The Ninth World is the setting for my new Numenera roleplaying game. I’ve described it as a far future post-apocalyptic setting. Basically, it’s the backdrop of a young civilization that has grown up amid the ruins of very old, very advanced civilizations. A billion years from now, we are long gone, as are the civilizations that evolve and rise (and fall… or leave… or transcend) after us. And the one after them. A billion years is a long, long time. It’s far more time than there is between us today and the dinosaurs.
In the time of the Ninth World, the land masses of the planet have returned to form a vast supercontinent surrounded by seemingly endless seas with extremely dangerous storms. But is the Earth in the configuration it is because of natural forces and simply the march of time or did some prior civilization design it to be so? Certainly the ancient inhabitants of the so-called “prior worlds” had the ability to shape their planet–and likely other planets–as they saw fit. Proof of this is everywhere. “Impossible” landscapes are a normal part of the Ninth World’s topography. Islands of crystal float in the sky. Inverted mountains rise up above plains of broken glass. Abandoned structures the size of kingdoms stretch across distances so great that they affect the weather. Massive machines, some still active, churn and hum. But for what purpose?
Along the southeastern coast lies The Steadfast, a collection of kingdoms and principalities with little in common except for a unifying religion. This religion, called by its adherents The Order of Truth (and by all else as the Amber Papacy), reveres the past and the knowledge of the ancients as understood by the enigmatic Aeon Priests. By decree of the Amber Pope, The Steadfast and The Order of Truth wage war with the lands to the north, believed by many to be enthralled by a secretive and mysterious cult called the Gaeans. Nobles amid The Steadfast are called to the Crusades, making war against the infidels with ever stranger weapons discovered or devised by the priesthood.
Beyond the bounds of The Steadfast, however, lies The Beyond, a vast wilderness punctuated by very occasional, very isolated communities. The Beyond also has its Aeon Priests, but these are not linked by any kind of organized network. They do not answer to the Amber Pope. Instead, they dwell in sequestered claves. Around these claves, small villages and communities known as aldeia have arisen. Each clave has discovered and mastered various bits of numenera, giving every aldeia its own distinct identity. In one, the inhabitants might raise unique bio-engineered beasts for food. In another, people may pilot gravity-defying gliders and race along the rooftops of ancient ruins. In still another aldeia, the priests in the clave may have developed the means to stop aging almost entirely, making the residents immortal and willing to sell their secret–for an incredibly high price. Because the villages are remote and separated by dangerous distances, trade of these discoveries is occasional and haphazard.
But not every village or tribe in The Beyond has a clave to help guide them amid the dangers of the past. Some of these have discovered the numenera to their peril, unleashing terrible horrors, plagues, or mysteries beyond comprehension. Travelers might find a village where all the residents have been transformed into flesh-eating monstrosities, or another that whose populace works as slaves for some machine intelligence left over from an earlier era.
Outside the aldeia and other settlements, the dangers multiply. Amid the ruins of the past lie tribes of vicious abhumans, as likely to kill and eat an explorer as talk to her. Clouds of tiny invisible machines called the Iron Wind scour the wilderness, altering everything they touch. Monstrous predators, ancient death machines, and stranded extraterrestrial or transdimensional beings also all pose a threat in the uncharted reaches of The Beyond. But so too can a careful and capable explorer find awe-inspiring numenera that can accomplish anything one can imagine.
In the Ninth World, numenera is both the risk and the reward.