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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

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Game Day: Lunchtime Numenera

by Ken Newquist / March 30, 2014

My lunchtime campaign has transitioned from Dragon Age to Numenera. Two of us backed it in the Kickstarter, and the others were sufficiently intrigued to want to playtest the game.

As I wrote before, my regular gaming group ran an extensive playtest of Numenera that involved two adventures spread out over several real-world months. With that game, I was the player. This time around, I'm the game master and I've decided to do things a little differently.

My biweekly group ran canned adventurers from the core rulebook for our playtest. The adventures were fine (and dangerous enough that one of our PCs died), and gave us a sense of the setting. With that experience under my belt, and wanting to get a better feel for Numenera world building, I decided to create my own scenarios for the lunchtime game. I also choose to accelerate the pace of advancement by giving the PCs lots of things to discover, and making sure I used a "GM Intrusion" (a Numenera technique for introducing story complications into the game) once per lunchtime session.

Time for a Walkabout

I kicked off the adventure with what I hope is a sufficiently weird, Numenera-like location: Walkabout.

Walkabout is a village-sized construct that rests on many 20-feet tall mechanical legs, and slowly circuits the wastes and some of the major cities of Steadfast. It averages 1 mile an hour, which is slightly below a human walking pace. Although it seems slow -- at times even downright ponderous -- it very rarely stops. The idea was to create a location that would eventually take our explorers on a grand tour of the Beyond (the savage wastes of Numenera) and the Steadfast (the more civilized lands of the setting).

It's packed with odd locations including:

  • The Temple of Future Past: filled with timetorn relics -- items appear to have been displaced in time in space from past or future eras (and possibly alternative timelines as well).
  • The House of Mad Orlus: a multistory green house with an unnervingly diversity of flora
  • The Filter: an artificial aquifer within Walkabout that collects rainwater, human waste, and refuse and turns it into drinking water, composte, and food. Staffed by the Gillmen, an association of transformed, amphibious humans with gills and green-tinged skin.
  • The Ghost Gantry: Once used to raise and lower supplies from the ground, locals say that the gantry is cursed, condemning all who seek to operate it to insanity and death.
  • The Blank Factory: A single-story stone building that contains a numenera device that manufactors "blanks" -- human analog constructs with an operational lifespan of 30 days, a basic operational knowledge of the world, and a basic understanding of the universal language known as the Truth.

My inspiration for Walkabout came in part Stargate: Universe, which featured a seedship that would relentlessly jump from star system to star system. Walkabout isn't quite as dramatic as Stargate's Destiny; if the starship left you behind you'd be trapped hundreds of lightyears from the rest of the crew. It's possible to be left behind by Walkabout, but the village's slow pace means a fast horse (or horse analogue) can easily catch it. I also drew inspiration from the ATAT-mounted mining operation that Lando Calrissian ran in the Star Wars: Dark Force Rising trilogy.

My goal was to come up with a compelling home base that would nonetheless give the players a tour of the lands of Numenera. My thought is is that we'll jump the campaign ahead a few weeks after every adventure, giving Walkabout a chance to move to a new location while the PCs have downtime in the town.

Adventuretime

We spent two or three lunchtime sessions putting characters together, and we've now had two full-blown adventure sessions -- one spent introducing Walkabout, the next involving a little more exploration of town and the group's first foray in the Beyond. Their task is to retrieve some filtration canisters from an abandoned oasis fortress/manufactory for use in the town's water system. We ended the last adventure on a cliffhanger, with a bedraggled, desperate looking broken hound having just crested a dune in preparation for attacking the group.

I'm still trying to figure out what I need to run the lunchtime game. A set of dice are helpful, but not required -- they only come into play when doing random cypher generation. I think some sort of tokens for XP are going to be essential; like Savage Worlds I think it helps to have tangible evidence of your bennies/XP/plot points in front of you. Rather than use the Numenera-themed cards, I plan on using the white and orange crystals I used for force points and destiny points in my Star Wars games.

I don't need a battle map since we're not using miniatures, but it might be handy to have one for sketching out what the player characters are encountering. I'm debating bringing the rulebook; I have it and all my other Numenera PDFs on my iPad, but it's not ideal given that we're all learning the rules.

Unfortunately while the print book is more useful, it's also big and bulky -- much more so than the Savage Worlds and Dragon Age books we've been playing with. I'll probably end up bringing it to the first few games, then transitioning to PDFs.

I've decided to try something new for note-taking: Markdown. It's a simple markup language for text files that lets you quickly generate HTML documents. A lot of my webdev friends swear by it for writing documentation, and I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm using Mou, which is a free Markdown editor for the Mac. So far I like it -- I write most of my notes (game or otherwise) in a text editor anyway, and this gives me the advantage of quick-and-easy formatting. I'm going to add a Markdown plugin to the Numenera game blog to see how well my offline notes translate to online posts. I'm expecting it to be seamless (that is, after all, the point of Markdown). As a result my laptop has become an essential part of my lunchtime game, which wasn't true for Savage Worlds or Dragon Age.

On the plus side, apart from some tokens, my laptop, and one really-heavy book, I don't need a lot to run a lunchtime game. Most of the fiddly bits can easily be put into a ziplock bag rather than the lunchbox I had been using. It has the potential to be a pretty lightweight game, even more so if I can leave the book at home.