Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/31/tabletop-review-injecting-the-weird-numenera/
From the title, I assumed that Injecting the Weird would actually be a crossover of sorts with Monte Cook Games’ upcoming release The Strange, similar to how In Strange Aeons was a guide on how to add Lovecratian moods and themes to your Ninth World experience. Perhaps by giving ciphers or creatures from that game. Instead, Injecting the Weird is a lot like In Strange Aeons, but “the weird” in this case is literally strange and bizarre happenings and how the Ninth World should be super saturated with them. Now, if you’re like me, your Ninth World is pretty weird, as you have probably used “it’s a billion years in the future – plausibility and physics go right out the window” for the sake of giving your players something truly strange to discover. Maybe you have given them a cipher that, when pressed, shoots out a wad of slime that coalesces into a 14 foot high gummy bear that screams when you take a bite out of it. Maybe characters have run into a life that resembles a giant jawbone, except it is hovering fifteen feet in the air and no force on earth can lower or raise its altitude. Maybe they have found a village where all of the homes are made of a substance that appears to be fluorescent blue cottage cheese, yet it is durable enough to withstand lightning strikes and monster attacks. All of these things are WEIRD, and yet, if you read the core Numenera rulebook, none of these things should ruin the suspension of disbelief for players, because the Ninth World is all about things that are wondrous and unexplainable. It is a game of discovery and imagination first and foremost after all.
However, weirdness is far more than strange unexplainable phenomenon and lifeforms that just happen to go on in the Ninth World around the PCs. It needs to be more than just throwing strange things at your players for the sake of strange, and it certainly has to be more treating Numenera like a futuristic dungeon crawl hack and slash experience. This is where Injecting the Weird comes in, as Monte Cook gives us a twenty-two page PDF on how to fill your Numenera campaign with weirdness and how to do so in a way that makes your campaign better as well as stranger.
For Monte, weird is defined in the same way some politicians used to define pornography – you know it when you see it. Weird things are those that fill you with a sense of wonder. How does that exist? WHY does it exist? Weirdness should make your players curious and want to learn more, even if they know full well that they can’t. Weird is also relative. In a game like Shadowrun, a Fairlight Excalibur deck is far from weird, but drop one of those into Numenera and the PCs will probably poke and prod at it, having no idea what it is for, especially from the first base GM description.
After defining what weird is, the next section talks about when you should explain the weird, such as when it is pivotal to an adventure. After all, if the goal of the adventure is to discover (and stop) what is causing giant hail in the shape of flounder to ravage a countryside and decimate the crops of a region, then you do have to explain the weird to some degree. However, there are far more times when defining it can ruin the effect, so as a GM, you have to know when to give a full reveal and when to just let it fascinate or creep out the PCs. After that, we are given a short piece on “The Point of the Weird,” which gives explanation and justification for WHY the Ninth World is so bizarre. The answer, of course, is that we are a billion years in the future and eight full civilizations have come and gone, some so alien that we can’t even conceive of them, and all we have left of their existence are bizarre doodads and residuals we simply can’t explain or understand. What made sense to them doesn’t to us, and probably vice versa. Hence, weirdness is now everywhere. There’s a great summation in the piece that highlights just how incomprehensible some things will be to the PCs. “Could a Neanderthal understand how and why you’re reading this Glimmer right now?” Said Neanderthal should be just and confused and fascinated by the concept of a PDF in the same way players should be with all sorts of strange things that litter the Ninth World.
From there we get fourteen pages of d100 tables. Yes, sixty-three percent of this five dollar PDF is little more than random tables, leaving only seven pages of actual content. I can’t deny that this makes Injecting the Weird overpriced for what you get, as seven random tables whose topics range from “A Weird (But Not Particularly Dangerous) Creature” to “A Weird NPC” aren’t what I want, need or look for in a Numenera supplement, but that’s probably because I have spent two and a half decades playing/running games like Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Paranoia, Cyberpunk, SLA Industries, Spelljammer, Planescape and HoL, so I’m pretty familiar with the concept of weird. However, that isn’t true for all gamers. For some, this might be their first RPG (I know it is for one of my friend’s little girls) and for others, they might be hardwired to roll-playing over role-playing and thus haven’t focused on the creative, imaginative or descriptive side of RPGs. For others, they might only have run published adventures, so crafting something bizarre might be outside their forte. For these, and many other, gamers, the seven random charts included in Injecting the Weird are going to be very helpful. It’s hand-holding to give those gamers less experienced in weirdness hundreds of examples of exactly what this piece is all about. So just because I have always gravitated towards extremely weird games doesn’t mean these random tables aren’t useful or a good tool to help fledgling GMs learn how to infuse a game with weirdness – they just aren’t useful to me. If, however, you’re a gamer who is struggling with the concept of throwing strange and unexplainable things into your Numenera game, these tables are probably worth the five dollar admission price alone.
The last five pages of Injecting the Weird are mechanics and rules to help provide more weirdness in Numenera characters from the getgo. You have a new descriptor called “Weird,” where a character gets +2 to their Intellect pool, a distinct physical quirk (maybe a fin on their head or fourteen eyes) and training in Numenera knowledge, at the expense of social interactions all being a step higher on the difficulty scale. There is a new focus called “Masters Insects” which is pretty self-explanatory. The tier powers in this one are pretty fun (and sometimes creepy) and it might be worth investing in, especially if you want to play a were-walking stick or something. Admit it, that’s weird! You also have a new focus option in “Sees Beyond,” which is a really interesting focus. It opens itself (and thus the PC) to a lot of potential GM intrusion, but it’s also a focus that can let the GM help guide players towards what they are looking for or steer them towards the direction an adventure needs to go. As you can imagine, Sees Beyond gives a character the ability to visualize different spectrums, see things that are invisible or out of phase with our reality and so on. It’s a very cool focus and one that I think will see a lot of use, especially with NPCs by certain DMs. Sees Beyond will probably become the equivalent of the Divination magic sphere for Numenera.
All in all, this is another great first party release for Numenera by Monte Cooke Games. I was expecting something totally different, but the end result is still a wonderful release that offers something to gamers of all experience and skill levels. Some gamers will probably balk at the fact that Injecting the Weird is almost two thirds random tables, and I can’t fault them for that. After all, that wasn’t what I wanted either. Those same tables that may push away some gamers will actually draw in others – especially those with less experience designing their own world, and especially those not used to running a game whose fuel is strangeness. So while Injecting the Weird isn’t for everyone, it is a well-designed supplement for Numenera and one I can easily recommend.