A Nano studying a Numenera.
In the Ninth World, “the numenera” is a term that refers to anything that seems supernatural and that comes from the prior ages of the Earth.
From a 21st century point of view, this means devices, machines, vehicles, robots, computers, weapons, satellites, drugs, and so on.
But it also means bioengineered creatures, cybernetic beings, and creatures brought here from alien worlds and dimensions. It also includes things that have been indirectly created by the science of the past— mutants and genetic accidents, the descendants of experiments, and so on.
Lastly, it means ways in which Ninth World people have figured out how to use, manipulate, or master the products of the past, such as the nano’s use of esoteries and the so-called “nano spirits.”
PEOPLE AND THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NUMENERA
Although the comparison between “magic” and the numenera is worthwhile, taking it too far is likely a mistake. For example, you can imagine someone disbelieving in magic even in a world where it exists.
No one in the Ninth World “disbelieves” in the numenera. It’s all around them. It cannot be denied. It’s also more common than magic would be in most fantasy settings. And yet it’s still just as mysterious and strange, mostly because the numenera is varied and unpredictable to those who don’t understand it.
There are people, however, who do understand it—at least to some degree.
Not everyone merely scavenges numenera from ruins. Some study it, comprehend a bit of it, and then create their own. Results are mixed, but in certain villages, the local tinkerer or clave of Aeon Priests has made a fabulous discovery not just of technology, but of understanding.
Now, with the right resources, the tinkerer or priest can make the device, concoct the drug, or develop the process. A whole community might have access to advancements that are far beyond anything else they possess—a group of farmers using automatons to pull their plows, a village whose thatched roofs are coated in fire-retardant spray, or a band of soldiers with chainmail, spears, and short-wave communicators in their iron helms. It’s important to remember that the player characters don’t look at the numenera the way that 21st-century people look at technology.
In the Ninth World, a force field projector and a two-way radio would seem not only like magic, but magic of the same level of power. In fact, the radio might seem more potent because its use is more broad and its effects are “invisible.”
Ninth Worlders have no perspective on what sorts of technology are more advanced than others, and they take none of it for granted.
THE APPEARANCE OF NUMENERA DEVICES
Technology in the Ninth World can be categorized as cyphers, artifacts, and oddities.
ARTIFACTS are large devices that typically can be used more than once to produce the same result. An artifact might be a belt that creates a shield of invisible force to protect the wearer or a flying skiff that carries people and cargo from one place to another. The term is almost always used for an item that has an obvious purpose—a weapon, a defense, a mode of transport, a means of communication or learning new information, a means of obtaining food or other necessities, and so forth. Artifacts make their users more powerful, or they make life easier or better.
CYPHERS are usually small, minor devices that most characters can coax a single effect from before they are depleted and become curiosities or decorations. They might include a quick injection designed to repair physical damage in a living creature or a handheld object that, when manipulated properly, becomes a weapon that explodes with tremendous force. However, cyphers are dangerous when gathered together because they create radiation and harmonic frequencies that are inimical to human life.
ODDITIES are the relics that are neither cyphers nor artifacts. They serve no obvious purpose but have strange functions that are at least curious, if not downright entertaining. Examples include a piece of glass in a metal frame that shows peculiar images or a box with three bells that ring at unpredictable times. Not everything from the prior worlds can be understood. In fact, much of it cannot.
Cyphers, artifacts, and oddities cannot be identified as such by just looking.
They almost all look like “devices.” (the exceptions being something like a pill or an injection.) You can’t distinguish a cypher from an artifact by appearance.
The difference is how much use a character can get out of it.