Glimmer Review: In Strange Aeons

Ever sat back and looked at your cypher-wielding party battling abhumans and thought, “you know what this needs, something really weird…” If so, In Strange Aeons may be just what you’re looking for. In Strange Aeons is a Numenera glimmer released by Monte Cook Games that introduces the Mythos into the Ninth World. So it’s pretty much the best of all worlds for me.

ISA introduces new character options, Mythos monsters, creature re-skins, and mechanics for adding insanity to your game of Numenera. I added some of these to the Beyond All Worlds side quest that I ran. I also plan to pour more of it into the Mysteries of the Ninth World campaign as we continue into an adventure of my own design.

Insanity Mechanic:

I think this is handled very cleverly. Instead of adding a new pool to track (like the stability and sanity pools in Trail of Cthulhu), ISA uses the character’s existing intellect pool. Using their mechanic, when ever the party encounters something from the Mythos, they must make a sanity roll where the difficulty is equal to the level of the creature. This means upon encountering a Shoggoth they must make a difficulty 7 role. If they fail the roll, they lose a number of intellect points equal to the level of the creature. If a character moves down the damage track due to sanity loss, she immediately loses a point permanently from her pool and regains 1d6 +1 points back. If she loses all of her intellect pool, the character loses their own descriptor and gains the Mad descriptor. They also get to increase their pool to 1d6 + tier and gain an intellect edge. If they lose all of their pool again, then the character cannot recover.
ISA also offers ideas for GM intrusions for your characters as they encounter they Mythos and encourages players to decide to switch over to the Mad descriptor if they feel that is the way their character is going. You can also introduce inabilities as characters grow obsessive, which is balanced by increasing another skill, like knowledge in a certain area.

Character Option:

ISA introduces two new character descriptors – Mad and Doomed. Mad comes into play within the Insanity mechanic, and when a character drops low enough in Intelligence they take the mad descriptor in place of the one they chose at charaacter creation. This descriptor causes the character to become less mentally stable – they gain an inability in intellect defense. However, they also can be given insight by the GM that will give them information that they have no reason to know. The other descriptor added is Doomed. Doomed gives you benefits for perception and speed defense, and you have an asset to resist insanity. However you can’t refuse a GM intrusion, and you don’t get XP when you take one. To quote the glimmer, “The universe is a cold, uncaring place, and your efforts are futile at best.”

Creature Reskins:

If you don’t want to use one of the plethora of Mythos monsters given in the books,  you can improve an existing one using the skins provided, which include Non-Euclidian, Squamos, Tentacular, and Unnamable. For instance, if I want to have a Squamos abhuman, they gain +1 to their armor, and have improved abilities in swimming, jumping, and escaping. However, they will have a harder time peacefully influencing people.

Creature Stats:

ISA gives stats for Deep Ones (and therein, stats for Dagon and Mother Hydra), The Great Race of Yith, Mi-Go, and Shoggoths. (The Strange Bestiary introduces even more Mythos goodness including  Night Gaunts and Elder Things).  I think moving forward I will edit the stats a bit – I thought the Shoggoth was too easy for my party to defeat in Beyond All Worlds. By increasing the hit points and its armor, I think it will become more terrifying.

Conclusion

I think ISA really understands how to add the Mythos to a game. Monte Cook states his intent:

Making something “Lovecraftian” doesn’t just mean adding more tentacles. It isn’t just about monsters from space. Lovecraftian horror is cosmic horror. It is the terror that comes from the realization that the universe is vast, inhospitable, and uncaring. Humanity’s desire to find our place in it is fruitless. We have no place. We are insignificant and meaningless specks in the unfathomable reaches of both space and time. Worse, there are entities so monstrous and vast that should we come to comprehend them—even a little—we would go mad, and should they ever notice us, they might destroy us with but a thought.
This fits Numenera particularly well, actually. Humans of the Ninth World who begin to think about the billion or so years behind them, and the immense civilizations that have come and gone in that time— each so much greater than the Ninth World that humans can’t even comprehend them—can easily begin to feel the grip of cosmic horror.

The glimmer is full of tips on how to run a good horror game and how to really bring the Mythos to life in your game. Making something Lovecraftian isn’t just about introducing tentacles, like In Strange Aeons says, it’s a feeling that this glimmer will help you invoke.

In Strange Aeons is written by Monte Cook and is available on DriveThruRPG and Monte Cook Games for $2.99.

–Megan

Megan loves RPGs, cephalopods, robots, dice, and Kickstarter campaigns related to the above. She is a co-founder of The Redacted Files and runs our Numenera, Pathfinder, and Horror on the Orient Express campaigns, as well as the Trail of Cthulhu one-shots.

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