Originally reviewed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/23/tabletop-review-numenera-character-options/
Numenera: Character Options opens with an unusual question: “Can character creation be fun?” I was taken aback by that because honestly, character creation is one of my favorite parts of playing a tabletop RPG. If the character creation is dull and uninteresting – why would you want to play the game associated with it. I think my favorite character creation systems have been the old FASERIP Marvel Super Heroes game by TSR, HOL by Black Dog Games and Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium. The randomness in each really helped get the creative juices flowing and the end result was always a character you felt emotionally connected too. Runner up systems are Mayfair’s Chill, the old World of Darkness games (Specifically V:TM and W:TA) and AD&D Second Edition. The latter of these runner ups was because of the sheer amount of options open to you, something my young brain was overwhelmed and blown away by back in the day. Besides the core Player’s Handbook options, there were all these Complete XYZ Handbook‘s and Player’s Option books to really give you more character building options than you would ever need. Sure, this is pretty standard now, but in the 80s/90s, this was a big piece of innovation. So I would like to start off the review by saying, the question shouldn’t be, “Can character creation be fun?” but rather, “How can we make it even better?” In the case of Numenera, which already has a pretty inventive character system, the answer seems to be – PILE ON THE OPTIONS!
Please note that these options do not replace the character creation method in the core rulebook for Numenera. Instead it’s just a plethora of new canon choices to give you more options – hence the name of the book. If you are at all familiar with Numenera, then you will see all the new Foci, Descriptors and racial options and be excited to make some new characters…or grumble and wish some of these had been around when you first started playing the game. You won’t see any new character classes though. You still have “only” the Glaive, the Jack and the Nano. The text also states there are no plans for any new classes/types and so instead the emphasis is giving you far more options to make your own personal character stand out and lessen the chance any two players picks the same “I am an Adjective Noun who Verbs.”
The first full chapter is “Character Type Options” and it’s a quick dozen pages of new options for the core three classes. Glaive’s get new fighting moves, Nanos get new Esoteries and Jacks get new “Tricks of the Trade.” Each level of the class, from First Tier through Sixth, gets at least a half dozen new options. A Second-Tier Glave might take Sense Ambush, which prevents them from ever being surprised by an attack, or they might take Stand Watch, which prevents them from falling asleep or alertness when on guard (for up to eight hours). A First Tier Nano might choose the abilities to erase the last five minutes of a victim’s memory while a Sixth Tier Nano can gain the ability to stop time itself! There are a lot of interesting new options to be had. Some players will stick with the old options from the core rulebook, other will want to take exclusively from this new book, but most will probably find some in each they enjoy. There’s no right or wrong here. You can’t really min/max in Numenera (although I’ve definitely seen attempts), so flip through the options and make the character you want to play.
“Descriptors” is one of the two big chapters in the book, taking up a full third of the book. The chapter is divided into three sub-sections: General, Location-Based and Racial Descriptors. With Character Options you know have thirty-six possible General Descriptors. Some of these has negative connotations like Clumsy and Craven, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. Negative traits make for great roleplaying and even qualities such as these have positive aspects. Clumsy characters the dumb luck ability and bonuses to breaking things for example. Craven characters are fast and stealthy in addition to fearing physical violence being inflicted upon them. My personal favorite of the new General Descriptors is Perceptive, although Weird and Mad are pretty fun too. Yes, you might remember some of these “new” options like Weird and Doomed from previous Numenera supplements like In Strange Aeons. Don’t worry, you’re not paying twice for content you’ve already purchased – but do be aware SOME bits of Character Options have been previously published. At least they’re now all in one spot instead of strewn across multiple supplements.
There are also now thirteen Location-Based Descriptors. Now these don’t give you special abilities based on where you are in the Ninth World, direction sense or an inherent GPS. No, Location-Based Descriptors are ones steeped in the culture of a country or region. These are for characters who have especially strong ties to a certain place and embody the stereotypes of the nation they are a part of. There are some really fun options here, all of which should give a character a ton of potential story seeds – as long as you have a creative GM to play off of them. My favorite is Icebound, as it’s not only one of the more unique locations in the Ninth World, but you get some snazzy perks to go along with it.
Racial options gives you four new racial options in addition to the two non-human races found in the core rulebook. You’ve got the Diruk, which remind me of the Obsidians from Earthdawn as both are rock based lifeforms. The Golithar are one eyed green plant people. The Mlox look human, but have a third eye in the middle of their forehead which they can hide. The third eye is actually a mechanical brain, making the Mlox a very unique type of cyborg. Finally we have the Nalurus which are a humanoid race carrying a Medusa-like effect on those that view their face. Except. Instead of turning to stone, your brain melts. Now of course, long time Numenera fans will recognize some of these races from previous releases like The Ninth World Bestiary, but this is the first time these have appeared as playable races.
The other large chapter in Character Options is Foci. Not only do you get the clarification that no two PCs should have the same Foci, but you get twenty-five new Foci, complete with different powers for each of the six character tiers. “Consorts With the Dead” is a personal favorite as I always love Necromancy and to see how clever players use it instead of “UNDEAD HORDE OF DOOM.” “Explores Deep Waters” is a really cool one too as it makes your character specialize in a terrain you don’t usually think about and gives the GM a ton of ways to spotlight your character. Sees Beyond is a great choice for a non combat oriented character. You might not be a killer but you should be able to plow through puzzles pretty easily!
“Optional and Additional Rules” provide some interesting variants for character creation. Here you’ll find ways to tweak what your characters starts out with, a ton of new connections and ways to change Descriptors and Foci after character creation. There is also a brief blurb about how characters can advance once they reach the Sixth Tier. Of course, anyone doing that is pretty much just powergaming in the first place so the advice here will probably be ignored. After that you get a few pages of character portraits and an index, and you’re done!
Overall, Character Options lives up to its name, giving players a lot of new options for their PC. With only a ten dollar price tag, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of this book as there are so many fun new options to play around with. Character Options is by no means a book you need to own in order to play or enjoy Numenera, but it is a wonderful compliment to the core rulebook.