Enigmatic, mysterious, incomprehensible; Philethis are by far one of my favourite creatures from the Numenera corebook. Few things are known about the Philethis, part of what makes them so appealing, but what little is known is that they have a mastery of the numenera and can appear and disappear at will. While they do not commonly initiate conversation, when they do speak it is often more confusing than it is revealing. They know too much, or too little, or speak of things no-one can make any sense of at all.
Because of their deep weirdness and their inexplicable powers and knowledge, Philethis can make an excellent addition to any game if you want to bring the ‘weird’ of Numenera into focus or you just want to throw in some interesting distractions or red-herrings into an otherwise run-of-the-mill adventure.
How to Use a Philethis in Your Game
Virtually any adventure can be made more interesting or weird by including a Philethis in some way. Some may be amusing or weird while others may just be plain creepy. It really depends on the feel you are going for with your game. If you are focusing on a more horror-orientated game, where the weird is of a more incomprehensible, frightening or Lovecraftian ilk, you can make excellent use of a Philethis as silent watchers and observers for added creepiness, having them gliding silently along, only to ask haunting, terrible questions about a players past or future or otherwise interfere in terrible and unknowable ways with the players, NPCs or other things such that the players are confronted with something beyond their mortal understanding.
For a more comedic usage, you might want to spin a Philethis as having a sort of child-like innocence and ignorance. Try imagining a curious child that simultaneously knows the past and the future, but doesn’t have the context to make use of that knowledge in the present. Imagine a child that can teleport at will anywhere, perhaps even anywhen. A Philethis can inject random nonsensical statements into a situation for comic relief or act as a somewhat adorable nuisance, like a lost puppy (which just happens to be a mildly terrifying, 8ft tall cloaked, masked figure).
If you just want a ‘normal’ level of Numenera weirdness – why not combine both approaches? One of the key things about Philethis is that they should never be what they appear. Whenever the players think they have it figured out, you should flip their assumptions upside-down. The players think it’s some crazy, random weirdo? Have it suddenly do something with clear purpose, speaking lucidly and cogently. The players think it’s some strange, creepy observer from the shadows? Have it jump into a battle with them as an ally, or even have it rescue their enemy. Then, when they think the opposite of their last assumption, have it also do something that conforms with their old thoughts. A Philethis isn’t operating on the same rules of logic or cause and effect that the players are, it can and will do multiple contradictory things for reasons the players can not fathom.
Some Philethis Usage Suggestions
Because Philethis can control probability and command great knowledge of the numenera, the potential for GM intrusions is extensive on that basis alone, not to mention the Philethis’ other abilities. A Philethis’ motivation are unfathomable, which makes for many great opportunities for truly weird, inexplicable behaviour and their ability to be anywhere, any time, makes for excellent and unexpected encounters. Below are a number of suggestions of how you might involve or make use of a Philethis in your game.
Adding a Philethis to your Adventure
While the PCs are following a lead, a Philethis can always be spotted observing them from a distance, whenever the PCs approach, it teleports away. This can be coupled with odd occurrences and quirks of fate, such as things going wrong (or right) for the PCs in somewhat convoluted, coincidental ways whenever they are under observation (think of Rube Goldberg machines or the elaborate deaths from Final Destination).
The PCs might find a Philethis waiting for them when they investigate a crime scene, find a hidden treasure or make some other kind of discovery.
The PCs might need to testify in court but find the accused is being represented by a Philethis, a fact that no-one else seems to be aware of or even able to perceive for some reason.
A child the PCs interact with may refer to an imaginary friend which no-one can see, but is clearly described as a Philethis by the child, who occasionally passes cryptic messages from her ‘friend’.
A Philethis repairs a previously non-functioning numenera artifact or relic or perhaps identifies or alters a cypher of one of the players, with or without permission.
Philethis-based GM Intrusions
You go to make your attack but a Philethis suddenly teleports directly into the path of your attack, taking the blow instead. It looks at you curiously and pulls out a threatening cypher.
You are conversing with someone when a Philethis makes an embarrassing or problematic statement or question about you such as “Why did you steal the old woman’s underwear when you were 8?” or “Your brother kidnapped this ones wife yesterday.”.
You are climbing (perhaps to follow a Philethis, one directed you up the cliff or one is just observing), when suddenly a chunk of the surface gives way, sending you falling but revealing a hidden switch behind where the chunk used to be.
While speaking with the Philethis it makes a particularly odd statement which sticks in your brain. You are convinced it means something important that will change your life forever if you can only figure out it’s meaning.
Injecting the Weird with Philethis
The PCs come across a village full of people watching with a combination of fear and amusement as a Philethis slowly takes random items from people, their homes or random objects on the ground and stacks them with perfect, unnatural balance on top of each other in the center of town.
When a PC reaches for one of their items, it is handed to them by a Philethis who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It disappears again as soon as it’s noticed.
When confronting a Philethis, it removes it’s glass disc to reveal a perfect copy of the characters own face. The character is now in the Philethis’ robes and their own clothes, armour and equipment falls to the floor as the character’s body was suddenly teleported to replace the Philethis inside it’s robes.
You should also check out an excellent thread called “101 thing Philethis say” over at Ninth World Hub collecting a bunch of possible weird statements and questions a Philethis might speak.
Philethis-based Adventure Seeds
Hundreds of Philethis have all gathered in a small village where they stand motionless and silently, some in buildings, some on the streets, some on roof tops or even trees. No-one knows what they want and no-one is able to move them. The villagers just go about their daily lives walking around them, but are clearly afraid and are looking for someone to try and get rid of them.
A Philethis has been making strange, incomprehensible predictions which are always, albeit in the most ironic and roundabout ways, true. The PCs have been sent by a powerful noble to learn the nobles fortune.
A Philethis has been making strange patterns in a farmers field of crops and when the farmers son tried to intervene, he was turned to sand and crumbled away. The farmer is distraught and seeks vengeance, but is afraid the same fate will happen to her so is willing to pay someone else to take the risk. The Philethis and the dead son can be heard conversing in the fields all day and all night.
The PCs encounter a travelling band of an equal number of Philethis. One of the band uses a strange numenera device and the PCs soon find that the Philethis group has stolen their appearances and that they now all look like Philethis instead. Strangely, this only seems to effect other people, to the PCs, they all look like their normal selves and the Philethis still look like robed figures. The PCs have to track them down and try and regain their identities.
The Queen of Navarene is looking to capture or convince a Philethis to repair the sonic barrier weapons along the Navarene border after hearing tales of their numenera prowess and is employing the PCs to make this happen.