I mentioned in Part Five of my Numenera RPG review that I had planned on skipping past Chapter 8, which contains the rules of the system. I didn’t hear any protests, so for now, at least, I am going to do just that and move on to Chapter 9. Chapter 9 is all about optional rules. I really did not expect to find this in the core rule book for Numenera.
The optional rules provide guidance on a variety of ways to customize your game play. They change the way some of the core rules work. I should not really be surprised, though. One of the things +Monte Cook is known for is taking apart different RPG systems and changing them. Why wouldn’t he do that even to his own? But, what kind of game changing rules suggestions does he provide, you ask?
There are a few and I will try and go over them one by one. Of course, I’ll only talk about them briefly, because that is what I do.
First, he talks about trading damage for effect. Normally, on an attack roll of 19 or 20, you get a minor or major effect. Here, he provides rules that allow you to trade some or all of the damage you inflict on a target without rolling a 19 or 20 in order to attain specific results. These results include things many of us might be familiar with such as knock back or stun, but also things such as just being able to move past the target of the attack.
There are also rules here to cause lasting and even permanent damage to a player character. Here, it’s set up so these things can be done on a GM intrusion. It is recommended that they be used only when appropriate such as after falling a long distance onto a hard surface or as a replacement for character death. Right off the bat, I’d say I have a problem in that this can only be caused to player characters on a GM intrusion. My issue is that, for story purposes (and random acts of coolness), I’d like to see character’s able to do this to NPCs that may end up escaping or otherwise surviving and be run into later on down the road. There doesn’t really seem to be a mechanic for that. I would probably have these options available for characters when they score a major effect.
Next, they provide rules for weakness and inability. Weakness is exactly the opposite of Edge, making it more expensive to apply effort. Inabilities can cause the character to be worse at certain tasks, make certain things be one step more difficult than they would normally be. This is recommend to present how dangerous the Ninth World can be in the event of disease or poison.
There are rules here that provide suggestions on how characters can spend more from their stat Pool in order to be able to push their special abilities to do more. There are also suggestions for making a special roll just to determine if what they are trying to do, by extend their powers further, is possible. There are also suggestions for rolling when no roll is needed to lower the cost of using an ability or achieving an above & beyond success.
Monte brought something in here for lovers of D&D and that is: the Attack of Opportunity as an optional rule. I might use it arbitrarily with my group, but only if it makes sense at the time. They are not going to get attacked, for example, if the enemy is otherwise engaged.
They have a rule that allows characters to roll an extra d6 if they roll a natural 20 instead of taking the major effect. This makes it possible to attain target numbers over 20, even if the difficulty couldn’t be lowered enough.
There is an option to attack beyond the set range for a weapon. There are also options for making a distinction between different types of weapons such as slashing, stabbing, and bludgeoning. I kind of like this rule and I think I will end up using it. A slashing weapon, for example would do an extra point of damage against an unarmored opponent while one less damage against an armored opponent.
There are rules for miniatures provided in the Numenera optional rules section. This might work well just to get an idea of where things are in relation to one another, but it is not set up to be a tactical battle mat style game. In fact, it would probably need done with a series of movable circles (the book recommends different lengths of string) denoting the difference between immediate, short, and long distances. I think of these distances almost like zones in Fate Core. If it makes sense, it makes sense. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There are also considerations in regards to size of miniatures and terrain. These are followed by drawbacks, which I agree with and are probably one of the reasons I will not use them. If I need to give a basic idea of surrounding and placement, I will sketch something out on a notepad real quick or use Scoot & Doodle in G+ Hangouts.
The next set of rules talks about character customization. That is to say that they give us suggestions for how to modify the character type, descriptor, and foci. It does say that, other than the suggestions given here, the type, descriptor, and focus should not be changed. I am not sure why that is, exactly, but maybe it will make sense as I read through it.
For character type it mentions moving around stat points within the different Pools and placing the Edge where the character wants. They also recommend sacrificing a skill for additional cypher use or swapping out a single special ability at first tier with that of a special ability from another character type.
The character descriptors, according to the book, can be changed in a number of ways. They actually provide the basic formula used to create a descriptor as they are presented earlier in the book for some guidance. They do recommend that a new descriptor be created rather than modifying existing ones.
With character foci, the changes are limited to swapping out specific abilities and it gives three abilities to choose from per tier (except for 6th tier where it only provides 2). I am sure there are more changes that could be made and I really wish they would have given us the basic formula for foci as they did for the descriptor.
Next, it talks about take drawbacks in order to gain further advantages without giving up what the character already has. Instead, they would be giving up something different. I am sure, with the wrong group of players, just like with point buy systems that use some sort of merit/flaw, edge/drawback, etc. system, this could be easily abused if not properly monitored.
There are new suggestions on how to award experience here. These include taking a vote on who had the best ideas, contributed most, etc. It also talks about using XP between sessions and GM intrusion XP for specific things only. There are a couple of neat ideas, but I think I would have to play the standard way for a little while and see how the group and I like the progression. There is also a suggestion here on getting XP in the beginning of the story based on a serious complication related to one of the characters or, more likely their past. I could see this working a few ways and it could actually be spread amongst players between different legs of a campaign.
Next up, it provides racial options. I am not going to go too deep into these, but I will say one thing. I wish they would have laid their cards on the table with this one as well. What is the formula? There are not many races, so it will be hard to extrapolate from existing data. They cover one alien race, the Varjellen as well as one race that is kind of the product of the weird Ninth World—a cross between a bigfoot and a mutant fungus called the Lattimor, and then mutants.
Oh boy, is the section on mutants fun. It involves a lot of rolling on percentile tables. It reminds me of the old Palladium game, Heroes Unlimited.
As an aside, I’d like to mention that this is probably the most fun I have ever had reading a role playing book. I have read many of them over the years and I have enjoyed those games. I have enjoyed some of the content. But, this is perhaps the first book that screams to me how I need and want to read every chapter. I consider this a great sign.
Next up is Numenera Setting. That could take awhile. Until then, check out another sneak peak.