Last time, I went over the geography of the Ninth World to explore the setting of Numenera. This time, I wanted to look over what sort of people and creatures inhabit the Ninth World. Living amidst the remains of a billion years of previous civilizations is a strange prospect and it means that the people of Numenera are both used to and mystified by the strange technology they find lying around their world. The things you can find in the wilderness or cities of this setting may fill the same narrative niches as goblins and cultists and ghosts but they are very different.
I said this last time as well, but the space fantasy aspect of Numenera is subtle but definitive. Encountering something that you know is technological and rooted in a scientific principle, no matter how bewildering or “sufficiently advanced” that it seems like magic. In D&D when you encounter a creature or mystical site the question of “how did this get here?” is rarely brought up. Ogres prowl the woods because that’s what ogres do and probably always will do. Maybe they evolved natural alongside humans, maybe they were wrought from primordial clay by Gruumsh, maybe they were elves who rebelled and changed because of their new outlook. If the DM has an answer to this, it can provide color to the setting but it’s hardly necessary and most of the time it hardly impacts the story. Those ogres believe what they want and that’s that.
In Numenera, however, the truth and origin of things matters a lot. Take the varjellans, a race of aliens that live in small enclaves within human nations. Maybe they are incidental visitors who settled on the planet as a backwater getaway, maybe they conquered Earth in the past and created one of the past eras, maybe they were actually once human-alien hybrids who are now too far removed to mix with baseline humans. Each of these will certainly affect the game world of an individual campaign because it completely changes what the varjellans are at their core. It also affects their relationship with the setting itself: if they were the rulers of the world that made the floating monoliths, for instance, you’d expect one of these structures to react different to a varjellan PC.
In all, the same theme as we saw with the geography of the setting continues here. The people and creatures in Numenera may look and dress and talk like standard fantasy fare but they are anything but.
Chapter 14 of the Numenera core book is about the major organizations of the game, particularly those organizations that players and NPCs might belong to. There are some mechanical benefits to joining a particular group, but mostly it is background flavor to go with the open-ended nature of the character creation rules.
The group that gets by far the most attention in Numenera is the Order of Truth, a quasi-religious based around “a veneration of intellect, understanding, and the wonders that arise from such things: science, technology, and the numenera.” In another example of how this setting is really science-fiction dressed as fantasy, rather than the other way around, the best parallels to the Order are ZFT from Fringe, the Spacing Guild in Dune, and the Adeptus Mechanicus in Warhammer 40k. Some members of the Order use the religious view that most people have of the group to their advantage, meaning that the Order of Truth can fill any number of narrative niches.
In stark contrast to the Order, the Convergence are scholars and students of the past who want to use the secrets of earlier eras and the power of the numenera for their own improvement. Like the exhumans of Eclipse Phase or the borg in Star Trek, they see technology as the future and base human form as flawed and useless. They are direct and ruthless in their approach, but only number about a hundred.
Aside from these scholarly groups, the Order of Truth supports the Angulan Knights as an international military force for defending the Steadfast against threats from the Beyond. They believe that the Ninth World is the Last World and want to safeguard it from “creatures from elsewhere, predatory horrors lingering from a nonhuman past, humans that have turned on their own kind… and any who prevent the greater good anywhere.” They are a thoroughly black-and-white knighthood (every setting needs one) but their bioconservative beliefs and Fremen-like fatalism make them more like the Space Marines than the Knights of Solamnia.
On the edges of society are a number of other groups ranging from secretive cults to widespread brotherhoods. The Jagged Dream, found in both the Steadfast and the Beyond, is a group of apocalypse-seekers who believe humanity will rise to greater things once the Ninth World is swept away in war and flame. The Redfleets are explorers and vagabonds, sailing everywhere and bragging about what they find. The Sarracenians are a group of plant-worshipping scholars seems like it would be somewhat lame but the opportunity for medieval geneticists and an academic grudge match with the Order of Truth redeems them a little.
The greatest and least-defined threat in the setting is that of the Gaians. Very little is said about this group aside from the facts that they live in the far north in the Cloudcrystal Skyfields (see my last post for more on the geography of the setting) and that they are “animists, believing that supernatural beings inhabit all natural things.” In short, they can be whatever sort of evil you like with whatever sort of agenda, helped by the crusade that the Order of Truth has declared against their settlements.
A number of different creatures fill the Ninth World and all of them are unlike anything in the 21st century, as the book is happy to keep pointing out. Genetic splicing, alien visitations, and natural evolution have changed things over the billion years between the Ninth World and ours.
Abhumans are creatures close to human, either mutations or hybrids. Mutants, humanoid aliens, or even the bizarre and beast-headed margrs. There are some that are barely even human-like, such as the spidery culova, the reptilian chirog hunters, or the hunchbacked, raven-like, telepathic murdens. The most intriguing abhumans to me are the Oorgolian soldiers, mysterious super-soldier creations from eons past that still patrol certain parts of the Ninth World. Why do they patrol and is there something there worth protecting? You tell me.
There are also the ultraterrestrials, a catch-all term for extraterrestrial and extradimensional visitors to the Ninth World. These include the ghost-like, half-phased abykos and the worm-like, hungry erynth grasks. My favorite one of these is the nevajin: a symbiotic creature made of a stocky body and a free-floating, skull-like head. Creepy.
The beasts of the Ninth World are just as bizarre and strange as the humanoids. Some are domesticated like the hulking herd/mount animal aneen or the leather-winged rasters which fly with antigravity devices in their biomechanical bodies. There are also wild dangers in the wilderness like the flesh-and-steel callerail (like a mass of cables in the shape of a huge gorilla), the the scaled seskii hounds of the wastelands, or the tusked ravage bear. The most disturbing of these is the jiraskar, an apex-predator which looks like a tyrannosaurus with clown fish coloring and sees through the omnipresent datasphere left by the nanites of previous worlds.
Lastly, travelers will ocassionally run into ancient constructs built in ages past, like the dark fathoms which carry a black hole in their chest or the disassembler which… well, it disassembles. There’s even a succubus-like creature that seduces men then uses the prenancy to create an ultradimensional hybrid in its artificial womb.
In Numenera NPCs can be extremely easy to make. Throughout the book, many are listed as margin notes simply as “level 2, level 3 for all intrigue tests” or “level 5, level 6 for sailing and seeing through deception.” Easy stuff. In this chapter, though, are some more imaginative takes on characters that players might encounter, complete with interesting equipment and imaginative uses.
NPCs range from the technology-wielding Aeon Priests to resourceful explorers to savage bandits. Of slightly more interest, though, are the fully-imagined NPCs that could be placed straight into a campaign if GMs need a strange encounter on the road or a contact in a city. My favorite of these is definitely the pair of characters named Naevro and Burrim, namely a cheerful traveler and his massive carp friend who breathes through a faceplate rebreather and swims through the air with an anti-gravity harness. These two will be in every one of my Numenera campaigns. That’s a promise.