• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

Numenera: Third Time Wasn't the Charm

Retreater

Explorer
I recently returned from Origins, where I played several RPGs. Some went as expected (4e D&D), some went better than I was expecting (WHFRPG, Forbidden Lands), and some were amazing fun (Savage Rifts). But the one that struck me as the most disappointing was Numenera.

My first encounter with Numenera was several years ago at GenCon, GMed by someone associated with Monte Cook Games. It went okay. Most of the fun was with the other players at table, reinforcing the idea that almost any system can be fun with a good group. The second time we tried it was in my home group with a friend GMing it. It ended after two sessions - for the same reasons I will explore below with the bad experience at Origins. Then most recently, I played at Origins. Through no fault of the GM or the other players, it was one of the worst RPG experiences I've had at a con - completely the fault of the rules.

Here are the continual themes of problems I've noticed with Numenera.

1) Too much Damage Reduction - not enough ways around it. I couldn't damage the enemies, even on a critical hit. Half the party members had no way of significantly contributing to a battle.

2) Nearly every attack damages Might. Spreading this out to the other ability scores would have two effects: a) characters with other high ability scores wouldn't be as squishy; b) warriors (glaives) wouldn't cannibalize their ability to stand in combat to do cool actions and attacks. Have more psychic attacks damaging Intellect. Have something attack Speed. There is a great idea here that they just don't exploit.

3) Low level characters have very limited abilities. Your character will have one or two attacks and one or two skills. It's not uncommon to have an encounter when one of your attacks flat out doesn't work. So all you can do is spam one ability. It's extraordinarily boring.

I frequently see Numenera come up as a system that people just don't like. I feel like for me, personally, it is a missed opportunity - a system that could've been top tier.

What am I missing? Does anyone love this system? Do others dislike it? Why?
 

Gradine

Archivist
The tricky part of Numenera is... well, the Numenera. The game isn't balanced to allow the characters to survive on their own talents. You're supposed to be constantly using the Numenera that you're supposed to be tripping over.

The problem with this is that there are two potential fail points; the GM failing to provide enough Numenera or the players not being willing to use them often enough.

The design bears some of the blame in not providing enough GM support for this. There aren't enough sample Numenera. This crops up again with the NPC design; things that hurt your Speed and Intellect should not be nearly as rare as things that hurt your Might.

Missed opportunities, to be sure
 

Aldarc

Explorer
Here are the continual themes of problems I've noticed with Numenera.

1) Too much Damage Reduction - not enough ways around it. I couldn't damage the enemies, even on a critical hit. Half the party members had no way of significantly contributing to a battle.
I have variously encountered this issue as well, depending on party composition. One potential quick work around is to remove static damage and replace it with variable die damage. So Light weapons do d4; Medium weapons do d6; and Heavy weapons do d8. Or knock them up a die. See what works best for your group. This gives a bit more chance that some weapons can exceed typical damage reduction. The other option is to reduce the damage reduction.

I am curious about how much damage reduction your opponent had. If you were using a light weapon (+2 dmg) a minimum and got a crit on 17-20 (+1-4 dmg), then that is +3-6 damage. This is not including any other bonuses to damage that your abilities from your type or focus might confer. I'm not familiar with many monsters that have that much damage reduction, but I would need to double-check.

2) Nearly every attack damages Might. Spreading this out to the other ability scores would have two effects: a) characters with other high ability scores wouldn't be as squishy; b) warriors (glaives) wouldn't cannibalize their ability to stand in combat to do cool actions and attacks. Have more psychic attacks damaging Intellect. Have something attack Speed. There is a great idea here that they just don't exploit.
I agree that there should probably be a variety of ability attacks, but I have not really experienced this too heavily as a problem in praxis. I don't think that Glaives typically cannibalize their attacks that much. A number of people who have played Glaives in my games also pick foci that are Int or Spd powered, so they can spread their abilities across the different stat types. Because otherwise what would they do with their Int scores? Glaives certainly are at risk for having their Might reduced, but they also have armor and Edges that should help in reducing how much Might (and Speed) they are bleeding. And if you spend Effort in Speed to avoid getting hit in the first place, then you reduce how much you lose from your Might pool. So the game does entail these sort of stat pool management choices as well. Not to mention the ability to put more points into Might from their Descriptor, Foci, or tier progression.

3) Low level characters have very limited abilities. Your character will have one or two attacks and one or two skills. It's not uncommon to have an encounter when one of your attacks flat out doesn't work. So all you can do is spam one ability. It's extraordinarily boring.
Give out another ability or two then? IME, the game isn't so much about combat but, rather, about discovery. Combat mainly serves as an obstacle for making those discoveries. Again, keeping in mind that you get XP not for defeating monsters but for making discoveries. Combat is one pillar that allows players to do cool things, and many options are certainly oriented towards that,* but many are also oriented towards exploration and social pillars. And while players have a small subset of abilities - which makes things easier to learn for new players - they also have a rotation of cyphers that they can use that give them a variable set of choices.

* I do think that Monte & Co. are somewhat stuck in their 3.X mindset where they think primarily in combat options.

There is also a certain degree of OSR design philosophy present where sometimes you are not meant to confront everything through combat. It's sometimes best to sneak around, negotiate, or use your cyphers to circumvent challenges. I think that this becomes clearer with the newest edition of Numenera where they now added (essentially) a charismatic type, an engineering type, and a salvaging-explorer type. None of which are stellar at combat. Most of these are oriented towards building-up a community so their combat utility is questionable. But I do think that the newer edition edges them closer to their original design goal about creating a game oriented towards buildign a future in the colossal shadow of the past.

What am I missing? Does anyone love this system? Do others dislike it? Why?
I enjoy the system, but I do not necessarily love it. It's incredibly easy for me to run a game of Numenera with little prep time. I guess that you are probably missing the cypher use aspect. These are big ticket items that you should be using and finding at a fairly regular pace. But this is GM-dependent, much as [MENTION=57112]Gradine[/MENTION] says.
 
Last edited:

Retreater

Explorer
I am curious about how much damage reduction your opponent had. If you were using a light weapon (+2 dmg) a minimum and got a crit on 17-20 (+1-4 dmg), then that is +3-6 damage. This is not including any other bonuses to damage that your abilities from your type or focus might confer. I'm not familiar with many monsters that have that much damage reduction, but I would need to double-check.
I think it was 5 or 6, against a 1st level party. But still, having only a 10% chance to accomplish anything is a bad percentage. Sitting around waiting for my turn just to do nothing does not make a compelling game design.

IME, the game isn't so much about combat but, rather, about discovery. Combat mainly serves as an obstacle for making those discoveries.
In theory, yes. In practice (based on my XP), I'd say it's not. The two con games I played, both designed and run by Monte Cook affiliates, were both basically set up like D&D adventures. Ambushes in the first adventure that couldn't be avoided. In the second, competing in a battle tournament in a gladiator arena.

In no game did I get a cypher during the course of play. It was as a reward at the end of the adventure, when it was too late to come into play.

These house rules you provide might improve the experience. But these are known issues. The 2nd edition is less than a year old. This stuff should've been fixed before the printing.
 

Aldarc

Explorer
I think it was 5 or 6, against a 1st level party. But still, having only a 10% chance to accomplish anything is a bad percentage. Sitting around waiting for my turn just to do nothing does not make a compelling game design.
That's a helluva a lot of damage reduction, especially against a Tier 1 party. I don't think that's a game design issue, but, rather, a GM encounter design one.

In theory, yes. In practice (based on my XP), I'd say it's not. The two con games I played, both designed and run by Monte Cook affiliates, were both basically set up like D&D adventures. Ambushes in the first adventure that couldn't be avoided. In the second, competing in a battle tournament in a gladiator arena.
Both of which seem like an adventure design issues.

In no game did I get a cypher during the course of play. It was as a reward at the end of the adventure, when it was too late to come into play.
Which is naturally a problem. Characters should also start play with cyphers.

These house rules you provide might improve the experience. But these are known issues. The 2nd edition is less than a year old. This stuff should've been fixed before the printing.
Maybe. There are other Cypher System games also produced by MCG that marginalize the need for cyphers. But for Numenera, cyphers are meant to be a part of the setting.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
From the discussion of Metics thread:

In Numenera, players roll all the dice, they use XP to change the GM's mind, and they use abilities to determine/adjust how difficult a task is. The book encourages the GM to let players describe their actions, and gives many examples of negotiation between player and GM of certain outcomes.
Sure sounds better than that game you guys are discussing, here.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
1) Too much Damage Reduction - not enough ways around it. I couldn't damage the enemies, even on a critical hit. Half the party members had no way of significantly contributing to a battle.
How very bizarre - in the Numenera core rulebook, damage resistance is a very -rare- thing. It's not even supposed to be on a third of the monsters, thus why the design in damage being 2, 3, and 5. Sounds like bad monster creation (only referring to your third play example, obviously).

Otherwise, we had fun with the game (playtesting and after the release). To be fair, however, we still incorporated many of the playtesting rules, because they were just more intuitive.
 
Last edited:

Retreater

Explorer
How very bizarre - in the Numenera core rulebook, damage resistance is a very -rare- thing. It's not even supposed to be on a third of the monsters, thus why the design in damage being 2, 3, and 5. Sounds like bad monster creation (only referring to your third play example, obviously).

Otherwise, we had fun with the game (playtesting and after the release). To be fair, however, we still incorporated many of the playtesting rules, because they were just more intuitive.
Very unusual. It seemed a common feature with nearly every monster from all three games I played with different GMs. Monsters that can just shrug off 2-3 points of damage here or there is pretty substantial when most characters can't regularly do more than 2 points of damage without a critical hit.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
Very unusual. It seemed a common feature with nearly every monster from all three games I played with different GMs. Monsters that can just shrug off 2-3 points of damage here or there is pretty substantial when most characters can't regularly do more than 2 points of damage without a critical hit.
Ouch - I can definitely see armor (damage resistance) easily abused in that way. Sorry your experience was so terrible. It could also be I'm behind the time a bit in regards to its current iteration. I only have the original kickstarter books for the game, so only one monster portfolio, a couple of free adventures, and the players information and world-building. As of -that- time, monsters were meant to rarely have armor, because it even talks about the limitations of damage against armor causing some issues.
 

Aldarc

Explorer
So out of my own curiosity, I decided to go through the main Numenera books to get a sense for the Armor ratings (AR) of the creatures. I will look per book (of the selected books) and then the total.

Numenera Discovery (old core book but modified)
0 AR: 12
1 AR: 6
2 AR: 9
3 AR: 6
4 AR: 5
5 AR: 1
6 AR: 1

Numenera Destiny (new core book)
0 AR: 9
1 AR: 4
2 AR: 5
3 AR: 7
4 AR: 5
5 AR: 1

Numenera World Guidebook
0 AR: 5
1 AR: 10
2 AR: 7
3 AR: 3
4 AR: 1
12: 1 (the Eurieg, which is DC 4/TN 12 sled "dog," so I am fairly convinced this was a typo)

Bestiary 1
0 AR: 19
1 AR: 33
2 AR: 26
3 AR: 21
4 AR: 12
5 AR: 5
6 AR: 2
8 AR: 1

Bestiary 2
0 AR: 58
1 AR: 28
2 AR: 37
3 AR: 26
4 AR: 10
5 AR: 7
10 AR: 1 (The Vow, which is DC 10/TN 30 and the stuff of apocryphal legends)

Bestiary 3
0 AR: 48
1 AR: 57
2 AR: 31
3 AR: 21
4 AR: 9
5 AR: 4
6 AR: 1
8 AR: 1

Totals (558 creatures)
0 AR: 151; ~27.1 percent
1 AR: 138 ~24.7 percent
2 AR: 115; ~20.6 percent
3 AR: 84; ~15.1 percent
4 AR: 42; ~7.53 percent
5 AR: 18; ~3.23 percent
6 AR: 5; ~0.90 percent
8 AR: 3; ~0.54 percent
10 AR: 1: ~0.18 percent
12 AR: 1 (likely meant to be 1-2 AR); ~0.18 percent

Also, while going through these books, I noticed that many of the higher AR creatures are not necessarily even meant to be fought. Some are things like creatures that support entire settlements on their back or in a pocket dimension in their head. Most of the things that 5+ AR are either things like that or things are you are not meant to fight until higher tiers when you should have more ways to penetrate armor.

But let's run a hypothetical scenario with a Tier 1 glaive and a Tier 1 nano where you were facing a creature with AR 4-5, so around 10-11 percent collectively from creatures surveyed.

Glaive: You get Combat Prowess, which provides +1 damage to your choice of ranged or melee weapons. You have access to all weapons, which would include Medium (4 dmg) or Heavy (6 dmg). This is 5-7 damage default per hit, not including any special abilities that you may have as part of your focus, which should get past most 4-5 AR. This does not include the possibility for critical hits either.

Nano: You can only use Light Weapons (2 dmg), but you can pick a Tier 1 ability called Onslaught that does 4 dmg. It costs 1 Int to use, but as a Nano you have Intellect Edge 1, so the ability cost is effectively 0. If you get a critical hit on a 19, that's +3 dmg; or on a 20, that's +4 dmg. So that would still provide you 7-8 dmg to bypass 4-5 AR. Sure that requires a critical, but you had mentioned "even on a critical" you didn't do damage.

Now if we are talking about bypassing any AR above 5, then we are talking about 1.8 percent of all creatures in the books that I looked through above: the 2 core books, the setting book, and 3 bestiaries.
 

Retreater

Explorer
But let's run a hypothetical scenario with a Tier 1 glaive and a Tier 1 nano where you were facing a creature with AR 4-5, so around 10-11 percent collectively from creatures surveyed.

Glaive: You get Combat Prowess, which provides +1 damage to your choice of ranged or melee weapons. You have access to all weapons, which would include Medium (4 dmg) or Heavy (6 dmg). This is 5-7 damage default per hit, not including any special abilities that you may have as part of your focus, which should get past most 4-5 AR. This does not include the possibility for critical hits either.

Nano: You can only use Light Weapons (2 dmg), but you can pick a Tier 1 ability called Onslaught that does 4 dmg. It costs 1 Int to use, but as a Nano you have Intellect Edge 1, so the ability cost is effectively 0. If you get a critical hit on a 19, that's +3 dmg; or on a 20, that's +4 dmg. So that would still provide you 7-8 dmg to bypass 4-5 AR. Sure that requires a critical, but you had mentioned "even on a critical" you didn't do damage.

Now if we are talking about bypassing any AR above 5, then we are talking about 1.8 percent of all creatures in the books that I looked through above: the 2 core books, the setting book, and 3 bestiaries.
I appreciate all the work you put into this post.

I just want to say that in 2 out of the 3 situations, I was using pregenerated characters at a Con game (run by Monte Cook games). I had no access to selecting powers, abilities, or equipment.

So the issue is ... Even if I took a Nano with Onslaught, all I can do is spam that one ability in virtually every combat encounter. I can't do anything else. I would have like a 10% chance to damage it with weapons. I have no other abilities that can have any impact on the game.

Who thinks this is good design? Even 1st level D&D characters have more options.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
The design bears some of the blame in not providing enough GM support for this. There aren't enough sample Numenera. This crops up again with the NPC design; things that hurt your Speed and Intellect should not be nearly as rare as things that hurt your Might.
Agreed - it took a good year for more sample Numenera to come out in an 'official' capacity, but right after its launch, there were a couple of massive fan-contribution sites that helped. As far as the Speed/Intellect damage, I can't remember if it is something we homebrewed, or a part of the playtests somewhere, but there was an option to take physical damage to either Might -or- Speed as you saw fit. Don't know if it ever made it into any of the other rules, in that I only own the Numenera core kickstarter material.

Beyond that, we also made some homebrew innovation so that Might/Speed/Intellect never took damage, and was instead purely an offensive resource for the players. Alternatively, we just gave each character Hit Points equal to each stat, and then moved the health chart to function off that instead of the 'attributes.' So like every single system we ever play, we had to have our own rule adjustments to enjoy it for any prolonged period of time. In fact, our big upset (and the reason we eventually moved on) was the limited character advancement. Six tiers with only 24 XP to advance made our typical campaign cap out very fast.

@Retreater Sounds like the premades weren't very interesting. I do recall people saying the new Numenera material really cut down on the 'chosen abilities' at first level, because the original material usually had something like 3 abilities at first level, if not more. However, none of it really mattered, because in the end, Onslaught was the only thing a caster got that was really worth combat-beans.
 
Last edited:

Aldarc

Explorer
So the issue is ... Even if I took a Nano with Onslaught, all I can do is spam that one ability in virtually every combat encounter. I can't do anything else. I would have like a 10% chance to damage it with weapons. I have no other abilities that can have any impact on the game.

Who thinks this is good design?
I agree that spamming Onslaught can seem tedious from the perspective of a player who may expect their mage to have more D&D levels of spell choice and its corresponding round-per-round tactical decision-making; however, Onslaught is a flexible attack ability that is the equivalent of a Jack or Glaive fighting with a Medium weapon (4 dmg). You can also use Onslaught to bypass armor (2 dmg) if that had been an issue for you. And at character creation, you will have a second Tier 1 Nano ability to choose from. And when you begin working on leveling,* you will get another Tier 1 Nano ability of your choice. Though Numenera 2 has reshuffled things (though this most affects the Glaive and the Jack), you can still look through the Character Options 1 supplement if the core book does not provide you with enough ability options to your liking. And you will have Cyphers.

* You need to purchase the four steps for the next tier (4 XP each): a new Effort level, a new Type ability (your tier or lower), a new Skill training, and additional Edge.

I also disagree that you "have no other abilities that can have any impact on the game." Non-combat abilities exist. It seems that you are viewing this almost exclusively from a D&D combat perspective and not a Numenera perspective. Regardless of how those GMs ran your Numenera game, I don't think that combat should ever be the driving focus of Numenera gameplay. You get XP from solving mysteries and making discoveries. If you are more worried about the combat pillar, your type thankfully does not exist in isolation; you will also get an ability or two at each tier from the Focus that you choose. AND ALSO FROM YOUR CYPHERS!

Even 1st level D&D characters have more options.
Sure, but D&D focuses a lot more on tactical combat across its 20 levels. Numenera provides PCs with a smaller set of powers and abilities and emphasizes the exploration pillar more. Numenera is less about having a spell for every occasion and more about possibly having a cypher for the occasion.

@Retreater Sounds like the premades weren't very interesting. I do recall people saying the new Numenera material really cut down on the 'chosen abilities' at first level, because the original material usually had something like 3 abilities at first level, if not more. However, none of it really mattered, because in the end, Onslaught was the only thing a caster got that was really worth combat-beans.
Somewhat. Every Glaive picked one of the three Tier 1 options that gave them bonus +1 damage, so MCG gave them a flat +1 dmg bonus to them for free at character creation (range or melee) and provided more interesting active options for Glaives to choose from. The Nano is mostly the same, though it's skill training in Numenera was changed to Understanding Numenera, since the former made it into an omni-skill. The Jack was remodeled so it is less of a hybrid jack-of-all-trades without an identity, and more of a skill-monkey rogue jack-of-all-trades. Also to save time on things, the game now gives you a premade set of starting cyphers per type.
 

GrahamWills

Registered User
In Numenéra, fighting is not the 50%-of-the-session activity it tends to be in D&D. Echoing Aldarc, the system isn’t designed to do that. I’ve run a campaign for a few years now, and I found that players would come to me asking to swap combat abilities for non-combatant ones. It’s not that combat doesn’t happen, but it tends to be much less mechanical than D&D, as well as rarer. I’ve had a nano place an enemy in stasis, another attach a null-gravity cypher to them and the third launch them into orbit. Players lure enemies into traps and hazards — the environment is much more a part of the game. In some ways combat has an AD&D feel — you get your one attack power, but if that’s what you’re using, you probably aren’t doing the best thing — look for the non-swing-sword maneuver.

in D&D the big climax is typically a fight. I think I can say that it has never been so in the game I’ve run, across maybe ten or so arcs. Players have, as a cap to the arc

- persuaded enough people to own their own house
- activated the numenéra in the cellar and launched their house onto a distant water planet
- escaped the water planet through a gate to the moon
- temporarily fixed the moon’s time travel issues well enough to get the space port working
- ejected the rogue intelligence from their ship into the sun
- lured the big bad nasty thing into a trap
- persuaded an immortal that the immortal was just depressed and needed a change of lifestyle
- understood the giant creatures’ house/school/spaceship well enough to switch off their power source and free their ship.

Combats were generally a minor feature, more of a set-up than a finale. They could be very nasty, and take entire sessions occasionally (a big brawl in a society ball with numenéra running amok) but there was always something going on in addition to combat. All the way to end-tier, I have characters being played who still only really use one combat attack power, but they feel like a fallback; something to do if you haven’t a better idea, or if you’re a bit tired or on a bathroom break.

Oh wait; there was one big bad that was eliminated at the end of an arc; I forgot because the fight was a bit of anti-climax; one player managed to apply a cypher to him that adapted him to life deep underwater, and he failed to realize what had happened (no water on his planet deeper than a few meters) and teleported himself into space as a last-ditch effort to live, believing it might be a space adaptation cypher. Dead if he stayed anyway, so not a terrible guess. People did do some standard attacks against his minions, but I don’t think against him.
 

Advertisement

Top