I’ve discussed things that I love about Numenera before, but as we move towards the end of my campaign, I’m going to mention a final three that I’ve observed over months of playing…
1) The effort mechanic
I’d mentioned this previously as a concept that I liked, but having seen it in play, I like it even more. I still appreciate it for the original reason; that it’s a good way the players can proactively decide which rolls are important to them, rather than retroactively with re-rolls. However, I’ve also discovered that it serves as a good attrition mechanic in low combat games. I’d originally been concerned that without a lot of combat, players’ stat pools would be large enough never to have any concern, but now that they’ve embraced the effort mechanic, those pools rapidly disappear during heavily roleplay based sessions, leaving the characters just as drained as a session with lots of combat.
2) It’s easy to make up enemies on the fly
My players did something a little unexpected last session; they went to a castle (expected) in a flying airship (unexpected). I’d originally planned the castle to be deserted, as that was how they’d left it last time they were there, but since they were coming in with an armed vessel, I thought it would be amusing for a token force to have moved into the castle. The combat was conceived in about ten seconds, enemies were statted up in another few seconds and the fight played out in about five minutes. This was super easy because basic enemies – enemies without special abilities or particular requirements – boil down to a single number… the mercenaries were level three, which gave them nine health (three times their level), and everything else is fluff. I’d never have bothered throwing something like that into a more mechanically heavy system, as it wouldn’t have been worth the setup time; in Numenera, you can just chuck it in.
3) You can give the characters access to crazy stuff that they can only use once
You can do this in any game of course, but you’d need a solid reason why their new discovery can’t be replicated or why they can only use their new weapon of power in this one situation, whereas Numenera actively runs on this principle. Quite near the beginning of the game, I gave my players access to a device that could depopulate a large population centre… once. They haven’t used it yet on moral grounds, but if they did, it would not ruin the game because they wouldn’t have access to it again; it would be a one off event in a larger campaign that would probably have very interesting (and hence entertaining) consequences. They had brief access to the datasphere (all information, everywhere) while in space… not a problem, as they’re unlikely to get back up there; they had the ability to turn one creature to stone… they used it wisely and saved themselves a tough fight; their brief foray into the future was due to a weird confluence of events that will probably never occur again… unless I want it to. This frees me to provide pretty much anything I think will be fun, without worrying that I’m going to regret it for the rest of the campaign.
Overall, Numenera was a bold experiment when it first came out, with a very different approach to RPGs… that experiment has produced excellent results and I’d recommend any keen roleplayer to check it out.