Last time, we saw a group building their characters; today, we’ll look behind the GM’s screen at how a Numenera adventure can be built, and how it differs from the more usual tabletop adventure design.
In most games, where XP is awarded based on defeating opponents in combat and a sizable chunk of the game book is deoted to the mechanics of combat, adventures tend to focus on the size and difficulty of the fights that will be encountered. Some do better at making things more complex than this, providing suggestions of how to bypass combat via social skills or providing the difficulty of various hazards like traps and environmental threats, but the rules for dealing with these alternate scenarios tend to be thin compared to the robustness of how to have a combat.
Numenera differs from this in that every encounter is effectiely broken down the same way; the GM assigns a level to the challenge, the level determines the target difficulty, and the players are free to try anything they want to achieve their goal. If they encounter a sentry robot in their way that’s stood in place for hundreds of thousands of years, they can attempt to see if they know anything about it, if there’s a known way past it, if it speaks a language they know, and even attempt to negotiate with it via pantomime. They can try sneaking by it, fighting it, recruiting it as an ally, tricking it into letting them by, or whateer other scheme they can devise.
Any of these could be worth XP in two different forms – the GM Intrusion, where the GM complicates the life of the players and awards the victim an XP to keep and an XP to share with another players, and the reward for discovery. Finding the robot sentry and determining that it’s active, then finding a way past without destroying the robot is very definitely worth XP for the party, with perhaps an extra point tossed in for the PC who came up with the successful idea or whose idea made the GM laugh the hardest.
As a result, when Pat looks over the list of characters and goals the players have, the first things that stand out are Susan’s drive for vengeance, Allie’s desire to explore the world and naive lack of understanding of the dangers around her, and the desire Chris has for new devices to study and understand. As such, a few things about Guran are instant hooks – it’s a town with mysteries about things that are missing, and a surplus of numenera oddities in the form of the blue baubles that crashed the town’s economy.
Pat sketches out the presence of a Convergence member in the town – not the person that Susan is hunting, but someone downstream from them, reporting to them through a few layers of control. This operative is in the town looking for the secrets of the past, starting with the strange headless statue known as She and the supply of blue baubles that litter the street. In Pat’s version of the game, She will be the currently-nonfunctional reader and projector for the data stores in the baubles – nearly indesctructible archives from a forgotten civilization, containing the entire store of their knowledge, if only the correct baubles can be located and fed to She for reproduction – and if She can be repaired and reactivated.
Allie’s desire to explore ties in with the Convergence agent needing more baubles and buried parts hidden in the bauble mines; exploring the mines and the dangers they pose will play a significant part in the campaign itself. The agent – a young-looking man secretly nearly a century old, his cover being making a living as a crossel berry farmer – will directly tie into the first few adventures, as he keeps a nightmarish creature he terms a neurovorg in his basement and sends it to store or retrieve supplies from the mines. Susan will be familiar with the terrible beasts, giving her a clear sign that the Convergence is active in the town.
Inside the mines are ancient machines, mostly buried in the mountainside, mostly unoperative; most can be salvaged for a cypher or two, in capable hands, but the real treasure is at the back of the mine, where a wall of indestructible amber-like material has been uncovered. In truth, this is the lower reaches of the Amber Fort, a ‘haunted’ ruin in the mountains north of Guran, a location that was once like the Amber Monolith that helped forged the Order of Truth, but the gravity-defying machinery failed it ages ago, leaving it fallen until it became entombed in the crust of the world. A thoroughly deranged AI dwells inside it, able to fitfully interact with She and the baubles.
PAt notes this all down, and marks that the very first event after the first bit of general faffing about the game will be Susan and Allie waking in the middle of the blue-tinged night to see the unsettling spider-hound shape of the neurovorg skittering out of the village, north toward the mines. Most of the adventure assumes they’ll pursue, but Pat notes that if they try to backtrack it, they’ll be able to identify the general area of town it came from – an area near the morgue where it apparently leapt off a roof. The neurovorg is a level 4 creature, but the darkness and often-stirred dust raise the difficulty two steps, making counter-tracking it a level 6 challenge.
Tracking it to the mines should be trivial, as Susan is trained in tracking things and the neurovorg wasn’t trying to obscure itself. Simply getting inside is a problem, as the mines have been barricaded to keep people out; the creature is flexible, and squeezed through a space hardly large enough for a human child, but for the players the barrier is a level 5 challenge to get through. Bypassing this will get them into the maze-like network of the mines, where tracking the neurovorg becomes significantly more difficult. Defunct machinery emerges from the walls, giving the nanos a chance to scavenge cyphers if they feel the need to do so.
There’ll be four primary challenges inside the mines; trying to find the neurovorg is a level 8 tasks, so the group isn’t likely to have much luck, but if they do they can confront and defeat the creature, robbing the agent of his best tool early in the camapign. They’ll encounter a still-powered doorway, locked against intrusion, which can be defeated with a level 4 Intellect test to defeat the locking mechanisms; the door can be salvaged for a few cyphers, if anyone wants to try, but that’s a level 6 tasks that risks dealing 6 Might damage if it fails. They can find multiple fragments of an etched map – the rough exploration of the Amber Fort’s upper leels, essentially backed up here by the agent in case his primary map goes awry; deciphering the map and figuring out what it’s a map of is a series of level 4 Intellect checks.
The last of the mine’s challenges is encountered on the way out – one of the people who’ve gone missing in recent months is a young woman who went exploring in the mines with her friends; they ran afoul of the neurovorg, with the creature neatly disabling the other two with drug injections, but the girl escaped only to stumble into a pool of nanites that tried to ‘repair’ her to interface with the deranged Fort AI. Now, she’s a vaguely humanoid creature surrounded by flickering holographic images with dozens of staring, bloodshot eyes all over her body, staggering through the mines and trying to process the orders being fed to her by the AI. The neurovorg avoids her, having learned the hard way that she’s become immune to the drugs it uses thanks to the nanites. The ‘Eye Man’ is a level 5 encounter that can go any number of ways; while she can certainly be fought and killed to free her of her burden, the Ninth World is a vast place with seeming miracles. If the nanites can be purged from her system and her body regenerated, they can restore the girl to herself and gain an ally with extensive knowledge of the Fort’s dangers buried in the depths of her mind.
Also in the mine are a few explorer’s packs and a rolled-up bundle of notes in a level 10 cipher that are coded communications between the agent and his direct superior; later events will let the notes be more easily read, but for now they’re a tantalizing mystery for the players. Upon return to the town, the group can make plans to hunt for the neurovorg, if they never found it or it escaped, explore more of the town, investigate She, and/or plan their first excursion to the Amber Fort, an event that will draw the attention of the agent to them.
Pat notes that everyone should get 4 XP for completing the adventure, plus whatever they acquired from GM Intrusions, and that killing the Eye Man will make future adventures notably harder, then closes the prep notebook.
And there’s the outline of a full adventure; next time we’ll go over a few possible creatures that might be encountered during the adventure, including the neurovorg and the agent!