This week, I’m going to focus on a game by the well-known Monte Cook, Numenera.
I was a big fan of Monte back in the Malhavoc Press days, and bought pretty much everything he put out for D&D 3rd Edition. I still consider the Ptolus setting book to be a high-water mark in setting design and presentation. So I was very excited when Monte Cook Games announced the Numenera game.
A brand new system (Cypher) and a post-apocalyptic setting a billion years in Earth’s future? Sign me up.
And I did enjoy the setting of Numenera. Unfortunately, the Cypher system left me cold. I’ve tried it a few times, but no matter what I do, I just can’t find the fun.
But that’s okay! Because there are many fans of the Cypher system, and I’m glad that they get enjoyment out of the game. For me, however, I like the setting but I’m not inclined to run it with the native system.
Luckily, I happen to be rather familiar with another game system that will do pretty much everything I need it to do to let me run Numenera in a way that works for me. That is, of course, HeroQuest.
Important Note: If you’re completely unfamiliar with Numenera, then you probably won’t get much out of this article. I’m writing this for people who are interested in playing in the setting with a different system, and I want to show how easily it works with HeroQuest. I’m not going to get into a ton of detail on how the Cypher system works, because I’m assuming you know the basic elements.
Okay, characters in Numenera have the elements that are used to describe them.
- Character Type—essentially what would be called your class in any other game.
- Character Descriptor—this is an adjective that colours how your character is played (e.g. clever, strong, swift).
- Character Focus—a unique element that provides a bunch of special abilities to your character as you advance in Tiers (i.e. gain levels).
An example character might be a Strong Glaive who Rages (Strong=Descriptor, Glaive=Type, Rages=Focus).
Luckily, the descriptions of each of these character elements have a great deal of descriptive text, which easily allows you to bring them into HeroQuest without a huge amount of effort.
Now, it is a common method for a character to have a culture keyword and a profession keyword. I always feel that a culture keyword has value in a game, because it ties the character to a group of people who have a similar outlook and shared beliefs. This should also be the case with Numenera.
So my method is to use a culture keyword that is based on the region from which the character hails. Chapter 11 in the Numenera core rulebook details the Steadfast, a region comprised of nine different countries, from which most characters will likely hail. Unfortunately, neither the Numenera rulebook nor the Ninth World Guidebook talks much about the people of the kingdoms. The descriptions are focused more on the cities and what’s cool about them than any of the inhabitants (other than the rulers).
So this doesn’t really provide much information to use for cultural keywords, which is a shame. I feel that they really missed an opportunity to talk about the people who live in this world and really get into the cultural aspects, rather than focus all the strangeness of the ninth world entirely on weird creatures and unfathomable technology. I think spending some time on the people would have helped tie the characters to the world in a better way.
Regardless, I still feel having a cultural keyword is valuable in an HQ game. In this case, the original game doesn’t provide much support, so it will have to be up to the players and GM to discuss and determine if any particular breakout ability is appropriate for any given culture.
For the second keyword, I recommend combining the Type, Descriptor, and Focus into a single keyword.
In this case, there is a wealth of material available in the Numenera rulebook describing these options for characters. Most of it is focused on the mechanical impacts, but there is enough fluff that the playing group should be able to have a good grasp of what each keyword means.
So, using my example character from above (a Strong Glaive who Rages), I could create the following character:
Malevich Culture [Keyword]
- Veteran of past wars
- Member of (particular bandit clan)
Strong Glaive who Rages [Keyword]
- Biomechanical modifications through genetic manipulation
- Terror on the battlefield
- Protective of (other player character)
- Break inanimate object
- Unarmed combat training
- Wilderness survival
Note: I only gave this character eight abilities (breakout or other) rather than 10, to allow the player to identify a couple of abilities during play as he/she becomes more familiar with the setting.
Numenera was the first published game to use the Cypher System rules, which are named after a particular element of the game: cyphers.
As noted in the Numenera core rulebook:
“Cyphers are one-use, cobbled-together bits of technology that characters frequently discover and use.”
In HeroQuest, abilities are part of the character, not single-use elements that disappear. However, the flexibility of HQ allows cyphers to easily be represented in this way without fundamentally changing how the game works.
For example, I rolled two random cyphers for my sample character above. I got the following:
- Gas bomb (mind-numbing gas)
It’s actually pretty easy to use the basic descriptions of these two items to put them into HQ terms.
The Gas Bomb explodes and fills an area close to its detonation point with a gas that inflicts Intellect damage. In HQ terms, the bomb could be used as an augment in an appropriate contest (by describing how the bomb’s effects help the character overcome the Resistance).
The Stim cypher (when used) decreases the difficulty of the next action taken by the character. In HQ terms, the Stim ability would simply be used to roll an augment (or take the automatic augment) in a particular contest.
The most important thing to remember is that these abilities, once used, must be removed from the character sheet.
The Cypher System uses a difficulty number to represent all opposition to the PCs, and so this is similar to how HQ deals with Resistances. All the various creatures and NPCs in the Numenera core rulebook, supplements, and adventures work fine in HQ, with the GM using the descriptive elements provided.
The rest of Numenera plays in a pretty standard way. In many cases, it’s like a D&D game with a new setting, new monsters, and technology-as-magic. So there’s not really much else that needs to be “converted” to HQ terms in order work fine.
While the Cypher System really doesn’t work for me, the Numenera setting can actually be pretty fun and interesting. HQ is fantastic at taking those amazing setting ideas and integrating them into the character in an easy and fast way, and Numenera is no different.
This works the same with other Cypher System games, such as The Strange. In fact, considering that character in The Strange undergo changes when they jump into and out of recursions, it would actually be far easier to play in HQ than in its native system.
Are you a fan of Numenera? Are you also unsatisfied with the Cypher System and are interested in trying the setting out with a different set of rules? Tell us about it in the comments and let me know if this was helpful in looking at HQ as a possible option.