As I mentioned before, I am trying to play more tabletop RPGs this year. Numenera was the first game in the queue, and after reading through most of the book, my first opportunity to play was with my kids. We played last weekend.
If you are not familiar with Numenera, check out my initial impressions from reading the core rule book.
Before We Begin, A Quick Detour
I should take a second out to talk about my kids and their unique way of playing RPGs.
My kids are not new to tabletop rpgs. My son, Junior (pronouced June-ya, just like Sean Connery addressing Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) is 9. He has played rpgs since he was 7, starting with the original D&D red box. He’s since played D&D 4th Ed, Pathfinder, Star Wars D20, and Marvel FASERIP. For Numenera, I just handed him the Player’s Guide and a stack of character sheets and let him go about his business.
My daughter, The Princess, is 7. She has played with us for the last couple of years and has played all of the games listed above. My son or I handle all the book-keeping, leaving her to focus on describing what her character is wearing and how elegant she looks. She likes to visit all the shops, talk to all the NPCs, and generally help people.
Junior, on the other hand, mostly likes to go around getting into brawls. He’ll help people too, because he’s seasoned enough of a player to know that quests invariably lead to fights. The two of them together makes for an interesting dynamic. More than one fancy boutique has had a fight break out inside it’s walls, its employees roughed up, its stock destroyed, while The Princess calmly concludes her business.
The Characters. Or, Where it Starts to Get Weird
Junior’s character sentence: An Intelligent Jack who Carries a Quiver. Ok, not exactly what I was expecting. He usually favors tough-types. His starting cyphers are a Rejuvenator which can recover lost points from his pool, and a Stim, which reduces the difficulty of a task. His oddity is a a small mirrored cube.
The Princess’s character sentence: A Strong Glaive who Employs Magnetism. A warrior? I admit, didn’t see that coming either. She’s playing a girl though, so we’re not completely in the Twilight Zone. Her cyphers are a Shocking Nodule, which adds lightning damage when affixed to a weapon, and a Catseye, granting dark vision. Her oddity is a pair of goggles that allow sight through fog or smoke.
They ignore the handy tables you roll on to determine character relationships and instead decided that they are married. Her idea, of course. He happily nods. Strange and stranger.
I usually don’t play pre-written adventures with them because they almost always immediately go off the rails. So, unfurling the map, I briefly explain the world and then point to the city of Fasten, saying this is where the adventure will start. Junior says his character is from Fasten and that he is adopted. The Princess picks a city far from the “civilized” lands, out in the Beyond. I don’t bother asking how she got to Fasten, or even how they met and married. Sometimes not knowing is better.
The Adventures of Junior & The Princess
I give them a quick run-down of Fasten, as Junior’s character would know most of it anyway, being from there. Then I ask them what they’re doing at the moment. Junior says they are eating dinner at the restaurant. The Princess describes her dress.
In the write-up of Fasten, there are a number of adventure hooks. I start sprinkling them in. As they eat, a tall, fierce-looking woman enters, cases the joint, then speaks to the owners in low tones. She leaves.
Immediately, The Princess wants to give chase. She goes and talks to the owners. Junior stays at the table, finishing his steak.
The woman is a bounty hunter searching for an Aeon Priest gone bad. The Princess says maybe they should help her look for the priest. The owner of the restaurant suggests that, if they want to help, they could look into the disappearance of a local game hunter. Without him, the town’s stores of fresh meat are starting to dry up. They leave, without setting anything on fire.
Junior and the Princess discuss the situation outside. They come to Cali’s wagon/shop setup on the corner. Cali, knowing Junior’s character, prevails upon him to look into some shadowy men who linger about her cart at night, searching through her stores but never taking anything. The Princess immediately wants to help Cali, because she’s a girl who needs help.
Junior – We should go after the bounty hunter. Maybe she’ll share the money with us. You can buy more dresses.
The Princess – We go after the tall lady.
They follow her tracks out of town. In a thicket of trees, the tracks abruptly vanish. They look about, confused. I describe how the trees press in around them, making it difficult to see very far in any direction.
The Princess – I put on my goggles. Can I see her now?
Me – No, honey. They only allow you to see through smoke or fog.
A bit of dirt falls on Junior’s shoulder. He looks up. Floating above them, her cloak billowing about her dramatically, is the bounty hunter. Her hands crackle with lightning. She wants to know why they are following her.
The Princess – We came to help you find the bad man. And then you’ll give us money. I like your dress.
Me – She’s wearing a dress?
The Princess – Yes, with flowers on it and lots of ribbons.
Junior – I am from Fasten and know the area. We can help you.
They agree on terms, a 50-50 split. And continue on as a threesome. Looking at the map, I see some ruins about 50 miles south of Fasten. I determine that the priest is probably hiding out there and suggest the same to Junior, who shares this information with the two girls.
It takes 3 days to reach the ruins. In the middle of day two, they encounter a half-dozen Griffalos (omnivores something like a lion only with lots of eyes and huge tusks) randomly grazing near the path. Junior suggests they go around (what? who is this kid?), but the bounty hunter doesn’t want to take the time.
The Princess – I take my axe and cut off their heads.
Me – What?
I decide that they have surprise and a free round of actions. The Princess charges down the hill and starts in on the poor creatures, while Junior fires his bow and the bounty hunter throws lightning.
Combat in Numenera runs very fast; the 4-round encounter lasts maybe 10 minutes. In the end, one of the creatures escapes with its life, The Princess slaughters the rest while Junior and the bounty hunter mostly look on. The only really notable thing that occurs is when Junior rolled a 1 on one of his shots. I determined that since he was shooting in the direction of The Princess, the shot instead hit her. It only cost her a single Might point, but she was not pleased.
Into Ruins Dark and Deep
They reach the ruins on the third day. It’s an ancient castle surrounded by a mostly-dry moat. A dark sludge, foul and unsettling, slithers in the bottom of the moat. The bridge is long gone.
Our first skill challenge, a Might check to leap the chasm. With a running start, Junior and The Princess both easily clear the moat. The bounty hunter floats over, and they continue inside, through a courtyard strewn with ancient rubble and into the castle itself. They descend down the stairs. It’s dark, pitch black.
The Princess – I put on my goggles. Can I see now?
Me – No, those only work for seeing through smoke or fog. Try the catseye pill?
So The Princess pops the pill and takes the lead. Junior and the bounty hunter follow some 50 feet back, going by the bounty hunter’s light. Down and down, passing through old dungeons, they enter an area that does not resemble the rest of the ruins. The walls are metallic, engraved with strange runes. One door stands open and unlocked, the other closed off by an electronic keypad. Junior exerts some mental effort but the keypad is beyond his skills. (Failed Intellect check to try to open the door)
Eventually, they descend into a huge open area, well illuminated and alive with the hum and churn of machinery. Crouching behind a balcony, they study the scene. There is no sign of the priest, but the bounty hunter feels certain that this is his lair. With The Princess in the lead, they move down among the machines.
Facing the Big Bad
They wander about for a while, looking for sign of the priest, but all of their perception rolls are at penalty due to the noise and constant movement of the machines.
Junior – We need to find a way to turn these off. Or break them.
Me – You don’t see an obvious way of turning the machines off. It may be possible to disable them.
The Princess – I can control metal. I break the machines.
Me – That’s not exactly how it works. You can pull and push small metal objects. These are huge machines. Maybe you can pull a gear loose or something, I guess. Roll, let’s see what happens.
Natural 20. I let her describe what happens.
The Princess – I grab one of the big metal bars with my brain and twist it into a pretzel.
With a horrible, hideous clanking noise, the machines shudder and cough into stillness. Thick smoke fills the room, shrouding everything in gray.
The Princess – Now can I put on the goggles?
The nifty goggles in place, she cautiously edges forward, searching for sign of the priest. Junior and the bounty hunter follow behind. The Princess spies the priest standing atop a flight of stairs, peering into the smoke. The three huddle together and conduct a conversation in whispers about how to approach.
Meanwhile, the priest turns on some overhead fans which clears the smoke. Spying them, he shouts some insults and, winning initiative, tosses a fireball in their direction. The kids dodge, but the bounty hunter fails, taking the blast full in the chest. She skids across the floor, crashing into a steel column, and does not get up.
They charge the priest and are surprised to find their blows partially turned aside by a shield of some kind. They get in a couple of minor hits before he acts again. On his turn, the priest activates a device on his belt, levitating from the floor, and pulls out a laser gun.
Junior – Can I shoot the thing that makes him fly?
Me – It’d be a tough shot. Plus he still has that shield..
Junior – I shoot it.
He rolls a 19, which allows for a minor effect. I decide it is appropriate in this case. The device sparking and crackling, the priest plummets to the floor, taking some damage. The Princess falls upon him, savaging him with a blow from her mighty axe. The priest tries to run, but Junior slows him with a shot to the leg before he can escape. They tie him up.
The bounty hunter is okay, just dazed. She’s anxious to return the priest in order to collect the bounty, but Junior doesn’t want to leave yet. He wants to return to that door and spend some time trying to open it. To get XP. It finally dawns on me why he’s been playing so differently than usual – he read the rules and knows that you don’t get XP for fighting. Only for making discoveries. Smart kid.
I still can’t explain why my sweet little princess decided to get handy with an axe.
It was about time to wrap it up, so I ended the session here with the bounty hunter promising to send the money to them, and Junior and the Princess camping out in the ruins.
Final Thoughts From a First Session
Numenera plays really fast – we covered a lot of ground in about an hour and a half, including a bunch of social situations, some skill checks, and two combats. The kids seemed to really dig the world and the idea that pretty much anything could happen. Also, they loved their powers and the cool things they could do with cyphers and oddities.
In retrospect, I feel like I did two things wrong: 1) I didn’t feel like I made the setting weird enough, and 2) I never used GM Intrusion. The latter was the bigger problem, as I could have influenced the story directly had I used it, and by not using it I short-changed them of some XP. I’d love some ideas from others about how they handled these two things in their games.
This was quite a bit longer than I intended, but I’ll post when we play again.