Numenera / Strange a.k.a. Start of the Cypher System

Ok so I know I made a few folks wait, but I really did need to figure out how to give a non review review. All the while picking up new responsibilities at work, and a general ahhhh screw it attitude to the internet for a couple of days.

That means this column is coming up under the headings of Games and Product Placement more than anything else. I will be using some of my terms from ratings like Crunch and Fluff, but I will not be putting values to it like I do in a regular review.

On with the show then…

First off let me start out with an opinion that I think many will share. Monty Cook is bloody good at what he does. His labels, his books, his mechanics, they are always solid. They may be a little off the beaten path, but they are good. His publishers, printers, and business folks, not always so good.

How does that relate to reviewing this new system and the games made in it so far, well lets do a little show and tell.

First off Numenera and Strange and the upcoming Cypher System rule book, oh and the upcoming No Thank You Evil! game, all share the same rules. The mechanics are really simple at their base, and can get as complex as you want to make them. Challenges are set up on a level system 0 – 10. Each level of difficulty adds three to the number you need to roll against on a d20 (yeah I know that means that if you have anything over a seven you cannot get it on the die roll, but wait for it). Characters can have modifiers that remove levels of difficulty, or add a bonus to the die roll. So you can make it easier and that gets you back in range of the d20 as long as your character is good enough. Characters are built on templates that form a single sentence. “I am a (adjective – template 1) (noun – template 2) who (verb – template 3). ” Strangely it works. Each template has level related advancement, so as you get more XP you get better at whatever you Noun/Adjective/Verb. Instead of stats you have pools of points you can expend to modify die rolls. Depending on the DM and the setting will tell you how fast they regen. The mechanics even take into account things like what most know as ‘magic items’. In these rules they come in two formats, single use and multi use.

And that is the core of the crunch. It can be simple, or it can be complex depending on the template structures. In Strange they simulate moving from world to world as Translating, and that changes one of your templates depending on the world you go to.

Now then in regards to the fluff. Oh damn. I have to honestly say that in both of the published settings (and I will rarely say this) there may be too much fluff. There is so much thought and detail put into the settings that it is kinda hard to take it all in. The core book for Numenera focus’ on the world itself, and gives only a few crunchy bits in regards to NPCs and monsters. But with the simple crunch you can take care of that pretty easy. Strange seems to focus mostly on the agency that everyone will belong to at the start of the game. There are some good details about some of the worlds you can translate to, but I have a feeling that is left as open as possible for two reasons. First so the original author of the Strange can create more books without fans jumping in and saying things like “But you put so and so in cannon over in the game, why did you do it differently over here?” and to give players the freedom to run like mad all over the place.

So we basically have very adaptive, simple rules, and tons of quality fluff.

Oh wait you say to yourself, he started this out saying that business and publishing has been a Monty Cook weak point… so when will he… ooops, that’s right here.

So I have no idea where the supply chain or quality control broke down but, I had to go to three different stores before I could find a copy of either book that had a spine that was not falling apart. Also there was damage to all the covers. All of them. I was told at two of the game stores that I hit in my search that their distributor… starts with an A… works with a D in some form of an alliance… told them that they got the best copies they had to send, and that many copies were sent back because of low quality. IF that is true on all fronts, The Cook team needs a new printer and bad. At sixty bucks a pop, I really expect more.

I emailed my thoughts on this to Monty Cook games via their Contact us email address on their site ( via the General Inquiries box and never got a reply to either. So either they are having bad email days, the guys watching the email boxes are having bad days, or their quality and business guys don’t care because I already paid for the books. So quite seriously in viewing over thirty copies of the books in chain book stores and game shops, I did not find a single one that was not damaged in some way on the cover. I also got one of the few that had limited to no spinal damage because I was picky, but after about a half hour of reading holding the book carefully, the spine gave up anyway. Honestly it usually takes five to seven years for that to happen to my new books unless I loan them out to someone who is careless with them, if it happens at all.

Now while I am still looking for a group to play these games with, I can say I expect things to run smooth in a game session as long as everyone has made characters ahead of time or we are willing to take a session to get through all the potential templates you can build with. I can also honestly recommend from what I have seen and what has gotten back to me from other gamers, buy the PDF version of these games unless Monty announces a new printer.

Anyway, thats my thoughts on them. Like it or not folks 🙂

Now gimme the dice, I gotta find out if my subtle agent who has a license to carry can actually shoot that cat out of a tree.

  1. #1 by Charles Ryan on May 28, 2015 - 6:41 pm

    Thanks for the great review–really glad you enjoyed Numenera and The Strange!

    I’m less glad, of course, that you’ve had trouble with your physical books. Fortunately, with several tens of thousands of copies of the Numenera and The Strange corebooks in print, we’ve had almost zero complaints along these lines, so it looks like this is a glitch. (Sometimes if there’s a printing or binding error in manufacturing, even one that only affects a small number of copies, all of the affected copies come off the assembly line in sequence and end up being packed together in the same case (or cases), which is then shipped to the same distributor or even retailer.) It would be super-helpful if you could shoot a photo of the affected spine and send it so us. We justifiably pride ourselves on our production values, and want to follow up on this.

    In general we try to respond to customer service queries within a few work days. We’re a little backlogged at the moment (we just sent out the fulfillment notification for the Exclusive Numenera Boxed Set Edition, and there’s always a surge in contacts following a fulfillment step), but as of last week we did not have a backlog of customer service contacts.

    You can reach me directly at !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. #2 by authortao on May 30, 2015 - 1:28 am

    Thank you Charles. Now then this level of customer service and outreach is going to make me print a retraction I think. Just as soon as I can get a pic I will be emailing it to you.

    And for others reading the blog, yeah he did leave me his email address at Monte Cook games and really I also need to apologize for having been spelling Monte wrong. I have been spelling it wrong for a long time, and even though I love the games and the work, yeah, bad on me and I am sorry for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Quality Control at MCG | Gimme The Dice
  2. Ongoing communications | Gimme The Dice

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