Thursday, May 29, 2014


I read the rules for Numenera a couple of months ago and I couldn't quite put my finger on why it didn't resonate with me, until today. I was reading the rules for mutants & machineguns (m&m) and about the only thing it has in common with Numenera is that difficulties are determined on a scale. In m&m this is fairly simple since doing stuff requires a roll of 2d6, there are five levels of difficulty and a trivial level called "routine" is mixed in there so it's more like it only has four difficulty levels. Numenera has ten difficulty levels and most of the game mechanics involve jumping up and down the scale of difficulty, on top of that your ability to change difficulty levels increases as you level up. As a GM it's a little difficult to call a difference between a "challenging" or "formidable" difficulty, so it almost feels like the target numbers for tasks should just increase as PCs level up - which feels disingenuously like d20 mechanics. d20 has this tendency of making everything across the board increase in difficulty in relation to what level the PCs are, which means tasks are almost always hovering around this 50% chance of success for everything and if your chances of succeeding are always relatively the same then what's the point of leveling up?

Numenera is a really awesome setting! I feel like I should point that out right now since all I'm ever going to do is bitch about the game's mechanics. I hate the rules, I don't find them intuitive to use at all. But the setting, the history, the technology, and the peoples and creatures are all great. As I read further into the rulebook I really enjoyed immersing myself in this strange new world and I really wanted to try playing it. The rules just get in my way. I've thought about matching the setting to something else, like World of Darkness or Stars Without Number or Dungeon World or something, but it seems like a lot of work to do for something I might only play for a couple of sessions before everyone involved wants to play something else.

But here's a thing about difficulty levels that I think is stupid: there is always some level for "routine" tasks. Not just in m&m but also in Numenera and in 3rd edition D&D and in Deadlands and in Shadowrun. Shit! Just about any RPG that uses levels of difficulty has a trivial or routine level. What's the point? Nobody is ever going to roll for a routine task, and if they do it's going to be incredibly lame when you ask them to roll the dice to brush their teeth and they roll a 1 because now you have to come up with some reason for why they failed at brushing their teeth. I guess in Numenera's case it is there to illustrate how low you can reduce the difficulty of a task before it becomes practically a routine task, but if the game doesn't allow for adjustable difficulty then there's almost no reason for it to be in there.