The Alphastream Game Design Blog
I’ve been sharing my 4-session Numenera campaign based on the WondLa novels by Tony DiTerlizzi. You can find the introduction, the first session where the characters discovered their world was nothing like Earth, and the second session where they finally found some answers. Humanity was nowhere to be found. The land’s bizarre sentient creatures all called this planet Orbona and new nothing of humanity, beyond finding old ruins. The characters escaped from the capital city with information that most of Orbona is wasteland, and ruins in a desert to the south may contain clues to humanity’s fate.
The characters now flew toward the ruins atop Otto, the large flying/leaping “water bear” they freed from the hunter Besteel. As they flew they spotted an oasis and landed to cautiously approach. As in the novel, a strange creature tried to lure them to their deaths. This was intended to be an interesting creature encounter with some decent challenge, but damage in Numenera can be tricky. An attack targets one of the three stat pools and is always rolled by characters as a defensive roll. Characters can spend Effort to make a defensive roll, but this reduces the associated pool. If the attack isn’t avoided, damage is applied to that stat pool. Rolling a 1 can cause a DM intrusion, or simply 2 additional damage. If one pool drops to 0, the character is impaired and effort costs more. Two pools to 0 makes the character debilitated and you can’t take actions beyond moving. You die if three pools drop to 0. All of this means characters are usually good at surviving, but things can also unexpectedly go south.
So it was with Destine of Nine. The tentacled monster used psychic attacks to keep other characters at bay, focused on Destine, and the rolls weren’t there. Before the others could help, Destine was floating in the water, dead.
This was a shocker for all of us. Death can come at any time in an RPG, but I always prefer for it to have a narrative impact. A wandering monster was not what I expected to drop a character. However, I knew what was coming and that if the death didn’t seem so special or high-stakes, well… you’ll see why that was okay!
The novel has a big reveal in the ruins – one which answers why the series is called WondLa. I won’t spoil it here. The players did get to learn that and also to learn that this was, in fact, New York City! Something had clearly happened to Earth to transform it. Records in the library also made it clear that the ecosystems and life on Earth had collapsed… and then humanity had disappeared!
As in the novel, I considered a big battle with Besteel, but based on player conversations it didn’t seem like the right moment. They wanted more answers, so I had Hailey show up – he’s an airship pilot, and human – responding to a signal the party set off. He claimed to be here to “retrieve” them, an referred to the characters as “reboots”.
Tune in tomorrow, when we move to the transformative conclusion in our fourth and final session of the campaign!