I skip past the short story published by +Monte Cook in an efforts to promote and explain the Numenera RPG last year that separates the introduction from Part One of the core book. I’m sure I will go back and read this prose again. I want to move on to the meat of the book.
Right away, I see the potential concerns with the text in the introduction were, in fact premature. Monte was doing something I believe authors should when they get a chance—be human. In the introduction, he was talking to us as himself. He was writing to mimic that speech. As soon as I get into Part One, where basic descriptions of the Ninth World are given, he takes on a new, more professional tone. Now, we are reading his writing, not necessarily reading his words.
Here, I see the first discussion of abhumans and what he calls “visitants.” Visitants are essentially alien to the world. Abhumans are mutants, genetically modified peoples, and so on. Then, he quickly moves on to explaining Numenera—where the book gets its name from. Numenera are essentially bits and pieces of a bygone era. They are the remnants of the past. He categorizes them into three groups: Artifacts, Cyphers, and Oddities.
I am looking forward to this explanation, because artifacts and cyphers always made sense as powerful reusable items or one-shot items, but oddities were just that…odd. He explained them somewhat in the preview copies I read, but the concept just didn’t click. They were supposed to be weird and hardly useful. There were plenty of examples given, but it was a weird concept nonetheless and my players and I definitely were curious about how an essentially useless item was going to help us play the game or help our characters other than perhaps as some weird tidbits or story devices. So, let’s read the section in the final book here.
I have a little problem with artifacts being called “large devices” in one sentence than a belt someone can wear in the next. Other than that, this first descriptions are hardly different from my initial readthrough. While worded differently, they basically say the same thing. So, I guess I am no closer to understanding the oddities, which—I suppose—fits right in with the actual definition.
This one line really sticks out to me and helps explain why I am really looking forward to this game. I can think of so many who have run games over the years cackling in wild delight with this line.
“Welcome to the Ninth World, where every discovery might save you—or kill you. But you won’t know until you try.”
The basic mechanic is explained next. Everything has a difficulty from one to ten. Multiply that number by 3 to figure what someone needs to roll equal to or better than in order to win a contest, overcome a challenge, etc. Modifiers are handled by either increasing or decreasing the difficulty. It is a simple and elegant mechanic that, based on my experience with the game, I want to say does not get muddied up by further rules complications. It is also important to note that the GM does not roll in Numenera. It is the player that handles all rolls. I like this as whenever I am running a game, my dice seem to prefer the players over me. I don’t suppose the dice are different from most people in that way, but I digress.
There are rare times when characters can get a bonus. Bonuses stack. Getting a +3 bonus just lowers the difficulty by one. This is one thing I want to see more of, because it seems to almost me counterproductive to the elegance and simplicity of the system as it is. It also feels like a square peg being shoved into a round hole or an afterthought. I have only seen it rarely and that makes me wonder even more if it is needed at all.
They talk a little bit about a remarkable success here, in rolling a 19 or 20 on a d20, but refer us to a later section in the book. I’m fine with that, but then they explain the rule on the next page. I will have to hold my thoughts on this until later, when I read that other section. Is it needed? Is it redundant bloat? Time will tell as I continue to read.
They take the time to explain limitations on cyphers here. Having too many at once is bad, dontchyaknow? They also talk about XP and how it’s gotten. It isn’t from beating monsters, so standard hack and slash can be done here, but that’s not how you’re going to level up. It comes from completing quests and GM intrusions.