How to be a Great Player

Published January 6, 2014 by in For Players

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I’ve done a fair amount of GMing with Numenera over the last few months and here are few pieces of advice I have for players looking to be the best they can be.  I’m going to focus here on advice that particularly applies to Numenera players.  Obviously, the more general advice of being a nice person who learns the rules, shares loot, and brings snacks is applicable here as well, but I’ll assume you’re aware of those kinds of social graces and move on.

Roll Like You Know What You’re Doing

  • When rolling on a skill or attack roll, don’t just call out your die roll, forcing the GM to math for you.  Tell the GM and the rest of the table how many Levels of Difficulty you could beat.  “I beat a Difficulty 8 and got a Minor Effect!”  is a good way to put things, not: “I rolled a 19 and I have two in the skill!”
  • If you know the Difficulty of the test and your Effort + Assets + Skill reduces the Difficulty to zero, don’t roll.  This is the rule and I’m basically just telling you to follow it, but it can be a bit annoying that people don’t often follow this rule.  Slows down the game for no reason.

Suggest GM Intrusions

I’ve said this before: it’s a ton of fun when the GM is not the only one coming up with bad stuff that happens.  Opening yourself up to complications and plot twists by embracing the Intrusion can enhance the collective storytelling element of roleplaying.  Intrusions are an amazing tool for doing this, so get involved, be proactive, and negotiate for the best-worst thing to happen to you.

Don’t Advance in Tier Too Fast

If all you do is advance towards new Tiers, so will everybody else at the table and the game will hit 6th Tier before you know it.  Savor the lower and middle Tiers.

  • Buy short and long term benefits whenever you can.  Spend XP on rerolling once in a while.  You’ll flesh out your character and succeed a little more.  What’s wrong with that?
  • Talk with the other players about how fast you want to be moving through the game and stick to your plan.  Maybe half your XP should go to advancement.  Maybe a little more.  Make a budget and help the other players keep to it.

Learn to Help

  • Study up on the rules for helping others on skills and working together on attacks and use them when you can to help other PC’s shine in the spotlight for a moment.
  • If you really want to be a hero, spend XP to give your friends rerolls when they need them.

Thoughtfully Give Away XP

When giving away the second XP from a GM Intrusion, make sure you’re giving it to people for the right reasons.  Many groups simply give it to the person with the least XP and there’s nothing wrong with this.  Another choice might be to give to players who shine in their RP, or who thought of something brilliant earlier.  You should consider this your moment to act as the GM and perhaps reward the kind of play you like to see.

Keep it Weird

Did you think GM’s where the only people who had to worry about keeping it weird?  Numenera is a weird game about strange technologies and creatures.  Make sure your story, powers, and actions represent a character in this world.  Make sure you’re weird, or react accordingly to the weird you see.  Maybe your character has a nanovirus that causes you to change shape uncontrollably.  Maybe you’re a privileged noble who’s grossed out by anything strangely biological you encounter.   Either way you’re embracing and addressing the weird in the world, not just passively experiencing it.   “Be the weird you want to see in the world.”

If you’ve got more advice for your fellow players out there, leave them below in the comments!

12 thoughts on “How to be a Great Player

  1. ThomasJefferson says:


    These two aspects combine into a pretty bad “That Guy” I played with. His character was a half orc something or other that he ported into numenera. The GM and him were real life friends while the other players were just random skype guys. So he says he made a homebrew focus, which I thought was cool. He doesn’t tell anyone what it does until….
    Now I will do a timeskip and talk about one of the other guy’s characters. He was playing a mutant and this dude was a nasty sight to behold. Snake tail, extra arms, etc.
    Anyways, “That Guy” sees mutant boy’s character and immediately rolls to start attacking him, saying that he’s a beast/demon and he should be smited. This is where he tells us his custom focus. “I am an avenger. I get big bonuses to fighting one on one.” At tier 1, he could spend 1 intellect and put an “Oath of emnity” on a target. As long as he was in single combat with that target, he got to REROLL ALL MELEE ATTACKS AND PICK THE HIGHER OF THE TWO. He didn’t spend intellect to do it, he spent 1 intellect at the beginning and he could reroll attacks against that target until the target died. Let that sink in how crazy that is for a tier 1 ability. His buddy gm was totally fine with it, crazily enough. So long story short, he absolutely wrecks mutant boy.

    Throughout the rest of the game, (I only played a few more sessions), he would destroy any and all technology he saw calling it heresy and he killed my character since my character was a passionate nano and loved numenera. It got to the point where we played his way, or we died.

    Look, playing lawful stupid is fun, I’ve done those ridiculous paladin runs where you charge into battle wielding holy, albeit retarded, might. It’s just not a good look for numenera, imo. Numenera is all about discovery and this is not fun to hear. “You see a small blinking object up ahe-” “I roll to smash it.” Also, just try to stay away from pvp in general. It almost never ends well.

  2. Matt Horam says:

    “If you know the Difficulty of the test and your Effort + Assets + Skill reduces the Difficulty to zero, don’t roll.”

    If you don’t roll, you can’t get a minor/major effect (nor the bonus damage which would normally speed up combat). Thoughts?

    1. ThomasJefferson says:

      then again, if you do roll, you can crit fail. I personally like the risk so I have my players roll always, however sometimes I do allow circumstance bonus. For example, if a player is in an abandoned facility, I’ll let them pick the lock if they have skills and would get it eventually. If there is no current threat, just let them eat through time to get it. Always make them roll on that first one though

    2. Ryan Chaddock says:

      It’s a choice between keeping things moving and wanting more chances for big crits. For some groups the polite thing would be to not roll, but it totally comes down to your individual table culture.

      1. Alan DeHaan says:

        That’s why it’s listed as an optional rule. A good one, to be sure, but yes, it is all down to the table culture.

    3. Pierre Gunter says:

      Why not make automatic successes cinematic and appropriate? Why should I force you to roll a dice for something cool when you are so bad-ass that you don’t need to roll in the first place?

  3. Justin_Alexander says:

    Speaking as a Numenera GM, it’s astonishing how much of this list I disagree with. If you’re playing at my table:

    Please DON’T reverse the mechanical flow of the game: Modify the difficulty of the roll first by telling me what skills you’re using and what circumstance bonuses you think you’ve got and only roll the die after you’ve done so. When half the table is following the rules and the other half of the table is trying to follow the advice in this blog post, it gets needlessly confusing.

    Please remember that you DO have the option of rolling when a roll would otherwise be automatic (gambling minor and major successes against the possibility of a critical failure).

    Feel free to suggest GM intrusions, but please DON’T treat them as a negotiation. Once I’ve made a ruling about what the intrusion is, it’s time to move on.

    Please DON’T camp out on Tier 1. It introduces significant fragility to the game and constrains the options I have when building scenarios.

    1. Ryan Chaddock says:

      Hey, to each their own.

      1. Justin_Alexander says:

        Of course. Some of us will actually play the game. Other people, like yourself, will ignore the rules while simultaneously claiming that people should learn them. More power to you.

        1. Michael Fienen says:

          The great thing about a game – any game – is how it adapts to a group. One group might be heavily rules driven, while another is more storytelling/cinematic driven. That doesn’t make one more wrong over another, the important part is if the group dynamic allows it to be fun for everyone. That won’t be the same everywhere. That might mean some people ignore rules that other people find vitally important. Or it may simply be that some rules get interpreted or applied differently. But that doesn’t diminish the value in how they play the game.

        2. ThomasJefferson says:

          Take it easy fellas. Roleplaying games are for all intents and purposes, games of pretend. The only rule at a campfire story is to try to have fun, the same applies for numenera. While the official rules are there to help guide people along as to what would make sense for simulating someone doing an action, everyone plays their own way and that’s fine so long as the players are all down. There’s nothing wrong with me running 100% rules, 50% rules 50% homebrew, or 100% homebrew, although at that point you should probably just license your own system. lol. While I think that something like “How to be a Good Player” can come across as preachy and maybe a little overbearing, I think we can both agree ryan didn’t submit this well written article with any malice. So let’s all take a deep breath, celebrate that we play games differently, and keep having fun.

  4. tskaiser says:

    Like Justin I cannot find myself in total agreement, however I also don’t fully agree with him either 😉

    The “roll like you know what you’re doing” is completely table-dependent. Personally I much prefer the players DON’T bother with the math and instead just state what might apply and roll the dice telling me what number they got. The system already allows me to put a hood over the machinery, allowing me to maximize the immersion of the players, and its simplicity in resolving difficulties make it easy for me to “pick up” the work of calculating results on the fly. So why make the players do math when they’re deeply entranced in a scene? Let them roleplay their characters while I handle the beautiful and simple machinery of the Cypher system.
    I realize this is dependent on me and my players, but I feel it is different for every table, so it is a bit useless as generic advice: better advice would be to encourage working out what rolling system works best between you and your GM and then sticking to it – who knows, maybe you can work something out that works better than what you are currently doing?

    I generally agree with the “suggest GM intrustions”, but that is mostly because I largely encourage emergent gameplay and collaborate storytelling with my players. Just remember that the GM is the one carrying the overarching plot, and thus needs to have full control whenever necessary to push along the game and keep it enjoyable for all involved.

    The “don’t advance in tier too fast” is again highly table dependent. Personally I find that the system allows for great roleplay across all the tiers, also the end-tiers and even with totally mixed tiers, and that cyphers and gear is much more important in terms of story balance. I say advance organically and at any rate you prefer individually — the imperative is not necessarily who can crush skulls or traverse the narrow bridge the fastest: it is the story. Savor the story, not the power. Again this is table dependent, but I feel the Cypher system and the Ninth World setting in general is much more forgiving of character progression and tier (“level”) disparity.

    “Learn to help” <- teamwork is ALWAYS nice. Remember this is a collaborative storytelling effort, not a competition! Unless you want a little bit of rivalry in the story, but then work it out between players and keep it in the roleplaying and off the meta 😉

    Agree with "thoughtfully give away xp": rewards are experience enhancing and should make the receiving player feel good and engaged in the storytelling. Always seek to give away the XP for a good reason and not simply "because", it will cheapen the reward and make it feel arbitrary. Psychology tells us that positive reinforcement for arbitrary or no reasons is bad.

    "Keep it weird": agree fully. More generalized it would be "remember to keep in character and roleplay", the setting has a lot of weird, so act like it does and not just another afternoon stroll on the Beach of Humongous Crabs.

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