Numenera Corebook Hardcover – August 14, 2013
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- Item Weight : 3.63 pounds
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1939979005
- ISBN-13 : 978-1939979001
- Dimensions : 8.63 x 1 x 11.13 inches
- Publisher : Monte Cook Games; 1st edition (August 14, 2013)
- Reading level : 13 and up
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
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Numenera is a rules light system that focuses on role playing over roll playing. It is superbly edited- arguably the very best in the industry. Clocking in at over 300 pages, it is filled with content and beautiful artwork that alone justifies the price. The system finds a way to stand out without being convoluted. It is incredibly simple, yet refreshing due to how it involves the player in managing resources and their odds of success. A must have book. If you wish to know more, read on.
Set 1 Billion years into the future, Numenera takes place in what is known as the 9th world. For eons between the 21st century and the Ninth world time, 8 other civilizations have risen and fallen, but these were not normal civilizations. During this gap, 8 other civilizations accomplished the impossible. They terraformed planets, manipulated stars, traveled to other galaxies, found other universes, played god with nature, and used the earth as their playground. Nobody alive in the 9th world has any knowledge of who these past civilizations were, nor do they understand why they are humans, and here yet again.
You play as a 9th worlder living on earth in this time. All around you are remnants of many civilizations far more advanced than anything you can image. It is a setting of fantasy and science fiction somewhat reminiscent of Final Fantasy, Dark Sun, Dying Earth and others. While post apocalyptic in theme, it is much more optimistic than dreary. There are countless sights to behold, strange oddities to find, and experiences beyond comprehension to be had.
First, Let's talk mechanics.
There are 3 classes you can choose from: Glaive, Nano, and Jack. Each represents an archetype akin to Fighter, Wizard, and Rogue. When creating a character, you choose one, then customize it by choosing various modifiers known as a descriptor and a Focus. Both of these have powerful influences on character generation. It is also very intuitive to know how these affect your character without seeing any stat blocks because they form words in the sentence: "I am a DESCRIPTOR who FOCUS. Descriptor is an adjective describing your character while Focus is a verb- something the character does through either a quirk of fate or training.
Descriptors and Focus have profound impact on your character's capabilities. For example, one Focus allows you to control gravity around you in ways that become more powerful as your character levels ( I will cover that soon). Descriptors are more internal. They represent core skills you have as well as stat changes, equipment, and other details that will have profound effects on your character. An example of a descriptor would be "Clever" or "Charming". In our examples we could have a Glaive who is Charming and controls gravity. In the sentence structure it would read: " I am a Charming Glaive who Controls Gravity.
All in all, character generation is among the fastest I've ever played. It is significantly faster than 5e D&D - perhaps as fast as AD&D character generation. You choose a type, a descriptor, and a focus. You then go through and apply the stat modifiers for your decisions, choose your 1st Tier abilities based on your class and you're ready to play.
Having only 3 classes was a smart move. It avoids the pitfalls of games like 5e D&D where there are simply too many classes. Having so many classes makes them far too specialized or creates imbalance by attributing the same benefits to multiple classes leading to redundancy and the inevitable superiority of one class over another. None of this is a problem here. The Glaive and Nano are the pure classes representing opposite ends of the spectrum - physical for Glaive and Magic/Technology for the Nano. The Jack is right in the middle. None of the 3 overshadow each other because they are all broadly capable.
There are 6 levels. Each one is known as a Tier. To unlock the next Tier, you must spend 16 experience points across four benefit types at your current tier. You then automatically go one up Tier which allows you to upgrade your character's core capabilities or get new ones.
Magic and technology are indistinguishable. Most magical effects are done through Esoteries, which pseudo innate spells your character can get or by magic items known as cyphers.
Cyphers are single use magic items that can have profound effects on oneself and the world around them. The fact that they are single use is very interesting because it allows them to be more powerful and valuable than a normal, infinite use magic item. While the book has many examples, the GM is free to make their own. It is clearly stated that anything should be possible using cyphers, but all cyphers are single use items.
Stats and Effort.
You have 3 core stats that all classes share. Might, representing all things physical or endurance based. Speed, representing finesse, skill, dexterity, speed etc, and Intellect which represents smarts, wit, wisdom, charisma and all things cerebral or deductive.
Unlike most games, stats in this are not static. They act as a pool that you can spend during play to increase your chances of succeeding at tasks. This allows any of the classes to overcome challenges that may normally be uniquely suited to another class, such as jumping for a nano. In this way, all classes can interact with all challenges by putting variable amount of effort into the task. However, if you run out of a pool, you gain increasingly debilitating ailments. If all three go to zero, your character dies.
Effort is a very unique system. It represents the benefit you gain from spending your pool points. It acts by reducing the target difficulty as set by the DM ( usually 1 to 10 or 3 to 30 on a d20). Each pool is challenged based on the stat governed by the task being attempted. So climbing is Might while deception would be intellect. Edge is a stat which reduces the cost of any effort or ability cost that otherwise would come out of the pool.
A Glaive wishes to convince the guard to let him through. GM determines this is a difficulty 5 task and informs the player he will need a 5x3=15 or better on the D20. The player of the Glaive doesn't like these odds so he decides to spend 6 intellect points to gain 2 effort, reducing the difficulty from 5 to 3 and the target number from 15 to 9. Since he has 2 intellect edge, the net cost to his int pool is 6-2=4. He subtracts this from his pool then rolls the die. He gets a 15 and succeeds.
That mechanic above drives the entire game. It's very simple. The rest of the rules of the game involve fleshing out what kinds of tasks are possible and what stats they are governed by. It is consistent and entirely intuitive.
I must say that Numenera is the most skillfully edited book I think I have ever read. I've not found a single typo. Furthermore, the information could not be laid out in a more intuitive or readable manner. The book alone is worth the price, if only because it is a pleasure to read, and the editing is simply head and shoulders above any other RPG book I have read. A true dream.
Numenera is a massive book clocking in well over 300 pages. It has everything you need to run the game. It answers every question as soon as it pops into your head. There is a generous starting bestiary and enough settings development to get your feet wet within the 9th world Setting. It even has an optional rules section, magic item creation rules and a GM chapter dedicating to helping the GM run the game. Overall, there is more than enough content to justify the price.
The elephant in the room.
Numenera has one serious flaw that is fortunately very easy to ignore, but I should mention it none the less. The experience system of Numenera is terrible. Simply put, it is a massive violation of everything the system itself so beautifully endorses.
First: the solution. When giving out experience, simply give players 2 experience points for achieving a significant objective by the end of the session. After 2 sessions, they will have enough points(4) to purchase an upgrade. Do not use the game's experience rules unless you really know what it will do to impact your experience. To be clear, this means ignoring GM intrusions and only allowing experience to purchase character upgrades.
Numenera follows in the foot steps of games such as Fate which use experience as a meta currency that allows the player to purchase "out of game" benefits that precipitate into in game effects. I cannot begin to tell you how antagonistic this is to roleplaying immersion. It is more akin to board game monopoly money than it is to character interaction with the world.
The primary means of gaining experience is through something known as GM intrusions. These allow you, the GM, to "do stuff" to the players in exchange for giving them 2 experience points. Basically, if you want to be a GM, you're supposed to bribe the players. Compounding this is also the rule that the player receiving 2 experience must give one of his points to another player for no reason other than to be fair and socialistic I suppose. If the player does not like what the GM is doing with his intrusion, the player may spend one of his existing experience points to undo the GM's intrusion.
The problem with this is two fold. First, according to the rules, a GM intrusion is anything that causes undue hardship or an unplanned situation on the players. This is nebulous as it never clearly draws the line on what separates standard GM actions from those that cause undue hardship. Is simply putting a monster in the room an intrusion or is that standard GM duty? Compounding that is the limit of 1 to 2 intrusions per character per session. With a group of 4 players, you'd have 8 chances to do anything at all as the GM lest you over award experience. What if you want to affect the whole group? Well, it's obvious the developers didn't know how to make this broken system fit either because their solution is one of extreme adhoc hamfisted convolution. The game will confuse you if you know better or mislead you down a terrible path of bad habits if you're new. Take it from me. This is NOT how you run a game. I get that some people like Fate. I'm not one of them. Your mileage may vary, but you're missing out on some real potential if you let your roleplay experience be governed by such unnatural limitations and expectations.
The second problem with GM intrusions is the expectation that the player can reject the intrusion. None of the examples paint a pretty picture of how this is supposed to be resolved in a manner that is not entirely awkward. They use an example of enemy reinforcements as a GM intrusion. So I guess a player would spend an experience, then inform the GM that the reinforcements magically disappear. Another example is of a rope they're climbing that begins to break. Supposedly this type of GM narration is troubling to the developers, thus the player can turn in an experience point saying "No, the rope holds!" This sort of rewinding is utterly destructive when it comes to immersion. It unnecessarily takes the focus away from the moment by giving the players an obligation to at least consider undoing what otherwise should be a situation dealt with using player and character skill rather than a wish token. It's an unnecessary and gamey mechanic on another wise superb roleplaying system.
Once a player has experience, the instructions on how to spend it are appalling. Players can purchase rerolls with an experience point, or they can even petition the GM to let them alter the lore of the setting from the top down rather than bottom up. Instead of using your character's skill and your own ingenuity to convince the king to name the statue in your father's honor, you can just spend an experience point to make it so. This is a violation of the 4th wall. It rewards the players not for playing the game, but for buying influence at the table. Terribly craven and utterly anathema to the point of roleplaying.
On some level, this mechanic is pretentious. It seems to assume that the GM is just itching to screw over the players so they give the GM such a mechanic. In doing so, however, they blur the line between standard GM encounter design and intrusions. As read, the game is unplayable if you wish to use the experience system because the GM cannot do much of anything without falling back on intrusions, which are a limited resource lest the game balance be completely thrown off. If, by chance, something does happen because the GM invoked an intrusion, it can immediately be undone by a triggered player.
One would do well to note that a good GM doesn't try to screw his players, nor does he need a mechanic to allow him to break the rules. A good GM shouldn't even need to break the rules to impart a challenge on the players to begin with, though he may do so if it benefits the storyline and fun at the table. If reinforcements arrive, the players best think of retreating or come up with a strategy to handle the new enemies. If the rope begins to break, players should think of a creative use of esoteries, tools, skill or something else to fix the rope, keep it from further damage, or get off of the rope.
I will not dock the game for this one flaw. That would not be fair. Besides, they make it abundantly clear that anything and everything can be changed to suit the needs of the table. Furthermore, the experience system is just totally out of place with the rest of the system. It is as if it were put in as an afterthought for some strange reason. Nowhere else do such obtrusive mechanics exist as far as I can see.
They put so much work into this project and it shows. The system is incredibly playable, the setting magnificent in scope, creativity and opportunity, and the design sensibilities are a wholesome blend of innovation and tradition. For those who are looking for an alternative to 5e D&D, I urge them to try this one out. The quality of the book itself, the editing, and the abundant content is enough to justify the price tag alone.
While Dungeon's and Dragons has almost 40 years of history, books, lore and experienced players that know all about it, plus a world famous name, Numenera is in it's infancy. The world is dripping with theme, and does a great job of creating true "discovery" to the players, unlike standard fantasy games where everyone knows what a dragon is, or a dwarf, or elf, etc.
Numenera wins you over by giving you a true feeling of real discovery once again.
As an example, go up to anyone, and ask them to describe a dragon to you. Even though dragons aren't real, anyone can tell you generically what a dragon is, how they function, etc.
This is the fundamental "issue" with classic fantasy games, like Dungeon's and Dragons. They are classically and comfortably familiar.
Numenera breaks this mold, while keeping the "classical comforts" as the anchor from which players understand the alien world around them.
As an example, you can still have (and frequently exist) a common medieval style town, with all the classical nuances of such a town. Blacksmiths, tailors, wells, taverns, and so on. However, a local farmer could have a strange glowing device on his shelf that he plowed up one day. His home would appear completely "classically" medieval, otherwise. The farmer has no idea what the device does, but numenera as such are commonly found in the world, an no one bats an eye. The farmer simply thought it looked interesting, so he put it on his shelf for decoration.
However, unbeknownst to him, that device is giving everyone but him, radiation poisoning, and only through roleplay, could players discover it. The device doesn't affect him, because perhaps he somehow imprinted himself upon it being the first to touch it in 100 million years, and thus he is unharmed.
Thing like this really set Numenera apart from classical tropes of high fantasy RPG's like Dungeon's and Dragons.
5 stars. Great game.