NaNewGaMo: It’s Game Time! (And a Bit About Characters)

This is it: The final session of the National New Gamemaster Month program! We’ve come a long way over the past few weeks, and we’re closing in on your first game session.

In NaNewGaMo we’re helping players who feel the urge to run an RPG—to become a GM for the first time—take the plunge. Whether you’re new to gaming or a long-time player who’s never happened to take the GM’s seat, we’ve been making the process of running your first adventure an easy one. Our posts have run every Tuesday and Thursday in January; you can find the first installment here.

In this, our last part of the 2016 NaNewGaMo lessons, let’s talk not about GMing, but about characters. Why? Because your first act as GM will be to shepherd your players through the process of creating their characters—a process that’s likely to take up a portion of your first session.

If your players are seasoned Numenera players, they’ll be familiar with both the process of making characters and the types of PCs that adventure in the Ninth World. If some or all of your players are new to Numenera, though, they’ll have questions. And they’ll look to you for guidance. You don’t have to be an expert on Numenera characters, but you need to be sufficiently conversant to be helpful to your players and keep the process moving along.

Choosing Characters

What kind of characters should your players make? That’s up to them. But it’s a good idea to have a variety of character concepts in your group. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, having a variety of strengths helps players successfully face a variety of challenges (or gives them a options on how to approach challenges). This is practically codified in some RPGs—the classic dungeon-delving group includes a fighter, wizard, rogue, and cleric because you really need all those abilities to survive the dungeon. Numenera is a bit looser, though, so it’s no crisis if your party is heavy on glaives (for example) and light on nanos.

A more important reason is that you want to let each player have moments to shine. Imagine you’re playing a spy game, and the adventure involves stealthing into a high-security facility, a high-speed chase in a getaway car, and then a showdown with the thugs the opponents send after you. The character who’s great at defeating electronics gets a moment in the sun as you infiltrate the facility; the character who’s great with vehicles shines during the chase; and the tough special-ops soldier type shines in the fight scene. Everyone has a moment in which his or her character feels crucial. If they were all sneaky types, nobody would have the spotlight in that first scene (or any of them, really) and you might struggle through those other encounters.

Numenera-10-Keiran-Yanner

Introducing Characters

One particular issue you’ll have in your first session is bringing the characters together. Sometimes this process can seem contrived or stilted (the stereotype in fantasy games is that the players all happen to be at a tavern when someone with an adventure just happens to wander in). Don’t sweat a bit of awkwardness. Your game will be about what the characters do once things get rolling, not about how they met.

And Numenera has a nifty mechanism to help you out with this: Each character comes with a built-in hook that connects her to another character, and several options for a connection to the first adventure. The link to the adventure is part of the character’s descriptor, and the connection to another character comes from her focus. In both cases, the players have some leeway in how to interpret these connections. In your first session, after you make characters, spend five minutes or so discussing these connections, and you’ll find they really help players get into their characters quickly.

Allowing Adjustments

One last thing on the subject of characters: Often, players don’t know exactly what they want when they sit down at the gaming table. Sometimes once the game starts, a player finds that he doesn’t really like the way his character works, or that it’s not really what he had in mind. And sometimes a group dynamic emerges for which the characters, as generated, aren’t a perfect fit.

You know what? That’s natural. I recommend letting your players make adjustments to their characters after the first session, without worrying about whether it makes much sense to the story. Just like a TV show that changes up a bunch of stuff after the pilot (ever watch the early episodes of the original Star Trek?), you’ll find that even if unexplained changes seem odd at first, it makes little difference in the long run. And your game will be more successful if the players really love their characters.

Step Eight

There’s a lot of material in the character creation section of the Numenera corebook. Don’t panic: You don’t have to read too much of it. For the most part, it’s detailed information on the various abilities players might choose as they create or advance their characters, the bulk of which isn’t relevant now. What you do want do to, though, is familiarize yourself with the three character types, the function of descriptors and foci, and the general character generation process.

Read these sections (it looks like a long list, but it all totals about 15 pages):

  • Chapter 3: Pages 20-25 (That’s the whole chapter.)
  • Chapter 4: Pages 26-27 (Stop when you get to the Glaive Background header.)
  • Chapter 4: Pages 32-34 (Start at the Nano header and stop when you get to the Nano Background header.)
  • Chapter 4: Pages 40-41 (Start at the Jack header and stop when you get to the Jack Background header.)
  • Chapter 5: Page 47 (Just read down to the Charming header, but then scan a few descriptors throughout the chapter to get a sense of what they’re like.)
  • Chapter 6: Page 52 (Just read down to the Bears a Halo of Fire header, but then scan a few foci throughout the chapter to get a sense of what they’re like.)
  • Character Creation Walkthrough: Page 400-401 (This summarizes the process you’re going to lead the players through as they create their characters.)

In addition to this reading, you’ll also want to lay in some drinks and snacks if you didn’t do so as part of Monday’s activity.

You’re Ready to Go!

Relax. It’s going to be a lot of fun. You’ve done a lot to get yourself up to speed, and you’re ready. Check it out:

  • You have the rules and an adventure.
  • You’ve read through the adventure, some parts of it more than once. You’ve given some thought to the encounters—enough to bring them to life, but not too much, because that tends to presuppose more than you should.
  • You set up the time and place, and your players are ready to go. You have a sense of what they expect or will enjoy.
  • You’re familiar with the general rules. It sometimes feels like you’re not familiar enough, but trust me, that’s natural. You and your players will do fine, and you’ll gain confidence as you go.
  • You watched the How to Play Numenera video, so you’ve seen the game in action.
  • You’ve read up on character generation.
  • You’ve gathered up all the stuff you need.
  • And most of all, you’re confident. (Right?) You know that you don’t have to be the ultimate expert on the game’s rules or setting. You’re ready to be creative, to work your way through any pitfalls that arise in play, and to be spontaneous. You have what you need, and you have what it takes.

That’s it: That’s all the secret ingredients. You are ready. Go run your game!

Aaaand Step Nine. And Ten.

What? More steps? Didn’t we just get to “Go run your game?”

Yep, but your first session isn’t the entirety of your GMing career. You’re going to have a great time, and chances are you’re going to run a lot more than The Beale of Boregal over the weeks, months, and years to come. And even if you don’t, that adventure alone may well run through more than one session.

So, here are some things to do after your first session:

  • Talk to your players about the time and place for your second session. (You might want to do that before you part ways after the first session.)
  • Spend a few minutes thinking about how things played out, and how this session’s events affect the rest of the adventure.
  • Review upcoming encounters, just like you reviewed the adventure’s early encounters in Step Six.
  • Think about what might happen after this adventure concludes. Will you keep playing? If so, what will the next adventure be? There are several more in the Numenera corebook, along with The Devil’s Spine, Weird Discoveries, and several of our short, PDF-only products. And, of course, you can always make your own!

And, finally:

  • If you’ve run your first game session, tell us about it! You’ve “won” NaNewGaMo, and we really, really want to hear how it went. Hit us on the Monte Cook Games Facebook page or the NaNewGaMo forum.
  • And check back here next week. I’m going to do a follow-up post that sums up how things went for many of you, and talks about how you can apply what you’ve learned to future games you run—not just Numenera, but other game systems as well.

Thanks for Being a Part of It!

It’s been a real pleasure putting this program together and presenting it to you each week this month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, learned a little something, and gained the confidence to start running your own games. And more than anything, I hope you enjoy GMing as much as I have. Hopefully it will bring you many years of pleasure. Congratulations!

Charles Ryan
Charles Ryan

Charles M. Ryan has written or contributed to titles in nearly every class of tabletop game—board games, card games, trading card games, miniature games, and roleplaying games—over a 25-year career in the game industry. He has also served as the global brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and headed up the marketing department at the UK’s Esdevium Games, one of the world’s largest game distributors. He is the Chief Operating Officer at Monte Cook Games.