This is How you Play Numenera

  1. The player tells the GM what she wants to do. This is a character action.
  2. The GM determines if that action is routine (and therefore works without needing a roll) or if there’s a chance of failure.
  3. If there is a chance of failure, the GM determines which stat the task uses (Might, Speed, or Intellect) and the task’s difficulty—how hard it will be on a scale from 1 (really easy) to 10 (basically impossible).
  4. The player and the GM determine if anything about her character—such as training, equipment, special abilities, or various actions—can modify the difficulty up or down by one or more steps. If these modifications reduce the difficulty to less than 1, the action is routine (and therefore works with no roll needed).
  5. If the action still isn’t routine, the GM uses its difficulty to determine the target number—how high the player must roll to succeed at the action. The GM doesn’t have to tell the player what the target number is, but he can give her a hint, especially if her character would
    reasonably know if the action was easy, average, difficult, or impossible.
  6. The player rolls a d20. If she rolls equal to or higher than the target number, her character

That’s it. That’s how to do anything, whether it’s identifying a strange device, calming a raging
drunk, climbing a treacherous cliff, or battling a savage cragworm. Even if you ignored all the other rules, you could still play Numenera with just this information. The key features here are: character actions, determining task difficulty, and determining modifications.

Basic Mechanics

To begin with, the Players roll all dice. You attack the monsters, attempt skill challenges, and influence the world around you. You defend yourself from attacks, hazards, and threats. You will almost always be rolling one d20. If your roll plus bonuses exceeds the difficulty, you succeed!
The GM will set difficulty levels, and can modify the difficulty as follows:
Skills: If you are skilled in a particular task, the difficulty is usually reduced by one. If you have additional levels in the skill, it may be reduced by two.
Assets: Assets are anything that might be helpful, such as applying a tool, a Numenéra, or even beneficial weather (a rainstorm might make it easier to put out the fire). If you think it will apply to the situation, ask the GM if it counts as an asset. An Asset will also reduce the difficulty of any task by one, or two if it is particularly suited to the task.
Effort: Players may apply effort to tasks. Applying effort usually requires a player to spend 3 points from the appropriate stat pool, although this is modified by your Edge in that stat. Each additional point of effort requires only two more points be spent from the stat pool, although this additional cost is NOT modified by your Edge. Each effort applied reduces the difficulty by one. There is a Maximum level of effort you can apply to each task, see Stat Pools for more details.

It is possible that success is automatic, given the nature of your skills, assets, and other factors, in which case no dice are rolled.
It is also possible that success is impossible, even with a 20, in which case again, no dice are rolled.


Anything that your character does in a round is an action. It’s easiest to think of an action as a single thing that you can do in five to ten seconds. As a general Rule, you get one Action per round, when rounds are being tracked.
The most common actions are:
Activate a special ability (one that isn’t an attack)
Do something else
It may be possible to do more than thing in an action, like open an unlocked door AND move through into the next room.

Special Rolls

If your D20 shows a natural 1, or a 17-20 (not just that your total is that high, you have to have this on your die) Special Rules come into play.
1. Intrusion: The GM Gets a free Intrusion without having to award XP
17. Damage Bonus. If the roll was an attack, it deals +1 damage.
18. Damage Bonus. If the roll was an attack, it deals +2 damage.
19. Minor Effect. If the roll was an attack, it deals +3 damage. If it was anything other than an attack, the PC gets an minor effect in addition to the normal results of the task.
20. Major Effect. If the roll was an attack, it deals +4 damage. If the roll was anything other than an attack, the PC gets a major effect, in addition to the normal results of the task. In addition, any effort spent is returned to the stat pool, but gains the benefit of their effort in determining the results.


Intrusion, also called GM Intrusion, can happen in one of two ways. If a player rolls a Natural One on any D20 roll, or, if the GM awards the affected player 2 Experience Points.

If the player rolls a natural 1, the GM may perform an Intrusion and does not have to award the XP.
If the GM elects to award the XP, the affected player must give one of the XP away, and needs to justify this gift – perhaps the target made the table laugh, had a brilliant idea, or has had a string of bad luck and needs the good fortune from the XP.

Often, the GM intrudes when an action would otherwise be an automatic success – introducing a complication or action that makes the situation more dangerous and interesting. The GM has lists of common intrusions, to provoke ideas.

A player can Refuse an Intrusion by spending an XP. This represents a player’s knowledge of the world, gained through experience, and their ability to use that knowledge to avoid danger or otherwise mitigate the effects. This does mean the player does not gain the 2 XP that would have been awarded.

A sample Intrusion might be for a bit of wall to give way while you are climbing it, adding to the difficulty. Other ideas include a foe disarming a character in combat.

Minor Effects

A minor effect happens when a player rolls a natural 19. Most of the time, a minor effect is
slightly beneficial to the PC, but not overwhelming. A climber gets up the steep slope a bit faster. A repaired machine works a bit better. A character jumping down into a pit lands on her feet. Either they GM or the player can come up with a possible minor effect that fits the situation, but both must agree on what it should be. Don’t waste a lot of time thinking of a minor effect if nothing appropriate suggests itself. Sometimes, in cases where only success or failure matters, it’s okay to have no minor effect. Keep the game moving at an exciting pace.
In combat, the easiest and most straightforward minor effect is dealing 3 additional points of damage with an attack. The following are other common minor effects for combat:
Strike a specific body part: The attacker strikes a specific spot on the defender’s body. The GM rules what special effect, if any, results. For example, hitting a creature’s tentacle that is wrapped around an ally might make it easier for the ally to escape. Hitting a foe in the
eye might blind it for one round. Hitting a creature in its one vulnerable spot might ignore Armor.
Knock back: The foe is knocked or forced back a few feet. Most of the time, this doesn’t matter much, but if the fight takes place on a ledge or next to a pit of lava, the effect can be significant.
Move past: The character can move a short distance (see Distance, next page) at the end of the attack. This effect is useful to get past a foe guarding a door, for example.
Distract: For one round, the difficulty of all tasks the foe attempts is modified by one step to its detriment.
Usually, the GM just has the desired minor effect occur. For example, rolling a 19 against a relatively weak foe means it is knocked off the cliff. The effect makes the round more exciting, but the defeat of a minor creature has no significant impact on the story. Other times, the GM might rule that an additional roll is needed to achieve the effect—the
special roll only gives the PC the opportunity for a minor effect. This mostly happens when the desired effect is very unlikely, such as pushing a 50-ton battle automaton off a cliff. If the player just wants to deal 3 additional points of damage as the minor effect, no extra roll is needed.

Major Effects

A major effect happens when a player rolls a natural 20. Most of the time, a major effect is quite beneficial to the character. A climber gets up the steep slope in half the time. A jumper lands with such panache that those nearby are impressed and possibly intimidated. A defender makes a free attack on his foe. Either the GM or the player can come up with a
possible major effect that fits the situation, but both must agree on what it should be. As with minor effects, don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over the details of a major effect. In cases where only success or failure matters, a major effect might offer the character a one-time asset (a modification of one step) to use the next time she attempts a similar action. When nothing else seems appropriate, the GM can simply grant the PC an additional action on her turn that same round.
In combat, the easiest and most straightforward major effect is dealing 4 additional points to damage with an attack. The following are other common major effects for combat.
Knock down: The foe is knocked prone. It can get up on its turn if it wishes.
Disarm: The foe drops one object that it is holding.
Stun: The foe loses its next action.
Impair: For the rest of the combat, the difficulty of all tasks the foe attempts is modified by one step to its detriment.
As with minor effects, usually the GM just has the desired major effect occur, but sometimes he might require an extra roll if the major effect is unusual or unlikely.

Experience Points

  • The first and most immediate use of XP is to spend 1XP to reroll any roll – even one made by another player! The player can keep either roll in this situation.
  • Players can also spend 1XP to refuse a GM Intrusion.
  • Players can Spend 2XP to gain a skill with limited benefit. This might be Skill in Picking Locks in this one specific building, or at diplomacy against one specific merchant. Be prepared to justify how you gained that skill (usually in your past you had interactions with the situation).
  • Players may spend 2XP to use a new esoterie , device, or other power for a short time – say, one scene. This might mean that the device breaks after, but worked for the scene, or something similar.
  • Players can spend 3XP for a more moderate skill benefit – like a bonus to climbing this particular mountain range.
  • Players may spend 4XP for other rewards
    • reducing the Might and Speed costs for wearing Armor by 1
    • adding +2 to Recovery Rolls
    • learning a new Fighting Move (of your tier or lower)
    • learning a new Esoterie (of your tier or lower)
    • learning a new Trick (of your tier or lower)
  • Players can spend 3 XP for a long term benefit – a bonus involving a generic activity, like riding or crafting; a long-term con act of importance; a full-time residence or home base; an important title or community job that garners privileges that affect interaction and game play; wealth; or to acquire (often via crafting) an artifact.

XP and Tiers:
Players can spend 4XP to become trained in a new skill that is universally applicable. *
Players can spend 4XP to add 4 points to their stat pools, divided however they wish among them. *
Players can spend 4XP to add 1 to any Edge. *
Players can spend 4XP to increase their Effort score by 1. *

*If a player has spent the requisite 16XP to do each of these four tasks, they advance to the next tier and unlock access to new tier abilities, including fighting moves, esoteries, focus abilities, and more.

Combat and Damage

In the simplest kind of attack, such as a PC trying to stab a bandit with his spear, the player rolls and compares his result against the opponent’s target number. If his roll is equal to or greater than the target number, the attack hits. Just as with any kind of task, the GM might modify the difficulty based on the situation, and the player might have a bonus to
the roll or might try to lower the difficulty using skills, assets, or Effort.
A less straightforward attack might be a special ability that stuns a foe with a mental blast. However, it’s handled the same way: the player makes a roll against the opponent’s target number. Similarly, an attempt to tackle a foe and wrestle it to the ground is still just a roll against the foe’s target number.
Attacks are sometimes categorized as “melee” attacks, meaning that you hurt or affect something within immediate reach, or “ranged” attacks, meaning that you hurt or affect something at a distance. Melee attacks can be Might or Speed actions— player choice. Physical ranged attacks (such as bows and thrown weapons) are almost always Speed
actions, but those that come from special abilities like esoteries are probably Intellect actions. Esoteries or effects that require touching the target require a melee attack.
If the attack misses, the power is not wasted, and you can try again each round as your action until you hit the target, use another ability, or take a different action that requires you to use your hands. These attempts in later rounds count as different actions, so
you don’t have to keep track of how much Effort you used when you activated the ability or how you used Edge. For example, let’s say that on the first round of combat, you activate an esotery, use Effort to reduce the difficulty of the attack roll, and miss your foe. On the second round of combat, you can try attacking again and use Effort to reduce the difficulty of the attack roll.
The GM is encouraged to describe every attack with flavor and flair. One attack roll might be a stab to the foe’s arm. A miss might be the PC’s sword slamming into the wall. Combatants lunge, block, duck, spin, leap, and make all kinds of movements that should keep combat visually interesting and compelling. Common elements that affect the difficulty of a combat task are cover, range, and darkness.
When an attack strikes a character, it usually means the character takes damage. An attack against a PC subtracts points from one of the character’s stat Pools—usually the Might Pool.
Whenever an attack simply says it deals “damage” without specifying the type, it means Might damage, which is by far the most common type. Intellect damage, which is usually the result of a mental attack, is always labeled as Intellect damage. Speed damage is often a physical attack, but attacks that deal Speed damage are fairly rare.
Pieces of equipment and special abilities protect a character from damage by giving him Armor. Each time a character takes damage, subtract his Armor value from the damage before reducing his stat Pool or health.


Numenéra: Gift of the Calimshan BryanMStiltz BryanMStiltz