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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Numenera, some thoughts / Lamenting Brick and Mortar.

Numenera A brief review and some thoughts / Lamenting Brick and Mortar.

I received the Numenera core book in the mail this week. I am I think the last person in the RPG blog-o-sphere to get my hands on this game, but I say that as a plus, I have never been what you would call an early adopter. I have read about and know people who backed Monte Cook's wildly successful kick starter.

Almost every thing (but not all) I have heard or read form these people, has been a moat of gooey positivism, the likes of which has not been seen since the Ghost busters brought the statue of liberty to life.

This game is at least in my view the epitome to date of a successful kick-starter, and what can be done with that success.

So, “Why you no Back Kick-starter?”

Let me be 100% honest, If I could talk to Mr. Cook in person I would be humbled, the guy has been in the R.P.G.industry for 25+ years and is very obviously very, very good. Advice from him would be sage advice . I say that to lend context to the fact that up until I heard about Numenara my extent of exposure to Monte Cook's work was as, “The guy who did work on Planescape and 3rd Ed.” For the record I simply never liked Planescape, it was just too over the top for my tastes. I know this is unfair, it's not right to judge a persons work by so few examples to my deficit, I never picked up Ptolus, I don't know much about his work for Iron Crown Enterprises and so on. I did not back the kick starter because I did not know what kind of product the game was going to be , plain and simple. If it was a new system walking similar steps as 3rd ed or Planescape, I simply wouldn't be interested, so I waited until people I knew had the physical thing and could tell me about it. I went retail (More on that latter)

Now that my lamentations are out of the way, Numenara is pretty darn good, (though Great is a strong word at least until I get to play it.)

About the core book:
Hard cover, Binding seems good.
The physical thing is 416 pages. Each page is GORGEOUS. I mean seriously this is one of, if not the best looking RPG, Product I have ever seen. Some large part of that kick starter money went to hiring a murders row of art talent, and every one of them delivered. The layout is generally 2 columns per page with a side bar on the left, ever thing, (I mean every thing) is cross referenced from the text to the side bar. 

Don't know what a cypher is that's alright, look at the side bar it will tell you what page will contain information about cyphers. It makes a difference when you are chugging through a 400+ page game.

What I like about the game is that it's solidly rooted in the setting. The Ninth World, seems like a place of  crazy sci fantasy adventure and the game is built to support that world. As I was reading the character creation section I kept having moments where I would think “wouldn't it be cool if?” and then read what I was thinking in the next paragraph. It's a good feeling when a game is already supporting the players ideas before they even start playing.

The character creation seems fun,
I was aware of the
“I am a (blank) (blank) who (blank)s.”
Or better put:
“I am a (Descriptor) (Type / class) who (focus)s.”
Format for describing a character, but the system of might, speed, and intellect along with effort and edge was totally new to me. 
In fact it was a pleasant surprise, as I was hoping there would be some mechanical frame to hang the character description off off.
That mechanical frame reads like a really slick system, I have not played yet, but I'm hoping it plays as well as it reads. (I like economy and games that make you potentially pay for your decisions, this seems to do both.)
Here is a nice look at the Numenera internal economy from the Trollsmyth blog:


He does a better job sorting it all out than I think I would.


Another surprise for me is how Descriptors, Type and Foci. Grant the players abilities. 
I love any system that gives mechanical weight the characters description. I was not super excited to see that there are lists of Descriptors players have to choose from, but once I saw that they were tied to abilities I got the picture.
The abilities provided by foci, feel an awful lot like feats to me, I don't say that as a bad thing, I'm comfortable with picking a new ability as my character progresses so I see no reason to complain. My quick scan did not allow me to try and find any min max, best combo super synergistic description, type, foci ability stack. It might be there, but I'm not that guy, I'll never find it.

I could see a small cottage industry sprouting up on the internet as people design original descriptors and foci for characters, I support this, because the game should have more of them from the get go.

All in all my reaction to my first skim of the mechanical side of Numenera is positive. Will it hold up when I play? I'm not sure, I am looking forward to trying it out.

Here is a link to the “Dreamers and Dicepools” blog where in the author had a a less positive reaction to the game as a whole.
I like to try and show both sides of things when I post and while my first reaction was generally positive the author in this blog touches on some things that were nagging at me as well. Agree or not it's a very good read either way and I think presents some fair points.

A brief point About brick and Mortar R.P.G stores. I support mine, or at least I try to. I am very lucky to live within an hour or so of Albany New York and hence Zombie planet.
It's a great store, the best I've been in. Sorry Alternaverse in N.Y.C , Zombie Planet has you beat.
Every time I go in there even if I don't find what I want , I try to buy SOMETHING, even if it is something small, I get something just because I'm happy they're there.

So It is with hanged head I have to admit, I passed on Numenera in the store based solely on the price tag. This is in no way a reflection on Zombie Planet, they are priced just like every other brick and mortar judging by the quick internet search I did.
The Core Numenera Book was on Amazon for $20 dollars less, and considering my wife and I had an Amazon card from Christmas, the game found it's way into our cart.

Why do I bring this up? I don't pretend to understand how a game winds up $20 more at a store than it is online. I don't know the in's and outs of distribution, mark-ups, and pricing. What I do understand is that online sources like Amazon enjoy a huge distribution advantage which helps keep their prices down.
This hobby depends on new people seeing and trying games and I think the local game store can be a big part of that. From Magic tournaments, to board game nights to War-hammer 40K blow outs, these things don't happen (at least not nearly as much) unless there is a store that will host them.

I think that at some level, even though every one has to get a slice of the profit, RPG publishers could and should see it as a benefit to the industry to start cutting the brick and mortar dealers some breaks. (Not you Games workshop, I've given up on you.)
Again, I freely admit I am ignorant about these sorts of things, but I feel a strong network of real physical stores can only benefit the board game, and RPG hobbies, I hate to see them getting undercut right and left.

Well Once again:
Thank you for reading.
Happy New Year, best of luck in 2014, get lots of gaming in.

Questions, comments, and Shenanigans Welcome!