I reviewed and we played this Numenera adventure and got our minds blown to pieces. Our Nano got blown to pieces too! A double blast night!

When Janek reached out to me about writing a review for one of his books, I realized that I already owned most of his Numenera supplements, but had read none. What can I say, I’m a Cypher System hoarder, and there are no cypher limits on my sheet.

Apart from “preview reviews” I did for Priests of the Aeons and Slaves of the Machine God, which I did out of boredom and for fun, I never thought about writing reviews on this blog, and never even imagined someone might request one. Flattered, I accepted the challenge.

The Deal

I feel that a good review needs a playthrough as well, so I asked my group if they would like to do a short campaign break and play the module for the purpose of this article. I originally planned to do it outside of their world, but players insisted I weave it into their ongoing narrative.

This decision created a couple of problems for me. The first one is that they have an airship, which automatically breaks the adventure, a story about a descent into an abyss with a core moral decision surrounding the question of how the characters will ascend back up. The second problem is that they just came out of a heist with a motherlode of iotum and a number of ideas about what to do with it. The only good thing was that they just got to Tier 2 for which this module is written.

But let me first introduce the adventure, before I tell you how I tackled these initial problems.

A Breath of Fresh Ideas

This Numenera/Cypher System supplement is written by a long-standing Cypher System author Janek Sielicki, who also writes 5E modules. My first impression, when I opened the PDF, was that it follows well-established MCG standards of laying out what the book is about, with the first few pages dedicated to story background, synopsis and several ideas on how to get players involved.

These are immediately useful and provide the necessary context needed for further reading and understanding of the material.

The rest of the book is divided into six scenes, which is something I also like, as I tend to think in scenes when running my games. If we were to think in larger arcs the book has three:

  • Initial against-the-odds fight that acts as a narrative tool to get the players to enter a prior world structure.
  • Descent into and exploration of the prior world structure.
  • Dealing with an alien species and figuring out how to ascend back up.

I like this structure very much. It starts with a bang, which my players enjoyed immensely, switches into an exploration mode, then turns up the weird to eleven by introducing the “aliens”, all the while slowly weaving in the seed of a moral decision that hits the players in the head during the final act.

The brilliant thing is that although the players are forced into and for some time trapped at the bottom of an abyss, the final act opens up, imposing a well thought out moral choice upon the players that also sets them free.

With no prescribed ending and no boss fight (there is an optional one though), it turns the standard adventure structure on its head, leaving players to deal with the morality of their past and future decisions.

Janek masterfully ends the book with these words:

“This adventure is about making tough choices, about becoming better – or worse. It is a journey to an alien world, one that doesn’t have to be, one that perhaps can’t be fully understood, weighed and counted. It’s about making sacrifices for no tangible rewards. I hope you and your players have enjoyed it!”

The Prep

On game day, I took a couple of hours to prep and wrote about 5 pages, covering scenes one, two and three, and printed out several handouts.

That night we managed to play through scenes one and two, albeit twice, but more on that later.

Prep Sheet
Prep Sheet


The first thing I needed to figure out was how to take away the ship and the loot it carries from the players. As I already had their agreement to play this module, I decided to heavy-hand it and jump them through space and time, straight into the adventure.

I started from scene one and used flashbacks to explain how they got there and why.

I knew that if I started with a traditional hook, they would take their sweet ass time to poke around the edges of the adventure out of an abundance of caution considering their ship full of loot, looking for a risk-averse way to engage with it. Time which they have in their sandbox-style campaign, but something I didn’t want to allow here, as I wanted to run this as written for the purpose of writing an honest review. Not to mention that my group consists of professional derailers, who enjoy breaking up premises and turning the world on its head, wreaking chaos wherever they go.

One of the said players, a Nano, recently mentioned to me that he wanted to do one honest heroic thing, not burning any aldeias to the ground in the process, if possible. So for him, a hook about saving missing children that went to investigate the Rift was a perfect choice. A hook that he found he “accepted” through a flashback scene, of course. The second player, a Wright, is a sucker for prior world stuff, the bigger the better, so a mere rumor of a giant automaton was all it took. With those two settled, the third player, a Delve, just followed along.

I was relieved during play to find these flashback hooks worked really well. The players were on board with them, despite taking their agency away. This would not be possible had I not known my players well, and without their blanket approval to run this adventure for them.

The ship stayed at the nearby (made up) village, as during their recon mission (another flashback), they found out the fumes coming out of the Rift negatively impacted its flight abilities, and decided not to risk it falling into an abyss. This went well and served the secondary purpose of storing an absent Glaive character, whose player couldn’t make it to the session that night.

For GMs who would run this adventure in a standard fashion, there are several things to consider:

  • The adventure will not work if characters have any kind of flying/teleport means or abilities. The book states this up front.
  • You need to remove any flying/teleport cyphers from play.
  • If you have a Wright and/or a Delve in the group (as I have), make sure that they don’t find or possess the highest level materials that allow for creating any kind of flying artifacts or vehicles.
  • Once the players take the hook, whatever it might be, in the first scene they need to realize that the only way to survive is to activate the portal and go down the abyss.

These points are super important, and if you don’t take them into an account your players will either break the adventure or die horribly.

Play Report Scene One

Janek’s writing is top notch and very easy to create scenes from. I used his words as a starter for my first scene, as written:

“Wind howls among the long-forgotten burial mounds, old yellow bones dot the reddish ground and up ahead hot air shimmers and twists as clouds of hot fumes rise from the Rift, as if some gigantic beast was hidden in the prehistoric depths, slowly breathing and waiting for the right moment to wake up. “

I switched between present time and flashbacks as soon as any of the players asked something along the lines of: “Why are we here?” “Where is the ship?” and so on…

I framed the initial scene so that Delve was keeping their backs safe while Nano and Wright were trying to activate the portal that leads to the Rift. Originally it was supposed to be Glaive who kept the threat at bay, so this was the first thing I had to improv that night.

Swarm of Troubles

Badooks are the main early threat that forces players down the Rift. They are essentially a Zerg swarm. I statted them as suggested in the book, and they work. Weaklings are easy to kill but come in greater numbers and are an annoyance, while Warriors are a threat to Tier 2 players. The Matriarch, statted as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, is a walking TPK machine.

Although the Glaive was missing that night, I decided against tweaking the challenge levels.

A Puzzle for a Life

While Delve was keeping the initial light Badook waves in check, Nano and Wright were trying to activate the portal, knowing it was their only chance to save themselves from the surrounding swarm.

The “portal”, actually a device that summons a giant automaton from the depths of the chasm, is a simple two INT task puzzle. If I was running the adventure from an actual hook, I would’ve expanded on it a bit to make it more engaging. I did plan to print out some cabalistic symbols as a handout but forgot to.

Wright and Nano easily passed the two required INT checks, activated the summon, and symbols on the device changed into a Predator-style countdown - unknown symbols apparently counting down to something. At that point the first unexpected player curveball happened. Nano asked if he can decipher the symbols to figure out how much time it will take for the counter to reach “zero”. And I said yes.

Knowing that the countdown time was not stated in the book, that I needed to introduce the Matriarch to the scene, and that I had to keep the pressure rising, it was the first difficult on the fly decision I had to make that night. I decided from my gut, and said to the player (once he succeeded on an INT task) that the counter would stop after 3 or 4 rounds.

This proved to be a good call even though I had to introduce the Matriarch before the giant came up, as opposed to the book’s description, which introduces the Matriarch in the same instant that the automaton appears. The rising tension of the creeping swarm kept the players engaged, adrenaline levels going through the roof.

Delve retreated back towards his comrades and gave his buzzer to Wright so he could also shoot at the encroaching Badooks at range. On his first attack attempt, Wright rolled a 1, which made all his disc ammunition spill to the ground. The significance of this scene will come about later, so read on!

“The mists boil over and the earth begins to shake, responding to the rhythmical strikes. A gargantuan arm emerges from behind the edge, trailing wisps of mist marking its trajectory, and then with a mighty crash the hand comes down, splattering the hapless Badooks that didn’t manage to get away. Slowly, inexorably, the rest of the mountainlike construct heaves its arms and upper body over the edge, the claws on its hands anchoring deep into the rockbed…”

King of Golems

As the construct emerged from the depths, Wright decided to role play his mechanical background. While everyone scuttled around trying to avoid getting crushed by a giant hand, he was in a weird numenera frenzy/ecstasy, sitting at the top of the summoning flower-stone, believing the Golem to be his to command.

The earth shook as the hand smashed next to him, and I had him roll a SPEED task to not fall off the structure. He rolled a major success, and things started to get weird from that point.

Nano decided to join this craziness, by trying to hack into Wrights mind telepathically and stop his self-imposed frenzy. After one failed attempt, they both got the same number on their opposing rolls and got stuck in this ill-timed battle of the minds.

At this point the swarm was on top of them. Delve was standing at the automaton entrance, trying to fend off the swarm, not believing what the other two were doing. He picked a shin from his pocket and tried to hit Wright with it a couple of times, but Wright was on a roll, and both attempts to awaken him failed.

Nano managed to flick a cypher bomb into the swarm that bought them a few rounds. When telepathy failed, a good slap across the face did the job, and Wright finally came back to his senses. They managed a stellar battle retreat through the frenzied swarm with the whole party badly damaged, but finally found themselves in the construct’s head, together with at least a dozen of the Badooks that dispersed into the darkness of the machine.

As the entrance slowly closed up, the Matriarch managed to sweep through the opening with one of her giant claws. Delve avoided the devastating attack, Wright failed and dropped to a debilitated state with only a few INT points left. Nano, thin across all three pools, realized his destiny, and instead of a defense task, he tossed his Reset cypher over to Delve, and died a heroic death, going straight from hale to dead.

The Reset

I knew they had the Reset, a cypher that once activated resets time 5 minutes into the past, with only the user retaining memories of that prior future. I just did not expect they would use it in the opening scene!

I was not exactly sure when 5 minutes in the past was at that point, so I chose the most narratively appropriate solution:

“Wind howls among the long-forgotten burial mounds, old yellow bones dot the reddish ground and up ahead hot air shimmers and twists as clouds of hot fumes rise from the Rift, as if some gigantic beast was hidden in the prehistoric depths, slowly breathing and waiting for the right moment to wake up. “

We go back to the very beginning of the night, and I repeat the opening scene word for word, exactly as I did it at the start of the session. The players are ecstatic and I am super happy, as this kind of awesome crazy stuff can happen only in the Cypher System!

The Dice Gods

Our Delve now hurries back to his mates, not wasting any time, and tries to persuade them he saw the future. Nano seeing his Reset used up realizes Delve is telling the truth. He also scans his surface thoughts, only to find out about his own gruesome death.

One of the most sublime scenes of the night happened at this point. Delve, as before, hands over the buzzer to Wright, who tries to shoot at the Badooks, and rolls a 1. Again. I play the same intrusion as the first time, his ammo spilling to the ground.

The table erupts as our collective minds get blown to pieces.

Knowing what the future brings, this time they manage to deal with the swarm more efficiently, and finally enter the construct without major problems. The giant’s head closes up, a shudder shakes the interior and the thing begins its slow descent into the abyss.

I end the session.

Calaval’s eyes, what a night! When dice meet the narrative, peak RPG experience happens. It was so sublime that I dreamt about the session that night.

Closing Thoughts

This first part of the adventure is a bit railroady, as the adventure needs to trap the players in order to do its thing. Towards that goal, however, the setup works really well, the tension building up throughout the night.

As I already mentioned there are several important prerequisites that need to be met in order for the story to work as a whole. Because of that, I feel that it’s easier to run this as a standalone mini-scenario, compared to plopping it somewhere in your ongoing campaign. The requirements would also be a non-issue if the adventure was made for Tier 1 characters - no need to worry about flying that way.

Coming Soon

Next session we will be playing the second arc where characters are exploring the automaton. This, in essence, is a mini point-crawl between 5 locations. Here are some thoughts I had while preparing this part:

  • Descent lasts several hours, so I will need to manage time more carefully.
  • There is not much in it besides these 5 locations, so just in case I will prepare some additional rooms using the Jade Colossus mapping engine.
  • I will need to track how much damage characters will do to it, as that will come into play in the third act.
  • As this part will be somewhat calmer than the first one, I need to remember to shake them up when the Colossus is on the move.
  • The alien’s introduction scene is important, so this needs good prep.

One thing that I am looking to play with is the innovative communication mechanic that I didn’t mention here, but will write more about in the second part. The “aliens” communicate via emotions, so that will be a really interesting challenge for the players. The adventure provides a list of emotional states spread across three columns on two pages - there are a lot of them. Unfortunately for me, I will need to translate this list, as my group is not playing in English.

So far this adventure was a breath of fresh air (sorry not sorry) for my little group of sly seskii. What will happen next, only Calaval knows.