Monday, 20 January 2014

Numenera: the Beale of Boregal, part two

This is, I think, the worst-affected episode, because it features the section where my recorder actually packed in. Again, my apologies, I did my best to retrieve it. If we were one of those super-organised groups who have impeccable table discipline and dedicated recording equipment it would probably have come through a little better, but that's not really our style.

Here begin the spoilers for the starter scenario The Beale of Boregal, and as always be aware that our podcasts are not entirely family-friendly.

Wandering Adventurers

Link to episode 02

In this episode Arthur attempts to give us a plot hook. This proved a bit of a difficult one because, as people point out a couple of times throughout this series, the setting is distinct enough that it's not especially clear what tropes we're working off. Broadly speaking I think K is riffing on Dying Earth, whereas Dan was maybe playing it more like a heroic adventure? I'm not really sure where I'd categorise my approach, I suppose I was taking an ambling exploration sort of tack.

This is a genuine problem I still have with this game: the relative flexibility of characters and the range of setting elements seems like you could be using it for anything from John Carter of Mars to Dying Earth to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser to Stainless Steel Rat, as well as for technomagic versions of genres ranging from Regency romantic adventures to pirate romps to The Tribe-like daily survival dramas. Obviously some would work better than others and it's got an obvious bent towards adventuring of some kind, but it's not entirely clear what kind of adventuring that is, because it's neither D&D (with known playstyle) nor obviously based on any particular set of fiction or films that you can emulate. How self-interested and self-absorbed are the characters? Are you expected to leap at the merest hint of a plot hook, to wander around poking things aimlessly, to have your own goals to follow, or to basically look out for yourself? On top of that, how much are characters expected to understand the world around them, and how much of it is supposed to seem weird and wonderful to them?

It seems like when you look into it a bit more (I've done a bit more reading around and listening to stuff), the assumed playstyle is one of accepting quests readily and exploring on the side. I'm still not entirely sure, though, and must get round to actually reading the rulebook.

Adventure design

The adventure design here is a funneling branch, so that whatever you do leads you back towards the intended endpoint. I'm okay with that, especially in a starter adventure, and there are a number of choices you can make that still end up with finding the source of the problems. Because it's basically a static threat, that makes sense - there isn't really any logical way to deal with that kind of problem without going to confront it, and wandering off elsewhere is outside the designer's purview.

This structure actually builds in a bit of genre flexibility, because if you don't particularly fancy an escort quest for some random stranger, you can rush to the aid of the village, or go and investigate the disturbances if you prefer to think of it that way. The escort quest is more suited to a questing knight or relatively civilised kind of approach, whereas a more combat-oriented and thrill-seeking group, or indeed one that's interested in what's going on but not particularly bothered about doing random favours, can go to the village.

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