Thursday, February 12, 2015

GM Intrusions - Too Good to Leave in Numenera

I’ve run Numenera 3 times now and one of the things I’m finding most revelatory is the GM Intrusion Mechanic. Succinctly, the Intrusion mechanic is this: The GM offers the player two XP, one of which the player gives to another player, in exchange for creating a complication for the player’s character and the player can refuse the intrusion by spending one of their own XP. Note that I used complication instead of problem, disaster or damage. The intrusion is not there to punish the player or character, but to allow the GM to intrude themselves back into the narrative of the game. In practice, I’ve discovered it allows me to have a mechanic to support something I’ve done before as a GM and allows the players to feel like my taking back narrative control is less arbitrary.

An example:
In D&D if the PCs were crossing a rope bridge and as the last PC got to the middle the ropes snapped, threatening to send all the PCs to the bottom of a gorge, that might feel contrived to the players. A discussion might erupt about how the PCs weren’t all crossing at the same time, or players might try and back track to say that actually they were tied together and finally the situation might just come down to the GM declaring that it happened and the narrative picking back up from there. But with a GM Intrusion the blow is softened as the mechanic rewards the player for going along with the GM instead of setting up a confrontation.
Or a social encounter example:
The party is talking with a local sorceress, trying to wheedle information from her about a nearby dragon. The PC doing the talking is rolling really well on social checks and might be on his way to getting exactly what the party wants. Here a GM intrusion could be the sorceress becoming smitten with the PC and causing complications or deducing that the PCs are interested in the dragon in order to slay it and asking for a specific treasure. Less “obvious” an intrusion that the example above, but still a complication to make a social interaction more interesting than relying just on a few skill rolls.

What GM Intrusions really do is create a compact between the GM and the players that when the GM decides to be arbitrary or create complications there’s a reward for the players to go along with it. This softens the blow of GM choices or narrative changes that might otherwise cause player grumbling. They function quite a bit like moves from Apocalypse World or Dungeon World, in that they are opportunities for the GM to seize the narrative again, and in fact, many of the moves from AW or DW work excellently as GM intrusions (“reveal an unwelcome truth”, “insult, affront, offend or provoke someone”, “put someone in a spot”).
Another nice benefit is the second point of XP must be given to a different player, creating bonds between players. Though I am going to start having the player say why they are giving the other player the XP point.

So what use is this to me? I’m not running Numenera.

Ah, but you can easily port the GM Intrusion mechanic to other games. Case in point, several weeks ago I ran a game of D&D 5E where I used the GM Intrusion mechanic to give out Inspiration points instead of using the default role-playing guidelines of 5E.

GM Intrusions for 5E – 

  • Use instead of (or in addition to, if you wish) the default rules for giving Inspiration.
  • Give out two Inspiration points to a player when you use a GM Intrusion, just like in Numenera with XP, the player receiving the Intrusion gives one of the points away immediately to another player. 
  • If the player does not want to allow the intrusion, they can spend an Inspiration point to refuse the intrusion.
  • Unlike Numenera where the XP from GM Intrusions are normal XP that can be spent like any other, I’m leaning towards only allowing D&D Players to keep a single Inspiration point between sessions, to encourage players to use them instead of hoarding them for “boss fights”.
  • Some observations on using GM Intrusions in D&D 5E – 
  • I like it; obviously, I never really got into the default Inspiration for RP rule as it rewards players who are more into acting/RP than quieter players and/or rewards splashy/flashy and potentially disruptive actions/RP/personality traits than more subtle actions/RP/personality. 
  • There is the potential to be giving out more inspiration than usual, previously I feel like I was giving out one or two inspiration a 5E session, the Numenera book suggests one GM Intrusion per PC per session, which would result in 10 Inspiration points given out for a 5 PC party. I’m largely okay with this as I’m fine with PCs having a chance to be awesome (“Be a Fan of the Player’s Characters” as the principles of Apocalypse World command).

Here’s more info about GM Intrusions:

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