Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.Numenera
is a Science Fantasy Tabletop Roleplaying Game
set on Earth one billion years in the future, after the fall of many, many future civilizations
. A brainchild of the veteran d20 System
designer Monte Cook, the game was crowd-funded via Kickstarter
in August and September of 2012
and released on August 13, 2013. In April 2013, before the game was officially released, a separate Kickstarter campaign raised money for the (as of February 2015) as-yet-unreleased licensed computer RPG
, Torment: Tides of Numenera
In the game's setting, eight great civilizations have risen and fallen, with the setting being what is called the "Ninth World". Although the current civilization is at a medieval level, the eight previous civilizations have left behind innumerable technological artefacts — machines collectively called numenera
. To most people, the numenera are curious remnants of the past that are rarely understood, sometimes useful, often dangerous and usually thought of as magic
. In the Ninth World, the future is built with the bones of the past — a past that is mostly unknown, yet always present.
Unlike many tabletop games, Numenera
focusses more on roleplaying and narrative. As the player's guide itself says, "The key to playing Numenera is the story. The way to 'win' this game is to come away with a great tale." Characters are created by having the player fill in three blanks in a simple sentence: "I am a (descriptor
) who (focus
)." The descriptor is an adjective that describes the character, the type is the character class, and the focus is a verb that also describes the character in some way. Each of the three variables have their own effects on the character; for instance, a Tough Glaive
who Rides the Lightning
gains various bonuses to defensive stats, is skilled at physical combat, and can control lightning in various ways. Every challenge in the game, including combat, is treated the same way mechanically: a d20 is rolled against a set difficulty level, and if the die beats it, the player succeeds at the task. The player can influence the difficulty level by expending Experience Points
or character stats, and the Game Master
can intrude on player actions and cause unforeseen difficulties; the intention is to allow storytelling to flow organically from the system in this way.
Has a website at Numenera.com
This game provides examples of:
- After the End: Set on Earth billion years from now. Because it's the Ninth Age, it's actually after eight of these.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The varakith, giant insectoid warriors that were believed to be mindless monsters until someone managed to translate their singing. The first song translated was a bloodthirsty chant that gloried in their slaughter of other races, and all the other translations of their speech confirmed that initial impression. Their culture views the world as a giant gladiatorial arena, and everyone else as foes to be overcome.
- The yovok are motivated primarily by the desire to kill for pleasure, and are so disorganized that the only way they get things done is by yelling at each other until one gets their way.
- An Adventurer Is You: From the official website:
"Player characters explore this world of mystery and danger to find these leftover artifacts of the past, not to dwell upon the old ways, but to help forge their new destinies, utilizing the so-called “magic” of the past to create a promising future."
- Applied Phlebotinum: Numenera come in four different types:
- Cyphers: Old devices that once served a purpose, perhaps as part of a larger machine. With a little jury-rigging, an adventurer can make it do something useful, like turning an ancient battery into a bomb. They break down or are consumed as during use, and carrying too many at once can be bad for your health.
- Oddities: Devices that are usually useless for an adventurer, and may have no discernible function at all. Their supernatural/superscientific properties make them interesting to scholars and collectors, which makes them great Vendor Trash. That said, one or two specific items might turn out to be a case of It May Help You on Your Quest in the hands of very savvy and resourceful explorers.
- Artifacts: Straightforward gear, like weapons, armor, tools, etc. Unlike cyphers, they're not likely to break down anytime soon, though some might run out of power and need recharging if you use them too often. Most artifacts are jury-rigged from pieces of larger machines and modified for use as combat gear. Artifacts often invoke the maxim, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a big gun".
- Discoveries: A catch-all term for numenera that are immediately useful, but not entirely suited to be used as adventuring gear. An example would be a functional underground mass transit network.
- A World Half Full: Sure, it's a Scavenger World After the End... er, eight ends, but you're going to reclaim the secrets of the past to save the future.
- Bears Are Bad News: Ravage bears are blind, tusked predators that can track you via smell and hug you to death.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: The scutimorph, which look like twelve-foot-long centipedes that wrap themselves around trees.
- Big Dumb Object: The Ninth World is littered with them, the Amber Monolith featured in the cover art and intro fluff being one of the most prominent.
- Bittersweet Ending: "The Amber Monolith" short story. Calaval discovers and activates a teleporter to an orbital station and finds the information he needs to join the Aeon Priests, but his beloved thuman Feddik dies of exposure to the Iron Wind during the journey to the eponymous Amber Monolith.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Some of the strange flora and fauna of the Ninth World isn't just from scientific experiments from the past, but also because some came from other worlds or even other dimensions.
- Body Horror: Several monsters in the setting. Certain phenomena are known to mutate humans and beasts, almost always into freakish things with too many tentacles and orifices.
- Bow and Sword, in Accord: The weapon proficiency systems of most games is cut down to "light, medium, and heavy." Starting Jacks and Glaives have this trope.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Averted for most things, but very notable in the names of the character classes. It is mentioned several times, however, that the words used in some cases are simply a 'best fit', or that the meaning has shifted over time. What the people of the Ninth World call a scorpion isn't what we'd call a scorpion.
- Cast from Hit Points: All three classes (or 'types' as Numenera calls them) have access to this trope, as using a Fighting Move, Esotery, or Trick of the Trade requires the use of Might, Speed, or Intellect points. All classes can avoid it to a degree using the relevant ability's Edge level (which reduces the cost of using related abilities), but getting carried away in combat can very easily leave you vulnerable. It's a risk-vs-reward tradeoff, essentially. Do you burn points to dish out a powerful hit in the hopes of ending combat faster, or do you rely on weaker hits so as not to burn yourself out and leave yourself vulnerable?
- Character Class System: Starts with the Fighter, Mage, Thief archetype and expands on it.
- Glaives: The Fighter, equally capable of being built as a heavily armored Badass Normal or a Fragile Speedster.
- Nanos: The Mage, who uses the power of numenera to work miracles.
- Jacks: The Thief, whose name comes from "jack-of-all-trades" and have a lot of tricks to make them the setting's skillmonkeys.
- Character Customization: The character creation process starts with picking your class, then picking descriptors (e.g. "clever, tough, strong-willed, or mystical"), then a build focus.
- Church Militant: The Order of Truth, called the Amber Papacy by its enemies.
- Critical Hit: On twenty-sided dice, any roll over a 17 in combat can deal extra damage and/or have additional effects (such as knocking the target down), and 19 plus on any other task can have additional beneficial effects (such as an artifact works as if it were a level higher for a short time). Interestingly, the GM never rolls dice, so players are fairly safe from these.
- Citadel City: There are still fully functional satellites orbiting the Earth, only reachable by means of teleportation or space flight. Because of the Schizo Tech setting, a satellite sitting in orbit is functionally a nigh-impregnable fortress.
- In the short story "The Amber Monolith", the main character Calaval explicitly thinks of a satellite as a citadel.
- Cosmic Horror: Ubiquitous enough that a Glimmer (supplement) called "In Strange Aeons" has all to do with working Lovecraftian ideas and creations into the setting.
- Clarke's Third Law: The setting runs on Clarke's Third Law. The Ninth World is filled to the brim with lost technology that for most intents and purposes can be considered magical. Word of God states that the setting was conceived with the Third Law as its basis.
- Cover-Blowing Superpower: The mlox (robotic brains wearing human bodies) can open a third mechanical eye in their foreheads to gain access to sensory and movement abilities. Generally they don't because they're terrified of people finding out what they are.
- Cyborg: Everywhere. A few major NPCs have cybernetic parts, and a couple are essentially just brains-with-life-support in metal shells. The character focus "Fuses Flesh and Steel" allows players to be subtly biomechanical or openly cybernetic, and grants significant boosts to the character's Might and Speed, along with innate Armor. Cyborgs require regular repairs and maintenance however; unlike normal characters, they cannot rely on Recovery rolls alone. And then there are the Decanted, who are cryogenically frozen heads walking around in robotic bodies.
- Damage Reduction: How all Armor works. To be more specific, your Armor rating is subtracted from incoming Might-based damage. Any damage that runs over your Armor rating applies as normal. Armor doesn't apply against certain environmental effects, psionic effects that deal Intellect damage, and so on.
- Dual Wielding: A full build focus, "Wields Two Weapons at Once". Only for melee combatants, though.
- Back-to-Back Badasses: Choosing said focus allows players to do this with another PC, granting them both defense bonuses.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Mercury's gone, and has been for so long that no Ninth Worlder knows there was ever a planet between Venus and the Sun.
- Enfant Terrible: A Nibovian child will end up taking over their caretaker's entire life, eventually using their dead body to create another Nibovian child.
- Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: There's an underwater octopoid kingdom on the western edge of the current megacontinent. It is an extremely old kingdom, at that. One that apparently remembers a prior incarnation of humanity;
Many believe that the octopi bear little affection for humans. Hundreds of years ago, when the first human encountered them and was able to establish some kind of communication (thanks to a numenera device), the only response he got from the octopus was an enigmatic, “Oh. You’re back.”
- Expy: Given their all-concealing attire, their advanced technology, their penchant for invoking Vagueness Is Coming, and their sheer mysteriousness, the philethis are clearly copies of the Vorlons from Babylon 5.
- Feudal Future: The Steadfast, a collection of kingdoms that only share a religion between them.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Through a lens of Science Fantasy, but definitely in force.
- Fighter, Mage, Thief: Glaive, Nano, Jack. Played with, since a Jack or Glaive can be a Red Mage or Magic Knight by picking the right descriptors and focus, and Nanos can subvert Squishy Wizard and be decent in combat.
- Free-Love Future: Some cultures have this attitude, according to the Glimmer "Love & Sex in the Ninth World". One of the more common attitudes (though certainly not universal, humanity being as varied as it is) is that prostitution isn't looked down on or illegal as long as they're doing it willingly.
- Future Imperfect: The tale of "Jack and the Beanstalk" has been distorted into a legend. A large tower is called the Beanstalk, and the locals have a legend about the giant one day returning to get his revenge on Jack's descendants.
- Giant Flyer: Rasters and xi-drakes. Both are tamable as flying mounts.
- Grey Goo: Out-of-control nanobots are mentioned as a hazard.
- A Red Goo variant is the iron wind, a kind of duststorm that will mutate anything it catches into a writhing monster. Or possibly just tear it apart completely! You can never be sure with the iron wind.
- More generally, nanites have integrated themselves into the ecosystem. They are as common as bacteria or fungi, and most go without any notice.
- Hidden Automaton Village: The Weal of Baz is a hidden town for intelligent machines. It's carved out of a cleft in a cliff face, concealed by holograms and on constant guard by sentries. Occasionally, an organic that they deem worthy is given a token that allows them passage into the city, which includes access to their machine smiths and their truly enormous stockpile of spare parts.
- Horse of a Different Color: Aneen are bipedal pack animals twice as tall as the average human, used as pack and riding animals and as meat producers.
- Humans Are Psychic in the Future
- Idiot Hero: Characters with the Foolish descriptor. They can actually be quite intelligent when they get down to business, but are prone to rushing into situations without thinking.
- Kaiju: Titanothaurs are impossibly huge (over 300 feet/100 meters on average) one-of-a-kind creatures that are usually based on normal-sized fauna and are usually attracted to large, densely-packed cities, which they then proceed to smash. They often have unusual powers in addition to their size and strength, and are rare and devastating enough that most of them get unique names. Oftentimes, the easiest way to kill one is to find another one to fight it.
- The Klutz: Any character with the Clumsy descriptor. Interestingly, the text indicates that Clumsy characters tend to be quite charming.
- Left-Justified Fantasy Map: Played straight despite the continents having been joined together into one enormous Pangaea-like supercontinent. Presumably this will be filled in by future supplements.
- Luck Manipulation Mechanic: A core mechanic. Characters can spend points from their pools before rolling to make rolls more easily, and XP can be used to reroll critical die rolls as well as to level-up.
- Mecha-Mooks: Oorgolian soldiers. Like every advanced piece of tech in the Ninth World, their creators are long gone and their objectives are all but incomprehensible.
- The Minion Master: A character who chooses Leads or Controls Beasts for their focus will have a small army of critters or NPCs following them around at high tier.
- Mother of a Thousand Young: They're prettier than most, but given their status as living extradimensional portals, Nibovian wives are this.
- North Is Cold, South Is Hot: Averted. Matheunis, the Cold Desert, is located in the southern part of the game map, and things like the Caecilian Jungle are located closer to the northern edge.
- Not the Intended Use: Quite a few numenera were intended for other purposes than the inhabitants of the Ninth World put them to. Examples include an explosive which was once a vehicle's power plant and a personal energy shield that was once reactor shielding.
- Ontological Mystery: One billion years into the future, nothing on the Earth is even remotely recognizable to people from today. The one exception are humans, which are still practicaly unchanged. However, the game hints that humans have not been around the whole time and somehow remained unaffected by evolution, but actually only reappeared a few thousand or million years ago. Given the premise of the game, there most certainly isn't any actual answer to this.
- The Order: The Angulan Knights, which are dedicated to protecting humanity as a whole, unattached to any government or religion. Many believe they're the militant arm of the Order of Truth, but the Knights only have the Order's blessing to carry out justice, rather than anything more official. They routinely train xi-drakes as flying mounts.
- Our Monsters Are Weird: Blue-skinned mandibled abhumans addicted to increasingly-difficult murders, white-skinned humanoids with no eyes and far too many mouths, flying snakes made of electricity, purple tetrahedrons that refuse to shut up or understand that people might not be interested in playing...
- Our Orcs Are Different: Everything you need to know about Margr in five words: Tolkienian orcs with goat heads.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: For some reason, some technological strangeness creates what can only be called a bog-standard fantasy horror werewolf. Because... technology.
- Panthera Awesome: The Sarrak, which appears to be a panther with a sphere of energy for a head and mind control abilities.
- Power Perversion Potential: Mentioned in Love & Sex in the Ninth World, mentioning how pieces of numenera have been put to... other uses. Specifically mentioning the friction-reducing gel, gravity nullifiers and magnetic masters from the core book, though leaving their uses to the reader's imagination.
- Ragnarok-Proofing: Millions upon millions of years have passed without maintenance, and all the insane supertech still works.
- Razor Floss: Steel spiders can spin entire webs of it. Useful, if you can keep yourself from being shredded on it.
- Raised By Automatons: Adopting the "Bazian" descriptor from the Character Options supplement means your character comes from the Weal of Baz (see Hidden Automaton Village above). You gain several machine-like attributes and working with machines and machine intelligences becomes one step easier, but communicating with organic lifeforms becomes one step harder.
- Reality Is Out to Lunch: The Amorphous Fields, a section of the Beyond where the ground itself continually shifts and flows around a structure known as the Twisted Spire.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Nibovian companions are absolutely adorable balls of fluff that resemble big-eyed Tribbles... that attempt to turn anyone that adopts them into a life battery to sustain them.
- Scavenger World: Much of the gameplay is about collecting tech from the previous ages, the titular Numenera. This can be anything from curios which glow green to Deflector Shields that shoot lightning at the enemy.
- Schmuck Bait: Though the origins of the term have never been fully revealed, anything described as "Nibovian" fall under the "too good to be true" category of this. It appears to be good and useful, right up until it does something horrible to you.
- Science Fantasy: The game is inspired by works like Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. The setting, called by its inhabitants the Ninth World, mixes a society with medieval technology with technological artifacts left behind by the previous civilizations that have risen and fallen over the previous billion years. While Monte has said that he is grounding the game firmly in science (or at least science fiction), he has cited Clarke's Third Law to explain the presence of things that would otherwise be at home in a fantasy setting such as "wizards" (Nanos, whose powers are derived from cybernetic implants, extradimensional aliens, or other non-supernatural sources), "gods" (alien entities or ancient AIs), and floating cities (kept aloft by some sort of anti-gravity or repulsor tech).
- Schizo Tech: The civilizations in the game are roughly medieval but surrounded by advanced technology from Before the End.
- This can even exist within the one character - one of the three options for the source of a player-character's skill and talent is cybernetic augmentation. Meaning you could have a glaive who goes to town with a big battleaxe but where most of his talent comes from a variety of implants, either obvious stuff like mechanical limbs or subtle ones like nanites in the bloodstream to better conduct oxygen and regulate other biochemicals.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Lampshaded in the Bestiary entry for the Neveri.
- Secret Circle of Secrets: The Gaeans, a secretive and mysterious cult believed to control the lands north of the Steadfast.
- Shock and Awe: Anyone who takes the Rides the Lightning character focus gets the ability to shock people with their touch, hurl lightning bolts around, the ability to fly and teleport using electricity, and a big sack of batteries.
- Space Elevator: It's implied that The Beanstalk, a massive metal and glass tower in the northern section of the Beyond, was once one of these.
- Spider Tank: The dread destroyers are living versions of these, possessing brains and organs inside a self-repairing metal hull. They're sufficiently well-armed to be able to take out cities by themselves, can scale vertical surfaces, and move very fast in the water.
- Split Personality: Lattimors have this as a basic fact of their existence. They're a symbiotic combination of a bursk (big, bulky, unintelligent bipeds) and a neem (a sort of sentient lichen that grows on their backs). They can switch between the bursk or neem personality to use the advantages of each mentality, or join together to counter the weaknesses of both.
- Starfish Aliens: Some of the weirder creatures, like the travonis ul (a mass of tentacles with bulbous yellow eyes in the middle of each) and the erynth grask (wormlike sapients with four tentacles around its mouth and eight arms) are almost certainly extraterrestrial if not extradimensional.
- Things Man Was Not Meant To Know: Weaponized memes are ideas that, once learned, slowly drive all who know them insane and subsequently drive them to suicide.
- Three-Stat System: Might, Speed, and Intellect, which are simultaneously resource pools for three types of ability checks and the game's Multiple Life Bars. They can also be mapped to the game's three classes, glaive, nano, and jack.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Queslin is a town on the Sere Marica that posts flyers advertising for workers throughout the Beyond. It's got the prettiest houses you'll ever lay eyes on, friendly and generous merchants, and a breathtaking view of the inland sea. None of which you'll ever see if you take a job there, since you'll be dragged into the salt mines, tied down, and force-fed saltfeed so that the leeches that will feed from your body will become savory enough for Queslin's masters to sell as snacks to nobles around the world.
- Toxic Phlebotinum: Carrying too many cyphers will kill you. Exactly how they will kill you is abstracted because there are so many different kinds of technology, and nobody knows enough science to determine the root causes for certain. A numenera could kill you with nuclear radiation, unchecked nanotech, psychic interference, alien laws of physics, or something as simple as lead-based paint.
- Tyrannosaurus rex: Jiraskars are T. rex-like creatures whose dim senses are augmented by their inborn ability to tap into the internet. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
- Van Helsing Hate Crimes: The Angulan Knights, for all the good they do, are profoundly uncomfortable with "visitants" (the non-human, non-hostile inhabitants of the Ninth World) and absolutely vicious in their attempts to wipe out all mutants, whether or not the mutants in question are actually doing anything wrong.