Those Who Came Before – Session 2

Our campaign of “Into the Odd” continues, albeit a bit slimmed-down. Flint’s player determined that he had over-committed to too many games and stepped back. Still, on we go with the three adventurers. If you’re not interested in the narrative and just want to see some of the stuff I designed, it’s towards the end of the post in the next section.


Our group now consists of:

  • Penny, a young tinkerer who seeks to become a great inventor by learning from the past
  • Roland, a strapping young lad who has more brawns than brain, but also a big heart
  • Beorsson, a “former” pirate who figures making coin digging in ruins is safer than where the comrades he once betrayed might find him

The session starts off with the group in a room with a large aquarium occupying an entire alcove. An ovoid pod about the size of a human with a weird fleshy-feeling interior sits in another corner. Penny enters it and it seals up; after a moment, she leaves it but with some webbing between her upper arms and torso that she could use to glide down from a height, kind of like a flying squirrel.

Turning their attention to the aquarium, they notice that the glass wall doesn’t go quite all the way to the ceiling, but has a gap of several feet such that someone could climb in or out. Inside the aquarium sits a submerged chunk of coral. While examining it, they realized that the coral moves slightly but only in their peripheral vision, as if when they look elsewhere. They experiment with some of their arcana and the like, including the Tyrant’s Rod that can make someone stop.

This leads to one of my favorite quotes encapsulating how games like this work:

It’s not the right tool, but it’s what I have.

It does, however, get the attention of the being(s?) in the coral. They feel, or rather “hear”, in their minds some static, sort of like a radio trying to tune to the right station. Then a voice comes in, telepathically, and the coral begins to ask them questions, such as “why are you here?”. Of course, the adventurers have plenty of questions of their own, like “why are YOU here?” and “what is this place?”

Eventually, they learn that those who came before left their machines here; the adventurers are like them, but clearly they are not them. The coral have been here longer than the humans can understand, but this geological age is not convenient for them as they no longer have bodies of water where they can flourish (at least, not in this region). The group eventually realizes this is sort of a hive mind biding its time, and agrees that, should they find an appropriate place for the coral to foster a new colony, they’ll return.

In the next room, a fine white powder covers the entire floor, undisturbed. In the center, one of the floor panels is highlighted by visible seams around its edges, and above it mounted to the ceiling is a plastic dome with a conical device inside. The room has three doors, one almost adjacent to their entrance and two on another wall. Roland decides to enter the room and check out that nearby door; when he steps on the powder, it puffs into the air and feels a little caustic when he breathes it in.

That door leads to another medium-sized room with a holographic orrery in the center. Above the orrery is a device with four small cylinders that all point to a spot just above the orrery. Behind it on the far wall is sort of a booth with another automaton inside it, although with a smoother appearance than the one they fought earlier. Interestingly, it has a smaller set of the same sort of cylinders as seen in the ceiling, but mounted into its chest.

Beorsson and Penny cross quickly into one of the other rooms, which is actually a closet containing a wheeled tank with a hose leading to a nozzle. One thing leads to another, and they put some pressure on the floor plate, activating the siren above it. The automaton activates and comes toward them all. Roland holds it off for a moment with the hypno-torch before fleeing to the rest of the group. The projectors on the automaton’s chest activate, creating a small gravity vortex that pulses and hurts the adventurers.

Roland brings down his axe timed with the gravity pulse, which I decide results in Enhanced damage. They then decide to spray the automaton with whatever is in the tank, which turns out well because it turns metal to brittle glass – glass they can immediately destroy with a single well-placed swing.

In the other room, the projectors have started flickering on, creating another gravity vortex above the orrery. But when they do, everyone feels the earth rumble a bit. They have discovered the source of the earthquakes! A bit more spray and another thwack later, the gravity projector no longer threatens the security of the local area.

Design stuff

As previously noted, I used Dyson Logos’s Dark Spire through Blasted Lands map, both directly as well as for inspiration. Later I’ll publish the full keyed version, but you can already get most of what’s where from these narratives.

However, I did stat up a couple of creatures converted from Numenera.

A glowing human-shaped automaton  with a weapon mounted on its right forearm
“Vaytaren” from “Jade Colossus: Ruins of the Prior Worlds”, TM and (c) 2017 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Vaytaren: STR 14, WIL 8, HP 10, Armor 1 (void whip, d6)

  • Wants to protect the arcana. Will only interfere with individuals stealing arcana (or in self-defense)
  • Void whip lashes out with ribbons of purple-black energy
  • Electrical attacks against the Vaytaren are Enhanced
A large robot with a glowing yellow visor and a swirling reddish-purple vortex stretches its arms menacingly
“Dark Fathom” from “Numenera: Discovery”, TM and (c) 2018 Monte Cook Games, LLC

Dark Fathom: STR 14, DEX 6, HP 12 (Singularity, d6 Blast, ignores armor)

  • Gravitational singularity can draw in ranged attacks
  • Pulses to damage all nearby
  • Wants to destroy enemies of its people

Also, several of my arcana were inspired by Numenera. For example, I took the “Metal Death” cypher from the Discovery core rulebook:

Usable: Canister with hose
Effect: Produces a stream of foam that covers an area about 3 feet by 3 feet (1 m by 1 m), transforming any metal that it touches into a substance as brittle as thin glass. The foam affects metal to a depth of about 6 inches (15 cm).

I didn’t really focus on the numbers, although I keep them in mind when determining what’s feasible. I did give it a d20 usage die a la The Black Hack (on every use, roll the die; if it’s a 1 or a 2, the die goes down one step; if it happens on a d4, the item is used up). This might seem like a lot, but I’m still figuring this out as I go.

They also found a remote viewer in another closet. Again, from Discovery:

Usable: Device that splits into two parts when activated, one with a glass screen
Effect: For one hour per cypher level, the glass screen on one part shows everything going
on in the vicinity of the other part, regardless of the distance between the two parts

Arcana don’t have “levels”, so I’ll give this a d6 on its own, one use.


The group has started to find its rhythm. Beorsson and Roland’s players have some experience with OSR games; Penny doesn’t, but she has jumped right in and gotten into the spirit of “freeform roleplay with dice to adjudicate particularly risky situations”. That’s really the meat of the game.

They really liked experimenting with the powder, especially when they realized they could tamp it down with liquid. I didn’t anticipate that, nor (honestly) did I think about the Metal Death and the Dark Fathom interacting. While obvious in hindsight, I just don’t think a lot about how they might solve a problem. (They have asked for a little more solvability, which I think is fair.) They also liked the rather extensive interaction with the coral reef people (person?), which I will keep a little mysterious (mechanically speaking) for now. The unexpected interaction of the weapon with the gravity pulse, which really I just ruled on the fly, was fun.

I like this way more than a bunch of rules telling us what we “can” do, really.

Next week, they’ll be back in the nearby town to do some trading, check on leads to more ruins, deal with whatever shenanigans arise, then probably head to the Spire of Spheres they learned about last week unless some of the other leads grab their attention more.

Numenera and its logo are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. All Monte Cook Games characters and character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof, are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC. Content derived from Monte Cook Games publications is © 2013-2019 Monte Cook Games, LLC.

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