Taking the Narrative By the Tail: GM Intrusions & Special Effects (Numenera)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Cost. Ninety-Nine Cents
Page Count: 7
Release Date: 04/28/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Taking the Narrative is the latest in a line of short supplements for Numenera by Monte Cook Games The PDF page count clocks in at seven but that includes both covers and each of the five pages with content have art and/or sidebars taking up a lot of room, so the content is brief and to the point. Of course, the piece is less than a buck hopefully you weren’t expecting some long tome revealing hundreds of pages of new information about the Ninth World.
Taking the Narrative is all about GM Intrusions and how to use them properly. For newcomers to Numenera, a GM intrusion is when the GM throws a monkey wrench or a roadblock into the player’s actions. It could be a door has a failsafe built in which prevents it from opening via electrical tampering. It could be an attack by some other life form. It could be that they drop their grappling hook halfway up a steep climb. A GM Intrusion can take pretty much any form. The catch is that an intrusion gives a Player (or players) XP for occurring and players can also trade in. So there is a nice trade-off for the DM acting as the fickle finger of fate. As well, a player can nullify the GM intrusion by refusing the XP and spending one of his own to craft a way (in-story) that the PCs sidestep this potential calamity. The end result is that everyone in the game, GM and players alike work together to craft the narrative instead of some games where the GM is God, what they say goes. Sometimes, those games can be ruined by a bad GM who delights in punishing his players or treats the game as something they have to win by beating (killing) the PCs. A bad GM can turn a game into something that feels like PCs are just along for the ride or worse, ruins the game to the point that the players don’t want to play it or any other tabletop game at all. Thankfully Numenera is designed to prevent such a GM from dominating the Ninth World experience. GM Intrusions aren’t meant to prevent a PC from achieving their goals or “winning” the story. They’re meant to spice things up by throwing a new piece of drama or danger in. A Good GM intrusion is something like you are a day’s hike from your goal, but a terrible storm erupts cutting your progress in half. This allows PCs to duck into a nearby cave where there might be a subplot or subquest awaiting them. Maybe even an underground tunnel that brings them to the goal. Who knows? Of course they can always go the route they had planned, just at half the speed and possible taking damage from the storm. Either way the adventure continues as planned. There’s just a wrinkle in the roadmap so to speak. A bad GM intrusion would be, “While you are asleep, a horde of hundreds of terrible thingies sneak up on you. Prepare for combat without any weapons or armor. Also, they have acid lasers.”
It makes sense why Monte Cook Games released a full supplement further explaining the concept of GM intrusions as it is a hard one for long time gamers used to letting dice act as the sole arbiter of fate. Some even have the mindset that when a GM sticks adds something not in the published adventure or rules that they are “cheating” or purposely trying to stick it to the PCs. That’s why it’s really important that all people playing Numenera read the GM Intrusion section in the core rulebook and understand how it works. It’s also why Taking the Narrative is a must by for any Numenera fan because it further fleshes out the concept, explains how it is an alternative to the way most tabletop RPGs are run (although not necessarily meant to be played) and most importantly, how a GM intrusion helps players and makes the game more interesting/fun in the long run. If you get the concept right off, you probably don’t need to by Taking the Narrative, but you should own it anyway for gamers in your group that have been burned by previous games and/or GMs and are expecting you to drop a tactical nuclear strike at any second if you show the slightest bit of disagreement or displeasure in how things are unfolding. It’s also helpful to give this to your GM if they think an “unexpected twist” or “didn’t see that coming moment” is more akin to Vince Russo style crash TV from late 90s WCW professional wrestling.
Besides a frank discussion of what a GM intrusion is and IS NOT, Taking the Narrative gives a whole host of examples of possible GM intrusions for various situations. Whether you’re a newcomer to GM’ing or you find it old hat, there are enough examples here to get your imagination rolling. Besides, you can always use one of the examples in your game. It’s what they are for, after all! You also get three brief paragraphs on minor and major Special Effects which occur when someone rolls a 19 or 20. There’s not much on the subject but between what is in the core rulebook and this little bit, you get a good sense of how the GM and player that scored the fortuitous role can work together to make a cool moment happen.
So while very short, Taking the Narrative by the Tail is a wonderful example of just what a supplement should be in this day and age of tabletop gaming. You get an in-depth clarification of what is something of a paradigm shift for some (but by no means all) gamers and a look at how to properly use it in your Numenera game. GM intrusions are one of the big features that makes Numenera stand out from a lot of other games with its built in checks and balances as well as the reminders that the GM and players work together rather than as adversaries. It’s a great concept that is further fleshed out in this supplement and it’s definitely something all Numenera fans should pick up. Hell, even if you’re NOT a Numenera fan, it’s something worth reading because it’s a nice look at how GMs should complement the narrative rather than dominate it.