Thursday, October 18, 2012

[Q&A] Monte Cook (Numenera)

[19:05] <+MonteCook> Hi everyone! I'm Monte Cook. I've been a professional game designer for almost 25 years now, working mainly on rpgs.
[19:05] <+MonteCook> The game I have coming out next year is called Numenera.
[19:05] <&Le_Squide> Bah. You're no Bill Cavalier.
[19:06] <+MonteCook> It's a far-future, post-apocalyptic, science fantasy rpg.
[19:06] <+MonteCook> We just ran a Kickstarter to raise money, and that went really well, so now we just have to actually write this thing. :)
[19:06] <+MonteCook> It should come out in July of 2013. (done)
[19:07] <~Dan> Thanks, Monte! Anyone want to start us off with a question, or shall I get things rolling?
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[19:07] <&Le_Squide> Real question, unrelated to Dungeon Bastard references: How much of the setting/game was done before the Kickstarter, and what's left to do?
[19:08] <+Anduwaithe> True story: This afternoon, I knew I was going to have to wait for someone in a parking lot, so I grabbed a random book off the RPG section of my bookshelf so I could pass the time reading. Turns out the book I grabbed was The Planewalker's Handbook, by Monte Cook. :D
[19:08] <+MonteCook> Enough of the game was done for us to do a lot of rough playtesting. The setting only existing in my mind, although I already had artist Kieran Yanner working on some art. (Done)
[19:09] <~Dan> Would it be possible to give us a Reader's Digest view of the setting? (I know it's pretty involved.)
[19:10] <+MonteCook> It's really far in the future. Civilizations and races have risen and fallen on Earth, leaving behind various artifacts and ruins.
[19:11] <~Dan> ("Races" as in "human races", or "races" as in "intelligent species"?)
[19:11] <+MonteCook> PCs live in a low-tech civilization that dwells amid the ruins of these far advanced cultures.
[19:11] <+MonteCook> It's based a lot on the idea that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
[19:11] <+xyphoid_> somewhat Book of the New Sun?
[19:11] <+Delgrim> Sorry about digging old stuff, but which RM version you were involved?
[19:11] <+ArsMysteriorum> *twitch*
[19:11] <+MonteCook> So to them, this stuff from the past seems like magic. So it's a science fiction setting that feels like fantasy.
[19:12] <+MonteCook> Dan: Both.
[19:12] <~Dan> (Everyone, please hold your questions until he gives us a "(done)". Thanks!)
[19:12] <+MonteCook> Xyphoid: Yes
[19:12] <~Dan> (And yes, I do need to follow my own advice, there.)
[19:12] <+MonteCook> Delgrim: The one that was being published around 1990.
[19:12] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:12] <+xyphoid_> so like if i've always wanted more than anything a Book of the New Sun-ish game IS THIS IT
[19:13] <+Ettin> Has anyone ever asked you for a lock of your hair?
[19:13] <+Delgrim> MonteCook: Thanks, for my longest survived character was in RM. Still remembering campaign with a smile :)
[19:13] <+MonteCook> I'd say yes. It's the primary influence, but it's not a license or anything. There's also a lot of Corum, Dying Earth, and other stuff too.
[19:13] <+MonteCook> Ettin: Weirdly, yes.
[19:13] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:13] <+Ettin> Okay I have to ask if you obliged now.
[19:13] <+MonteCook> Nope.
[19:13] <+MonteCook> :)
[19:13] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:13] <+Anduwaithe> I guess it didn't make him feel like Galadriel when he was asked
[19:13] <+Anduwaithe> :P
[19:13] <~Dan> MonteCook: Would it be accurate to describe the setting as a sort of elegant take on Gamma World? It almost strikes me as... I dunno... a post-apocalyptic Yes album cover. And I mean that in a good way. :)
[19:14] <+Delgrim> Post-apocalyptic Yes album cover? :D
[19:14] <+MonteCook> I like the Yes album reference more than the Gamma World one, but both aren't too far off. Roger Dean is absolutely an art reference for us.
[19:14] <~Dan> Delgrim: See? So there!
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[19:14] * +Delgrim bows before glorious wisdom of Dan
[19:14] <+MonteCook> I stay away from the Gamma World/Aftermath stuff because it's not like there are cars or guns or anything that one might recognize from OUR world
[19:15] <~Dan> Gotcha.
[19:15] <+MonteCook> It's all weirder and far higher tech than that (done)
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[19:15] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, Ryuujin!)
[19:15] <+ArsMysteriorum> Hm. So this is not our world. Reminiscent of the Gygaxian adventure into the unfamiliar?
[19:15] <+J_Arcane> MonteCook: Familiar with Rodney Matthews?
[19:15] <~Dan> (Question pause after JA's question, please.)
[19:15] <+Delgrim> MonteCook: More like alien design?
[19:16] <+Delgrim> Sorry Dan, I was too fast :(
[19:16] <~Dan> (S'okay, Delgrim!)
[19:16] <+MonteCook> Uh, AM: Yes and no. It's Earth, just reeeeeeeally far in the future. It's Gygaxian in that he also liked to create adventures where discovery was the key
[19:16] <+MonteCook> Very familiar with Rodney Matthews. Love his stuff.
[19:16] <+MonteCook> Also Geiger, if that's what you mean by alien.
[19:17] <+MonteCook> But overall, weird and alien. In fact, there almost certainly were non-human aliens on Earth in the world's past.
[19:17] <+MonteCook> And some might still be around. (Done)
[19:17] <+J_Arcane> Rodney Matthews is probably my favorite artist ever.
[19:17] <~Dan> Interesting!
[19:17] <~Dan> How low-tech is the current civilization?
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[19:17] <~Dan> Or, put another way, what level of tech is considered "magical", so to speak?
[19:17] <+Delgrim> It's just because all "human made" usually looks like made by human for it's usually made to used by humans :)
[19:17] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, Brainbuster!)
[19:17] <+MonteCook> It's Medieval, more or less, but the artifacts of the past and the occasional discovery mean that it's not too much like Earth's Middle Ages.
[19:18] <+MonteCook> Lots of stuff that PCs will find wasn't meant to be used by humans. There was some weird stuff going on in the past!
[19:18] <+Delgrim> Is it more like collapsed society? Post-apo low tech vs. high tech rich people?
[19:19] <+Delgrim> Neon-cyperpunk or something like that?
[19:19] <~Dan> (Delgrim: Please hold off until he finishes his answers. Thanks! :) )
[19:19] <+Delgrim> Sorry :P
[19:19] <+MonteCook> It's more like a society rising from the ashes. The leftovers from the past don't have any cultural resonance with the people of the present, just weird supernatural seeming stuff.
[19:19] <+MonteCook> That's what numenera means, by the way. It's the stuff of the godlike past, so to speak.
[19:19] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:20] <~Dan> I gather that the last civilization died off so far in the past that it's a complete mystery?
[19:20] <+MonteCook> Yes. (Done)
[19:20] <+Delgrim> I wish there was a picture from that world.
[19:20] <+MonteCook> Go to'll find many.
[19:20] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:20] <~Dan> So let's go in the other direction: how gonzo do the high-tech goodies get?
[19:21] <+MonteCook> There's practically no limit. That's where the really cool, imaginative stuff of this game comes in. I'm having a blast doing research on super advanced ultra tech.
[19:21] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:26] <~Dan> Do you try to keep it all theoretically plausible, if wildly advanced? Or do you just say, "Screw it. This gizmo can do X, Y, and Z, just because"?
[19:27] <+MonteCook> It's interesting, because I approach it from both ways. I do a lot of research on exotic far future science and
[19:27] <~Dan> (You cut off at "and".)
[19:27] <+MonteCook> get ideas that way, but I also come up with ideas for weird stuff and then try to find a way to at least kind of explain it with extrapolated science.
[19:28] <+MonteCook> It's hard to find stuff that's impossible, actually. :)
[19:28] <+MonteCook> (done)
[19:28] <~Dan> I'm almost getting a Stalker/Roadside Picnic vibe from the tech, if you're familiar with that movie/book.
[19:28] <+Delgrim> Kind of metascience?
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[19:28] <+MonteCook> Dan: I'm not, but I'll check it out.
[19:28] <+Delgrim> Or Stalker RPG :)
[19:29] <~Dan> Monte: Short answer: Aliens show up and leave (apparently) and leave zones behind filled with incomprehensible technology that does insane things. One theory is that it's all just trash from an alien "roadside picnic".
[19:29] <+MonteCook> Delgrim: Yes. Once you talk about science that allows you to move whole solar systems, encasing galaxies in spheres, and so forth, magic seems tame.
[19:29] <+MonteCook> :)
[19:29] <~Dan> Yes, an RPG was recently released based on it.
[19:29] <+MonteCook> Fun.
[19:29] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:29] <~Dan> Indeed! But lest we digress, let's get back to your RPG. ;)
[19:29] <~Dan> I'm a sucker for bestiaries in game books. Do you have me covered? :)
[19:29] <+Delgrim> MonteCook: Something like Larry Niven's novels?
[19:30] <~Dan> (Question pause while he covers those two.)
[19:30] <~Dan> (Oh, and welcome, WampusCountry! You're free to ask any questions.)
[19:30] <+WampusCountry> (Thanks, Dan - I'll catch up for a bit before I chime in :) )
[19:30] <+MonteCook> Dan: Yes. Our first hardcover supplement will be The Ninth World Bestiary. :)
[19:30] <+MonteCook> Delgrim: I am a Niven fan, certainly.
[19:30] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:30] <~Dan> How many critters are in the core book, and how hard is it to create more with the given rules?
[19:31] <+MonteCook> I don't have a number, but there will be a hefty portion. I can include a lot because Numenera's a rules light game, without huge stat blocks. It's really easy to create new creatures. It's my goal to make this a game GMs can run on the fly if they have to.
[19:31] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:31] <~Dan> Excellent.
[19:32] <+Delgrim> MonteCook: Light rules, loads of "world stuff"?
[19:32] <~Dan> Speaking of the overall environment, how unrecognizable is the Ninth World generally?
[19:32] <+MonteCook> Delgrim: Yes.
[19:32] <+Delgrim> Great.
[19:32] <+MonteCook> Dan: You mean, geographically? Almost not at all. Plate tectonics will have shifted everything in that time frame, and that's assuming that someone in the past didn't just reshape it all on a whim, which could have happened.
[19:33] <~Dan> Right.
[19:33] <~Dan> That, and are there, I dunno, things like floating mountains and forests of glass trees?
[19:33] <~Dan> How much like a Yes album cover does the world look like? :)
[19:33] <+WampusCountry> (LOL nice Dan)
[19:33] <+MonteCook> Yes, there are. Stuff like that and weirder. But there's also stuff we can recognize too. Trees and animals. Probably not the species we know, but nevertheless.
[19:33] <~Dan> (Thanks. Referencing an earlier comment of mine there, WC. ;) )
[19:34] <~Dan> Awesome.
[19:34] <+MonteCook> There's also a lot of ruins. In fact, the ruins are incorporated into the landscape. Check out some of Kieran's artwork on the website and you'll see what I mean.
[19:34] <~Dan> Does anyone have any more setting-based questions at the moment? If not, I'd like to shift gears to make sure we cover the system.
[19:34] <+MonteCook> Also, if you're a fan of Moebius, you'll know what I'm talking about. (Done)
[19:34] <~Dan> MonteCook: Oh, I have a RL anecdote that fits here.
[19:34] <~Dan> I was touring the Mayan ruins in Mexico...
[19:35] <~Dan> ...and the tour guide said, "Look around you. See all these hills?
[19:35] <~Dan> "There ARE no hills in this area. You are looking at overgrown buildings."
[19:35] <+MonteCook> Yeah, exactly. :)
[19:35] <~Dan> :D
[19:35] <~Dan> Okay! System. What's the core mechanic, Monte?
[19:36] <+MonteCook> Tell your GM what you want to do. He'll figure out if it succeeds.
[19:36] <+MonteCook> ...but that's the core mechanic of just about every rpg.
[19:36] <~Dan> Heh. More or less.
[19:36] <+Delgrim> Or at least should be :)
[19:36] <+MonteCook> It uses a d20, but it's not a d20 game, per se. Basically, the GM rates any task on a scale of 1 to 10, that number has an associated target number. Roll that or higher and you succeed.
[19:37] <+MonteCook> Skills and other advantages allow you to lower the target number.
[19:37] <+MonteCook> There also a concept called effort....
[19:37] <+MonteCook> that allows a player to decide when to really put his all into an action. It's a resource you have to manage, but it gives you more control over what your character does.
[19:37] <~Dan> (Need to step away for just a sec. Please continue, Monte.)
[19:37] <+MonteCook> Basically, when you really need to get something done, you can spend effort. Waste your effort, however, and you might regret it later.
[19:37] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:38] <+Delgrim> So how one can gain more "effort" and how does the mechanic work?
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[19:39] <+MonteCook> When you use effort, you spend points out of stat-based pools: Might, Speed, or Intellect. It comes back when you rest. You spend the points and it reduces the difficulty a step (or more if you spend more). So if the GM rated something a difficulty 4, you can make it a 3.
[19:39] <~Dan> (back, sorry)
[19:40] <+MonteCook> That gives you an easier target number for your d20 roll. You're rarely adding mods to the roll, though, so that actally really speeds up play. (Done)
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[19:40] <+Ryuujin> Since this is a far future Earth can only humans be played or are there other options?
[19:40] <+Delgrim> Then that point(s) is used before you rest?
[19:40] <+MonteCook> There are lots of other options, but many of them are variants on what "human" means--someone genetically engineered, mutated, mechanical augmentation, etc.
[19:41] <+Delgrim> Is there bio-, cyber-tech involvement?
[19:49] <+MonteCook> Effort is used on specific actions.
[19:49] <+MonteCook> Absolutely.
[19:49] <~Dan> Hmm... This obviously gets back to setting a bit, but how is there cybertech in an essentially medieval society?
[19:49] <+Ryuujin> That sounds cool.  Out of curiosity would it be possible to play someone who focuses on unarmed combat?
[19:49] <+MonteCook> I urge everyone to check out the design diaries on It's all explained a lot better there. :)
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[19:50] <~Dan> (Question pause after Ryuujin's question.)
[19:50] <~Dan> (Howdy, CC!)
[19:50] <+MonteCook> Dan, there are isolated pockets of people called Aeon Priests who have mastered a lot of the secrets of the past. It seems like magic, but of course it's not.
[19:50] <+MonteCook> Unarmed combat, yes.
[19:50] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:50] <~Dan> Ah. Gotcha.
[19:50] <~Dan> So speaking of combat, how does it work?
[19:51] <+MonteCook> Exactly like any other task.
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[19:51] <&Le_Father_Dark> Could you give us an example or two of the other playable options for PCs?
[19:51] <+MonteCook> GM assigns a difficulty, player can lower the difficulty with skill or effort, roll a d20.
[19:51] <~Dan> (Question pause.)
[19:53] <+MonteCook> Well, in the basic version of the game, PCs can have all kinds of variant changes and abilities that raise the question of what it really means to be human at all. There are optional, more advanced rules that allow PCs to be something entirely non-human, like the graceful but fragile Vargellen who wield strange matter-altering powers.
[19:53] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:54] <+MonteCook> (Unfortunately, I probably only have time for a couple more questions.)
[19:54] <~Dan> So would it be accurate to say that you've created a new variant on the attribute+skill paradigm, with skills controlling the rolls and attributes serving as a resource?
[19:54] <+MonteCook> Uh, I guess so? I don't really look at it that way, but I suppose you could.
[19:54] <+MonteCook> (Done)
[19:54] <~Dan> I know you have to run, Monte, so is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to mention?
[19:56] <+MonteCook> Just that Numenera, for me, is a return to a more open, logic- and imagination-based system, with less emphasis on rules minutiae. It's more Planescape than Book of Nine Swords, if you see what I mean. ;)
[19:56] <+Anduwaithe> :)
[19:56] <+MonteCook> I like both, but haven't had a chance to play around with the former as much in recent years.
[19:56] <~Dan> Want to re-post the link to your blog for those who came in after you posted it the first time, Monte?
[19:56] <+MonteCook> For info on the game, go to (Link:
[19:56] <+MonteCook> For general stuff, go to (Link:
[19:56] <+MonteCook> (Lots of stuff gets posted on both)
[19:56] <~Dan> Oh, I should also mention that I'm a reviewer as well, Monte. I'd love to review the game when it comes out. :)
[19:57] <+MonteCook> Thanks for having me here!
[19:57] <+MonteCook> Cool.
[19:57] <~Dan> Absolutely, Monte! Thanks for coming! I'll have the log posted to my blog shortly.
[19:57] <+MonteCook> Awesome.
[19:57] <~Dan> I'll send you a FB message with the link.
[19:57] <~Dan> Have a great evening!
[19:57] <+MonteCook> See you all later!
[19:57] <+MonteCook> :)
[19:57] <+Anduwaithe> bye Monte :)
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