Monte Cook’s Numenera is perhaps the Science-Fantasy RPG that many people have been waiting for. Right from the get go, from the art to the terminology, the game draws out images of high-fantasy with technological trappings to make a weird and wondrous world with many hidden discoveries, and even more hidden dangers.
His intent for Numenera was to create a setting that was open to telling stories of discovery in a world that was so advanced that technology was indistinguishable from magic. The inhabitants of Numinera did not have the ability to comprehend the full nature of the world around them, full of strange wonders and odd phenomena from ages long past.
The setting’s premise is evocative, and compelling, and certainly very different from the usual Western Fantasy that I’ve seen. That said, I can’t help but get images of the cartoons of my childhood reflected in it somehow. From Thundarr the Barbarian to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, where technology and high fantasy are melded into a single thing of wonder. There’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief involved in it, but I’m perfectly willing to engage the material at this level out of sheer nostalgia.
The rules are supposed to be easier and less crunchy than most of the games that Monte Cook has worked for and I applaud this approach. Having simpler mechanics will let people start playing faster rather than obsessing over builds.
Basic Task Resolution
The basic mechanic for Numenera is a single D20 roll vs a Target Number set by the GM. The Target Number is set by the task’s Difficulty.
Difficulties range from 0, which represents actions with no chance of failure, to 10 which are usually impossible.
The Target Number is the Difficulty value multiplied by three, resulting in Target Numbers ranging from 3 to 30.
Several modifiers can affect the Target Number by affecting the Difficulty of the task. Character skills, favorable circumstances, or having the right tool for the job can all improve a character’s chances. Each of these can be used to decrease the Difficulty of a Task by about one or two steps.
Should a task’s difficulty be reduced to 0, the action automatically succeeds.
Rolling a 19 on a die is an automatic success with an extra minor benefit. Rolling a 20 is an automatic success with an extra major benefit. Rolling a natural 1 however means that the GM gets to introduce a new complication into the encounter.
Interestingly, the GM never has to roll in the game. The focus of the GM is to issue Difficulty values, present an interesting story and occasionally Intrude. GM Intrusions are an interesting mechanic. A GM may choose to apply a form of editorial control, dictating how something has gone wrong somehow. In return, the GM bestows 2 experience points to the player, which in turn gives one of those points to another player.
The player may refuse the intrusion by paying 1 experience point to overrule this. If the player doesn’t have an experience point lying around, then they are forced to accept the Intrusion.
Experience is also gained by exploration and discoveries as opposed to fighting and killing things. It’s a small distinction, but one that might help players in deciding if they should fight or run.
Overall the system seems simple enough, and worth exploring further. Tomorrow we take a look at character creation in Numenera, and see how it looks like.