Last Saturday, we continued our Numenera campaign. It was a perfect exercise of my detailed session prep evaporating into thin air. I spent all Saturday morning prepping the session meticulously. The base of the session was one of the adventures in Weird Discoveries, a volume of 10 ‘Instant Adventures’ that you supposedly can play without any prep at all, if that’s what you want. It’s a fantastic book with very creative adventures but they’re not in-depth enough for me to run them without any prep. So I sat down to create more NPCs, elaborated on the ones the adventure mentions, set up future plot hooks for my group, embedded it into my campaign, etc.
As maps are the weakest spot of Weird Discoveries, as Justin Alexander points out in his excellent review, I tried a different method to set up the adventure. I snagged this idea from Brass Jester’s blog, which basically creates an encounter flowchart, and I used all the encounters and keys from the adventure. I’d rather use this narratively than the crappy map of a really boring maze that the adventure itself contains. I mean, how exciting is it to describe over and over again that they step into a ruined room? Anyhow, with all this prep, I was convinced I was prepped for at least two sessions.
The Flying Fish
The main plot of my campaign began with a mysterious winged fish. Sam, the nano of the group got their hands on a wooden box with a mummified fish with wings, which they got off one of the captains of the Ductrono syndicate, a criminal organization in the Steadfast. This fish gave off a signal, and Boregal, the petrified brain companion of the group, convinced them to follow the signal. Since then, the group has been travelling to figure out this signal, which ultimately led them to the Narthex, the traveling temple of the Cult of the Vortex.
They aren’t really any closer to understanding it, but every time they find a new location, they receive more information about a large threat to the Ninth World. Apparently this threat led to the collapse of the civilization that left this trail of signals. Their next trail is leading them to Matheunis, the Cold Desert, but that’s about all they know.
The Cult of the Vortexlings
At the end of the last session our heroes returned from their adventures through the vortex portal, and the cultists living in the Narthex switched their allegiance from the portal to the four heroes. They found it very helpful being worshipped as living gods and quickly organized the remaining cultists to fulfill tasks around the Narthex. Only the two cultists who had been forced to join by the previous leaders were left without a task and received permission to leave the cult at the next station of the Narthex.
As the cult appeared to be all out of means for obtaining supplies, the group decided not to travel to Matheunis just yet but to travel near a larger city to sell off some oddities and cyphers. The party noticed that there are very few points in the settled parts of the Steadfast the Narthex can travel to, but many points in the Beyond and beyond the Beyond. The group chose to travel to Seshar, to travel to Nebalich, the capital.
Seshar is known for its canals that are running through the country, as drawn straight with a ruler, the water flowing both ways, not just towards the Sere Marica. Due to its perfect network of waterways, with life flowering on their banks, the country is well off for a land in the Beyond. Travel is done almost exclusively on the canals because away from them, the countryside is barren and dangerous.
The great show
The temple brought the vortexlings and their cult directly to the banks of one of the canals, about 2 hours distance from Nebalich. As the party owns an aneen-drawn carriage, with one lone aneen as the other one was stolen, they used the carriage to travel to Nebalich. On their arrival they immediately noticed the wealth of the city, with the beautiful palace of the royals directly above the sea, and manors of white marble. The vortexlings had few shins to their name, so they decided to save costs for their stay by offering their showman services to one of the inns by one of the ports.
Lemy, as former circus artist, formulated a plan. He grew up in Ossam’s Traveling Menagerie and Soaring Circus, where he learned hedge magic and a certain flair for show. The owner of the inn ‘The Blue Canal’ was convinced quickly to give the four of them a chance.
Lemy used his ability of Far Jump to jump across the canal and amazed the audience with his artistics. Ophelia changed phases to walk through walls and doors. Sam did a demonstration of their knife throwing, the placement of the knives around a half-naked Tidus controlled by their use of magnetism. Unfortunately Sam flung a knife so hard against the wall it scraped over Tidus’ forehead. It will likely leave a permanent scar behind. Once Tidus had recovered, he used his Frost Touch to create ice in people’s drinks. As last act, the vortexlings presented Boregal, the petrified, telepathic brain as mysterious numenera artifact that would allow Lemy to read minds. All in all, the show was a grand success, for both the group and the innkeeper.
The next morning, Ophelia was up before her companions and decided to spend her shins on new clothes. She bought a dress because she wanted to dress up more feminine without losing her touch with a weapon. Upon her return to the inn, a situation developed when her companions responded in disbelief upon seeing her in a dress. Sam in particular seemed unable to handle suddenly seeing Ophelia’s knees. Was Sam actually interested in Ophelia? Sam ran out and left the inn after the innkeeper jokingly suggested they should visit a whorehouse if knees are that exciting already.
An assassination attempt and fist fights
The vortexlings went out without Sam to try and get as many shins as possible for their oddities. Hungover and cranky, Tidus fought with Ophelia about her knees as well, while they were shopping. This saw them kicked out of a shop. Upon the street, they noticed Sam passing by, ahead of them. Suddenly, a man in grey backstabbed Sam with a hidden, poisoned blade, in the light of day! The group tried to knock the assassin out to question him. Apparently he had a poison capsule in his mouth and died right there in the middle of the street.
Before he breathed his last breath he warned Sam. Raphe and the slidikins would tear Sam to pieces with thousands of mouths. Boregal described the images he saw in the thoughts of the assassin. A ghostly pale creature with mouths all over the blind face, gruesome. Furthermore, the assassin seemed to have the order to take a mummified fish off Sam…
The city guard arrested the vortexlings because of all the ruckus. As the assassin wore a symbol of the Ductrono syndicate on his body, the city guard agreed that it was likely the group killed the man in self-defense. This was the second hint that the Ductrono are hunting Sam or are looking for them. Sam was still not ready to share anything about why this might be.
Back at the inn there was more stress. A silent admirer of Ophelia had arranged that she received a package of high heels with platform heels. Filled with water, the heels had strange pink miniature squids swimming around in them. Ophelia, as former soldier, did not think this was funny or cute. She lost it when she found out that Sam had sent her those shoes. A fist fight ensued and the stronger glaive broke the nano’s nose with a punch. Only when Boregal told Ophelia that Sam had meant this gesture kindly and not to make fun of her, Ophelia stopped. She apologized, a bit embarrassed.
This was too much chaos for the innkeep who told the group to leave. Kicked out twice in one day! Done with their errands, the group traveled to the outskirts of town to sleep in their carriage. A shadowy person came to the carriage in the middle of the night, to apparently sketch the carriage. Boregal was the only one to notice this through the eyes of their watch drakka. He assumed it was someone who just enjoyed art. But what if it was an informer for the Ductrono?
At this point we ended the session.
Oh shit. Hours of prep, and none of that happened. I falsely assumed the group would be eager to travel to Matheunis. I spontaneously had to decide which city they would travel to. Nebalich seemed like a safe bet because it’s a very classic fantasy city. On the other hand it meant that this session wasn’t full of ‘weird’. I tried to add elements, explaining the presence of the visitant varjellen and lattimors. Plus I added other small descriptions like a woman walking around with an insectbaby in her arms, etc.
A printed list of names for NPCs and shops and taverns will be a lifesaver next time. I do not use a laptop to actually run Numenera, or I would have used donjon. If you do not know the site, it has the best random RPG generators. Next time, I will have to grab some stuff from Urban Dressing, one of the amazing resource books from Raging Swan. I own it for Pathfinder, but adapting it for the Cypher System should be incredibly easy.
I was really blown away by my players who really were into roleplay this session. At one point we had to close a window in a scene with Ophelia and Sam shouting at each other. Lemy’s player feared the neighbors might assume a case of domestic violence…
I don’t regret the trip to Seshar. Sure, it wasn’t a very adventurous session. But I think it was important for character development and group dynamics. I was able to insert the Ductrono syndicate. The syndicate concept I snagged from a great 3rd party published supplement, Wits Alone. Furthermore, I already had a great idea for a follow-up adventure in Seshar. I really enjoy Seshar as a setting, with the canals, the desert full of nasty creatures and margr tribes.
I also love it that the group totally ran with the cult thing. It means I can go in depth with the various personalities of the cult. This worked well with Boregal, and I think the group will form attachments to the different people. Misguided and naive people, but also interesting.
As one of my issues is that characters level relatively quickly, I decided to award less XP. This means running less GM intrusions. We haven’t played a year yet and the first character hit tier 3. This is a bit fast in a game that caps at six levels. As my players aren’t power gamers, I don’t predict any issues with slowing it down.