Once again, my friends, I’m going to lead you back to one of my all-time favorite settings to play in or run: Numenera, by Monte Cook Games. I just can’t stay away. It keeps drawing me back, like a little black hole in my gaming shelf. Within the last couple of months or so we received the final physical reward to the Liminal Shores Kickstarter, Break the Horizon. The only softcover book in the bundle, this book is less of a setting addition (though admittedly, there is some of that which happens naturally) and more of a play or an equipment sourcebook.
Production & Manufacturing
This 146-page hardcover is, as usual, an excellent production from Monte Cook Games and their chosen publishing house. The cover is thick and high-quality with an excellent gloss that holds the cover art and shows it off well***. Glue and binding seem to be strong and hold the page bundles well. The book is cut evenly and the paper quality is as good with a thick paper cover as binding. As has become the standard for Monte Cook Games, the art and layout of the product are on point and on-brand. Bear Weiter does an excellent job managing the stable of freelance artists for the team. Like every other Numenera supplement I’ve seen and reviewed, the art in this one is very evocative of ‘the weird’ of the setting and does a remarkable job helping to immerse me in that frame of mind.
Break the Horizon is a Numenera sourcebook that deals with the issue of travel from place to place in the Ninth World. The setting of Numenera is vast and while there are large portions of the world that are settled, it is difficult to travel from place to place even in these regions as the remnants of prior worlds can often make a journey more complicated than a simple hike from Point A to Point B. The first chapter of the book discusses why you as a player or you as a GM might want to include travel in your plans, along with (for the GM) both ideas of adventure-shaped reasons to travel as well as some discussion of how travel might fit into the mechanics of the game. The second chapter dives into equipment that a traveler might need in the wilds of the Ninth World, both mundane and special. It also includes equipment for the special challenge of underwater travel so that you can break out your Into the Deep sourcebook and go swimming.
The third chapter discusses mounts (domesticated beasts and some intelligent creatures) as well as commonplace vehicles (non-prior world) for ground travel, water travel, and air travel. The following chapter then starts into the weird vehicles and adds Void travel so that you can break out your Into the Night sourcebook. Along with these vehicles are tables of GM intrusions related to such vehicles which was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Throughout these two chapters as well are scattered some potential lore/adventure seeds relating to vehicles that might give the GM some inspiration. To round out this first section, there is a chapter indexing all of the travel-related options from all of the Numenera products to date. I love when publishers make a one-stop-shop to go to and find everything related to a subject. Much like the Shadowrun 5E Master Index Edition that not only indexes the rules in the Core Rulebook, but all the core supplements as well (Matrix, Magic, Guns, and Rigging). It’s incredibly useful and the fact that they took the time to gather all this into a single chapter increases the value of this book for me.
The next two chapters detail beings that you might find during your journeys. The first is a chapter with new creatures that you might find. This list includes tie-ins to other books from this Kickstarter. The obvious ones were Voices of the Datasphere and Vertices, allowing you to tie adventures together using those sourcebooks as well. The second chapter is one with a few NPCs that you can use in your games with motivations and challenge ratings all prescribed.
The next section is an incredible list of potential encounters either to use wholesale or to use as inspiration for your own during travel times. The book recommends using one of these if the travel will last more than a few days. All told, there are 74 encounters listed and a random table is included if you wish to let the dice decide what the players see. After that, there is a section with 50 GM Intrusions (also tied to random rolls if that is your thing), that are appropriate for use during travel periods.
The last chapter of the book includes two adventures. The first, The Roughest Day, is for low-, to mid-tier adventurers (read this as Tier 1 – 4). The second, Travelers Never Did Lie, is for mid-tier adventurers (read this as Tier 3 – 4). These two adventures are 18 and 11 pages, respectively. For the Cypher System, this is actually a fairly decent size. The Roughest Day is an adventure that centers on a site for the PCs to explore. Travelers Never Did Lie seems to be much more encounter-based than that. The book is end-capped by a full-page index.
I know that typically, I would offer the simple critique of “more” here, and I suppose I could. More encounter ideas and more GM intrusions would be welcome, but honestly, they are not necessary. No, the only thing I might offer by way of critique or suggestion is as follows. Numenera’s sourcebooks – the core books, the Ninth World Guidebooks, Torment, and the Into the… series – do a fantastic job of showcasing just how different the denizens, cultures, and backdrops of the different geographies of the Ninth World are. It is one of the things that constantly strikes me and brings me back, that vast feeling of differences and “What am I going to find around this corner?”. The suggestion is to tie the differences in those cultures and their mode of transportation together more deeply. On top of that, this book might have been an excellent place even to hint at other cultures that had not been detailed in any of the sourcebooks using rumors and potential encounters or something. The published material has barely scratched the sum of the Ninth World landmass. Offering hints at what a GM could put elsewhere as their players explore the fringes of “the known” would be a useful thing as well. Similar to the way the encounters can be used as either drop-ins or seeds to grow your own ideas, such rumors or “findings” could be the seed for a GM to build their own area and culture from.
Break the Horizon is a sourcebook for Numenera from Monte Cook Games and is the last of the products released from the Liminal Shores Kickstarter from August and September of 2019. It is a sourcebook that deals with travel in the Ninth World, both the mundane and the fantastic. Providing lots of resources for GMs to make their travel in that game more exciting, from sample encounters to GM Intrusions, Bruce Cordell has put together a fantastic resource. While I would not call it strictly “essential”, for any GM running Numenera, it offers valuable insight, tools, and options to make the Ninth World even weirder. And that, in my opinion, is precisely what makes Numenera so fun. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles
***Edit (5/27/2022): This review was written from the PDF due to us being in the middle of a geographic move. As such, I confused Break the Horizon with Vertices. The former, the subject of this review, is a hardcover book, the latter is paperback. I have updated the review after looking at my hard copy, which is now, in fact, stacked in my living room with an absurd amount of other TTRPG books awaiting bookshelves to be placed on once more.