Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review of: The Sun Below -- Sleeping Lady

I don't often do reviews on this blog but a recent product gave me an opportunity to promote what I think is an excellent Numenera adventure (not to get ahead of myself) and generally talk about the third-party environment for MCG systems.

The MCG license for third-party companies to publish materials for Numenera was quite controversial.  Some of this seemed to be a product of a fundamental misunderstanding of the license and some inappropriate analogies.  I won't go into the license details but people were unhappy that there was a charge associated with the license and a cap on the revenues of licensed product.  People apparently expected the license to be free and open.

This expectation was based on a false analogy with other recent licenses.  There are several systems with more open licenses -- Fate, Savage Worlds (though accounts vary), Pathfinder, etc.  There is eager anticipation of a license for 5E DnD.  However, all of these licenses are system-only.  One can use the Fate mechanics with the license but not the key characters, locations, or setting elements of these games.  One can use Savage Worlds but not Deadlands.  One can use Fate but not Dresden.  One can create Pathfinder compatible material (which is, itself, a product of an open system license) but stay away from Golarian.

The Numenera license is different.  It allows one access to setting material as well as mechanics.  One can refer to specific cities, monsters, and equipment that is part of the Numenera setting.  This module is an example of how this license opens up opportunities for writers.  The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady is a new module from John W.S. Marvin in his Sun Below series of adventures for Numenera.  Most notably, it is an adventure that happens in Numenera with reference to specific Numenera setting material.  These references make it easier to integrate the material into an ongoing Numenera campaign.  One does not need to look for a close analogue or thinly disguised counterpart to a setting location.  Instead, you can use hooks with the Order of Truth, visit the Orb Mountain, and encounter Murken.  The adventure can slide right in to a Numenera campaign without much adaptation.

I will avoid spoilers for the adventure -- which limits any review a great deal.  In general terms, the adventure involves solving a local problem that turns out to reflect a long-forgotten weird threat.  One can link this adventure to the previous Sun Below adventure (The Sun Below: City of the Edge) but this is not necessary.  I have not read the previous adventure and this did not cause any problem in reading the adventure.  The linkages to the previous adventure may provide a fun reference for players but it is not at all necessary to enjoy this adventure.  Hooks for using this adventure without the previous one are also provided.

The most impressive element of this adventure is its scope.  I was stunned at the amount of material provided for such a low price.  The adventure weighs in at 76 pages with ample art.  The layout follows the MCG approach (with links to other elements of the adventure and key references to the Numenera core book where needed) and is clean and easy to read.  The page count is divided between approximately 50 pages of adventure material and 25 of new monsters, artifacts, etc.  This balance makes the book easy to use and adaptable even if you choose to modify the adventure itself.  There is a lot here for people who never plan to run pre-written material.  You can easily grab the new monsters, racial descriptors, etc.

The adventure itself will likely take a group 8-10 four hour sessions to complete.  It can take many more if you choose to elaborate on the framework presented in the adventure.  The adventures vary in type from combat-oriented to more social and exploratory encounters.  There is an interesting mystery that drives the adventure with players having the opportunity to slowly uncover local mythology.  Most importantly, the adventure provides several alternative approaches to the story so that players can drive the narrative rather than ride the adventure's railroad.

My sole criticism is that I found some dissonance in the tone of the art.  Weird stories are noted for their changing tones and mixtures of story elements.  Some of the (ample) art did not quite mesh with what I took as a relatively foreboding tone.  Of course, this is a matter of taste.  With so much art, it is natural for some to not quite fit in but I found it jarring at times.

In conclusion, I recommend anyone running a Numenera campaign to take a look at this adventure. It provides a nice example of the tone of Numenera as well as providing substantial content and materials that one can easily adapt to one's own campaign.  Players of other Cypher System games may want to consider the adventure as well.  If you are interested in more weird creatures, descriptors, and artifacts - you can pillage those without using the Numenera-based adventure itself.

As I finished this review, I learned that this adventure (and its predecessor) are on sale until 11/1.  This is a great time to check it out.

NOTE:  I was provided a reviewer copy of the adventure.  Of course, I don't normally review material on the blog.  If I did not like the product, I simply would not have reviewed it.  Still, I wanted to lay this out for the sake of full disclosure.

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