Awesoming up Numenera

Having played Numenera again, I’d have to say that the two biggest fun-sucks are deciding whether to save XP for improvements or spend it to reroll or avoid GM Intrusion, and the decision as to whether to spend the XP to avoid GM intrusion and if you accept it having to decide who to give the extra XP to.  These are terrible, terrible things to force the player to do in the middle of every exciting situation, wrenching the players out of any immediate visceral reaction to the what’s happening in the fiction and forcing them to consider long-term character goals and emphasizing the fact that its fiction at the worst possible moment by making potentially exciting twists and developments provisional upon the players’ decision about whether to spend resources to prevent it.  It is in a word, bletcherous, and it doesn’t need to be.

In order to dial up the awesomeness in Numenera, you only need to make two house rules:

First Make GM Intrusions compulsory, but allow the players to mitigate them instead of retconning them.  Instead of saying “This happens, unless you choose to spend now to make it unhappen” say “This happens, what do you do?” Then allow the players to either spend XP to automatically succeed at some attempt to cope, or proceed normally with the usual rolls.  Thus instead of “GM Intrusion: You drop your weapon!”  “Spend an XP.  I refuse.” it becomes “GM Intrusion: You drop your weapon!”  “But I manage to catch it with my other hand! Spend an XP!”  or “They grab you from behind!”  “Just as they do I catch a glimpse of them reflected in the shop window and manage to wrench myself out of their grasp!”  Or if the player doesn’t feel like spending the XP, “I try to wrench myself free. (Rolls)”  It may seem trivial, but keeping it so the fiction always moves forward with no “taps back” is, imo, really important for maintaining a high level of engagement.

Second Reward players for spending XP on immediate and short-term benefits by making it required.  In fact, instead of calling what you get awarded for accepting GM Intrusion and discovery XP, let’s call it Numenera Points, or NP.  NP can be spent on anything except Long Term Benefits and Character Advancement.   XP are gained by spending NP.  XP can only be spent on Long Term Benefits and Character advancement.  If you keep the ratio of spent NP to XP earned at 1:1 characters will advance a bit faster, so if you like you can adjust this for your campaign so that, e.g. you spend 2 NP to gain 1 XP.  This automatically solves the problem of hoarding NP… there’s no real reason to, and if players do, they gain no particular benefit; it’s not like they are trying to save to improve the character at the same time as keeping a bank to use during play.  Those functions are now handled separately by XP and NP, and you can adjust the conversion ratio for any desired pace of advancement.  Most importantly, players are now rewarded instead of punished for engaging with the mechanics of the game when they spend NP.

To a lot of people these differences are too subtle to care about; they’re perfectly happy to stop playing their character and ponder how to manage their resources or discuss tactics and rules minutia with other players mid-sword-swing, and rewinding what’s going on in the game is no more distressing than playing an interrupt card on an opponent in Magic the Gathering.  On the other hand, there are people like me who are really bugged by “dissociated mechanics” to the point where it can be really hard to care much about what happens to the character, who becomes a token to push around on the board.  The thing is, people who don’t mind dissociated mechanics aren’t bugged by associated mechanics; in fact many of them seem to be completely blind to the difference between them… so tweaking things to make the mechanics associated with what’s going on in the game world is a win-win.  Engagement with the mechanics is still perfectly satisfactory for those that don’t care how its connected to the fiction, and those that do care can now use the mechanics without the pain of having to step back from the fictional world to make OOC decisions.