One of the things that often put me off of discussions in online roleplaying game communities is when discussions turn to the subject of The Rules. Inevitably the rules are interpreted differently between different people and that is fine, but the thing I find disagreeable, and is something I’ve recently seen a rise of in the Numenera community in particular, is the fishing for rules for situations that aren’t currently explicitly covered.
I totally get that many GMs and players alike enjoy working with well defined boundaries. In a game system with extensive, well-formed rules there is very little burden on you to improvise on the fly - you can make any action confidently without having to worry about whether or not it’s ‘possible’. However, for my games, I find keeping rules to a minimum far more enjoyable. I find improvisation on the fly far more liberating as a GM and far more rewarding to my players, when instead of saying no, or pausing the game while we refer to a rulebook, I can say “Yes, but…”.
Numenera in particular unburdens the GM from having to be engaged in rules and dice rolls, which is what makes it ideal for me. I do very little prep for any of my games and like to improvise on the fly around a very skeletal set of plots and hooks. Sure, the rules Numenera do bring to the table are useful and having well defined structures for some things can make for better and more manageable games than pure free-form roleplaying. Ultimately though, there is only one rule - the golden rule - that I need to refer to in games when any unusual situation pops up that needs a resolution.
Is it fun?
That’s what I ask myself when thinking about a response - how can I make this fun?
For example, in a recent session of the campaign I am running, “Voice of the Wind”, my players came across a stash of poisons. I needed to come up with effects - I just made some up on the fly. They never ended up using them (or needing to resist them) but I can fall back on the simple go-to rule for anything in Numenera - set a difficulty and a task type (Intellect, Might, Speed) and have them make a roll.
Sure, I could come up with something more crunchy and complicated, make a dedicated set of rules for poisons and their use and effects but why? Ultimately anything happens or exists in the game to create a fun time for the players and myself. There is no need to slow down the game or get into an argument.
Numenera provides a basic tool set for essentially dealing with any action - the difficulty check. It’s vagueness is it’s strength. Embrace a little improvisation and instead of looking for answers and rules, just follow the golden rule.