Review: Priests of the Aeons

Priests of the Aeons, a Numenera Setting Supplement by Sean K. Reyolds

There are just some properties that I can’t stay away from.  For whatever reason, they keep me coming back.  Sometimes eagerly, sometimes it’s by simple circumstance.  Dungeons & Dragons seems to be in the latter category for me.  But Numenera, I place in the former.  And so today, I want to return to the Ninth World and take a look at a game supplement written by one of my favorite people in the gaming industry, Sean K. Reynolds, called Priests of the Aeons.

In Ninth World history, the discovery and use of the Numenera, or the technology of prior epochs,  has become central to how Ninth Worlders survive.  Because comparatively, however, the Ninth World’s inhabitants are so technologically primitive when compared with those who came before, much of the time, a device’s full original purpose is beyond their ability to comprehend.  At best, they can make a device do one or two things, or perhaps use pieces from the device to cobble together something that can produce a known effect.  At the forefront of the effort to understand and expand such knowledge in the Steadfast and the Beyond is the Aeon Priesthood.

Manufacturing & Production

The book itself is of excellent quality, like all of Monte Cook Games’ products.  A heavy hardbound cover with tight binding is wrapped with vibrant artwork.  The book parrots the property’s standard layout, two columns with an outer sidebar.  A solid 192 pages, Priests of the Aeons feels like another standard-sized supplement for Numenera in the hand (most of the “location-based” supplements are around this size as well).

Priests of the Aeons, page 92

Once again, Monte Cook Games’ art director, Bear Weiter does an excellent job setting an atmosphere with the artwork.  The nature of this particular supplement causes that artwork to focus a bit more on “people” than objects or locations than much of the other art in the other books in the line, but that does not make the artwork “bad” in any sense.  What it does do is give a bit of a different feel to the book than in other books, one that is focused more on individual Ninth Worlders than on the environment itself.  As a result, there is somewhat less of the “weird” sensation in this book than some of the others overall.

Content

The book opens with a parable called Calaval’s Parable of the Imager and the Spider that was supposedly used by the first Amber Pope to teach the idea of ultimate understanding of the Numenera and its futility.  If you have a player that is struggling to understand what Numenera is, this is a perfect thing for them to read.  Coincidently, Calaval is the character referenced in the opening fiction to Numenera: Discovery as well: The Amber Monolith.  Along with this is a short introduction to the book and what it contains, with the usual but always helpful reminder that this book in no way limits what the GM can or should do in their own game, nor does it mean that everything written in it is “cannon” in your version of the Ninth World.

The main portion of the book begins with rules additions and suggestions for bringing the flavor of the Order of Truth to your game.  There are 5 new descriptors that you can use for your character, but along with this is a helpful focus section on some of the more apropos descriptors to use from other material.  Not just Discovery and Destiny, but the old Character Options 1 and Character Options 2 softcover books from Numenera 1st Edition as well (recall that these were not obsoleted per se, some of the ideas were brought into Discovery and Destiny, and some were left there but are completely compatible).

There are 4 new Foci as well, and then the book gives an alternate ability (at Tier 3) for all existing Foci from both Numenera: Discovery and Numenera: Destiny that offers characters using them some new flavor that pairs well with the material in Priests of the Aeons.  Chapters 4 through 8 talk about additional equipment, cyphers, artifacts, and other things one might find tied to an Aeon Priest.  The last of these chapters offers much in the way of guidelines to help the GM adjudicate or create such things on the fly and have them be consistent with what would be typically plausible as a part of the setting’s narrative.

Chapter 9 starts the discussion of the Order of Truth, with Chapter 10 discussing thought paradigms of their belief system.  This, to be honest, is one of the most interesting chapters I have ever read in a supplement and one that I am particularly glad Sean did not shy away from.  Discussing the actual beliefs and some of the philosophies behind this group (including conflicting views and disagreement) really does a lot to make them come alive for me.  It also adds depth to their actions (or potential actions) in my campaigns, giving some plausibility to their actions.

Chapter 11 discusses the logistical organization of the Order of Truth and the Amber Papacy, from individual priests, all the way up through the bureaucracy to the Amber Pope.  Chapter 12, then talks about the actual personalities in some of those positions in the countries and areas around the Steadfast.  The very end of this chapter holds an interesting highlight to one of the main plot points of the Steadfast presented in Numenera: Discovery.  No, I’m not going to spoil it here.  Chapter 13 discusses splinter and heretical groups that have broken off from the Order of Truth that you can use in your campaigns.  Chapter 14 gives 4 sample Semblages (groups of Aeon Priests and associates) that you can drop into most locations seamlessly.  These could also be turned into Claves (independent enclaves in remote locations like the Beyond) if you desire.  They also give the GM a pattern for creating their own which is helpful.

Finally, the book gives a series of 7 adventure seeds and two complete adventures, one of which deals with going into the famed Amber Monolith itself.  Along with this, it presents 3 new creatures to accompany the bestiaries and 8 new NPCs that, like the Semblages, can either be used wholesale or as templates for creating your own NPCs to put in your game.  The index for the book is simple as in their other offerings, but for this one that is not particularly rules-heavy, that works just fine.

Critique

Priests of the Aeons is a surprisingly strong, albeit unique offering in the Numenera space.  It doesn’t look like it should fit very well, but it feels like it does.  Perhaps the only thing that I would have liked to see added is more discussion about the Order of Truth in the non-Steadfast areas.  For example, Numenera: Discovery touches on the fact that there is something of a “fundamental” difference in approach/philosophy between Aeon Priests in the Steadfast and those in the Beyond.  I would have liked to see more discussion and more examples of this dichotomy in Priests of the Aeons as well as perhaps other such comparisons.  The Steadfast with the Frozen South (found in the Ninth World Guidebook), or the Steadfast with Greater Garravia (found in Torment: Tides of Numenera – the Explorer’s Guide), or perhaps even with someplace like New Yenth (from the supplement Into the Outside).  I can imagine all of those having some kind of difference similar to the one between the Steadfast and the Beyond and those are only separated by a single mountain range.

Summary

Priests of the Aeons is a setting supplement for Numenera that covers the Order of Truth and the Aeon Priests that fill that Order.  It provides information both for using them as NPCs and setting in your Numenera games as well as options for your players to become a part of that order and explore both the numenera more deeply and the organization itself (including all the politics, and the contention that come with it).  While I can’t exactly call this a “must-have” to play the game, if you are a fan of the setting as I am, it will absolutely broaden your perspective about the Ninth World and give your campaigns more color with new options to use.  It is absolutely money well spent, in my opinion, even if it’s not, strictly speaking, necessary.  Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

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