The Numenera Player’s Review

Hi there. Nice of you to drop by my den again. At least this time you didn’t interrupt my tot-munching. Oh, you brought a fresh plate with you? How kind!

It seems Monte Cook Games has been hard at work on some tots for the past little bit as well. I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to begin my review of Numenera’s game line. I thought about just going from the core rulebook and continuing on with a review for each book.

Then it struck me. I decided that would begin a little different with this game line, and start with three core products that help define the line from a player’s perspective. This review, therefore, will include the Numenera Player’s Guide, Character Options, and the character sheet & character creation walkthrough booklet.

To start off this show, we have the Numenera Player’s Guide. It’s an essential volume for the game, in my opinion, and every player at a Numenera table should have a copy.


Numenera Player’s Guide

Monte Cook Games

Writing Team: Monte Cook, Sean K. Reynolds, Shanna Germain

64 pgs.

$19.99 print, $7.99 PDF

Buy it here.

It opens with a brief overview of the Ninth World, Numenera’s setting. This is to me the only real weak point in the book, as it doesn’t really describe enough for many players to get a great feel for the setting. It’s very basic and introduces the world from a viewpoint of wonder, describing in brief the people and the items from which the game derives its name, and how to look at things in this game from our more modern perspective. I like how it was presented and written, but just a few more pages might have added a little more oomph to the opener where all rpgs should be saying “this is where your characters live, and this is what your characters do”.

The Rules Overview is very concise and straightforward, and amazingly contains exactly what it says to a tee. The rules for Numenera are very simple, and easy for a player to grasp and begin using right out of the box. The Player’s Guide presents the rules pertinent to a player very well in this short section.

One interesting aspect of Numenera is how experience points are earned. Discovery, not slaughtering opponents wholesale, lends itself to learning new things and thus the award of XP. Also, GMs may interject people, places, things, and events into the narrative of the story and, in doing so, gives the player affected by this GM intrusion two experience points. The player then gives one of those to another player of their choice, citing in brief why that player’s character deserves the reward.

After the Rules Overview, we come to the meat of the Player’s Guide. Or perhaps I’d better stick with tots. I’m salivating every time I say “meat”.

Creating Your Character describes the three stats every character has: Might, Speed, and Intellect. This is where Numenera is very interesting. Your stats are pools, used to determine how strong, fast, smart, and likeable your characters are. When you suffer physical or mental damage, these pools are reduced. Points from these pools may also fuel a variety of things from combat maneuvers to a nano’s esoteries (more on that in a few).

Each stat has an Edge, which helps reduce the cost of tasks performed with that particular stat from your pool; for example, the higher your Might Edge, the fewer points you have to deduct from your pool to perform feats of strength. And then each stat also has is Effort, used to reduce the difficulty of tasks performed with that particular stat.

This section of the book also details Tiers, which are akin to levels found in many other rpgs. Like many other games, a player character must spend experience points they have earned to gain a new Tier, which increases their capabilities. Unlike many other games, each character must first spend XP to acquire certain improvements before they are able to advance to a new Tier.

Skills are briefly touched upon, and only a basic range of possibilities is described due to the fact that in Numenera, players create their own skills for their characters. To many I’ve played with or spoken with about the game, this is one point of confusion many have about Numenera. I’d like to attempt in my own way to clear that confusion up a bit.

Although the skill list that a starting character will begin with is small, it certainly does not describe the full range of abilities open to the player.

Many games come with a defined group of skills for a player to choose from, and they improve those skills in a variety of ways (leveling up, spending XP on them, etc.). Numenera assumes from the get go that a character is already knowledgeable about a great many things; the skills a starting character begins as Trained with are those in which they are exceptional. For example, anybody can swim or climb or jump, but selecting these as skills would mean that a character is exceptional at them. Beyond the Trained level, which reduces the difficulty of all tasks involved that skill, one may also become Specialized in a skill and further reduce the difficulty of any tasks using the skill.

I am going to condense my review of the Player’s Guide here and describe the Character Type, Character Descriptor, and Character Focus sections of the book together because they blend like Four Cheese shredded cheese topping over tater tots.

These sections describe the key concept of character generation for Numenera. Your character can be briefly described in, and gains abilities from, a short sentence that says, “I am an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]”.

The adjective is your character’s Descriptor, that gives your characters motivations, places them in the campaign world, and adds several talents and abilities to your character based upon your choice.

The noun is your character’s Type. There are three Types in Numenera – the Glaive, a combat master; the Nano, a master of the Numenera; and the Jack, one who is a jack-of-all-trades. Each Type provides many abilities and talents to a character. At first glance, one might think that a limit of three choices for Type would provide very few character options, but combined with the rest of the sentence above, some very interesting characters can be created.

The verb is your character’s Focus, which provides a special ability as something your character does. Focuses have a very detailed and interesting range, like Bears a Halo of Fire, that wreathes the character in a ring of flame and provides other fire-shaping and wielding abilities. My own personal favorite is Rides the Lightning, that allows the character to create and control electrical discharges and later use electrical current as a means of transportation!

Each of these sections of the book contains a good selection of Descriptors, Types, and Foci to get a gaming group’s creative juices flowing and create a ton of interesting characters. One of the things that I find to be extremely cool about each of these sections is that not only do they provide the building blocks for each individual character, but character generation also provides links between individuals in the group by determining a connection to one other PC, and a link to the starting adventure and the group.

The equipment section of the book provides a list of the many pieces of gear an adventurer in the Ninth World might want. It’s not so very different from any other rpg for the most part, but standouts in this section include the description of the Ninth World’s currency, and Numenera’s take on encumbrance rules. Shiny bits are called shins, and may be made from a variety of materials found throughout the world; gold and silver have no more value than anything else, since precious metals of our age may be fabricated just as easily as anything else.

Encumbrance? Who needs it as long as characters are not loading themselves down with every damn thing they can find; it doesn’t have much of an effect in game, and the section on encumbrance says what I’ve almost always felt about the subject…why bother?

Char Ops

Numenera Character Options

Monte Cook Games

Writing Team: Monte Cook, Shanna Germain, Rob Schwalb

96 pgs.

$24.99 print, $9.99 PDF

Buy it here.

Character Options expands upon the options presented in the Player’s Guide to provide even more character generation possibilities. Most characters in Numenera generated from the Player’s Guide are assumed to be human; one may find other optional races to be used as Descriptors in this book. Location-based Descriptors are presented, detailing abilities gained from being from many of the locations in the Ninth World. There are a number of options presented for switching out Type abilities and a selection of new Type abilities. And there are a large quantity of interesting new Focuses to choose from.

The Optional and Additional Rules section details a number of ways to trade and modify character abilities, as well as new info for customizing character skills. The new Focuses described in this book expand upon character connections, and a list of expanded character connections for those presented in the Player’s Guide are also detailed.

Finally, a selection of character portraits are presented to give a player a feel for what a Ninth Worlder might look like.


Numenera Character Sheets

Monte Cook Games

$14.99 Sheet Pad, Free PDF

Download or buy it here.

The character sheet is available as a PDF or a pad of sheets. It is an interesting trifold design, and has detailed spaces for everything a Numenera character might need. Also included is a concise walkthrough of character generation.

This triumvirate of Numenera goodness is full of crunchy, deep fried, chili-and-cheese-lathered tater tot goodness. The PDFs of the Player’s Guide and Character Options meet every benchmark I would normally set, including a linked table of contents and comprehensive index. The physical books are easily-portable, if a bit delicate. The artwork is astounding, and each piece throughout the books adds exponentially to the feel of Numenera. They are all very well-written, and the basic rules for the game are very easy to learn. And most of all, these books make Numenera character generation an exercise in fun!

As a side note, I playtested this game with a group. They found character generation to be incredibly fun but got burned out on the playtesting aspect after wanting a world to explore and characters to grow organically rather than as a process of testing. I think they would have fun with it again in time. The only complaint I heard was about the players making all of the rolls, which is a key concept to the game. Players roll defense when they are attacked, attacks when they put the smack down, and every other attempt to perform some task whose results may be called into question. But the variety of abilities and character types satisfied and most were quite pleased.

I’m looking forward to rolling with Numenera again soon, with a slightly new group. These Numenera supplements are absolutely essential to the game, and building a character. All three are…

Dropbear Approved!

Permission graciously granted by Monte Cook Games for use of the book cover art in this review. No thumans were harmed in the making of this review. All game details included within this review are copyright and trademark of Monte Cook Games, and no appearance of such details should be construed as a money-grab since I make absolutely zilcho out of writing this and placing it upon the internet. Excluding if anybody might be wanting to set out a platter of tasty, golden-brown tater tots in front of my den. I’m totally all for that.  

Next up on my reviewing agenda, a triumvirate for the aspiring Numenera GM to include the Ninth World Bestiary, the Ninth World Guidebook, and Technology Compendium!


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