Monte Cook has been designing RPGs for a long time. Possibly longer than you've been alive, although now you're making us all feel old. Over the past 24 years, Cook's biggest claim to fame has been his involvement with "Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition" back in 2000, so when it was announced that he'd be joining the Wizards of the Coast team creating "D&D Next", it felt as though the dream team was being assembled.
It wasn't meant to be though, and Cook left the team this past April citing a difference of opinion with the company. Speculation began almost immediately. Disagreement or not, it's tough to picture someone walking away from such a high profile position without an ace up his sleeve. What exactly did Monte Cook have in store for gamers? The answer is "Numenera," an original story-driven RPG currently being funded on Kickstarter.
According to Cook in his announcement of the project:
"'Numenera’s' setting is Earth, a billion years in the future, after eight great civilizations have risen and fallen. Thus, the setting is also called the Ninth World. The PCs are part of a new civilization rising in the Ninth World, hoping to forge its own destiny. But they must do so amid the remnants of a remarkable and in many ways unknowable past. The ancient peoples of prior eras mastered nanotechnology, interstellar travel, cosmic engineering, genetic engineering, and far stranger things. If the people of the Ninth World think of such things as magic, who are we to blame them?"
An overview at Numenera.com provides some insight on the game's mechanics. As I mentioned in the intro, "Numenera" is meant to be heavy on story and light on rules, and the character creation definitely supports that. Players select from three different character types and spend most of their effort in choosing descriptors and a focus, which define the background and desires of your character more so than their skills and abilities.
Characters will use a single D20 roll to carry out actions in "Numenera," and to keep the focus on story, all modifiers provide a qualitative impact on the task's difficulty rather than a mathematical effect on the roll itself. Also, experience points will be earned when characters make interesting discoveries, not when they win combat.
As Monte Cook continues to build upon this framework in prepping "Numenera" for a 2013 release, the makings of a true franchise are already in the works. Cook and game publisher AEG have already announced a partnership to create a "Numenera"-themed version of the "Thunderstone" deckbuilding game.
“I’m super-excited to be working in the story-based world of 'Numenera',” said "Thunderstone" project lead, Jeff Quick in an AEG press release. “One of the first things I said to Monte when we started discussing this idea was that I didn’t want 'Numenera' to be a coat of paint for 'Thunderstone'. I wanted this world to affect the gameplay, literally change the game to reflect the new, strange future-fantasy of Numenera, while remaining compatible with Thunderstone’s full library of cards.”
I haven't always had the fondest words for "Thunderstone" and its reputation as a thematic card game, but these words from Quick are exactly what you want to hear from a game designer. "Thunderstone's" use of theme may have never jived with me, but the tie-in with "Numenera" allows players to bring some of their own stories to the table while carrying out actions that make sense in the context of the setting. That's a textbook recipe for a thematic success, and if AEG can pull this off, I wouldn't be surprised to see "Numenera" products taking up a larger swath of shelf space in years to come.
The "Numenera RPG" Kickstarter project is still funding, but with just under a week to go, but its $280k take is well past the original goal of $20k. The only thing left to decide if whether you want in or not.