Sunday, August 10, 2014

Shared Weave Games - Numenera Review: Part 1

My name is Benthre, but most just call me Ben.

I’m a Jack. That means I can get through most tight spots with nothing more than a slick tongue, or deft hands. My chums tend to look to me for guidance, so even though we don’t have a leader as such, I’m it when it comes to crunch.

The big man is Hawmett. He’s one of them Glaive types. He’s quiet, and apart from glaring at people, he’s not much for social graces. He’s also obsessively superstitious, which gives him a million reasons to start swinging his Earthshakers at ya’. Still, he’s got some useful abilities because “the numenera sing in his presence”, whatever that means, and there’s a warm and squishy heart buried not so deep inside of the big man.

The one fidgeting over by the bar is Leve. Even for a Nano he’s an odd bird. He’s extremely stubborn, and apparently has a thing for clothing that went out of style years ago, in colours that assault the eye. He has focus issues on anything that doesn’t involve his interests, so he’s useless in problem solving situations, and NEVER rely on him to remember anything. What makes Leve special, and an effective member of my team, is his limitless well of willpower reserves. It’s gotten us out of some spots, and makes his esotera (magic, for the less edjamasticated folk) devastating.

For the Wednesday one shot, the players chose from the pre-generated characters in Vortex. Per the design of the characters’ backgrounds, Benthre chose Hawmett to know his secret, Hawmett’s player chose Benthre to be the one he accidentally levitated, and Leve chose Benthre to be immune to his esotera. It was decided during pre-gaming that all three know each other beforehand, because they’re working for the Order of Truth, as Seekers. They’ve been on a few low-danger missions and wild goose chases until this adventure. Their current assignment has taken them to the bleak landscape of Malevich, on the edge of The Black Range. They’re assignment is to look for a significant cache of numenera located somewhere around a hamlet called Manya. What sets Numenera apart from its peers is the setting. There is more story potential in the Ninth World than in any other setting I’ve ever read. Period. Any style, any genre, can tell its tale here, and skimming the gorgeous rulebook was enough to inspire me to write TWO adventures for the Wednesday one shot.

We’d been travelling for a long time to get to Manya, a little Hamlet on the edge of The Black Range. I swear, if our world needed an enema, Malevich is where they’d insert it. It’s dangerous, the people are dour, and the landscape is bleak. We’d been looking forward to beds and an ale when we got here, but no such luck. We were greeted by raggedy huts made of sticks, mud, and the bone and hide of the herdbeasts that sustain this tiny community. It seems that everyone in Manya is covered in at least one layer of grime, and they look at us with a mixture of fear, hostility, and… hope? As we get closer, everyone bolts into their huts, leaving a single grizzled old man in the centre of the hamlet, cooking skewered meat over a fire. Trying to talk to him was difficult, as the language of The Truth out here appears to have taken a life of its own… the consonants harsh, the vowels held too long, and the “R” appears to have taken on a soft roll. It was like they were trying to sing with a mouth full of mush. After spending a while trying to figure out how they grouped numbers here (some bizarre arbitrary method based on herds and sticks), I found out that over 40 people had gone missing in the mountain passes over the years.

The first challenge I threw at them was social. I gave it a difficulty level of 3 – Demanding. In Numenera, each level adds three to the target number that a player has to roll equal to or higher than. Ben’s player rolled a 19, which in Numenera is an extraordinary success that adds a minor positive effect to the intended effect. I decided that the hamlet threw them a hero’s welcome, built them a hut, and would provide guides. This got them around some of the mountain pass dangers I was going to throw at them later, but role-playing the party, and the discussions in the hut afterward was a lot of fun.

After the party last night (which saw us well fed, and introduced to the most potent alcohol I’d ever tasted), we slept surprisingly comfortably in the hut they built for us. The blanket-beds were so warm and soft, I almost didn’t want to get to work the next morning. Our young guides were already awake and prepared, and the whole town was out to see us off. Funny thing is, it felt… off. Leve put words to the feeling once we were outside of town, whispering it into my ear so our guides wouldn’t hear. He said that he felt like we were being honoured more like sacrifices, than as heroes. There was little to

I had them make a level 2 – Standard) difficulty check as they were leaving. Hawmett failed, Ben succeeded, and Leve rolled a 19. Assigning difficulty is easy. It’s not relative to the skill of the character, but based instead on how hard the task is for the average person. The skill of the character reduces the difficulty of the task. Numenera’s elegance allows a skilled Game Master to run an entire session from a simple difficulty chart, which is handy for a more improvisational GM like me.

The guides helped us climb a particularly treacherous mountain pass. We saw corpses along the way, probably some of the missing people that the elder spoke of. After about four hours, the pass became claustrophobically narrow. After another twenty minutes, the pass opened into a huge cylindrical cup of rock, the sides of it hundreds of feet high. Carved into the side of it was a huge archway, with writings carved around the edge that I wasn’t able to decipher. After bidding our guides farewell, we thoroughly checked the archway for traps and deadly esotera fields.

GM Hint – If you present your players with a mysterious archway, they will spend a half hour of real-time checking it. Try to figure out a way to get them moving without sounding suspicious, or they’ll spend another half hour making sure you’re not trying to murder their characters.

When we were sure it was safe to pass through the archway, we began walking down a huge corridor. It was readily apparent from the creaking and groaning that this structure wasn’t in good shape, and could come down around our ears at any moment. Worse, there were no lights, and it got dark as pitch as we journeyed farther down the hallway. I lit a torch to allow us to see. The eerie orange light of the torch flickered off of the walls, floor, and ceiling, and we could hear things skittering in the dark. Hawmett made an eldritch sign to ward us against evil, and said that the spirits in this place were restless, and possibly insane. They felt wrong.

All of a sudden, the floor of the hallway split in half length-wise, and retreated instantly into the walls. I would have fallen, if it weren’t for Hawmett’s quick reflexes.

Everyone failed a level 5 (challenging) Intellect check to detect the trap, then Ben’s player failed a demanding Speed check to avoid falling. Thankfully, Hawmett’s character succeeded a difficult speed check to catch him.

When he pulled me back from the abyss, the floor returned to its original position. Leve tested the floor with his foot, and found that when you step on the floor, it retreats, and when you remove your foot away from it, the floor returns. Hawmett had a brilliant idea to get past this trap: he would run as fast as he could, jump, activate his ability to levitate, and hopefully his momentum would carry him over the length of the pit. Like I said, useful.

Hawmett went back a ways, then came at the pit area at a dead sprint. He jumped just before what Leve called the “drop zone”. He floated through the air, and had more than enough momentum to carry him over the far side of the pit. The floor stayed in place, and as he gave us a thumbs-up, holes opened on the walls and started shooting beams of light at him. He pin wheeled clumsily in the air trying to avoid them, but through some sort of miracle, managed to avoid getting fried by one or more of the beams. As he passed near the end of the pit, the ports closed and the lasers stopped firing.

I couldn’t let them get by this trap so easily, so I utilized one of the best aspects of Numenera’s system: The GM Intrusion. To make this encounter more interesting, I gave Hawmett’s player 2 experience, one to keep and one to give away, which in this case went to Ben’s player. Doing this allows the GM to complicate the situation. What I chose to do, was modify the trap to detect beings attempting to float over the floor when it’s closed, and shoot lasers at them. This forced him to make a level 5 (challenging) speed check to avoid taking 6 damage. Since he didn’t have zero-g training, the check wasn’t able to be reduced. He rolled a 16, allowing him to avoid being shot.

Well. That was less than ideal.

I had an idea this time. Leve would use his foot to hold open the pit, while I climbed past the trap on the wall. Halfway across the pit, everything seemed to be going well. While the floor was open, the beam ports stayed closed.

And that’s when a piece of the wall gave way, and I fell…

Ben’s player failed his speed check, even while it was reduced a step by the climbing skill that he chose to use his Flex Skill ability on. He gave me the experience point that Hawmett’s player just gave him, and failed the roll again…

To be continued…


Numenera Review: Part 1

Doc Wilson