Welcome to NUMENERA!

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Welcome to “Welcome To!” In this series, we tell you about the worlds behind some of our favorite franchises. These articles are about lore, atmosphere, and worldbuilding: all the things we care most about in games. First up: NUMENERA, a strange science fantasy world taking place in the far future.

Is STAR WARS too realistic for you? Well, welcome to The Ninth World!

Today, we’re talking about NUMENERA: a relatively new science-fantasy universe from award-winning RPG designer Monte Cook. Created in 2013, NUMENERA is a multiple award-winning series of tabletop RPGs and short stories.

Now, I only heard about this series about a year or two ago, but NUMENERA sucked me in so quickly that it immediately became one of my favorite IPs. If you want to know my ideal fantasy world, then look no further.

So, what is NUMENERA? What sets its world apart from others? Well, let’s take a look!

Backstory

NUMENERA takes place on Earth one billion years in the future. In that time, thousands of civilizations have risen and fallen. The ruins of intergalactic empires dot the landscape. Ancient machines churn and hum beneath the Earth.

The world is full of secrets.

Marooned aliens, mutant cyborgs, and primitive humans eke out a living amidst the wreckage, and reality itself has begun to warp under the weight of malfunctioning technology.

These gadgets, machines, and magical phenomena are collectively known as “Numenera.”

This is a story about mankind’s tenacity and endurance, where knowledge is the only true currency. It’s an RPG where “loot” takes on a whole new meaning, where every piece of treasure has the power to advance human society or destroy it. It’s about looking to the future, with the help of the past.

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The people of NUMENERA call Earth “The Ninth World.” They believe themselves to be the ninth in a series of super advanced civilizations. It’s implied that the current “world” is still pretty young, and mankind is still recovering from the fall of the last. Society is roughly on par with the middle ages, but the previous worlds left behind artifacts, machines, and magical oddities that the people use in their daily lives.

The result is a wild, weird, and beautiful universe that fuses science-fiction with fantasy.

The Ultimate Science-Fantasy World

Now, you may have heard of Clarke’s Third Law: that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Well, NUMENERA embodies this principle from the ground up. It’s not just that science is being used in ways that appear magical, but that the lines have been blurred to the point where any distinction is irrelevant.

I mean, think about it: what’s the difference between traditional magic and a cloud of nanobots bending the basic laws of reality? Absolutely nothing. This is the core of NUMENERA.

Traditional fantasy monsters warp into biomechanical experiments from eons past. “Demons” and “Spirits” are clouds of sentient nanobots or humans that ascended to immortality. Even the internet has become a plane of existence called “The Datasphere”: a chaotic mess of conflicting data and websites from lost civilizations. All of your blogs and cat videos are now sentient programs trying to fulfill their original purpose. Wizards are known as “nanos.” They manipulate nanites in the air that warp reality.

It’s never completely clear what’s hard science, what’s pure magic, and what’s both.

Just a few of The Ninth World’s cuddly critters.

The Far, Far Future

Now, being this far in the future causes some potential problems for the setting. I mean, the Earth probably won’t even exist in a billion years. Not if the sun has anything to say about it. Why do humans still look more or less the same? Why is magic suddenly a thing in the future?

I would normally shrug this off by saying “a wizard did it,” but that doesn’t work so well in a world based on our own reality. This all leads me to one of my favorite things about NUMENERA: the fact that it’s so far in the future creates a ton of problems that are immediately solved.

Sure, NUMENERA takes place in a completely unrecognizable future, but it’s so far in the future that you’d expect it to be unrecognizable. There could be any number of answers to these questions. Potential answers that spark the imagination and add to the mystery of the world.

NUMENERA: A World Of Mystery

NUMENERA does something a lot of similar franchises fail to do: it feels mysterious without feeling confused.

You never get the sense that the writers forgot to consider a potential plot hole, or that they don’t know what they’re doing. They always give you just enough information to keep you engaged in this crazy world.

NUMENERA
Every image sparks my imagination.

Sure, the sun should have destroyed the Earth by now, but it’s heavily implied a previous civilization prevented this from happening. Sure, humans should have evolved by now, but it’s explicitly stated that humans re-appeared relatively recently, suggesting time-travel or genetic engineering.

You’re always given enough clues to get by, and players are encouraged to speculate and create their own explanations.

It’s also worth noting that The Ninth World is Earth in name only. The previous civilizations have terraformed, re-positioned, and modified the planet so much that it’s become completely artificial. If you can accept that the Earth as we know it no longer exists, then everything else starts to fall into place.

A Unique Art Style With An Imaginative Theme

NUMENERA’s art style is a bit hard to describe, so just bear with me for a moment.

Imagine if H.R. Giger went to a sex therapist. Combine that with ’70s sci-fi, Moebius, and throw in a healthy dose of hallucinogens. You’ll end up with something like this.

NUMENERA

Personally, this is my ideal art style. It’s colorful. Cluttered in a good way. It’s full of designs and architectural styles that should conflict but instead, synergize with one another. There’s a lot of organic shapes and biomechanical themes. Every environment is full to the brim with surreal imagery.

NUMENERA is a setting where any bizarre situation can be justified, and the only limit is your imagination.

NUMENERA
Want to ride a dragon? NUMENERA’s got you there, too.

As I mentioned earlier, society is about on par with medieval times. There are various kingdoms, noble houses, and city-states scattered across the more civilized regions of the world.

But NUMENERA doesn’t draw inspiration from any specific medieval culture. For that matter, all traces of modern culture and ethnicity have long since gone extinct. The humans of NUMENERA look like every race combined, and their architecture follows the same trend. This results in a world that looks exotic no matter where you’re from.

An Open-Ended Adventure

The tone of NUMENERA straddles the line between personal and political drama, Lovecraftian horror, post-apocalyptia, futuristic optimism, and light-hearted comedy. It’s incredibly difficult to take these disparate themes and combine them into a cohesive whole, but Monte Cook has done it perfectly.

The world is so massive and diverse that it lends itself to any scenario you can think of. The Numenera can be a symbol of hope and human progress, but it can quickly become a source of eldritch horror and a symbol of humanity’s hubris.

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The world of NUMENERA focuses on The Ninth World but spans a multiverse full of extra-dimensional demons and curious aliens eager to learn about our world. There are orbs of water full of sea creatures floating in space. There’s an extra-dimensional college with secret entrances scattered across the cosmos.

Hell, there’s even weirder things out there. Somewhere in the far reaches of space, there’s a matrix-like web of computer code surrounding a black hole. Colossal spiders tend to the web, and it contains a virtual utopia for anyone who can reach it. So yeah, NUMENERA is a pretty crazy place, with all sorts of diverse and creative ideas.

Technology and Imagination Are The Central Themes

But what binds the series together is the mysterious technology littered across the universe. Technology is the driving force behind the drama, action, horror, and conflict of NUMENERA. Most technology has long since lost its original function. Most people have no idea what a particular gadget was originally supposed to do, and much of it has developed a mind of its own.

NUMENERA
What even is this? Well, it’s your job to find out.

NUMENERA instills a sense of wonder and discovery in the player, as they delve into ancient ruins and lost cities in the name of discovery and progress. The variety, creativity, and mystery surrounding the Numenera is the driving force behind the series.

A Day In The Life

Imagine this: you’re trudging through a reef of sunken ruins when you come across two glowing diamonds spinning around each other and… giggling like children. Rumor has it they’ve been doing this for millions of years.

No one knows what they want, no one can move them out of the way. If you stop their spinning, you suddenly become violently ill. When you leave them alone they ignore you, and go back to their “game.”

Now, imagine something just as confusing, fascinating, humorous, and terrifying being a constant part of your daily life.

Welcome To The Ninth World

So that’s NUMENERA, a series about the mystery, horror, comedy, pessimism, optimism, and the human drama that unfolds in a whacked out science-fantasy world.

People say I can be overly critical or pessimistic when it comes to role-playing games, but I don’t think I can adequately explain how much I love this series. The amount of creativity here is mind-boggling, and it sparks the imagination like nothing else. I really want to see where this series goes.

NUMENERA
I want to live in this world. Is that weird?

This is the sort of franchise that deserves novels, movies, TV shows, multiple video games from different genres. I don’t know about you guys, but I would love an open-world sandbox RPG set in The Ninth World.

Where To Find NUMENERA

If you want to learn more about NUMENERA, check out the official website. There you can find guidebooks, artwork, and general information on the setting. You should also check out “The Ninth World,” a database of fan-made content to help you with your tabletop campaign.

So what do you think about NUMENERA? What world should we explore next? Let us know!

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