Review: Numenera Character Options 2, Part III

Today I’ll be continuing my review of the newest sourcebook for Numenera, Character Options 2. Today I’m continuing through the Descriptors section of the book, picking up at location-based Descriptors. I apologize in advance, as there’s one where I may rant just a tad.

The location-based Descriptors come in two flavors – ones related to specific places in the Ninth World, drawn primarily from the Ninth World Guidebook, and ones that are generic in nature to allow you to be from a particular type of place without it being one of the familiar locales.

The Desert-Dwelling descriptor is definitely a situational one; if you’re going to be in arid regions or facing off against challenges where food and water are scarce and the environment is uncomfortably hot, you might want to consider it. In addition to a Might boost to represent your hardiness (an aside: is this really the only way you can reliably represent hardiness in something as versatile as the Cypher System? Really?), you double the time you can go without food and water, are trained in resisting the heat (and have +2 armor against heat-based damage), and are trained at finding food and water. On the other hand, you have inabilities for tasks involving resisting cold-based damage, swimming, and handling watercraft.

Want to be a Gaian trying to convince the people of the Steadfast of the cliche danger lurking elsewhere in the Ninth World, or just a cool beastmaster kind of character? The book has you covered; being a Gaian is a fairly nice deal, granting a boost to both Intellect and Speed, as well as giving you training at interacting with, caring for, and training animals. There are no inabilities here; as long as you’re interested in what it offers it’s a good pick. I wouldn’t mind picking it, although the quasi-hippie vibe of the Gaians could get old quickly if you’re not careful to flesh the character out.

And now, the Vralkan Descriptor. Here we go. See, there’s always one race in a RPG that fills the role of That One Horribly Wicked Group. Some, like the drow of D&D and the dark elves of Everquest, are simple over-the-top evil for the sake of evil. Some, like the Vralkans, have some thought and justification put into them. Unfortunately, they’re still the One Horribly Wicked Group. Vralkans, if you don’t have the Ninth World Guidebook, live in a phenomenally inhospitable land, have a savage warrior culture, and are – of course – looking to invade the soft and pleasant lands of the Steadfast. I appreciate that MCG made a point of making it clear that workers are well-treated because you need the workers well-fed and healthy to do their jobs properly, and in the hands of a good player or an excellent GM they could see use. Most people, however, are going to go straight for either Drizzt Do’Urden or else barbarian Nazis. Vralkans get a Might bonus, deal extra damage when fighting wounded foes, are trained at finding food and water, and have an inability for all pleasant social interactions. We’re mostly missing some savage warcry ability here, really.

Okay, moving on. Racial Descriptors! These are ways to play particularly nonhuman characters. You’d think the Extraterrestrial and Ultraterrestrial ones would be here, but they’re not.

Artificially Intelligent is somewhat appealing to me; the idea of playing a sapient machine is something that speaks to me as a transhumanist. It’s a loaded Descriptor, too – you gain a bonus to all three pools and a point of Armor, but Recovery checks for resting only affect your Intellect pool. You’re immune to things that target organic creatures and items, but you’re vulnerable to things that affect inorganic items, including things that disrupt other machines. All positive social interactions are made two steps harder due to how strange you are and how hard it is for you to relate to squishy sacks of water and carbon.

Orrmyl are nteresting; ultraterrestrial in origin, they all look like the same human woman, even though they all have different minds. The have no sense of sight, but have a cloud of particles around them that permit them total sensory awareness within a short range. They have a fair boost to the Intellect pool, they’re trained at blending in with humans and crowds, and they can see absolutely perfectly out to short range while being completely blind beyond that point. They also don’t tend to get along with one another and prefer the company of humans; you could imprint any number of goals and attitudes on these creatures, particularly since there’s no promise that they’ll have a gender identity at all, much less one matching their appearance as a human woman. Want to explore that notion a bit, play an Orrmyl. Just try to be considerate if you have a transgender or non-binary player at the table with you, and don’t be a jerk, okay?

While some of the other Descriptors certainly look fun, this is a look at the highlights, aside from my issue with the Vralkans. Come back next time as I head over into the chapter on the new Foci!

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Review: Numenera Character Options 2, Part III

4 thoughts on “Review: Numenera Character Options 2, Part III

  1. Ludovic Mercier says:

    Racial descriptors are possibly perhaps one of the only things that bugs me with Numenera. Mechanically, I think I understand why that can be a thing.

    But to a degree, I feel like they are almost as if a mean to basically…. “pigeonhole” anybody not from the steadfast or the Beyond proper?
    Like a lot of them feels like they imply that “all Gaians fit the Gaian descriptor”, “all Varjellen have the same mindsets”/etc.

    Which to a degree feels almost like a disservice to the philosophy behind the descriptor/type/focus system. You can have an human that is a Though Glaive who Entertains, or one who is a Clever Jack who Howls at the Moon…. but “technically” you cannot have a “Charming Varjellen Jack who controls magnetism” or a “Learned Varjellen Glaive who Talks to Machines”. They both have to be “only” Varjellen Jacks and Glaives who perform their respective foci.
    I know this was likely done out of balance because many of the “abilities” under the racial descriptors would be a case of “too much stuff” when combined with regular descriptors but it feels like it mechanically implies all characters of a race as almost one dimensional or basically imply they can only exists as the “token visitant”(or other race/locator) of the group since you can’t have two visitants of the same species in the group and have them nonetheless have different descriptors.

    Ultimately it doesn’t prevent me from liking the game, but thematically it feels like it clashes a little with its ideals when it comes to character creation.

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    1. Kassil Roshah says:

      You’re absolutely correct; they feel like a stopgap method of introducing nonhuman entities into a game system that was meant to really only have humans played save as the occasional oddball. If I were doing it, human would also be a racial descriptor, and the character line would include a species tag; a charming human glaive who works miracles, a tough varjellen nano who needs no weapons, and so on.

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  2. I couldn’t agree with Ludovic more. Should be able to combine Descriptors WITH Race. We have come up with a quick way to let you do this, if interested:
    http://connorscampaigns.wikidot.com/cypher-house-rules

    I have also seen Race/Species done as Flavors. Not a bad idea. When you take the Flavor, you have to take the basics (which needs to inc Inabilities), and then provide more options.)

    I didn’t really quite follow your ‘rant’ re vralkans – maybe you cut it back too much? Were you just upset that every list of races needs a baddy?

    I have enjoyed the reviews so far. We keep lists on our website for all Descriptors, Types, FOci etc if ppl are interested. Seems I need to get this book and add a few more.

    Really pleased to see the 2 new types added. (We also generated a Face Flavour so you can add a bit of Speaker to all other Types – just as other flavours allow for adding a bit of other Types).

    Anyway, this sounds like another very interesting CS product. Not unusual. Their production values are fantastic, and my groups have really taken to this system 🙂

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    1. Kassil Roshah says:

      My problem with the Vralkans is that they’re the requisite caricature of evil. They exist solely for the sake of being an outlandishly Baddie McBad group, existing under nonsensically hostile conditions as an excuse for them being Baddie McBad.

      I’m _fine_ with horrible cultures and vile organizations existing; I want them to make sense to the setting and system, and the Vralkans fail me on this. They’re horrible because they live in a harsh climate with limited resources, and yet despite the harsh climate and limited resources they’re going to be a huge threat as a monolithic culture of war and bloodshed.

      They are, in essence, a caricature of what they could have been – a nuanced and interesting look into the kind of regimented society that might form under such conditions, harsh and rigid but ultimately ruthlessly egalitarian because they need everyone to survive and prosper for any of them to survive and prosper.

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