A billion years from now, the Internet will still dominate our lives – but there will almost certainly be a lot less in the way of cat pictures, food porn, and spam sites about all-natural male enhancement…
Numenera – Monte Cook’s runaway roleplaying Kickstarter success story of 2013 – works well when hitting upon themes and ideas at once familiar and yet alien, and what could be more familiar than the Internet. Right now, that electronic otherworld has only been in existence for half a century, but what might we expect in a billion years time? Archaeological remains need not confine themselves solely to the physical world.
What about the artifacts and constructs of the data world, the archives and artificial intelligence created by more than a million generations?
Celestial Wisdom: The Data Sphere is a 54-page PDF supplement for Numenera, written by Ryan Chaddock and created under license from Monte Cook Games, LLC.
The supplement is US Letter sized, mostly set in a single column, though the gear sections format much content in a format suited to printing out and cutting up into cards.
The artwork scattered sparingly throughout comes from sources under Creative Commons license and suit the subject matter well. Most image reminded me strongly of the ‘virtual reality’ constructs commons in late 80s/early 90s Cyberpunk games and adventures – psychedelically coloured avatars of programmes in the Datasphere.
Celestial Wisdom provides a thematic expansion to the Numenera system, with new options spread across several areas. The initial Collections of Cyphers, Artifacts and Oddities released by Monte Cook have been just that – random collections of new items suitable for handing out to your player’s characters as part of their adventures. Each item has as much contextual consideration behind it as anything you might care you pick off of a list or random table.
Celestial Wisdom takes a specific aspect of the setting – the Datasphere – and weaves new material around that single focus. Effectively the datasphere is what the Internet might become if you leave it to stew for the next billion years. Like continental drift, the shape of the data environment has shifted and changed constantly over that time. As civilisations rose and fell, pockets of data remained, often cut off for anything else. Some of those Oddities and Artifacts that Numenera hunters find may contain a lost data fragment, like a pocket dimension.
The content of the supplement breaks down into four chapters, though each chapter has certain sub-sections of coverage I’ll touch upon, below.
Chapter 1 details The Data Gods, presenting nine ‘living’ Data Gods and eight, so-called, ‘Dead Gods’. Data Gods are many things. In some instances, these were once artificial intelligences, programmed intentionally. In others, these might be ascended archives of software, uploaded minds, or the manifestation of other-dimensional entities into a medium tolerant of their ethereal forms. Ghosts in the machine, the living Data Gods have found ways and means to influence the world around them – at a variable scale and with differing degrees of success – while the Dead Gods have become cut off, quarantined, or have yet remained undiscovered. Think of those discarded zettabyte drives, buried or forgotten in subterranean military bases or remote disaster recovery outposts, filled with roiling pools of self-aware data constructs, yearning for freedom.
Each of the Data Gods provides the Level of the entity, which represents both the difficulty of tasks relating to it and the damage of its attacks. Data Gods run a fine line between adversaries and incredibly complex numenera, so their Level crosses the bounds of both.
Akin to domains, aspects or patronage, Data Gods have a portfolio of interests over which they possess significant interest, controls or power. Manifestations describes their avatar of choice, when appearing in some sort of perceptible form, while powers identifies any specific abilities the God possesses – often through a link with certain numenera, like satellites or data archives.
Background explains the creation, predicament and current plans of the data entity, while Followers and Benefits offers some measure of their influence on the Ninth World and the gifts provided to those who worship them.
The example Data Gods vary and make for interesting reading, each filling a page, including an image of their preferred avatar. Gods of Prophecy, Weather, Protection and Destruction figure amongst the ‘pantheon’ – and not to be out-Mythos-ised by other products, The Old Ones get a look-in too, continuing the Lovecraftian offensive on tabletop roleplaying.
Chapter 2 covers The Lost Power, and sub-divides into three sections covering new Powers, Descriptors, and Foci. In all instances, the additional facets of character tie into the overall theme of the Datasphere and interactions with lost or hidden technologies. Some very much embrace the concept of the Data Gods as ascended meta-being, entities that outstripped the confines of their original purpose and powers to achieve something far beyond mere sentience.
Powers listed improve a character’s interaction with machines and data archives in general. Descriptors include being Blessed by the Data Gods, Cybernetic, Handy, Inquisitive, and Zealous. Another, Ghostly, gifts a character with a data limb or some other informational manifestation, like a holo-projection – which I’ve got to try for one of my own characters!
Foci covers empowered minions – with Channels a Deity, tapping into the potential of numenera – with Enchants Devices, and Knows Too Much – the essential path of development for anyone seeking to acquire power through accursed rites and congress with the unnameable.
Chapter 3 delves down into The Dritty Tools. The section includes 3 pages of Oddities, a little over 6 pages of Cyphers and 3 1/2 pages of Artifacts.
The Oddities appear in table form, allowing the GM to randomly generate a new item with a percentile dice roll. The PDF presents all Cyphers and Artifacts in a card like format – though if you switch large images off in the PDF, it just looks like two columns of organised text, which also works for me.
You can print these out, on one side of paper, and cut them out to make a randomised deck – but, I tend to find that it makes more sense to choose Cyphers and Artifacts sometimes to provide a best fit for your adventure. I’m not suggesting you tailor them for beneficial purposes – the exact opposite. I think a Numenera session works better if you provide the PCs with a scattering of items of some or absolutely no use. With a bunch of numenera in hand, they can experiment to their hearts content.
Like the rest of the content in the supplement, the various numenera keep close to the theme of the Data Gods, their worship, their discovery, or a very close affinity with accessing data from devices.
Finally, and bringing many of these concepts together in some measure, Chapter 4 – entitled The Azure Steel Seeds – provides a number of low detail adventure briefs. A paragraph introduces the section and sets expectations, emphasizing Numenera’s facility for adventure from the smallest scraps of plotline information.
Totalling just two pages, Seeds provides just that – and the GM has a lot of room to grow the ideas presented. Each seed provides a synopsis of a situation, location and predicament, with an idea of what happens should the PCs investigate and what adversaries or allies they may encounter. Level, form and specific notes appear for all locations, hazards and foes that warrant the detail. In addition, as elsewhere in the book, GM Intrusions appear in black sideboxes.
A flavour focussed expansion on the Ninth World setting of Numenera, placing the future evolutions of the Internet in centre stage.
The supplement provides a whole set of character and numenera options themed to the datasphere, and filled with all sorts of potential. A great idea – and leaves me looking forwards to many future installments.