By now most of you will have heard of Monty Cooks new game setting Numenera. It’s been out for some time now even though I am just getting around to reviewing it. Why the wait ? I have read the setting and absorbed the rules; yet as a game master I wanted to chew on the system with the unpredictability of players at the table. To truly take it out for a spin and kick the tires and see how the game drives.
Well I have run the game now at Non-Con ( a Local stores all night game event.) M.A.C.E a North Carolina convention. And most recently I have begun a regular Bi-weekly game at my FLGS. The impressions are in. And I have no doubt. Not only is the system a joy to run. It drives like a well oiled machine. Concerns about rules slip away faster than any system I have played to date. And explaining how the games core mechanic works is an easy task even for the most novice of players that join your table. This is a welcome change compared to many games.
Numenera is the culmination of the path Monty Cook as taken as a game designer. You can really see Monty in this product. With his wide berth of work so much of this book feels like sitting down with an old friend. But its presented in a new fashion an in its retelling your see what he’s done and think too yourself ” This makes sense, it’s so simple. Why have we not done it this way all along?”
The core mechanic of the system uses a level based difficulty. If you have been around RPG’s in the past 14 years you will quickly grasp the idea here of a streamlined DC mechanic.. and its as elegant in its delivery as it is fast in its calculation on the fly at the table.
And this level system is embraced deeply in the setting. In other games levels or DC’s are solely for skills. In Numenera Level determines everything. The use of skills is level based, Combat uses this same mechanic as well. When the GM selects a monster or a trap or anything he can come up with.. its level based. Elegance in simplicity.
As you move to the classes you begin two wonder.. can you pull off a system with three classes and have diversity. And the answer to your question is yes. Undoubtedly yes. But how do you pull this off ? With one of the best ideas in mechanics and role play in recent memory. In the space of a simple sentence that gets asked at least once at every table.. Tell me about your character He’s a ____ , _____ who ______. This sentence gives your character life and lets the party know what you bring to the table all in one step. These blanks are simply I am a (Descriptor) (Type,Class) Who(Focus). With this combination you end up with over 1,000 different builds. And more soon on the way in May.
The class types is a Tier based system and well done. It reminds me of a well evolved system that Monty played with back in Iron Kingdoms. There is enough meaty content in your type that even with a few of the same Type in a group, You still feel distinctly separate. I can assure you of this.. Somehow I ended up with nine players at my table and They are most definitely nine separate and distinct personality’s at the table.
But is the setting good ? Yes, yes it is. Set on earth Nine BILLION years in the future .. yeah our planets sill spinning and yes our sun has not gone out.. How you ask ! That’s because eight other civilizations have risen and fallen from power over the last Billion or so years. Some of the with the powers to beyond our wildest imaginations. But they are gone now. Your playing members of the Ninth world. The latest race to occupy the world and explore the dangers and wonder of what the eight races before left behind. Venture forth brave souls and discover the wonders that are the world of Numenera !
One key difference between Numenera and other systems. The GM rolls no dice. Not a one hands off ! That’s an exaggeration but there is no need for the GM to pick up a die. The players roll all the dice, Their attacks, Dodges and skill rolls. Damage is a set number for players and monsters alike. Now I have heard negatives on this mechanic. But in practice I have fallen in love with this. It takes off a huge portion of the GM workload and allows the GM to focus on the story.
As an example In our last session the players were attacked while lifting off in a dirigible style airship. The following combat was planed to last only 6 rounds as the ship lifted above the tree tops and out of range. As said before the session had Nine players at the table. I gave the players each one fellow crew member fighting alongside each of them. I attacked the party with twenty tribesmen throwing spears. This massive Zulu style engagement of 40+ combatants took only twentyish minuets to complete even with a GM intrusion and more combatants entering the fight in the last few rounds. And the players finished the opponents on round 5.
I know Numenera emphasis that it is a game of exploration, But the sheer speed of combat can not go without note. This game is a great fun time !
I will wrap this up with one final comparison, You can see much of what Monty Learned in the Epic Ptouls book laid out in Numenera. It’s not only a great book with informative useful sidebars. Its damn fun to just look at while you’re enjoying the read. If you have not taken a look at this awesome product get out there and check it out !