Heaven help me but I’ve started reading through Numenera.
It’s…interesting. Elaborate, gorgeous artwork of course. Really interesting setting. A functional and interesting reward cycle that sort of combines PbtA-style GM moves (called GM Intrusions) and peer rewards/fan mail: when the GM wants to inject a complication (no GM rolling!), the target player gets an XP and then can also give an XP to another player. Or they can reject the Intrusion and lose an XP. No idea what the flow is but this doesn’t sound grossly punitive.
Characters themselves start out as a neat little formulation that reminds me of 13th Age: “I am a [adjective][noun] who [verbs].” The noun is your Type (there are 3), the verb is your Focus (there are 29), and the adjective is your Descriptor (there are 12).
But you know what jumps out at me once again? It’s like…I don’t know…it’s like trad-rooted game designers never saw a premise they actually liked. A reason for play. A driving motivation.
Numenera feels an awful lot like Exalted that way: here’s this amazing setting, truly amazing. Here are these evocative character classes brimming with cool effects. Here are some weird locations. Yes but what do you doooooo?
“Well now you plan an RPG, like you do, dummy,” says the trad player. Which I suppose is true. Chase XPs, search for treasure (which is ostensibly Numenera’s default answer to “what do you do?” but…why?), grind, level up, repeat.
And I get it. I do. There are so many perfectly functional, good gamemasters out there who absolutely do not want someone else’s premise intruding on their thing. Give me a system that doesn’t actively suck, some hot art to get the juices going, lots of character customization, and a wide-open setting with little bits of description. Keep your motherloving hands off my story!
Doesn’t it get exhausting? All that…staring at character combos and setting details and building these one-off bespoke storylines? I mean I suppose it doesn’t, not by a long shot: MCG sells plenty of games. There are plenty of prewritten adventures. I guess I’m naive in my ongoing, decade-long bafflement at how it is something as simple and focused as a premise hasn’t been grabbed by The Roleplaying Community as essential technology. Bafflement at all those gamemasters out there who actively seek this out. I can’t believe they just don’t know there are other ways to do this.
Weird rant, I know. I know! But Numenera I think has promise on the system level (Cypher seems like it works okay, and I can’t wait ’til my kid is old enough to really engage with No Thank You, Evil!, the juvenile version) and somewhere buried in there is, I’m sure, the faintest outline of an actual premise. I’m guessing it becomes pretty clear during character creation, which throws a lot of flags and ideas out there.
Would play! Maybe! I’d need to be in a place where dreaming up branching-path material, week after week, was something I wanted to do.