Like many gaming groups getting started with Numenera, our group settled in recently to cut our teeth first on the canned core adventures in the main sourcebook , starting with The Beale of Boregal. This adventure takes the group on an investigation into the northern reaches of the Beyond, along a stretch of the Wandering Walk known as the Fifth Stretch. This is a fairly lightweight adventure that does a lot to help the players along while also introducing them to many of the strange components of the Numenera universe.
Like any new game, the player characters (PCs) must start by getting together. This adventure allows flexibility in that regard – the PCs can be individuals that meet on the Wandering Walk, or a group that has some connection from the start. The latter of course simplifies things. Naturally, my group chose the former then. Right away though, the adventure drops the players into a common area where they have the chance to meet. If they don’t come together naturally, there are many non-player characters (NPCs) here as well that the gamemaster (GM) can use as a crutch to ensure the players meet. If all else fails, the arrival of Seria and Patel can lead to Patel cherry-picking the “best-looking” candidates to help with his sister. If player’s opt to not follow narrative, narrative shall be thrust upon them, so-to-speak.
One struggle you might run into with PCs used to a more “traditional” game setting is dealing with the “why would I want to help you” issue? That is to say, “what’s in it for me?” This is a challenge given that Numenera doesn’t have a firmly established economic system of sorts to lean on. Patel is just a young man riding for help, the idea that his family would have a 500 shin reward for someone coming to their rescue just doesn’t stand to reason. A good solution here is perhaps have a long-time Peregrine intervene with “visions” that imply it is this group’s “destiny” to free some great power. If that still doesn’t work, well, then I suggest you kick your PCs in the shins for being greedy about them. But seriously, you’ll need to break them of that habit early on – money simply can’t motivate everything in this game.
Something else of note, this adventure also has a simple diagram of event flows at the start to help new GMs into the system, which is a nice addition. Even if you’ve GM’d before, it can be helpful to get eased into new systems, and that was a nice touch.
Which Way Do I Go?
The Beale of Boregal offers a pretty straightforward decision fork: help the family, or help the sister. It offers a choice to the PCs without really offering a choice, since it all comes back together in the end. You can, of course, bake in your own repercussions – for instance, if the PCs escort the sister to Cylion Basin, then her home village ultimately gets destroyed by the pallones, and sets up a more hostile meeting down the road when she comes back to take revenge on them for not going there first and saving them. If they go to the village first, the broken hounds could get time to tear up the garden with the materials needed for Seria’s mask, forcing them into a more difficult scavenging escapade. Or just keep it simple, whatever works. GMs should keep some notes (made easier since you don’t have to roll dice) in case some of these decisions add adventure hooks later.
If you’re new to gamemastering, this makes for a good exercise in how decision-making can factor into a groups destiny in an adventure. Any good game should have repercussions for decisions, especially when there are multiple paths they can take at a given time. It’s that idea of “you can’t be everywhere at once.” Make them make a choice, and make that choice mean something.
Skirmish, Skirmish, Skirmish
The ensuing travels afford the group a number of opportunities to get involved in small combats to start off. If they head to the False Woods, they’ll encounter scutimorphs in the trees, and later a group of pallones in the town. After arriving in Cylion Basin, it’s a pack of broken hounds. Regardless, these are enough to tag the group for at least a few hit points, without being a serious threat. It should satisfy those less used to storytelling games (a la Vampire: The Masquerade), and more into “hit it, kill it, score it” games.
The important thing is, these aren’t random encounters, but rather play in along the storyline. What I mean is, I hate the encounters groups run into while traveling, such as: “Overnight you’re ambushed by bandits on the road.” That doesn’t actually mean anything, it’s just an excuse to roll dice. These encounters will go quickly, so the storytelling will continue without too much delay. In fact, all of these events are likely to leave the characters at least a little cut and bruised – at least enough that they will feel compelled to take advantage of the healing pools of the Basin just in time for Encounter 6, where the bug infestation can also infect them (GM Intrusion: the bugs carry a venom/cause blurred vision/burrow into the skin, etc…).
I like the balance provided by these encounters overall, and I think you’ll find players feel somewhat more empowered since they roll all the dice – meaning success or failure is really on them.
The Embered Peaks
The interactions once arriving at the Embered Peaks can be narrated relatively quickly to convey the madness settling into the region, and to hurry them into the final events. The goal of the GM should be to get them into the Forum of the Dead, and see how they handle Chahil and gaining access to Yieran. But if the characters want to push it and dig deeper first, there are more than enough crazies wandering about to talk to – let them.
Once the group meets with Yieran down below, there’s definitely a strong sense of the creepy going on down here. GMs shouldn’t skimp on the details of the guy talking to dead people saying nothing but lies. This is probably one of the best early opportunities to really show off how strange this world is. Between the interactions in the antechamber, and the ultimate reveal of Boregal, these scenes take the game from an interesting sci-fi/fantasy setting, to a weird sort of Event Horizon type world. The dark side of the game is part of what I really like, too. If you don’t get that impression, encourage the GM to really paint a picture with the description. One of the game’s best assets is its atmosphere, and you’re cheating yourself by not building on that.
The conclusion of the adventure offers one last interesting interaction. Do the PCs beat Boregal into submission, taking their lumps from the rather strong level 5 creature, or do they find other means? And once that’s done, what do they do with what remains of Boregal? These are questions left mostly to them, and will help you figure out what kind of group they’ll be.
In the End…
This is just about what any starting group would want for a first adventure. It’s concise, there are plenty of chances to make decisions, there are characters that can come back later, and you get a good taste for the world. GMs should also enjoy the flexibility of the story, and feel free to tweak things to make it harder or easier in different areas.
Have you played through The Beale of Boregal yet, as either a player or GM? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and let us know what you thought about it.