Aug 07

Numenera: A rough guide to The Ninth World

Ever wondered what the earth might be like 1 billion years from now? I mean a billion years is a long time. So long in fact, that it might be difficult to imagine how far into our distant future that might be.

In the grandest sci-fi timescales I can think of that’s nearly 999.96 million years after Paul Atreides usurps Emperor Shadam IV (Gratuitous Dune reference) and that incredibly distant future history happens 20,000 years from our own here and now. But wait, lets put that into context and point out that we, the collective we of humanity that is, barely stopped scratching around in the dirt with stone tools and started using flint knives around about then!?

In fact, it’s such an insurmountably long way into the future that while Numenera is still set on earth it might as well be on some far distant alien world where every molecule of anything currently on the planet has been machined or worked or altered in some form, where humankind (and some other kinds as well) have tinkered and tailored for eight eons. This is a world that has seen visitors and travellers  from distant planets and dimensions and subsequently forgotten about them. This is a world where’ nothing is too strange and most things are shrugged off as just being part of the odd fabric of reality that makes up daily life .

This is what makes Numnera such a treasure! A unique gem for those of us story tellers everywhere. It is a vast landscape for us to play with that wants us to focus on narrative and not numbers. In order to help us navigate this weird world without detracting from the grand landscape Numenera has a few nifty tools up it’s sleeve…

It works on a couple of really simple systems brought together in near perfect harmony. The d20 based difficulty system, a really nifty XP awards system and the cypher system.


Players role all the dice, all the time…


Let’s discuss difficulty. Players role all the dice, all the time. As a GM who loves storytelling, I must admit this is heaven.

Difficulty is is ranked on a scale from zero to ten and players role against three times the difficulty rank to determine success. Meaning a dc0, something mundane, is an automatic success while a dc10, something nigh on impossible,  requires you to roll 30 on a 20 sided die, just to show you how impossible a task that actually is.

It was easy for the players to get to grips with this in their first game. For them to face a dc5 challenge, which required a pretty high 15 to succeed, they apply a few points of effort to reduce it to dc 3 meaning they only needed a 9 to succeed,This system is quick and simple and makes sense as part of the narrative and makes skill checks and combat a breeze to deal with while not impeding the flow of play.

My players, one vet (Hi Liz) and two relative newbies, had no problems figuring out the entirety of the system and taking advantage of the points pool system in one session.

Speaking of points, next up I want to discuss experience points. Numenera doesn’t really expect you to gain thousands of experience points in order to level up. Instead points are awarded when a GM ‘intrudes’ on play. That is to say, when I decide to push the odds in favor of an enemy or increase the difficulty of a standard action to make it more challenging I am intruding on the game and as such I award 2 XP points to the target character I pick on.

Just 2 XP points! It’s crazy right?

Well What’s more crazy is that the player then has to assign one of those experience points to another player with a suitably pertinent reason. These points can then be used to increase your tier, or character level as it would be called in other systems, between games or can be spent mid-game to great effect.


 Cooperation is the heart and soul of this game


Cooperation is built into this game from the very beginning. From character creation to the XP system the idea that not only should the characters work as a team but that cooperation will benefit them in ways that showboating just won’t is ingrained into the core of the system. In the optional rules section, which we used for our game, for example, there was a communal initiative. If one player rolled high enough to get the drop on the enemy then the team got initiative. A bit like the quick character shouting “look out!” when they see danger incoming.


Numenera, is the spirit of the game… the technological detritus that makes up the Ninth World


And if cooperation is the heart of this game then the Numenera is the spirit of the game. The Numenera, a collective term for the technological detritus that makes up the Ninth World, is the ineffable material that binds the whole thing together. Included in the gamut of this definition are the many various and wonderful cyphers that players collect along there travels. Ranging from single shot devices to short lived items of power, ciphers form a sort of currency and consumable inventory that your players churn through. Some of these articles are so weird  that they are, ostensibly useless, oddities which serve no real purpose apart from being cool. And while players may only ever encounter a few artifacts and own one oddity they will churn through cyphers with alarming regularity.

Each significant encounter could award them a handful of new tech that, while not originally designed for such purposes, will aid the players in a variety of ways.

Examples from the core rule book include ancient power cells for devices that are now used as grenades. Or components from ancient devices salvaged and re-purposed to perform new and wondrous tasks.

These items are supposed to be consumable so hoarding them seems pretty daft, and just to ensure that players don’t start doing just that collecting more than a half dozen in one place causes actual physical damage to the players. In the Ninth World it’s oft better to consume and discard than become a faintly irradiated heap of goo, isn’t it?

So without getting entrenched in the deep history of the Ninth World. I encourage you to find a few players and have a shot. Being a game that you can get the hang of in an hour, why not go ahead and give it a bash, throw a partially degraded nuclear power cell into the fray while blasting away with a reclaimed particle beam emitter, what does the emitter emit? Let’s pull the trigger and find out,  that’s part of the fun.

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