[Review] Celestial Wisdom by Ryan Chaddock

Published April 18, 2014 by in Interviews/Reviews

Why I Bought It?

Although I picked up the Numenera Corebook in the fall of 2013, it wasn’t until December that I was able to get a full campaign brewing.  By January, I devoured everything in the core book and I was craving more!  I will be honest, I’ve always preferred hard copies for my gaming resources.  Sure, a short PDF is fine occasionally, but until recently [i.e. before I bought my iPad] I wouldn’t dropped any cash on a product that was digital without also having a physical counterpart to eliminate the need to print on my own.  Even still, I needed to satisfy my insatiable hunger, so when I saw that Ryan Chaddock Games had released Celestial Wisdom, I figured it was worth spending a few dollars to hold me over until the next print book came out from Monte Cook Games.

I downloaded Celestial Wisdom as soon as I got home from work and started reading the document on my iPhone.  Even though I was squinting to make out all of the information, I was completely blown away at the quality of the material and the cleverness in which it was implemented.  Ryan Chaddock’s approach creates material that introduces cyberpunk themes to the Numenera campaign setting through a pantheon of electronic deities.  Now, if you are happy to keep your Numenera gaming vague and mysterious with regards to technology jargon, the Datasphere, and artificial intelligence, this may not be the sourcebook for you.  But if you have the urge to dwell on one or more of these themes during one of your campaigns, you’ve come to the right place!

What’s Inside the Cover?

Celestial Wisdom by Ryan Chaddock and produced by Ryan Chaddock Games, is a fifty-four page document available on www.drivethrurpg.com as a watermarked PDF.  The retail price on this book is $5.00, however as of this article’s publication, you can pick it up for $3.00.  The book is in color and over a third of the pages include interesting and abstract artwork which helps to set the proper mood for the source material.  Contained in the brief introduction to the setting is the author’s warning that the terminology in Celestial Wisdom will differ with the naming conventions from the Numenera Corebook.  According to Chaddock, his material “doesn’t shy away from some of the technological terminology used in the present day” although he invites game masters to use different words and descriptions in their own campaigns if necessary.  The rest of the document is broken up into four sections:  The Data Gods, the Lost Power, the Dritty Tools, and the Azuresteel Seeds.

The Data Gods covers the pantheon of artificial intelligences who inhabit the Datasphere.  Each “deity” is given a level from 8 to 10 which corresponds to setting difficulties for actions related to the electronic entity.  Similar to descriptions of deities that the reader would find in other fantasy campaigns, the Data Gods are each given a portfolio describing how they interact with the Ninth World.  For example Grahast the Ghost Storm, a Data God consisting of the uploaded consciousnesses of an entire extinct community long corrupted millions of years of dormancy, has a portfolio of “death, destruction, and history.”  Each Data God has a Manifestation describing its interaction with the Ninth World and a Motivation that clearly defines the goals of the entity.  Rather than just being tools for the GM, each Data God also includes a Benefit that a player character can attain in lieu of a skill increase after spending 4 experience points.

The Lost Power is definitely for players looking to try out that new descriptor, focus, or just add a bit of “artificial flavor” to an existing character.  New Powers describe Tricks of the Trade for Jacks or Esoteries for Nanos that can be taken as alternatives from tier one through six.  New Descriptors include Blessed (prone to divine intervention), Cybernetic, Ghostly (the character is partially made up of luminescent information), Handy, Inquisitive, and Zealous.  New Foci include Channels a Deity, Enchants Devices, Knows Too Much, Resurrects Dead Gods, Sees Distant Places, and Walks the Datasphere.

The Dritty Tools  is where players and GM’s will find their Oddities, Cyphers and Artifacts, each tailored with a twinge of cyberpunk.  There are 100 new oddities described on their own randomly generated table.  Fifty new cyphers grace the book, as well as 18 new artifacts.  I must point out the ingenuity behind the layout for the cyphers and artifacts.  Rather than just a list, each page consists of 6-8 devices already formatted like a small card so that the GM can print them out and hand them to players in a fashion similar to Monte Cook Games’ Cypher Deck.

The Azuresteel Seeds is the shortest chapter of the book and contains four adventure hooks for the GM to use, each requiring minimal fleshing out.

What Makes this Product Special

As Ryan Chaddock stated in a recent interview on GM Intrusions with Lex Starwalker, the Datasphere, while mentioned in the Numenera Corebook, was given very little detail.  That said, any material that could expound on the concepts of computer networks as they would function hundreds of millions of years in the future is certainly welcome to most aficionados of the setting.  Adding the Data Gods to a campaign gives game masters an incredible new layer in their games.  Aside from the mechanical benefits that the artificial deities can grant to their worshippers, they create a great sense of wonder and discovery for the players as they uncover each entity’s true nature and meaning in the Datasphere.  Most of the new descriptors and foci tread on areas not covered in the Numenera core book, expanding player options at character creation, although the utility of some of the powers would depend on the GM’s use of the source material in his or her campaign.  Sees Distant Places, a focus that allows the player to be a Datasphere-centric diviner, would fit perfectly in just about any campaign while Channels a Deity would be more fitting in a game where the GM has embraced Celestial Wisdom in its entirety.  Even the flavor of the oddities, cyphers, and artifacts are perfectly suited for the setting as one could garner just from some of the names.    Cyborg Scrambler, Downloader, and Tongue of the Gods are just three of the fifty cyphers included, and while each definitely benefits from the inclusion of the rest of the material from Celestial Wisdom, most could be utilized in any Numenera campaign with a few changes to the terminology.

Possible Challenges at the Table

Even though we are given the warning early in the document, some of the terms such as artificial intelligence, cybernetics, and computers do remove a bit of the sense of mystery and wonder that is typically so prevalent in the Numenera Corebook.  While I agree with the author that these naming conventions may be necessary to properly describe the materials contained within Celestial Wisdom, it does change the flavor of the core game a bit, especially for anyone who reads the entire book.  Prospective GM’s looking to acquire this guide for their campaigns need to do-so with the full understanding of what they are delving into.  Several of the descriptors (Blessed and Zealous) and foci (Resurrects Dead Gods, Knows Too Much) are strongly related to the general concepts of Celestial Wisdom and should not be offered to players if the GM has no intention of using these themes.  The same goes for players who are fans of this product: make sure you check with your GM before considering any of the character options described in the book.

My only significant dissatisfaction is that GM material is somewhat limited in the document.  While the four adventure seeds in the back of the book are helpful, I would’ve preferred one single fully fleshed out adventure, even if it were just a short one or two page document.  The lack of a bestiary of any sorts is another drawback, and even though the Data Gods each have a “level”, characters of tiers 1-4 would have a significant challenge facing off directly with an angry artificial deity.

How I Use It

In my campaigns I consider the Data Gods to be canon material, although I prefer that my players do not know the full details for each of the artificial entities.  My current “adult” campaign (as opposed to the ongoing game I play with my wife and two children) started before I acquired this book, so none of the PC’s currently have any options from Celestial Wisdom.  I would, however, be open to them taking on one of the descriptors or foci with a new character as long as we discussed the plan ahead of time.  Recently, I ran a “space marine” hack of Numenera that took place some time between modern day and the Ninth World, and I borrowed from Celestial Wisdom heavily for character generation.  We used the descriptors Cybernetic and Handy, both of which had terrific balance, and one player chose a character that Walks the Datasphere, giving them incredible mastery of computer systems.  In the future I would like to run a mini-campaign emulating a traditional OSR dungeon crawl, but set within the Ninth World.  I plan on using Celestial Wisdom and another product by Ryan Chaddock Games, Angels and Ashes, to create the Cleric and Wizard clones for the series.

Who Should Buy It

If you are a fan of cyberpunk or fantasy, this document does a tremendous job injecting further elements of both concepts into Numenera.  Expounding on the Datasphere’s nature, Celestial Wisdom offers a GM another way for player characters to interact with the wonders of the Ninth World from the perspective of modern information technology through the lens of traditional fantasy.  For GM’s who might shy away from the general concept of the Data Gods, the mechanical components, character options, cyphers, and artifacts in Celestial Wisdom, are still worth the $5 price of this book even if a little re-skinning is necessary to fit a different mold.

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