Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Page Count: 30
Release Date: 09/04/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Vortex was the Numenera adventure that people could peruse and play through at GenCon 2013 this year. Monte Cook Games has since made it available as an electronic download for those that could not attend, which is always a plus in my eyes. This also makes it the first adventure released outside of the ones in the core rulebook. I’ve really been loving Numenera so far, and it’s one of my favorite new games of the year, so I was excited to see the game get an adventure released so soon after the core rulebook and player’s guide came out. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything until The Devil’s Spine, so I was happy to see a review copy of this show up in my in-box.
Vortex is actually two pieces in one. You have your eighteen page adventure for the GM to run and six pre-generated characters, which adds another twelve pages of content. I really love the character sheet designs, especially since, unlike the D&D Next ones I recently have had to deal with, the lines are big enough to type and/or write on. My favorite of the characters is the Jack who wears a sheen of ice, but everyone will have their favorite. The characters are diverse enough that every one will stand out and become memorable characters, as long as the players get into the game. Of course, if you’re experienced in Numenera, you don’t need to use the pre-generated characters. You can either create your own, or if you are in the middle of a campaign, stick Vortex in for your players to experience.
Vortex is almost two interconnected adventures in one. The town it takes place in (Jutte) can be placed anywhere within the Ninth World. The first half of the adventure, “The Temple” has the PCs discovering a cult worshiping at a strange location known as the Temple of the Vortex. The PCs will encounter a cult member who has escaped indoctrination, but her brother wasn’t so lucky. She asks the PCs to enter the temple to save him. “The Temple” is pretty open ended, and there are lots of subplots/subquests to engage in around Jutte if the players don’t want to deal with the cult right away (or at all). The cult is pretty big (especially for First Tier characters), so players may want to find a way other than combat to deal with them. Exploring the temple is a lot of fun, and the twists and turns the adventure throws at you are not only memorable, but a great way to introduce people to Numenera and show them just how alien the Ninth World is, even if it is our own, a billion years in the future.
“Through the Vortex” is the second part of the adventure, and it is a wonderful example of how weird the Ninth World can be. Here, players will be transported to an alien structure within the sun itself known as the Temple of Radiance. In this tale, players must help a strange being known as Aerridomos save the Temple of Radiance from collapsing upon itself, all while dealing with the fact their very presence within it is speeding the rate of the temple’s demise. Can the PCs save Aerridomos and/or the temple? It will be hard to do so, but the knowledge and experience gained from such an encounter is well worth the players’ time. It’s a bit of a melancholy affair, especially if the PCs can’t fix the Temple, but it’s also a great lesson in how the residents of the Ninth World understand so very, very little about what is around them.
What makes Vortex so interesting is that it’s pretty open ended. There isn’t a linear path the PCs will follow, and there are many methods to get through the adventure(s). Stealth, talking, madcap violence and scientific acumen are all ways to get through the adventure and accomplish the set goal. Both “The Temple” and “Through the Vortex” can be played concurrently or separately. Perhaps part two even happens weeks, months, or years after part one, although the adventure is written in such a manner that “Through the Vortex” occurs soon after the removal of the cult leader in “The Temple.” I also enjoy the one-two punch of this adventure, with “The Temple” being a very straightforward, simple affair, reminiscent of fantasy RPGs, while “Through the Vortex” is an over the top sci-fi affair that feels like a dungeon crawl without any actual monsters. The exploration and discovery replaces combat, and I really enjoy that. Some players may be too used to hack and slash RPGs to appreciate this, but most gamers, I think, will appreciate the alien nature of the Temple of Radiance and enjoy testing and prodding all the strange things within it. Unless they were really burned by The Tomb of Horrors or The Temple of Elemental Evil as kids, then the GM has their work cut out for them in order to get them to shift their paradigms towards exploring strange places.
Vortex is another terrific addition to the Numenera world. The adventure is simple, yet complex, while being inviting to players of all RPG skill levels and experience. The six dollar price tag is a bit much, especially compared to, say, Shadowrun Missions adventures, which are of a similar length and scope, while only costing half as much, but it’s also the only option for a published adventure outside of the ones in the core rulebook. This means if you don’t like to create your own homebrew adventures, you’re kind of stuck. I do think Vortex is better than most, but not all, of the adventures in the core rulebook and offers a little more in the way of flexibility and discovery. I do give this adventure a hearty thumbs up save for the cost, and would also like to point out that if you’re willing to wait, The Devil’s Spine is coming out next month (supposedly) and for a little more than twice the price of this PDF, you can get a physical copy with nearly five times the page count and multiple adventures to experience. The Devil’s Spine is obviously the better deal on paper, but we’ll have to wait until its release to see how good the adventures are.