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The Spirit of Numenera - Monte Cook Games
In conversations over the last few weeks, I’ve found myself talking about Numenera to interested people–not so much the rules, or the setting, but the essence of the game. When I was a teenager, I played in a 1st edition AD&D game run by my friend Jay. Jay passed away recently and his loss from my life is pretty profound. Anyway, during that first game, we were about to play Decent into the Depths of the Earth (although we were going to start with the last portion of the G3–you old timers all know what I’m talking about). I created a character–named Malhavoc, by the way, if that rings any bells–and Jay told me that Malhavoc knew the truename of some super powerful demon lord and I could call upon him once to do my bidding. I knew this power was way out of my weight class, so to speak, but it was something I could only do once, so it wasn’t going to throw the whole campaign out of whack. Obviously, this is well outside the rules of AD&D. Looking back 30 years later, I strongly suspect that Jay had no rules for how this would work. No stats for the demon lord. But since I could only use it once, that stuff didn’t matter. It was a get out of jail free card. It was a “you get to do one really cool thing at some point” benefit. It was a “use your imagination on this one” ability. And by which I mean it was awesome. Cut to many years later. I was running a campaign called “The Wall” using the Rolemaster rules as a basis, although so heavily house-ruled and jury rigged that I might as well just say I was running a campaign in a game called “The Wall.” My friend Bruce had a character who, every once in a while, could use his sort of zen-like, monk-ish concentration to alter reality in a creative way. He would basically spend some points from a pool and tell me what he was trying to do. I would consider the task at hand and the points he was spending and assign a percentage chance for success, and he would roll. (I would, on the fly, assess a sort of graduated success mechanic if possible, so that sometimes he would achieve part of what he wanted, often with interesting results.) Again, this was awesome, and led to all sorts of amazing situations that never would have occurred if we’d allowed ourselves to be overly encumbered by strictly codified rules. Cut to many years after that. I was running a 3rd Edition D&D game set in Ptolus. Now, 3E’s strengths come from its exhaustive definition of, well, everything. And I had a major role in helping craft all of that. But it was important to me that there still be some undefined aspect of the game. So I instituted a hero point system. This system became codified in Arcana Unearthed (and Arcana Evolved) but at the table it was far less systemized. In fact, it was very much “you tell me what you want to use the hero point for and I’ll determine if it works.” The answer was usually “yes,” because hero points were rare and hard to come by, but if you were doing something really outlandish I’d give it only a chance for success (graduated, partial success results possible based on your roll). “Get out of jail free” cards. “Use your imagination on this” abilities. Thus, it was sort of a synthesis of the first two examples. …
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