Looks like it’s Cypher System Review Week! On Tuesday I reviewed The Bridges We Burn and I’m reviewing Into the Outside which I just got as a Kickstarter reward. This Kickstarter has been a real slow burn: the campaign finished on September, 2015 so I’ve been getting little notes from them every once in a while for more than a year. It’s like Christmas every month… which I think is how they do things in the Ninth World.
What is the “Outside?”
The first question you might ask is “what is in this book?” This isn’t as simple a question as the previous world guides: Into the Night is about outer space, our own solar system and beyond, and Into the Deep is obviously about the oceans of the Ninth World. Into the Outside explores other dimensions and planes in Numenera… but that’s a pretty nebulous topic. So what does the book have to say about it?
There are a few different phrases listed in the Transdimensional Lexicon from the Introduction section of Into the Night and they sum up the scope of the book nicely. Phasing is a state where things move through normal matter, making them difficult to hear and see and reminding people of ghosts. The abykos and the phase changer cypher in the core book are examples of this. Extradimensional spaces are small pocket dimensions that are their own small, self-enclosed worlds. The Augur-Kala inside the Clock of Kala and the University of Doors are two examples of this in the core book. (Author’s Note: Garth Cummings on Google+ rightly pointed out that the Augur-Kala isn’t explicitly a pocket-universe. It’s always read that way to me in the core book but your mileage may vary.)
Parallel universes are the largest but, often, the least-strange of the other dimensions. These are universes where things are often similar to the world you just left except for some truly strange occurrences. You might enter a world where the Order of Truth never existed or where the Gaians have won the war and conquered the Steadfast. You might also step into a world where everyone you know is irredeemably evil and you have to stop them from bringing their hate to your home dimension… that old chestnut.
Bizarre dimensions are just as big as parallel ones but they are… well, bizarre. They exist outside of familiar concepts like gravity or mass or time. This is the realm of the really crazy and I’m glad to have some professional guidance on how to run these things.
There are already some transdimensional locations provided in the core rulebook: Yenth, Wislayn, and the University of Doors (a pocket dimension with portals all over the place one one of Monte Cook’s other projects). To that you can add a few more published locations like the Bloom in Torment: Tides of Numenera but this book also comes up with quite a few.
In the Introduction they provide plenty of information on Delivar, a village in the Beyond near a transdimensional area called the Sideslip Fields with a silver cloud that can send you to a different plane. It’s a wretched hive of scum and villainy so just getting to Delivar and staying alive can be an adventure.
Another option for sending players through dimensions is the Grinder of Infinities, a transdimensional device that exists simultaneously in several places (already weird) and resembles a cube whose six sides all open into a different plane. You might also through your players a crystal ship (perhaps using the campaign ideas in Astrositas) and let them travel the planes in style.
Whatever you end up doing, though, you want to make sure they understand the enormity of what they’re doing. There’s a table for transdimensional mishaps to mess with your players from making them arrive incompletely (blinking in and out of existence until they roll an odd number) to the appearance of an ultraterrestrial to attack them.
The really fun part of transdimensional locations, though, is handled in Part I: Weird in the World. Three “multidimensional” locations in the Ninth World that blur the boundaries between dimensions. The Banded Bluff, for example, is part of the Ba-Adenu Forest in the Beyond that is really a series of nested dimensional areas. Each one is surrounded by a hazy wall of transparent energy that lets you step into another dimension that might be airless, gravity-less, or lightless. The University of Doors maintains a field station here to study the “Depositorium” where thousands of dimensions have been collapsed into red-gold bricks neatly stacked in the center.
Titanic Ridge (originally described on page 179 of the Numenera core book) is a 15-mile-long, 20-foot-wide path that runs along the Black Riage far above the slopes of the mountains. Seventeen towers line the path and each leads to another dimension. This isn’t just your average pathway full of dimensional portals, however: each tower has an overlord who jealously guards the tower and wars with the other overlords. Come for the portals and stay for the War of Gates!
The Malevichian town of Yenth is described on page 157 of the Numenera core book, a trade town built on a transdimensional numenera, but the other dimension locale of New Yenth is left up to your imagination. Well, no longer! The world on the other side of the Yenth portal is a parallel Earth where everything, “even the plants,” are actually a species of insects. There are some intriguing creatures but the Colrathi are the best. They are humanoids who live like insects and have domesticated insect species as their weapons and tools. The only thing that is missing is a racial descriptor for them and that is a glaring omission.
The first parallel dimension provided is the Endless Abode, which is just what it says on the tin: a dimension-sized castle. This isn’t my favorite plane in the book since it seems pretty straightforward and less Numenera-crazy but the idea of a whole city inside of this place is pretty cool.
On the other hand, Silent Nyek is as crazy as they come. From the book, “While the Silent Nyek’s original builder is unknown, every indication is that it was designed to drill deep into a specific dimension (or perhaps class of parallel dimensions) containing a vast machine and retrieve whatever was found. That builder is gone and the craft was long abandoned before Captain Stav Shedreyn found it and refurbished the vehicle.” Now we’re talking, right? A dimension-drilling ship with prisoners from across many worlds and a crazy Ahab-like captain that can be a means of travel and a adventure location simultaneously. Yes, please!
The next world is also worthy of the Ninth World… In fact it used to be the Ninth World. In true Star Trek fashion, the Whispering World is a divergent timeline where hapless explorers unleashed something terrible and a worldwide cataclysm has left things in ruins. Explore the empty streets of ruined Qi! Marvel at the wandering, broken inhabitants turned into whispers by the apocalypse! Dig through the abandoned archives of the Order of Truth, normally hidden but now laid bare in their absence! I love the idea of visiting this place and I love, love the idea of sending PC refugees from the Whispering World into the standard Ninth World and trying to find a way to reverse the cataclysm in their home dimension.
The last section of dimensions in the book, Beyond the Veil, deals with the truly bizarre planes. Panaton is a world where time is broken, providing the possibility of PCs in separate time states. The Tumult is an insane dimension of pure, solid sound which features (among other joys) a sidebar entitled “Biology of a Living Sound.” Oh, Monte Cook Games… The plane of Reeval is the home of the Nibovian wives and their Nibovian friends, and it’s just as horrible as you think. Lastly, Celerillion, also known as the Unfettered Range, is a purely mental construct which looks like you fell asleep after eating a whole plate of pot brownies and watching Guillermo del Toro films spliced with Terry Gilliam’s art. A final section runs through a handful of one-page dimensions similar to the short entries at the end of Into the Night.
The last chapter of the book provides creatures galore… Well, creatures at least. There are 20 different beasties in here which is a solid amount except that we’re talking about whole dimensions here. Other creatures got margin-stat treatments earlier in the book but still it seems a little short. True, there are some gems like the flesh-devouring carnivorous color and the mind-devouring arravelon but I was hoping for some more options, or at least a section on reskinning things as transdimensional horrors like the interstellar options we got with Into the Night. I also miss having character options in this book, which threw me a bit since I figured they must be in here and I spent an awful lot of time searching.
Still, considering the rest of the book is awesome and that what creatures and cyphers we do have in here are instantly useable for the GM, I think this book is definitely a fantastic addition to the Numenera line.