Making Levels Matter for Cyphers and Artifacts

Illustration by Patrick McEvoy

One of the key features of Numenera Destiny is that PCs will have a robust and detailed set of rules for crafting cyphers and artifacts. Creating that involved figuring out the time and resources a PC needs to craft items at different levels—for example, a level 5 detonation cypher is better than a level 2 detonation cypher, so it should take longer to build and require more special components.

But some cyphers have effects that don’t increase as the item’s level increases. For example, a catseye cypher lets you see in the dark for 28 hours whether it’s level 1 or level 6. An instant shelter cypher creates a 10 foot by 10 foot structure whether it’s level 4 or level 9. While this is fine for cyphers the PCs loot during gameplay (where the GM rolls randomly to determine the item’s level), this lack of variable effects means that nobody would ever craft one of these cyphers at anything but the minimum level—after all, why spend twice the time and resources to make a higher-level cypher that works exactly like a lower-level cypher?

(Technically, a low-level item is easier to destroy than a higher-level one, but that is such an uncommon situation that it doesn’t really count toward how useful a higher-level item is.)

The solution was to update the descriptions of the cyphers and artifacts so that most of them do more at higher levels than at lower levels. For example, a comprehension graft cypher in Numenera Discovery implants the knowledge of one language if it is level 1–4, or two languages if it is level 5–7. Some of these updates increase the duration of higher-level versions of a cypher, like a phase changer that lasts one minute for levels 1–5 or two minutes for levels 6–7. Some updates provide a greater bonus at higher cypher levels, like a visage changer that eases disguise tasks by one step for levels 1–4, or by two steps if level 5–6.

Illustration by Lie Setiawan from Numenera Discovery

Not all cyphers and artifacts got this sort of upgrade. Sometimes an item’s effect is pretty basic and doesn’t need to have any level variability. For example, an automated cook artifact takes raw ingredients and turns them into a nutritious, delicious meal. It doesn’t need a higher-level option to produce more food (you can already add more ingredients to make more food with it), and we don’t need to give meals a level to determine their quality, so a level 1 automated cook is basically as good as a level 6 automated cook. Sometimes a sandwich is just a sandwich (although the GM might decide that the higher-level artifact makes meals that look fancier or more interesting, just for fun).

The net effect of this change is that Wrights (and other characters who learn how to craft numenera) now have a reason to build these items at a higher level. Even if the item doesn’t have a greater effect at every level, the higher-level option means there is an incentive for a PC to spend the time and resources to craft it at that level. And if you’re lucky enough to find a higher-level item, it might have an additional effect. Overall, expect to see a lot more variety in what your cyphers and artifacts can do in Numenera!


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Sean Reynolds
Sean Reynolds

Sean K Reynolds grew up in southern California. He’s been a webmaster, game designer, developer, freelancer-wrangler, and many other jobs that can’t be described in one or two words. He’s worked on a couple hundred books for a half a dozen RPGs, designed videogames, taught classes on game design, written plays and musicals, judged international talent-search contests, won game design awards, and had bit parts in geeky movies. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his four cats. Sean is the Community Relations Coordinator at Monte Cook Games.