Cyphers, Submergines and a Drunk Tank–My Numenera Campaign Begins

Numenera is my system of choice for RPG’s, but my last campaign ( Star Wars universe with Cypher System rules) collapsed after the GM bowed out. Not being a huge Star Wars fan anymore (Jar Jar and those damn Ewoks killed it for me), I volunteered to run a straight “Ninth World” Numenera campaign.  Running a Numenera campaign is criminally easy, but I find starting  a campaign quite difficult.  Once a campaign begins, I can count on my players to do one or more of the following:

  1. Kill someone important that has powerful friends
  2. Steal something important that several factions desire
  3. Burn down a city and everyone hates them.


A Prototype Submergine?
A Prototype Submergine?

These all offer a multitude of great plot options for a campaign, but I needed something clever to kick off the fun. Browsing the Numenera core book I ran across this paragraph:

Despite their dislike of anything related to the numenera, the Redfleets love their submergines. Originally designed and built by Mergine “Margie” Kar, another founder of the Redfleets, submergines are clearsynth bioships that safely dive up to 5 miles (8 km) beneath the ocean’s surface and stay there for up to six years. The bio element comes from a creature ensconced within the ship’s hull that provides food and fresh water and recycles contaminants. The clearsynth allows the crew to see in every direction, and some of the camouflage breakers, and light sources in the hulls to enable better “bottom feeding”—scuttling slowly just above the ocean floor to discover hidden creatures.

Unfortunately, many years ago Mergine Kar died suddenly, taking the secrets of the submergines with him. The Redfleets mourn his loss in a shrine room in the Red Fleet Museum and hold tight to their remaining ships, knowing there will be no more.

Ah, now there is a plot hook! Valuable technology lost,  a scavenging fleet hungry for more and an ocean to explore should keep the party  busy for weeks of games.  Basic plot in hand, I needed a way to gather my PCs into a party without using the tired “I want to hire you to do a job” or  “you are sitting in a bar when suddenly….”  Boring.

Rather I came up with a way for each player to start in a unique place while all being in the same place at the same time.

  1. PC one awakens facing down a long, dark tunnel and a foul, tentacled worm jumps towards his face. Initiative roll!
  2.  PC two rouses to find himself sealed in a claustrophobic, granite structure with no way out
  3. PC three is blinded by skull-splitting pain and bright light, calling him to the other side.
  4. PC four awakens in a room, upside down and in pain.
  5. PC five’s vision clears and he sees the following:
    1. PC one lurching  awake with a yelp and pulling his face away from a small drain hole in the floor where a tiny, 3-inch worm comes out.
    2. PC two desperately attacking the wall and underside of a granite bench, scratching to escape the two-sided sarcophagus
    3. PC three lies, spread-eagle in the middle of the room, face  illuminated by the morning light from the only window.
    4. PC four is upside down in a corner.

So, given adventurers  are known to partake of alcoholic beverages…to excess, the party met in the only facility worthy of their station.

The drunk tank in Kaparin city.

After a few minutes to gather their sodden thoughts and realize the previous evening is but a dim fog, the bailiff drags them before the magister. Said magister lists their many and heinous crimes, including:

  1. Ear licking
  2. Arson
  3. Unnatural Acts with a Bar Stool
  4. Vagrancy
  5. Two counts of Jen’Starl (a crime so foul no one has done it in 22 years. People point at laugh at the “Jen’Starl guy on the street…)

Each PC made their case for innocence (poorly)  and most were sentenced to some term of scrubbing barnacles off of ships. The party doctor argued he would be better utilized healing the sick and poor of Kaparin and received a one-day punishment tending to some injured sharks at the local zoo…

Moments before their sentences began, Jarl a local businessman of note paid off the court and drafted the party  for something better suited to their skills. The night before, one of the PCs had a deep discussion with an old thief named Onom.  Onom may hold some information regarding Mergine and the lost submergine technology.  The PCs remember nothing useful, but do find a slip of paper with a diagram on one side and some cryptic numbers on the other.

Taking the job over months of barnacle scrubbing, the PCs proceed to kick in a few doors and shake down some locals for information about Onom.  My players are not subtle, so pretty much the whole town knows they are investigating.  In short order they determine that Sallion Orsay, the local leader wants the technology (Jarl works for her), Lord Captain Garth a notable local fleet captain wants the Numenera as well and finally  “Ol’Bloody Bones” captain of the largest submergine fleet and notable survivor of a submergine accident. He and 7 men were trapped on the ocean floor in a damaged submergine for six months with no food.  Ol’Bloody Bones was the only, well fed survivor…

After a bit of poking around ( and one attack by an Orgolian Soldier and some of Bloody Bones’ men) the PC  determine that their slip of paper is part of Mergine’s technical writings and examining his other works might lead to a discovery. Sadly, the other works are all in the restricted vault of the Red Fleet Museum. None of the factions will openly help the players as to do so would risk a shooting war with the other interested parties. Such an event took place years ago when Mergine first died and it took weeks for the fires to die out. Even Red Fleet members that claim no interest in cyphers and artifacts occasionally keep an interesting one, you know, in case of a rainy day. The day Mergine died, it rained and it took weeks to put the fires out in Kaparin. No one wants that type of open warfare again, so everyone plays a dangerous, dark game of stealth and espionage.

This means that the PCs cannot get into the restricted vault through the front door. Heist time!

After convincing Lord Captain Garth to help, they “borrowed” a variety of cutting equipment from his shipyard, including thermic lances (real tech used by steel mills, cuts steel like butter. We had to stop and watch a video on it because it is so cool). Tools in hand, the players scaled the museum, achieved the roof (though I did GM intrude a unit of night watchmen wandering by while two of the PCs hung on the side of the building. Hey, I need to have my fun too!) and cut in.

The party carefully patched the roof hole after entry and stood on top of the vault, ready to rip it open.  Standing on the vault in a pool of light surrounded by vast darkness, something brushed past their legs, then again…

Until one party member felt something coil around his throat and drag him off into the darkness, screaming.  Last scene of the night before adjournment for the week.

Overall, I am very pleased with the campaign’s first night. Players found the necessary clues, left a sufficiently wide trail of destruction that the three primary factions are on alert and either helping or hunting and there is a clear goal; find the secret of the submergines.

As they say, a good start.


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.