Review: Numenera (Part 2) – Destiny

Discovery is the soul of Numenera, yes. But what do you do with what you’ve discovered?

With the second release of the Numenera core rules in Numenera: Discovery, the team at Monte Cook Games could have rested on their laurels. The game was, essentially, “complete”, or at least, as complete as it had been. The same core character types had been presented and updated, some feedback from years of actual play had been incorporated into the book and at least one new and interesting mechanic (Player Intrusions) had been introduced as a fundamental rule for players to use. But there was still more there. As Monte Cook says in the introduction to Destiny:

“In Numenera, characters explore the ruins of the past and discover wonders to help build a better future.”

Numenera: Destiny, page 4

Discovery focused on the first two-thirds of that sentence.  The last part, however, “build a better future”, had gone largely untouched in the first edition, and the first core book of the second edition.  Destiny deals with those last four words.  It is, in my opinion, a wholly different animal and something of a unique type of game addition among most role-playing games. It should be noted, however, that such branching out into “non-traditional” quest-based adventuring is becoming more and more common in role-playing games, much the same way as traditional board games branched out from Monopoly, Scrabble, and Sorry! in recent years, through games like Settlers of Catan, into what are now vast hordes of different and unique games.

Numenera: Discovery is all about forging a new life.  Mankind has begun exploring, they have started to figure out ways to use the remnants of the eight prior worlds.  Now, they must band together and use that new-found knowledge to build society anew.  From vast cities such as Qi to small villages in the Beyond and further, mankind’s Destiny is to build, to innovate, to grow, and ultimately, to thrive.  This book aims to provide a framework to help players do just that in their games.


Production Quality

Weighing in at 416 pages, Numenera: Destiny is the same quality of materials as I’ve come to expect from Monte Cook Games.  What I will add, however, is how impressed I am with the quality and variety of artwork that they consistently are able to produce.  Bear Weiter and the artists he uses seem to be able to, at least for me, capture both the weirdness of Numenera, but somehow the wonder of it all too.  Breathtaking expanses, sweeping captures of flight and the contrast in size between humanoid creatures and their surroundings remind one of the astonishment at looking at the stars for the first time through a telescope, or how I imagine it must feel to look out from the top of Everest.  The ability to capture such feelings in that artwork is to be commended because I personally believe that it adds quite a bit to the game when a player can be immersed in that.


Content

Most of this book is new, so I’m going to go into a little more depth on what is here for Numenera players than I did with Numenera: Discovery.  First and foremost are three new character types.  Two of these, in my mind, are evolutions from types presented in the second Character Options book for first edition.  The Arkus (in my head, the evolution of the Glint), is the face of a group.  A quick-talking con-man, a charismatic community leader (more on community later), a player’s party ‘face’ or negotiator, the Arkus is the undisputed master of the spoken word.  Where before, probably the class that did this the best was the Jack, new type abilities set players of an Arkus up to influence and provide leadership bonuses in ways that can not only change the course of a single encounter, but the course of an entire community.

Next up is the Delve (in my head, the evolution of the Seeker, also from the second Character Options book).  Part archaeologist, part adventurer, the Delve is a master at accessing hidden ruins of the past, exploring them, and then mining them for useful items from the past.  From cyphers, to artifacts, to the building blocks of Numenera, the iotum (more on this later), the Delve is a master of salvage, accumulating the raw materials and tools that a community needs to be able to deal with the fantastic and terrible challenges that the Ninth World brings their way.

Finally, there is the Wright.  A brand new class that is focused on construction.  When a community needs protection, sustenance, a place to sleep, a way to communicate, automatons to aid with the work, or anything else, it is the Wright who gets it done.  Taking direction from the community on what to build (including the Arkus), the Wright uses the raw materials that the Delve salvages to craft and create wondrous items for the community they serve.  Aided by information that they find in prior-world ruins in the form of plan seeds, these inventive few do more than use the Numenera as short-term benefits.  They apply deep understanding and ingenuity to craft the raw materials together into long-term use items that sometimes can span generations.

With 35 new class descriptors and 32 new foci, all of which can be used with existing Numenera: Discovery characters with no modification at all, there is a vast variety of new options, flavors, and tools to build new and unique characters for your games. Many of these were built with Numenera: Destiny style campaigns in mind, in other words, not simply exploration but community building and long-term, setting-driven, goal-oriented questing.

Next comes the new rules.  This is, quite frankly, where most people get caught up with Numenera: Destiny.  In order to do a deep character dive into building communities and physical villages/installations, it was arguably necessary to put together a series of rules covering high-detail salvage and crafting in many varieties.  There were already some generic crafting rules (see Numenera: Discovery, page 120-121), but they did not allow for much variety at all and since the weird is writ large in Numenera, there was always more for them to say on the subject.


Salvaging and Crafting

Section by Joann Walles

The rules for salvaging and crafting (comprising essentially Chapters 5 thru 10 of the Destiny book) are extensive, and this section is not going to be a primer on them. Instead, I’m going to focus on what they mean to me, both as a player and a GM. As an avid gamer for a large portion of my life of both video and tabletop role-playing games, Numenera opened a whole new world to me in the tabletop role-playing game industry. I spent countless hours in World of Warcraft, Everquest and Vanguard playing crafters and collectors.  If I was to compare the Numenera crafting to anything I would compare it to crafting in Vanguard. From the skill checks, to the sub-tasks, to the time consumed by it, it was never a fast process, however it gave wonderful results.

Focusing on Numenera, the salvage and crafting starts on page 106. At the bottom of page 109 is a very nice flow chart that walks you through how to salvage. Page 110 has a table of the salvage available in Destiny, with its name, level and the equivalency Io worth for each. This is useful when you have someone who is wanting to build a crafter like a Wright. These items are the key materials you need to build the specialty items, like cyphers, artifacts, installations, automatons, etc…

The crafting rules are a fair bit more complex than the salvaging ones. There are tables. Lots and lots of tables, and lists.  I’d recommend creating a file for personal use, that way you’re not having to crack open the books every time you need specifics. The side effect of doing this is that you will learn your way around the crafting section of Destiny in short order. I have an Excel (or in my case, Google Sheets) table that I use personally that makes it far easier for me.  The initial concept for using google sheets came from Maelfectious on the Cypher Unlimited Discord who had created a google sheet to help keep track of Iotum. I expanded from there for my own personal clarification and to make it more convenient for me based on the way I think.

You’ll notice that some items have a specific ‘component list’ or what you need to build it with, while others don’t (specifically Cyphers and Artifacts). Those are based on level, and you can find a template for each by level, with Artifacts on page 145 and Cyphers on page 153. I highly recommend bookmarking them both, or including them in your personal notes. With these being the primary two things that the other members of your group (like the Glaives or the Nanos) will be able to use for their characters.

The thing that I like most about the rules for crafting is that they allow for people who want to, to do more than ‘talk’ or ‘hit the thing’. However, on first read through, the rules can be more than a little daunting. It took multiple reads, and several sessions of watching people play, as well as playing myself before I felt like I was starting to get a handle on it. There is a mix of terminology and while a large amount seems to be carefully thought out and meticulously arranged mechanically, other parts seem to be the more free-form style that you would expect from a Monte Cook game.

I personally feel that the crafting section could benefit from having its own book, however I am exceedingly grateful for what we do have and the fact that we are more than welcome to build on it for personal use.  Additionally, we have been given even more options and ideas in the sourcebook Building Tomorrow, which we’ll be reviewing here on Angel’s Citadel in the future. For a bit of a more detailed look with some different observations, have a look at Koan Mandala’s excellent blog post on the Finer Points of Numenera: Destiny Crafting.


When I asked the designers of these systems, Sean K. Reynolds and Bruce Cordell about why they made crafting so involved compared to the rest of the resolution mechanics, Sean had this to say:

“Crafting is a slow process; you’re not going to be in the middle of a tense scene and wonder, ‘Can my character who has to spend 8 (or 24 or 100) hours of game time crafting this object succeed at this RIGHT NOW for the sake of the story?’ So it matters less to focus on ‘keeping the story moving.’

“The multiple rolls are in there to keep a character from just burning a lot of temporary buffs and Effort to succeed at one roll and make something that’s supposed to be really difficult. If the book or the GM sets an Assessed crafting Difficulty at 8, 9, or 10, it’s supposed to be something that’s hard to do. A low-tier character might manage to pull off one high-difficulty roll, but won’t be able to manage two or three of them, which keeps the crafting of ‘impossible’ items out of reach of characters the game designer/GM doesn’t want them to have yet.

“Allowing for multiple rolls on some things lets the GM introduce tension into a situation that might not normally have it, or allow a round-by-round progress tracking of crafting at a critical time, just like how combat is a round-by-round tracking. For example, if the rest of the group needs to hold off an army of abhumans so the Wright can complete a plot/narrative device, it’s more exciting if the Wright has to roll each round (just like the fighting characters are rolling) and gather a certain number of successes to complete it. As opposed to the Wright taking actions every round and not having a chance of success or failure until the very end when they make a roll … in that circumstance, the Wright player is just spending every turn doing the same thing with no tension to it.

“Speaking of routine tasks, the crafting system is set up so that the characters expecting to do most of the crafting (Wrights) will have a lot of assets and skill to make most of the crafting sub-tasks routine, and therefore you won’t be rolling too often. Take a Tier 1 Wright making a level 3 healing Cypher. Assessed Difficulty (AD) is 1 + Cypher Level = 4. The Wright is trained in Crafting Numenera, so that reduces the AD to 3. (Let’s assume they’re using a plan, so the AD isn’t increased for having to “wing it.”) So three sub-tasks, at difficulty 1, 2, and 3. Total crafting time for AD 3 is ~4 hours. The Wright’s skill in Crafting Numenera means that all of the sub-tasks are eased, so they’re difficulty 0, 1, and 2. The first one is routine, no roll. The second one, perhaps the Wright applies a level of Effort, reducing that one to difficulty 0, no roll. The third one is only difficulty 2, and the Wright could gamble on making that roll, or apply a level of Effort, reducing it to just difficulty 1. So for all of the crafting of this cypher, it’s just one roll.

In other words, we wanted the Wright to be able to craft a lot of things with zero or one rolls, right as a starting character. If the Wright gets help from another PC with the Crafting Numenera skill, that would reduce the difficulty of all sub-tasks by 1, so the difficulty becomes –1 (effectively 0), 0, 1, which means one level of Effort on the crafting roll means it’s a success. As the Wright advances as a character, they’ll increase their Crafting Numenera skill to specialized, pick up an ability like Adept Builder (at Tier 3) that reduces the assessed difficulty of their crafting tasks, or a follower at Tier 3 who is trained in Crafting Numenera (and therefore you always have an assistant who can help on the rolls), and so on.

Basically, by the time you’re a Tier 3 Wright, you should be specialized in Crafting Numenera and have some other ability or device that reduces the assessed difficulty by at least one step, which means the Tier 3 Wright is at least 3 eases better at crafting than the Tier 1 Wright, so they’re making level *6* healing cyphers (initial AD 7, pushed down to AD 4 with Adept Builder and skill specialization) and only have to roll once or twice (3rd sub-task = difficulty 3, which is eased by two steps for being specialized so difficulty 1, and you could spend a level of Effort (LoE) to make that routine; 4th sub-task = difficulty 4, eased by two for specialized so difficulty 2, spend two LoE and it’s routine). Creating a Level 6 cypher for a Tier 3 Wright should be trivial, just like hitting a Level 6 creature for a Tier 3 Glaive should be trivial (in both cases it’s trivial because of skill, equipment, and other special abilities). 

“If you’re playing a Wright, I strongly suggest that for everything you have a plan for (and therefore are probably making multiple times in the course of the campaign) you pre-figure the assessed difficulty and final difficulty of all sub-tasks. That way you know that your Tier 1 Wright making a Level 3 healing cypher with a plan is difficulty 0/1/2 and you know you can get that down to just one roll if you apply Effort—much in the same way that a Glaive player gets in the habit of saying “I rolled a 12 and my attack is eased by two steps, so that hits a level 6 defense.” In effect, the Wright player is sorta defining a custom ability for their character that says “Make Level 3 Cypher Using A Plan: Takes 4 hours, make a level 1 roll and a level 2 roll, requires iotum X Y Z.”

“So yeah, there’s number-fiddling in the crafting system, but the end goal was to give you a system that only requires one or two rolls if you’re building something you know how to build. Which is much like the simple Discovery crafting info, but interfaces with the iotum/treasure system and gives the GM a lot more guidelines so they can be comfortable deciding difficulties and times and such.”

Sean K. Reynolds (Facebook response to question from Josh Walles, Monday, June 29, 2020)

The section on setting details five new communities that you can build around, join, or lead.  There are more creatures, and more character templates (NPC’s) that are centered on the concept of community.  The next section is the other main rules addition, and it deals with GMing communities.  Much like everything else in Numenera, communities are set up and given a level from 1 to 10, they have a “health” value and then, potentially, modifications to that rank based on external factors.  With such things, there are now community actions as well that allow the GM to pit a community that the characters are interested in against another community, a monster or monsters, a natural disaster, a Numenera device or installation, etc…  The last chapter in this section (Chapter 30) is advice for the GM running a Destiny campaign and how it differs from the traditional Discovery one.

Four more adventures, that are either Destiny-based or Discovery- AND Destiny-based, have been included, with the first in particular, “The Door Beneath the Ocean” focused on helping new GM’s to get comfortable with some of the new rules and ideas in both Discovery and Destiny.  These adventures offer challenges for a wide variety of characters and tiers. In the appendix, Appendix A contains brief rules for vehicular movement and combat as well.


Critique

This book suffers from a similar issue to Discovery in that finding information using the index is difficult at times and there are several instances with rules in the sidebar (take for example, page 110 at the top left).  That aside, the general complaint with this particular book is solidly on the salvage and crafting rules.  With Sean’s response above, and my (and Joann’s) own reading of the rules, I think that a simple reorganization of the sections would greatly help to resolve those complaints.  Now, with that being said, I have not done the legwork to figure out what that would look like.  This is more a “gentle” criticism as when I offer critiques, I like to offer solutions as well.

Personally, it doesn’t seem that either of the systems for salvage or crafting is “difficult”, they are simply involved.  If you compare the process of crafting in particular to a full “combat”, it is fewer dice rolls.  In my head, the complaint is that it focuses only on one character.  One potential solution would be to take a page from Invisible Sun.  That game has a mode of play called “development mode” where the GM and an individual player (or at the most two), play a scene outside of the normal “session time” by themselves because what they are doing does not, strictly speaking, touch the other characters.  It allows for more personal character development, as well as dealing with resolving actions that would interrupt the group flow of in-session play.  Holding a “side session” is a useful way to deal with crafting tasks that, if the group feels like it is a burden on time, might take some intensive exchanges between a Wright player (or a crafting Nano) and a GM.


Summary

I’ll be honest, I have played in only one game that attempted to use the community rules from Numenera: Destiny.  I have played in and run several that have included classes from this book.  I love the new classes.  I love the idea of tying characters to a community and investing them in its growth.  The potential for different types of adventures, or hitting parties where it hurts (by having interesting and tragic things happen to NPC’s that they’ve invested time in helping), is vast.  Combining those types of adventures, with the possibility of “community need-directed” Discovery-style questing to find resources the community (and possibly your Wright) needs, offer vast potential for new and interesting campaigns.

I really like the idea of Numenera: Destiny.  For me, based on my past experience, the kind of gaming that this opened up was and still is, new and interesting to me.  The different types of stories that it allows a group to tell feel just as interesting to me as the ones in Discovery.  Allowing groups to stand against the wilds of the Ninth World and protect and foster new communities is something that feels very personal, very “desperate” in it’s frontier-like setting.  I hope you take the time to really look at Destiny and understand the ways in which it fundamentally opens up Numenera to a vastly different campaign feel that offers new ways to have fun in the Ninth World.  Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles (with the review of Salvaging and Crafting rules written by Joann Walles)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s