Friday, August 2, 2013

Reading Over the Numenera RPG Core Book Part One

This is the first part of a series of blogs regarding the Numenera RPG Core Book and my read through of it. Typically, I do not get overly in depth with these articles, making side notes and comments as I read and sharing them with my readers.  I mean, if you want to know about the rules for most games, there are plenty of places to read about them, including the book that you should hurry up and buy a copy of, if you enjoy it. Numenera is totally new and unique, though, so I may go a bit more into detail as I write, we’ll find out.

In the wee hours of the morning, six hours after I notified the Monte Cook Games teams that I had failed to receive my email and code from DriveThruRPG, I was finally able to download the Numenera RPG Core Book. Oh, exciting times.

I had known about Kickstarter for some time, but I wasn’t going to spend my money on something that might happen. I had enough of my own dream projects to try and fund. Then, I found out +Monte Cook  was considering creating his own RPG. Everything he had done before was great, but it was always a reimagining of someone else’s game, someone else’s system. He was going to blend science fiction and fantasy in a way I can’t recall seeing before and come out with a system wholly his own. It was also based on one of my favorite quotes, Sir Arthur C. Clarke “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

So, he caught me. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. And, I am not disappointed. I bought in at a level high enough to attend the online game design seminars and even add a blurb for the Numenera bestiary companion. Interesting, considering I had just been talking about how awesome it would be to have someone run some online game design classes or seminars. People had asked who would run such a thing, since there were so many different ways to write games. My first pick, hands down, was Monte Cook.

Monte did a bang up job with the Kickstarter. Before the final payments were tallied and fees deducted, the Numenera RPG Kickstarter raised over half a million dollars! Amazing! I had some really supportive friends who agreed to play. I had spent that money after all and we eagerly awaited materials and played a few games. Before I talk about that, though, I want to put out a disclaimer.

I am pretty critical of publishers. I am especially critical about this project. The reason for that is I imagine what I could have done with near half a million dollars. There are also a number of observations I made during the game’s development and publishing phase that made me…raise an eyebrow, let’s say. I won’t get into them here. I also have very high expectations from Monte and the team he is working with, because they are superstars.

That being said, I am extremely happy and excited that the book is out. Even my criticisms at this point are made from both a looking back and outside looking in perspective. How many times have any of us had to shake our heads and admit “If I only I knew then what I know now?” It’s easy to throw stones. However, even with a nitpicking eye, I am still really looking forward to playing this game, seeing and buying more of it, and spending a long time in the Ninth World. So, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Now, back to the story.  When first we played Numenera, it was a bit of a struggle. The rules were simple, but incomplete. They were also quite different from anything we had played previously. +Jonathan Henry  will tell you how he sweated out his character creation for three straight days when character creation should, in fact, take mere minutes. At least, it should have in the beginning stages, and I am not sure, but I do not believe that has changed in the final incarnation.

During our first adventure, there was this pocket dimension of a room the characters stumbled upon. This was an adventure written for the game and for testing purposes by Monte. One of the players nearly lost a character messing with the rooms built in, but haywire defenses. In fact, I think a few were nearly taken out. But, they survived. There was bonus XP given for anyone to figure out what the actual device was. However, there was no frame of reference for them to figure it out. They knew this was some super advanced technology masquerading as magic as players. Their characters probably just as soon figured WSFM. So, nobody got that and it was a big letdown for the group.

I tried to give this feedback to Monte, but I am not sure if he ever took it. He seemed to have a very clear picture of what he was doing and where he was going with everything. There were forms to provide feedback on specific things only and a limited area for additional comments. There were a LOT of backers, too. So, he had a lot to go through and I don’t know if such things would pass his discerning gaze and make a difference or not. Mind you, my players were all sci-fi and fantasy junkies as well as avid readers, so it wasn’t like they were simply out of their element.

Then, I had some other crazy playtest stuff for testing combat. After that, communications started to die off, which we were warned would happen, because he was very bosy working behind the scenes. There was a website he put up for direct feedback, but I didn’t see any activity on it at first and then I lost track of it. I don’t know what more came from there and the lack of encouragement to take part in the discussions made me believe that it would have been a pointless exercise. I could totally be wrong there, but perception is an important thing—both in role playing games that have the skill and in real life.

Flash forward a few months. I was moving. I was moving at the same time my submission for the bestiary was due. Luckily, a very helpful intern over at Monte Cook Games contacted me through Facebook as other attempts had failed. Granted the old phone number was no good, but I had never gotten an email. She gave me some extra time to make my submission and I did, right at the midnight hour (more literal than I would like to admit). The submission, however, was basically supposed to be little more than a short note. Monte didn’t want us to fully flesh out and create the character or beast. He wanted a basic idea that he would then flesh out. Aw, but I really wanted to totally flesh out my own idea. Oh well, there will be chances for that later.

So, I have been waiting for Numenera to be released in its final form. I figured I could start playing it in earnest then. I have only just begun to flip through the PDF. I did read the introduction, and here are a few items I will comment on. The introduction explains his base thoughts for the book, where they came from, and what he is trying to pull off. It seems like a daunting task, to make an elegant, streamlined rules system that fits the way people play rather than gives them the tools by which to play as many systems do. However, I suppose the same design philosophy is what Fate Core such a big hit. I’m open for discussion on that, though.

  •  The artwork is beautiful and this is going to be a very pretty printed book.
  •  The PDF is massive. It’s over 400 pages long and about 75M. It runs slow on both the desktop and mobile devices. I believe this may have been done to avoid distorting the beautiful imagery that comes with the book.
  •  There is no layered PDF, so if you want to print this book out, turn it on greyscale and hope for the best or get a high quality paper with lots of spare ink.
  •  In the introduction, I see a number of what many would consider grammatical and punctuation errors. But, he is writing this as if he is talking to us and he is trying to mirror his speech. I do that too. Heck, I do it here. Years ago, I read a great blog post from a big time, professional writer who said if he had one wish it would be to go back in time and smack every English teacher he ever had. In writing, there are no rules.
  •  There is an issue at the end of the first chapter, where dice rolling conventions are being discussed. The paragraph gets cut off at the end of the page and is never continued. We just move right on to the next chapter. Apparently, somewhere, this has already been addressed and readers have been told this has been corrected in the print version. Here is my issue with that. How long ago would they have had to correct the printing proofs? And, since then, they couldn’t update the PDF? If it was simply the wrong PDF being uploaded, it is super easy to update a product and an email automatically goes out to everyone who purchased it.