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Friday 7 July 2017

Free RPG Day 2017: The Spire of the Hunting Sound

Now in its tenth year, Saturday, June 17th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera. One of the regular pieces of support for an existing roleplaying game in 2017 is The Spire of the Hunting Sound, a scenario for use with Monte Cook Games’ highly regarded and award-winning Numenera roleplaying game.

Numenera describes a world a billion years into the future in the Ninth Age, drastically changed by huge advances in science, but whilst the evidence of those changes is all around, the understanding of the science has long been lost. This does not mean that it cannot be regained and Numenera is all about discovering the great secrets of the past and using them to make a better world. Examples of this technology include Cyphers, one-use devices that the player characters can freely find and use for strange magical-like effects and there are lots of Cyphers to find and use, so the player characters are encouraged to use what they find—there will always be more. In essence, Numenera re-invented Dungeons & Dragons-style play, but in a Science Fantasy setting and combined it with accessible, player facing mechanics that allowed the GM to focus on storytelling. With the inclusion of some fantastic artwork—and every release for Numenera is superbly illustrated in full colour—that beautifully portrays the far future world of Numenera, you have an RPG setting with both scope and grandeur.

The Spire of the Hunting Sound is written by Dennis Detwiller, best known as a co-designer of Delta Green and Godlike, and is a complete scenario and introduction to the rules, but not quite a quick start set for Numenera since the GM will need to download a set of pre-generated adventurers. Once he has those, then The Spire of the Hunting Sound can be run with relatively little preparation. It should also be pointed out that the scenario is a lengthy affair and will take several sessions to play through, so is not the casual affair that a quick start might suggest.

As The Spire of the Hunting Sound opens, the adventurers find themselves aboard the Aelestrian, a Qi airship which has been hijacked by strange, musically robotic raiders. Attempts to wrest control from them ultimately proves futile as the airship is forced to the ground and the survivors find themselves stranded in a rolling green desert with only lights in the only far distance to indicate any sign of life. Having gathered supplies, the heroes are of course, the best suited to the difficult journey in search of help and rescue. Short of food and water, the heroes will be challenged again and again on this trek, essentially each time by the same thing—a prison and a puzzle. The first puzzle-prison is biological/mechanical in nature; the second is abstract in nature; and the second is interpersonal in nature. Each of these puzzles is a staging post for the overall journey, a point where the adventurers are expected to concentrate on things other their survival needs.

Unfortunately, both the structure and the nature of The Spire of the Hunting Sound means that it will not provide a good playing experience for everyone. The problem with the structure is its length and the repetition of the character actions. This is worse in the first and second staging points of the adventure where the player characters are trapped inside a puzzle box and have to find their way out. The second puzzle in particular, has the potential to be very frustrating because of its abstract nature and the need to work out how to solve the puzzle with very little in way of clues. If the puzzle is solved, there is a fun pay-off and some elements of the scenario that the heroes get to play with. Beyond this and actually succeeding in solving the puzzles and escaping, there is actually very little in terms of reward to completing The Spire of the Hunting Sound and very little terms in available cyphers to feed the cypher economy in Numenera. The latter can be problematic because there are encounters in the scenario designed to negate the adventurers’ cyphers and whilst that can be seen as a means to push the adventurers further forward, it can also be a frustrating experience for the players.

The second half of The Spire of the Hunting Sound presents an explanation of the rules to Numenera. It is a good explanation and it will be familiar to anyone who has The Numenera Starter Set. In fact the material from The Numenera Starter Set is more than enough to play though this scenario. Physically, The Spire of the Hunting Sound is as well presented as you would expect from a book from Monte Cook Games. The layout is clean, the writing clear, and the artwork, although recycled from other products, is excellent.

Rather than being necessarily a good scenario, The Spire of the Hunting Sound is different scenario and a scenario that not everyone will enjoy. It is though, a much better, more assured, and above all, complete product in comparison to The Numenera Starter Set. The puzzle nature of The Spire of the Hunting Sound means that it is not necessarily a suitable scenario to introduce the game with, but as a change of pace and tone, it will slip into an ongoing campaign with relative ease.

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