The Paradox Room (The Strange)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Cost: $2.99/Free (See below)
Page Count: 55
Release Date: 11/19/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
By the time this review goes live, there will be less than twenty-four hours until the Kickstarter for Monte Cook’s newest RPG, The Strange ends. At the time of writing, the Kickstarter campaign has raised over $300,000 with the help of 2,252 backers. Although The Strange won’t be breaking Numenera‘s numbers by any means, it does mean that Monte Cook has pulled in well over $800,000 between the two Kickstarters, and that’s insanely impressive.
Speaking of Numenera, The Strange will be using the same base system that its predecessor uses (The Cipher System is the name for the rules and mechanics), so it should be mostly compatible. In fact, The Strange could easily be one of the previous eight worlds that preceded the Ninth World. I’m a huge fan of Numenera and so I’m expecting to enjoy The Strange just as much. For a merely fifty dollars you can get electronic/digital versions of every product created in the Kickstarter, which is a pretty good deal. I’m not trying to sell you on the Kickstarter, just stating that I missed out of the Numenera one, and I regret it, so I’m trying to give those of you unaware of the Kickstarter a chance to join in before it ends.
Now, with that said, let’s talk about The Paradox Room. The Paradox Room is a fifty-five page collection of two short stories. Its existence was funded by the Kickstarter and it is currently being made free to everyone, not just backers. Click here, scroll down and grab your completely free, no strings attached copy. This is awesome to see and it will give you a chance to see if The Strange is right for you. Now, since this is just two short stories, you’re not going to get any mechanics, rules, character creation, stat blocks or any real explanation about the setting. Thus there are aspects of both stories that will make more sense once we’ve all read the core rulebook, learned the set definitions for specific game terminology and the like. That doesn’t mean the stories will be a confusing mess – just that you’ll have to fill in a few blanks here and there with assumptions. The stories are pretty clear and if anything, the questions about The Strange that it leaves you with has you wanting to learn more rather than with a feeling of, “What did I just read?”
I will say though that I’m glad I got this for free as $2.99 seems a bit steep for fifty or so pages of content, especially when you got three stories and 80+ pages for the same price with Tales of the Ninth World, the first Numenera short story collection. So make sure to grab the free version of The Paradox Room before it gets pulled down. Who knows? It may just give you the impetus to buy the game itself. I should also mention The Paradox Room comes in three forms – epub, mobi and pdf, so that you can read the two short stories in whatever fashion works best for you. Note that only the PDF version comes with cover art though.
The first story is “The Stranger” and it is by Monte Cook. The plot is pretty straightforward and it does a great job of illustrating what The Strange will be like. In “The Stranger” an iconic fantasy creature makes its way from its world/plane of existence/parallel universe/whatever into our version of reality. Of course such things as this creature don’t/can’t exist here and this shows just what can happen in a worst case situation of this scenario in The Strange. I really loved this story, but I always seem to really like Cook’s short fiction, so this wasn’t a surprise to me. I think I learned more about The Strange from this single tale than I did from reading the many Kickstarter updates about it.
The second story is called “Four Winds” and is by Bruce Cordell. I didn’t care for this one as much. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn’t grip me like “The Stranger” or any of the Numenera fiction I’ve read so far. Of course, I find I like Cordell as an aqdventure writer but not as a fiction author. Case in point, I found The Lady of Poison dull and I had to force myself through the Abolethic Trilogy. Yet, Die, Vecna, Die is a personal AD&D 2e favorite of mine and I also enjoyed some of his third and fourth edition adventures like and The Sunless Citadel. Regardless, I found “Four Winds” to be the weakest piece of fiction from Monte Cook games so far, but it’s still an enjoyable story that helps to introduce the concept of incursions and pocket dimensions of sorts to the readers. The story is about an unnamed androgynous (as in the gender is never specified) Lakota who discovers what appears to not only be an ancient artifact from his ancestors, but to another form of reality altogether. Oddly enough s/he is not the only person from Earth there. Most importantly we learn honkies can’t help themselves from stealing from Native Americans, regardless of what reality we are in.
All in all, for a free snippet to get you interested in The Strange, The Paradox Room more than does its job. You get a nice snapshot of the setting and both stores are entertaining in their own right. At $2.99 it’s a bit pricey for what you get, but better to pay $2.99 to discover you don’t like something than to pay $200-250 for the “get everything” pledge on Kickstarter and find out THAT way that The Strange isn’t for you, eh? If anything this collection has me even more excited about The Strange and while I don’t think The Paradox Room is as good as Tales From the Ninth World, I can easily recommend this as a nice way to while away an hour or so (depending on how fast you read). Go grab the free version now and who knows – maybe this time next year, you’ll be joining me in the comments sections of my review of the core rulebook.