Sometimes Glaives Need Love

Published February 11, 2014 by in For Gamemasters, For Players


TM and © 2013 Monte Cook Games, LLC

TM and © 2013 Monte Cook Games, LLC

I’ve talked at length with my players and other friends about the Glaive type.  It’s a great type and fills an important, beloved role in our games.  But Glaives sometimes have a hard time at the table in my games and I’d like to talk about that.

It’s possible you haven’t run into this.  The three types of characters in Numenera are really well developed in the system.  The Glaive generally fills the role of master of combat, which in a traditional hack and slash game probably means they would be the star.  But Numenera isn’t just about combat.  Far from it.  In a game about discovery, with elements of survival, intrigue, and supernatural forces that can’t be hit with a sword- things get more complicated for everyone.  The combat master could easily find themselves feeling left out.  If the adventure is designed for a combination of creative skill use, careful negotiation, and artful use of magical powers, a Glaive can find themselves sitting in the back sharpening their sword.

There are a number of specific problems I’ve noticed, and I’m going to provide the remedies I’ve come up with, but this list is far from exhaustive and suggestions for solutions are welcome in the comments.

Glaives Often Focus Only On Combat

As a character that’s themed around fighting, it can be tempting to double down on this concept and pick up a Focus that relates specifically to this element of the character.  This is an extremely common trap, as potential Glaive characters are encouraged by the rest of the group to be the best combatant they can be.  It’s their party role.

So the Glaive who doubles down gets a little better at dealing damage.   They get a few more combat options.  This can be a double edged sword.  First of all, the extra options are just that- more options, not necessarily better ones than the bounty of cool maneuvers and combat skills they get just for being Glaives.  They also often forego taking a Focus that grants them extra non-combat skills or gives them interesting thematic or utility powers.  In the end the really focused Glaive has chosen to be the combat combat person who does combat.  Somewhat fun in combat, but not that much fun the rest of the time.

Choice of Descriptor, Type, and Focus is fairly permanent at most tables, so that spur of the moment choice to specialize can be a pigeonhole the Glaive can never leave.  My solution is twofold:  encourage Glaives to pick Foci that stray outside the combat-specific role they usually play, and allow them to change Foci mid-game.  This last one is a little more unusual, but hear me out:  What’s more interesting?  A Glaive to can shoot a bow well and continues to do so for a long time, or a Glaive who mastered a weapon as a trainee, went out into the world and was changed by it, perhaps turning her into a mutant with ice powers or a woman who exists partially out of phase with reality?  Change of Focus allows for character growth and plot arcs, while also allowing for Glaives to change things up when they’re getting bored with just killing things well.

Glaives Often Feel Like Might is Their Only Stat

Numenera’s core mechanic is essentially a resource and risk management mini-game that players play on two levels.  One is during sessions- how much Effort can I use without reducing my Pool so low I can’t handle damage?  The other is between sessions- what’s the best way to maximize my Pools and Edge?  If I have a high enough Edge is that enough of a discount that I should actually be putting more points into another Pool?

Glaives sometimes play a very strange version of this game.  If they’re melee combatants many of their attacks are based on Might.  What’s more, since they’re out in front and wearing all the armor, they’re supposed to be the ones taking the damage, which happens to hit the Might Pool first.  Since they pick up the Might Edge, they then often grab skills that relate to Might, like jumping, lifting, and smashing.  Glaives find themselves stuck in the world of Might, with seemingly little use for the other two Pools.  This makes them feel less useful in pretty much all non-combat situations, and somewhat similar to every other Glaive they’ve ever heard of.  They’ve allocated points in such a way that they’re painted in a corner and they often express a lot of buyer’s remorse for this decision.

My solution is to make sure Glaives, especially new players, know that the melee combatant is not their only option.  Glaives can be archers and fencers , both using Speed as much as Might.  They can pick up Intellect powers with their Focus- a way to get some really cool tactical advantages.  They can even take the Charming Descriptor and be the party’s face.  There are a lot of ways to customize a character in Numenera and sometimes the obvious path is not the one that’s the most fun, or that offers the most options down the line.

Combat is Short and Simple in Numenera

Normally we list this as an advantage of the Cypher System:  battles are incredibly easy to run and often finish within minutes.   But for the combat lover this means that less of the game is devoted to the moment when they get to shine.  What’s more, the better they are at their job, the faster combat finishes.

I’ve seen smart and lucky Glaives take down foe after foe, killing 6 monsters while the rest of the party struggles with one.  Combat can be a moment when the Glaive looks like a true fantasy hero.  But up against only a moderately difficult enemy a combat can seem over too soon.  If the entirety of an important encounter is the Glaive taking a single turn to gut an NPC it can feel like a real let down and certainly the Glaive didn’t really get a chance to get into a groove and have some fun.  Nobody wins (except the people who hate combat all together).

My solution is to plan ahead a bit.  Make sure each battle is a bit more complicated than simple swinging weapons at a single non-moving foe.  There need to be traps, ticking time bombs of some sort, reinforcements sometimes, and when possible an objective beyond mere killing.  In my experience 1 or 2 round combats are unfulfilling.  3-5 round fights are good, and 5-7 round fights feel epic, but are tiring for the party as a whole.  I like to have one big fight near the end of the session that takes 5-7 rounds.  Maybe a little more.  If a fight looks like it’s gunna end a little earlier than 3-5 rounds, it’s time to pull out some tricks.

That’s often where GM Intrusions come in.  There are a lot of ways to complicate a battle.  Minor skirmishes can become more interesting by a couple more monsters showing up.  The bigger set-piece moments can be complicated by dramatic changes in the enemy.  Let the foe alter form to something really scary or bring out a new and unforeseen weapon.  Have the location begin to change shape or become dramatically more dangerous.  Introduce a deadly location to the scene, the mere touch of which could mean destruction.  Due to the weird scifi nature of the game setting we have a lot of tools at our command.  When you see a cool complication in a piece of fiction, write it down for these kinds of situations.  Be ready for the twist, and pay the players in XP for the Intrusion when it fits.  That’s the other advantage of the game- it’s easy to make things hard and still play fair.