Master of None – Giving Jacks Their Own Identity

Published December 6, 2013 by in For Players, Mechanics


Jacks can be kind of a mixed bag. Glaives and Nanos both have their own strong identity, with a focus on combat and esoteries respectively. Jacks have very few abilities of their own, mostly gaining ones that Glaive and Nanos of the same tier already had from previous tiers.

Jacks are intrepid explorers and adventurers. They are jacks of all trades—hence the name—although the word also hearkens back to fables involving a wily, resourceful hero who always seems to be named Jack. Used as a verb, “to jack” means to steal, to deceive, or to get out of a tight scrape through ingenuity or luck.
Numenera Core Rulebook, Jack, page. 40

While the Jack gets a lot of versatility in being able to pick from both sets of abilities, Jacks don’t really get to be the “jack of all trades” they are presented as and can feel like a weaker version of a Nano or Glaive, not really having anything that makes them stand out on their own. Often portrayed as adventurers and treasure hunters, this post explores Jacks as having their own identity as hackers and tinkerers, that kludge and improvise on the fly with cyphers to help them get what they want. While they lack the academic understanding and nano-spirit mastery of the Nano and they don’t have the sheer combat prowess of the Glaive, Jacks excel at using what they have available to them in tight situations.

And if there is anything that can be relied on in Numenera, it’s that cyphers are everywhere.

Over at Ninth World Hub, Nicholas Guttenberg, Andreas Walters, Pål Øynulvson and myself discussed an additional set of abilities for Jacks to be able to choose from when advancing or generating their characters, below are some abilities we came up with. Alternatively, you might like to consider this as a low-powered focus based around cypher use.

Tier 1:
I Know What I’m Doing
Sometimes you don’t have time to study a cypher to figure out what it does, you’ve just got to go with the flow, live in the moment, you know? While ordinarily using a cypher without identifying it is an intellect task of the cyphers level, you know what you’re doing and use the cypher without penalty, though you still have no idea what it will do. Enabler.
Tier 2:
Cypher Tinker (2 Int)
You’ve got a knack for fiddling with cyphers to get them to do what you want. By spending 2 intellect you can tweak the behaviour of a cypher, inverting it’s effects or changing it’s variant when you use it. You might change a heat ray into a freeze ray, or make a chemical factory produce a nutrient supplement instead of antivenom. Action.
Tier 3:
I Can Handle a Little Radiation
You’ve delved into numenera relics, braved broken, ancient machinery and burned through more cyphers than you can count too many times to let a little thing like radiation and nanites get under your skin. You’re used to being around and handling cyphers, so much so that occultic cyphers count the same as anoetic cyphers for the purposes of counting how many cyphers you can bear before needing to roll on the cypher danger table. Enabler.
Tier 4:
Gerry-rig (5 Int)
You have a knack for rigging up cyphers from junk. You scavenge and keep depleted cyphers with you and can sometimes kludge them together to get something working out of them, though most of the time you have no idea what this Frankenstein’s creation of yours will actually do. You can spend 5 from your intellect pool to gain a random cypher by salvaging 3 used cypher’s components. Action.
Tier 5:
Cypher Quick Draw (6 Speed)
You’ve always got a cypher in your hand or close to it and you’ve become so used to their varied and unusual methods of operation, you can practically activate them on instinct without having to fiddle with their controls or parts. By spending 6 speed, you can quickly draw 2 cyphers at once, using them both in a single round at the same time. Action.
Tier 6:
Malfunction (8+ Int)
Cyphers are tricky things, they’ve gotten you into as many scrapes as they’ve gotten you out of. It’s been more than a few times that a cypher has blown up in your face, or a bunch of them have joined together into some weird device and tried to attack you. In fact, you’ve gotten so used to how cyphers break, you’ve sort of figured out how to make it happen. By spending 8 from your intellect pool, you can deliberately force a cypher to go critical, requiring a roll of 100+d100 on the cypher danger chart. You can do this on cyphers directly or as an attack against an opponent you know has a cypher within short range. For each level of effort you spend on this ability, you can opt to add 10 to the roll instead of reducing the difficulty. Action.

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  • David’s Perspective

    Those are interesting options for a Jack. But they’d make a good focus as well. The Way. The descriptions remind me of the Tao De Ching and the tiers all involve knowing a way to manipulate cyphers.

  • Darcy Ross

    I love this! Great writing on the descriptions too. Reminds me of an Ed from Cowboy Bebop – sort of spastic and tech-intuitive.

  • Aldarc

    I like the intention to give jacks more identity, so this is a step in
    the right direction. The article could use a little better proof-reading
    and editing.