So it’s probably not a secret that I’m a fan of the Cypher System. I have been ever since I got the original Numenera core book; I wasn’t lucky enough to jump on the original Kickstarter but I got it soon after and was enraptured. Now there’s a new sourcebook out that ties into the Torment: Tides of Numenera game set in the Ninth World, yet I wasn’t sure I wanted to get it. I’m really glad that I did.
Let me start by saying that I am a huge Planescape fan boy. It was actually my first foray into RPGs at the rough and uncaring hands of my cousin. He could be charitably called a “tough” Dungeon Master but I was drawn into the majesty of Monte Cook’s setting. I loved the original Planescape: Torment computer game too and still quote it with my brother. In my mind, the best parts of this setting were combined with the best parts of Ptolus to make a truly impressive creation. I’ve backed every Numenera Kickstarter since I read the first book through.
So why was I hesitating on getting this latest sourcebook? Well, first of all I didn’t know what was in it. I imagined a really awesome book that brought to life the towns, plots, and NPCs from the computer RPG for your tabletop game. That sounds great and if they had one of those for Planescape: Torment I would snatch it up. But I’m not planning on playing Tides of Numenera, at least not anytime soon. So why should I get a book to mine through when I already have more Ninth World material than I need?
I grabbed the free preview, though, and realized it was a little more than that. (If you’re reading this, Shanna Germain and Monte Cook, your scheme worked and I will probably be won over with free previews of anything you make). Now that I have the whole thing in front of me, there are a few great reasons to get Torment: Tides of Numenera Explorer’s Guide even if you don’t ever end up playing the computer game.
A Whole New Setting
Of course there are new locations in here, it’s set in a whole new part of the Ninth World. but if you have the original core book, the Ninth World Guidebook, Into the Night, and/or Into the Deep, then you have so many different locales to work with already even before you consider the sites in Into the Violet Vale, Vortex, and other adventures. So what’s so special about this one?
Well, first of all it’s close. You don’t need to hop a spaceship or travel through a portal to get here… Heck, you don’t even have to trek through particularly dangerous terrain to get there. It’s just on the other side of the Clock of Kala, almost overlapping with the world map in the core book. If you really wanted a fast trip, you could take civilized transportation to the southern parts of the Steadfast, cross Seshar to Nebalich and the Sere Marica, sail through the Imoros Strait to the Navae Marica and once you reach the eastern shore you’re pretty much there.
As the Explorer’s Guide says, travel in the Ninth World is never easy and this wouldn’t be a safe trip by any means. My point, though, is that when you compare this to the Lands of the Dawn, the faraway planets from Into the Night, or even very different lands like the Frozen South or the Rayskel Cays this is a pretty straightforward endeavor.
And that’s the next point of why Greater Garravia makes a pretty good setting for Numenera. It’s not the Steadfast but it’s also not dominated by a new concept or strangeness. Heading to Lostrei means dealing with animist tribes; there’s not much chance of a political intrigue story there.
Likewise, heading to the octopus empire under the waves means a whole strange set of new mechanics and awesomeness. This is fun but if you want to set a whole campaign somewhere and give players freedom to be whatever they want you need a fairly neutral area. The Steadfast is one of those areas and this is very nearly as detailed.
New Character Options
There are new options for player characters in here and they aren’t just ways of making things from the game (I don’t think). Two of the new descriptors, bloomborn and castoff, are very locally focused and have very interesting abilities. The bloomborn gets assets when they suffer GM intrusions and the castoff has inabilities which encourage roleplaying broken and lost people. If your players never go to Greater Garravia these are mechanical ideas you can port over to other Numenera (or other Cypher) games easily.
The new foci are also useful and the mix of sorcery and stealth in Breathes Shadow make me want to build a character with this focus immediately. The ghibra race is pretty interesting too and a great amphibious alternative to the echryni (Ninth World Guidebook), naiadapt (Into the Deep), octopus (Octopi of the Ninth World), and skeane (Into the Deep) racial options. Of these aquatic races, only the echryni are amphibious humanoids and they might not appeal to everyone. The ghibra are obviously meant to be an interesting nonhuman option and it does a great job.
New Game Concepts
There are a few new ideas in Torment: Tides of Numenera that could inspire GMs even outside of Greater Garravia. The first is the tides from the title itself: the five tides discovered by the Changing God in his centuries-long journeys.The tides are forces like gravity or electromagnetism but they interact with emotions and personality… who knows how. If you are deep in the same tide that holds sway over an NPC they are more likely to listen to you. If you are on a very different tide from an NPC they might not even listen.
Numenera doesn’t have an alignment system and I think that it doesn’t have to have one. However, this basic idea and the associated suggestions can give you tools for a reputation system, an Icon system like you’d find in 13th Age, or any number of other options GMs might wish to add to their games. It’s a great skeleton for you to dress how you like.
There are also all-new organizations in this setting and belief is not as monolithic as it is in the Steadfast (although I have some thoughts on how to change that in the original setting too). There is only a small enclave in the biggest cities representing the Order of Truth (and that a heretical offshoot) and instead of that institution there are many different cults and faiths all mixing together. The Children of the Endless Gate is a death cult and they vie for followers with the decay-worshipping Dendra O’hur. The Extremities of the Great Devourer worship the predatory organism called the Bloom as a god while the Cult of the Changing God worship the being who shaped the entire region.
This is a very pantheistic setting, an interesting counterpart to the Steadfast. If you want new cults or competing faiths back in the land of the Order of Truth this is a great book to mine from. Alternatively, you could have missionaries from one land visit the other and have your players find themselves in the midst of a holy war!