One of the key factors for making a memorable setting for a fantasy RPG is being able to convey a genuine sense of wonder. Monte Cook does an incredible job of this with Numenera, presenting a world set so far in the future that it is alien and wondrous, while leaving a lot of space for GMs to improvise and come up with their own unique spin to things.
Numenera’s setting assumes a single continent, the result of a previous civilization’s attempts at terraforming. The world is weird, wild and mysterious, with the humanity of that age struggling to survive among the ruins of so many advanced civilizations without the understanding necessary to figure out what these technologies are for.
The resulting mess is a world where almost anything has a place. Floating cities that drift slowly across the sky? Subterranean machines humming away to some unknown directive? Clouds of buggy nanites that warp anything they touch? All of this has a place in the setting, and all their mysteries are open to exploration.
This is perhaps where Monte Cook’s focus on exploration really shines. Rather than gaining experience from killing things, players are rewarded for discoveries. While true understanding and mastery of these supertechnologies and phenomena is somewhat beyond the scope of most of the game, the idea that you’re doing some sort of super-archaeology of sorts is very neat and a different spin on the dungeon delving formula.
Anime fans might want to think of the setting as akin to that of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, where humanity is eking out an existence while surrounded by ancient technology that they can discover. While there aren’t giant robots in the Numenera setting, a creative GM might be able to find a way around that.
Various factions are introduced in the game, though the corebook gives them a surface-level treatment, enough to know what they are and what they do, but with enough wiggle room for the GMs to tweak them as necessary to tell the stories that he wants to tell.
Numenera’s setting is crazy in a fun way. Things are never what they seem, and it just begs for adventurous types to head out and explore it.