I remember as a young boy when I was old enough (it was released when I was four), watching Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, and Cindy Morgan face off against David Warner in the movie classic, Tron. It was the lights that fascinated me. The blues of the memory discs and the light cycles. The reds of the recognizers and the grid tanks. Personal computers were becoming a thing in my life, from the Commodore 64 that we owned to the Apple IIEs that we had in our library at school for use. The idea that they offered a whole world within fascinated me and I dreamed about the grid. Years later, with the power of a modem, first dial-up (I still cringe at that sound), and eventually broadband and wireless, that dream was almost a reality with much of the information in the world, literally, at my fingertips.
Later, movies like The Lawnmower Man, the Matrix Trilogy, and even a return to the grid in Tron Legacy reminded me of that feeling. I found it when I discovered William Gibson and his Sprawl Trilogy. I found it in Shadowrun, creating deckers (or hackers depending on which edition you’re playing) to run the Matrix even as I was frustrated with the complexity of the rules and the intrusiveness of those scenes on the flow of the game. Now, Bruce Cordell and Sean K. Reynolds have tried to bring that feel back into the setting of Numenera with Voices of the Datasphere, the first book from the latest Numenera Kickstarter, Liminal Shores (funded September 13, 2019).
This book, like the others we have seen from Monte Cook Games is the pinnacle of quality. Beautiful artwork, bound in quality materials, with an excellent layout aesthetic combine to offer a consistent presentation that the reader will find familiar moving from product to product within their lines. The inks and pages are crisp and do not smear, ensuring that the product retains its quality through use. Once again, Bear Weiter, Monte Cook Games’ Art Director has used their winning formula to good effect, creating a product that sticks in one’s memory.
Part one of this book details a new realm that the denizens of the Ninth World can visit: the Datasphere. Previously, only a conceptual space that was a remnant of prior worlds’ advanced data storage and processing capabilities to most Ninth Worlders, now we have discovered a way not just to access reliably, but to actually enter the Datasphere in very much the same way Kevin Flynn entered the Grid and Neo entered the Matrix. By using a process called datascribing, characters in the Ninth World can cross over to this realm that is as tangible and dangerous as anything they have yet experienced, and begin to plunder it’s very real, and very weird, secrets.
Chapter 1 gives a brief introduction to the Datasphere as a location, describing how, especially if you are not familiar with some of the inspirational material that went into the idea (listed helpfully on page 4 in the Introduction), this location is conceptually different than other areas that players may have explored in the Ninth World. Chapter 2 begins discussing how you get to (datascribing) and from (realscribing) the Datasphere and the accompanying rules modifications that deal with those mechanics including what happens to equipment the character may be carrying and how carried objects change (or don’t) after transitioning, how different foci and abilities look/react differently in the Datasphere, and some of the new rules that apply while there like death (spoiler: it’s not necessarily the end). There is, additionally, a 3-page example of play that walks the reader through some of the new concepts and mechanics in a demonstrative story format.
Chapters 3 through 6 deal with some of the more abstract concepts of the Datasphere: Voices, Dataspaces, Vertices and Nodes, and Glimmers, the latter of which was touched on some in the Numenera: Discovery Corebook (page 43, 148, and 355, sidebar). Much of this is setting, lore, and general information to help GMs get a feel for what things in the Datasphere look and act like and to give them things to pattern their own creations off of. There are several, fully-fleshed out locations in Chapter 5 that a GM can simply drop into their campaign for the players to explore. Even for those who do not (or do not yet) wish to delve into the Datasphere, Chapter 6 discusses Glimmers in more detail, helping a GM think about how to craft their own that could be of use for players in the “real world”.
Part 2 of the book discusses the numenera. Chapters 7 and 8 cover Cyphers and Artifacts, both new ones that are found in the Datasphere and what to do with numenera that crosses the boundary. Chapter 9 touches on vehicles in the Datasphere and some of the unique considerations for transportation and the implications of crossing the boundary with them. Chapter 10 discusses glitches, in other words, things in the Datasphere that are not functioning as they ought. It gives several tables for random such glitches as well as discusses how such things could potentially affect characters both in the Datasphere and upon leaving it.
Part 3 deals with creatures, both creatures native to the Datasphere (Chapter 11) and what happens if creatures from the real find their way into the Datasphere (Chapter 12). Part 4 is a pair of short, but full adventures to get GMs and players started on their journey into the Datasphere. Finally, the Appendix has a section that helps GMs and players understand how to deal with how real world abilities that characters have work and look in the Datasphere as well as a glossary of the new terms used in this book.
The biggest critique I have of this particular sourcebook is Chapter 3, Voices. It is two pages long and discusses a topic that is both unique to and has the potential to profoundly shape the GM and players’ understanding of the Datasphere. It needs, begs for more detail, examples even. With Chapter 5, there are several example locations that are wonderful and beautifully descriptive. In addition to that, the Kickstarter unlocked a whole book entitled… Vertices, that I’m assuming is going to give us even more locations to play with (and hopefully some introductory nodes on the other side of them) Voices needs the same treatment. An example or two in this chapter that a GM could use to, as I so often like to call what I do, riff off of would be invaluable, especially as we are to:
“Think of the voices as the weirdest potential of the numenera.”Voices of the Datasphere, page 34
Those that have followed us for a while and those that know me know that I am an unapologetic Monte Cook Games (and particularly Numenera) fan. I was immensely grateful that I was able to back this Kickstarteer at the level I did. It was the very first Kickstarter that I have ever had the available money to back (I have since backed more, both from Monte Cook Games and from other companies). I have been excited for these books since I first saw the Kickstarter. Bruce and Sean did not disappoint. Voices of the Datasphere gives a whole new level of play for GMs and players, and a new way for them to interact with the Ninth World, and as a Numenera GM and player myself, I am excited to test out the potential that it holds. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles