Following is my write-up for my RPG session on December 15th. We played Numenera and tremulus. I had four players with me (using first initials only for this post): J, J2, L, and B.
Numenera: Call of the Callerail
The characters were on the Wandering Walk, which led them into the Adenu Woods. There, they entered the city of Ephmenon, where they stumbled into the semi-annual Call of the Callerail. Every so often, the callerail population becomes a serious threat to the residents of the city, and so they organize a massive hunt to bring down as many of the beasts as they can.
The characters got swept up into the hunt. After jumping off the beaten path and nearly getting devoured by killer tentacled fish, they found a callerail deep in the woods. The adventurers discovered in the heat of the moment that they had no chance of defeating the massive beast in a straight fight, and so they had to work creatively with their numenera, special abilities, and the environment to defeat the creature.
After looting the body, the players discovered what appears to be a homing beacon in the callerail's innards. Someone, or something, was directing this creature, or at least monitoring it closely...
Character creation was a little bit choppy. J2, B, & L were all completely new to the game, and I myself have only played once, so there was a little bit of bumble factor here. Numenera looks simple enough when you read through it, but the flow, mechanics, and even terminology of the game are so alien from other RPGs that it's easy to trip over it all. The learning curve is prominent, but very climable. I am certain all will be made clear with more play.
I'll note, though, that one of Numenera's many strengths is its thematic consistency. The mechanics echo the design of the world incredibly well. Even the basic terminology suggests that Numenera is a world unlike any you've ever gamed in before. Monte Cook (designer of the game) is an industry legend, and that experience and skill are definitely on display throughout the book.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with this second outing into the Ninth World. Since the structured approach I took to the first game didn't pan out, I tried running this second game a lot more loosely. The result was a lot of scrambling for details, inadvertent plot holes, and an encounter mismatch. I knew the callerail would be too much for the players to fight straight-on, and knew they would have to be creative to defeat it, but I didn't have any solid ideas in my head for how. The adventure was still a lot of fun, mind you, but, as always, my obsession with pacing and flow was definitely digging into the back of my head.
Just as character creation was more complex than it appeared at first glance, so too is running Numenera. Despite having few stats to track, I found the game quite difficult to freestyle because of the depth of detail that runs throughout the game world, and the characters. Another mismatch that developed through play was with the characters' motivations and the plot as it unfolded. J played a ladies man looking for his next big score; L and J2 were meek, late teenagers just trying to survive, and B was a gallant knight looking for a cause. In other words, none of them were really a great fit for an adventure where the players are expected to dive head-first into danger.
These are, of course, problems that are common in many RPGs. These are also problems that are more personal than game-related. I get that. I just thought that with the paradign shift in the rules, there would be a resultant shift in GMing. Instead, it seems like GMing in Numenera best benefits from a more tradionalist approach of careful preparation, rather than inspired freestyle.
Story summary: The four players...an Alienist, a Professor, a Dilettante, and a Private Eye...are living private lives that are quickly becoming wrapped up in the affairs of the town's most prestigious family, the Quinces. Namely, Taylor Quince is suspecting that her husband, Maximillian, is going mad. Taylor alluded to events in the past that may be the cause of this, but whatever she knows, she is not telling, for now. Taylor has confided all of this to the Dilettante, who then went and hired the Private Eye to follow Maximillian.
Meanwhile, Maximillian is likewise concerned about the sanity of his wife. He hired the Alienist to examine her, implying all the while that he would like to have her quietly confined to a mental institution. Taylor somehow caught wind of this and fled the mansion, seeking safety in an old flame, the Professor. While Maximillian's men search Ebon Eaves for his wife, he sets the Alienist to work on another person, Markus Robertson. Markus has reverted to some kind of bestial, animal state, and Maximillian, for reasons unknown, has him locked in a cell in a dungeon beneath the mansion (it is also unknown why Maximillion has a dungeon, complete with prison cells, beneath his mansion). The Alienist deems Markus completely and incurably insane.
While returning to town, the Alienist's cab is gunned down and run off the street by some thugs. The Alienist survives almost completely by sheer luck, the car stuck in a tree after being driven off the mountain road. The Alienist, stuck in the tree, is saved by the Private Eye, who was poking around the Quince family mansion and discovered the dungeon.
The Professor (reluctantly) hid Taylor in his apartment. The Dilettante, discovering that Taylor has disappeared and fearing the worst, remembered her old flame was in town and goes to his apartment, hoping to find her. The Professor is in the process of getting both of them out of his apartment when a man with a shotgun blows open the door. The assailant is nearly successful, but the Dilettante and the Professor, fighting for their lives, take down the miscreant.
That is where the session ended.
Background and Character Creation: tremulus was played entirely off-the-cuff. I finished Numenera early because I wanted to retreat and rally the adventure, so with the extra time, we decided to play another game. Character creation, as it always is in Apocalypse Engine games, was so swift and easy it could barely be called "character generation." J simply printed out all of the playbooks and off they went. I handed out the Ebon Eaves questionaire, tallied the answers, and wrote down the results.
Self-critique: tremulus, paired with Numenera, was an excellent study of contrasts. Numenera is a deep, detailed game that thrives from preparation, planning, and understanding the system. tremulus is a storytelling game that can be played with literally zero prep. By just a quick read of the adventure synopses for both games, it's probably pretty easy to tell which game I'm better with. To be fair, though, I've been playing and studying Apocalypse Engine games for over a year, whereas I purchased Numenera about two months ago.
I have already gone on and on about how I feel about tremulus (look up the entry titled "The little t," if you're curious), so I'm not going to rehash that here. Just know that tremulus went down almost exactly, to the letter, as I described it in that post.
Overall, it was a great session, and I had a great time. I am not giving up on Numenera. Although I hate running published adventures, I think I may give one or two of them a serious read, and run one for the next Numenera game I run. I think combining the structure of a written story, combined with my own flights of freestyle fancy for when players inevitably jump off the page, may be the best of both worlds, and ultimately fulfill the incredible potential of Monte Cook's masterpiece.
As for tremulus...well, we'll just have to play to find out, won't we?
COMMENT POLICY: I would love to hear your thoughts about my session, and hear any suggestions you have on how to run the games better. However, that is all I want to hear. I am not interested in hosting any discussions, no matter how civil or thoughtful, on the merits and flaws of Numenera and/or tremulus, or any other game, for that matter. Such comments will be deleted, not because I'm a jerk (well, maybe), but because this blog is about my experiences as an RPG gamemaster. I consider such discussions, then, as off-topic.
If you don't know if your comment is appropriate, go ahead and post it! If I delete it, though, please try not to take it personally. I'm just trying to control the content of my blog, is all. If you're that scared of being deleted, then simply email your thoughts directly to me instead of commenting. Thank you!