The Alexandrian

Numenera: System Cheat Sheet - Collated by Justin Alexander

(click for PDF)

The final version of this sheet has been released! Grab it from over here!

I kickstarted Numenera because I’m fairly certain that Monte Cook’s RPG products have been directly responsible for more hours of high-quality gaming at my table over the past decade and a half than any author. (Or possibly all other authors combined.) But my interest in it was mild: I had a lot of other games I wanted to run and play. I had a lot of other books I needed to read.

But GenCon turned my mild interest in Numenera into a real passion: I saw the book for the first time and it was gorgeous. Then I got lucky and was able to use generic tickets to get into the tiny tournament. In the tournament I got even luckier and my table was both filled with fantastic players and GMed by the talented Shanna Germain (who is also a supporting author for the book). The combination of gorgeous books and amazing gaming experience got me to drop another $120 on the special edition of the game (despite the fact that I had the $60 version of the book that I had kickstarted in the mail). When I got home, I ordered the XP Deck and Cypher Cards. (The former might seem like a gimmick, but it’s so goddamn slick in actual play that they were basically destined to get my money once I saw it in action.)

Long story short, I’m planning to be running Numenera sooner rather than later. And that meant that I needed to prep one of my system cheat sheets for it. Like the other cheat sheets, these are designed to summarize all the rules for the game — from basic action resolution to advanced combat options. I’ve found that it’s a great way to get a grip on a new system and, of course, it’s also a valuable resource at the game table for both the GM and the players. (For more information on the methods I use for prepping these sheets, click here.)


If you’re familiar with my other cheat sheets, you may notice that the Numenera sheets are formatted for landscape printing instead of portrait printing. This is because I’ve designed these sheets to be inserted into a modular, four-panel, landscape-oriented GM screen. (Just like the one backers of the Numenera kickstarter were able to buy as an add-on. And which you can buy here.) I’m not including graphics for the front of the screen, but if you buy theĀ Numenera GM Screen PDF you’ll be totally golden.


These cheat sheets are not designed to be a quick start packet: They’re designed to be a comprehensive reference for someone who has read the rulebook and will probably prove woefully inadequate if you try to learn the game from them. (On the other hand, they can definitely assist experienced players who are teaching the game to new players.)

The cheat sheets also don’t include what I refer to as “character option chunks” (for reasons discussed here). So you won’t find types, descriptors, or focuses here.

You also won’t find most of the optional rules for the game. I may add those later, but not yet. (The exception are the rules for modifying abilities; I suspect they’re going to be too useful not to have handy.)


I generally keep a copy of my system cheat sheets behind my GM screen for quick reference and I also place a half dozen copies in the center of the table for the players to grab as needed. The information included is meant to be as comprehensive as possible; although rulebooks are also available, my goal is to minimize the amount of time people spend referencing the rulebook: Finding something in 4 pages of cheat sheet is a much faster process than paging through a 400 page rulebook. And, once you’ve found it, processing the streamlined information on the cheat sheet will (hopefully) also be quicker.

THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT. And the sheets have not yet seen the heat of playtest. It’s likely that I’ve forgotten to include something vital, so please let me know if you find yourself constantly wanting a piece of information that the sheets aren’t giving you.

The organization of information onto each page of the cheat sheet should, hopefully, be fairly intuitive. The actual sequencing of pages is mostly arbitrary.

Page 1: For Numenera, the difficulty terrible is the heart of everything. Once you understand that, the special rolls, GM intrusion, and the concept of advantage/disadvantage 90% of the rest of the system actually becomes irrelevant. This page is likely to become irrelevant quickly. You’ll note that I included both types of GM intrusion and examples of GM intrusion: This is unusual for my cheat sheets, but so much of Numenera is designed to empower strong, flexible rulings by the GM that providing this kind of idea fodder feels right to me.

Page 2: The core of the combat mechanics. If you’re teaching new players the game, you really only need to walk them through these first two pages.

Page 3: The rest of the game’s mechanics all fit snugly onto one page. The one thing I wish I’d been able to include here are the optional rules for trading damage to achieve specific special effects.

Page 4: This page is necessary to provide a truly comprehensive cheat sheet of the rules as found in the core rulebook, but I’ll admit I’m somewhat baffled by the combat modifiers. The core of the system boils down to: “If something helps you, apply advantage. If it hinders you, apply disadvantage.” In the rulebook, these modifiers are not presented in the form of a table, but instead chew up pages and pages of material which all boils down basically to, “This thing helps you, so it applies advantage.” repeated over and over again with slight variations.


That’s pretty much all there is to it. Y’all should grab a copy of Numenera and start playing ASAP. It has the official “I Had a Ton of Fun Playing That” seal of approval.

Numenera - Monte Cook

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20 Responses to “Numenera – System Cheat Sheet (Draft Version)”

  1. scottsz says:

  2. Justin Alexander says:

    Thanks, Scott!

    Links in the post should be fixed now. WordPress has been randomly breaking links since the last update.

  3. scottsz says:

    Yeah… the WordPress team is smoking the curtains… spent all day debugging glitches in 3.6 for a client…

    Nice work on the cheat sheet, BTW.

  4. Jason says:

    Great cheat sheet! I’ve got two suggestions after glancing over it:
    1) (Modifying Tasks) I would note that Assets can never decrease a task’s difficulty by more than two steps.
    2) (Special Rolls) Opportunity should be clearer. Specifically, that if a minor/major effect is unlikely, the GM may require an extra roll for it to succeed, known as Opportunity.

    Thanks again for the great work. It saved me from having to do it :)

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    Thanks, Jason. I’m making notes for the next version!

  6. latros says:


    I must confess that I am a bit surprised that you like Numenera so much. I have not actually read the system, but the reviews and previews I did get a chance to look at described how, in Numenera, GMs and players spend/gain XP to add and remove intrusions during adventures. And that seems like a pretty dissociated mechanic to me. And it’s a dissociated mechanic that seems likely to have a major influence on how Numenera games will play, as opposed to, say, xp in dnd, which is not quite as prominent.

  7. Justin Alexander says:

    Let me start with the player’s perspective:

    From the player’s perspective, the use of XP to refuse an intrusion is functionally equivalent to a moxie point, a fate point, an action point, or the like. Is it dissociated? Absolutely. Am I going to reject every single game that features a moxie point mechanic? Even if I was going to limit my gaming appetite to RPGs and nothing else, my recent slew of posts about Eclipse Phase should provide a hint of what my answer would be.

    In a more general sense, I recommend checking out the last section of Dissociated Mechanics: A Brief Primer, i.e. “Using Dissociated Mechanics”.

    Now for the GM’s perspective:

    One of the things I’ve commented on in the past is that the experience of a GM and a player in a roleplaying game are two radically different experiences. And most of what a GM does in an RPG is, in fact, dissociated. They are almost constantly stepping outside of the game world, taking creative actions within the metagame, and then injecting the result of those creative actions back into the game.

    (Yes, there are times when they have so fully-crafted a given scenario that they can resolve it entirely by making in-character decisions as their NPCs. But, IME, those occasions are the exception and not the rule.)

    From the GM’s side of the equation, I find GM intrusions useful: Their basic function is the GM making things a lot worse than the mechanics of the game would normally suggest. (It’s an NPC taking a turn out of action because it makes sense. It’s a PC’s weapon getting stuck in a wall. It’s a wall that the PC would normally be able to climb without any problems suddenly beginning to crumble away when they’re half way up it.)

    The argument can be made that a GM has the power to do this sort of thing with or without the mechanic. And that may be true. But I suspect that at most tables a GM announcing that the PC’s axe got stuck in the wall because they missed an attack roll would not go over lightly: It is not the expected result of a missed attack roll; it is not the result mediated by the rules; it is not the result anticipated by the social contract.

    The GM intrusion mechanic greases the wheels: The odd (but cool) result with the axe is now part of the mechanics; it’s mediated by the rules; and it’s become an accepted part of the social and creative contract at the gaming table. The mechanic empowers the GM to make bolder and more unusual rulings because (a) the player is bribed and (b) they have a mechanism to reject the intrusion if it is, in fact, disruptive to them. It’s just the sort of unusual itch in an RPG that dissociated mechanics can help to scratch.

    (And that’s particularly true when you realize that the, “Hey! That’s not what the rule says!” is a reaction that is already inherently yanking the player into the metagame. A lightly dissociated mechanic that prevents that yank from happening might actually help to keep the player in their character’s head. I dunno; I haven’t playtested it much. Seems possible, though.)

    With all that being said, there is a smattering of dissociated mechanics throughout the game and some of them make my eye twitch. (There’s an order of knights, for example, who can fight real good once per day if they happen to be upholding their knightly oaths at the time.) Most of these seem to be fairly isolated, though, so I’m not deeply concerned by them.

  8. Brooser Bear says:


    you just pinned a blue ribbon on my DM’ing style, thanks! I run my game without DM intrusions. Everything is handled by the NPC’s and I act only through the NPC’s in the game (well, I cheated once, maybe twice, usually to prevent a total party kill where it was the last character standing versus two last Goblins. The d6 for the goblin sword read 5, and I let it read 2. I tell everyone that the DM is a storyteller, and what he says, goes, but functionally, I pre-write a detailed action plan for the intelligent and organized opponent, revised after each game session, and stick to that plan. My absolute contract with the players is that once I commit any aspect of the adventure to writing, even as an outline, I do not go outside the previously conceptualized bounds of what was written. I do interfere via the NPCs freely, but again, usually to prevent players from doing something suicidally stupid. In one episode that turned out to be particularly difficult for the players (in a dungeon adventure). I had an obnoxious emotionally disturbed 7 year old child-reject, who befriended a lot of local creatures, and gained some knowledge and power. Players essentially had to calm the boy down, gain his trust, and after that, the kid would have helped the “cool” player characters. Instead, the ham-fisted fighters decided to catch him by brute force, and the magic user decided to help them by shooting the magic missile spell that would have likely killed the kid, and totally messed things up for players. I had a lawful good Cleric NPC, who just as the players stated getting ready to pounce, the Priest yelled “Stop this foolishness!” and shoved the Magic User, who lost the spell and commotion tipped off the dungeon-child, who took off running and easily left the fighters behind.

    Anyway, I do not interfere with the adventure, except through what been already written down .

  9. Colin Chapman says:

    Noticed a typo:
    Difficulty table, Formidable – “Impossible with skills…” should be “Impossible without skills…”

  10. Josh says:

    Is there any possibility of you posting an alternative version in portrait layout instead of landscape? I have the World’s Greatest Screen but in the Portrait version.

  11. Links of the week for 9/17/2013 | says:

    […] posts continue to appear as Numenera spreads. The Alexandrian debuted his awesome looking draft Numenera cheatsheet. Trollsmyth discusses his first game in the […]

  12. Justin Alexander says:

    @Colin: Thank you. I’ll make sure that gets fixed in the next version.

    @Josh: I’ll see what I can do with the next revision. In the interim, however, you might experiment with printing the sheets two-up onto two 8.5 x 11 sheets. The print gets a little small in places, but it’s readable to my eyes.

  13. Dylan says:

    Hey! Thanks for the sheets! These have been invaluable references for the last couple sessions I have run.

  14. Julian says:

    The first panel (after the title panel), under Special Rolls, reads, “20 +4 damage or major effect + no pool cost” I’m not aware of the “no pool cost” benefit of a natural 20. That’s not to say it’s not a thing, just not something I was aware of. Can you point to the page where this rule is provided, please?

  15. Justin Alexander says:

    “Special Rolls” on page 88: “If the roll was an attack, it deals 4 additional points of damage. If the roll was something other than an attack, the PC gets a major effect in addition to the normal results of the task. If the PC spent points from a stat Pool on the action, the point cost for the action decreases to 0, meaning the character regains those points as if she had not spent them at all.”

    I’m guessing you were looking at “Special Rolls” on pg. 17, which includes all the other rules for rolling a natural 20 but not that one. I recommend simply ignoring Chapter 2 entirely; this isn’t the only instance in which it deceptively looks as if it has all the pertinent rules on a particular subject, but actually drops one or two key points.

    I was actually quite surprised to discover this rule as I was assembling the cheat sheet.

  16. Stuart says:

    Hi Justin,

    Just curious if you have done an update on this document to fix the minor errors? I was going to do something like this, so I was pleased and thankful that you had, and saved me the time.

    Thanks again!

  17. Brian says:

    I was making one of these myself before I decided to check the internet to see if my work had already been done for me. It was then that I discovered this beautiful reference sheet, which is clean, informative, and easy to understand. Thanks very much for this! It is perfect to run my Numenera slot at a gaming convention in April for brand new players.

  18. Mark says:

    This is fantastic, and a worthy replacement to the official GM screen! One small typo: in the optional rules section, you’ve written Modifying Special Abilites (abilities is missing the third ‘I’). :)

  19. Michael says:

    I’ve read Numenera called “Fate+D&D” which turns me off – besides, I also have plenty of other games I want to play and didn’t ever stumble on a good experience that changed my mind.

    Also I’ve read that even after initial enthusiasm, Numenera wears out its welcome fairly quickly (something I hear lot of about FATEish games, of course, that could happen with anything).

    How does it hold up for you for long-term play?

  20. Justin Alexander says:

    For context: I am not a fan of FATE. I am a pretty big fan of Numenera. I can see why people draw a comparison between FATE and Numenera, but whereas FATE completely misses the mark for me, Numenera succeeds in creating a really fun experience at the gaming table.

    Re: Long-term play. In my experience, it holds up very, very well. Checking my game logs, it looks like I’ve played-or-run 36 sessions of the game since 2013. (Plus another half dozen sessions of The Strange.) That includes a 16-session campaign that only came to an end because half the group moved away, a couple of short campaigns (4-6 sessions each), and a bunch of one-shots with various people.

    I’m still consistently enjoying it. And the people in my play groups are constantly harassing me to run more of it. And I feel like I’ve really only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer at this point.

    With that experience under my belt, I would also point to three key things about the game that make it something special:

    (1) The mechanics for modifying difficulty before the roll so that, when you roll, you know exactly what number you need for success or failure. It builds up the importance of the roll and then, in the moment of the roll, there is an immediate release of that tension. As a GM, you can take the energy of that release and immediately transform it into the game world. It’s just an inherently exciting mechanic.

    (2) The GM intrusions, as I discussed in The Art of the GM Intrusion are a fantastic tool that gives the GM permission to take much bigger risks than they might be willing to take in other systems. After using GM intrusions for a couple of sessions, you quickly find yourself wishing that you had them in every single system you run.

    (3) The cyphers. Much like the GM intrusions, the one-use nature of the cyphers makes it possible for the GM to take big creative risks with them. Why? Because if you screw up and make an item too powerful… well, they only get to use it once, right? So you get the cool, learn from you mistake if you made one (and you probably didn’t), and then move on.

    The whole system is designed around the central idea of giving the GM a safety net for taking big risks. Generally what happens, of course, is that you don’t need the safety net: You just get huge, awesome pay-offs from the creative risks you’re taking.

    (The ultra-easy prep for the GM is also very nice.)

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