I’ve been meaning to write up a short post on my experience running the first portion of my Numenera campaign The Paranoid Automaton, but other things just seemed to take up my time, like actually finishing the campaign which I’m glad to say at this time is more than 50% complete.
Early last month, I met up with a group of six people at my city’s library to run a one shot game featuring Automaton that lasted about 5 hours.
Two of the players were well experienced, between 15 and 20 years of gaming experience, and met on a regular basis with another player who had about 3 years of experience. The three had been recently playing off and on, switching between D&D 2nd edition, Vampire the Masquerade and Iron Kingdom.
I also had a couple who played mostly board games that had a fantasy slant to them like Descent, and attempted to get into Pathfinder this past summer, but from what I understand, it ended abruptly after their GM bailed on them. Like me, they learned about Numenera following an article on io9.
The last player was fairly new to RPGs as well and plays D&D and Call of Cthulhu through Google+ and forums, which I may look into doing sometime in the future.
All had access to the player’s handbook either in PDF or softcover form. Only one of the experienced players had the corebook. All had created their characters which consisted of 4 glaives and 2 nanos. It was a funny moment when we realized no one really liked the jack, one of the players had said he had considered it in the beginning but became a glaive instead.
Before the game, some of the players had some questions about mechanics which included rolling when using cyphers, and the use of edge.
THE GAME (SPOILERS)
From here on out this post will contain spoilers and does not represent the entirety of the game but a generalized description of what happened.
Prior to starting the game, I had emailed or spoken to the players telling them the premise of the game involved them in a quest that started at the Palace of New Astoria in Mulen, home to the twin Sarromere princesses and their mother Lady Faren Sarromere. The players had either connections to Faren or used various hooks in the corebook to engage them in the campaign.
The game immediately starts with the players witnessing an automaton humanoid creating some type of small winged creature in a circular room. No explanation is given how they see this.
The automaton clearly is acting strangely throughout the whole scene as the winged creature escapes and flies to a nearby battlefield where thousands fight before a great city made of emerald circular towers and brightly lit orange spires. It culminates with one of the warriors falling in battle after two strange gigantic creatures erupt from the land. The warrior is seen grasping a sword with various cables and gadgets attached to its hilt.
Several minutes pass, then the warriors, the city, the sky and the sun literally shatter to pieces and slowly become smoke which is inhaled by a heavily tatooed automaton standing in the palace of the Sarromere palace’s court.
The players do some role playing at this point, with a few in disbelief of what they just saw, specifically how the automaton was able to create and destroy the vision they all saw. What follows is a dialogue between Lady Faren Sarromere, her twin daughters and the players regarding the Lost Sword of the First Protectorate, which disappeared during a battle nearly a century ago and was depicted in the vision.
The players detect there is an underlying tension between Faren and her odd daughters who tend to finish each other’s sentences. Below is an excerpt of gameplay:
After the twin princesses of Sarromere scold their mother they look to the group and each begin to speak.
“My sister, mother and our court welcome you and are grateful that you have come to our calling. The relic which we seek…,” says Allya Sarromere.
“…is the Protectorate’s sword,” says Lyala Sarromere.”A weapon of immeasurable power…”
“…which will benefit our family’s goal of retaking the throne,” says Allya Sarromere.
Lady Faren looks up at her twin daughters and cocks an eyebrow as a small spinning metal ball hovers around her. A slight grin is on her face before she speaks. She waves her dark brown hair away and angles her head up towards her daughters.
“It’s not so much the power the sword wields, my darlings, but its symbolic meaning,” Lady Faren tells her daughters as she turns her attention back to the group.”The Protectorate’s sword is made up of elements and power discovered from various kingdoms of Northern Iscobal. Those kingdoms once stood behind House Sarromere, but now alas have taken different allegiances. We wish to bring them back in the fold, and a key to that task is to have the Protectorate’s Sword back in our company.”
During the players interaction with the court, they are given three locations they could start their search for the lost weapon and the original expedition group who sought it. Below is a very brief description of the choices provided to the players.
Faren surmises that a group of malicious thieves known as the Rogues of Kaladryen have taken it, and direct the players to a strange carnival in the North known as Zelectran’s Spectral Festival of Sound where information can be sought to locate the thieves and the sword.
The Sarromere twins don’t believe the thieves are involved at all, since the Kaladryen have not been known to interfere with any business that involves Iscobal. The twins relate a report of a strange occurrence at the town of Pendagran where the expedition had traveled to for supplies and to rest.
Days after the expeditionary group went missing, the townsfolk reported that a large hand made of dark metal and glass rose from the ground, destroying several buildings and killing nearly 100 people.
Finally, Prelatarian Serian Goodfell, an advisor to the Sarromere’s said he believes the most logical route is to look for clues on the outskirts of the foresaken City of Fallenstar where the original group had been searching for the sword.
After more role playing and discussion among the players, they voted to check out the the festival of sound, but not before deciding to look into something that I had introduced into the game early on.
UNEXPECTED DIVERSION – LADY QUINTANESSA
During the role playing at the palace, there were various dealings that a few of the noblemen were engaged in as Faren and her daughters spoke to the players. I did this by breaking up the dialogue with some of the players hearing other conversations in the court which immersed the players in the world more and gave a sense of the weird elements in Numenera.
One of the more experienced players and another player were interested in one of those conversations involving a nobleman and a female abhuman with strange dark metal garments and an overly expressive head piece (much like the art depicted above).
The abhuman, Lady Quintanessa, related a story to the nobleman that she did not have enough of a specialized organic raw material to create new gowns for the Sarromere twins since it had been stolen from one of her floating towers by dimensional thieves she described as cycloptic red lizard humanoids with an appetite for stale bread, something she says was found at her home.
Two of the players then talked the other players into checking out Quintanessa’s story. A few of the players were a bit apprehensive about this action, but I assured them it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle and welcomed it.
In short, what followed was an adventure that included searching for and speaking to a devious being held in suspended animation in a cane like power cell, a chase atop a floating circular tower involving transportational devices (which led to a GM intrusion that changed the physical properties of one player), two near deaths following 2 short battles with a multi-armed creature on an energy bridge and the players reluctantly striking up a deal with a less than altruistic group of scholars in order to obtain the material.
From what I could tell, the players really enjoyed the game and told me it was different than anything they’ve played before with a few of them saying they appreciated the fact that there were choices and liked the odd elements introduced, specifically the locales and NPCs. And that’s what I strived for in this campaign; a seemingly straightforward game with options (Start, Choices, Middle & End) but with weird elements (the environment & characters) integrated throughout the game.
If I had to change anything, I would not have introduced the many nobleman’s dealings in court where I had exposed the players to the going-on’s of the city which introduced Lady Quintanessa.
The Paranoid Automaton is a pretty long campaign and the PCs did not even get close to the middle of the adventure, which I am grateful for since at that time, the centerpiece was a pretty broad outline. Even when the idea of investigating Quintanessa’s tower burglary was first mentioned by a few of the players, the other players were apprehensive about going that route since they felt it was a distraction from the main game. But as a player and especially as a GM, I like deviances from the game if it led to something creative and fun. In this case it did, but in hindsight I would’ve liked the players to reach some of the planned “weirdscapes” I had set up.
Having said that, in my revised draft of my campaign, the nobleman’s dealings will not appear at all. Instead I’m saving Lady Quintanessa for another campaign.
As someone who hasn’t Gamemastered an RPG in a while, it was fairly easy to run the game. I went to the corebook a few times during the game to look something up and did not roll any dice, and it wasn’t a complete storytelling session by any means, there were about 4 combat encounters throughout the game.
I’m now in the midst of finishing work on the campaign which hopefully will be done by Christmas.