7 August 2013

Numenera First Impressions

Monte Cook's new game Numenera has been one of the most awaited RPGs this year. Last week the PDF version of the rulebook was finally released to Kickstarter backers and pre-orderers, while print versions should be shipping soon.

I've had a chance to browse the PDF for a few days now, and yes, I quite like it. It features a pretty interesting science fantasy setting and original, fairly lightweight rules. The game's website introduces the concepts of the game pretty well, but in a nutshell, the game's set in a far future world, with one of the core ideas being Arthur C. Clarke's statement: 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' The society is superficially medieval, but relics from great civilisations of the past are everywhere, both assisting the world's inhabitants and creating great dangers. It's a world of small, isolated communities, where almost anything can happen and every location has a unique flair created by the wonders (and dangers) of the past active in the region.

Discovery is a major theme in the game. It's primarily about exploration and encountering the weird and wonderful relics of past civilisations. Which, in my mind, is a wonderful premise for an RPG. Even the guidelines for awarding experience points emphasise making discoveries, rather than, say, killing things.

The rules are quite fascinating, and not exactly like any RPG I've played before. The system is basically class based, but instead of a single class characters are defined by three basic elements, a character type, a descriptor, and a focus, each of which grant particular abilities to the character. These are described as a noun, adjective and verb, respectively. A core idea of character creation is that the character can be described with the sentence: 'I am an adjective noun who verbs.' For example, a character could be a 'Rugged Glaive who Controls Beasts' or a 'Charming Nano who Focuses Mind Over Matter' ('glaive' being the game's warrior class, and 'nano' a kind of tech wizard).

There are many combinations to choose from (with three character types, a dozen descriptors and close to 30 foci). But you do still need to create characters within the framework provided by the rules; this is no GURPS with infinite character options but a game with a fairly specific scope and theme (which, personally, I think I might even prefer, in the end, to universal systems). Of course creating characters for the first time might be a little daunting, when one's not familiar with the options, which can have exotic names like 'Rides the Lightning' or 'Howls at the Moon' or 'Bears a Halo of Fire'...

The system is based around three basic stats: Might, Speed and Intellect. Unlike most systems, however, these aren't hard numbers that directly affect dice rolls, but pools, from which you spend points to boost rolls and use special abilities. Damage is also taken from these same pools, so the more damage a character takes, the less he or she can do, and vice versa. It's a pretty interesting idea, and should be interesting to try out, although I expect it may take a little time to get used to. Not because the game is complicated, but because it's a little different from most games we've played.

The book's over 400 pages, full colour and quite pretty, although I can't really fully judge the aesthetics until I get the print version. I do much prefer reading RPG rules in book form...

I don't know when I'll get the chance to actually play the game. Seems like there are plenty of games already going on in my social circle right now. Hopefully it won't take too long, 'cause this game is right up my proverbial alley...

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