So Numenera tags itself as a science fantasy game, and that’s part of the reason why I liked it originally, because I’m more of a science person than fantasy. Now that we’ve played a couple of sessions, I sort of think that claim may be exaggerated. You can have the trappings of science fiction like ray guns and giant lasers, but you can’t have actual science, because the whole point is that the characters don’t understand anything so it’s all weird to them. Nonetheless, when designing the game so far, and Sanehar in particular, everything has an explanation. It might never come out in gameplay, but it’s there. And some of it is really fucking cool. These occasional ramblings will be my attempt to highlight some of the cool stuff in case anyone out there is interested.
Sanehar, or the Concent of Saunt Edhar, is based on the book Anathem, by Neal Stephenson. It is a hefty read at just under 1000 pages, but it is one of my all-time favorite books. Every time I read it, I come away with something new. On the surface it has the trappings of a fantasy novel, but really it is about the intersection of math and philosophy. Now, I’m not saying that one of the previous 8 civilizations in Numenera is the civilization from Anathem, but I was reading it at the same time that I started designing this game and I knew right from the start that it HAD to make an appearance.
Short Summary: At some point in civilization they separated out their intellectuals and forced them to live in monasteries called Concents where they spent their whole lives studying and debating with restrictions on the things they were allowed to research to keep them from being a threat. This is related to the legend of Cnous who had a major insight/vision. His two daughters told different versions of the event: Deat said that he had a vision of a perfect world (heaven) and thus religion was born. Hylaea said that he had a vision of perfect mathematical truths (geometry, called the Hylaean Theoric World in the book) and thus the Concents were eventually born. Anathem is about a young fraa (monk) at Saunt Edhar who deals with growing up and a sort of alien invasion at the same time.
Stuff from Anathem that has made an appearance so far:
The clock: Even the picture I drew doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s a fucking awesome clock. It will make an appearance again and hopefully it will be more understandable, because it does actually work as written in the book. Because all of the gears and mechanically things create huge amounts of static friction, the concent would actually sing at just the right frequency in order to vibrate the clock mechanism in such a way to overcome that. They would also sing to solve math problems. Someone actually made a CD of it and you can preview the tracks here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/davidstutz. I would recommend tracks 3,5, and 7. The others are a little “Wow, I would never listen to that unless I got to actually see the clock also.”
The statues in the entry hall were of Cnous and his two daughters. The invisible force fields around them acted as secondary columns and that’s why the ceiling fell when Mikhail turned one of them off.
Mikhail called it when he said that the revolving wall trap shot all of you with heavy Argon gas which is why you couldn’t see it when it was bruising you.
The Pythagorean Theorem proof on the wall in the one room was considered one of the universal truths in the book. As evidenced by the fact that Romilda, a being from one civilization, played by a being from another, both recognized it as such. This is the idea of mathematical Platonism: the idea that mathematics represents a higher truth that transcends reality. See for more info: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/. Since most of the players reading this are scientists and engineers, they’re probably all like, “Yeah, duh”, but there is actually serious debate about this in the book and in real life.
There is more, but this is all you guys have discovered so far, and I don’t want to spoil anything.