I’ve been playing a regular RPG of Monte Cook’s Numenera by Monte Cook, and having a blast! Today I’m going to talk about the background of the game, how it differs from other RPGs, and other random things about the system that I like.
What Is Numenera?
Numenera takes place on Earth, but it is an Earth so far removed from ours that any comparison is pointless. There have been eight great civilisations that have blossomed and fallen, and now the Earth is fundamentally changed. Every atom has been altered and engineered, and though humanity still live on its surface, they are not the humans we know. People are born with strange powers and seemingly-magical abilities, and they can use them to further understand and explore this strange world.
The game puts an emphasis on exploration and discovery rather than just beating up monsters and stealing loot. Players take the role of one of three types of character. You can be a glaive, using your strength or speed to protect and kill. You can be a jack, blending cunning and skill. Or you can be a nano, wielding the technology of previous eras in mysterious ways indistinguishable from magic. When you make your character, you pick one of these types. You also pick a descriptor. You can be Charming, or Graceful, or Dishonourable, or Stealthy. These give you boosts to your stat pools, extra training, and other little tidbits, as well as inherent disadvantages. Also, you pick a focus. You can Ride The Lightning, or Craft Illusions, or Howl At The Moon. My character, for example, is a Swift Glave Who Wields Two Weapons.
Outside of these three areas, character creation is very free-form, and there’s an emphasis on making connections among the group. Each focus comes with a suggestion for a way that you know one of your fellow adventurers before the campaign. This is much more helpful than you might expect. So many campaigns start with a bit of a stand-off, everyone wondering why they should trust each other at all. This way, you have your motivations ready to go, you’re going to stand by your buddy or follow your debtor.
When you make your character, you form three stat pools: Might, Speed and Intellect. You get various bonuses from your Descriptor, Type and Focus. These stat pools allow you to use your abilities and add to your dice rolls. They are also your health. When you take physical damage, your Might gets depleted first, then your Speed and finally your Intellect. This can lead to dynamic and dangerous combat. Yes, you want to put extra effort into hitting the horrific tentacled monster in front of you, but do you really want to save the points and use them for your defence roll, in case you don’t kill it and it can hit you back?
That’s a great thing about Numenera. The GM never rolls a dice for any reason except to randomise things. Whether you’re attacking or defending or trying to persuade someone or resisting poison, you are always the one making the rolls. This means you’re pretty regularly rolling a dice, which helps you feel involved.
To give you an example of what a campaign can end up being like, I’ll talk about ours. Thales, an Intelligent Nano Who Uses Extreme Focus and Concentration, together with Crack Jameson, a Mechanical Nano Who Talks To Machines, team up in order to find the Tower of Gorm. The Tower is a semi-mythical location, said to house the Throne of Gorm which would imbue the user with all the knowledge of the ancients. On the way there, they meet Kala (my character), a Swift Glaive Who Wields Two Weapons, Gille, a Rugged Jack Who Leads, and Benten, a Mechanical Glaive Who Fuses Flesh And Steel.
Together, we have journeyed across the Black Riage, the colossal mountain range that divides the Steadfast, the “civilised” part of the world, from the Beyond, where the wild parts far outnumber the settled parts. We investigated the Tower of Gorm, which turns out to be a GORAM, a Geo-Orbital Relay Access Module, and discovered a deadly conspiracy named the Convergence, which is plotting to destroy humanity and remake it in their own image.
As you travel through the world of Numenera, you cannot help but discover strange artefacts and oddities. There are also ciphers, odd devices left over from bygone eras. Whatever use they were put to when first created, they are now good for one use in a particular function. You might get a mind control device, or a teleporter, or a grenade. Part of the fun is rolling at random whenever you find a trove, and finding a use in the heat of the moment. For example, my character used a teleporter to jump inside a monster we were fighting, battering it from the inside.
Our campaign is heating up right now, we will infiltrate the heart of the Amber Papacy, the Amber Monolith. This is the signature image of Numenera, a gigantic prism which hovers above the surrounding landscape. We suspect the Amber Pope is under the thrall of the Convergence, and we hope to stop them and save the Ninth World. It’s sure to be exciting and weird. You should give Numenera a try, and craft your own bizarre tales!