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Monday, 7 July 2014

Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars


I’ve always been a fan of mixing science fiction and fantasy. I’m well aware, however, that it can be a bit of a controversial topic amongst science fiction and fantasy fans, many of whom, while enjoying both, prefer that each be kept separate. The way I look at it, though, is most science fiction contains quite a few things that are fantastical—often outright impossible—but merely presented under the guise of science instead of magic, yet accomplishing pretty much the same thing magic does. Mixing science and magic allows you to explore both in new and different ways.

Despite my love of mixing genres, I’ve surprisingly never paid much attention to Numeria, the area of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting where, long ago, a spaceship from another world crashed, and people have been trying to uncover its secrets ever since. Perhaps it’s because the books published so far have paid little attention to the area as well, and other, more-developed areas of Golarion have simply grabbed and held onto my attention. Whatever the case, the publication of Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars reminded me of this land’s existence and I eagerly dug into the book to learn more about it.

Numeria is a land where the high-technology of robots and lasers clashes with the very low-technology of barbarian tribes. There’s actually quite a lot of material to squeeze into Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, as the various Kellid tribes that inhabit the region are not a unified people, and on top of that, there is the Technic League (a group that wants, and mostly has, a monopoly on the control and distribution of technology recovered from the crashed ship) and the crashed ship itself to describe, along with the various alien creatures, mutant beasts, and robots. Overall, Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars does a very good job of getting all this information in there and providing GMs with a compelling setting and hooks for many amazing and outlandish adventures.

The book is laid out similarly to most regional sourcebooks in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line. It opens with a brief history of Numeria, followed by gazetteers of its four principal regions. Each region gets four pages of background, including a map of one of the major settlements of that region. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no map of Starfall, the capital of Numeria and centre of Technic League control. Instead, the section on Sovereign’s Reach (the region that Starfall is part of) receives a map of Lackthroat, a much smaller town in the region. Starfall does receive half a page of text description, along with a note to see Pathfinder Adventure Path #89: Palace of Fallen Stars for more information (and presumably a map). Palace of Fallen Stars is part of the upcoming Iron Gods Adventure Path, which takes place in Numeria. It won’t see publication until later this year. While it’s nice to have maps and descriptions of smaller locations along with the larger ones, it seems a bit of a glaring omission to leave such a major location out of this book—and leave it for a completely different book, especially as there are bound to be game masters out there who would like to run a campaign in Numeria without running Iron Gods. Obviously, they can’t go into a lot of detail in this book as that wouldn’t leave room for other things, but a small map in this book, with a more-detailed one (along with more detailed description) in the Adventure Path volume would make more sense to me.

The second section of the book looks at “Plots and Perils”, beginning with a look at new kinds of afflictions and environmental hazards that one can encounter in Numeria. These include things like electromagnetic fields, radiation, and areas of unusual gravity (low gravity, high gravity, or even inverted gravity). The section then goes on to look at several of the most prominent Kellid tribes in the region. However, as there are only two pages total devoted to them, it does mean that the tribes only get one or two paragraphs of information each. There are then two pages of information on the Technic League, including its history, organization, and membership.

The second section concludes with detailed looks at specific adventure sites across Numeria. It is here that this book really comes alive, presenting some original and captivating adventure ideas ranging from the political intrigue of Castle Urion to the psychological manipulations of Hollow Garden. In Crowhollow, one can find the cyborg-lich Alling Third, while the Chapel of Rent Flesh serves up body-altering horrors. Each of the various sites gets between half a page and a full page of description, giving GMs just enough information to let their imaginations run wild. One of the things I like best about this section is the variety of different types of adventure sites, showcasing the breadth of possibilities available to adventuring in Numeria.

The final section of the book is a Bestiary of people and creatures common or unique to Numeria. Some of these are generic stats for locals that adventurers might encounter, such as the Machine Slayer (a Kellid ranger dedicated to fighting and destroying machines) or the Wayward Crusader (someone who was passing through Numeria to fight in the Crusades in Mendev, but ended up staying to fight Numeria’s horrors instead). The bulk of the Bestiary, however, is made up of the unusual monsters and robots that haunt Numeria, from capacitor oozes to android imposters to mutants, and of course, to all kinds of robots. I particularly like the robot golem. This is a broken-down robot that has been reanimated by magic (since the wizard doing the animating is unable to understand the technology well enough to repair it). Similar to how a bone golem might be mistaken for an undead creature, a robot golem could easily be mistaken for a robot, thus leading to some interesting roleplaying opportunities.

If there’s one significant flaw to Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars, it’s the flaw that’s common to most Golarion books that describe countries or regions—a lack of information about lifestyle and culture. After reading the book, I know a great deal about adventuring in Numeria and next to nothing about living there. Naturally, the focus should be on adventuring, since that’s what the Pathfinder game is all about. It’s not a game about daily life. However, small background details about things like a festival in the town the PCs are passing through or a brief mention of the kind of food they’re served at the inn can add an incredible layer of reality to game play. They don’t need to be dwelt on. Brief mentions are all that is needed to enhance the game, yet these kinds of details tend to be almost entirely absent from Golarion books, and unfortunately, it’s more of a problem in a place like Numeria, which is so different from other lands. In many areas, it’s easy to extrapolate these kinds of details as they are based on standard fantasy archetypes and/or real-world societies. Osirion, for example, is loosely based on real-world Egypt and so GMs can extrapolate societal details from what they know of Egypt. With Numeria, however, there is nowhere else to take such inspiration from. So GMs are left to ponder how the presence (though not proliferation) of technology has affected the traditions and cultures here. How do people entertain themselves, and what kind of celebrations do they have? How do they dress and what do they eat? What about superstitions and religious beliefs, both things that are bound to be heavily affected by the imprecise understanding of technology in the land? All these things cry out for answers in Numeria far more than they do in other areas of Golarion.

This aside, I do consider Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars a successful and useful book for the fact that it passes one of my most important criteria for evaluating these kinds of books: it has stoked my imagination and provided me with lots of ideas for new adventures and campaigns. Numeria is a fascinating and exciting place to set games. However, before I can do so, I am going to have to sit back and design the answers to all those above questions and more, and time can be a limited resource. Of course, no book can do everything for me, and this book does do a lot on the adventure side of things, so for that, it deserves accolades.

6 comments:

  1. I have long wanted to partake in such a mash of genres, but never had the courage to make that leap!

    On another note,

    I can't help but notice similarities in name and setting with another game that has recently been released...

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    1. Numenera, I presume. I always forget which one is the country in Golarion.

      Joana

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    2. Ah, I hadn't heard of Numenera, but I've just looked it up. It certainly does have a very similar name. I can certainly understand how people might get them mixed up.

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  2. As I understand it, Numenera is so far into the future that technology is considered magic by the people. Haven't played it yet, though. I think I'd prefer trying Numeria, actually.

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    1. As random anon replying months later, I just want to say that Numenera is awesome game :P

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