So, "13th Age" is by D&D 3.5 designer Johnathan Tweet, but for me the name Monte Cook is far more familiar. Monte has been doing D&D stuff since the 2E days. His Kickstarter for Numenera raised a half million dollars, so name recognition must be worth something.
I've been reading Numenera, because ... I do that. I love reading RPG books. I am sharing with you because I thought you might also enjoy reading this game. It's a completely original mechanic, and when I read Cook's design goals and then reviewed the system, I believed that Cook succeeded in attaining his goals. At least that's how it hit me. I think it's an awesome system.
There are a lot of reviews out there that look at Numenera piece by piece, so, I won't do that. What I want to do is tell you why I think this system is awesome. It's because I see Numenera as an evolution of a game system that I have played before, and since that system is an all time favorite of mine, this revelation has me pretty excited.
Numenera reminds me a lot of the SAGA card system (Dragon Lance 5th Age, Marvel Superhero Adventure Game) ... only without cards. You have these pools of effort (which are basically ability scores) but you call upon them or not as you choose. Like the playing card mechanic of SAGA, you choose how to apply your effort from the resources you have available. But instead of a hand of cards, you have pools of resources. If you think that comparison seems like a stretch, consider that the system also uses EDGE (a mechanic also from SAGA) to reduce the cost of this resource use, much like your EDGE in SAGA allowed you to make better use of the cards in your hand.
Just like with SAGA, taking damage diminishes your available resources (not cards, but points from your pools.) It seemed so similar in design flavor to me that I had to go back and check to see if Monte's name was on the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game ... it wasn't, but guess whose was ... Sue Cook. Monte's wife (ex-wife?) co-designer of the SAGA system and brand manager for both the Marvel Superhero Adventure game and the Dragon Lance 5th Age game.
Not a coincidence I think, and not a bad thing either, since I loved the SAGA system, and as weird as it might be to say, Numenera strikes me as the SAGA system with dice instead of cards. That in itself seems like an oxymoron as the strength of SAGA is arguably in the card mechanics. But, I would say after running many many sessions of the Marvel Superhero Adventure Game that the real strength of the system was in the way the system gave the players control over their actions. Numenera looks to serve the same strengths in similar ways.
If you enjoyed the SAGA system back in the day, I recommend that you give Numenera a look. It's not cards, but the dice system does look to put the same level of control in the hands of the players. The GM doesn't even roll dice (just as the GM never held a hand of his own cards in SAGA.)
Now, SAGA did have the suit of "Doom" to give the GM some narrative trumping power. With Numenera the power is still there. It's called GM Intervention, and it's an XP mechanic subject to player veto. Just as the player could choose to play a card from the suit of Doom, while knowing that the GM might turn that card around on him later, here the Player can choose ... take the benefit and suffer the consequences, or avoid the consequences and lose the benefit. This comparison isn't perfect, I know ... but I still see it as the same thing. In both systems the power for good and for ill rests ultimately in the hands of the player.
I love SAGA system, and the way it played and flowed and felt. And, I think Numenera strides to hit the same texture. For that reason, I can't wait to bring this one to my gaming table.