One of the characters in my Numenera playtest wants to play a Nano Who Crafts Unique Items, but I'm struggling with some of the rule.
1) Crafting Cyphers
There are several different defined "craft" skills for Numenera (chemistry, electronics, mechanics, transdimensional, p. 107). Our most basic question is ... what does this get you? Can you craft cyphers and artifacts, or just artifacts?
The book explains that player characters can create artifacts by spending 3 XP, which is pretty straightforward. It also discusses modifying existing cyphers to have different powers, but it never spells out creating cyphers from scratch (for PCs; there are guidelines for GMs).
Although cyphers are common in Numenera, given their effectiveness as one-shot items I'm guessing there should be an XP cost; off the cuff I'd put it at 1 or 2 XP.
2) The Crafts Unique Items Foci
The Tier 6 ability for "Crafts Unique Items" says:
"You can create new artifacts in half the time, as if they were two levels lower, by spending half the normal XP. Enabler."
So what does this really mean?
Artifacts, no matter how powerful, seem to have a flat cost of 3 XP (p. 111). Let's say I have a player who wants to create an Amulet of Safety (p. 300).
Normally that's Level 1d6 device. Let's say he picks a Level 3 device. The difficulty is 5 + the level of the device. (p. 106). This would make it Difficulty 8 (Numenera Item) that takes many years and 3 XP to create.
He'd like to use this device within his lifetime, so he takes advantage of his Tier 6 ability for "Crafts Unique Items". This drops the level of the device to Level 1. Adding in the +5 for numenera devices, and he's at Difficulty 6 (simple numenera item, 1 month). The cost becomes 1.5 XP. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to round up or down; given that this PC wants to make a lot of artifacts, I might just leave it at 1.5.
It feels ... incomplete. It feels like a legacy of an earlier, more robust crafting system for artifacts that upped the XP cost based on the complexity of the artifact. Alternatively, it also feels like an anticipatory ability -- as though we'll see new rules for artifact creation in the Technology Compendium, and this is meant to future proof the core rule book.
Either way the "Half the XP" cost feels clunky to me because it yields a fraction -- we don't see a lot of those in Numenera.
3) The Techno-arcane Economy
The Nano Who Crafts Unique Items also wants to sell his newly minted artifacts (and cyphers as well). Reading through the numenera book I get the sense that there isn't a huge numenera economy. I'm sure you can buy and sell numenera in the big cities, but the book itself gives no guidance on how much cyphers or artifacts go for.
Any thoughts on that? My sense is that, when it comes to numenera, the 9th World is more about barter than selling items outright. That said, there must be times when these things are traded for shins, and it would be helpful to have some guidence on the going rates for such things. I could see mimicking the loose doubling (or maybe tripling?) of the existing level progressions (e.g. Level 1 = 100 shins, Level 2 = 200 shins, Level 3 = 400 shins, Level 4 = 800 shins).
My thoughts on crafting in the Ninth World:
I would say that cyphers can absolutely NOT be crafted, not even by someone with the Crafts Unique Objects focus. In reading through the Core Rulebook, I get the distinct impression that when considering the numenera, cyphers are the pieces or parts of the numenera. Basically the smallest useable pieces of larger things. In the Cyphers section of the rulebook, like on page 280, words like "scavenge" "find" and "identify" are used to talk about the cyphers, not "make" or "create" or anything like that. Even occultic cyphers are described as having complex trigger processes, but not being complex items themselves.
Even when looking at the Crafts Unique Objects focus, it talks about working in wood and metal to make tools and devices, or even weapons and armor, the focus being mundane things (page 58). It says eventually they can work up to numenera, but they are not numenera crafters to start with. I would say the items referenced in the Tier 1 power are just that, items - non-numenera, mundane items. Tier 2 introduces working with artifacts. It is not until Tier 4 that cyphers are introduced, and then not to create from scratch, but to modify existing cyphers (reinforcing that they are not built, but found).
As for the listed craft skills on page 107, I would say they are not at all necessary for crafting numenera, but work just like other skills, making a PC trained (or specialized) in crafting numenera for the purpose of making rolls, but as usual, no skills are required to do something, even crafting. There are different ones because the numenera come in different forms, such as pills, devices, wearables, etc.
Crafts Unique Objects:
Tier 6 is about crafting artifacts "in half the time, at half the XP cost". However, it does actually clarify "half the time" to mean two steps lower. As in your example, 1 year drops to 1 month - not actually half the time. I would offer that "half the XP" also shouldn't be understood as actually half. 3XP is the cost for long-term benefits of spending XP (page 111). I would offer that the Tier 6 ability should move the spending of XP for crafting an artifact from a long-term procedure to a short-term procedure, which would reduce the cost to 2XP (also page 111). Long-term benefits are more akin to higher step tasks, and short-term more akin to something "two steps lower" so this makes sense to me.
The Techno-arcane economy:
I would say the intended purpose of the Crafts Unique Items focus is for personal, or at most, party consumption. However, nothing outright states you can't try to hawk your wares instead. However, on page 280, the rulebook talks about cyphers being found, or possibly on fallen foes, or given as rewards/gifts. The only talk of selling is by the explorers (PCs) themselves, or by Aeon Priests. And, Aeon Priests don't exist in every town, certainly not everywhere in the Beyond. I would say that cyphers are not simply bought/sold by regular folk that the PCs encounter. Sure, only occasionally, the PCs might barter a cypher for something (almost never the other way), but not simply sell for shins. Similarly, I would think Aeon Priests would also barter first, but possibly buy if need be. None of the adventures I've run or read so far have talked about PCs being able to buy cyphers or artifacts anywhere but from Aeon Priests, and even then not every time.
As for cost, I think it would vary wildly, to the point that the PCs shouldn't even count on even a cypher of similar level fetching a similar price - it might happen, but given the nature of the numenera and how strange things are in the Ninth World, I wouldn't want the PCs to expect that to happen. And, hundreds of shins seems a great deal for one use items like cyphers. Remember, they are pretty plentifully scavenged throughout the world, so they probably wouldn't fetch that much. Artifacts, maybe, but then, who would be fool enough to sell a useful artifact? As a GM, I would not give cyphers that high a shin value, as while they are powerful, they won't necessarily help the average citizen out with his/her daily tasks.
Anyway, those are my thoughts so far.
I've ruled that you can't create cyphers or artifacts from scratch, but you can tinker with them.
For instance, if you had a ray emitter cypher and wanted to turn it into something a little more permanent you could cobble together an extended power cell and maybe some sort of casing to hold the device together. Your new device works, but it's pretty ramshackle and there's no telling how long it will hold a charge.
You basically need numenera to make numenera. If you have the right occultic cyphers to roughly constitute the device you want to craft you can build an artifact. How long until the device depletes is determined by how long you spend working on refining it:
A few hours: Nets you a one-shot, cypher-like device.
A day: Gives you a bodged-together device with a depletion die of 1d4.
A week: Gives you something a bit more durable with a depletion die of 1d6.
A month: Yields a device with a depletion die of 1d10.
A year: Creates a pretty well-made device with a depletion roll of 1d20.
A few years: Could give you a device with a depletion roll of up to 1d100 depending on what the device is.
The caveat to all of this is that the crafter is the only one who knows how to use the device, it takes an intellect roll equivalent to the device's level (add the levels of the cyphers that compose it together) to use it.
It was a cart-sized launcher. The party was hired by a local nobleman to assist his glaives in an attack on a local warlord's fortress. Without a battering ram or any other siege equipment, the group's nano decided to build a big compressed air cannon to lob rocks over the fortress walls.
After scavenging synth and metal piping from around the outlying towns and villages and borrowing a set of bellows from a smith the party had a large-scale version of the launcher artifact from the core book. I had them use the depletion roll just to see how long the jury-rigged machine would hold together.
Cool! that makes sense. I could potentially see players not wanting to spend the 3XP if their characters are also going through all the challenges of gathering materials etc. Depending of course on how challenging that bit was.
Thanks everyone -- I appreciate the responses. I think that when it comes down to it, Numenera is more about a scavenger culture than it is a maker culture -- people are far, far more likely to re-using existing technology (perhaps in unexpected ways) than they are to truly grok the machines and build their own.
I apologize in advance for the size of the message, I am a writer by innate ability, but CONDENSING details is where I leave something to be desired. I suck as summarizing.
I am not one to give input on forums, but I was compelled to give my perspective on this interesting matter, since the level of 'interactivity' the PC's have with the numenera should be a core concept, especially given it is the title of the entire game.
I DO agree that Cyphers are, by definition, simply pieces of numenera technology, this is a mechanic, in-world flavoring and even the 'mood' they add to the setting as whole with the 'scavenger culture', as it was referred to quite astutely earlier in this discussion.
That being said, I am excessively experienced with rpg systems and crafting, because I absolutely obsess over the enjoyment of delving into personalized craftsmanship with a character, even as that character's entire theme, and I always encourage it with my players when I am GM'ing since it forces players to ask what their visual identity (and thus other facets of character perspective) are.
In other words, crafting forces a 'theme' or 'style' to go from something ethereal and usually undeveloped in player's minds, and makes it something physical and tangible in the game world, as well as making equipment more than a single line on the Equipment section of the character sheet.
I am currently trying out this system with my girlfirend, and she is pursuing a steampunk-styled character with an 'alchemist/natural philosopher' archetype, and is exceedingly interested in crafting her own style and gear (as expected in a steampunk theme). She chose the Crafts Unique Objects Focus, and I came to the stance that Cyphers can only be modified, since if they are, by definition, only partial, or 'segment' technology, then how could they be created, their very definnition is as salvage.
HOWEVER, perhaps this went unnoticed by my fellow fans of Numenera and the topic of Crafting Numenera, but there IS an entire CATEGORY of Numenera that is classified as being created at the hands of Ninth Worlds (and thus, possibly PC's), from Theory to Prototype to Functioning Artifact, it is the fourth and rarest category of Numenera (in the general aesthetic sense), known as 'Fashioned', as opposed to 'Scavenged', 'Cobbled' or 'Bonded'.
In my mind, that means Monte Cook, himself, in canon of the setting, is saying that some Ninth Worlders manage a significant enough understanding of a Numenera technology to not only replicate it, but understand its fundamental processes enough to be originally creative with it.
In addition, a crafting-curious character who bothers to take the Crafts Unique Objects Focus is sacrificing the choice of any other number of more dramatically, instantly and guaranteed powerful special abilities. Crafting numenera (and even just tinkering) already has a steep Diff, rare and dangerous required materials (since all equal and lesser level materials to the artifact-to-be must first be accumulated, which can be a story arc in and of itself) and even after ALL that, the Focus uses a system that still often results in a failed roll, lost rare material components and often the required acquisition of many Skill Trains (with in-story justification that require rare knowledge) and even XP, all which simply gives rise to the POTENTIAL to create Artifacts .
I feel that Artifact Creation SHOULD be DEFINITELY possible and even shows a bit of magnificence in how Humanity can reclaim its former glory simply through exposure, risk and perhaps a bit of madness in our signature 'human ingenuity', and isn't that really what the bits of Numenera integrated into the cities and aldeia represents in the first place, our ability to find some original brilliance in the technology or 'magic' of the unknown.
As for those who feel it is too potnetially unbalancing, as some one who can create their own limitless supply of Artifacts, such a response is only from an inexperienced and ignorant GM.
There is any numbers of mechanics and tools of the GM to tear down an arrogant numenera crafter.
Steampunk mega-armor girl get herself a rating of Armor 10 with her mega-aether-powered battlesuit? GM intrusion a Slicer Beetle Wizen that rips it to shreds in one action.
Also, the best system is the Depletion Roll, high-level, game-breaking Artifacts should have a low Depletion roll base, likely resembling their unstable power source or the need to constantly refuel the ultradimensional flame thrower with lava stones from a particular creature from a particular world world that is VERY dangerous and VERY hard to get to, though I think there are less aggressive ways of maintaining game balance in the face of the numenera crafter.
If you let the numenera crater PC build the uber Battlesuit and set it to Depletion Roll of 1D100, then you are just asking for trouble.
Then there are Quirks, which are perfect for those really powerful custom-made Artifacts, which can be challenging, unpredictable and hilarious, and even add to the all important mood of 'The Weird' in Numenera.
Aside form that, I just want to point out that I suggest NO CHANGE to the rules being necessary, simply be familiar with GM Intrusion potential, how to properly assign Depletion Roll and throw in Quirks to make prototypes fun and unpredictable. For example, my girl made an alchemical web shooter recently, and it malfunctioned in the first design, overheating the gooey web into searing lava, which burned her quarry alive instead of capturing him, which she found both irritating and hilarious.
Needles to say, the Town Guard were not happy to be given a tin can of ashes rather than the assassin they could have interrogated while alive.