Review – Character Options 2 (Numenera)

nu-character-options-2-coverI want to start this review with some sort of funny observation about how the title Character Options 2 is a little too on the nose for a Numenera book, but then I’m reminded that I’m not funny at all, so I guess I’ll just lead with that observation. Wow, isn’t that title a bit on the nose for Numenera, king of exotica in roleplaying games?

Numenera Character Options 2, currently available from Monte Cook Games, is 97 pages, full-color, and can be acquired in print or PDF (this review is based on a PDF review copy). Like the original Numenera Character Options, Character Options 2 includes a variety of new descriptors and foci for Numenera characters. But its headline feature is two new character types, with the Glint and the Seeker joining the existing Glaive, Nano, and Jack.

The Glint is a “face,” focusing on social interaction of all sorts. The Glint (like the Nano) has an above-average Intellect Pool and has Intellect as the only stat that begins with an Edge. The Glint is trained in light weapons and two interaction skills (such as persuading, deceiving, or intimidation). Like Glaives get fighting moves, Nanos get esoteries, and Jack’s get tricks of the trade, the Glint gets two pronouncements at first Tier. These pronouncements all focus on social interaction, either abilities that enhance it (such as making it easier to get information through conversation, or make friends) or enablers that represent existing social connections (such as a contact, or a connection with an organization).

numenera-character-options-2-05-mirco-paganessiThe Seeker is an explorer, even more so than any other Numenera character. They are well-rounded, with an emphasis on the physical and survivability (Speed Edge, trained in Might defense). The are skilled with numenera, and can bear three cyphers at a time. Although they conceptually seem like they might be trained in wilderness and exploration skills, such mechanical benefits are not acquired automatically, although they may be through the selection of the Seeker’s secrets. Options at first Tier (of which the Seeker may choose two) include training in two extra physical skills (climbing, running, and such), two extra knowledge skills (such as geography), bonuses deciphering languages, sensing danger, or enhancing physical protection.

Beyond the two new types, Character Options 2 has around 40 new descriptors and about 25 new foci.

As was the case with Character Options (1), the descriptor choices in Character Options 2 contain a number of negative choices. Not that there aren’t positive aspects to all of these options, but the inherent negatives are more pronounced (sometimes accompanied by greater positives than usual) – being Abrasive, Insolent, Lonely, or Obsessive just don’t have a positive ring to them (there’s a lot of inability with positive social interactions to be found in these descriptors. Note that many core book descriptions have negative aspects – they just don’t dominate the descriptor. But I can see why these sort of descriptors could be less appealing, and appear in a supplement rather than the core book. There are 25 general descriptors, including Abrasive, Aggressive, Altruistic, Amusing, Deliberate, Devout, Efficient, Extraterrestrial, Fabulous, Gregarious, Insolent, Intimidating, Lonely, Manipulative (fear social interaction with the Manipulative Glint), Marine, Meek, Mercurial, Obsessive, Passionate, Polyglot, Rebellious, Resourceful, Subterranean, Ultraterrestrial, and Vigilant. Personally, I’m drawn to Efficient (good at identifying deception, solving puzzles, and the like, but deficient at being deceptive) and Resourceful (you’re always the one with a plan, but you get a bit focused on your plan and may not notice everything around you).

numenera-character-options-2-04-mirco-paganessiIn addition to those 25 general Descriptors that are location-based, or are racial. There’s a bit of muddying of terminology here, as “general” descriptors like Subterranean would seem to be as location-based as something like Desert-Dwelling. The difference, as I understand it, is that the location-based descriptors, while they might be used for a broader set of characters, are based on specific locations in the Ninth World (indeed, many of the location-based and racial descriptors are repeated from the Ninth World Guidebook). The racial descriptors include artificially intelligent, calramite (extraterrestrial with tentacles instead of arms), Echryni (amphibians from the Rayskel Kays), Naiadapt (humans with some transforming nanotechnology built in), Ormyrl (ultraterrestrials who all look human, but all look exactly alike), Proxima (near humans, born to human parents, but there’s something not quite right about them), and Skeane (some sort of dolphin/penguin/human hybrid thing I have a hard time describing).

The available foci, which tend to make more of a difference than the descriptors, are Abides in Crystal, Absorbs Energy, Abuses Alchemy, Becomes Energy, Charges Right In, Conceals the Truth, Delved Too Deeply, Devotes Everything to the Cause, Fell From Another World, Figures Things Out, Forges a Bond, Gazes Into the Abyss (Q: Does the abyss gaze back into you? A: No, this focus is not at all philosophical.), Likes To Break Things, Lives on the Road, Makes Something Out of Nothing, Manipulates Force, Plays Tricks, Provides Support, Shapes Liquid, Speaks to the Datasphere, Stares Down Adversity, Steps Into the Outside, Ventures Into the Night, Wields a Whip, and Wonders. Ones that stand out to my particular eye include Lives on the Road (for really doubling down on that new Seeker character) and Provides Support (if you miss playing a cleric and/or wand to be the one everyone else is relying on when the going gets tough).

numenera-character-options-2-02-kim-sokolFinally, Character Options 2 contains several organizations, which feel a bit out-of-place here. Yes, the characters might join an organization, but I’m not sure how many of the ones here would really work well for that. And the write-ups suffer a little for being detached from a setting presentation (not that you can’t go look up exactly where they are located, physically and socially, but it’s harder to get an immediate feel). The described organizations include the Cabal of Whispers (shady nobles and merchants hiding practitioners of dark magic), The Conflux (undersea explorers and diplomats), the Grey Company (mercenaries), Moonwreckers (hope to explore space), the Pact of Jarash (meta-refernce to group who assembled the Ninth World Bestiary), The Schism (a breakoff group from a breakoff group of the Order of Truth, anti-pretty-much-everyone, but notably including Gaians), and the Twelfth Ode (Navarene organization that investigates ultraterrestrials).

Ultimately, Numenera Character Options 2 delivers on what its title promises. If you’re playing Numenera, and you want more options for characters then, well, have we got a book for you. At the same time, some of the content is recycled from other Numenera books, and I feel that the audience for the more negative descriptors is more narrow than usual (although it is serving a niche unmet by the core book). So I think this one will be liked by core Numenera fans yearning for more mechanical options, but might not be a home run for a more casual fan.

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