempting a level 7 task would suffer a -2 penalty to their die roll.


These rules are short, simple, and to the point. They present a minor disruption to the purely player-faced mechanics, but without bulking out an NPC to have the same complexity as a PC. (In terms of utility, it’s particularly important that the mechanics don’t actually require a specialized NPC stat block: The effort pool can be easily derived from any existing NPC or creature.)

In actual play, the addition of the effort pool provides just enough interest to make running an NPC ally interesting while the level adjustment to the die roll for NPC vs. NPC actions provides enough distinction between characters that their interactions don’t feel flat or artificial.

These rules can be found in the “House Rules” section of my Numenera system cheat sheet.

Big Hero 6 - DisneyThe first thing to say about Big Hero 6 is that it’s a ton of fun wrapped in a beautiful aesthetic surrounding well-earned emotional heartaches and catharsis. If you’re the type of geek who’s likely to be reading this website, then you’re probably going to adore this film.

With that being said, I was interested in the way that Big Hero 6 failed to be an ensemble movie: It comes very, very close (featuring a diversity of interesting characters in supporting roles), but ultimately misses the opportunity. (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the film, which instead succeeds very well at being a film about its protagonist.)

I found myself making an easy comparison to The Incredibles, which is many ways a completely different movie but which also features the formation of a team of superheroes. But whereas Big Hero 6 just misses being an ensemble piece, The Incredibles is a very successful ensemble piece.

The key distinction here is that all four main characters in The Incredibles are fully developed while each possessing a full narrative arc (which is also connected to the overall narrative arc of the ensemble). This is contrasted to Big Hero 6 where all five members of the team are given unique personalities and great dialogue… but notably lack fully developed arcs.

The reason I bring this up is that I noticed that a key difference between the films is that The Incredibles featured multiple sequences in which the main characters are separated from each other, whereas Big Hero 6 basically did not.

So what I’m saying here is:


Because it’s a really effective way to allow individual characters to develop identities separate from the group identity. (Which will, ironically, enrich the group identity.)

(More on splitting the party over here.)

Elizabeth Grullon in The Complete Readings of William Shakespeare - American Shakespeare RepertoryThe Complete Readings of William Shakespeare project is about more than just grabbing a Shakespeare script and jumping in front of an audience. Our advertising slug will tell you that the series presents a unique opportunity to experience these plays in a way that hasn’t been possible since the King’s Men originally performed them 400 years ago. But there’s more to that than just a novelty: We think there’s something exciting, for example, about seeing the cycle of history plays literally unroll before your eyes with a continuity of character and actor.

As a member of our audience, you’re getting a chance to discover things that can only be seen when Shakespeare’s plays are viewed a living body of theatrical work. And part of what we hope will make that experience memorable are the discoveries we’re making as performers. The American Shakespeare Repertory wants to delve deep into the rich depths of Shakespeare’s plays, and we believe that the Complete Readings will prove to be a powerful foundation on which the future work of the company will be built.

That work begins with the script.


As many of you probably already know, we have inherited our Shakespeare scripts from an eclectic variety of sources. No manuscript copy of a complete Shakespeare play exists. Instead, the earliest version of Shakespeare’s plays we possess are quartos which were printed in the 1590′s. (Quartos were roughly the cultural equivalent of modern paperbacks.) These were sold by at least half a dozen different publishers, many of whom apparently didn’t possess any sort of authoritative (or even complete) copy of the plays they were publishing. The next milestone in Shakespeare publication was the famous First Folio of 1623, without which many of his plays would have been permanently lost. (Folios were much larger volumes.)

These various editions were reprinted and reissued in a variety of ways over the next hundred years, with each subsequent printing accumulating a fresh set of errors and variants. The modern editorial tradition began in the 18th century, as editors attempted to return to the earliest versions of each text in an effort to produce a more authoritative edition. Modern editions of Shakespeare generally follow the same basic practices established in the 18th century:

1. Modernization of Spelling

2. Regularization of Punctuation and Verse

3. Emendation of Text

Because every editor makes different choices (particularly when it comes to texts which exist in more than one original edition), every edition of a Shakespeare play is slightly different from every other edition of the same play. But over the past couple hundred years, each play has generally (and slowly) accumulated traditions of emendation.


This accumulation of emendation is generally a good thing: When one editor finds a particularly apt solution to a textual problem, other editors copy their work and then try to find other ways to repair the text of the play.

But sometimes the best choice (or the seemingly best choice) eliminates other choices that might also bear fruit if fully pursued. An actor or director, in particular, will scour a play’s script looking for the clues buried within it. And sometimes modern editorial practices can resemble a criminal wiping away the fingerprints at a crime scene: Important information can be lost.

Which is why every Complete Reading is based on a freshly prepared script specifically designed to preserve as many of those clues as possible (while also conveying all the benefits of a fully modern edition).

The script used for our first reading, Macbeth, which I’ll be sharing next week, is fairly representative of the process.

Originally posted September 8th, 2010.

The problem with GURPS-style advantage/disadvantage character creation systems is that the actual impact of a given advantage or disadvantage is highly dependent on the circumstances of actual play: “Immune to psionic attacks” is totally amazing if your campaign is The War Against the Illithids; it’s completely wasted if your character never encounters a psion. Similarly, “Horrifically Claustrophobic” is a crippling disadvantage in a megadungeon campaign; it’s basically a non-factor if you’re playing Lawrence of Arabia.

So in order for these systems to work, the advantages and disadvantages need to be made equally relevant in actual play.

IME, however, there are two typical actual play dynamics in RPGs:

First, the players are given a free rein. Players will naturally seek to play to their advantages and play away from their disadvantages. This isn’t even really abusive play: It’s just a logical way of interacting with the world. (If I had no legs, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time buying ladders.)

Second, the GM is railroading the players. You might initially expect this to reverse the dynamic, but it typically doesn’t because (again, IME) most railroading GMs are more focused on achieving a predetermined goal: Their focus is an internal one. It might inadvertently force players into confronting their disadvantages, but often will not. (While the players will still be able to tactically exploit their advantages.)

In order for an advantage/disadvantage system to really work, IMO, you need a GM who’s willing to advocate as strongly for the inclusion of a PC’s disadvantage as the player is to advocate for the inclusion of the PC’s advantage.

The GMs most willing to do this are (in terms of the Threefold) dramatists and gamists. Simulationists are much less likely to put their thumb on the scale and “force” the inclusion of disadvantages.

This becomes a particular problem for GURPS because most the features in that system are heavily focused on supporting simulationists: So the people most likely to be running GURPS are the ones least likely to adopt the GMing techniques necessary to keep the advantage/disadvantage system balanced.

Go to Part 1

Hamilton may be clearly wrong in identifying the Second Maiden’s Tragedy as the lost Cardenio, but there remains an important and lingering question: If the handwriting in the Second Maiden’s Tragedy manuscript does belong to William Shakespeare, what does that mean?

Well, it could mean that this is, in fact, a lost play by Shakespeare. It’s almost too easy to conjure up a hypothetical scenario in which Shakespeare and Fletcher, fresh from their success with Cardenio (assuming they actually wrote it), decided to pluck a different story from the pages of the popular Don Quixote and use it as the B-plot in a new play.

Four Jacobean Sex TragediesOr perhaps Shakespeare somehow ended up scribing the fair copy for one of the scripts purchased by his company. (And perhaps cleaning it up a bit in the process?) In the modern world it’s perhaps too easy to imagine that a shareholder would hold themselves aloof from such a “common” duty, but theater has always seemed to engender a spirit in which everyone pitches in to make the magic happen.

Another possible explanation would be that Shakespeare asked the company’s scribe to write out the fair copy of his will. (This assumes that Hamilton is wrong in claiming that the will was both written and signed in the same hand, but right in claiming that Shakespeare’s will and The Second Maiden’s Tragedy were.)

Of course, even if Hamilton is wrong about the handwriting entirely, some of his other conclusions may have merit. For example, he hypothesized that the play shows clear stylistic signs of having been a collaboration. W.W. Greg, in the Malone Society Reprint edition of the play, similarly hypothesized the potential for two literary correctors working on the manuscript (although both of those correctors were in hands different from the scribe’s).

Hamilton is also likely right in believing that the play was never performed under the title The Second Maiden’s Tragedy. In Four Jacobean Sex Tragedies, for example, Martin Wiggins argues that even George Buc wasn’t referring to it as such. When he wrote “this second Maydens tragedy” he didn’t mean “this [play called] The Second Maiden’s Tragedy“; he meant “this second [play called] The Maiden’s Tragedy“ (in either case referring to the Beaumont/Fletcher play The Maid’s Tragedy written a few years earlier).

It’s certainly true that the script would have originally possessed a paper cover (now lost) which would have contained its proper title. In light of that, some have simply titled the play as they pleased. In Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works, for example, Julia Briggs published it as The Lady’s Tragedy (after the unnamed protagonist).

And it is, in fact, Thomas Middleton to whom the play is most commonly ascribed in a scholastic consensus which has, if anything, only strengthened over the course of the past decade in response to Hamilton’s claims.

For myself? Middleton seems like the most plausible candidate. I am occasionally teased by the thought that the play might be Massinger’s lost tragedy The Tyrant, but in this I think it likely I’m being led astray by the same temptation I suspect plagued Hamilton: To recover something precious which has been lost.

After all, Massinger didn’t start writing plays until two years after Buc had approved The Second Maiden’s Tragedy for performance.

Originally posted August 2010.



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