Torment's Four Pillars
Four pillars undergird the Torment name and, despite all the shaking we'll do of RPG conventions, we'll stay true to these throughout the development of Torment: Tides of Numenera. To us, this is what makes a game worthy of the name Torment.
- A Deep, Thematically Satisfying Story. The philosophical underpinnings of Torment drive the game, both mechanically and narratively. Your words, choices, and actions will be your primary weapons.
- A World Unlike Any Other. The game has a fantastic, original setting, with awe-inspiring painterly visuals, imaginative locations, offbeat items, and massive feats of magic. (Though in Numenera, "magic" is something surprisingly different.)
- A Rich, Personal Narrative. The story is thoughtful and character-driven; epic in feel but a deeply personal narrative, with nontraditional characters and companions who have their own motivations and desires that drive them throughout the game.
- Reactivity, Choice, and Real Consequences. The game emphasizes replayability and reactivity, and your choices will make a real difference. You can play the game with a different approach and discover entirely new pathways. Most important, we won't tell you how to play. The "best" ending is the one that arises naturally from your actions throughout the game.
A Deep, Thematically Satisfying Story
What does one life matter? Do our lives matter at all, or are they meaningless? What legacy do we leave behind? These are age-old questions, and they're not easily answered; especially in a setting like Numenera's Ninth World, where the inhabitants wander through the rubble of forgotten ancients... all of whom must have felt that their lives mattered, too. This stark perspective faces the denizens of the Ninth World every day. And yet they persevere as humanity always has, trying to improve their own lives and the lives of their friends and loved ones. Sometimes, they dream bigger.
That's our primary theme: legacy. We ask, "What does one life matter?" We'll help you tell a story, and in the end you'll have explored your answer to this question. You might decide that one life is the most important thing in the world, if it's the right life. You might decide that a life in itself means nothing, though Life as a whole has meaning, the sum total of conscious existence. You might decide that life has no value at all, that the universe rotates on an uncaring axis and that a single life is but a momentary aberration in the movement of the stars. We won't force you toward a specific answer in your search. But we will force you to think.
Torment's second theme also rises naturally from the setting: abandonment. Whether the abandonment of place, of life, of children, or of will, we'll explore what abandonment really means and how it affects the unfortunates in its wake. Will they grow strong, or will they wither? Will they hang on to their hopes for that which has vanished, or will they leave those hopes behind and build anew? You can help those you encounter (including your companions) make that choice, and you'll also choose it for yourself. It will be part of your legacy.
And last, we come to the maelstrom from which all the world's questions are born: mystery. You enter the game as you enter the world--newborn and ignorant--and you must find your truths, the answers that fit your journey best. Those around you might help you, hinder you, or hurt you. But why? What drives them? What drives you? Be warned: not all questions have answers, and to seek to answer them all is more dangerous than you know.
But we said that we wouldn't be entirely grim, right? The option of light or darkness, happiness or sadness is up to you. In fact, that's a sub-theme as you make your way through the game. You have the option to suffer despair, and you're welcome to embrace the darkness... but it might not have to be that way. And whether you choose the darkness or the light for your own journey, you will affect those around you as well. Just as you attract others with your suffering, so too can you try to show them a way out of it.
The legacy you leave is up to you. And that's the core message of this game.
A World Unlike Any Other
Torment tells a new story in a radically different setting: the Ninth World, the setting of Monte Cook's tabletop RPG Numenera. It's a science fantasy setting; not strictly fantasy, because it takes place in a future Earth built on technology that could conceivably exist (though certainly not with our current capabilities), but not strictly science fiction either, because the technology maintains a strong sense of weirdness and mystery akin to magic. This is especially true in Torment, where we prefer to emphasize the fantasy feel over sci-fi.
Ninth Worlders don't talk about androids, DNA, nanites, or computers, but rather constructs, nano-spirits, and ancient intelligences. There might be a biomechanical alien that uses nanotechnology to phase through quantum dimensions, but even the Aeon Priests--the most educated of Ninth Worlders--wouldn't use any of those words. An Aeon Priest might call it a transdimensional visitant that uses the numenera to exist partially out of phase, while everyone else would just call it a demon.
The basic idea behind Numenera is Arthur C. Clarke's famous quote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Although some of the technology of the Ninth World includes things we could understand, or might even create, the vast majority of it would be incomprehensible even to us and would seem very much like magic: conjured through word, gesture, or a specific mental state.
The Ninth World
The Ninth World is Earth, one billion years in the future. Many great and powerful civilizations have arisen and disappeared in that time, not all of them human. The powers of these civilizations beggar description. Among them were civilizations that mastered space and time, people who could halt the death of the sun or shape the continents as they wished, or beings who could shape life itself to suit their needs and whims. Their abilities are far beyond ours; even if our civilization were to survive another 10,000 years, we would barely have begun to accumulate the strength and knowledge that could place us in the histories of what Ninth Worlders call the “prior worlds”.
The prior worlds are gone now; they died out, transcended, or otherwise moved on. The present world is called the Ninth World, not because there were eight worlds before it, but just because that is what they have called themselves. The Ninth World is exceedingly young—not even 1,000 years in recorded history.
There are no records of the prior worlds, who they were, or what happened to them. All that remains is the detritus they left behind in vast profusion: crumbling ruins, floating monoliths, the descendants of their engineered or imported creatures. Abandoned clouds of nanites wander the scrublands, horrifically twisting whatever they come across according to some warped, unknowable design. Automaton soldiers march across desolated fields, fighting a war that no one remembers or could even understand. The Earth itself is surrounded by the datasphere: an invisible network that constantly transmits information across the globe to some unknown purpose, but that the very clever (or very lucky) can sometimes tap into for their own purposes.
The people of the Ninth World call all these things, collectively, the numenera. Some Ninth Worlders scavenge the ruins of the prior worlds, seeking ancient artifacts and relics to sell or use. Others harness power from invisible energies left in the very air and soil. The numenera are equally a source of aid and horror, ineffable and inexplicable.
Most Ninth Worlders are human, or close enough as you'd be unable to tell the difference, having reappeared on Earth in the last thousand years or so. They live their lives similar to how our people did in the Dark Ages: farming, feasting, feuding. The primary difference between them and medieval peasants is that Ninth Worlders can use the numenera to make their lives better. A farmer might till her fields with a hovering automaton, or feed her crops with the strange glowing water that comes from the village well and makes her plants sing an alien tune. A merchant might wear a device around his neck that emits a foul smell when someone is lying. The ruler of a small kingdom might rely on the magic of his court nanos and a mysterious energy field as much as his own castle walls for defense.
The numenera are never completely understood, and rarely are they used for their original purpose. A jack's ray emitter might once have been a piece of some vast, transdimensional machine. An anti-gravity belt worn by a daring explorer is like as not an esoteric glowing widget found in the heart of some dying automaton, attached to a power source and an otherwise-normal leather belt. But the people don't need to know the numenera's original purpose to meet their own needs today.
More than that, Ninth Worlders take pride in their own mundane accomplishments: in real steel swords, or strong wood frames for their houses. Most people would rather build their own future than live on scraps rummaged from the past. They prefer to create, rather than to scavenge amidst the glories of the past, and in so doing create their own shining future.
Inhabitants of the Ninth World
The Ninth World has abhumans, beasts descended of human shape who have given up the curse of civilization. They might be lithe and graceful or might be devolved creatures that hate the light. Aeon Priests help rebuild civilization, trying to understand the nature of the numenera so they can use these powers for the greater good. Sturdy explorers wear shining armor that has not lost its luster for a thousand years, made of material harder than diamonds but somehow off in its proportions, having been built for creatures not quite human. Strange beasts from legend and nightmare leap across the mountaintops, take to the skies, or haunt the wastes, tormenting travelers and denizens alike. The creatures of the Ninth World shape themselves to their new surroundings, growing and changing with the millennia of exposure to the raw energies of the dead civilizations. For example:
- The water-breathing mutants known as the Ghibra try to aid the air-breathing refugees who have fled to the Oasis through the Lost Sea, even as they struggle to guard their own culture.
- The lumbering, insectoid Stichus excavate a 200-million-year-old complex where ancient dwellers once experimented with tearing apart space and time.
- The pack hunters called the broken hounds, vulturine scavengers with the bodies of canines and avian skulls, are the bane of travelers.
- A protean thing--that seems to be an adorable pet but that responds to your commands and your treatment--can shape itself to fit your will. It could be anything from a waxen ball of goo that can communicate with any sentient creature to a hulking beast of tooth and claw.
Even the humans aren't necessarily fully human. Some Ninth Worlders have been altered through their long exposure to the energies of the people of the past, the background spillover of countless aeons of tinkering with reality. Some are born with abilities we would call mystical, able to harvest life from the smallest drop of blood and divine secrets of the dead. Others can reach into the minds of others and steer their thoughts, or incinerate their foes with a word. They might have stumbled across a trove best left buried and found themselves wrapped with sentient chains that act as armor and prison alike. They might have enhanced senses or the ability to leap chasms. You'll discover and use abilities and items like these in Torment.
Torment's Place in the World
The Numenera tabletop RPG takes place mainly in what is called the Steadfast, a group of mostly civilized kingdoms out on the western edge of the planet's single enormous continent. There is also the Beyond, a sparsely populated area where the strangements and horrors of the numenera still very much hold sway. Torment takes place beyond the Beyond, deep in the middle of Earth's continent near the major cities of Sagus Cliffs and the Oasis of M'ra Jolios. There are people who have traveled from as far as the Steadfast, but they are rare, and repeated travel between the two regions is rarer still. The journey is simply too dangerous and too far, thousands of miles across unforgiving (and sometimes toxic) terrain. Enough have traveled the route that people have heard of the places in the Steadfast, but very few have actually seen them.
It is here that your story starts. You are the castoff shell of a powerful nano - a magician, to most - called the Changing God. He sought to master the secrets of life, consciousness, and death, and in so doing, he awoke an ancient guardian and brought its vengeance down on him. You are one of the last of the Changing God's creations, desperately trying to find answers to your life's mysteries before he--and you--are erased from history.
Torment features a host of equipment and items that are more than a collection of statistics. Finding a +1 mace is not nearly as cool as finding the invisible cudgel of Talazon the Mad, with which he entered the hall of the Ghost King (where none may come armed), and thus slew the metal tyrant. Every major item (and even many lesser ones) will have some sort of history and function as well as a "personality"; an identifying piece of lore to give it character and enrich the setting and gameplay.
Torment's items will be interesting, entertaining, different, and useful. You might don a suit of living armor that sinks into your skin and protects you invisibly. Maybe you'll wear a mirrored bracelet that scatters enemy force attacks in random directions. Or perhaps you'll discover the scepter of the Lame Autarch and use it to command a squadron of unbreakabel ceramic statues against your enemies.
The craftsmanship of the Changing God was not limited to flesh and blood, and you'll find works that seem to have been made for you throughout the game. In a sense, they were. But there's more than his handiwork in this game; you're literally surrounded by relics of the vanished worlds. You just need to figure out how they work - and determine whether or not they will destroy you if you activate them.
Numenera explorers are defined with a descriptor, a class (called a type), and a focus. For instance: "I'm a strong-willed jack who exists out of phase." You could also say it like this: "I'm a <descriptor> <type> who <focus>." Let's break that down.
The types are the three character classes: the glaive, the nano, and the jack. The glaive is a warrior, improving himself through intense physical training and the application of the numenera to his body and mind. The nano studies the secrets of the lost ages, hoping to harness a fraction of the power of the relics she finds, and channeling inherent abilities to devastating effect. The jack blends the two, mastering no trades but understanding them all, making use of the abundant numenera to her own benefit.
Descriptors are adjectives like "tough," "intelligent," and "cautious." Your descriptor helps paint what kind of person you are and modifies some of your abilities.
But your focus is where things get most interesting. Your focus is the gift (and the curse) that you have inherited or created, one defined through your relationship with the numenera and your years of training. Your focus helps you manifest your powers to their full extent. You might ride the lightning, electricity dancing at your command. You might master weaponry to become one of the most fearsome warriors of the Ninth World, or even summon uncanny forces to do your bidding. There are many more options, and the choice of which is yours.
The Ninth World is a place of mystery and discovery, where the challenge lies not in uncovering the truths about the past but in surviving the legacies left behind by the people of the forgotten eras.
This is the world of Numenera, and it is unlike anything you've ever experienced.
A Rich, Personal Narrative
We promise a rich, personal narrative. Here's where it starts:
Raised amid the ruin and dust of unimaginably great empires, one man resolved to create a legacy that would shine through the ages. He spent the rest of his days trying to determine the purpose of a single life and how he might leave a literally unforgettable mark on the world. Using the relics of the past ages, he found a way to transfer his consciousness to living vessels. He could find the answer to his question over thousands of years, if need be.
Living from life to life, fleeing these castoff bodies when they had sustained too much damage or when he felt he had experienced their stories for long enough, he gained the appellation "the Changing God." Over hundreds of centuries, the Changing God has taken shape in any number of forms. He has watched his friends turn to dust, his family die, and the world he knew change around him. Is it any wonder he has distanced himself from humanity's ebb and flow?
But for all his genius, for all his madness, he does not truly understand the numenera he uses. His castoff vessels retain individual sentience, their consciousness beginning where his ends, retaining only the faintest vestiges and flickers of memory from his time in their bodies. They know they have been used and abandoned. Their progenitor made their bodies to last, so they are long-lived, but slow-healing; trapped within shells that decay but do not die.
The Changing God's castoffs bring with them a much greater curse. The pain they endure transmits from their bodies into others nearby, causing suffering in those around them. Through their survival, the castoffs cause others to die more quickly and painfully. Because of this, many of these near-immortal creatures endure the years in loneliness and isolation, some becoming truly monstrous and others practically saintlike.
But the profusion of suffering has awakened another deadly creation from a vanished world. The Sorrow, an ancient guardian, sees the torment caused by the Changing God and begins to eradicate the castoffs as it hunts their creator for a long-awaited judgment.
This is where your story starts. You are the Last Castoff, the most recent discard of the Changing God. You know that the Sorrow is coming for you, and you are not powerful enough to stand against it. Your sire meant to use your body as the final step in stopping the Sorrow once and for all, but everything went wrong. The restoration chamber he requires has been destroyed, and you were born in its destruction. You must find a way to restore the chamber--or perhaps find some other means of stopping the Sorrow--before you, your sire, and all the rest of your siblings are eradicated by the avenging Sorrow. You will find allies and enemies among the other castoffs. You might inhabit their minds for a time through the Meres, turning their lives to your advantage. You will travel across the face of the Ninth World, and above and below it, with your companions at your side; or alone, if you wish. Your quest will take you to alternate dimensions and distant worlds under strange suns, and you will build your legacy as you find your answer to the question: What does one life matter?
Deep, Interesting Companions
The nature of your character is such that you attract others: powerful but fundamentally broken people who seek out your presence. They might hold some of your answers, and they might be some of your deepest allies; or they might be among your most dangerous enemies. Some examples of companions might include:
- A fallen priest who pulls writhing tattoos from his arms to spill horror upon his foes.
- A nano who toyed with the fabric of space one too many times and now lives a fractured existence, living parallel lives in multiple universes and timestreams all at once.
- A cold, calculating jack with a blade in her pocket and acid in her soul, who carries mind-altering mists around her neck, and who has found a way to control light and shadow.
- A boy who seeks only adventure and glory, who leaps blindly into the most ridiculously dangerous situations imaginable and--surprisingly--emerging from them brighter and more powerful than he was before... but whose existence is a torment its own.
- A sibyl with no body of her own, who speaks through the mouth of a man whose mind is broken beyond repair.
These people need your help. You can make them whole, or you can make them strong for your mission; even if it means their ultimate doom.
Reactivity, Choice, and Real Consequences
You want your games to treat you like you've actually done something in that world. You want to see rewards commensurate with your actions, and you want to see the world change based on what you've done. An RPG should offer you many ways to reach its many endings, and each should be equally valid and important, honestly reflecting the choices you've made.
We'll do that.
Your choices start right away. Even as you crawl from the rubble at the start of the game, you'll be offered choices. Whatever you decide, you've taken your first steps in the game, and they'll echo throughout your play. We'll track your choices without moralizing about them; you can be as good or as evil as you like without a higher judgment awaiting you.
"Does it matter what I do, then?"
Absolutely! You'll make choices based on how you want to handle each situation, not on the basis of an external scale of good and evil. The people around you will judge you based not on your motivations but on the consequences of your actions.
What's more, the choices you make will determine your legacy, the history you leave behind as an example; or warning. You might choose to spend your life helping others, trying to alleviate their suffering or to create a better life for them with the numenera you find. You might choose to seek reason, discovering truths about yourself and uses for the numenera, as the Aeon Priests do. You might choose to accumulate power and become a force for fear or justice. This isn't destiny. This isn't fate. This is your life, and you can coast on its tides toward whatever horizons await, or you can fight its currents to reach another land.
"So what about consequence? How do my choices matter?"
The choices you make will ripple throughout the game and follow you organically. If you close an interdimensional pathway by leveling the village surrounding it, the survivors will become your sworn enemies. But if you close the pathway by sacrificing one of your companions on the other side of the portal, what will the rest of your party think of you? Though they look to you as their leader, they might turn on you or betray you if you are callous with their lives. If you choose to fight a pitched battle in the slums of the Bloom instead of bowing to a monstrous crime lord, the blood of innocents will be on your hands, and what you make of your reputation after that will define you.
The enemies you make are persistent. Some, like you, seem to exist independent of mortality. The decisions you make will affect their behavior, too, and some of them may become your allies in time. Your companions also look to your example. If you become dark and cruel, many of them (though not all!) will follow your lead; if you're an optimist, you may guide them from the depths of their suffering. You can shape them and heal them; or, as mentioned above, you can make them tools of your desire, crippled beings who wield awesome power at your command. They might, eventually, place their trust in you, but they might become disgusted with your actions and flee from you; or attempt to destroy you themselves.
You'll learn more about how we intend to handle choice and consequence in the Gameplay section, where we discuss our Legacy system and the Tides of Numenera.