This post will contain spoilers for players wanting to play the Nightmare Switch adventure. It also assumes a basic understanding of the Numenera game system, which is called the Cypher System. If you are going to play the Nightmare Switch intro adventure, you should probably read this afterwards to avoid any spoilers. If you don’t know anything about Numenera or the game system it runs on, you can probably still get something out of these posts, although a quick overview at that last link will prime you.
The total article is almost 8,000 words long, so I’ve split it into 4 parts, the Overview and Introduction, The Adventure Begins, The Adventure Continues, and Wrap Up.
- Arrowtail, a Clever Jack who Exists Partially out of Phase (Page, Age 11)
- Gabriel, a Strong Willed Jack who Works Miracles (James, 30+ Adult)
- Acrophelia, a Graceful Glaive who Fuses Flesh and Steel (Clare, 30+ Adult)
- Chronus, a Learned Nano who Focuses Mind over Matter (Ben, 30+ Adult)
The entire party, including me, the GM, were new at this game. All players excepting Page had a lot of roleplaying background, mostly with flavours of D&D from 2nd ed onwards. Page, my daughter, had played a few sessions of D&D Next, and various RPG computer games such as Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect trilogy.
I printed out two hard copies of the Player’s Handbook (I have the .pdf and print copies), for a total of 4 handbooks. I also found the character creation pages at the back of the Core Guide and printed out a few copies as well. These two pages provide a very handy step-by-step character creation guide.
- Gabriel had access to a chip that could detonate Acrophelia’s arm if he so chose to activate it. He had learned this in healing her, as that was his Tier 1 focus power.
- Acrophelia was secretly convinced that Gabriel was a messianic figure, because he could heal her (as a part-mechanical being, a good chunk of her Might pool can not be healed organically, but has to be repaired).
- Whenever Chronus stood next to Acrophelia, his powers would fluctuate. Sometimes they would be stronger, sometimes they would be weaker.
- Chronus had helped Arrowtail learn to control her reality phasing powers so that she could function in society.
As this was our first adventure and first time playing Numenera, the introductory pre-fab adventure The Nightmare Switch was our story of choice. I’d read as much of the core Numenera book as feasible, and read the adventure module over a few times. It’s not a particularly complicated story, consisting of a few set pieces and obstacles.
How the adventure is supposed to go (according to the book)
The party arrives in the town of Redstone with a supply of urgent cargo for the local Aeon Priest clave.
The party discovers that everyone in town is cranky/suicidal/insane from lack of sleep due to nightmares, and that the local quarry can’t produce enough redstone to meet its contracts and that everything is basically falling apart.
The party attempts to deliver the cargo to the clave’s tower in the centre of town and are told to come back in the morning by the loyal guard.
The party repeats this each day, being increasingly frustrated at the constant rebuffing until they try to break into the tower, or convince the guard to let them through, or some other such process.
In the tower they discover that the Aeon Priests have snuck out of the town a few days ago in order to travel north to a mysterious dome, where a piece of machinery has broken down. They believe that by repairing this machinery the nightmares will end.
The party travels north and discovers the ancient structure, but sees that repairs inside the structure were half-finished and that the priests were interrupted by a roaming band of ‘margr’, abhuman half-goat things that revere the Numenera and attacked and killed the priests, taking the replacement part for the dome’s machinery, as well as eating the priests and stealing their stuff.
The party travels west to intercept the margr tribe and fights/persuades/sneaks the replacement part out of their grasp.
The party returns to the dome to fix the machinery and then heads back to the city to great acclaim and a party in their honour.
The Best Laid Plans…
So of course none of this went down as it was supposed to. This was absolutely a function of the gaming system itself, as you will soon discover, but not a bad thing at all. Everyone had fun, and victory was achieved without any actual fighting.
Yes, you heard me. There was one fight in the entire 4 hour session, and it lasted about 5 minutes of real time, and did not, in itself, resolve any core adventure points. The pivotal decider in the adventure, rather, was a random cypher that our Nano, Chronus, decided to leave behind in the city because he was already at his maximum and had found a more powerful, combat-oriented cypher in the quarry…
But I get ahead of myself.
The adventure begins as Chronus, the Learned Nano with telekinetic powers, receives a telepathic message from an old Aeon Priest he knew in the seminary. Chronus was a former Aeon Priest himself but had renounced that life to explore the mysteries of the Beyond, distancing himself from civilisation. The message wasn’t clear, but urgently called him to come to the town of Redstone. Because of his connections with the other player characters, and because this was our first adventure and I pointed out to the players that we were running a preconstructed adventure so they should play along, everyone agreed to take on a simple contract with the shipmaster Deymish, a middle-aged convivial fellow who was shipping three crates urgently to Redstone.
I think it’s always important just to push a little bit of metagaming/railroading onto the players when we’re playing a one-off. Yes, it’s much more likely that none of the players have an in-character reason to go along on this mad mission into the wastelands for a small amount of cash monies, but that would make for a boring game. And so I compelled them with my mesmeric gaze and a brief, ‘Ok, this is where we’re starting, so let’s just roll with it, yeah?’
I blew up and printed out the cover art for the adventure, because it’s very evocative and I needed to get the players into this new world.
The only preparation I did (outside of reading the adventure several times) was to come up with a few ‘weird’ things (which I never ended up using) and to make a list of margr and human names, which was super handy as the party encountered new NPCs. Basically, I had a list of names on a piece of paper, and as the players encountered someone who needed a name, I’d pick an appropriate one and write down who they were (bartender, first mate, etc) as they were allocated. This is a generally useful RPG trick, but because the flavour of this setting requires some consistency it helped me more than normal. It’s not right to improv ‘George’s and ‘Sarah’s and ‘Jacqueline’s into the Ninth World, names you could usually get away with in a more traditional fantasy setting such as D&D.
I would definitely recommend expanding the ‘weird’ list so as to properly inject the flavour of the world into the environment. I managed to do this off the top of my head a little as we played the adventure, but having a list like the character name list would’ve made this easier. An example of this would be to have a few things such as, ‘metal disks orbiting the entrance’ or ‘floor panels made of clear crystal that show the sky’. This is the kind of stuff you should just throw into the world as the players pass through it, and this is the guts of Numenera, the weirdness and awe of magical technology made quotidian.
I also printed out some pictures of margr, in preparation for handing the small pictures to the players directly, as in-game ‘photos’ printed out of some video-capture device that the townsfolk had. eg. ‘Here is a picture of the Chieftain, Blodskol, taken during a raid last month.’ The larger picture was for an actual in-game moment when the party meet Blodskol. Note: I can’t remember if the chieftain had a name in the adventure book. I don’t think so.
I also printed out an A4 copy of the town of Redstone for the players. I had Deymish hand this to them. I laminated all the ‘real world’ elements to give them a little more of a Numenera feel. You might think this is overkill, but handling a plastic map felt more like Numenera than a paper map.
Next: The Adventure Begins
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