Disclaimer: This pdf was graciously given to me for the purposes of review by Ryan Chaddock Games. All opinions within the review are my own.
In my post All That Glimmers… I gave a shout out to Ryan Chaddock’s Angels & Ashes pdf for Numenera. My plan at the time was to do a review on that pdf this week. However, to my surprise, I was contacted by Ryan Chaddock. Over the course of a couple of emails, he asked if I would like some review copies of his books. Being the Numenera fan that I am, and always thrilled when my blog nets me copies of things I was going to buy anyway, I agreed as fast I could while maintaining what little dignity I have.
I sat down to read Echoes of the Prior Worlds immediately upon downloading. I started with Echoes because, to be perfectly honest, it was the one I was least excited about. With Angels & Ashes the application of nanotech to arcane means immediately grabbed me. And Celestial Wisdom has divine pantheons filled with data gods, I could hardly wait to dig into that one. I decided to start with Echoes, blitz through it and get to the material that I wanted to review.
What I found inside the Echoes pdf surprised me.
Echoes of the Prior Worlds
Echoes of the Prior Worlds is a 44 page pdf that is available on Drivethrurpg.com (for $3.00 at the time of this post). The layout is a simple, clean, two column format. The font is easy to read on the screen of a computer or a tablet, and is interspersed with artwork composed from stock images that have been manipulated. The book’s art is not scarce or distracting but serves to break up the flow of the text quite nicely. The book also contains maps, each of which are of a different style. The pdf is broken down into three chapters: Seeds & Soil, Brave Souls, and Thirteen Echoes.
So what is Echoes of the Prior Worlds about? It is a supplement dedicated to exploration. Numenera is a game about discovery. Discovering things is what the game rewards players for. Not for finding gold pieces or for beating up XP piñatas like most games. Echoes attempts to aid GMs and players in making that shift from ‘slay and pay’ gaming to the discovery model of Numenera.
Seeds & Soil
The first section of the book is a selection of GM intrusions and story seeds for GMs. GM intrusions are major part of the game economy of Numenera and coming up with fresh and unique one can be challenging. There is only so many times you can have ‘x’ happen to a player (whether that is their powers go crazy, their weapon breaks, they slip and fall, ect.) before it breaks the game’s flow. ‘Oh look, Nick licked the wall again and got poisoned’ Come on! The players are competent heroes. GM intrusions are there to make the story interesting, and repetition is not interesting. Echoes gives GMs seventeen intrusions to add into their arsenal. Some of them are fairly generic things, like: broken bones, slippery surfaces, even crying out when they shouldn’t. Others are weird things that enhance the strangeness of a Numenera session or could be used as a key point to a whole adventure.
Echoes also gives eight story seeds. Each seed is an elevator pitch for an adventure or even a campaign. They are weird, and revolve around exploration or discovery (as you would expect in a supplement dedicated to this ideal.) The writers do a great job of tying the seeds into the Ninth World. We are given seeds around the isolationistic nature of the Beyond, Steadfast politics, broken hounds, and how advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Chapter two is a chapter for players. Two new descriptors and three new foci are introduced. The descriptors are Grizzled and Intrepid. I liked how they represent two polar opposite choices for adventurous characters. Intrepid characters are wide-eyed explores, who leap to discover what is over the next hill, while the grizzled characters have survived what they found over the last hill and although scarred, still head back out into the world. The mechanics are well in line with the flavor. The inabilities on both descriptors not only are very appropriate, but are very creative in how they affect game play.
Echoes introduces the foci: Catalogues the Past, Maps the World, and Scales the Impossible. (One of my players wants to play Numenera again right now so he can use Scales the Impossible). Like the descriptors, the foci are all about discovery. Catalogues the Past is for the scholarly minded characters who are want to get out into the world and rediscover what was lost. Maps the World is self-explanatory, but does give some unique tier abilities that enable characters to really make the most of being a pathfinder. And Scales the Impossible represents some people’s burning desire to climb a mountain just because it is there.
The final chapter contains 13 adventures for GMs to use. They are bare bone stories. But each one provides a solid skeleton that you can run as is for a quick session or flesh out into a longer adventure. One thing that I really like is how each adventure (aside from the last one) is two pages: one of notes and one containing a map. This is on purpose so that you can print the adventure out on 1 double-sided page. Each adventure is set up with seven objective points and all revolve around discovery.
I don’t like giving out spoilers for adventures. So I will not be going into detail on any of the adventures. Each adventure has a different feel and flavor to it. There are delves into ancient complexes, treacherous mountain climbs, Lovecraft-esque non-Euclidian monsters, and even a Ravenloft-style abduction adventure. The final adventure is three pages (including the map) but is a grand save the world from a cult who is try to awaken its sleeping god. So the fact that it runs longer is ok with me.
One thing I noticed is the difficultly of these scenarios. Ignoring the final one (which specifically is for upper tier characters) the rest of the scenarios have some tough encounters with severe consequences. Most are not related to combat encounters either. The mechanical focus of the adventures, and therefore the risk and reward to the players, stays pointed directly towards discovery.
For the price of $3, I would have been happy walking away with any two of the chapters of this book. With all three I am thrilled. Echoes of the Prior Worlds is chock full of great ideas and mechanics. I am grateful that Ryan sent me this pdf. As I said, this was the book I was least interested in looking at, and I ended up surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Echoes of the Prior Worlds is a fantastic supplement for Numenera and a great introduction to Ryan Chaddock Games. Having just read Angels & Ashes and started my way through Celestial Wisdom (reviews forthcoming), I have to say that Echoes might be more accessible and applicable for most Numenera players and GMs than the others. While great, A&A and CE both focus on bringing a narrow aspect of fantasy into the Ninth World. Echoes is a much broader work, and will inspire and aid any GM in walking the path of Discovery XP.