FATE-like XP Mechanics in Numenera

Published December 3, 2013 by in For Gamemasters, Mechanics


FATE is a wonderful system. It just gels perfectly with the way I think and the kind of shared control over a game I like to extend to my players. One of the things I love about Numenera is how in some ways it is very similar to FATE.

My Numenera players tend to be XP hoarders and to them the re-roll mechanic isn’t seen as much of a benefit. Some players use it, but most of the time they prefer to hoard and the idea of short- or medium-term benefits seem anathema to them., as do buying limited, focused skills that only apply to one situation. This isn’t a problem, per se, but I feel it makes the players a bit more risk shy than they might otherwise be and makes me less inclined to compel them with a GM intrusion because I know they’ll save it up for character advancement and I don’t want to risk unbalancing the group by causing some characters to level faster than others. Most of my players have never played a roleplaying game before, but most are avid computer gamers, so they tend to fall into the risk/reward cycle that is typical of most computer games instead of taking a more active role on the narrative of the story.

This is where FATE comes in. FATE provides real, mechanical tools to benefit characters by directly changing the narrative and this is something I want to bring to Numenera. In fact, depending on your interpretation of the rules, it’s already part of the rules, though the examples of spending XP aren’t necessarily a great indicator of this. Look at this quote from the core rulebook:

Medium-term benefits are usually story based. For example, a character can spend 2 XP while climbing through mountains and say that she has experience with climbing in regions like these.
Numenera Core Rulebook, Short- and Medium-Term Benefits, page. 111

If you’re familiar with FATE, you might instantly think that this is similar to invoking aspects. A short-term benefit provides a one-time step reduction in difficulty level for a specific task in the specific situation. The medium-term benefit in the quote can be considered similar to the create an advantage action in FATE where you declare something in the narrative which gives you and maybe others a permanent advantage to use, at least for the during of the scenario. Of course, Numenera isn’t exactly like these, but there are enough similarities here to want to try and build on this, dipping into FATE for some inspiration. As for long-term benefits, those are similar to gaining a new aspect on your character in FATE – they don’t have quite as much guaranteed, reliable punch as a stunt or skill, but can provide a number of benefits across the life time of your character:

In many ways, the long-term benefits a character can gain by spending XP are a means of integrating the mechanics of the game with the story. Players can codify things that happen to their characters (or that they want to have happen to their characters) by talking to the GM and spending 3 XP.
Numenera Core Rulebook, Long-Term Benefits, page. 111

Explaining and Expanding Numenera’s XP Rules in FATE Terms

Here are a few ways of spending XP inspired by the mechanics as they exist within FATE. The number of XP you want to require for each type can and should be changed depending on the type of game you want to run. If you want to give more control over the game narrative to players, you should lean towards lower costs, as in FATE where everything costs 1 FATE point. If you as a GM want more control, you’ll want to use slightly higher costs, requiring more XP for each action. By default, I’m settling on 2 and 3 xp costs as per the existing Numenera rules for benefits.

Declarations

Declarations allow players to define something about the world and change the narrative of the game. Much like in the FATE rules for declarations, and like the short- to medium-term rules, players can spend XP to say something about themselves that gives them a bonus. Here’s an example:

Mattori the Nano and his group are exploring an ancient warehouse when the floor suddenly shifts and falls away. Mattori spends 3 XP to declare that the entire floor doesn’t fall but is instead buckled and damaged in a few places, revealing the underlying supports. This allows the party to try and follow the supporting beams to avoid treading on the weaker, unstable parts of the floor, granting themselves an asset for that task.

Another example might be retroactively having the right supplies, for example:

Kender the Jack is captured by a band of abhumans, stripped of her gear and locked in a cage, awaiting a grisly fate in a abhuman’s cooking pot. Luckily, Kender spends 2 XP to say she managed to secret a lockpick upon her person, giving her an asset for picking the lock.

Creating advantages

Creating advantages change the landscape of the narrative, you create something that can be used an an asset by multiple people because it’s a change to the world in some way or making an opponent more vulnerable to attacks. Again, advantages can be both medium- or long-term benefits, here are some examples:

Kildak-Frey the lattimor Glaive is up to his neck in lakks, which have swarmed him in what he though was an abandoned barn. Kildak-Frey spends 2 XP to create an advantage, stating that he hurls several bales of hay at the lakks, blocking some of them off and making his life a bit easier as the lakks can no longer form such a large swarm to attack him (giving Kildak-Frey and anyone else how enters a step reduction in defence tasks against them).

Another non-combat related advantage might be:

As part of Abrion the Nano’s background, he studied under a powerful Nano and as a student of his now bears his mark. When Abrion is trying to decipher some ancient glyphs on a numenera relic, he opts to spend 2 XP to create an advantage, saying these are similar to various texts his old master taught him, granting him an asset towards deciphering them and any more he may find in the relic.

Gaining Aspects

In FATE you don’t really gain aspects, at least not permanently, beyond character generation, though you often change them as the character develops. However, this is Numenera and the long-term benefits work kind of like aspects – they are things available to give you advantages, be they skills, contacts, things like homes or vehicles or even artefacts. Perhaps the character might receive a sudden inheritance of shins from a relative or perhaps they get a new vehicle. Yes, sure, they could buy one by saving up – but why bother when you could spend some XP and work together to come up with an in-game reason, giving the player a cool asset to use in future and the GM new hooks and toys to play with.

Keeva the Glaive has spent a lot of time hunting down vermin and putting them to the sword, in fact, she’s become quite adept at tracking bandits recently, having gained a familiarity with their typical methods for covering their tracks. Therefore, Keeva spends 3 XP to permanently gain a +1 bonus to all tracking tasks against bandits.

Jaceth the Jack is looking for a fence to whom he can sell some of his less honestly procured items. He spends 3 XP to say he has an old time acquaintance that lives in the area and that he’ll be more than happy to buy Jaceth’s wares, no questions asked. He gets somewhere to do the task he wants to achieve and you both (the player and the GM) get a new NPC, with hook to the character, to call upon in future.

Wrap Up

As you can see, there isn’t a lot of difference between the way these things work as written here and the way they are described in the Numenera core rulebook. However, thinking in terms of FATE and the way those rules work can make the XP expenditure in Numenera seem less pointless to some of those more XP hoarding players. I highly recommend having a read of the FATE rules, which can be downloaded for free directly from the creators website or by browsing the online rules at FATE SRD for getting more hints and tips on how you can involve your players more directly in shaping your game’s narrative.

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