I remember when I first read Numenera. The setting captured my imagination in a way nothing had since Dungeons & Dragons when I was a young boy. The blend of the familiar and the weird, and the way it was both incomprehensible and evocative at the same time. It was unlike anything that I had ever read, except perhaps Planescape to which it owed a bit of history and probably some of its essence as well. Now, Bruce Cordell and Sean K. Reynolds have tried to bring that feel back into the setting of Numenera with Liminal Shore, the second book from the latest Numenera Kickstarter, Liminal Shores (funded September 13, 2019).
This book, like the others we have from Monte Cook Games is of excellent physical quality. Line consistency continues to be a hallmark of Monte Cook Games’ products and Bear Weiter does it well. The inks and pages are crisp and do not smear, ensuring that the product retains its quality through use. The thing that sticks in my mind in this book, however, is specifically the setting art pieces (as opposed to just the character art). The visual representation of the Liminal Shore is profoundly evocative, and I find myself eager to carve out time to dream of where and how I can fit this beautiful imagery into my Numenera games.
I am going to attempt to review this without giving any major spoilers (that’s actually harder than it looks because I really want to talk about some of this stuff here…). Part 1 of the book deals with the metagame of exploring the Liminal Shore. It discusses the conceptual reality of what the Liminal Shore is and what can be found there, including the strange and unique energy source called Kai and the many organisms that use it. It covers what the players will likely find in-game when they first arrive and how that initial interaction with the setting might play out, along with the rules and structure for such (including Kai advancements which function much like Flavors from the Revised Cypher System Rulebook and a new Focus: Watches over the Shore).
Part 2 begins the discussion of setting. Chapter 4 discusses ways to reach the Liminal Shore. Chapters 5 through 7 discuss the setting. I will pause my typical, clinical review here and state that the 46 pages of content in this section took me completely by surprise. It is bizarre in the very best way, offering a new feel to Numenera that is equal parts shockingly alien and wondrously strange and I can’t wait to dip my fingers into it in more detail from the viewpoint of adopting it into my games. Set up much like the Numenera: Discovery corebook or the Ninth World Guidebook, each region covered is described with a block of text at the end containing some examples of hearsay and the weird of the area that a GM can use either wholesale or as a thought-seed to springboard their own ideas off of.
Part 3 deals with the new Cyphers and Artifacts that are unique to the Liminal Shore, by virtue of being tied to Kai, including one of several ways to actually reach the Liminal Shore from the Steadfast – an artifact known as a Liminal Sail. Part 4 adds to the Numenera Bestiary with new creatures unique to this new region as well as Descriptors that allow you to play as one of three new races found there: Creel, Spirant, or Wholkin. Finally, part 5 provides two complete adventures for GMs. Unusual Vitality offers an adventure opportunity for PCs to find a way to get to the Liminal Shore, and Pieces of my Heart is an additional adventure for PCs that have already found their way there.
The critiques I have for this book are minor. The first one is in Chapter 5. Either the overarching map of Liminal Shore needs to be bigger (which is the option I would have recommended – either a poster map like other supplements or at least a full-page) or there needs to be a separate, larger map of the Skin placed in Chapter 6. The text is a bit small for my taste when compared to a similar map of “the Underhunger” in Chapter 7.
The only other critique I would make deals with the grouping of this book. Bundled in as it is with Voices of the Datasphere as it is, I would personally have doubled down on the connection of Liminal Shore to the Datasphere more than was done. Aside from the content in chapter 1, there seems to be not nearly as much connection as I would have expected given the revelation there. There is no use of the mechanics from Voices of the Datasphere either. Thematically, I understand not doing so, and I’m all right with that choice. It seems, however, almost an afterthought to tie the two together, and I’m not sure that was the intent. It may just be my perception and, of course, as always, the GM is ultimately in charge of the game that they run.
I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever not going to be surprised by a new Monte Cook Games offering. If I take a moment and throw out my preconceived notions, I always seem to find a new way to look at something or a fresh perspective to bring to my games. Liminal Shore is no different for my Numenera games. When I first looked at the book and the first chapter, I could not help but compare the content to a certain movie from the very end of the last century. I worried that it would somehow be less because of that. One of the many things I am grateful for as I review books for this blog, however, is the opportunity to push further, to look at things with real depth. And this is a supplement for which I am glad to say that I have. Sean Reynolds and Bruce Cordell came up with a deceptively rich setting that I am looking forward to stretching my GM wings inside of. I hope that you are able to take the time to check it out as well, as I highly recommend it. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles