Today I’ll be continuing my review of Into The Deep for the Numenera system by Monte Cook Games; yesterday I just made it out of the introduction. On to Part One, on the Shallows region! First up: The Island of Undoing!
The Island of Undoing is a delightful place; it’s a giant mechanical flower that sits open to the sun during the day as it produces an eerie sirens’ call to anyone within a few miles of it, only to close up and slurp off some of the vital force of anything living on it at night. Those under the effect of the island’s song see the ocean turn a vivid red color, and most end up being food for marine life as they leap overboard in their haste to get to the island. Oddly, those with mutations find it easier to resist the call; having two or more mutations grants an asset in resisting it.
There’s a settlement at the center, built around a mechanism made of cloth and sewn lightning that provides immunity to the effects of the island’s life-drinking to those close enough to it. Competition to get to sleep in this area is pretty fierce, to say the least, and if it weren’t for a few mutants who go out of their way to keep the peace it’d likely be an anarchic bloodbath each night. Notably, while you can’t naturally heal the damage the island inflicts (a couple Might each night), other methods – cyphers, artifacts, and abilities from things like the Works Miracles focus – work just fine; if you want to make friends, offering to heal others of the life drain is a good way to get that goodwill; indeed, you’re not allowed into the settlement without donating something that can be used to make a healing or protective device.
There’s a cult (because there’s always a cult) that worships the island as a hungry god that sips their life so they can atone for past wrongdoings and show their faith. Most of them used to be missionaries for different gods, but their shipwreck on the island left them eager to adopt a more directly present divinity. One of them is a woman who has heard the island talking to her, and she claims the protective machine in the settlement is a blasphemous device that needs destroyed.
Flora and fauna of the island is interesting; most of the flora is comprised of metal-eating molds, but one plant grows a bulb of fresh water that makes it a useful resource. Soil is on the rare side, but ages of settling dust have created pockets of it in the hollows and pits of the metal. Fauna-wise, there are large lizards with multiple sets of legs that have evolved such that the island siphons vitality from the legs, with new legs growing as old ones wither away; spiders with biomechanical hearts that regenerate far faster than the island drains them; and faceless abhumans who are naturally immune to the island’s life drain.
The area under the island requires allowing the spiders to bite you; a day after being bitten, the area around the bite puffs up to match a pattern on one of the doors that are scattered around the island; at the point the victim can act as a living key. Below, there’s no life drain, but you have to contend with fire-breathing bats, blind canines, and tumbleweed-like automatons; the latter are the biggest reason to descend, and ‘dead’ ones can be disassembled to find useful parts.
The north side of the island has a cliff that occasionally rains whales; the resulting pile of rotten carcasses has resulted in one of the few truly verdant areas on the island, but you can find exotic plants and strange numenera among the rotting corpses. As for why the whales haven’t gone extinct yet, that’s a mystery not explored. Nearby, there’s a cove where ex-humans who’ve decided that making others suffer and die is a good way of life hang out. All in all, it’s not the best place to go, even if you discount the island’s life drain; the saving grace is that the exhumans are absolutely terrified of dry land other than their own beached ship, so they won’t chase you onto the island itself.
And from there, it’s on to the Drowned City of Cle! It’s got a short description as a city from a prior world that ended in a self-triggered cataclysm; the main draw is ongoing rumors that there are artifacts that grant immortality to be had in the remaining vaults. This, of course, is a trap – the devices in the city grant a form of immortality to the creatures that once lived here, transforming unsuspecting travelers into cleoids with the memories of those who died here.
There are a handful of explorers in Cle, all of them at risk of being turned into the shelled monsters who are really mad at the universe for driving them extinct. The city itself is sunken in the coastal seafloor, half-flooded, and does a very good job of conveying the impression of being a haunted ancient ruin. There’s a fair bet that the invisible corridors that permeate the ocean are the work of the cleoids, as the entire city has the same quality of being low-pressure, comfortable in temperature, and so oxygen-rich even air-breathers can survive in it.
Cle is best described as a dungeon, if one designed in the rules-light method of the Cypher System. Several new items are introduced as ‘tainted’ items that run the risk of transforming people into giant snail-crabs, including a cypher that causes any use of a cypher, artifact, or type/focus ability to cause the user to recover points to their pool for a full day. There’s a very real option to blow the entire city up, if players are of a mind to do so after witnessing some of the creepy horrors in store, or they can try to restore the cleoid race to the world and make a bid at making friends out of them. It’s unlikely, but players who don’t want to be dungeon-dwelling murderhobos might want to give it a shot; there are egg vaults containing eggs that are still in stasis. Hatch enough, and the PCs might be able to make friends with them and keep the angry ghosts in the tainted cyphers from gaining dominance.
The Nullified Harbor is the next stop; it’s a ship graveyard of mysterious origin. It’s rife with all kinds of marine life, although the invisible corridors don’t come anywhere near the place. PCs might come exploring here looking to study the creatures dwelling in the wrecks, or they might come looking to salvage numenera from the wrecks themselves. Either way, GMs should be ready to introduce clues to lead them ever-deeper, as an undersea cavern sits beneath the ship graveyard.
Plants that try to grapple swimmers for food, fish that drain power from devices they brush against, and more traditional predatory sea life dwell around the wrecks; there are also creatures called britners, whose eggs double as shins in most places due to their natural beauty. Try to discourage the players from poaching the creatures into extinction.
As for the harbor’s secret, if players find and pass through the correct objects on the seafloor, an ancient tongue-like apendage slurps them into a dry cavern beneath the ground, leaving them safe and sound on a platform that steadily restores and feeds them via prior-world technomagic; even a person on death’s door will find themselves fairly healthy within a few hours. More interestingly, the machinery can be adjusted to restore a character to their youth and greatly extend their natural lifespan; those who discover this secret may potentially become immortal, if they either stay here or manage to ensure that they make regular trips back and avoid dying to the interaction of the two semi-intelligent control systems that might pour deadly radiation into the room.
Joria! It’s a city on a giant crab that migrates around the ocean, really. The inhabitants are peaceful and shy, for the most part, and while the city is certainly novel, it mainly serves as an aquatic counterpart to the cities the players might find on dry land. There are a few interesting bits, but the best use for it it to serve as a home base for PCs exploring the ocean’s mysteries. Don’t upset the crab.
That’s it for part one! Next time we’ll move on to the Gloaming!