Numenera – Initial Impressions

Numenera is the new game out from Monte Cook. I backed the Kickstarter and have had the book since August, but as I mentioned previously, I have a habit of buying games and then ignoring them. No longer.

I’m about 75% through the book and wanted to share some quick impressions and random thoughts, presented roughly in the order that I encountered them. Therefore, this may be a bit disjointed.

It sure is pretty.

It sure is pretty.

Character Creation

Character creation follows a sentence pattern:

I am a <adjective> <noun> who <verbs>.

Breaking it down into its components:

  • In the game, the adjectives are called descriptors. These are words like clever or swift that both describe the character and provide some bonuses at the time of character creation. These are similiar to something like Feats in D&D 3.5 / Pathfinder.
  • The noun is the character class. There are three character classes  to choose from – glaive (i.e. warrior), nano (wizard), and jack (rogue).
  • The verb is called the character’s focus. Focus provides special abilities and almost acts as a subclass. Abilities include things like wielding fire type powers or controlling gravity.

Each character class starts with a set number of points in each of the 3 stat pools (might, speed, and intellect), which are then further modified by the descriptor you choose. Players can spend points from their stat pools to perform actions. These stat pools also represent the character’s health, so it poses an interesting balance. Characters also start with edges, which reduce the cost to perform an action. So glaives reduce the cost to spend from their might pool. Lastly, a character can apply effort to make a task easier, but that also spends more points from the pool.

For some reason, I had the hardest time making sense of how the stat pools work in conjunction with edges and effort. It’s not a hard concept, but my brain just wasn’t going there without some serious cajoling. I’ve pretty much only played D20-based games to this point, so the difficulty might have been due to that. Or related to the fact that I do most of my reading before bed, literally minutes from sleep. Or maybe the writing isn’t the clearest in this section. Probably a combination of all 3, but I take most the blame.

I do like that the stat pools fuel both the PC’s powers and their health. I can see how this would simulate pushing yourself to achieve something and taxing yourself in the process, which leaves you with less energy to do other things, including avoiding attacks. Interesting balance between the two. Very curious to see how this works in play.

I’m shocked at the amount of variety that can be eked out of 3 core classes between the descriptor and more specifically the focus. You could have a party of all glaives and each would feel like a different character. That’s impressive.

When reading through the foci entries, I kept drawing parallels to comic book characters and how they could be created in this world. You’ve got foci for fire and ice-based powers, flight, magnetism – even something like Spidey’s webbing can be approximated with an artifact or cypher. It makes me wonder if it might be fun to flip the game on its head and play it as a post-apocalyptic supers game. You could keep all the trappings of the 9th World, maybe just tweak some of the motivations. Maybe the Aeon Priests become an alliance of super-humans. I’m just spit-ballin’ now.

While I’m on the subject of supers: for some reason it really bothers me that the magnetism focus doesn’t include the power of flight at higher tiers.

But.. Magneto can fly!

But.. Magneto can fly!

Gameplay

The resolution mechanic is dirt simple and is really growing on me. Essentially you just rate the difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10 and then multiple that by 3 to determine the target number. PCs can then step the difficulty down by 3s based on circumstance, training, and effort. Very elegant and intuitive. I think the trick will really be helping the players determine how they can step the difficulty down.

This mechanic governs all play where dice are needed to determine the outcome.

  • Want to punch that bandit in the mouth? He’s level 2, so you need a 6 or better on the roll.
  • Your nano wants to hack that electronic lock? It’s a level 6 lock, but because he’s trained in numenera you step it down to a 5 and only need to beat a 15.
  • Hey – watch out, that level 4 worm is trying to burrow into your boot! Roll a 12 or better to dodge.

That’s right, the players roll to dodge attacks. The GM never picks up dice, not even to roll NPC attacks on the players!

The Kickstarter dice that I'll never get to touch.

The Kickstarter dice that I’ll never get to touch.

I just skimmed over the Creature/NPC section, but lingered long enough to appreciate how simple it will be to stat up a creature completely on the fly, or to tweak it’s abilities mid-encounter.

Lots of good stuff in the GM section, with plenty of examples of how to adjudicate resolution, how to use GM Intrusion, and how to dispense XP. Coming into this section I had a grasp on how things worked in isolation but still didn’t understand how it all fit together. These chapters really solidified it for me, and I felt ready to GM.

Skimmed, Need to Revisit

Had to skip over much of the setting information in the interest of time – was trying to cram for a session this weekend, so I just went surface-deep to get what I needed. Will be revisiting this, as the setting is what drew me to Numenera and it is the part I’m most excited about.

So evocative.

So evocative.

The book includes 4 different adventures of different themes and for characters of different tiers. Again, just skimmed these. I was hoping to use the Beale of Boregal for the game this weekend, but didn’t feel it would work for my decidedly unique needs.

Anyway, those are my impressions from my initial, incomplete read. I’ll post again once I’ve finished the book, and will share the play report from this past weekend soon too. Hint – we had fun! 😀

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