I continue to iterate on how I run Numenera content using Into the Odd. Jason Tocci has led the way on this, but maybe we can think about some alternative approaches, or we can extend that (really useful!) work further.
In my ongoing “Those Who Came Before” campaign, I use a lot of Numenera content in a world that bears a strong resemblance to the Ninth World but with some important differences. (Look for a campaign update in the next week or two, once they’ve finally finished the dungeon and I can publish my notes.)
In order to convert numenera (cyphers, artifacts, etc.) to arcana / oddities, just strip off any numeric effects. If the cypher only has a modifier (boosting an Edge or Pool), then it’s boring: move on to the next one. But if it still has some interesting effect, then remove any overly-prescriptive descriptions and keep the good parts. Maybe it enhances a sense or affects consciousness in some way. Don’t worry about trying to figure out precise wording and work it out with the player when it becomes relevant (e.g. when they find it).
Similarly with creatures: ignore the numbers. What does the creature want? How does it impact the setting and the players just by existing? Does it do something unusual that will grab their interest? Figure that part out, then stat it up. I usually go for something like 4-8 HP, maybe bump up STR if it should be especially durable, add 1 armor if it’s got something that the players could recognize as such (or 2 if it’s REALLY tough), and WIL or DEX as appropriate. Most creatures do d6 damage, moving the die size up or down one depending on the concept. Then work out a special ability or two: mental static for everyone around, or melding into stone, or conjuring gravitational singularities, or whatever.
When TWCB has run its course, or we have an opportunity to rework things, I will do some things differently. (Note that I will probably make other house rules and similar changes separate from converting material from my Numenera books.)
Creature conversion needs a bit more definition. The principles will remain the same, but as I get more comfortable with Numenera stats, I have started to see some potential relationships between their level and HP and damage with typical stats used by Into the Odd. Maybe something like using the level for its HP, choosing a damage die based on the static damage. For example, choose a die size where the average is closest to the static damage, or perhaps use the static damage as the die size (since attacks automatically hit). Jason has a different approach and I’d love to compare notes on how well that’s worked.
Character abilities also could use a look. I’d really like to incorporate the “character sentence” from Cypher in some way: I am an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs], which translates to I am a [descriptor] [type] who [focus].
Types (classes) present the greatest challenge because Into the Odd doesn’t have those. Numenera at its core has three: Glaives (fighters), Nanos (wizards), and Jacks (rogues). They’ve added a few in the Destiny book, but let’s keep things simple for now.
I don’t know if a future campaign would use these at all, but if so, I can imagine several different approaches. We could just call the character a given “type” by their highest ability score. Glaives have STR as their highest, Nanos have WIL, and Rogues have DEX. That goes both ways, since (by default) players can swap any two scores after rolling 3d6 in order.
Alternately, or perhaps in addition, we could write a few simple abilities for them to choose from. This moves away from the simplicity of Into the Odd, but some players really like having a few things to list on their character sheet to distinguish their characters. Maybe Glaives can choose from some bonuses to damage, HP, or armor, or we could get more interesting and define some sorts of combat maneuvers (“Fighting Moves” in Numenera) or something that doesn’t need a specific mechanical effect (“you run extra fast”). Nanos can have a couple of arcana effects (“esoteries” or spells) integrated into their bodies or minds. The esoteries in Numenera are kind of boring, but that might work since we want the really interesting stuff to come from actual objects in the world (cyphers). I’d probably go mine other OSR resources for interesting spells, whether for things Nanos can “know” or for oddities. Jacks get some skills, like a bonus to saving throws in some kinds of situations (not losing their balance). I don’t like giving one group of players the ability to do things a normal human could probably do (“you need X feat to do this or it’s not fair to the players who took that feat”). But they can have a better chance to succeed or maybe can just do more with it: everybody can try to balance on a narrow walkway, but somebody who has trained in gymnastics has a much lower probability of falling.
Honestly, I don’t like the idea of “classes” and “levels” in RPGs any more than I like “races”. I’d rather let players choose from a menu of abilities or skills or whatever. Just as importantly, they should progress by doing things: not by gaining experience points, but when something happens in the game. Maybe they gain the favor of some trainer and spend some downtime learning a new fighting move, or they go to an augmentarium and have some cypher fused into their flesh. Electric Bastionland uses scars for this sort of foreground growth, but Chris has a principle that “characters grow more interesting, not necessarily more powerful” and I don’t know if that fits this game.
Descriptors (the adjectives) don’t need as much work. If the character is “stealthy” or “charming”, then play them that way. I’d probably take out ones like “strong” and “tough” because we have attributes to reflect those, but I also wouldn’t object to a player who wanted to play a Tough character (hopefully with STR and HP to back that up).
Foci (verbs) represent unique abilities: having one already makes a character special. They don’t just reflect an interest but things that the character can do really well and maybe in unusual ways. “Explores Dark Places” suggests something about what the character can perceive and do in darkness, while “Rides the Lightning” already communicates a character with special abilities around electrical energy. This doesn’t contradict what I said above about abilities because these are things that normal humans can’t do.
So here is a totally made-up example of how we could use a Numenera character sentence to describe an Into the Odd character, or at least a character that kind of looks like one.
I am a Mechanical Nano who Bears a Halo of Fire
STR 8, DEX 8, WIL 13, 4 HP, 0 Armor, d6 damage (heat ray)
The heat ray doesn’t have to be an object if it’s in their character sentence: maybe the character can shoot the rays from their fingers. Then, in the spirit of collaborative world-building, ask the player to come up with a reason they can do that. Perhaps they were raised in a shack in the shadow of some ancient ruins that whispered strange words into their mind, unlocking a latent capability (perhaps changing “Mechanical” to Mystical”). Or instead, they might have already done some exploring and fell into a chamber that altered their flesh. If the player really wants it to be an object, maybe they had it fused into them, like an ultratech medallion that another nano fused into their hand.
I am a Tough Glaive who Wields Two Weapons at Once
STR 16, DEX 10, WIL 5, HP 6, 1 Armor, 2d6 damage (nanorapiers)
I know I said I don’t really like using descriptors that can just be stats, but look, that character is tough. They also do 2d6 damage, which is a lot: in the Electric Bastionland rules, that means taking the higher of the two, but you can be flexible if you’re using vanilla Into the Odd. Where did they get the “nanorapiers”, and what does that even mean? Collaborative world-building again: maybe they rename the weapons, or want them to be ranged. Perhaps they discovered or inherited them: either work well, or they come up with something different.
I don’t really expect to redo character building and abilities in an existing campaign. Instead, I’m thinking about what’s next. However, creature conversion rules would help, and I’ll keep working on those. Also, I will take some of the arcana / oddities / cyphers I’ve written and post them up here when the time comes, but you can take pretty much any interesting spell effect from any game, shove it in an item, give it one use or maybe a usage die, and that’s it.
However, including some of the other bits of the Ninth World will take more thought. What about the Datasphere? Should the world include some of the same factions, like the Aeon Priests? Since (as noted above) my game takes place in a world like the Ninth World but not actually that world, I still need to figure that out when it starts to look relevant for my games.