Numenera is a science fantasy roleplaying game set in the far distant future. Humanity lives amid the remnants of eight great civilizations that have risen and fallen on Earth. These are the people of the Ninth World. This new world is filled with remnants of all the former worlds: bits of nanotechnology, the dataweb threaded among still-orbiting satellites, bio-engineered creatures, and myriad strange and wondrous devices. These remnants have become known as the numenera.
Player characters explore this world of mystery and danger to find these leftover artifacts of the past, not to dwell upon the old ways, but to help forge their new destinies, utilizing the so-called “magic” of the past to create a promising future.
Numenera gameplay involves a simple d20 roll that determines success or failure for any kind of action. To avoid a lot of cumbersome math at the game table, there aren’t a lot of modifiers to this roll. Instead, skills and other assets reduce the difficulty of a task. More importantly, players can choose tasks to focus upon, using a limited resource called effort to further lower the difficulty of the actions really important to them.
Experience Points and Advancement
Characters earn XP when they make new, interesting discoveries (not from killing things, although combat is often necessary to make discoveries and accomplish missions). They also earn XP when the GM “intrudes” on the action of the game to introduce new complications. Lastly, players have the ability to award XP to other players for great ideas, useful actions, or other reasons.
XP can be spent to increase character abilities, or to affect events in the game (such as rerolling dice), gain short-term benefits or advance in levels.
Running the Game
The game has also been uniquely designed to make things easier on the GM. The goal is to decrease the amount of time the GM spends juggling game stats, and allow him to instead focus entirely on the story and the action at hand. Creatures, NPCs and situations are easy to make up entirely on the fly and even easier to run.
Of course, if you’re familiar with Monte Cook work at all, you’ll know that he never likes to make things easy, so rest assured that the Ninth World will be filled with incredible dangers and challenges, the likes of which players have never faced before.
The game system itself is designed to be quick and easy for beginners, while offering additional complexity for those who desire it. To start with, character creation involves making three basic choices. The three features you choose combine to create a unique, well-rounded character. Players wanting the ability to configure their character more completely have that option as well.
First you choose one of three types:
Glaives are the warriors of the Ninth World. Glaives can wear heavy armor and wield massive weapons, or they can fight with light weapons and armour so they can move quickly.
Nanos are wizard-like characters who harness the numenera to work miracles. These miracles, called esoteries, walk the line somewhere between machine and magic, depending on the Nano’s particular skillset.
Jacks are named after jacks-of-all-trades. They have a lot of tricks in their bags, which makes them skilled at a little bit of everything.
Second, you choose from a number of descriptors like clever, tough, strong-willed, or mystical.
Third you choose a focus, which really distinguishes your character. These can vary from crafting illusions to becoming a master of a single weapon, from wielding magnetism to being a great leader.
These three choices help shape your character, providing not only abilities and skills but also possibilities for interesting backgrounds and unique bonds with the other player characters. In other words, at every step of the way, the story is as important as the mechanics.
The setting of the Ninth World book is presented with extensive GM advice. Rather than nail down every single detail, you are instead provided with tips from Monte Cook 35 years of GMing experience to help you create the details and run the game. This allows you complete creative control while ensuring you have all the guidance you need to create fantastic experiences for your players.
With the science fantasy setting, things are intentionally set up so that science fiction fans will enjoy the technology, and fantasy fans will enjoy the flavour of how it is handled, because as Arthur C. Clarke stated, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As Monte Cook has written previously, science fantasy allows for all sorts of wild, imaginative ideas. Making things vaguely post-apocalyptic ensures that the GM maintains as much control as he or she needs over the amount of crazy technology the PCs get their hands on. In other words, there’s a lot of wonderful stuff for characters to use, but they need to go on adventures to acquire it–they can’t buy it in the corner shop.
The setting is extremely usable while allowing really imaginative, creative material, the combination of which allows for fun, challenging adventures.
The Numenera corebook is the main rulebook. It’s a 416-page hardcover with color art. This book gives you all the rules of the game as well as the Ninth World setting, GM advice, and even some adventures to get you started.
These are the sections of the book:
Welcome to the Ninth World: This is a brief overview of the setting to give you a feel for things as we go forward.
An Introduction to Numenera: This is an overview of the rules. Basically, in just a few short pages, you’ll learn everything you need to play the game.
Creating Your Character: All the stuff you need to make a very memorable character, with an emphasis on story and getting to play exactly the character you want to play.
Playing the Game: This is the more complete and in-depth explanation of the rules. (Although it’s still pretty short as RPG rulesets go.) While “An Introduction to Numenera” teaches you to play, this is the chapter you’ll refer to when you want to remember how to use the rules to do something.
Optional Rules: If you want a more complex, robust game, you might want to add in some or all of these optional rules. If you want to keep things simple, just skip this chapter.
Discovering the Ninth World: The longest section of the book, this provides a lot of information about the setting, with an emphasis on weird things to discover and exciting things to do.
Creatures and Characters: The Ninth World is filled with interesting creatures and NPCs. This chapter provides details on a number of them.
The Numenera: This section rpgvides you with heaps of interesting items and weird technologies to include the game.
Running the Game: Perhaps the most important of the book, this lengthy section provides GMs all the advice and insight in running a Numenera game. This is very much the blueprint for “running an RPG the Monte Cook way,” so if that’s of interest to you, you might want to give this a read.
Adventures: There’s really no better way to learn a game than by playing, and these adventures will get you playing right away. Further, they provide insight for GMs into what kinds of adventures they might want to create on their own, and what can be done in a Numenera scenario.
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Released: 20 August 2013