Saturday, March 14, 2015

7 Weird Book Formats for Ninth-World Biliophiles

Books figure heavily into the equipment of Ninth World heroes.  Most books are probably block- printed, hand-colored and leather-bound.  But what other kinds of codices could your Ninth Worlders have in their portable libraries? Here are seven types of books that blur the line between mundane gear and oddities, complete with suggestions for GMI's and additional benefits for players willing to spend a few XP:

1. A bio-engineered datapad from a recently fallen civilization full of useful (and sometimes not so useful) information. The pad is a living fungus that must be kept moist and protected from the sun to function properly.
-Players can spend XP to use the pad to access larger data systems or biological systems (fungal networks across great stretches of land, fungal symbiotes on large creatures, etc.), possibly accessing more relevant information.
-Game Master Intrusion: Proximity to certain data systems causes the device to shut down completely or release a cloud of data spores that communicate the character's presence to nearby plant, fungus or data-based creatures.

2. A cloud of nanites that analyze the numenera and give immediate sensory feedback to the person "reading" them.
-XP spend to gain additional levels of sensory input.
-GMI: Nano cloud creates sensory feedback which dazes the character for one round unless they perform a level 2 Might task.

3. A single thin sheet of material that can be rolled or folded like a sheet of parchment which contains a vast store of knowledge. This information can be accessed by swiping the surface of the sheet or searched via verbal (or mental) commands.
-XP spend to find a hidden page or section related to the subject of the book.
-GMI: The material freezes in the folded or rolled state, and requires some kind of re-start to open again.

4. A bio-engineered animal that has little mobility beyond riding on a character's shoulder, but can expound eloquently on subjects it's programed to understand or know about.
-XP spend to give the animal the ability to scout or deliver small objects.
-GMI: The animal begins a loud exposition at an inopportune time; the animal's programming suddenly turns it into a level 4 predator

5. A data-eidolon who constantly hovers and swirls about the character, whispering truths and half-truths about the subject in question.
-XP spend to ask a specific question to the eidolon about its area of expertise which will be answered truthfully.
-GMI: The eidolon is attacked by an abykos (Numenera, p.230)

6. A floating cranium without a jaw bone, shot through with tech (speakers, lenses in the eye sockets, wires clogging all available openings, etc.) that provides insight on a particular subject.  The skull may also provide opinions or crack wise, if you're into that sort of thing.
-XP: the skull can carry and use one cypher. (This is not a permanent ability; the player must spend one XP for every cypher the skull uses.)
-GMI: The skull suddenly remembers its past life and tries to recruit the players to help it take care of some unfinished business.

7. A hovering silver sphere that projects holographic scenes related to its area of expertise.
-XP: the holograms have sound and can be zoomed in or out to provide an amazing level of detail.
-GMI: The holograms are outdated, dangerously inaccurate, or are garbled in some way.

These "books" can also provide adventure hooks: Who knows what strange presence is lurking in the datasphere, eager to tell it's terrible secrets to anyone brave or foolish enough to listen? Is there a mossy palimpsest buried in your fungal datapad? Who is Jadreth, and why does the book-raven keep saying that he's awake? How would you use alternative books to weird-up your Numenera campaign?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

How to Remember Game Master Intrusions Without Breaking Your GM Flow

How to Remember GM Intrusions Without Breaking Your GM Flow

Many Numenera game masters lament their struggle to remember to use GMI's in their game sessions. Forgetting or forgoing GMI's cuts players off from earning XP, which are their tools to take narrative control and to become more powerful. In a sense, they are the real treasure of Numenera. Here are six suggestions to help you ensure that your players are getting the rich experience they deserve:
  1. Prepare customized GMI's. Before you play, create three or four GMI's based on each character's backgrounds from their type and focus, their initial link to the adventure, the connection from their descriptor, their equipment, or any other specific information you have about them. For example, A Tough Gliave who Fights With Panache may have Intensive Training as their background. This means a trainer, a master, a dojo or gym, training partners, past mentors and rivals, old grudges or favors and blind spots or deficits in training that can be exploited by other trained fighters.  Any one of these could be the basis of a GMI.  In the character's background, he is  regarded as a hero by the neighbors of a family that he saved from a fire. This can lead to flashbacks at inopportune times, being recognized inconveniently, community expectations that the character will always go into burning buildings to save whoever is inside, plots to frame the PC for arson, the sudden arrival of a member of the family who needs help or has fallen in love with the PC, and so on. If the players chooses the "You're acting as a bodyguard for one of the other PC's" for their connection to the first adventure, a GMI could make fighting or defending more difficult when the guarded PC is threatened, or interacting more difficult because the PC has become over-protective or suspicious. Fighting with Panache has a connection of always wanting to impress a PC.  GMI's for this could include embarrassing failure (next action is demoralized; 1 tier harder), foolhardiness (next defense roll 1 tier harder) or an injury from showing off (1 step down the damage track). Interfering with the PC's equipment and highest stat pool can also inspire GMI's. By having a few ready-made GMI's in ready to go for each PC, the GM has already taken a step towards making sure they happen.
  2. Use a checklist. A card or sheet of paper with check boxes for each character shows whether you have intervened in their story during the session.  This can help keep you honest as well; some players maybe easier or more fun to mess with and this tool ensures that they don't get all the GMI's. This could look like a simple list of names with check boxes next to them or it could be your list of custom GMI's for each player along with a few blank slots for improvised trouble.
  3. Use a timer. If your game session is four hours long, have it go off every hour.  If you haven't done a GMI by then, by all means intrude! If you've already given some thought to how you're going to intervene with the PC's, this will be much easier.
  4. Use tokens for XP.  Having a stack of tokens (glass beads, cards, poker chips, m&m's, washers, etc) set out in sets of two will act as a visual reminder to give them out. (I used this technique when I GM'ed Savage Worlds and it really helped.)
  5. Reward players for reminding you.  If you give the players something good, either a real-world reward or an in-game benefit (your next cypher goes up a level, you get a special token that gives a free re-roll, etc.) for reminding you to do GMI's, at least one of them will remind you.  Careful that you don't let greedy players bully you into over-intruding!
  6. Solicit player suggestions for GMI's.  Remind them often that GMI's equal XP. Share the idea of using their background, equipment, abilities and environment as a source of trouble and encourage their creative feedback.  Once the players get the connection between GMI's and rewards, many of them will be more than willing to help you out. Even if you only have one eager beaver, his or her input will remind you to intrude into the other character's stories as well.
 With forethought, a few physical reminders and your players' help, the GMI's should be flying at your next game session.  I think you'll be pleased with the results.

    Sunday, February 15, 2015

    Monte Cook and Kevin Crawford are chocolate and peanut butter

    The Ninth World is a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to game there.
    Part of my struggle with the Numenera setting is a basic difference of philosophy. I read once that Monte Cook is not a fan of origin stories.  I absolutely love origin stories.  I want to know why things are as they are.  The inscrutability of Numenera intentionally deflects "why?".  Monte makes a point of not telling players why things are the way the are; it's all part of his Weird aesthetic.

    Kevin Crawford, author of Other Dust and about thirty other amazing books, is all about Why.  Context is key to understanding his settings; his back stories are deep but not boggy.  His writing embodies Kenneth Hite's principle of every sentence containing at least one gameable idea.

    The sense of context that Kevin brings to his products extends to his random tables as well.  In the latest issue of The Sandbox, his free pdf periodical, there are two one-roll generators called What's That Abandoned Structure? and A Quick Backwater Spaceport. They work by rolling all the gaming dice from d4 to d20 at once and consulting six short but idea-rich tables.   These are ideal for generating quick ruins, claves and settlements for Numenera.  The What's That Abandoned Structure? table has the following categories:

    • Where are the usable entrances?
    • What's its most noticeable form of decay?
    • What was its original use?
    • What's worth finding in it?
    • What dangers exist in it?
    • What interesting features does it have? 
    Rolling on this, I got a structures whose external sheathing is decaying and falling away.  Its usable entrance is a sinkhole or tunnel to a basement level.  Originally, it was a government building of some sort. Inside is a somewhat cumbersome but precious object.  Something is emitting dangerous gas or radiation.  The running water still works and is stuck on.

    To turn this into a Numenera ruin, I did two things. First, I changed the question of original use to "What was its most recent use?" which allows for an inscrutable past as well as some recent context. Then I rolled on the A Weird Thing About That Ancient Structure table from Monte Cook's Injecting the Weird glimmer pdf.  I came up with "Interior is akin to a hive, with honeycomb
    walls, floors, and ceilings."

    So I have a decaying building whose exterior sheathing is coming off but for some reason cannot be accessed except through a subterranean tunnel.  It was most recently used as a government building  and is full of honeycomb-like structure on the walls, floor and ceilings. Perhaps the building has been overtaken by some insectoid creature or hive of creatures.  Hazards, complications and sources for GM intrusions include running water stuck on  (water source for current residents), radiation or gas (possibly not harmful to the current residents) and the current residents themselves. There is a cumbersome but precious object here (a discovery, in Numenera parlance.  Perhaps a stasis pod or datasphere access point that provides warmth or energy for the current occupants but also puts out a radiation that is harmful to humans and mutants.) After flipping through the Numenera bestiary, I've decided that a swarm of Caffa or some new radiation-resistant variant are the current occupants.

    That's a pretty decent adventure site from seven die rolls.  Kevin's basic structure plus one of Monte's weird details gave me a great basis for a location.  Adding in a few of Monte's insectoid beasties from the Numenera core book and I've got one corner of the Ninth World ready for adventure.  I'm sure that if I follow the format for the Backwater Spaceport (roll on the table, weird it up with an NPC or other element from the glimmer) I could come up with a clave worth remembering.

    I think a little context goes a long way towards making the Ninth World more accessible to me as a GM, and by extension to any future players I may host. Mixing Kevin Crawford's excellent context-building tools with just a dash of  Monte Cook's aesthetic of the weird and unexplainable will gives me a more accessible and therefore playable Ninth World.