Numenera: The Orbital Ring

So today, I’m going to talk about a small bit of the Numenera setting, and where I think the writers of the Into the Night supplement missed an opportunity, perhaps intentionally. There is, as far as we know, only one Beanstalk – a space elevator created at some point in the prior worlds which manipulates gravity to keep itself in place as much as by any tensile strength of the Beanstalk itself. By the baseline canon, taking an elevator to the orbital end places one in a space station in geosynchronous orbit, no doubt having gradually changed its position as the Earth slowly braked to the 28-hour day of the Ninth World.

What I personally feel that they missed here was a chance to include an orbital ring – a torus habitat the size of the geosynchronous orbit, under immense strain from the shifts of the Earth, between the continental drift and the slowing rotation. The advanced materials of the lost civilization have kept it from tearing completely apart, but signs of the strain are evident – some sections have buckled or fractured, allowing the air to seep out, immense window panes have crazed as the panes holding them deform slowly, and the entire structure groans and creaks as the tidal forces on it keep shifting well beyond the bounds it was created to handle.

Why have such a thing in the Ninth World, rather than a simple geosynchronous station? Aside from the sheer area involved, it provides everything you could want from a space-side Numenera “dungeon crawl” situation. Structural damage, radiation seepage, areas with malfunctioning gravity generation or reliance on centripetal force for gravity, creatures evolved to survive in the strange environments available, and ample space for all kinds of encounters make such a ring a fantastic mini-world to adventure in and explore.

Perhaps the top of the Beanstalk is home to an entire thriving settlement of humans and other sapient creatures now adapted to life in the ring; it makes an ideal base of operations for enterprising players, particularly since the numenera of the ring are absolutely vital to making sure the settlement remains habitable, with clean air and potable water. Areas nearby are unlikely to be too dangerous, with patrols to keep the dangerous lifeforms and hostile automatons out, and ample warning of dangerous areas.

Farther out, the ring becomes a wild place, with entire strange ecosystems flourishing in places where the environmental controls have gone haywire, leading to zero-gravity jungles of alien-seeming life, teeming with predators superbly adapted to the conditions. Other areas, flooded when systems broke down, have created strange null-gravity lakes full of amorphous life and strange biological cyphers.

Traps exist, in the form of malfunctioning systems and deliberate creations of the more sapient inhabitants of the ring, and these can guard treasure troves of cyphers and artifacts. Some areas are the private fiefdoms of creatures that have painstakingly built a home, and who are unlikely to be happy to have visitors. Some areas might be on the verge of breaking down, offering GM Intrusions when the players do something to push an overloaded system just a little too far; sprays of crackling electrical energy, shielding collapsing to reveal the radioactive heart of machinery, or pressure walls blowing out are all dangers the PCs face.

Other rewards can be found; just as the first Amber Pope found an ancient machine mind when he teleported to an orbital fortress, the AIs that once watched over the ring can either still be functional, working desperately to keep their sections functional in spite of the entropy, completely mad after the errors in their software compounded too far, or dormant, waiting to be awakened by the curious probing of explorers. The wealth of information and hoarded resources such beings could bestow on the characters as rewards (or be found when dealt with) is nothing to be sneezed at.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for a Numenera game, almost everything about the ring can be considered a Discovery worthy of reward once found and understood. Exploring one of the greatest high-tech dungeons a planetary civilization could craft is certain to be rewarding, exciting, and perhaps even lead to a retirement as a wealthy and powerful individual blessed with the prizes of the ancients.

Numenera: The Orbital Ring

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