How to run a Numenera One Shot

I've found that I've been running Numenera for a lot of players who have never played it before. In order to get players up and running with the game as quickly as possible I've been refining my introduction each time I run it. I now feel that I've got a pretty decent set of steps that I run through to get a game of Numenera going for anyone.

Keep it brief

Brevity is the most important thing to keep in mind when bringing new players into Numenera. There are a couple of hooks that will get your players' attention, and a few rules that are important as well. However, the best way to get your players up to speed and keep them interested is to keep everything brief and move into the actual play as quickly as you can. You don't need a lot of mechanics to get Numenera going, and the setting can be dished out in an intriguing way with just a few sentences. You should be able to get through the pitch for the setting and the basic rules of the game in 5-10 minutes. I'll time it next time, because my estimate may be a bit high.

With that out of the way we're ready to run through my loose script.

  • Introduce the setting
  • Go over checks and the 1-10 difficulty scale
  • Discuss the three pools
  • Cover effort and edge
  • Cover the three classes, and describe a character with the character sentence
  • Summarize cyphers and oddities
  • Add more complexity during the game

Welcome to the Ninth World!

When I introduce the setting I like to hit what I consider the three big points, then wrap the players into it. Those points are that we're on Earth, but a billion years in the future. There have been eight previous civilizations and we're in the ninth such incarnation. Finally, all of the "magic items" are ancient artifacts from these previous worlds. I then bring the group into it by giving them a general sense of their place in the world; they are adventurers. That wraps up the fantastical sci-fantasy it a neat and digestible package.

Here's how I generally try to run the intro.

You're on Earth, but it's a billion years in the future. Eight worlds have risen and fallen and you are now living amidst their ruins in what is called the Ninth World. Remnants of those previous worlds are referred to as Numenera. Artifacts, ancient devices, or even structures would be considered to be Numenera. Many have purposes that are unclear, while others could be very beneficial to a group of adventurers like yourselves.
 TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2014 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Overcoming adversity in the Ninth World

Now we introduce some rules for the players to use. When you're running a one shot you want to get into the game as quickly as possible, but you still need to lay out some rules before you do so. I like to present the players with the least amount of rules they need to get a flavor of the system. I've also found that turning this explanation into play works really well.

Numenera, which runs on the Cypher System rules, makes challenges more straight forward because any challenge I present to your characters will be on a scale from 1-10.

Yes, the scale is technically 0-10, but it's an unnecessary detail for new players and would only raise questions. It's a simple answer, but glossing over it makes understanding the basic idea much simpler. If I have the Numenera play mat on the table I'd point out the difficulty scale now.

Let's say Crail wants to scale a cliff face. I might say it is a Difficult task, which is a level 3 check. Whenever you attempt to make a check multiply the difficulty of the challenge by 3 to get your target number then roll a d20. All right Crail, roll.

Sometimes I drop this step and use my friend Adam's Major Effect Dice. These are dice that simply remove the math from the game, check them out. For this example, I'll stick with standard d20s. It doesn't matter what the player rolls here, we're just going to use it as the example. Let's assume the player rolled a 10 which would beat a difficulty 3 check.

All right, great. So you beat the target number and managed to scale the cliff. Now, there are a few things you could do before rolling the die to make the check easier on yourself. The first thing is to check your list of skills to see if you have any training that might help with the check. Your character is trained in climbing related tasks, so that would give you an asset on the check which would reduce the difficulty from 3 to 2. Also, if you happen to have any items that you think would help out with the check they would also provide an asset.

Skills are pretty straight forward, so we don't need to spend much time on them. If you have a skill that applies to the check then the difficulty of the check is reduced accordingly. You could also mention Specialization here, but I like to keep things simple. There is only one specialized skill among the pregen characters, so I tend to tackle that wrinkle when it comes up in the game.

After looking over your skills and items, if you still want to make the check easier you can put some Effort into it. You can spend 3 points from the appropriate pool to reduce the difficulty of a check by 1. This represents your character exerting themselves to accomplish something. For the case of scaling the cliff, I'd say Strength would be the pool you'd spend points from for Effort.

Spending points to apply Effort is a concept that will probably seem foreign to most players. They are expected to spend what looks like their hit points to pass skill checks. Framing it as your character exerting themselves seems to help players get over the hump of holding onto their points. Along with spending pool for Effort you'll also need to cover Edge so they know that some tasks are easier for their characters.

If you spend points from one of your pools that cost will be reduced by any Edge for that pool.

That will take care of the basics of the rules that I like to cover before throwing the players into the game. I'll touch on cyphers and powers very briefly, then get the game started.

Just a couple more things and we'll get started. Each of your characters has powers you can use during the game. Most of the time your powers will have a pool cost, which can be reduced by Edge. Details for the powers are covered on the cheat sheets that were provided with your characters. You each have Cyphers, which are one shot powers you can use as well. Don't worry about using them, you'll find more during your adventures.

The cheat sheets I'm referring to can be found here. These are based upon the sheets Darcy Ross put together for the pregen characters. I've modified the rules text just a bit to make it apply specifically to how I like to run through the rules for a one shot.

That is basically all of the prep I give the players before we start the game. If you're running the game for totally new players, then you've got to remind them of relevant things during the first part of the game. For example, if a player is attempting a check you should ask them if they're using effort, or if they have any skills that might help. After a while, your players will internalize the mechanics and make those decisions without prompting.

Other Rules During Play

You may have noticed that I didn't mention anything about GM Intrusions, Major and Minor Effects and Botches. There is no benefit for players to know about these things before they happen, so avoid complicating the set up and just deal with them as they happen. I like to kick the game off with a GM Intrustion that modifies how the opening scene will play out. In the last game I ran I told the group they had arrived in town the night before and they had stayed at the local tavern. Karner's player said he spent most of the night having way too much to drink, so I used that as a great place to introduce GM Intrusions. I tossed Karner two XP, told him he was getting a GM Intrusion and told him to keep one XP and hand the other to someone else. I also explained that XP can be used to reroll any d20, yours and anyone else's, then gave him the intrustion. Since he'd been up too late, and drank too much, I said that the hangover he had was making him sweat a foul smelling byproduct of the local alcohol and it would make any social checks two steps harder. I also didn't bother to mention that you could refuse an intrustion by spending an XP. It's a confusing rule for new players that doesn't get used much, if at all.

Introducing Major Effects is really simple in game as well. Once someone rolls that 20, you simply tell them they have a Major Effect. They get all of the points they just spent back, what they were trying to do succeeds, and I like to as the following question.

"What happens that makes this even more awesome?"

It generally works. Give the player complete control here, and as long as they don't break the game just go along with it. If that player freezes up in the moment, or doesn't want to volunteer any ideas open it up to everyone. There is going to be someone at the table that will give you a good idea.

Minor Effects are pretty much the same, though instead of awesome I ask for something cool. It's a very precise scale. I also tend to let Minor Effects get pretty weighty for one shots, it's way more memorable that way.

Botches are the easiest thing to introduce. Once somebody botches you just tell them you get a free GM Intrusion and you're going to make their lives miserable.

There it is, my script and method for running a Numenera one shot. Keep the intro brief, bend and ignore the rules, and make the game memorable. Also, be sure to grab the pregen cheat sheet if you need it.

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