Thoughts on a Numenera Campaign

For the past couple of months I subjected my players to a Numenera campaign filled with wonder, weird and unfathomable technology.  Now that I have some actual play time in I thought a post appropriate on my numenera_cover thoughts so far. This is not a review of Numenera so much as my feelings on how the campaign is running.

The character classes come off as balanced without too many issues in terms of one class “getting all the cool stuff.”  The only exception are the optional mutation rules which potentially introduce some really out of balance abilities/powers.  That said, it is a random role so your mileage may vary.

The system works well and I truly enjoy the “roll a 1 and the GM can screw with you” mechanic. Some of my campaigns highlights sprang from these “gm intrusions.”    Which brings me to an issue that I see  with the experience system. Numenera XP is earned by exploring/solving puzzles or when I choose to do a “gm intrusion” without a player rolling a one. All good and well, but this xp system depends on the players using some of their xp to do re-rolls and prevent me from intruding. I play with experienced, clever players so they roll with my punches (intrusions) more often than not and advance relatively quickly.  This is not a huge issues since scaling in this game is dead easy. Just tack on some levels to a monster and you are good to go. I might consider other ways to get some of those XP back and slow down the power development curve.

One of the key aspects of the Numenera system (aka The Cypher System) are, well, cyphers. Cyphers are one-use “magic” items. The variety of cyphers roughly matches the potion list in any fantasy RPG. Some make you invisible or explode or melt metals, etc. They are all one use, but each PC may only carry a very limited number, usually only 2-3 or they interact and potentially start disappearing, discharging or in an extreme case, sucking the PC in to a black hole.  While useful, the PCs can carry so few that they leave a lot on the battlefield or stashed all over their base of operations. Both mean that all the cool cyphers I throw into the campaign often go into storage or just abandoned on the side of the road. The usage rate just does not keep up with the supply the PCs pick up. May have to make them scarcer.

Artifacts are much rarer than cyphers, but they are multiple use. Usually you use the artifact (eg, a ray gun) and then roll a d6/10/12/20 and if you roll a one on the die the items fails and becomes permanently inert.  My party has several and uses them…and not a one has melted down!  May have to make all the artifacts melt down 1 on a 1d6 to get some churn going on the artifacts, since there is no limit on these items and the party accumulated more than a few so far.

I ran the party through the modules in the Numenera base book and they are 66% of the way through the “The Devil’s Spine” campaign from Monte Cook Games.  The intro modules were fine, but both they and “The Devil’s Spine” rubs wrong in some places.  Monte Cook is a better writer and game designer than I ever will be, but he transgressed on some of my pet peeves of module design.  Specifically  social-encounter breaking artifacts and annoying mathematical puzzles both drew my ire. There is an artifact in the intro modules that is a no-fail lie detector. I cannot stand items like this because they make it too easy to find “truth” in a social encounter.  I know it has a percentage chance of melting down in a given encounter, but it was just too powerful in a game based on a lot of social interaction.  Secondly, TDS contains my waking nightmare of module design; a tedious math puzzle that you either have to brute force your way through, get the solution spoon-fed to you (this is the case in the module, if you “win” a non-combat encounter) or spend way too much energy thinking through. In the spirit of keeping this a spoiler-free post I will not describe the exact puzzle, but it is one of those “push the buttons in the correct sequence combination puzzles” that is just painful to work through at the table. My group just beat the puzzle to death with skills and powers but I still question the wisdom of its inclusion in an otherwise great module.

That is it for now. I will post again once the PCs complete “The Devil’s Spine” and we move into the Trask-created part of the campaign.


Trask, The Last Tyromancer




Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on a Numenera Campaign

  • March 25, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Great post! Glad you and your friends are trying Numenera.

    If you’d like to slow the advancement a little bit, one thing you could consider which is mentioned on p. 349 of the corebook is once the PCs hit tier 3, require to spend a certain percentage (up to half) of their xp on immediate, medium and long-term benefits as opposed to advancement.

    I haven’t had an issue with the players in my group not using cyphers enough, but most of them are fairly experienced with Numenera. It can get some getting used to for those of us who are more used to different game systems.

    As for the artifacts, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Even if you change the depletion, a player could still spend an xp to reroll a depletion roll in order to keep a beloved artifact. Numenera is a game about exploration and is less concerned about player power level. Part of the fun of the game is collecting Numenera. The Cypher system is so easy to referee, it’s not hard to keep the players challenged, even with loads of artifacts. 🙂

    I’m running The Devil’s Spine as well, although my group is only a little over 1/3 of the way through. Thanks for the heads up on the trap! I’ll have to give that some special attention when I get to that point in the adventure.

    Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!

  • April 5, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I haven’t had gotten around to buying/playing Devil’s Spine, but getting a mixed feedback on it.

    My players burn through cyphers decently, and more so as the game goes on.

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