Thursday, January 23, 2014

Numenera Review

The illustrations are beautiful. The setting is evocative and lean toward genres I heavily enjoy. The character creation is intriguing and very much geared toward building a unique character rather than a simple collection of stats. The adventure links and PC connections are very useful for creating a coherent party from the get go.

I have not played it yet but there are some concerns. The first is that it is a d20 system. Flat curves tend to produce some annoying probabilities. If I get a chance to play it I would potentially run it as a 2d10 rather than a d20. This would have the effect of making difficulties of 4 or higher significantly more difficult, but also make it much less likely to roll less than 6. The reroll mechanic will help the flat curve a little, but flat curve systems still make things too random for my taste.

The other concern is the experience system. A friend noted that a player who doesn't get much opportunity to spend xp on rerolls will potentially be able to advance faster than someone who has to reroll a lot. The suggestion of splitting xp between a pool for rerolls and a pool of advancement has some merit but there will always be players that work against that resulting in somewhat lopsided parties.

Another potential for trouble is the granting of xp via GM intrusions. Not so much from the GM side, he just has to make sure to rotate who he intrudes on so that everybody gets some xp, but these intrusions allow the intruded player to grant xp to another player for whatever reason. In less stable groups this is very much a recipe for broken friendships. The system is intriguing, but it makes me want to suggest this game to more experienced and mature gamers. Because advancement has the potential to get quickly lopsided and accusations of one player favoring another to fly.

My last complaint is that, unlike most PDFs, this file is not readable on my kindle. This makes it difficult to do on the go viewing of the book such as on the train.

Overall the good points outweigh the bad points heavily and I want to play this system. It may seem otherwise from above, but believe me the good parts of the book speak for themselves. The character creation is a matter of three quick choices and then you're on to details. The combination of type, descriptor and focus allows for a wide variety of characters and lots of hybridization or specialization as you desire. You could have an intelligent nano who wields power with precision as a sort of archmage type character or a stealthy nano who works the back alleys as a sort of Mage-thief. Or you could have a charming nano who leads as the sort of inspiring Mage or priestess you find in some stories. The versatility is likewise among the glaives and jacks. You could have a lightning wielding warrior or an educated Jack.

The setting vividly evokes fantasy tropes but maintains the feel of a far future and scifi setting at the same time. The focus away from killing enemies is not unusual anymore, it's rather becoming the standard, but still refreshing to see. I like the fact that there is room for the individual GMs to make their own ruling on what the past worlds were like. A lot of settings right now tend to fill every space with a canon story leaving the individual players little room for their own stories. So having blank spaces in both the lore and the map is welcome.

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