The Numenera RPG Core Book contains a lot of setting material. I’m on page 131 in the hyperlinked PDF where Chapter 10 begins. There was an introduction, some basic setting information, character creation, rules, and optional rules already covered. The PDF page count comes out 427 pages. That means about a fourth of the book is not dedicated solely to setting.
For me, this brings up an interesting question in terms of a blog reviewing the Numenera RPG by Monte Cook. Monet put the better part of a year getting this project to print. He put a lot of work into the book. When most of it is setting, it would be wrong for me to just give a summary of everything here. At least, I think it would. If, after all, you never need to pick up the book just because you’ve read what is here, then I’ve done the game a disservice. Instead, the hope is that more people will get just interested enough that they will want to pick it up. Hey, if nothing else, if you are looking for an inexpensive way to get a REAL feel for what the Ninth World is like, take $3 and head on over to DriveThruRPG and pick up Tales from the Ninth World. It’s got three great short stories in it that book—and, if you download the PDf version you get some preview material of what I have been talking to you about here.
Now, I’m not going to completely ignore setting during my brief review of the Numenera RPG core book. As I already pointed out, it is the majority of the book. Chapter 10 gives an overview of that setting, but more detailed than the basics discussed earlier.
The Ninth World is the setting for the Numenera RPG. It is essentially Earth about a billion years in the future. Eight great civilizations have come before and all that remains of them now is forgotten memories, results of their works, and the numenera. The world itself has a history now of about 900 years. It is about the equivalent to life around 1000 AD, however, there are many differences.
People are scattered. Some live in cities, some in fiefdoms, some in small enclaves and settlements. The largest city has half a million people living in it.
The perceptively hard part to work our heads around is the changes that have occurred. Somehow, humans are the dominant race on the planet, although it has been a billion years. Great cataclysms have come and gone. Other races have lived here and called this world home. Somehow, the life of the sun has been lengthened. The orbit of planets had been altered as has the orbit of our own moon. There is some sort of wireless network that continues to deliver messages throughout and around the world. We live in the remnants of a civilization long forgotten. The Aeon Priests study the numenera and venerate past civilizations to an almost holy level. But, how do we translate all these weird concepts into a world that is so vastly different from our own.
Of course, we are here living in the 21st century. We are going to try our best to apply terms that we understand and recognize to the world. However, these words would have no basis a billion years in the future. Remember that line from Los Banditos by The Refreshments, “Yeah, your alias says you’re Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the United Federation of Planets ‘cause he won’t speak English anyway.” Think about it, so far into the future, so many great civilizations come and gone and doubtless countless smaller, less great societies rose up and tumbled during that time as well. Was the world we know now even one of those eight previous worlds? Think about it. 10,000 years is one-one hundredth of a percent of a billion years.
In the introduction, Monte mentions a dream he had with two cloaked figures walking through a landscape and, as the view changed and panned back, he saw the landscape they were traversing was a giant gear. That was a big part of what sparked the Numenera RPG and it is a great image for the Ninth World. I think back to that first game we played with the playtest materials and how my players were at a serious disadvantage for gaining the extra XP because they had no frame of reference—as players or characters—to define the shelter as some sort of dimensional pocket.
We are trying to define things far beyond our grasp with what we do know and understand. That creates a bit of an issue, but also makes for some great storytelling. It allows our freedom to run wild. We can make up concepts, words, and just about anything else on a whim. It’s all weird shit and fucking magic (WSFM), man.
The days are longer and the years are shorter. People do not know how it used to be, so they do not wonder why Mercury is no longer in the sky. The continents have once again been reformed into a super Pangaea. Whether this was due to some previous civilization’s terraforming or was a natural occurrence is unknown. However, the landscape is full of impossible features including fallen towers bigger than cities, mountains that float upside down, crystal flying islands, and much, much more.
The common language for the setting is called the Truth. This is mostly spoken in the Steadfast, the largest gathering of civilized peoples in the Ninth World. It is controlled mainly by the Aeon Priests, who have studied numenera and the pasts enough o grant them mighty and strange powers. Literacy is more rare and as many as 500 different language dot the world. It is common for enclosed villages to have a totally unique language making things difficult to communicate, but hence is the way of the unconquered and undiscovered world.
Most call themselves human, although the question of what it means to be human comes up. Is someone grown in a vat with artificial intelligence through biomechanical brain implants a human, because they look like one, they talk like one, they feel like one? Then, there are those decided not human. The abhumans are mutants, born that way or shifted due to the dangers of numenera. The visitants are alien races who now make the Ninth World their home.
The weather of the Ninth World is vastly different. The climate is mostly drier and the further south one goes, the colder it gets. However, the Numenera RPG delivers a frightening foe in the way of the Iron Wind. Iron Wind are essentially mad, uncontrolled nanite storms that cross the world, changing all matter as it goes. It warps things into impossible creations. It creates things seemingly from nothing. It is dangerous and deadly for sure.