There’s a well-accepted “truism” in the tabletop industry nowadays: Adventures don’t sell. There’s only one problem with this bit of truth–it’s not true at all. Many, if not most, of the bestselling tabletop products of all time are adventures–Keep on the Borderlands, Ravenloft, etc.
I think adventures are important for many reasons. First and foremost, they serve as a means to show how the game was meant to be played, and what kinds of things players (and their characters) do in the game. If we go back to the early 1980s, we can look at the rules for D&D and get a sort of muddy picture of what’s supposed to go down in a session. There’s clearly fighting. Monsters. Spells and magic items. But then we flip open a copy of Tomb of Horrors and we see that they explore old dungeons full of weird traps and riddles and get treasure. Then we open Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl and we see that they track down evil doers and confront them in their lairs. Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun has the PCs wandering around in the wilderness having encounters, and Descent into the Depths of the Earth has them doing the same thing, but underground. Each of them presents a clear picture of things that a group of PCs can do, and how the GM can present those things in a game.
Second, adventures provide cool ideas and unique expressions of the game. A published adventure should be filled with things that even the experienced GM might not have thought of on her own. This is why published adventures have to be really GOOD. While they should showcase the strengths and the focus of the game, they should do so in a really creative way. In other words, the first D&D adventure shouldn’t be a murder investigation, because while you can do that in D&D, it’s not really the main thrust of D&D (save that for the fourth or fifth D&D adventure). The first D&D adventure(s) should be dungeon crawls. But they should be awesome dungeon crawls, not just something that anyone could throw together in a few minutes.
I put a lot of value in just reading adventures written by someone else, because we all fall into our own ruts, and getting a fresh perspective even on something very familiar–like a dungeon crawl or an urban intrigue–can be really helpful. When I hear a GM say, “I never read published adventures,” I react to that (at least inwardly) with about the same level of respect as I would a writer who says, “I never actually read anymore.”
Third, and perhaps most obviously, an adventure offers the ability to play the game on short notice. With no prep work other than reading, a GM has everything she needs to run a game for her friends. And a great GM, of course, gives it her personal touch so that it will apply to/please/challenge her own group, because no game designer will ever understand a group of players as well as their own GM. To once again use a phrase from the Numenera corebook, that’s not cheating, that’s awesome.
So how does all this apply to Numenera? I’m strongly embracing the idea of adventures for the game, which will come in many forms.
Numenera Corebook Adventures
The Numenera corebook will have four adventures in it. These are designed with the microscope approach. The first is designed as everyone’s first adventure, offering a way to explain how the PCs first meet, and really guiding the GM through all the steps. There’s even a plot flowchart to help with the fact that it’s somewhat nonlinear. There’s also a location based “dungeon crawl” style adventure, because exploring the unknown is important. The third is a more complex urban intrigue with a lot of interaction, because Numenera isn’t as combat-focused as some games. And then lastly, there’s a large-scale adventure dealing with the Convergence, one of the Steadfast’s major organizations, and their bid to seize some serious cosmic-level power. It’s got a real “wow” factor to it when the PCs make their final discoveries. In order, each of these adventures turns down the level of “magnification” of the “microscope,” meaning that each puts more responsibility in the hands of the GM and in turn grants the players a great deal more flexibility. The first tries to hold the hand of the GM a bit, offering guidance and suggestions and lots of detail. The others do so less and less, assuming the GM can handle filling in the gaps here and there, and fleshing out areas and characters that need it, depending on what the players choose to do. The idea here, of course, is that every GM has different needs and desires when it comes to adventure material.
Of course, if you’re the kind of GM who likes to just take an idea and run with it, then, well, Numenera is REALLY the game for you. Because everywhere you look in the book, we’ve included adventure and encounter ideas, called out on the page, just screaming to be used. In the setting chapters, for example, every location has a “hearsay” section that offers 1-4 adventure seeds. Likewise, each has a “weird” section that offers a similar number of just crazy, unexplained Ninth World-ish stuff found there that PCs can explore and interact with. There are so many things like that in Numenera that you could play half a dozen campaigns and never use them all.
The Devil’s Spine
The first support product for the game after the release of the corebook and the Player’s Guide, is a set of adventures. Knowing how important adventures are to the game, I want to prove the “truism” wrong.
When we ran the Kickstarter, we announced three short adventures as individual stretch goals. After some consideration, we have decided that the three 32-page adventures are going to be combined into one, large, 96-page book. We can do a lot to make the product better in that format. (To make sure everyone gets at least what they paid for, every Kickstarter supporter who ordered even one of the adventures will get the adventure book. That means that they will effectively get ALL THREE adventures.) The collected adventure book will be called The Devil’s Spine. The current plan is that this product will ship both electronically and physically in the late fall, tentatively scheduled for October.
The three adventures in the Devil’s Spine will be linked, but easily played alone. They take PCs all over the Ninth World (and beyond…but that would be telling), and get them involved in all kinds of strange, cool, and hopefully mind-bending experiences. While the corebook adventures set the stage for what a Numenera scenario might involve, the Devil’s Spine will stretch the boundaries in different ways.
Because I know that beginning GMs have the adventures in the corebook, particularly the first, highly detailed, introductory one, I know I don’t have to hold their hands too much, so to speak, with the Devil’s Spine adventures. I know that the GMs running these adventures will likely have some experience under their belts. Thus, these adventures will be provided with a sort of “mid-range” setting on our “microscope.” They will, however, also include seeds and other ideas for GMs who want to expand and create their own material. The idea is to make them useful to all different kinds of GMs.
While we’ll be doing all kinds of different products in our line, I’m proud that the first one out of the gate will be an adventure. It will likely be one of the most important products of all of them. Hopefully, we’ll get the chance to do even more down the line, but that’s really up to you.
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