Ran my first game of Numenera last night. Character creation is quick and easy, but you have to be a bit careful as you go through to hit and understand every point. Weapon skills, for instance, work differently from other skills (not sure why) in that you start at a negative, and then train up to no modifiers before getting the usual modifiers. Also, since each of the three aspects (adjective, noun, and phrase) can overlap in certain areas, you need to go through each carefully to make sure you note everything, plus sometimes hopping back-and-forth to avoid redundancy. Even at our level of inexperience and with flipping around in the book, we went from concept to completed character in something like a half-hour.
The mechanics are fairly simple, but nearly all of it is in the hands of the players. This can cause some confusion. I’m working on a cheat-sheet of ways to lower target numbers for my players. Hopefully that’ll make things run more smoothly, though honestly they ran pretty smoothly last night.
double-jeopardy of stat pools being both dice-roll modifiers and hit points. They were quick to utilize the environment to help them avoid dangers and to pit monsters against each other Harryhausen-style.
And yeah, Numenera has a definite old-school feel. It promotes rulings over rules. Its rules are fairly simple and few in number. There’s not much emphasis on gear (weapons, for instance, are categorized as small, medium, or large and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about them; in the mechanics of combat, there’s no difference between an axe, a saber, and a spear). A monster’s stat line looks like this: steel spider [level 3(9), health: 9, Damage 3, Armor, see page 260]. As stated above, it encourages lateral thinking. The setting is atmospheric but also wide-open. And a good game requires an interesting locale.
Mechanically, the cyphers are central to the game. They provide most of the weird feel (so I think we’re going to see a lot of new ones, especially from folks who like a lot more weird in their games) as well as the best options for lateral thinking and planning.
But beyond them, the rules are not terribly interesting in-and-of-themselves. They do their job and then get out of the way. So if you’re used to running games where manipulating the rules largely is the game (3e and 4e, I am so looking at you), you’re likely to find Numenera a little flat there. Hell, I found Numenera a little flat there, and I tend to run Labyrinth Lord.
Mr. Cook calls Numenera a game about exploration. I think he’s right, but he certainly doesn’t mean it the way old-school D&D is a game about exploration. Numenera isn’t about logistics, encumbrance, or keeping strict time records. It is about solving problems through clever use of one-shot wonders, powers, and the environment.
And that means your Numenera game will largely rise or fall on the quality of your adventures. Interesting places with intriguing, open-ended challenges that give your players lots of room to play should be the order of the day. Think more Myst’s intellectual playgrounds and less of tactical challenges, linear stories, or even the dependable ol’ five room dungeon. A good Numenera location, whether it be an ancient ruin, a skyship, or a royal court, needs to be full of opportunities for players to be clever and challenges that encourage them to be so.
Yeah, ok, that’s rather vague, and I’m still teasing out just what that means in terms of location design, though at this point I’m pretty sure you should be designing locations more than adventures.