A long while back, I wrote a post about the elements of Numenera that I found intriguing; having now GMed a few sessions, I thought I might add a few additional words on the subject.
To provide a little context, I’ve started up a fairly open campaign, with a broad overarching plot, but also several sandbox elements. I’ve slipped in a few of the published Numenera adventures here and there, combined with a load of my own material.
The setting is magnificent for this sort of campaign; the world of Numenera is detailed enough to give a good starting point, but not so detailed that you feel you can’t insert a hefty amount of your own stuff. The whole concept of the past advanced civilisations makes it very easy lean towards either hard sci-fi or complete fantasy (or just mash both together) as you prefer. I’ve been pitching it at very soft sci-fi and it seems to be working out well so far.
The mechanics also work really well out of the box, with one exception that I’ll mention shortly. Players rolling for everything was not as difficult to adapt to as I thought it might be and because you don’t have to reveal the difficulty levels, it would still be possible to fudge things a little if necessary. We found the whole effort/edge calculation a little unwieldy to begin with, but it’s fine once you get your head around it and everything else is super easy to calculate.
One mechanic that I particularly like is the idea of spending effort. Previously I have never played a game that allowed you to decide a roll was important upfront (not saying there aren’t others out there, but I’ve not encountered them). I’ve played some games with bennies and such like that allow you to re-roll an important roll if you fail (Numenera has these too), but these are generally luck/fate mechanics; this is the first game I’ve played that you can decide beforehand that something is really important, so your character is going to try extra hard. Additionally, the fact that using effort comes from the same pools as damage is a really nice feature; it both makes sense (putting extra effort in will tire you out faster) and provides a nice resource mechanic as you have to balance a better chance of succeeding against keeping a buffer for if you fail.
The mechanic that I’m not a big fan of (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) is the rules for XP expenditure. According to the rules, XP can be spent on both short term benefits and character advancement; which I feel should really be two separate systems. Although the book suggests that a player who spends all their XP on short term benefits will be no worse off than one who spends their XP on character improvement, I don’t think that players will see it that way in practice; the first player isn’t going to look at the second player’s superior numbers/abilities and think, “Well, at least I got to re-roll a load of times”. Fortunately, these two systems are easily houseruled into “in game” XP for short term stuff and “between sessions” XP for character advancement.
Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out Numenera if you’re looking for something a little different… plus you’ve got to approve of any game that includes wi-fi enabled T-Rexs.