Monte Cook in Asheville – Numenera
Let me just start by saying, if you don’t know, The Wyvern’s Tale is just about the coolest Friendly Local Gaming Store I have ever seen. We just happen to be lucky enough to have it in our town of Asheville, North Carolina. Not only is it a great place to learn about and buy games, they ponied up during the Numenera kickstarter to be one of the premier retailers and have the creator Monte Cook, and the lead editor Shanna Germain in store to talk about the game, and run a session for us lucky few.
For those who don’t already know, Numenera is Monte Cook‘s latest RPG. The book is a work of art, both for the amazing art itself and the unique world and game system described therein. For those of you who don’t know Monte Cook, for shame! He is generally known for being the chief designer of Dungeons & Dragons 3.0, but he has a lot of project credits during his career.
I will admit, I was not a backer of the kickstarter. I am a huge fan of RPGs in general, and had I done my research, I should have backed it to get in on all the goodies that came with it. But I was up to my ears in RPG books, and I thought my shelf didn’t have room for another rule system to try to keep straight in my head. Two of the other Skyland Games guys were in on it, but I was trying to keep Pathfinder rules separate from DCCRPG, and FATE, and Savage Worlds, and Traveller and Stars Without Number, and now Edge of the Empire. How many systems can the already crowded RPG market take? Clearly at least one more.
Monte made this point in his talk as well. Tabletop roleplaying games were in trouble. Especially indie games trying to make it in a marketplace where you can no longer just put an ad in Dragon magazine and know that your core audience will see it. Enter kickstarter. Now games of all stripes can find their audience and you can prove that a product will be successful when backers vote with their dollars. Numenera is one such success story.
Numenera is a fascinating world and gaming system. Briefly, it is set in the far future in what is known as the 9th age. Incredibly advanced societies have risen and fallen eight times on this world, leaving behind traces of their power and technology. To me it was an intriguing blend of Dark Sun meets Gamma World meets Shadowrun. Their are only 3 types of characters, but many combinations allow you to make your PC your own. The character creation concept I think is one of the coolest ideas from the game. Any character in Numenera can be expressed in a sentence: I am a adjective noun. who verbs. For instance, the pre-gen I played in our very cool session with lead editor Shanna Germain was a Strong-willed Nano who wields power with precision. Each part of that statement has mechanical game effects, but also can stand on it’s own as a statement about the character. The noun is always one of the three character types or classes, the adjective is a character descriptor, and the verb is generally a special power or something that makes your PC unique. All have some in-game benefit attached to them, but often it makes a great summary statement about your character when you are introducing your PC to the table as a whole. The descriptor defines not only your starting equipment and a connection to one other party member, but also inabilities, or skills you lack that mechanically will be more difficult for your character during the game.
The task resolution system is pretty straight forward. It is similar to Difficulty Checks in Pathfinder and DnD 4e. The GM sets a target number, and if you roll higher than it on a d20, you succeed. Here is the twist: the target number is the level of the task times 3. A fourth level task would have a difficulty of 12. However, that level of difficulty can be lowered by several factors. If you are trained in the task, it reduces the difficulty by one, making the target number 9. If another PC is trained in the task and uses their action to assist you, reduce it by one again, making the target number 6. Some pieces of equipment or artifacts can help you on checks as well, and some items will grant a +1 or maximum +2 bonus on a roll. Rather than going up to +3, the item just reduces the difficulty of the task by one, keeping the math simple. Another intriguing concept, the GM never rolls dice! If a creature or construct attacks you, you try and roll over a defense number.
From our table’s experience, it seems like the key to Numenera is sensory descriptions. In this system more than any other I have ever played, it is up to the GM to not only describe what the players see, but what it smells like, feels like, and in my character’s case, tastes like. I’m sure Shanna had an amazing adventure planned for us, but many of us at the table were new to the system and just trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. Shanna provided us with the classic scenario of approaching a somewhat cobbled together suspension bridge crossing a river. This was no ordinary river, in that the liquid was green and smelled like burning tires. As one of our brave companions acrobatically ran across half the bridge and jumped to the other side, the green liquid rose to meet him. Since he rolled a natural 20, he was able to jump safely across without it touching him. To our horror, the liquid did not recede into the river but remained a column of goo underneath the bridge.
Looking for ways to dodge whatever horrible fate would befall someone who fell in the river, our team noticed a pipeline running parallel above the bridge that we might affix a rope to and swing across. Also someone noticed some odd orange flowers that only grew in shady spots on either bank. While our intrepid party tried to rig some way to swing across and not fall in the goo, I ate the flowers, which instilled both a sense of euphoria, and a strange buzzing sound in my character’s head. Just as our plan to swing across the river was coming together, horrible osterich-like Ithsyn attacked on the far bank. Needless to say it took over three hours to cross the bridge, and I have no doubt we experienced about 20% of what Shanna had planned. It was great fun though, and the only time I’ve played an RPG with someone who was instrumental in its design and production.
A huge thank you to the Wyvern’s Tale for making this event a reality, and to Monte Cook and Shanna Germain for making the trip out east to visit our awesome FLGS and run some tables for us. If you need a break from your typical swords and sorcery, or are eager to try something strange and beautiful, check out Numenera.