What I Like About: Numenera
Inspired by The D6 Generation’s “No Hate Policy” and being excited to play Numenera I’m starting a new series on the blog where I talk about what I like about a game or other product. This is similar to a review except I’m not going to worry about presenting a balanced or comprehensive opinion. All I really want to do is talk about something that I think is cool.
Today I’m going to talk about my favorite part of Numenera. I really like the rules, and specifically the rules for the GM. After being inspired by a setting the most important part of an RPG game is how easy is it to actually run. This is what attracted me to Dungeon World: the game can be run easily with no preparation.
Unlike Dungeon World’s move-based system where every task has the same difficulty1, Numenera uses a more familiar difficulty level threshold. To succeed a player must beat a specified number on the throw of a D20. This is not unusual, although the difficulty level/target number mechanic is something I haven’t seen before.
In Numenera this D20 test is used for everything. A creature, NPC or environmental hazard can all be expressed by a difficulty level. When you attack you find the target number based on your target’s difficulty level. When you defend, you do the same. Jump a gap, target number based on difficulty level. Basic enemies can simply be represented by a difficulty level.
For me this mechanic is really useful when creating NPCs. When creating an NPC you start with just a difficulty level. To add life to the NPC you can create exceptions, things they can do that are different from their baseline. A simple goon might be level 2 but fight in melee at level 3.
Anything you need to realize your NPC can be added as an exception at either above or below the base level. Runs, Jumps, Social Interaction, Mind Blasts, Solves Puzzles. Most NPCs should only require a few exceptions and they should be exceptional. The difficulty levels represent large differences instead of fine differences.
The end result is the ability to create NPCs and interesting creatures using only a couple of sentences. Grog the level 2 Bartender who Bargains at level 3 is different from Brob the level 2 Bartender who plays cards at level 3. Luke Skywalker would be a level 2 moisture farmer who pilots at level 4 at the beginning of the first movie2.
This also makes running pre-made adventures exceptionally easy. My point of comparison is the nigh-incomprehensible Dungeon and Dragons 3rd Edition statblocks with their SA and SQ and a million other abbreviations. Telling the difference between a creature that attacks three times a turn and one that had three attacks to choose from was a trick I never discovered.
So there you go. This is my favorite part of the game. The feeling that I can just pick it up and go, play the game and focus on my story without having to decide how many points in Climb Rope my level 15 Sorcerer has. I really look forward to playing Numenera soon.
Numenera is a game by Monte Cook and is published by Monte Cook Games. The art used in this article is used according to Monte Cook Games’ Fan Use Policy and in TM and Copyright 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC. I want to point out how much I appreciate how Monte Cook Games enables fans to use their art while maintaining the necessary control over their IP.
1) Dungeon World is a game where if you apply the system correctly you can handle any situation and modulate difficulty. The tools are there. It takes GM skill to really wield those tools effectively. It’s like saying a hammer and chisel are the tools you need to sculpt Michaelangelo’s David. True, but I’d like to see you try.
2) So I don’t know if Luke would be level 2. I haven’t played Numenera yet and haven’t memorized the difficult levels. Also, when I say first movie I’m completely discounting the Prequels, as should the world.
That mechanic of “does x at a different level” is very cool, and could easily go the other way too. Rob the 3rd level beggar fights as level 1 because of his missing leg, or Manny the level 2 chef who cooks as level 1…
Good point and thanks for the clarification. It was on my mind that exceptions could go down or up but I forgot to mention it in my article.
I’m a level 2 hobbyist who writes articles at level 1, I guess. Haha.