Numenera: Torment – The Explorer’s Guide, Part 1

So this week I’ll be reviewing a product not yet released; the folks at Monte Cook Games have asked me to review their upcoming sourcebook, called Torment: Tides of Numenera—The Explorer’s Guide. It was built as a tabletop supplement drawing off the upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera video game by inXile. Key points right now: this book isn’t a guide to the video game, a hint book, or meant to be a replica of the video game into a book format. The only thing you need to use it is the Numenera core book and the standard array of tabletop materials.

Section One of the book is essentially just two short introductory chapters; an introduction from the Creative Lead of the video game, Colin McComb, about what they were trying to accomplish with their project, and a description of the sourcebook itself and what it’s about. The video game project is built around the process of asking a question: “What does one life matter?” I expect most tabletop gamers of any campaign longevity will be familiar with this idea – how much impact can a single life have on the world? In the face of an entire world, with deep history and complex societies, how much can a single person and their deeds mean? And we of course know there’s an answer – that at the right time and place, one person can make all the difference in the world, changing the course of history entirely. In a way, that’s what tabletop games are for.

But anyhow, on to the rest of the book. Section Two gives us the setting, broken down across ten individual chapters and around 100 pages. The first chapter seems to cover the region as a whole; known as Greater Garravia, it’s a fair-sized region broken up into eight smaller sections. It was once largely ruled by one of those, the Sargus Protectorate, but circumstances have diminished that to a much smaller footprint. The only things binding these eight areas into a common group are the volatility of the weather – apparently the result of a prior-world device known as the Machine Heart and a creature-location known as the Bloom – and the presence of what, in Numenera terms, is referred to as ultraterrestrial influence. Everything is shot through with transdimensional effects and technology, the remnants of the prior-world civilizations that held sway here. The only common landmark that a Steadfaster would share with Garravians is the Clock of Kala, although the people here known it as the Orbit of Oyria.

A few people known of both the Steadfast and Greater Garravia, and a few ways exist to travel between the two; a road that shines silver in the night, a statue in the Southern Wall that transfers you across a four-day span, a man with a mostly-tame flock of tetrahydras who makes a yearly trip between the two. We also get a bit on the local precursor group, a nasty bunch known as the Tabaht, who have weapons designed for maximum bloodiness and one of their lost leaders apparently alive, well, and build a new Tabaht to reconquer the region.

Because this is just an overview of the book, I won’t be dipping into much detail on the rest of the setting chapters, but I will brush across each. The Sagus Protectorate, first of the specific regions, is comprised largely of the city that once served as the capital, Sagus Cliffs, and the adjacent transdimensional predator-city, the Bloom. One of the more interesting bits is the Reef of Fallen Worlds, a literal reef of technological detritus at the base of the cliffs; I’m sure an enterprising GM could build multiple campaigns out of exploring the Reef. There’s also a temporally unstuck clock with a hidden secret inside and a cult that likes to hang out nearby to recruit people in the Circus Minor part of the city, as well as veterans of a psychic war that engulfed the city for a time, unknown to anyone else, who live on the cliffs themselves. The entire city is detailed, each district or area covered in fair detail, along with the sidebar tidbits that made Numenera so much fun to read.

It would be remiss to not at least mention the Bloom, the slowly-crawling psychic predator-city that slowly traverses the cliffside alongside Sagus Cliffs, heading for the sound. A massive engineered thing, it grows and changes, reaching across realities and boring passages between places and worlds. It feeds on predatory thoughts, minds, and creatures, subtly encouraging those who live inside its twisted ways to become predators themselves before subsuming them. Feed it well, and it can open a way for it, or close one. Be incautious, and be consumed by it. It gets at least as much space in the book as Sagus Cliffs, and might be even more interesting in sum. It’s definitely in-theme with the Deep Weirdness that defines Numenera itself.

Not too far off, there’s even a ready-made dungeon: the Valley of Dead Heroes, which contains a necropolis as old as the fallen worlds. It contains everything from ancient wisdom and potent artifacts to a gateway to a parallel reality with an eternally hungry horror that likes to feed on psychic creatures over all others. Quite the dungeon crawl waiting to be had here.

The next chapter is on the Lost Sea; you’d do well to bring a way to get fresh water, as the Lost Sea is indeed lost; the area is a massive desert enclose by a circular ring of mountains, with only the contained water at the center that marks the aquatic city of M’ra Jolios at the center. True to the transdimensional theme of the sourcebook, the lost Sea is a region where space confounds those who try to travel in it, twisting them around and sending them crossing their own trails time and again before they can draw close to M’ra Jolios or the air-breather settlement in its shadow. It was, once, a fertile valley, even with space being twisted up, but a catastrophe ate everything away, leaving only the aquatic city and a vast bowl of dust behind. Rivers spring from nowhere in the southern mountains, and rains fall from nowhere over the desert itself, both of them more evidence of the warping of space that permeates this portion of the Ninth World.

The inhabitants of the aquatic city are almost all unique, with a wild variation of form, hue, and motivation among them. Some can speak Truth, having learned it in order to be gracious hosts to air-breathers that come to visit, but all of them are telepathic. Were they more aggressive toward humanity and living in a different part of the Ninth World, they’d be considered abhumans; here they’re simply the Ghibra. One interesting tidbit is that the city’s cemetery – a reef deep in the city’s heart, almost completely blocked from the sun’s light – is also the communal spawning grounds, where any Ghibra who lay eggs come to do so. It’s a juxtaposition of life and death that says a lot about the philosophy of the aquatic creatures that live here.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue through this chapter, touching on the city outside the aquatic settlement, Jerboa, and the other locations of the Lost Sea; past that, we’ll see what else the region has in store for us!

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Numenera: Torment – The Explorer’s Guide, Part 1

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