The Alexandrian

Archive for the ‘Roleplaying Games’ category

… and by that, I mean that they should be inspiring good, old-fashioned awe with the things that they do.

This is something I first talked about in D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations and I developed the theme in E(X): The Many Games Inside the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game.

Recently I was speaking with someone who was unhappy with the “crazy scaling” of Perception checks he was seeing in the arms race of high level Pathfinder games: The players crank up their Perception modifiers. The GM responds by simply cranking up the DC necessary to accomplish previously much easier tasks. The result is “silly” and “ridiculous”.

This is what I said:

FIRST, CONTEXTUALIZE THE NUMBERS. Instead of just blindly cranking up the numbers, think about what those larger numbers really mean. If a DC 30 check reveals a “well-hidden secret door”, then what does a DC 40 check really mean? Well, it means something that no one in the real world without special tools would ever be able to detect. So maybe that means that the door has been phase-shifted onto the Ethereal Plane; or painted with the illusion-infused blood of a demon; or covered with the alchemically-treated hide of an animal that has evolved the ability to make people psychically ignore its presence.

In other words, embrace the fact that the PCs are doing awesome things and really emphasize how awesome it is.

SECOND, EMPHASIZE NOT CHANGING THE NUMBERS. Instead of trying to keep the same old tasks challenging, focus on the paradigm shift that’s occurred.

Yup. They’re really, really good at finding hidden things. Similarly, they’re really, really good at killing 1st level goblins. Instead of resisting that change by leveling up all the goblins in the universe to match their new abilities, focus instead on exploring how their interaction with the world shifts.

A mechanical option along these same lines would be to include guidelines for improving the quality or speed of a check by accepting a penalty on the check. For example, I have a generic set of guidelines for “quick checks” that drop the time required for the check by one category in exchange for accepting a -10 penalty to the check. (High level characters, for example, can make successful Gather Information checks in 1d4+1 minutes instead of 1d4+1 hours by accepting a -20 penalty on their check.) For Perception checks, you might apply a -10 penalty to allow characters to notice hidden doors/objects/etc. without actively searching for them. (They just walk into a room and spot the hidden door in the corner.)

An extreme example of this sort of thing Doctor Who: The Doctor can open the door of the TARDIS, sniff the air, and instantly identify the atmospheric content, the planet he’s standing on, and the time period. (I like to imagine that this is based on complex spectrographic analysis compared to charts which Time Lords study in school much like we study multiplication tables.)

ALTERNATIVELY, PUT A CAP ON THE AWESOME. If you don’t want to embrace the awesome, on the other hand, you’ll be much happier simply stepping out of the arms race. Cap their advancement before they become “too awesome”, either drawing the campaign to a close or finding other ways of advancing their characters. (This is where E(X): The Many Games Inside the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game comes back into the picture.)

Numenera - System Cheat Sheet

(click for PDF)

A couple months ago I posted a draft version of my system cheat sheet for Numenera. At the time, I predicted that I would be running the game sooner rather than later. That turned out to be really, really true. I’m now running the game regularly for three groups:

  • The original playtest group I organized.
  • A second group which had gathered at my house for random gaming and asked me if I had a roleplaying game ready to roll.
  • A group composed entirely of players new to roleplaying games.

It’s been a rousing success with all three and I’ve now run a total of 12 sessions. At least one of these groups will be winding down once the original adventure is completed (Vortex), but one of the groups has already transitioned to a full campaign using The Devil’s Spine as a foundation and the group of newcomers also appear to be interested in the long haul (although I think they’ll end up going a different direction).

In any case, I’ve used my play experience to both expand and refine the cheat sheet, which I now consider to be in its final version. As before, this cheat sheet is 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.)


The cheat sheet still uses landscape formatting suitable for insertion 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 the Numenera GM Screen PDF you’ll be totally golden.

You may notice, however, that the final version of the sheet has more than four pages. What I’ve been doing is printing the “Miscellaneous Rules” and “Numenera” pages using inverted duplex printing and then taping that sheet to the “Hazards & Combat Modifiers” page. Insert the “Hazards & Combat Modifiers” page into the screen and you’ll be able to fold the other sheet over so that it displays the “Miscellaneous Rules” page, but can be flipped up to show the other two pages.

(Alternatively, of course, you can just choose two pages not to include.)


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 6 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.

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 superfluous quickly. You’ll note that I included 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 and has proven useful during play.

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. (I’ve been adding another column or so of additional material at the beginning of each subsequent section, slowly adding more tools to the players’ toolboxes.)

Page 3: The extended combat actions and options. The rules for “Trading Damage for Effect” are technically an optional rule, but I’ve found them too invaluable not to include here. (Compared to the draft version of the sheet, you may also notice that I’ve pulled out the guidelines for simplifying multiple enemies and the boss package you can use to buff NPCs. Very useful stuff for the GM that’s buried deep in the rulebook.)

Page 4: A collection of miscellanea. Optional rules are off on the right, but I haven’t used them yet in my own game. (You’ll also note a couple of house rules tucked down in the corner. These are still being playtested, but I think they’re useful.)

Page 5: Everything that you need to know about the numenera. This stuff is highly situational, but one concept I’ve found needs to be stressed to new players is the idea of scavenging for numenera. This process appears to be non-intuitive so you need to let them know it’s an expected part of the game world.

Page 6: Hazards & Combat modifiers. I expressed bafflement when I posted my draft version of the sheet for why all of these modifiers exist. In actual practice, I’ve found them more useful than I anticipated.


As I mentioned before: Y’all should grab a copy of Numenera and start playing ASAP. It had my official “I Had a Ton of Fun Playing That” seal of approval and twelve more sessions has only served to add a “I Had a Ton of Fun Running That” merit badge.

Numenera - Monte Cook Games

(Please note that the title page has been altered to remove the copyright logo graphic I originally used in the draft version. All Numenera content on this website is issued under the fair use doctrine and it should be explicitly understood that no content on this website is issued under the MCG fan use policy.)

Untested Numenera: Grappling

December 6th, 2013

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesGRAPPLE: You can attempt to physically wrestle and restrain an opponent by attempting a Might task. Once a grapple has been successfully initiated, all physical actions are treated as opportunity actions requiring a Might task to attempt. A character can attempt to break out of a grapple by succeeding on a Might task as an action (without needing to make the opportunity check). Characters in a grapple defend at +1 difficulty.

(So if you’ve been grappled and wanted to throw a dagger at someone, you would need to first succeed at a Might task in order to gain the opportunity to throw the dagger. If you’re grappling someone who wants to punch you in the face, you would get an opportunity action to attempt a Might task to prevent them even trying to punch you.)

If multiple characters are grappling a single opponent, you can use the standard rules for helping. (The bonuses from helping would also affect the Might task for the opportunity action.)

FOCUSED GUARDING: If you’re attempting to stop a specific character from attempting a specific action (“I tackle him before he can run out the door!”), you can attempt a Speed task at -2 difficulty. On a success, the character you’re targeting will be prevented from taking the indicated action.


There are no rules for grappling presented in the Numenera rulebook. The closest you’ll get is a special ability possessed by a monster called a chirog, which looks like this:

Chirogs do not use weapons or tools, usually attacking with a savage bite. However, they can also grapple a foe, which is just like a normal attack except that rather than inflicting damage, it holds the foe immobile. The foe can take only purely mental actions or struggle to get free (a Might task at difficulty 4). Both the grappling chirog and the grappled foe are easier targets for other combatants, with attackers gaining a two-step modification in their favor.

At first glance, this looks like a decent place to start if you’re looking to make a ruling for grappling in Numenera. Unfortunately, upon reflection it turns to be fairly unbalanced as a generic mechanic. For example, the chirog’s ability is even better than stunning an opponent: Stunning means that you can’t take an action next turn and you defend at +1 difficulty. Chirog-style grappling means that you can’t take an action next turn, you defend at +2 difficulty, and are at risk of having the effect continue unless you succeed on a Might task. There is a trade-off insofar as the person initiating the grapple also suffers a +2 difficulty to defense, but since stunning also requires a much greater expenditure of resources than the single action required by chirog-style grappling it’s pretty clear that chirog-style grappling would be broken as a generic mechanic.

So I instead took chirog-style grappling as a loose guideline and improvised on a similar theme. When I was done I discovered that I had inadvertently created something pretty reminiscent of my Super Simple Grappling rules for D&D.

The rules for focused guarding are a bit more experimental. My basic thought process there is that, by the rules as written, a character can perform a Guard action which allows them to specify an action and prevent anyone from attempting it by making a Speed roll at -1 difficulty. Ergo, I’m concluding that stopping only a specific character from preventing that action should be easier. (So you can stop that one specific guy from running through the door, but all of his friends will still be free to do so.)

It may be too powerful, though. I’m specifically eyeballing the scenario where the PCs are fighting a solo monster. I’ve suddenly made it flat-out easier to counter that monster’s actions. So something to keep an eye on.


The Strange - Monte Cook Games

Monte Cook’s Numenera has recently been dominating my gaming table: I’ve run twelve sessions of it for three different groups in the last two months and it seems to be a hit with just about everybody. I’ve posted some cool stuff about it recently, so you may already be aware of this.

What you may not be aware of is that Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell have joined forces to create another game using the same engine: The Strange is a multi-dimensional romp in which your characters will change depending on which world they’re currently inhabiting. It’s generally conjuring up images of Torg, Planescape, The Matrix, and the best parts of Amazing Engine. But it also feels like it’s got its own unique little vibe.

They’re currently running a kickstarter for it and I’m mavening for it pretty hard: They’re currently at $351,130 as I write this, but they’ve got a stretch goal at $360k to release an additional 96-page adventure supplement. Since I’m generally a pretty big fan of adventure designed by Cook and Cordell, that’s something I’d really, really like to see happen.

If you’re interested in just taking a peek, you can drop $25 to get PDF copies of the core rulebook and the Player’s Guide. But the real juice starts at $80 (when you get a copy of the rulebook plus PDFs of all seven books that have become part of the kickstarter at this point). There are a bunch of other pledge levels and add-ons, but the next significant plateau for me is the $200 level (where you get printed copies of all seven books). But I’m also going to take a moment to pimp the Superfan packages, which currently look like this (but will continue to improve as more stretch goals are met):

The Strange Kickstarter - Superfan Packages

I just recently upgraded my pledge to the $450 MCG Superfan level: It’s getting me 16-18 titles at an average price significantly lower than retail. But, on top of that, I’m also getting the $120 limited edition, the short story collection, decks of cards, and a plethora of pretty awesome goodies.

I’m very, very close to upgrading my pledge by another $200 to get both Superfan packages. I’m not saying it’s something everybody needs to do, but I’m really looking forward to receiving a steady stream of awesome RPG products for the next few years.

The Strange - Monte Cook Games

Numenera - Monte Cook GamesSome quick mechanical background for people unfamiliar with Numenera: In this system, you deal flat damage based on the type of weapon you use. (A light weapon does 2 points of damage; a medium weapon does 4 points of damage; and a heavy weapon does 6 points of damage.) You can increase the amount of damage you inflict by exerting effort or by rolling well on your attack roll. And, finally, you subtract the target’s armor value from the damage inflicted before applying it to their health pool.

This means that the key armor values in Numenera are 2, 4, and 6: At armor 2, you can’t hurt it with a light weapon unless you use effort. At armor 4, you can’t hurt it with a medium weapon unless you use effort. And so forth.

Now, let’s talk about items: Items are assigned a health pool and an armor value. The armor value for an item can be 1 (hard objects), 2 (very hard objects), or 3 (extremely hard objects).

This means that, mechanically speaking, the game is asking the GM to make an assessment: Can you hurt this with a dagger? Can you hurt this with a dagger if you use some effort?

Once you express it in those terms, it becomes pretty easy to see that, objectively speaking, the system is producing really unrealistic results. (If you’re wielding anything larger than a dagger, you’re going to be able to break literally anything in the game world. And you are probably going to be able to break it very quickly and with very little effort.) And from a mechanical standpoint, it would be much more interesting for the GM to have a richer panoply of assessments to trivially choose from.

My recommendation is to set the object armor values at the key armor values indicated above:

  • Vulnerable objects get 0 Armor
  • Hard objects get 2 Armor
  • Very Hard objects get 4 Armor
  • Extremely Hard objects get 6 Armor
  • Impervious objects get 12 Armor

You can hit that marble statue with your dagger all day, but unless you spend some effort to find a key weak point you’re not getting anywhere. You’re probably going to want to something big and heavy to pound through a metal door. Et cetera.

(“Impervious” objects aren’t actually impervious here. But 12 Armor seems like a decent figure for something that could be physically destroyed, but which would require significant effort. Leaves the door open for creative thinking. If something were truly indestructible in some metaphysical sense, I just wouldn’t bother putting stats to it.)

You can also look at these revised mechanics in terms of how they interact with each type of weapon when wielded by a tier 1 character:

  • Light weapons aren’t very effective against tougher objects. They can only damage hard objects (stone) if they spend some effort (+3 damage). They can deal a little bit of damage to very hard objects (made out of metal) with effort, but it’s very unlikely that they’ll effect extremely hard objects (it would require a combination of effort and a special ability or great die roll). It’s virtually impossible for them to affect impervious objects.
  • Medium weapons can hack through hard objects with patience, can damage very hard objects with a little bit of effort, and can even make pretty quick work of extremely hard objects. Impervious objects are probably out of reach, unless special powers get involved.
  • Heavy weapons will annihilate most vulnerable objects in a single blow, smash through hard objects with a couple of solid blows, and make very quick work of very hard objects. Extremely hard objects will require a bit of effort, but can be managed. Impervious objects can get dinged up, but it’s going to take a really long time.



Recent Posts

Recent Comments

Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © The Alexandrian. All rights reserved.