Review: The Ninth World Guidebook

The Ninth World Guidebook, A Numenera Sourcebook by Monte Cook and Shanna Germain

I don’t know if I should feel amused or sad, but when I start some of these reviews (particularly like this one), there is a part of me that is afraid that I can almost hear the groaning out there.  “Is he reviewing ANOTHER MCG book?”  Or, “MORE Numenera?!?!”  In the first place, the line is quite large and despite having written so many reviews, there are still products that need reviewing.  Second, almost the entire line is the quality I wish I saw in every roleplaying game, both from a manufactured presentation standpoint and a content one. Third, even though it was replaced by Invisible Sun, this is still my second favorite stomping ground out there.

The Ninth World Supercontinent***

But we’re going to do it again this week, and tackle another Numenera book in our collection.  This one is the setting book: The Ninth World Guidebook.  The original Numenera Corebook (and the revised Numenera: Discovery) cover a lot of setting to get you started in the game.  Admittedly, it is only a very small portion of the Ninth World Supercontinent, but between the Steadfast, the Beyond, and the small section Beyond the Beyond, there is quite a bit to start with.  The style of all of those entries is one that gives just enough detail to give a GM the flavor of the locale, but not enough that the GM feels stifled or slave to cannon.  Any savvy GM, however, will never turn down more, and will often ask for it.  We may not use it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to give it to me anyway.  I will always, always want more.

*** Note: The Sagus Cliffs illustrated on the map above are not detailed in this product. That region can be found in Torment: Tides of Numenera – The Explorer’s Guide.

Manufacturing and Production

The Ninth World Guidebook is a 254-page setting book for Numenera that contains another 176 pages of setting.  Like all of the previous Monte Cook Games books, this one is of impeccable quality in production, with good paper, ink, binding, and cover production.  The inlay pages are tight and well laid and the book has stood up to use and shelf life very well for us.  The artwork, by Bear Weiter and his team is, as usual, amazing and evocative, and serves as well as, or perhaps more than anything else to convey the “weirdness” that is Numenera.

Content

The Ninth World Guidebook opens with a piece of fiction, one that is both bizarre in the way that only the Ninth World seems to be, and creepy, reminding us that even though we may gain a measure of knowledge, there is much in the Ninth World that will forever remain beyond our heroes.  Then, there is a surprisingly useful 18 pages that deal with life in the Ninth World.  The goal of these pages seems to be to arm the GM with the flavor of how to present such a place to the players and make it feel alive, vibrant even.  There is some cultural commentary, as well as some aides for the GM to help them with things to riff off of for stores, or community features.  Ways to make your game more vivid in the minds of your players.

The main part of the book is divided into setting information by specific region.  First, there is content added to the Steadfast in Chapter 4 and the Beyond in Chapter 5.  Both of these areas are already covered in the Core Rulebook for the game, but as I mentioned earlier, I will always, always want more.  And here, Monte Cook and Shanna Germain deliver.  Chapter 6 is where the new material starts, detailing the lands known as the Frozen South beyond the Southern wall that borders Matheunis, the cold desert.  This section deals with an (almost) completely snow-covered land and its inhabitants that do not see much traffic from outsiders because of the difficulty of traversing the wall.

Chapter 7 then turns our sights North of the Steadfast to lands that are only hinted at in the core book.  There is a war going on that is promoted by the Amber Papacy.  A holy war with a people that most in the Steadfast do not even know and have never even met.  They live north of the Cloudcrystal Skyfields, north of Navarene, in the lands known as Lostrei or “the Spiritlands”.  Its people, known as the Gaians, are “animists, believing that supernatural spirits inhabit creatures, objects, locations, and even concepts,” (Ninth World Guidebook, p. 101).  Then, looking Eastward from Lostrei in Chapter 8, we find ourselves on the northern wall of the Clock of Kala in the fiery lands of Vralk.  Few in the Steadfast and only slightly more in the Beyond know that these lands and their peoples even exist, and if they did, they would be much more concerned about them than about the Gaians.  Full of violence and cruelty, should the people of Vralk ever turn their eye toward the conquest of Lostrei or the Steadfast, it would take much skill and no small amount of luck to deter them.

Chapter 9 deals with a group of islands off the shore of the Steadfast known as the Rayskel Cays. The islands in this strange region have bizarre properties and people who live there. Not unknown to the Steadfast, it is still not particularly common for people to travel there without great curiosity and great courage. Finally, Chapter 10 hurls characters all the way across the supercontinent using a portal in the Steadfast land of Thaemor. The portal, called the Great Reach, allowed explorers to discover a region known as the Lands of the Dawn. These lands are settled in a manner similar to the Steadfast, but the cultures and the inhabitants are vastly different, and trying to treat them the same is an almost certain way to get oneself killed. They do however boast new and interesting things to see including areas settled by non-humanoid creatures whose culture and goals are different than those we might be used to.

Following the setting information, is a chapter for game mechanic information. It contains another 10 new descriptors that thematically tie to the locations described in the supplement. It also contains one new focus. After that, it contains a mini-bestiary of 27 new creatures found in the lands detailed in the setting information, a short glossary of some common Ninth World phrases, and an index.

Critique

Normally, I would just give this the critique of “give me MOAR!” and move on, because let’s face it, for setting books, that’s usually what I want.  This one, however, I will add a minor critique.  This critique has to do a little bit with a book that I have yet to review on Angel’s Citadel but is coming up eventually – Priests of the Aeons by Sean K. Reynolds.  The critique is this: In the core rulebook, this book, and Priests of the Aeons, there are several connecting hints at the conflict between the Steadfast and the Amber Papacy and the Gaian people from Lostrei.  There is enough room for the GM to breathe and play in that space, but it sets up an idea.  Personally, I would have liked to see more of that in this book with the other regions. For example, the beginnings of a conflict between Vralk and Lostrei would have been interesting to see hinted at, or the intelligence efforts of Corao against the Steadfast once the Great Reach had been discovered. Or perhaps even something sinister and threatening towards one of the other regions like the Frozen South by the Rayskel Cays. I suppose what I’m saying is that there was an opportunity to hint at bigger like had been successfully done before, in a way that would have enhanced the property, and it was missed or omitted.

Summary

The Ninth World Guidebook is a massive setting expansion that was originally released for the first edition of Numenera but works quite well with the revised edition of Discovery and Destiny.  In it, players can find more detail on the Steadfast and the Beyond in addition to five vast new regions of the Ninth World Supercontinent to explore.  There are more character options for play.  And overall, much more depth to a world that already stretches the imagination.  Even with this supplement, there is so much unexplored territory, that no GM should ever feel fenced in, and that, in my mind, is one of the things that make the vast bulk of this product line, including this book, “must-buys”.  Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

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