Type: Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
Page count: 18
Price: £3.98 approx ($5.99)
(3.0 / 5)
Vortex is an adventure for Numenera designed for 1st and 2nd tier characters that was originally written as a convention game for Gen Con in 2013. As it can be used as a convention adventure it comes with a set of pre-generated characters and is short enough to be able to be run in a double convention slot, which is 8 hours. Needless to say this review contains SPOILERS, so, if you plan on taking part of the adventure as a player you should probably stop reading now.
The background of the adventure is that a cult has developed, over a several generations, around a strange piece of Numenera that takes the form of a large black construct that sporadically teleports around the landscape. Inside this construct (which has the Tardis-like property of being substantially bigger on the inside than the outside), amongst other things, is a swirling vortex of energy that is the focus of the cult activity as the cultists worship it as a creator being.
Over the last few years the cult has waned in strength and so it has taken to kidnapping in order to bolster its numbers and the man currently in charge of the cult has a dark malicious streak to him turning the cult ever more introverted and suspicious of outsiders. It is the escape of one of the kidnapped members that spurs the party to investigate the inside of the monolithic black Numenera.
The adventure itself is split into 2 primary parts, investigating the teleporting Numenera device and exploring beyond the Vortex. The first part makes us the bulk of the adventure with the latter part being a series of rooms with little ability for the party to stray from the intended path.
The first part is simple enough, a quick hook to show the players what the device can do, a suspicious town and enough subtle hints that the Numenera is worth investigating. From there the party find the Numenera in the wilderness, encounter a cultist who has just escaped and wants them to rescue her brother and a decision as to whether to help her or to try and take the Numenera for themselves (or both). Regardless the hook has been suitably baited for them to go inside and investigate.
Inside the Numenera there are innumerable ways to go and paths to take and exploring the entire inside could be a campaign in itself. The actual path is lit by candles, burning incense and walls daubed with cult symbols and designs. My party actually wandered off the designated path, which the adventure kind of accounts for with a few random room encounters that I embellished myself. Eventually, after a few hours of wandering I managed to steer the party back on course, though not before some memorable encounters.
The middle of the adventure is designed to be confrontational. It doesn’t have to be direct combat as there is certainly room for some stealth and/or intimidation. The party are placed in direct opposition to the cultists, led by the hardened self-appointed deputy who has a mean streak who will attack intruders without question. Certain cultists, older members who are dedicated but not violently fanatical, may be persuaded towards the PC’s point of view as they long for a change in leadership. The nature of the Cypher system, along with the clever use of Numenera means that there are numerous avenues that the PC’s can explore as they try to overcome this challenge.
After the deputy the party meet and have to overcome the cults leader, a man with the unique ability to repel all metal around him. This was an interesting challenge to run as the leader is highly charismatic and, in my case, began the encounter by trying to persuade the PC’s towards his point of view, successfully in one case. It was hard to explain to a player that the view of the leader was compelling to his PC even while the player himself disagreed with it and this lead to a little confusion at the table.
Almost inevitably this encounter devolved to combat as the players violently disagreed with the cult leader. It makes for a very interesting encounter with lots of opportunities for GM interventions because of the nature of the leaders anti-metal ability. One of my players has a PC that is a cloud of metallic nanites and so he, in particular, had to find inventive ways to remain relevant during the encounter.
After this the party finally come to the shrine room, that contains the vortex for which the adventure is named. This is a glowing ball of light that looks similar to a miniature sun and has the ability to transmit vague telepathic messages to anyone inside the structure. One of these messages instructs, almost compels, the receiving player to go to another part of the structure with little explanation why. Once there they have a relatively simple encounter with a series of Numenera devices designed to allow them to travel safely through the Vortex. More than anything this is a series of investigative skill based challenges that give the players free reign to be inventive.
Once the party are suitably protected they can travel through the Vortex, assuming they are brave enough to touch it. Once through they find themselves on a space station (although that might not be instantly apparent) that is deteriorating as it collapses into the sun.
The voice that it talking to them is a trapped energy construct that wants them to free it before the station completely breaks up. The party travel around a circular path of interconnected rooms while the station begins to break up around them. Again there is plenty of room for a GM intervention here as floors fall away or ceilings collapse.
This section should feel and play tense, as if the station could disintegrate at any point. I managed to maintain this feeling although it got bogged down by a few bad roles that meant a PC was trapped after the floor collapsed for a significant period of time and this drew some of the drama away. There is a little bit of combat here as automated guardians take exception to the presence of the PC’s but most of the section is down to player wit and character skill.
Regardless of whether the PC’s successfully release the energy being or not the superstructure of the station begins to collapse and the final hurrah of the adventure is a short series of agility based skills as the PC’s rush to escape the failing station. They do this by dodging falling girders, jumping gaps in the floor and otherwise trying to navigate their way out alive. The series of skill checks is fairly simple but my players, almost to a man, failed and only one managed to reach the exit. Unfortunately (for him) he decided to try and help his comrades as the station finally succumbed to its proximity to the sun and fell apart, killing them all.
Fortunately for me this adventure was a test of the system, for me and my players, so we could learn how it worked, make sure they liked their characters and otherwise see if Numenera was a game for us. Despite the TPK the experience was a good one, had this been anything other than a test I would have likely made the ending a little less lethal so my players had more chance to make it out alive.
Overall Vortex is a fun adventure. It was all the aspects you want, combat, stealth, social and skills along with a simple to navigate plot and enough ways to spice it up if that’s what you want to do. I think its serves as a good introduction to the settling and system overall as it manages to showcase pretty much every aspect of the ruleset in a nice manageable chunk.
My only real concern with the adventure, especially as an intro adventure, is that it is quite lethal. I tend to think it’s pretty hard to die in Numenera overall, which is good as PC longevity tends to help players connect with the game, but as the climax has a reasonable chance of causing a couple of PC deaths and the slim possibility of a TPK, it makes it a pretty steep intro to the game. If you modify the end to give the PC’s a little higher chance of surviving then the adventure as a whole would be even better.