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jameson (ST)

[Review] Numenera

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Part 4: The Setting - Or, Welcome to the Ninth World (part 2)

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Chapter 12: The Beyond

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Technically speaking the Beyond is everything that isn’t the Steadfast. Practically speaking that isn’t actually the case. If you look at the map the Beyond is basically the Black Riage mountains and everything east of them until you get to the Clock of the Kala (that big round thing in the northeast corner, as well as the extreme south and north. Mind you, the map apparently covers only a portion of the supercontinent that is the Ninth World. I guess in the tradition of European self-centeredness the Steadfast thinks that they are the end all be all, but they are just a tiny bit of the world. But we’re not here to keep talking about the Steadfast.

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The Beyond is much more sparsely populated than the Steadfast. Human settlements tend to be both smaller and fewer and farther between. The big cities of the Beyond may still have tens of thousands of citizens but compared to the cities like Qi with half a million citizens these are still tiny by comparison. Likewise there are few proper nation-states in the Beyond. Most regional powers control very little outside their center of population, with Seshar to the south and east of the southern terminus of the Black Riage being the sole “kingdom” in a proper sense.

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The Beyond also ramps up the weird. While the Steadfast had no shortage of strange regions and odd artefacts of prior ages, the Beyond seems to take an almost inverted ratio, with spare few areas that are, by our reckoning, “normal”. From fields of nothing but jagged broken glass, to forests of purple trees, to the famed Cloudcrystal Skyfields - as an aside, how awesome is that name? - the regions of the Beyond are steeped in the weird of the Ninth World.

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Much like the prior chapter each region gets a few pages to discuss it and its notable locales. One of the large towns/small cities also gets a full treatment of four pages to fully flesh it out. The sidebars of Hearsay and Weirdness are also present and provide a number of interesting story hooks and weird numenera. Overall, much like the Steadfast this chapter provides a good framework for the setting while leaving plenty of ideas for the GM to run with and plenty of empty space for the GMs own ideas to take root and flourish.

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My Top Five Bits o’ The Beyond:

  • The Cloudcrystal Skyfields - not just because its an awesome name, but because an entire region filled with floating crystals that constantly grow and shift, and fall, is really neat.

  • The Ausren Woods - This purple forest probably has my favorite text section thus far in the book devoted to it.

  • The Beanstalk - Floating stuff? Check. Space Elevator? Check. Weird Ninth World homage to Jack & the Beanstalk? Check.

  • The Black Sphere of Kataru - A large sphere of unknown material that rolls around the Plains of Kataru under its own power and seems to grow and shrink … yeah, I can work with that.

  • Nihliesh - Yeah … just look at this freaky resident...

Nichodoss-e1359657088942.jpg

Up next, Beyond the Beyond ...

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So as I said in the shadowrun thread, My gaming group is going to be playing Numenera. I'm going to running the adventures in the back of the book. So far I have 1 player's concept. He's a Stealthy Nano who Explores Dark Places. I'm allowing him to use some of the options in the book for changing things. I also allowed him to take and extra 16 xp (potentially pushing him to rank 2) by taking on a major story complication; He has a 6 year old Daughter that travels with him. His training revolves around being a Doctor

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Part 4: The Setting - Or, Welcome to the Ninth World (part 4)

Chapter 13: Beyond the Beyond

This is a short chapter that covers primarily two locales. The first is the the Clock of the Kala and the Auger-Kala, as region to the far north-east of the the Steadfast that is home to a group of humans who are very different from the other humans of the Ninth World. The Clock is a massive, clearly artificially created ring of unpassable mountains with but one way through to the Auger-Kala within. The Sheer is an artificial cut through the Clock of the Kala seventy five miles across that connects the interior to the Beyond.

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The second area of interest is the University of Door, an extra-dimensional place of higher learning that can only be accessed by a select few students via various doors throughout the Ninth World. The University allows its students to literally unlock the doors of knowledge, both physical and mental, spiritual and dimensional. The University is as much a place characters could seek out as a place that they could stumble upon, and either could generate plenty of story hooks. The University could also be the source of a character's focus, but the GM would need to approve this and help with the creation of a new foxus appropriate to a graduate or student of the University.

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The remainder of the chapter is given over to presenting a handful of unique villages with no explicit location that GMs can drop anywhere they want into their game world as needed. Each is given a unique trait, a notable person, an bit of local hearsay, and a weird aspect. These areas range in size from a barely a few dozen to nearly a thousand inhabitants.

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Up next, Organizations...

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I have to say, I was interested from the very first moment you posted this thread, and now that the pdf is out, I have it also.... should anyone decide to run this game here, I would be more then interested in playing.

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On a note, one thing I rather like, you can spend XP on things other then advancement, such as rerolls, area knowledge of a group of mountains you climbed, or creation of an artifact (not necessarily one that you built, could be one built for you by someone else, that's all in the story).. so you could end up with a kinetic energy shield, a lightsaber, a flight ring, a phasing device, or anything you can possibly imagine.. just as much as you could a new fighting technique or greater skill.

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Part 4: The Setting - Or, Welcome to the Ninth World (part 5)

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Chapter 14: Organizations

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The final chapter of the setting section deals with prominent organizations that span multiple regions of the Ninth World. Groups like the Order of Truth and the Redfleets are given a little bit more depth here. Each group gets about half a page of details about structure and organization and important details. Each also is given a benefit of membership that players can gain access too in place of gaining a new skill (in terms of moving toward the next Tier). Generally I think this is a good start but a little more detail would have been nice in places, especially with regards to the Angulan Knights and how they go about getting bonded to a Xi-drake.

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Part 5: Creatures and Characters - or, Thing to share a meal with, make a meal of, or be made a meal for ...

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Chapter 15: Creatures

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The Ninth world is filled with creatures of all kinds, from animals that are used as mounts and livestock, to those that stalk and feed, and others that are from another time or dimension. Creatures and NPCs use the same system to run in the game, a system that allows a GM to quickly and easily provide stats for anything he doesn’t have them for already.

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Generally the system works on a simple principle of determining how difficult the creature or person should be for the characters to defeat (be it in combat or via trickery or social workings). Much like selecting a difficulty level the GM assigns a level from one to ten to the creature and that becomes the difficulty for all tasks against the NPC. GMs are free to allow certain tasks to be higher or lower level as appropriate as well. So a level 5 robot sentry might be level 6 for attack and perception, but level 4 for defense, with health calculated off it’s base level of 5. It’s all very quick and intuitive and means that generally you can write down an NPCs stats in just one or two lines.

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Forty-plus creatures ranging from Level 1 to Level 10 are presented. These are generally weighted toward the lower middle end of the scale for obvious reasons - defeating a level 10 Dread Destroyer is probably worthy of an entire campaign worth of gathering allies and numenera before the characters are ready to face and defeat such a foe. Lower level foes can also be made more threatening en masse by giving a group of them a level boost. A single broken hound might only be level 2, but a pack of them can be treated as a single level 4 challenge, for example.

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Chapter 16: Non-Player Characters

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This chapter provides a small handful of archetypal NPCs; bandits, Aeon Priests, Town Guards and the like. It’s a short chapter and includes a handful of unique NPCs for the GMs use wherever they see fit. I think this will give a good jumpstart to any GM and combined with the ease of creating new NPCs with the simple level system I cannot see where page after page of generic templates would be needed.

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Overall I like the way the system deals with extras & NPCs, and I think it will seldom be an issue in game if the GM needs to create some kind of create or person on the fly.

Up next, The Numenera

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I think next week I will be starting my TT game. My players are a (modified) Stealthy Nano who Explores Dark Places, a Graceful Glaive who Masters Weapons, and a Swift Jack who Hunts with Great Skill. the Nano and the Glaive are brother and sister, the Jack and the Nano have worked with each other before. the Nano is accompanied by his 6 year old daughter, her mother being murdered under mysterious circumstances in the not too distant past.

I'm going to run them through the first adventure in the core book "The Beale of Boregal" so we shall see what happens. It's nice to see my group genuinely excited to try something out.

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Part 5: The Numenera - Or, Science Indistinguishable from Magic

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Part five is roughly forty pages, spit into four chapters. This is where we get into the technology of the Ninth World. Not that of the native peoples but of the prior ages, left over, and now used by the people. The numenera is a general term for any technology that seems almost like magic or supernatural in origin. The numenera is primarily broken into four sub-varieties: cyphers, artifacts, oddities, and discoveries.

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Cyphers

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Cyphers are, along with oddities, the most common forms of numenera in the Ninth World. One-use bits of tech, cyphers are as often a still functioning piece of a broken whole as they are an intentionally disposable device, poison, or drug. Cyphers are capable of a wide range of potential effects with any number of potential forms. Cyphers are not, and should not be thought of as, gear. They are as potentially dangerous to the bearer as to the target, for cyphers often emit strange radiations that interact poorly with each other and can evoke reactions that are undesirable at best. Different character types can safely handle and carry different numbers of cyphers. Nanos are the most able to safely carry multiple cyphers, while glaives are the least.

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A good number of example cyphers are provided, with a table to randomly determine what the characters find. It is suggested that the GM not cherry pick these both to highlight that cyphers are not always whole devices that may make sense to find together, and also to allow the strange and varied powers of these items to help send the story into unpredictable territory. It harnessing the unpredictable nature of players to the GM's advantage in a way.

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Artifacts

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Artifacts differ from cyphers by virtue of being often capable of multiple uses, and having more rigidly defined forms associated with their effects. Where a cypher capable of firing a heat beam might take on any number of appearances, artifacts of the same effect are much more often similar or the same in form and appearance. Artifacts has a depletion rating that is checked for every use, depending on the rate of depletion and the luck of the player a lightning gun might give only two uses, or dozens. Likewise a handful of artifacts of great power always deplete after a single use, while others are capable of a permanent effect. Like with the cyphers there are many examples here for the GMs use. Artifacts are often capable to changing a game over the long run far more than a cypher, no matter the relative power, and so artifacts are far less common and a much bigger deal when they are found.

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Oddities

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Oddities are the strange bits and pieces of the old worlds that still function in their own way, but the people of the Ninth World lack the means or frame of reference to understand what these things were meant for and/or how they were supposed to function. Think about how a young child today would look at the beautiful vacuum tubes from a 1940s era radio and you have an idea of how oddities are perceived. The vacuum tube might be kept as an interesting decoration, but it no longer fulfills the function it was meant for. A hundred suggested oddities are provided as well, and some of them are truly weird. The one hard and fast rule with oddities is that they should have no need for mechanics to explain what they do. A glass disc that changes color when abhumans are nearby may still serve a purpose, but there is no mechanical requirement to make that work.

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Discoveries

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Discoveries are anything that doesn't fit into the above. Often discoveries are also large and non-portable. They are not always usable by the PCs, but finding them still fulfills the game's focus on discovery. A still functioning lab that produces a powerful mutagen that makes creature grow to twice their size would be a discovery. A facility that is still sending and receiving telemetry from an ancient satellite or off world colony. A functioning hover train. The sky is the limit. Discoveries are also ways to facilitate a change in a player's character, or to move your game from one region to another. Discoveries always result in an experience reward for the players, because this is what the game is about.

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The last portion of the secton also discusses creation of new oddities, artifacts, et al and advice for keeping them balanced within the game.

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This is really really neat, Jim! Thanks for putting up these reviews, they've really made me interested in the game!

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My book showed up today. I must say that the physical thing really lives up to my expectations. The pages are good and thick with a nice finish. The art really jumps off the page. The end plates are part of the game map and a fold out map that is roughly 20 x 30 inches is pasted into the back. Much like White Wolf's books the cover is a matte/gloss combo with the gloss picking out titles and features of the artwork. Overall this thing feels really nice in hand.

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I'm hoping to finish this review this weekend after completing the GM Section/Running the Game Section. Now that I have a print book I should be able to read a little faster once I can get some time.

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The only thing I will not be reviewing is the adventures, at least not until I have played through them on one side of the table or another.

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Getting my book next week it seems. I'll share my impressions of it here as well.

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An aside regarding the player's guide....

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So, in addition to the massive, hardbound, gloriously high production value corebook, a second, smaller Player's Guide has been published. Now, I like the intent here. Normally new games are hard sells to a group for a number of reasons, from the time to learn new rules, to the cost of new books. The Numenera Player's Guide helps to mitigate that cost some by taking the realization that on the GM needs to have the corebook, and providing a stripped back tome for the player's that gets them what they need, basic rules and character generation. In its physical form it's a softbound book of 64 pages, fairly cheap at $12 (I think) compared to the $60 corebook.

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Note that these are MSRP prices, and not the kinds of discount rates you can get through Amazon and the like. When it comes to stuff like this people need to make their own choices about supporting the local game store or saving some money by buying from an online retailer. I try not to judge.

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The idea here is good, and the execution is generally very strong. I used my copy to work on a character earlier this week and it really does its job in that respect, though, like the corebook, it is not without flaws. The most obvious thing is that the armor penalty section of the Gear chapter is missing. Annoying perhaps, but errors happen even in the best of productions. Still it would be nice to see other game companies taking a similar tack in the future to help reduce the buy-in for new games.

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All of that said, however, if you are going digital it might be worth the difference between an $8 PG and a $20 corebook to just get the corebook if you can afford it. For the marginal extra cost you get significantly more material.

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I'll add to this. I bought the player's guide PDF, because I am buying the corebook in paper. It's a very handy resource, containing complete chargen info and very little else. However, I agree with Jameson that the full book is a better investment unless you want the physical book.

In that case, having the chargen rules in one easy to reach spot electronically is super nice. Can't lug that monster tome everywhere I go, but a tablet or webmail can make a little pdf available anywhere, any time.

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That's a good point. The Corebook PDF is like 70 MB and the physical book is obviously a monster (416 pages hardcover), so for portability and quick ease of access to information, the slimmed down PG is also a boon (8 MB, 64 pages softback)

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So I missed the mark by a week, but here's a quickie to close things out...

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Part 6: Running the Game - or, Advice for GMs

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Thirty five pages of advice for Numenera GMs. From dealing with the seeming power for cyphers, to ways to maintain the weirdness and establish the tone. Ultimately this section's value will vary from GM to GM. Some will take the advice to heart and others not. That is, of course, the nature of such things. Generally I found these three chapters to be useful as the tone and scope of Numenera are quite different from other RPGs and the goals and intent of the game (as designed) are different from games where the focus of character progression stems from defeating enemies first and foremost. Likewise the core of designing scenarios is different, focusing instead on the discovery of new things or resolving problems stemming from remnants of the prior ages. It's a short three chapters, but if you are receptive there are nuggets of wisdom here that will help to accelerate your learning curve.

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And that's about all I have to say about that. I've started a TT game and after I get a few sessions under my belt I'll let people know how things are going.

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I just started a PBP game of this on another site, and I'm enjoying it so far. Thanks, Jameson, for calling this product out and getting me sold enough on it to buy it!

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