Several years ago the Gamer Working Group — my lunchtime gaming crew — chose to playtest Numenera. I created the wandering town of Walkabout for what I expected to be a short campaign, but alas, the game never really clicked with the group. That was largely because of the lack of literal world building; the game was all about re-using the technology of the past, not the future, and for a bunch of IT geeks that was hard to get our heads around.
Still, I enjoyed creating Walkabout and still hope to use it in another campaign, maybe even Numenera 2.
The town of Walkabout, 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 3 miles an hour, which is slightly below a human walking pace. Although it seems slow — at times even downright ponderous — it very rarely stops.
Walkabout travels 72 miles in a day. In a week, 504 miles. In a month, 2,160 miles. This allows it to traverse much of the known world in a few months time, before turning and spending an equal amount of time in uncivilized lands. Though Walkabout moves slowly it’s all too easy to be left behind if one doesn’t have a mount or other fast mode of transport, especially in rough or broken terrain. While a forced march is likely sufficient to catch up with the Walkabout, it sure to be an exhausting process.
Walkabout’s path takes it through some inhospitable terrain and it is oblivious to such threats as the nanite storm known as the Iron Wind. This caused its inhabitants to abandon Walkabout several times over the course of its long life. Another difficulty is that while Walkabout seems relentless in its progression, it does stop at random intervals for equally random durations. Typically these stops happen every 1-2 months and last for 5 minutes to 3 days, but longer and shorter pauses have occurred, and it’s gone as long as a year without stopping. Particularly long stops, in radically hostile environments, can and have lead to terrible deprivations among its population as thirst, hunger, and more exotic afflictions set in.
Walkabout’s perpetual migration has done nothing to keep people from living in the village, nor has it stopped others from trying to seize it (though it has kept some of the pirates, who know little about the town’s history, from keeping it). The village is comprised of tightly compacted stone and synthsteel buildings with labyrinthine streets winding between them. Most of these buildings are 2-3 stories have slightly pitched roofs covered with miniature orchards, herb gardens, and other essentials. All include rain-catching systems consisting of canvas sheets and gutters that feed into each building’s cisterns.
The exception to Walkabout’s dense construction is its town square, which is a large, open, grass-filled area near the center of town.
The town proper is surrounded by a low, 3-foot tall stone wall, broken up by guard towers every few hundred feet. The wall may seem to low, but it towers over the surrounding landscape thanks to the 20-ft height of the machine’s legs and the 30-foot slab of synthsteel that the village rests upon.
Several gantry towers containing elevator booms are stationed along its sides. These booms are large enough to support a wagon and a team of pack animals and are often used to transport goods and people to and from the surface.
Residents of the town are known as Wanderers and often leave it to go on short trade missions to towns that the lumbering village is moving past as well as expeditions to find supplies, food, and (of course) numenera.
1. The Refinery
The Refinery is an open workshop where anyone can come and use the man’s tools to work on mundane items and numenera … for a fee of course. It’s operated by a man named Llorg (Level 3 nano (9), skilled in crafting (12), knowledgeable in numenera (9)), a stout, middled aged man with azure skin and a dozen stories of how it got that way.
Llorg typically charges 3 shins an hour to use the workshop. Common construction and binding materials are available for a charge. He rents protective gear (everything from leather aprons to a suit of translucent powered armor) and use of the “detonation room” (a specially crafted chamber for testing unstable creations).
2. The House of Mad Orlus
Most houses in Walkabout are constructed from stone and synth; the House of Mad Orlus is made entirely of glass. The four-story building is an immense, multi-roomed, multi-environment greenhouse featuring trees, ferns, mosses, and far more exotic flora from throughout Walkabout’s meandering path.
The greenhouse is owned by Mad Orlus, a botanist (level 4, Level 5 for botany, bioengineering, and natural history, Armor 4) whose own body has been given over to the research of biosythesis. He has thick, bark-like skin upon which grows a mishmash of mosses and fungi. Some of these are shockingly colorful; others are even more shockingly toxic. He often highers the more adventurous locals to collect samples for him.
3. The Filter
The Filter is an artificial aquifer within Walkabout that collects rainwater, human waste, and refuse and turns it into drinking water, compost, and food. Staffed by the Gillmen, an association of transformed, amphibious humans with gills and green-tinged skin who tend to the vast water-filled chamber. The lead Gillman is Dre Nulu (Level 2, Level 5 for swimming, Armor 1)
4. The Blank Factory
Arthann Y-Keen (Level 3, Level 4 for numenera) runs The Blank Factory, a single-story stone building that contains a numenera device that manufactures “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. The blanks are pale white, hairless, and begin their short lives at an apparent age of 25. They rapidly age, advancing an apparent two years each day, before dying 30 days later an apparent age of 85.
A fresh blank costs approximately 100 shin. The price goes down by about 15 shin per week; shin with only a few days left to live may cost only a handful of shin.
5. The Temple of Future Past
The Temple is filled with time-torn relics — items appear to have been displaced in time in space from past or future eras (and possibly alternative timelines as well). Surprisingly there is very little in the way of functional numenera here; it is more about a flotsam of culture and art that has washed up on the shores of the present than it is about relics capable of manipulating time.
Curator Milla Jyn (Level 5, Level 7 for archeology and time travel related topics) has an astute eye for distinguishing between something that is merely very old and something that is actually timetorn.
Jink (Level 2, level 4 for archeology and time travel related topics) is Milla Jyn’s field researcher, and often coordinates (and partakes in) expeditions to ruins, temporal rifts, and other potential sources of timetorn artifacts.
6. Tavern in the Green
The Tavern is a shared hallucination of a pub, entered by donning a liquid-and circuitry filled bracelet can infuse the wearer’s body with mind-altering drugs while creating a dream-like artificial reality. The dream overlays the real world, and to outside observers, the bar looks like a group of insane people interacting with an unseen world.
“Drinks” are biochemical cocktails, payments are in the form of memories. The owner of the tavern is a woman named Bre, who spends most of her time in the hallucination. The bar’s bouncers are Holob, a heavily muscled glaive, and Pelella the Gray, a jack who dances between reality and the dream as needed by Bre.
7. The Starfire Inn
The Starfire takes its name from its semitranslucent ceilings which continuously show a scene of the night sky … just not the night sky of Earth, or at least the current Earth. Each floor’s ceilings show a different floor, and researchers speculate that the Starfire is displaying views of the cosmos from throughout Earth’s history. It’s a fascinating theory occasionally disproven by shockingly alien spacescapes obviously far removed from Earth’s normal stellar environs (true believers say the Starfire is correct, and that it is the Earth that has moved in these scenes).
The Starfire is moderately priced at 7 shims a night, which includes dinner and breakfast. The inn is run by Daergel Vin, a polite and learned man who takes a great deal of pride in his establishment.
Unsurprisingly, Milla Jyn has been known to spend many a night here taking in the distant starscapes.
8. The Floppery
Denhai Lagg runs this dive of a bar/flop house. Alcohol is cheap and tasks like paint thinner and costs .10 shin. A night at the Floppery costs nothing but risks infestation by any number of parasites. Most in town joke that the Floppery’s biome is at least as complex as those inside the House of Mad Orlus.
9. Gantry #4
Gantry #4 is typical of seven of the eight gantries evenly spaced around the perimeter of Walkabout. It’s located on the starboard side of the town and consists of a massive synthsteel crane that lowers a massive, 30 ft. by 15 ft. platform over the side. Individuals pay a departure fee of 2 shins to leave the town, and an approachment fee of 3 shins to enter it.
The platform is occasionally swapped out for a giant hook that can be used to rise and lower supplies and trade goods from the surface; those fees are based on weight.
Gantry #4 is owned by the Effrim family, who also own Gantries #1, #2, and #8. The family is led by its cantankerous patriarch Dereg Effrim and his fourteen children. The manager of Gantry #4 is Gereg Effrim, a mean-spirited bastard who revels in forcing his younger brothers Moreg and Torg to do the menial work associated with the gantry and its maintenance.
It’s said the family’s surname came from people complaining about the dominance of the town’s gantries … but this is never said to their faces.
10. Ghost Gantry
Gantry #7 — the Ghost Gantry — has been abandoned for decades. Locals say that the gantry is cursed, condemning all who seek to operate it to insanity and death.
It’s certainly proven to be unlucky for all who’ve attempted to run it, with would-be entrepreneurs succumbing to mass murder, suicide, and/or delusions of shadowy horrors trying to drive them insane.
Even the Effrims have left the tower alone, preferring to let whatever strange powers are at work there kill off their competition. They’ve even been known to point upstarts in the direction of old Number 7 for exactly that reason.
Those neighboring the tower shun it, and are hostile toward anyone trying to free the Gantry from its terrible curse, no doubt because of the time 17 years ago when Jostin Eli ran out of the building in a murderous rage and killed a half dozen of his neighbors before someone put him down with a knife to the head. There was also the case of the Talbers, a clan of human clones who arrived in Walkabout with the express purpose of restoring the Gantry to working order. They killed each other in a blood-soaked frenzy 47 days later.
The most recent attempt at reforming the Ghost Gantry was undertaken by the legendary nano Nar who proclaimed that he would purge the Gantry of the terrible taint that plagued it. He entered four years ago and was never seen again … but he was heard. His screams echo through the neighborhood every 73 days.
11. The Frogstar Tavern
One of the Walkabout’s most notorious dive bars, the Frogstar Tavern fills the first floor of a three-story building. The second two floors are given over to short-term renters, typically adventurer and explorer types, as well as a smattering of overnight traders.
The Frogstar is best known for its for its live (or semi-alive) food and drinks and is popular with people who prefer to still be wiggling when they eat it. Their premier entree is the sasmafls (semi-aware, semi-mobile autonomous food-like substance), a black, slime-like meal served in a large clay bowl. The substance moves of its own accord and usually tries to crawl away from whatever container it is put in (including one’s mouth). Stomach acids rapidly dissolve the substance, though those who eat too much of it at once have the unsettling experience of the sasmafls trying to fight its way out of their stomachs by punching the sides or sending tentacles up their throats.
Also popular are toglergs, small, six-legged amphibians that are eaten alive. A typical meal at the Frogstar involves gulping down several mouthfuls of sasmafls, downing a large quantity of liquid (which may or may not be alcoholic), and then swallowing some toglergs. The end result is a mini ecosystem that thrives in the consumer’s stomach for as long as it takes for their digestive acids to break down their “meal”. The effect of the sasmafls’ greedily trying to eat toglergs, who in turn attempt to swim out of the way, is said to be a wholly unique one. Sasmafl connoisseurs recommend eating a steady stream of toglergs, less the black ooze try and escape from its consumers stomach in search of new prey.
12. The Crimson Nova
A dive bar known for its explosive brawls that often spill out onto the surrounding streets.
- Field Samples: Mad Orlus has identified an exotic new plant about 40 miles northwest of the city. Unfortunately for the heroes, the plant in question has a taste for meat… He’ll pay 50 shins for the recovery of the plan.
- Unfiltered: An essential element — electrum carbanoid — is needed to keep the city’s filtration system running. Canistors containing the filters can be recovered from the old oasis town of Green Lagoon. The oasis is long gone, and the desert has driven most of the inhabitants away. Those who remain are deranged abhumans who worship a pit-dwelling horror. The town is about 30 miles ahead of Walkabout. Dre Nulu will pay 5 shins per canister.
- Lost Sheep: On a recent trade expedition to the Beyond village of Verma Road, a small group of four young blanks (2 days old) where stolen by bandits. Arthann Y-Keen needs someone to go retrieve them before they get too old. The village is two days behind. Y-Keen will pay 10 shims per recovered blank, plus the free rental of a blank for one month.
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Concept art from Torment: Tides of Numenera. Credit: inXile Entertainment