You play the game as the Last Castoff, a shell created by the Changing God in which to house his consciousness. This means that you will play a predefined character. Because the Changing God has been fluid in his choices of gender, race, and even humanity through his life, you'll choose between a male and female body at the start of the game. This is an expansive choice, rather than a limiting one. It will have an impact on the reactivity of the game, and it will open new potential stories for you. It won't affect your statistics, your abilities, your core gameplay, or other factors.
Your other choices--your type, descriptor, and focus--will settle into place over the course of the game as you take your steps down the path you wish to follow. That is, you customize your character during gameplay, inhabiting the choices you make.
The Tides of Numenera
Certain scholars of the Ninth World have studied the pull of forces they call "The Tides"; unseen powers that have profound and lasting effects for those attuned to their motions. Like gravity or magnetism, the Tides are invisible, powerful, and, with the right tools, perhaps even controllable. Those who manipulate them can have a strong influence on society, the numenera, and the mysterious creatures of the world. Does everyone know of the Tides? Not at all. In fact, knowledge of the Tides is generally limited to a select few.
The understanding of these forces is incomplete and difficult to grasp; the Tides represent concepts that are not entirely definable by language. Those who acknowledge them have given them symbolic colors based on how they appear to correspond with emotional and psychological reactions. The colors are important because a word like "justice" (for example) is too simplistic. The Indigo Tide represents justice and fairness, but it might also mean a desire for the greater good or an "end justifies the means" mentality. The Gold Tide can represent false philanthropy as well as martyrdom. It's the actions that matter, not the motivations.
In the game, the Tides serve as a kind of alignment system; but a more nuanced system, and one that does not judge actions based on whether they're good or evil. You'll learn more about the Tides as you explore Torment. And the Tides will gradually change based on your actions and decisions, ultimately determining your Legacy.
The Tides themselves are explored further in the novella compilation, From the Depths.
The Legacy System
There's your legacy, the stories others tell about you and the inspirations they find in your life, and your Legacy, which we're systematizing here. Your Legacy is determined by which Tides you manipulate the most. Do you use your wisdom to help others? Do you seek power for the greater good? Maybe you're an avenger, taking whatever action is necessary to aid those around you. Perhaps you're just in it for the prestige. (Or the money. People are always in it for the money.) As your choices move the Tides, your Legacy will be revealed.
Your Legacy influences the world around you. Weapons and relics may have different bonuses for characters with certain Legacies. Perceptive NPCs and ancient creatures will respond based on what kind of person the Tides show you to be. Some of them might react positively if you reveal yourself to be a thinker or an artist, while others might help you only if you are moved by passion and power.
The power of the Tides is yours to wield, if you can learn to understand them in a way your sire does not.
Combat and Crises
Torment is a game driven by the story and by the choices you make. At times, your choices will lead you into danger--perhaps combat, perhaps other perlious situations. When this happens in Torment, we call it a Crisis.
Crises are meaningful encounters with some sort of time pressure. Combats will always take place in the context of a Crisis, but Crises will frequently include non-combat gameplay as well. You might have to defend yourself against a crime lord and her goons, escape darkened city streets while howling mobs hunt you, or rescue as many people as you can from a rampaging horror before it eradicates them with blasts of antimatter. All of these are potential Crises, and you will have to use your wits, skills, and abilities to succeed.
- Integrate narrative elements into otherwise typical combats. Combat is not always just combat in Torment. Your choices matter, even in the midst of a kill-or-be-killed conflict. For example, halfway through your battle with the warlord and her goons, a gigantic cragworm crashes the party. Do you ignore the worm and finish off the goons? Destroy the worm by bringing the warlord's fortress crashing down (thus drawing her attention against you as she tries to stop you)? Aid the warlord and try to fight the worm directly (thus possibly earning her allegiance)? Run away and let your two enemies kill each other? How you go about your goals within a Crisis (and what those goals are) is up to you, but your choices in the Crisis can affect the story just as much as those outside it.
- Emulate tabletop encounters. In a tabletop RPG, you are limited only by what your imagination and the GM decide. Obviously we can't be as dynamic as a human GM can, but we hope to capture that same sense of flexibility and creativity in how you go about your objectives. It's not a typical RPG combat, where you're limited to what your sword and spells can conjure. You can use the environment to your advantage, interact with characters as you try to get them on your side, or use traps and stealth creatively to turn the tide of battle in your favor, or to avoid battle altogether!
- Be handcrafted, quality encounters. One of our goals from the beginning has been to avoid dungeon crawls and so-called trash mobs. Torment will only have a dozen or so Crises, which means we are handcrafting each one to be unique, reactive, and exciting. Whether you choose to fight or not, you will find interesting decisions awaiting you at every turn.
- Provide tactical, turn-based gameplay. Whether you choose to fight your way out of a situation or not, you will have interesting tactical choices to make. You'll have a variety of abilities and cyphers (one-use items) to use, either to fight your opponents, distract them, or evade them. The environment itself will offer choices as well: will you dismantle the crime lord's security systems (or co-opt them to turn against her)? Set your own traps then guide your enemies into them? Do you have time to disable the alarms, or will it be easier to make a break past the guards, leaving one of your troop behind to keep them distracted? Every Crisis will make use of your character's abilities (whether combat-focused or not) and provide new options unique to that scenario for you to consider.
- Not require a reload on failure. This one is mostly true. Some Crises (such as facing the Sorrow) require you to succeed or be utterly annihilated, but in many Crises, failure isn't death, nor is it the end. It's just... different. You might find yourself in a prison and have to escape. You might return to the spot of the Crisis and find that you can try again or that your enemies have accomplished their goal and now the landscape of the game has changed. We are striving to create interesting fail states in all situations, but especially so in Crises.
"But wait," you say. "What if I want to fight? A dozen Crises doesn't sound like a good deal to me." Rest assured that if fighting is your preferred way to handle situations, then you will still have ample opportunity to do so. Our dozen (or so) Crises are handcrafted, it's true, and we won't ever require you to fight outside of a Crisis (or even inside most of them). But there will be a number of places where you can pick a fight, if you want to.
Dialogue and Companions
Compelling dialogue and intriguing companions are at the core of the Torment experience, and we intend to maintain that tradition. We'll use dialogue trees for conversation because they work well for our goals. You'll choose the line you speak or the action you take from a list of options, defining your character by what you say and do. We'll improve on tried-and-true systems to make conversations even more interesting, but we'll target the same type of experience.
You'll be able to talk to your companions, delving into their personalities and histories, even shaping them (or driving them away) with your responses. They, too, might have their own things to say about a given situation and will interject whenever they feel like it. You may be able to explore pathways in your companions' minds, leading to a fuller understanding of their potential, and helping them to unlock powers that they had thought were hidden away or even impossible to access.
That said, you'll have full control over your party. Some companions might choose to leave you over an extreme situation, but as long as they're in your party, they'll go where you direct them and do what you tell them.
We're creating nontraditional, complex, and believable characters. We're developing the companions with enough depth that we understand their motivations and personality and then writing them to respond appropriately to the situations they encounter.
We've had some questions from the community about romances and relationships in the game. Our position is this: Love, which comes in many forms, is certainly relevant when exploring themes of legacy, abandonment, and mystery; and we expect to explore this emotion in ways that fit the story and characters. Meaningful friendships, even feelings of affection, will be possible, but we don't expect physical relationships to be consistent with our narrative.
The factions of the Ninth World aren't simple gangs that hate each other. They each have their own goals, sometimes overlapping, sometimes antagonistic toward each other. In Torment, you'll be able to join at least one faction, maybe more, depending on how you play and whether your goals overlap with theirs.
Some factions may be aligned with the Tides, but not explicitly. The Ninth World is not so simplistic. Further, the factions won't be as single-minded as their philosophies might suggest. A scholar's guild could have sects within it: one that believes in knowledge for all, and another that believes knowledge is too dangerous for any but the elite. Acolytes of a devout order that helps the poor might disagree on whether doling out welfare or teaching life skills is the more effective course of charity. Thus, even within a faction, you might be pressured to support one particular sect or another.
On the other hand, you can stay out of it entirely. Like the other gameplay elements, factions don't force you down a path. They give you choices that matter, and will affect other parts of the game.
Other groups exist too, with aims that will generally be inconsistent with yours. Unlike factions, cults are primarily antagonistic, roving enemies who pick up and move as they will, as the winds blow them, or as rumors of powers, enemies, or wealth summon them. They may work together as the agents of an unseen force, or they may work against each other, pitted in a fierce battle for ownership of an obscure philosophical argument. It is unlikely that you'll be able to join one of these groups for any length of time, for should a cult discover who you really are, they'll try to find a way to use your strengths for their own ends. . . and cast you aside when they're done.
But perhaps if you're clever enough, you can discover how to manipulate them to your advantage; and you might need to, if they all descend upon you at once. Each will use you as a pawn against the others, and your goals may occasionally align with theirs, with interactions leading to potential quests and opportunities. Examples of possible cults include:
The Children of the Endless Gate: Death worshipers, some call them. They prefer to think of themselves as spirits trapped in flesh, and the horror of their cage pushes them to atrocity. They call themselves liberators and agents of freedom, and when they hunt the slums of the cities, they leave no evidence of their passing but a tracery in blood, an ever-wet gate to a realm of pure spirit... and horror.
The Order of Flagellants and Austerities: Once a hermetic and monkish offshoot of the Order of Truth, the so-called Scourges became a mendicant order and set out into the world with the appointment of a new leader a century ago. They are a missionary sect, devoted to cleansing the world of its many sins; among which are a reliance on the numenera, of using powers not rightfully granted with birth, and of pollution of the flesh with extravagances and constructs. A single Scourge is no threat, for they act only in communion with their brethren. But a group of them? They feed on the rage of their kin, borrowing strength of will and thew, and run berserk if they are not stopped, laying bare the bones of those who oppose them.
Death and the Castoff's Labyrinth
Death in Torment: Tides of Numenera is not the same as "game over," and there's more to it than waking up in a mortuary.
Your body is mostly immortal. Your consciousness, on the other hand, is a twisted place. When you die, your consciousness travels elsewhere, to a labyrinth of the mind, while your body heals.
The Castoff's Labyrinth is a strange realm, a dreamlike maze of jungles, stairways, tunnels, and ruined cities. It's your mind, but you wouldn't know it from all that's in here.
When you die in the game, you can always just reload, or maybe find the easy way out of the maze and back to your body, but you'll be missing out if you do. The Castoff's Labyrinth is a bizarre and interesting gameplay area, one of haunting exploration and discovery. As it grows, its secrets become deeper, more complex.
Its depths are called Fathoms, and each brings new secrets and--for the determined--new rewards.
Here are some of the things you might be able to do if you search out the mysteries of your own mind in death:
- Meet Reflections of your companions and other characters. Learn secrets from these figments that you wouldn't learn in the world of the living. But are these secrets really about them? Or are they about you?
- Uncover Lacunae. Lacunae are figments of your mind that represent parts of yourself (or do they?). Through conversing with a Lacuna, you'll discover puzzles and quests, and might even enhance your own abilities.
- Become more powerful. Gain special items and abilities. (How do they transfer back to your real body? Who knows? The numenera are weird like that.)
- Gain access to hidden areas in the real world through secret information, portals, or other strange interactions with the numenera.
- Find Meres (connections to the consciousnesses of other castoffs) that are unavailable to you in the living world.
The Labyrinth has twelve Fathoms within it that you will be able to explore, if you so choose. A few you may have to explore to complete your quest, but the rest... that's up to you.