Welcome to the third and final installment of the Season 1 RPG Lab Reports. New to all of this? You can click HERE to read all about the RPG program in our original announcement.
Monte Cook’s Numenera was a tremendously popular Kickstarter and has been a popular game since its release in August of 2013. Despite Cook’s reputation for deep crunch and rules heavy design, Numenera is a totally new type of game that is driven more by story than the acquisition of experience points and conventional character advancement. Although the world of Numenera has sci-fi elements, I find that its wild aesthetic is more fantastic than rational and is a solid basis for a wide range of adventures and potential scenarios.
NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.
The Ninth World setting of Numenera is built on top of the previous eight worlds. Characters are agents of the Amber Monolith and a quasi-religious order that serves science and reason rather than gods. The powers that be seek to unravel the mysteries of the past by studying the endless variety of weird technology that peppers the landscape.
“This is where Numenera really stands out. It has an extremely rich and full setting that can take the players and story in any number of directions. You have a fantastic world that has a very long, exotic history just waiting to be discovered and explored by the characters. This history helps provide any number of great stories and adventures for players. It also gives the GM a great variety of settings they can bring the players into. Numenera has a little bit of that post apocalyptic steampunk feel to it without being too dark or depressing. The world actually feels even more full of life, hope and wonder. Even an old grizzled RPGer like myself can find themselves again wrapped in wonder discovering a whole new world and be more fascinated by the story than by acquiring that next level for my character.”
“I was initially attracted to this game because of the setting. It is unusual and allows for a very wide range of adventures and experiences. The mix of primitive and high tech components is intriguing; I can see a GM having a great deal of flexibility with story creation in a setting like this. I enjoyed the short story created for our game – that mix of primitive and high tech made for a very interesting adventure! And as a side note, the artwork in the books and on the website is absolutely gorgeous.”
“We only really scratched the surface of the broad setting material that Numenera contains. The 9th world is basically a world of people surviving using the remnants of 8 previous great civilizations that have risen and fallen in the distant past. Technology that’s indistinguishable from magic to many of the world’s inhabitants is just littered around and put to various uses, most of which are probably different than their intent. There are several factions with differing, often competing, agendas that the characters can support or work against. In our session, we ended up with something of a zombie survival horror meets Terminator meets Final Fantasy VII, which was very cool. I think there’s a lot of possible places you can go with the sandbox that the book provides.”
SUPPLEMENTS & MATERIALS — USED
For the Purposes of RPG Lab we used only the core book and some character sheets. We played a short, home-brewed scenario inspired by the setting material from the core book.
In my humble opinion, the coolest and most innovative aspect of Numenera is the character generation system. Characters select three words – an adjective, a noun, and a verb. These three words generate almost every aspect of the character sans name and a few customizable details. The adjective describes disposition or some other telling trait about the character (such as “clever” or “charming”). The noun is effectively the character’s class (of which there are three: fighter-ish glaives, caster-ish nanos, and rogue-ish skill-oriented jacks). The verb denotes the characters primary power set. This can be something as mundane as “berserker” to something as exotic as “bears the halo of fire” (Yeah. Some of these break from true “verb” but let’s not get overly pre-occupied with that kind of thing…). Once these are chosen, the character needs a name and equipment and you are good to go.
“The character generation took a little time to get used to at first. It really helps to understand the setting and purpose of the game before creating a character. This game is more about the story and how players interact with each other and the world more than what attributes or stats the characters have. I think the game really lends itself to a more story-rich game and tries to remove the aspect of power leveling or min/maxing. Once you understand the game a little bit better, the character generation process becomes far easier and should take very little time. What the character generation process really needs are a few simple sample encounters that players can run through to see how the system works.”
“I enjoyed creating a character in the Numenera system. The initial choices are complex enough to give the character depth, but simple enough to make for easy decision-making during the creation phase. Determining ability scores was very easy in this system and I appreciated that a great deal! Filling out the character sheet was a little more challenging as the instructions seem to be lacking some helpful details. Personally I’d like a little more space and a little less decoration on the character sheet so I could write additional details as needed. But on the whole I very much enjoyed creating a Numenera character.”
“Character generation is slightly more complex than the descriptions led me to believe, but it’s still very quick and fun. It’s described as, ‘You are a (blank) who (blanks)’ and while that’s true, each of those blanks is a choice from a pre-defined list where each choice carries a host of mechanical implications. That said, the process is still quite fast and the choices we saw all seemed well balanced. There are three ‘classes’ represented by the second blank that you fill in, one that leans toward fighter, one more of a caster-type figure, and one in between. The other blanks details your character’s features and abilities. Figuring out where to record things on the very pretty character sheets takes some trial and error the first time around, but as things progressed it became clearer what the designers intended.”
I’m not going to lie, the rules of Numenera are weird. First of all, the GM never rolls dice. That’s right, the GM never touches the dice. The GM merely assigns actions a difficulty, and the players roll for that difficulty. In combat, PCs roll to attack and defend against difficulties that are modified by various skills and aptitudes. Skill checks during non-combat situations are rolled against a range of difficulties modified by resource expenditure and the degree to which the character is skilled.
Getting used to this was really weird but it ultimately turned out to be extraordinarily simple. The players seemed to enjoy the simplicity.
“The game resolves nearly everything that needs to be mechanically resolved with a d20 roll, which is pretty cool. Even more interesting, the GM never rolls a die! While the GM describes the scenes and sets difficulties, the players are always the ones rolling, whether it’s a check to see if they hit the monster, a check to dodge an attack at them, or a check to convince the boy in town to reveal what he knows about the strange goings-on, it’s a d20 rolled by the players. Monte Cook and company did a great job of getting the mechanics out of the way of telling a really a cool story, while still leaving enough there to handle everything we threw at it. That said, it did take all of us a couple hours of looking things over and asking questions to really get the feel for it and some of the nuances.”
“At first this was very confusing. The game tries to lend itself to a more open method, attempting to take all the complex and confusing rules out of the game so you can enjoy the rich story. However, it also can be very ambiguous and hard to find or reference some of the rules. It took a little bit of trial and error to really grasp how the mechanics worked. I think for new players this could be frustrating, especially if there are no veterans around to help explain or guide them through the process. Once you have learned the base mechanics the game flows much more freely and you can really worry less about what skills you have, what dice you need to roll and more about enjoying the adventure.”
“This game is marketed as a new RPG that scales back the mechanics to their simplest form in order for the story to take front and center. I love that concept! In reality it isn’t QUITE as simple as it sounds, at least not at first. It took a while to understand when rolls were needed, what modifiers to apply, and what target numbers needed to be reached. This happens with any game of course, but with Numenera finding the answers to these questions in the printed materials wasn’t as intuitive as it could have been. However, once we all understood how things worked the roll-playing and combat encounters moved at a very fast pace that I really enjoyed.”
Despite its extremely new design, the players quickly learned and implemented the games conventions and we all had a good bit of fun. I suspect Numenera shines more brightly the longer the campaign goes on. The vast setting, the intricate lists of powers, and the utterly strange critters and technology could easily be sculpted into an epic adventure that’s quite different than the sorts provided by other games on the market.
“I had a great time with RPG lab, if anything I feel the time was too short. Let me start with the things I enjoyed the most. I thought the group was great, everyone really focused on helping each other understand the rules and the game. George did a great job describing the world and purpose of the game as well as running the story. If there were some changes I would suggest, I would say perhaps another 2 sessions would have really helped test out some other aspects of the game. Also delving deeper into the rules the first session and perhaps run through a few simple encounters prior to character creation might enable players to grasp the focus of the game and better understand how the system works. But overall I had a great time and experience with RPG Lab.”
“RPG Lab was a great way to get introduced to a new game and some fellow gamers! We all learned the system together and had a great time doing it. A couple hours one day a week for a couple weeks, and I got to walk away knowing the basics of a game I’d never played before and feeling confident I could run it for my regular groups. I really appreciate the opportunity – big thanks to Games and Stuff for hosting this!”
“I love the idea of the RPG Lab and I had a great time learning Numenera! George was very patient and helpful and seemed excited to be teaching (and learning) a new game. I am always looking to learn new games but don’t want to commit time and money to something that I may not enjoy. This mini gaming experience is a perfect sampler and provides just enough experience with a game for me to know if I’d enjoy playing it and which of my friends might as well. I had a ton of fun learning and playing Numenera, so much so that I’m currently setting up a game via Skype with a group of friends. Looks like I’ll need to brush up on those game mechanics since I’ll be the GM …”
What’s next for RPG LAB?: THE ONE RING (Cubicle 7) is currently running and will continue through July.
Conspiracy X from Eden Studios is in August, and Don’t Rest Your Head from Evil Hat is September. We may still have a few spots open for these last two. Please email RPGLAB@GAMESANDSTUFFONLINE.COM if you want in! (RPG Lab is run Tuesday nights, 6-9pm, for an entire calendar month.)
And here’s our usual disclaimer…
*This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.