Thursday, 25 August 2016

Numenera - Vortex - Play Report #1


  • Scenario: Numenera: Vortex (by Monte Cook)
  • Rules: Cypher System
  • Play report
  • Part 1 of 3
  • Number of players: 3
  • Duration: 3 hours (leisurely)

In late 2014, Clay found a new RPG system he wanted to try out - Numenera. He had purchased a prepackaged scenario, Vortex, which we ended up playing over the Christmas holiday.

The scenario is still available at Monte Cook Games:
And I believe it was also included in the Numenera Adventure Book that came in the kickstarter box set.

If you are planning to play this scenario (as a PC), you shouldn't read this play report. The scenario is a little sand-boxy, and the PCs have lots of choices. Meta-gaming would spoil a lot of the fun.

The characters:

Ngaire         Learned Jack who Wears a Sheen of Ice
Robin          Graceful Nano who Talks to Machines
Char           Clever Glaive who Masters Weaponry
Jeremy        Charming Jack who Fuses Flesh with Steel
                      (only present for a few hours)

We used pre-made characters for the adventure.
Robin picked his character for the Special Abilities.
Ngaire chose hers for the Skills.
Char picked hers because of its Oddity - an indestructible scarf that never gets dirty.
Jeremy chose his at random.

We dropped the character names almost immediately, for simplicity.

Our biggest complaint about the pre-mades was that we had a tough time making in-game decisions. We hadn't discussed the characters' personalities, motivations, or morality. As a result, the characters were very flat and, frankly, difficult to play.

The other annoying thing about our characters was that they had awesome cyphers and oddities that we never got to use. Like a miniature saddle for a small animal, like a squirrel. And goggles that tint the world green (which Ngaire wore anyway - just because). And a living solvent. And so on.

Anyway, on to the game...

Robin, Ngaire, and Char are several days into an expedition to explore a section of uncharted forest, in search of Numenera to salvage and sell. They have been travelling for several days without any noteworthy encounters. In the late morning on a beautifully sunny day, the trio happens upon a river. As they approached it to fill their canteens, they notice dead fish collecting in the still pockets of water at the edges of the river.

(Robin: “Perhaps we shouldn’t fill our canteens here.”)

Looking upstream, the party discovers a large, grey structure jutting out of the riverbed. It is larger than a small house and oddly shaped, with yellow and white accents. The architectural style is not familiar to the trio. The area immediately surrounding the structure was recently disturbed, as though the structure burst through the ground in the middle of the river. There are two-day-old dead fish flung all over the nearby riverbank.

The three adventurers move further upstream to confirm that the mysterious structure is the source of the dead fish. The river appears undisturbed, so the group fills their canteens. They then return to investigate the structure.

The group walks around the perimeter of the building. There is no discernible door. Char marches up to the closest side and loudly commands “Open!” …Nothing happens.

(Char: “Hey, it worked in the last book I read.”)

Upon closer inspection, some of the yellowish markings are actually worn runes, although they are completely foreign to the group. While Char examines and pokes each of the runes, Ngaire begins to climb the structure.

Robin selects an area that he deems to be a promising location for a door and “scans” beyond the wall. He can sense that the area directly in front of him contains a lot of metal and mechanical parts, but is hollow inside.


Char hears voices and stops to listen. A group of people is approaching from upstream. Due to the heavy tree cover, she cannot see them, but from the tone of their voices she concludes that they cannot see any of her party either. She signals to Ngaire and Robin and then climbs the nearest tree with a good vantage point. She arms herself with her crossbow and loads a bolt.

Robin hides behind the structure and Ngaire climbs around to the downstream side at her current elevation.

Five people in yellow robes come into Char’s view. Their robes are distinct, but not recognizable as part of any known cult or group. They are each carrying several full sacks and baskets. As they get closer, the trio can pick out bits of their conversation, including “almost home” and “supplies.” The parts that they can make out do not strike the adventurers as noteworthy information. It becomes apparent that the structure is the Yellow Robes’ destination.

Ngaire steps into sight and calls out, “Ahoy!”

(Char: “I’m going to say that. Ahoy! (Ponyo reference) …not really, though.”)

The Yellow Robes draw and point their weapons at Ngaire. It appears that they are quite heavily armed. One of the men, a large bearded fellow, calls out, “Who are you?”

(Ngaire: “Okay… Outnumbered and outgunned. I guess the normal tactic of attacking first isn’t the best idea this time.”)

Ngaire thinks about this for a second. “An adventurer and treasure-hunter. I was just looking over this structure. Is it yours?”

The Yellow Robes slowly lower their weapons. The bearded man responds, “No. But I must ask you to leave the area.”

“Why? If you lay no claim over this…”

“We are going home. But we need some space to prepare.”

“…May I return to this place later?”


The Yellow Robes continue with their business and begin to pile their sacks and baskets on the riverbank. The containers appear to be full of foodstuff and supplies.

Ngaire calls down, “I don’t mean to alarm you, but I am not alone here.”

Char remains concealed in her tree, unseen and crossbow ready. But Robin steps around the corner into the open with his hands visible in a peaceful gesture. “Good day. I wish to introduce myself. My name is Robin.”

The Yellow Robes do not seem particularly bothered by an additional person. The large bearded man addresses Robin while the rest continue with their work. “I am Gregor. I must ask you and your party to leave the area. We must prepare for our ritual so we can go home.”

“As an adventurer and a follower of the Machine God, I am very interested in rituals. May I stay to observe?”

Gregor bristles noticeably at the mention of the Machine God, but he responds, “Do as you please. But keep your distance.”

“Is the opposite riverbank satisfactory?”

“It will suffice.”

Robin and Ngaire make their way over to the other side of the river and find a good place from which to observe the Yellow Robes. They sit down to munch on a snack. Char remains in her tree.

The Yellow Robes bustle around for a few minutes, mostly focused on carefully arranging the sacks. Once satisfied, they arrange themselves in a horseshoe facing the structure and one of them produces a small black block. He walks up to the structure and appears to insert the block into the wall. He takes a step backwards and the wall opens to reveal a hallway. The Yellow Robes quickly carry the sacks inside the structure and the door closes immediately behind them.

Image from Monte Cook's "Vortex"


Char jumps down from her tree and runs to the location of the closed door. She searches the wall for the keyhole. She locates a shallow impression that matches the shape and size of the block. It is not obvious, almost indistinguishable from the markings around it. Char is about to mark the location so that it is more obvious when she hears a high-pitched buzzing and senses imminent danger. On instinct, she quickly moves to a safe distance from the danger.

The structure blinks out of existence. Water fills the void in the river that the building had previously occupied.

(Clay: “Just so you know, there are guidelines for combat if you had chosen to fight the robes. Although the guidelines do indicate that attacking strangers is very rude. …and you probably would have died.”)

Laying on the riverbank next to her, Char finds a black satchel. She remembers seeing one of the Yellow Robes carrying it earlier – the skinny man who performed the ritual to open the door. Looking through the bag, Char finds a bunch of maps and a journal. Losing interest, she tosses the bag to Robin when he and Ngaire join her on the riverbank.

The journal contains a lot of information that is meaningless to Robin – words like “vortex” and “angel”. The journal also contains many beautifully drawn and amazingly detailed maps. Flipping through them, Robin finds one that looks familiar. It is their current location and the surrounding area. Over their exact location there is some writing – coordinates, dates, and times. One of the date-time combinations is just a few minutes ago and the other is a few days ago.

There are two other noteworthy items on this map. A small town called Jutte, which is located one day’s travel north from here, on the edge of a lake called Dog Lake. And another set of coordinates, four days travel in the same direction. The first date-time combination written below the coordinates is in 10 days time.

(Ngaire: “Hmmm… This is a pretty obvious railroad.”)

The adventurers decide to head towards the coordinates, figuring that they may find the odd structure again. They decide to pass through Jutte on their way.

Day 1:


The party arrives in Jutte at around noon. Their first order of business is to introduce themselves to the town leader(s), as a courtesy. The first local they pass informs them that the village elder is quite sick and confined to her home, but that a Glaive named Trummel has been overseeing the town in her stead. They are given directions to where he can likely be found.

Without much difficulty, the party locates Trummel. Robin introduces the trio as a group of “treasure-hunters and adventurers”. Trummel welcomes them to the town and warns them not to make any trouble. Robin asks about “a band of yellow-robed strangers we passed yesterday coming from this direction.” Trummel mentions that the group had stopped in the town to gather supplier – a lot of supplies. He does not offer much information about them, but it is obvious that he is not fond of the Yellow Robes. Ngaire inquires about accommodations and provisions, and Trummel directs them to the inn and the marketplace.

Trummel is very direct and although he is polite, he is neither talkative nor sociable.

The group heads to the small marketplace.

Ngaire quickly browses the stalls and counters until she locates some parchment and ink. She hardly haggles at all and pays one Shin for a large quantity of each. She immediately heads to the inn, arranges accommodations, and places herself at a table with good lighting in the common room. She begins to copy the maps from the lost journal, starting with the one of this area. She intends to copy as many maps and journal entries as possible, placing priority of what she judges to be valuable or important.

Robin and Char peruse the marketplace at a more leisurely pace. They engage the townsfolk in small talk, especially concerning the recent visit of the Yellow Robes. The townsfolk do not have much valuable information, as the Yellow Robes passed through the town fairly quickly, keeping to themselves and only speaking with the townsfolk about business matters. Although there is no evidence that the Yellow Robes did anything wrong, most of the locals express a dislike for them, using terms like ‘shady’, ‘scary’, ‘untrustworthy,’ and ‘creepy’.

…But who can spare time to fret about strangers who have already left, what with the monster in the lake and all?

(Ngaire: “Oh, yeah. The monster. Who could forget about that?”)

(Robin: “You really think Trummel would have mentioned a thing like that.”)

(Char: “What would have happened if we had decided to go swimming instead of shopping?”)

After hearing several mentions of the lake monster, Char decides to ask Trummel for more details. She finds him at the inn, eating lunch.

(Side note: Char is also a Glaive and the two share a warrior bond – instant mutual respect.)

“Hello. May I join you?”

Trummel gestures for her to sit.

“We are hearing a lot of rumours about a monster in the lake. Is there any truth to it?”

“Monster? I’ve not seen one. No one has. But the Dreavish brothers disappeared a few days ago when they were out fishing. And there are stories of apparitions and mysterious noises in the fog. Rumours like those spread, creating fear and begetting more stories.”

“You think there’s anything behind it?”

“The brothers did go missing. That much is true. They are not the kind to up and leave, nor the type to be messed up in any trouble. Could have been an accident though.”

“You don’t think there’s a threat?”

“I defend this town when there is something to defend it from. But all I found are rumours. Nothing for me to fight.”

“Any problem with us investigating?”

“No. As long as you don’t cause any trouble.”

“Any reward for finding anything?”

“We are not a rich town. But if you were to find a monster in the lake and kill it… with proof… well, I imagine that the townsfolk would reward you as they could. Free accommodations, food and drink, and the like. I cannot promise anything, though.”

“Thank you for your time.”

Meanwhile, Robin has made his way to the spare parts vendor in the marketplace and is combing through the Numenera for trinkets and parts that ‘speak’ to him. He finds a few bits and bobbles, which he purchases. He also searches for an object that resembles the block key used by the Yellow robes. He finds a black metal block that, at a glance, could be mistaken for the key. He also purchases this block.

When Robin arrives at the inn, he and Char ask the townsfolk for more information about the lake monster. Some details remain consistent between the different stories: the monster can appear anywhere on the lake, it might attack anything that moves on or in the lake, and it appears at dawn.


Char suggests using her remote surveillance device to monitor the lake at dawn.

Remote Viewer
Level ?
The device splits into two parts. For one hour, the glass screen on one part shows everything going on in the vicinity of the other part of this device, regardless of the distance between the two parts.


The device is only supposed to operate for about an hour, so they will have to be selective about the timing, but it can be activated remotely, so they can place it ahead of time. She and Robin head down to the lake before dark to set up the device. Char splits the surveillance orb in half and places the recording half high in a tree with a good view of a large portion of the lake. She takes the viewing half with her, and she and Robin return to the inn.

Ngaire is still copying, thinking about the value of a good map. And these are great maps.

That evening, Robin entertains the locals with a lively performance of a tale of one of their previous adventures. He tells the story so well that the townsfolk, thoroughly amused, buy him drinks and encourage him to continue. When he finishes, they applaud and throw him pennies.


(Jeremy inserts his quarter).

One of the townsfolk, Jeremy, overhears the adventurers’ intention to search for the lake monster. After hearing Robin’s tale, he decides that this trio might be capable of finding and vanquishing the beast. He introduces himself to the party and declares that he will be joining them. After all, this is the town’s problem and there should be a representative from the town to safeguard their interests.

The adventurers are hesitant, but Jeremy is quite insistent. He convinces them that he is capable and not likely to get himself killed. They agree to allow Jeremy to accompany them, mostly because he probably would have followed them anyway, even if they had refused.

The party heads to bed early, intending to wake and meet in the common room about a half hour before dawn.

Day 2:


Char wakes up an hour before dawn in anticipation. She sets up the viewing half of the orb in the common room and waits. The rest of the party joins her at the agreed-upon time. They turn on the surveillance device and see calm, clear, and dark lake.

Just as the sun begins to illuminate the lake, on their tiny screen, the adventurers see a massive object moving across the water. It disappears into the reeds right in front of the remote viewer. Everything returns to a state of calm.

The party decides to wait until the sun has fully risen before making their way to the lake. They take the time to eat a proper breakfast. Once it’s fully light and their bellies are full, the party heads down to the lake.

It is calm, still, and clear. There are no townsfolk around, most likely due to fear of the monster. The quiet is quite eerie.

Staying far away from the edge of the lake, the four adventurers make their way to the location of the remote viewer. Char retrieves the viewer half of the orb. It may no longer work, but it could still be traded as a novelty.

There is nothing apparently amiss in the area, besides the unnatural quiet. Ngaire walks back up the shore to the wharf and unties one the smallest fishing boats - a rowboat. She walks along the shore, pulling it by a rope. When she nears the suspect reeds, still holding onto the rope, she pushes the empty boat out towards the spot where the monster disappeared on the viewing orb.

Suddenly, the water under the boat explodes and half the boat disappears. The other half slowly sinks into the lake. Everything returns to an eerie calm.

(Jeremy: “Oh, no! Jim’s boat! He’s going to be pissed!”)

(Robin: “…Dare you to go swimming.”)

As Robin, Char, and Jeremy discuss their next move, Ngaire pulls a gravity grenade out of her bag and throws it into the lake in the vicinity of the boat wreckage.

Gravity Detonation
Level ?
Can be thrown in a short range. Bursts in an immediate radius, inflicting damage equal to the cypher's level by increasing gravity tremendously for one second. All in the area are crushed to the ground for one round and cannot take physical actions.


Unfortunately, Ngaire has never been very good at throwing, and she misses her target by a few metres.

The grenade hits the water with a quiet “plop” and sinks below the surface. A few seconds later, the calm is shaken by a large “BOOM” and a hole about 3 metres in diameter appears in the water where the grenade disappeared.

A massive crab-like creature bursts forth from the water several metres from the hole. The monster quickly scuttles down the shoreline away from the town. The four adventurers give chase. The monster makes its way to the mouth of a river and disappears among the reeds. Once again, everything goes still.

Robin, Char, and Ngaire begin to brainstorm possible tactics. Meanwhile, Jeremy picks up a rock and tosses it into the reeds where the crab disappeared. The monster jumps out of the reeds with an ear-splitting shriek.



The Lake Monster - Mesomeme
Level 5
 Level 7 when swimming or hunting
A mesomeme often appears to be a number of individual creatures - people and animals - wading in shallow water. Each person is speaking and the animals are making noises. The creatures are just severed heads mounted on slender, grey tendrils, which sprout from holes in the chitinous shell of a massive crustacean with eight legs, two of which end in massive pincers.

Th creature itself cannot speak. It is not very intelligent and acts on instinct. The mesomeme feeds on the mental activity of its victims, stimulating the brains in their severed heads, which remain preserved for weeks on its tendrils. This stimulation causes the heads to babble.


Image from Monte Cook's "Vortex" and from "Numenera Setting Book" 

(Side note: Jeremy rolls a 1 with his attack, so things get more complicated.)

The monster scurries up onto the muddy and incredibly slippery riverbank. It appears to have no trouble with its footing, but the terrain looks treacherous to the adventurers.

Before anyone else reacts, Robin charges directly at the monster, dropping to a home-plate slide when he hits the mud. He slides directly under the massive crab, narrowly missing the many legs stabbing at him. He gathers all his energy into a "force push" directed at the monster’s underbelly. The crustacean is thrown several meters into the air. If flails and twists and turns. Robin rolls out of the way a split-second before the monster crashes down on its back.

Char rushes in with her sword-staff, but cannot land a hit due to the monster’s flailing legs and claws. Jeremy suffers similar difficulties with his axe.

(Side note: Jeremey rolls his second 1, but uses a benny to avoid more misfortune).

Ngaire lets loose an arrow from her bow, but it is deflected by a claw. Robin arms himself with his punch-dagger and jams it into one of the monster’s joints where the leg meets the body.

Char sees an opportunity, and puts all her might behind a strike with her sword-staff, but she slips on the muddy terrain, spins spectacularly, and lands in the muck.

(Side note: Char also rolls a 1, but has no benny to save herself).

Jeremy moves in to attack again and cracks open a claw with his axe, while Ngaire buries an arrow between the shell into an exposed bit of flesh. The crustacean begins screaming and flailing in desperation. Robin wrenches his punch-dagger free and uses it to land another blow in the same location, punching the monster’s leg clean off.

Jeremy attacks the monster once again with his axe. The blow is parried and does no damage, but it draws the monster’s full attention, leaving it wide open to Char’s attack. She spears the crustacean through with her sword-staff, effectively ending its life.

The adventurers take a moment to catch their breath and sheath their weapons. They then begin the arduous task of dragging the monster’s body back towards the town. Many of the townsfolk, drawn by all the commotion and noise (…gravity grenade) are standing on the wharf when the four return. The party drags the crustacean up to the wharf.

Char declares, “Crab boil once I’ve bathed and changed. …Is there anywhere I can get these clothes washed?”

The rest of the day passes with feasting, drinking, and song.

(Side note: Jeremy says that his flex skill for the following day will be ‘culinary arts’ so that he can prepare a kickass crab meat breakfast.)

(End of session).

So, yeah... We ate the mesomeme. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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