Two weeks ago on Tabletop Tuesday, I created a character for the tabletop RPG game called Numenera. Today I wanted to create another character, but try out some different options from the book. So while last time we created a glaive, a warrior with great physical prowess, this journey into Numenera will involve a character with more skill and cunning: the Jack character type. But first, in case you’ve come upon this post with no knowledge of Numenera, here’s a description of the game and what makes up a character in the ninth world.
For those unfamiliar with the ninth world, Numenera is a game set on our earth, but one billion years in the future. If those of you who are scientifically inclined are thinking “but shouldn’t the sun have burned out and left us to die by then?” you’re absolutely right. But during that billion years, eight great civilizations have risen and fallen, some of them with technology so powerful to alter the shape of the planet and the composition of the stars. When these civilizations fall, the true power of their technology is lost forever, a mystery left behind for future generations to ponder. The current generation has built society back from the ground up to a medieval-level culture, but one surrounded by incredible technology they don’t understand. You play as characters who scavenge this ancient technology to try to better the lives of those around them – or to make money, or for world domination, or for pretty much any reason one might go on a quest in a roleplaying game.
Characters in Numenera can be described in one sentence: the adjective noun that verbs. The noun is your type, one of three character classes that defines the core of your abilities. The adjective is your descriptor, a personality quality or trait that defines some of your skills or stats. The verb is your focus, a unique action that your character is particularly good at. The combination of these three things makes the character in full, and the total number of combinations in the core book is over 1000. Today I’m only going to explore one of those many possible combinations, focusing specifically on the Jack character type.
Jack was a guy who really got around. He slayed giants, jumped over candlesticks, and knew all the trades there were to know. It is for this versatile character that the Jack character type is named, for they too are versatile and can do a little bit of everything. In the world of Numenera, to “jack” something means to steal it, and so these resourceful characters have a reputation for being rogues. I picture my Jack character as a middle-aged woman, someone who has years of experience under her belt that has helped her to form her underworld connections.
Jacks have a starting stat pull of 10 across the board, evenly balancing their Might, Speed, and Intellect pools. Of course, with the 6 stat points that I get to invest, I can play around with that and mess up the balance if I feel like it. I see my Jack as being particularly quick and clever but maybe not all that brawny, so I put 4 points into Speed for a total of 14 and the other 2 points in Intellect. This will give me a total stat pool of Might 10, Speed 14, and Intellect 12. If you don’t know how stats work in Numenera, they’re a sort of currency that you spend in order to make actions easier for your character. So having 14 speed doesn’t necessarily mean I’m “faster” than anyone in particular – it just means my lucky lady will be able to spend points on speed-related tasks to simplify them more often.
Next I get to choose an origin story. The options for Jack are somewhat different from the glaive choices. I could choose for my Jack to be born lucky, where she simply has always led a charmed life; conversely, I could choose for her to be the product of the school of hard knocks, having grown into her role through a hard life on the street. The most interesting choice to me, though, is the final one: the cobbled jumble. This type of Jack can’t credit their origin or abilities to one single quality – it’s part inherent, part training, part technology, part luck. Jacks being what they are, this explanation makes the most sense to me and is the most compelling, so I decide to go with that option. This means her character advancements (when earned through spending experience) can be justified in the fiction by just about anything: a new device, a training completed, or unlocking an inborn power she never knew how to access.
Now it’s time to look at my tier one abilities. Jacks start out with two Skill abilities as part of their repertoire. They get skill training in one skill permanently, as well as what is called a flex skill. This is a skill that changes daily – if my character anticipates doing a lot of climbing on a particular day, she can choose that as her flex skill and gain bonuses on climbing rolls. For the skill she’ll always be good at, I’m thinking of going with stealth. I imagine she has to do a lot of sneaking around for her job, and other useful Jack skills I can think of (hacking, climbing, lockpicking, etc) are all skills that would work well as flex skills.
I also get to choose two tricks of the trade, which are passive or active abilities my Jack can use. Some of these look familiar – they are similar to the combat moves from the Glaive list, but there’s some new stuff here too. I could choose to train with or without armor, learn fighting moves for melee or ranged attacks, or get a hedge magic ability that allows my character to make mild aesthetic modifications to things or perform parlor tricks. That seems like a power I could utilize in some clever ways in the middle of a dungeon, so I decide to pick up Hedge Magic. I don’t see my character as necessarily being a proficient fighter, so any of the offensive moves don’t make a lot of sense. However, the ability to train in a defense task could be valuable – Speed defense might be important for dodging traps or environmental dangers that my character is likely to encounter, so I’m going to run with Trained in Defense.
Now as we look at the descriptors, this is where I decide to go off-script a little bit. Descriptors modify your character by defining aspects of their person or personality, helping to differentiate them from other characters of the same type. Most of the descriptors are things like Clever or Strong or Quick – but with a Jack character, I think something a little more experimental is in order. I decide to use the mutant rules for this character, which means I will be randomly rolling anywhere from two to eight mutations which can alter her appearance and abilities. She’s supposed to be a cobbled jumble, right?
Here’s how the mutant rules work. There are a couple of lists of different mutations: beneficial mutations, harmful mutations, powerful mutations, distinctive mutations, and cosmetic mutations. Beneficial mutations are not obviously mutations, but give some kind of mild benefit to the character. Harmful mutations are obvious and crippling. Powerful mutations are more useful than beneficial mutations and only visible when they are in use. Distinctive mutations are helpful too, but always obvious and visible. Cosmetic mutations are subtle and have no meaningful game effect, and any mutant character can have anywhere from zero to four of them at will. The important thing to note about mutations is that they are rolled randomly, so I have no idea what I’m going to end up with until I put some dice on the table.
First, though, I need to choose what my balance of mutations will be. I can choose from the following options:
- Two beneficial mutations
- Three beneficial and one harmful mutation
- One powerful and one harmful mutation
- One powerful, one distinctive, and one harmful mutation
Looking through the mutation options, beneficial mutations seem to primarily be armor bonuses against specific threats, flat stat bonuses to a single stat pool, or situational bonuses like a great voice, slippery skin, etc. Harmful mutations are missing or altered body parts, many of which affecting the face, or mutations which make specific tasks more difficult. Powerful mutations have much wider variation, with everything from stingers to acid spit to telepathy on the table. Distinctive mutations are big things like spider limbs, wings, writhing tendrils, that sort of thing.
I decide that I would really prefer to stay away from the crazy stuff – I want my character’s mutations to be more subtle, and her whole jam is versatility, right? Having a mutation which limits her versatility wouldn’t quite suit what I want for the character, so I decide to play it safe and take only a pair of beneficial mutations. Boring? Perhaps, but I have a vision and I want to stick with it (for this character, anyway). So I roll two d100 to get my mutations and end up with…93 and 21. The 93 gives me +2 Armor against bludgeoning attacks, and the 21 gives me a whopping +5 to my character’s Intellect pool! Now her Intellect is sitting pretty at 17, well above her not-inconsiderable 14 Speed. As far as how I’m justifying her resistance to bludgeoning attacks, I suppose that maybe her flesh has a sort of squishy, inconsistent quality that causes such blows to just sink in without really crushing anything. This actually biologically explains her comparatively low Might stat.
Looking at the cosmetic mutations, some of them are simple changes to things like skin color or height, but I also run the risk of getting some of the features I didn’t want – like tendrils – with none of the stat bonuses that would have come with them on another table. Still, I kind of like the idea of her skin being purple or something, so maybe I’ll risk a roll or two and see what happens. My first roll is a 68, which gives her bright yellow nails – okay, that’s not too bad, so maybe one more. 38…ah, there it is. A tail. A short, broad tail. I should have stopped at the nails, but now the tail is there to stay. I imagine she always wears some kind of overcoat to keep it well-concealed beneath her clothes. I don’t even think of it as an animal tail, just this weird flap of extra flesh with the same squishy/rubbery consistency as the rest of her bludgeon-proof body.
Finally, I need to choose a focus for this character. I want to do something different from my glaive in that I don’t want this to really be a superpower or anything. Again, I’m thinking subtle and versatile here. My eye is immediately drawn to Explores Dark Places, a focus which is all about hunting treasure in dark locations and even gives my character a unique name for her character type: shadowjack. I like the sound of that! As far as abilities, tier one immediately gives me not one, not two, but five trained skills to add to her repertoire: climbing, balancing, searching, listening, and jumping. Add stealth to that from my Jack abilities, plus the daily flex skill – this is becoming exactly the sort of versatile character I was wanting to create. Shadowjack it is!
So now I have a pretty solid foundation for my character! She’s a mutant (shadow)jack who explores dark places, with an enhanced mind, malleable flesh, yellow nails, and a short, broad tail. With an Intellect of 17 and a Speed of 14, she brings agility and wit to every encounter – just don’t ask her to try to lift anything with that 10 Might. She has a ton of skills: stealth, jumping, climbing, searching, balancing, and listening, not to mention Speed defense training and the ability to train a flex skill once per day. Finally, she can use Hedge Magic to perform parlor tricks, changing the look of things, magically preparing food, and other small magics.
Now I just have to name her! There’s a Welsh name I really like, Branwen, that means something like “beautiful raven.” However, I don’t see that rather European name fitting in the far-future world of Numenera. My character is a mutant and a jack, so jumbling things is a huge part of who she is. This makes me want to give her a jumbled-up name, too, so maybe I take a couple of decent-sounding options and mix them up? I go to a name website and look up names for “intelligent” and “quick,” get Sophia and Arethusa in the results, and jumble some letters around to get Theraphos, Arephia, Soresua, Pheras – these all have too familiar of a feel to them, perhaps because many of them are so close to real names? I decide to get stop using so many vowels and come up with the name Phret – that’s a little more like it, I think. Less poetic with kind of a harsher sound, it fits my vision of this mutant shadowjack the best out of the ones I’ve come up with, so Phret it is!
That’s gonna be it for today, adventurers! I still have the Nano character type left to explore, so I might do that within the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you have experience playing Numenera, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you made a Jack before? What kind of Jack did you play? Does Phret seem like a character you’d enjoy having in your campaign? Let’s talk tabletops in the comments!