When the original Character Options sourcebook for Numenera came out, I was not sure what to expect so I was very pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a really helpful and expansive option for Numenera characters. Now there’s a second Character Options 2 book and I have the opposite problem: how can this one be as useful as the last?
In the last set of new options we got the new options of location descriptors and advancement beyond Tier 6 as well as new abilities, descriptors, vistants, and foci. While the new stuff was great, it’s the totally new options that I liked best. They are definitely things that you can’t just make up on the fly and I think plenty of players and groups would want them.
As I start to flip through this book, it remains to be seen whether Character Options 2 falls under the “changes the game” category or the “more of the same” category.
New Character Types
Most obviously, this book has two new character types, the first new character types since Numenera came out in 2013. Glints are charismatic and social characters and seekers are hardy explorers who push the frontier.
This means the book has already included new material you couldn’t do otherwise on page 5 right, MJ? No, not necessarily. If you have the Cypher System Rulebook you already have the speaker and the explorer who can do the same things. I appreciate the Numenera take on these rolls, but for this to be truly impressive they need to be totally cool independent of what’s already out there.
At the start, this is exactly like the speaker. The stat Pools, Edges, practiced list, and (adjusted) starting equipment are all largely the same. The special abilities, however, are a completely new list. And I mean completely different.
While the first-tier speaker has abilities that either hel[ bypass situations (Encouragement or Spin Identity) or manipulate enemies (Aggression, Terrifying Presence, etc) the glint has abilities that connect him or her with the larger Ninth World. Encouragement, Fast Talk, and Spin Identity (renamed False Identity) are all there but the real shining points are the other “pronouncements:”
- Coax Information: You talk to an NPC, spend an Intellect point, and the GM fits some useful bit of intel that they drop.
- Connection With an Organization: You know a guy who knows a gal who’s in the Angulan Knigts or Order of Truth or Gaians and you can call in favors.
- Contact: You have a specific important NPC who will bend over backwards for you.
- Friendship (1 Intellect point): Spend an Intellect point while meeting an NPC and they come out of the encounter thinking your a stand-up person. You’ve got a new friend to call up later in the campaign.
- Influence: You have a bit of blackmail over an important individual or group.
This stuff is really awesome and it makes social characters in other games seem like chatty busybodies. The other tiers follow suit with a Beat Companion available and the ability to Impart Ideal at Tier 2, Companion and Pay No Heed (this isn’t the glint your looking for) at Tier 3, Blend In and False Group Identity at Tier 4, Network of Contacts at Tier 5, and Coax the Crowd at Tier 6. This is not a repurposed speaker by any means, it’s a great and useful social character.
I think the comparison is still apt, though: the speaker is a social character that the designers made sure still had combat options and the glint is one where they didn’t worry so much about that. And that’s a good thing. The way that the Cypher System works, you don’t need to be a badass fighter to succeed. Glints have several really useful combat abilities but they’ll also get some from their focus and descriptor, not to mention that they can spend Might and Speed on attacks (they aren’t using it for pronouncements much) to boost themselves if stuff really hits the fan.
The seeker’s a largely similar situation: they are stronger in Speed than Might compared to the explorer but largely you get the same set of stuff. The first tier is actually pretty similar in terms of special abilities (“secrets”) except that it’s smaller since seekers get one more cypher than explorers, but from there it takes off.
At second level, seekers can choose Scavenge (find an extra cypher when searching large devices), Eyes Adjusted (see in the dark), Survival (go twice as long without food or water), and Boost Cypher (your cypher functions two levels higher). Advancing from there you can get Device Insight and Trapfinder at Tier 3, Boost Cypher Even More (someone needs a thesaurus) and Experienced Finder (ditto) at Tier 4, Numenera Adaptation at Tier 5, and Device Master at Tier 6.
This one isn’t as big a departure from its Cypher System Rulebook counterpart but it’s a bit more of the “dungeon delve” archetype than the “pulp hero” archetype. Personally, I think I’d allow players to play either in the campaign, depending on what they want.
In this book there are general descriptors, location descriptors, and racial descriptors.
The general ones are Abrasive, Aggressive, Amusing, Deliberate, Devout, Efficient, Extraterrestrial, Fabulous, Gregarious, Insolent, Intimidating, Lonely, Manipulative, Marine, Meek, Mercurial, Obsessive, Passionate, Polyglot, Rebellious, Subterranean, Ultraterrestrial (from another dimension), and Vigilant. They all look great but as they’re in line with other Cypher descriptors we’ve seen I won’t dwell on them. I will say, though, that nearly all but one (Devout) have never appeared in another Cypher book which is pretty cool.
The location descriptors are the opposite: most of them are the location descriptors from the Ninth World Guidebook reprinted here. Only one is original, the Desert-Dwelling descriptor which seems like it’s bridging the divide between location and general descriptors.
The racial descriptors are a mix. Many of them are reprinted from other sources like Sir Arthur’s Guide to the Numenera (Artificially-Intelligent), The Ninth World Guidebook (Echryni and Proxima), and Into the Deep (Skeane and Naiadapts). These are scattered enough that I really like having them in one location. There are also two totally new descriptors: the Calramites (exterrestrials mentioned in Into the Night but I imagine this character option got cut) and Ormyrls (ultraterrestrials which I suspect will make an appearance in Into the Outside).
The foci are also almost entirely new: only Lives On the Road is repeated from The Ninth World Guidebook. The rest are…
- Abides in Crystal: Like Abides in Stone from the Cypher System Rulebook but you can do cool things like teleport through crystals so it’s, approximately, a bajillion times better.
- Absorbs Energy: You pretty much become Gambit from the X-Men.
- Abuses Alchemy: I thought this made you an alchemist but it makes you a crazy alchemy-infused drug addict.
- Becomes Energy: Just what it says on the tin, including spontaneously transmitting yourself as a blaze of energy. At Tier 6 you can destroy an object by turning into straight energy.
- Charges Right In: You become a massive juggernaut. Nothing too unexpected.
- Conceals the Truth: This is both a competent liar and a stealthy sneak, including stepping into the shadows and disappearing.
- Delved Too Deeply: Like the dwarves of Moria you poked where you shouldn’t and became infused with some darkness that you can now use as a weapon.
- Devotes Everything to the Cause: This is, I think, the longest published focus name. It’s for zealots, both holy warriors and raving fanatics.
- Fell From Another World: This one I’d like to do, it’s a way to be from outer space without having the Extraterrestrial descriptor or being a visitant race.
- Figures Things Out: You’re a Ninth World Sherlock Holmes. Now there’s a character concept.
- Forges a Bond: Friendship is magic… By which I mean you can establish a constant telepathic link and sharing mechanical resources.
- Gazes Into the Abyss: You looked into yourself… and you found a raging monster there. Get ready to Hulk out!
- Likes to Break Things: Speaking of Hulking out…
- Lives on the Road: You don’t need a roof over your head, just a place to head towards.
- Makes Something Out of Nothing: You exaggerate like crazy… Just kidding, you fix up and empower numenera devices.
- Manipulates Force: You apply force fields and invisible, Shaolin-style attacks.
- Plays Tricks: You’re a regular Artful Dodger, stealing things and distracting the enemy so your allies can get a nice punch in.
- Provides Support: You support your friends with healing and supporting them, emotionally and mechanically.
- Shapes Liquid: Waterbenders! The best part of this, though, is that you can create a device with this, even something as complex as a cypher once you get to higher Tiers.
- Speaks to the Datasphere: You get skill boosts and knowledge from the datasphere instinctively. This would be awesome to combine with Ryan Chaddock’s stuff.
- Stares Down Adversity: You’re a stone-cold killer, standing up to attacks and rallying your allies.
- Steps Into the Outside: You’re an explorer who loves traveling to other dimensions. The Fantastic Four, I guess?
- Ventures Into the Night: Same as above but with outer space… Also the Fantastic Four?
- Wields a Whip: I think you can do the math yourself on this one.
- Wonders: You are a deep thinker and, like the Shower Thoughts subreddit, you can ask some staggeringly bizarre questions.
This is a new and unexpected addition to the book that I think is every bit as useful to GMs and players. Like the advancement beyond Tier 6 introduced in the first Character Options book, this provides some new ideas and areas for veteran Cypher groups to head in. It also has some world-building tie-ins for those who are fans of the Into the Ninth World series and The Ninth World Guidebook (not to mention the Torment Explorer’s Guide)
Cabal of Whispers
“A network of shady traders, excommunicated Aeon Priests, spies, and other ne’er-do-wells who harness ‘dark magic’ to gain power for themselves.” This seems a lot like the power-hungry Convergence from the Numenera core book, although their a more political version. It might be a good alternative to the Convergence, but it could also be a focused enemy for a set of adventures since they deal in noble titles in Charmonde, Navarene.
These deep sea explorers called brine magi they share information and sanctuaries for those who explore under the waves. Membership means you are respected by underwater creatures, a boon for when your party goes underwater. I think this would be a great organization for Greater Garravia in the Torment area since there’s so much going on in the ocean there.
This group of bounty hunters is a great addition to the Ninth World, especially since they are affiliated with the Angulan Knights. They’re nasty customers but having a legitimizing ally makes them complex and interesting.
Essentially, these are interstellar dungeon delvers who head out into the night and find treasures far from Earth. While Moonwreckers don’t have their own fleet of ships or anything, they could be antagonists fighting the PCs over a crash site. Alternatively, this could be the common thread for a party starting out, especially if you want to use the Astrositas rules.
Pact of Jarash
This group that’s associated with the Order of Truth is all about strange creatures and they have compiled a list of them called The Ninth World Bestiary (wink wink, nudge nudge). Add in a little competition with the Jagged Dream and this is a pretty solid group.
This is the grey hats of the Ninth World, ex-Convergence (which makes them ex-ex-Aeon Priests) they now fight against the Convergence and the Gaians. They remind me of the Imperial knights from Star Wars and I think they’d make great sometimes-allies-sometimes-enemies for a campaign.
The secret police of Navarene, now in the wind and operating independent of anything looking like oversight. It’s a secret cabal with compartmentalized cells but they’re fighting evil. Are they good or bad?
This book lives up to expectations, I’m surprised as you are! The new mechanics expand things that are already well-established in Numenera and the stuff this book adds to the game is really helpful and useful. There are new ideas here and new approaches (not least the glint and seeker) that are already giving me new ideas for future Numenera campaigns. If you’re on the fence about getting Numenera Character Options 2 then allow me to officially push you over the side. Get it.