Disclaimer: I received this PDF directly from Monte Cook Games as part of my Kickstarter backing of the Numenera but am not being paid to review this product.
Disclaimer 2: I am traveling for business and just logged a 13+ hour day. I am exhausted and adding this lovely edited article that my editor got back in my grubby hands. Any grammatical errors are totally owned by me.
If you have been following my blog, you know how much I love Numenera. The setting, the system, and the production quality all spark my imagination and get me ready to run a game. Monte and crew have done a phenomenal job with the core book, the glimmers, and the Devil’s Spine adventure. After the main book, the highlight of the Kickstarter for me was the Bestiary. I love Bestiaries, it really doesn’t matter what system it is for. I find that a good bestiary provides more ideas for adventures than nearly any other RPG supplement. So accordingly, I had high expectations for this book. And Monte Cook Games did not disappoint (although this did not surprise me).
The Ninth World Bestiary
The Bestiary is a full color, 162 page PDF (or equally gorgeous hardcover book). It is broken down into three main sections, bookended with an introduction and index. One of the great features of this book is that when it references something in the main Numenera rulebook, you get a page number for that reference. It makes cross-indexing with the main book ridiculously easy and is a fantastic addition. The icing on the cake is the size comparison silhouettes chart (a color one resides in the center of the book but the book plates on the covers of the physical book replicates this). It takes all those great silhouettes, and puts them all together for a sized based frame of reference of the creatures of the Ninth World. Also, check out the background, it is not just there for style. So, let’s dig in and see what Monte Cook Games packed into this book.
Designing Numenera Creatures
The books starts off, not with creatures, but the rule for making your own Ninth World fauna. Having come from a Pathfinder/DnD background, it is refreshing how easy this is. You start this process much the same way you would in any other game, with the concept. However, everything that follows is much easier in Numenera.
After you come up with your idea, you assign it a difficulty level. Mechanically this is no different than any other adjudication a GM might make in Numenera. That level determines the base line difficulty and stats for your creature. Then it is a matter of some minor tweaks and polishing of the idea to give it that Ninth World weird gleam. But that is the extent of the design chapter. Ideas lead to difficulty, difficulty lead to mechanics, and you are done. This is not to say that creatures in Numenera are flat or lackluster when they hit the table. In fact this is just the opposite. The beauty of the Cypher system is that it gives GMs just enough rules to facilitate their creative designs (both in creature creation and in story). This chapter gives some great ideas of how to make creatures that are unique and mechanically interesting for your players to discover.
Ecology of the Ninth World
The second chapter of the Bestiary is on the Ecology of the Ninth World. It covers this topic at a very high level. Included in this section are the stats for mounts and domesticated animals. It finishes out with a brief section on how Numenera can influence local ecologies. It was a nice reminder of the weird of the setting, but the main use I see is in the domesticated animal entries. Like using the Cant in Planescape, referring to Dossi or Shiul adds a layer of verisimilitude to a Ninth World chronicle.
Creatures of the Ninth World
We arrive at the meat of the book on page 16. This chapter starts off with an explanation of the format the creatures will follow, a nice creature index, and random encounter tables by ecology. You will see a couple of creatures reprinted here from another Numenera book: the Devil’s Spine. These reprints only serve to highlight the completeness, and do not feel like they were just added in to pad the book.
I prefer to do spoiler free reviews, and in the case of a bestiary this is difficult, as the creatures are the spoilers. So instead of talking to you about the beasts, I am going to talk about the format. First of all, you get the slim stat blocks that are trademark of Numenera. Due to the elegance of the Cypher system, the creature entries are concise. This leave plenty of room for fantastic creature art and information on the creature’s place in the Ninth World. (Just for reference, the Creature Deck from Monte Cook Games are playing cards that have a picture of the creature on the front, and its stats on the back. I will be doing a review of the play aid when I get back, but this gives you an idea of how lithe the stat blocks are.) Within the write-ups you see familiar pieces from other games’ bestiaries. Combat advice, interaction advice, loot, ecology information, etc. But you also are given: Use (i.e. Plot hooks) and GM Intrusions (brilliant considering their importance to the gameplay). Sprinkled in the side bars are helpful hints (both rules and related creatures) and quotes from Ninth World explores that draw the reader in and can be used as plot hooks or in player handouts.
At the tail end of the creature section the authors also gave some time and attention to the NPCs of the Ninth World. There are profiles for each of the types, as well as write ups on seventeen People of Renown. As with the creature entries, each of these NPCs provide you with a number of creative ways to use them in a campaign. Each one is story (or multiple stories) read for a creative GM to tell.
At over 130 bizarre and fantastical creatures and NPCs, this book packed with creative energy. It is well worth the price. Monte Cook Games maintains the quality of Numenera with this second hardcover release. The Ninth World Bestiary showcases the flexibility of the Cypher system as well as its simplicity.
Content: 5/5 – Right up there with the core rule book for information and game ideas.
System: 5/5 – As I stated above, this adds to the Numenera system options without adding any addition crunch. A seamless integration with the core rules.
Aesthetic: 5/5 – The book is gorgeous and filled with amazing art of the creatures that inhabit the Ninth World.