Review of Building Tomorrow

With the release of the new “edition” (I think it doesn’t exactly count but ymmv) of Numenera and the twin rulebooks of Discovery and Destiny, the Ninth World has been headed in new directions. Among these really exciting options are numenera crafting and community building which enrich the possibilities for your Numenera campaign. The latest Numenera release, Building Tomorrow, promises to build on those possibilities. The reasoning behind it is they “had more to say” on these topics and boy do they!

More Numenera Plans

I briefly touched on numenera plans in part 2 of my Destiny review but I didn’t really give them much attention. I think this was warranted given the way that they were presented: for the most part they let you build the sorts of things we had already seen and the new parts of the system (iotum) were too complicated to get into in a short review. Having an alarm mech is great but there are already so many automata in the Ninth World that I don’t think people need a refresher. Same for the various vehicles or the plans that are literally “build a cypher/artifact that you like.” Admittedly, I could of spent more time on the installation plans which build really awesome rooms and buildings, but I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at those lately so I guess just wait for an update on those guys (separate from this).

Building Tomorrow - Aerial Eye
Image © Monte Cook Games

Anyways, that’s all smart-water under the nano-bridge because not only does Building Tomorrow have sixty-four pages (!) of new numenera plans, but it greatly expands the idea of what the numenera can be. From your own private aerial eye drone and the industrial farming cultivator, the automata in this book expand crafting ideals beyond what a party of PCs might find useful. Likewise, the new installations (my favorite is the community obelisk which is like a central message board for a town) and vehicles (if you don’t want your own moving fortress, there’s something wrong with you) are useful in ways that build up the Ninth World instead of just your small group.

The real fun, though, are in the biological and otherspace plans. Biological numenera lets you play mad scientist with making amazing creatures for your purposes. Options include the claw wing (a living creature that will attach to your back and let you fly), the commensural (a living suit that lets you spend points and Effort from any pool to any Task), the loping husk (a huge creature that you can ride long-distance), and the totally awesome trilling cuddler (an adorable critter that comforts and watches out for their masters). In some ways (and my initial assumption) these are just non-biological cyphers that have a gooey aspect to them, but that’s wrong on two counts. First of all, biological numenera have different strengths so some numenera are at much lower levels than their inorganic counterparts. Secondly, and more importantly, they can reproduce. So they deplete like everything else but if they do there’s a chance (higher for higher-level creatures) that you’ll get a replacement born a week later.

Building Tomorrow - Otherspace
Image © Monte Cook Games

Secondly, otherspace numenera are devices that deal with extradimensional phenomena. These include somewhat-expected items like the big pocket (a Ninth World bag of holding) and phase cloak (that lets you shift out of phase with the rest of the world but it also includes items like ectopic armor (which doesn’t really surround you but keeps you safe in a pocket dimension while you appear to walk around) and the smoothing knife (a blade which effectively transforms creatures and objects into decals). Normally, players think about other dimensions as strange places for one-off adventures or the domain of esoteric nanos. This book challenges that with dimensional items that are varied and personal, turning dimensional space into just another weird commodity in the Ninth World.

More Cyphers and Artifacts

Aside from the new plans, there are new ready-to-go cyphers and artifacts. There are nineteen pages of these and, as you can imagine, they are varied and interesting each one of them. I’m just going to list out five of my favorites:

  • Deception Bud: A sphere that burrows into your brain for 28 hours and whispers advice and secrets that can make you an instant criminal mastermind. Creepy.
  • Follower Seed: A literal seed that you plant in the ground and grow an automaton who is your friend and helper for ten hours. Options include chef, admirer, and tailor.
  • Rampaging Form: One of a few different “form” infusions that transform you into something else for a bit like Jekyll’s formula. This one makes you a rampaging beast (the sort that can hold its own in community-level conflicts). You’re a freakin’ kaiju.
  • Rodule of Branding: A rod that instantly brands a glyph or symbol into someone’s forehead (or elsewhere) for punishment or as part of a group. Oh the possibilities.
  • Timeslip Duplicator: An artifact that brings in four versions of the user from alternate timelines! I think just coming up with the alternate timeline versions of your character would be awesome and also the great seed for an adventure where the PC is the duplicate!
Building Tomorrow - Nonhuman Followers
Image © Monte Cook Games

More Community Resources

There are five resource categories called out for Ninth World communities, two of which are discussed in sections below. The five categories are Additional Salvage Options, Nonhuman Followers, Further Long-Term Play Opportunities, GM Intrusions for Crafting, and Numenera Wastelands.

The salvage rules in Numenera Destiny (also covered in part 2 of my review) are already fairly straightforward so there isn’t much revising here. Instead, there are more things to do with salvaging which is really great. There are lots of new types of iotum which are all really interesting, but there’s also a table showing you what else you can do with iotum types from both books. These alternate uses are all in Destiny, of course, but it’s great to have them all in one place. Of particular note are the orthogonalium fiber, which hampers dimensional travel, and pluripotent mass, which can clone a creature, either of which could easily be the McGuffin for a whole campaign arc.

The nonhuman followers in Chapter 7 are in a similar boat: there’s nothing amazingly new about the mechanics here but the in-game changes are enough to get your GM’s brain moving in overdrive. Imagine having a slavering chirog, a powerful lattimor, a deceptive murden, or a clever octopus as your friendly companion. After that there’s eighteen pages of example nonhuman followers with personality quirks and tips for running them. Get your players some alien buddies today!

Lastly, there are new GM intrusions for crafting and let me just say: yes. There are one hundred different options (on a randomizing table) and the effects are pretty simplified: “these GM intrusions should have some effect – either a game effect or a story effect… If the hinders one or two kinds of tasks by a step or two that should be sufficient…” This makes the results both flexible and universal and I think they are perfectly suited for what they are intended to do. Examples range from “Absorbs all light within 1 inch” and “Leaks colored smoke” to “False memories” and “Unusual discharge from skin, eyes, or mucus membranes.” There is a huge variety here and I intend to keep this table handy for when players meet wright or nano NPCs. It’s an instant background element if the NPC has one or two of these issues from ongoing projects.

Building Tomorrow - Numenera Plans
Image © Monte Cook Games

More Long Term Play Opportunities

Another element I just didn’t have the bandwidth for in my original review of Destiny was long term play opportunities for communities, found on pages 324 to 331 of that book. At first glance this seems just like some adventure seeds for community-based campaigns and that’s how I took it at first. Thinking more about it, though, this is a departure from normal campaigns more along the lines of the Fellowship Phase in Adventures in Middle-earth. These projects (broken out by character type) give long term goals for characters to pursue in downtime which allows you to increase the time scale of a campaign (you can have two months of “off camera time” and still have something to show for it) and to streamline large-scale projects in order to create the sense of community building (literally) that happens in Destiny.

Building Tomorrow continues this with new sorts of long term play opportunities including some for modifying otherspaces (discussed above), change up your descriptor or abilities, heal yourself or others, or make some cash on get-rich-quick schemes or stable businesses. These are all pretty great options but the ones I like best are a pair the deal with organizations: Found an Organization and Help an Organization. This brings factions into play in a real way where you can build up your own community but also make that community an important facet in the social fabric of the Ninth World. Personally, I’d have some great fun putting player characters at the friction point between massive social movements.

Building Tomorrow - Numenera Wastelands
Image © Monte Cook Games

Numenera Wastelands

This is an interesting new element to the Ninth World that really fits well with crafting and salvaging. Where there are new items and reclaimed tech from prior worlds, there are also broken and failed devices that need to be thrown somewhere. Enter the wastelands where dangerously volatile items are sitting and decaying. This is akin to a nuclear fallout area and is an interesting zone to hide a McGuffin or place in character’s path. Do they go around it and add several days to their trip or brave the zone and hope for the best? This is pretty self-explanatory so I won’t dwell on it except to say that there’s a d100 random table with hazards that includes an entry where your limbs get paralyzed one by one with failed rolls so… yeah. This is worth checking out.

Ninth World Communities

There are two new pre-built communities in Building Tomorrow, both of which are thoroughly weird and expand the idea of what and where communities can be. Kaustrin is a space-station built around a singularity with “benevolent” machine intelligences that keep the population happy (and, I assume, never go wrong). After that, Skyam is a fairly well-populated city but I can’t say “fairly big” because it literally shrinks people down to the size of sand grains to a speck of a community that utilizes “micronized” creatures and technology and repurposed insects and plants that are the same size as they would be outside of this miniature realm. Oh, Monte…

High Challenges

The last section of the book covers “high challenges” which are basically adventure outlines on a community scale. These are more than just adventures seeds but less than full scenarios, just the sketch of an adventure in 3-4 pages. Four are covered in this book and they all look fun to play:

  • Heat Brings the Horde features a new sort of iotum called ether orbs which turn out to be a dangerous hazard during a building heat wave.
  • Imposter Diplomacy is a political scenario where careful negotiation can stave off war but not when there are shapeshifting imposters stirring up trouble.
  • The Violent Earth features a growing series of earthquakes that threaten the community and demand answers from the PCs.
  • Familiar Faces is a surrealist tale of people returning after long absences or even from the dead and the social fallout of this “miracle.”

Conclusion

While this book is definitely an extension of Numenera Destiny and only about fifty percent useful without that book, it is a really amazing extension. Even though it is billed as the ideas they didn’t have room for in Destiny, there is no part that I would describe as “more of the same.” It’s clear that the ideas left on the cutting room floor were ways to take the game in even more new directions than the new directions described in Destiny and this game will boost your game of Numenera if you are utilizing any part of the Destiny core rulebook.

Building Tomorrow - Numenera - Subterranean
Image © Monte Cook Games
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