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Tabletop Review: Numenera: Beyond All Worlds

Numenera: Beyond All Worlds
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Cost: $3.99
Page Count: 22
Release Date: 05/29/2014
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

Beyond All Worlds is the first published adventure for Numenera in roughly seven months. I’ll admit, as innovative, creative and fun as Numenera, adventures seem to be the system’s Achilles heel. Vortex was fine for an intro to the system or for a convention piece, but it was over-priced and little more than a dungeon crawl. The Devil’s Spine, a collection of three adventures had similar issues. Instead of really showcasing how different Numenera is from other games, the collection was little more than generic hack and slash that felt more like a decent, but not great, D&D or Pathfinder set than something Ninth Worldly. I enjoyed both pieces, mind you, but I wanted something that gave me the same feel I got when ire ad the core rulebook and assorted Numenera sourcebooks. Would Beyond All Worlds prove the old adage of “The third time’s the charm?”

Well, yes and no. Beyond All Worlds is definitely a step in the right direction. It’s far more oipen ended than previous Numenera adventures and the emphasis is on discovery and strange sites rather than “take a few steps and kill something.” There are a lot of dangling plot threads as well as multiple ways for the adventure to unfold. I especially loved the flowchart that comes with the adventure which a good GM will make use of to ensure things run smoothly. However, the adventure can easily devolve into a roll-playing over role-playing combat heavy piece in the hands of a bad GM. There aren’t any real safeguards in place to prevent that, and the copious information on traps and monsters in Beyond All Worlds doesn’t help matters much. So truthfully, this adventure lives or dies not necessarily by what is written in the PDF, but based on the GMing style of whoever is running this. If they tend to stray combat heavy, a lot of the mystique and weirdness will be lost, and it too will be coming a generic and forgettable adventure. In the hands of someone who tends to be talking heads heavy, Beyond All Worlds could simply be the tip of an iceberg for a campaign that runs the gambit from exploring all sorts of worlds and alternative universes to a 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo type affair where the PCs are so responsible for collecting all sorts of unspeakable evil-doers that they accidentally let loose upon the Ninth World.

Getting to the adventure is a bit of a stretch. There is no real story hook save for a person that PCs care about acting as a McGuffin. Said NPC is tosses into “The Mouth of Hell”- an interdimensional prison from which there appears to be no way back. At least not that anyone has ever found and lived to tell about. So of course the PCs are supposed to bravely (foolishly) blunder into the Mouth of Hell and then find their way out. My big problem with this is that smart players will balk or lose their suspension of disbelief over a prison break of this nature. It becomes doubly hard to take the core hook seriously when the text of the adventure never breaks up the McGuffin NPC again. There’s no mention of where they might be, what camp they could be in, if they are living or dead, or even if they ever entered the Mouth of Hell to begin with! It’s as if the team behind it completely forgot how they got players into the Mouth of Hell to begin with. This does feel like VERY sloppy editing to me. I would have least put the occasional reference to the original goal in the adventure once the mouth is entered.

Once inside, characters will get Numenera at its best. There’s a lot of strange weirdness to be had. Ailen creatures, nonsensical technology, weird science and of course exploration and discovery up the wazoo. Of course, since the Mouth of Hell is populated will all sorts of unsavory types, from lunatics to cannibals, there is room for a lot of conflict. Smart PCs with use their mouth and minds instead of blades and powers. Of course, mindless violence is a way to get through Beyond All Worlds, but engaging in it involves an uphill battle that will surely get your players kill via sheer numbers. Of course there will be times when violence is the only real options, especially against some of the things that don’t even begin to resemble a humanoid lifeform in this place. There are some fantastic creatures in Beyond All Worlds including the loathsome He Who Shudders and its Snipper Moths.

The crux of the adventure has characters navigating a maze that exists primarily in the mind of the GM and the rolls of the player. If you feel you need a map to run a labyrinth properly, this is NOT the adventure for you. Most people will get by just find with the included flow chart. The adventure really is open-ended in format, so it’s not something I’d give to a rookie or casual GM. You do have to have a game plan going in and the ability to turn chaos into order. Otherwise the piece will feel unfinished. That’s not to say it IS unfinished. Just that there are lots of chances for this adventure to go poorly. If you’re new to running Numenera I’d stick with Vortex and come back to Beyond All Worlds when you feel confident in the system and your own ability to flesh things out.

As mentioned previously the adventure can end in several different ways, most of which leave the door wide open for further adventures that spin off from this one. Unless of course your characters die horribly or merge into an amalgamated blob of madness (Human shoggoth mayhaps?). Since the adventure is designed for experienced (second or third tier characters), the adventure doesn’t really work as the start of a campaign, even though it feels like it should be. I mean, you could start characters off at a higher tier, but then you lack the fun of seeing the characters grow and the GM also lacks any NPCs he can make the characters care about and thus turn into the adventure’s MacGuffin.

Overall, Beyond All Worlds is a decent adventure. It’s a step in the right direction and I think it’s a better overall piece than The Devil’s Spine or Vortex. The heart of the piece is a generic dungeon crawl, which has plagued previous published adventures for the Ninth World. Beyond All Worlds does embrace the Numenera trappings pretty well though, but I really do wish we’d get adventures that are as outside the box as the rulebooks, sourcebooks and supplements have been. We’re not quite there with an iconic or definitive published adventure for Numenera but Beyond All Worlds is getting the system closer to that point. I think the game needs something a little more Lamentations of the Flame Princess, HoL or Paranoia in tone than D&D or Pathfinder. All that said, Beyond All Worlds is still worth picking up. It’s cheap, potentially fun in the hands of the right GM, and offers some memorable antagonists. It’s the same cost as a comic book, but you’ll certainly get more out of it.

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