Shanna Germain, the lead editor of Numenera and The Strange, has a coy smile on her face “…before Numenera people said that the RPG market would be gone in 5 years”. Could they have been any more wrong…
At 12:00pm, Saturday the 31st of May at the UK Games Expo a packed room has gathered to hear Monte Cook and Shanna Germain. Monte is the man responsible for the 3rd edition D&D rulebook and the creative heartbeat behind Numenera, Shanna is a force of nature, writer, literary award winner and the lead editor of probably the hottest RPG game on the market currently.
The very fact that the room is full for the panel is testament to how wrong that opening statement was; there is a huge following for Numenera in the UK – not to mention worldwide – and it isn’t going anywhere quickly. So how did this creative duo revolutionise the industry and breathe life back the into the RPG genre?
I think that I was as surprised as anyone to hear Monte explain that “… no one had ever done any market research into the habits of RPG players”. This coming from the man who is essentially the Pixar of the tabletop world; he produces hit after hit after hit. You’d have thought that he might have done a bit of digging around 20 years ago but apparently not; this was his first step in undertaking Numenera as a product and game. It yielded some interesting results “We found that the average RPG would typically only last 4 months”. This information would underpin the mechanics and format of the game.
‘The Sentence’, the super simplistic character building device that Numenera employs, is a unique trait that stemmed from this research and makes the world easier to navigate and get into. Maximizing the number of players involved and taking away a lot of the difficulties of being a GM (simplifying monster creation and the battle system being two obvious examples) is something that was also touched on. What is really pushing along the Numenera wave is that both of these creators have listened to the research undertaken before the product was released to the masses and the feedback from community based test sessions.
“We describe, we don’t define”
Another defining principle that lead Numenera’s Kickstarter to break it’s $20,000 target at neck-breaking speed is that it leaves gaps for players to fill. “You know, we don’t offer a 600 page rulebook because we want to describe, we don’t define” explains Monte, Shanna nodding in complete agreement “We’re interested in community and friendship […] always be innovative.” Cook adds that the most wonderful thing is “… the discovery and mystery.” and with 8 worlds crumbled beneath the surface of the Numenera plains we certainly have a lot to discover. What I would do to be able to sit in on a game GMed by Monte.
Cook also talked about how he went about setting up this unique landscape for us. “I liked dodging the fantasy troupes, but I was very scared of the technological one’s, certainly I was in the past. I thought it would be restricting but actually it proved to be the complete opposite.” Shanna tackled that task slightly differently “You know I just thought, what would technology be like a billion years from now!?” That question alone is worthy of a feature film but to develop it into an RPG took guts. But I have a feeling that Monte has that spades “We don’t really worry too much about the bottom line […] at the end of the day if your latest work is not the best thing you’ve ever done… then why bother?”
Keep up the surprises. Innovate.
The last thing that Monte and Shanna talked about was the need to innovate and move in response to the communities wishes. They are currently working on a tech handbook and are scheduled to release a few other treats. I don’t want to name them for fear of breaking cover ahead of schedule but you guys are going to love it. What has happened in response to the community feedback is the Kickstarter to get a video game companion to Numenera off the ground. You can still back it so head over and give you’re support!
What was obvious from the panel is that these two have limitless energy for something that they love and they have their fingers firmly on the button. Like the best field leaders they are predicting trends ahead of the curve, like a tabletop version of Gabe I think that we’ll be looking to these two for decades to come.