chomiji: Red 20-sided die for tabletop gaming (Gaming)
[personal profile] chomiji

We've been playing our second Numenera campaign for about a year now. Numenera is a rather open-ended system that encourages the GM to reward creative play: anyone can try to do anything, and there is essentially one scale and one mechanism for doing just about any sort of task. If you're trained (or the higher-level version, Specialized), you just have an asset (or assets) toward making the roll. The scenario is an ancient world situation (think Vance's Dying Earth, but with more Steampunk-ish elements), and the current campaign is ocean-oriented. We have a ship (and more recently have also acquired a small submarine), and most of the characters have seafaring or other aquatic backgrounds.

On our previous episode, the party had fetched up on an obviously artificial island. It's made out of metal, it's surrounded by huge lotus-like petals that fold up at night, and if you're out at night, part of your life energy is drained away. There is a safe space around a tower in the precise middle, so all the human inhabitants (who only migrated here some 65 years ago) huddle around or in the tower at night. The island is also plagued with abhumans, twisted and violent humanoids who don't have much a culture and who attack and kill regular humans. The abhumans mainly cluster around a cove to the north of the island, where there are a number of shipwrecks. In the first session on the island, we mostly explored and got to know the human inhabitants.

Last night, in the second session, we woke after our first night on the island to discover that a small child, a girl of 4 years, had been abducted, presumably by the abhumans (whom I keep calling "orcs" in my mind). After some false starts, we managed to pick up a trail and followed it a couple of klicks north of the tower. There our air reconnaisance unit (a "rainstar"—flying intelligent starfish—that's the familiar of Redsky, one of our "nanos"—magical technology workers) located the child chained to an altarlike block and surrounded by four abhumans.

There followed a small, brisk fight that injured a significant number of the party. The human settlement's one-woman security force carried the child back to the tower afterward, and we explored the block and found a door. One of our other nanos, my brother-in-law's character Victor, was apparently taken over mentally by some power below the ground: he became positively giddy with enthusiasm for the idea of going down the stairs that we found behind the door. Victor is prone to this kind of thing because his powers have to do with empathy and mind-reading, so he's a little too open to mental influences.

At the bottom of the stairs was a globe-shaped chamber filled with saltwater. Victor plunged into it without putting on his underwater breathing/vision/communications gadgets (although he remembered them the next round). My character, Teego (a coastal tribeswoman with fast reflexes who has become increasingly fish-like through a series of magical events) plunged after him. We all eventually followed him into a brightly lit room with walls covered with machine diagrams. The Voice in Victor's head wanted him to help interpret the diagrams. Bad choice, Voice: Victor barely knows from machines, and Ando, our part-android nano who does that stuff, is much more cautious about random brain-calls.

The Voice (who called itself "the One") called its minions, first swordfish with beam weapons and torpedoes and then armored starfishy things with strong mental attacks. We were getting royally shellacked because we were still injured from the earlier fight. Then the One itself went after Victor (and also showed up in the outer chamber, blocking our exit: it was a giant winged sea-snail). And Victor failed his intellect defense rolls, ran out of power points in all three pools (Might, Speed, and Intellect), and was therefore dead. Really most sincerely dead.

Now I must explain a point of Numenera gameplay. Experience points (or as we, like many, call them, EPs—pronounced "eeps") are few, significant, and flexible. Four EPs can be spent to advance a stage in character development (roughly akin to a level). A single EP can be spent to learn a specific, narrow skill or gain knowledge of a narrow subject. Two EPs will buy you a functional skill in a language or a more generally applicable skill. Oh, and 1 EP can also allow you to re-roll a dice roll.

Coral the sexy bon vivant pirate woman, who is prone to mishaps, promptly volunteered an EP for Victor to re-roll his last defense roll. He blew it again. So Beliq the genetically engineered aqua-person warrior pitched in one of his EPs. And so on down the line. Finally Victor rolled a natural 20, and the GM declared that yes, Victor had come back to life. In the end, every other player had sacrificed a point. Durk the hard-luck, hard-hitting fighter/miracle worker worked a couple of miracles to restore some power points to the most gravely injured, and we beat a hasty.

In the end, we came back two days later, all healed up, and took the One apart. Ths was possible because his swordfish hadn't been repaired yet and he himself had not managed to heal all the damage we had managed to inflict (the mental defense ciphers—basically, scrolls—that the humans had managed to cough up for us helped too: they were grateful for our rescue of the child). And we co-opted the starfish things, which Ando had researched and which turned out to be powerful, skilled technicians who were willing to work for almost anyone. With their help, we dismantled the equipment that drained the life-force of the people (it was also re-routing that life-stuff to help the One create the abhumans).

"I'm proud of you for sacrificing the EPs," said the GM, magnanimously. And he gave everyone 3 more EPs for the whole two-session adventure. That was enough for everyone to go up one development step (and in most cases, hang onto an EP or three for future emergencies).

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