Review – Numenera Starter Set

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One of the games my sons and I are playing at GenCon is a Numenera based game. The boys liked the title and description, but they hadn’t played the game before. Looking at the game, it does say that some knowledge of the rules is expected, so I took this as an opportunity to purchase the Numenera Starter Set (hooray Father’s Day) and learn with my kids.

I have played one game at a previous GenCon, and I do own the core book (along with a lot of core books I haven’t played), but I’ve never GM’d or played outside of that.

My copy was purchased from The Source Comics and Games in St Paul, MN. The Source is hands down my favorite gaming store on the planet.

What’s included. The Start Set features two books. The first explains the game, the background of the setting, and has a brief walk through the rules. The second book is for the Game Master and includes the adventure and a good section on how to run adventures in Numenera. Five starting characters, a couple of cheat sheets, two dice (d20 and d6), a map, and XP and GM Intrusion cards complete the contents.

Like all Monte Cook products, the production values are exceptional. I enjoyed the layout, art and quality of the product throughout. My only quibble is that the dice included looked and felt cheap.

Having played once and read some of the core book, the abbreviated rules made sense, and helped me solidify what I knew of the game.

The included Vortex adventure is good, but is a challenge for anyone that hasn’t GM’d before. The style is very sandboxy, allowing the PCs to go in a number of directions. There’s also a large number of NPCs to keep track of. Both of these things can create a headache for any GM. I started using 3×5 cards with notes to track everyone. I think I would have preferred a more linear adventure, but I know that would contradict the exploratory nature of the game. Also, some of the illustrations in the section of the book detailing the adventure can be hard to match to the descriptions of the NPCs – something the boys enjoyed in other starter sets.

Our play through included two players and me as the GM. My sons and I have been playing DnD 5e for the last year (they are 13 and 14), so many of the concepts of role playing are familiar to them. Things they had trouble with were, initiative and defense rolls. Getting the hang of task difficulties didn’t really phase them, and they understood the balance between spending attribute pools and using them to absorb damage pretty well. We didn’t do a lot with the cyphers, but they liked the effects and thought they were cool.

Overall, the Numenera Starter Set is a very good value and provides both a great introduction to the game, and a couple of evenings of fun. I will let you know how our adventure goes after GenCon.

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