This review originally appeared at Mephit James' Games blog:
The Bridges We Burn is a five-part adventure series for Numenera written by Janek Sielicki intended for Tier 3 characters. It’s a Cypher product, meaning that groups in other Cypher games might find a lot to use in here, but it should be most exciting to Numenera fans. And excited you should definitely be.
Disclaimer: I was given a complementary copy of this product by Janek to read and review. I’m not being paid, but it’s pretty sweet to get a free product and I want to give him credit and be up front about it. I also want to credit Filip Gutowski with all the artwork in this post, snipped out of the adventure pdf.
The first adventure series to come out for Numenera was the quasi-horror story The Devil’s Spine. For many, this was their first venturing into the Ninth World and it certainly doesn’t disappoint: criminal organizations, gruesome cults, hive mind infections, deadly tombs, deep-sea diving… it’s got it all.
The Bridges We Burn sets itself up as the spiritual successor to this series both in terms of location and in terms of wide-ranging, genre-mixing adventure. It’s set in the city of Uxphon (the cramped, canyon-of-pipes city located on the edge of the Cloudcrystal Skyfields north of the Steadfast) and this book both expands upon the city and makes use of the information in The Devil’s Spine and Numenera core book. It doesn’t have to be run in conjunction with The Devil’s Spine but the start of The Bridges We Burn fits nicely with the ending of the first adventure.
There is also a similar spread of ideas and scenes in this adventure. Characters will find themselves in a royal ball, a seedy undercity, and a cultish temple while facing off against scheming nobles, doomsday zealots, and horrible monsters. If The Devil’s Spine is quasi-horror then this adventure is quasi-heroic quest. The chapters follow a linear flow of one to another, but your players are unlikely to find the breath to even wonder if they’re being railroaded along given the breakneck pace of the plot.
If you have The Devil’s Spine you have lots of useful information about Uxphon to bring into this adventure, but you don’t really need anything except the Numenera core book’s description of the city. Likewise, there are several creatures from the Ninth World Bestiary but in each case there are alternatives from core Numenera suggested. Other than that, the more Numenera products you bring to bear the more you can make it your own but all the details you need are in The Bridges We Burn.
That concludes the spoiler-free review of the book. I’m not going to post anything too revealing below but if you plan to be a player in this adventure I’d stop reading now. If you don’t… Well you won’t know what’s coming when but you will have some idea of where things are headed.
Just the GMs now? Good.
The main enemy in this adventure is the Convergence (Numenera core book, p. 223-224), one of my absolute favorite groups in the Ninth World. They are complicated and everyone has their different take on them but they have the twin advantages of being master numenerists and master assholes. They gather together numenera devices for personal gain and power (as opposed to the Aeon Priests who gather it for knowledge… which sometimes comes with power) and in The Bridges We Burn they’ve found a doozy.
A nano who is part of the Convergence has found a machine that could allow them to take control of the entire city of Uxphon. Whether they live in Uxphon or are just visiting, the players should immediately smell a Heroic Opportunity (TM) when they see one. They are initially hooked into the adventure with an invitation to a party in honor of the nevajin Eenosh from “The Mechanized Tomb” (Part 3 of The Devil’s Spine) where the Convergence muscles in.
The key to starting their machine is a poor young noblewoman who has just the right genes to get things going. As the author states “it is a 9th world take on the classic story of the hero, the princess, and the dragon.” This makes The Bridges We Burn a great intro to Numenera if you want to go that route… You could even use this adventure (classic fantasy tropes) to introduce a group familiar with D&D to the Ninth World, and then run them through the darker The Devil’s Spine series of adventures.
The biggest criticism I have about this series is that it’s very linear. Once the Convergence breaks up the party the PCs track them down, then fight them and rescue the ingenue, then defend Uxphon from the bad guys’ secret weapon, then cheer and party. It would only take a group of player characters a little messing around and dallying to get off track. What if they go to the Steadfast for help from the Aeon Priests? You have to come up with a reason why the Convergence doesn’t do anything with their captive until they return. What if they continue to explore the undercity where the Convergence was holed up? They might come topside to find the entire city leveled.
This isn’t such a big deal if your players are good at picking up on clues or they don’t mind you giving them a firm push when they start to wander off-track. It’s also not a problem if you are used to improvising and rolling with things as this adventure comes with eleven pages of NPC write-ups for you to work with. You can adjust on the fly using the biographical information there and the author has provided some excellent tools in an appendix for managing the players’ actions.
There are notes for running the scenarios separately as stand-alone adventures, which might provide some means for regaining control if the story starts to spiral because of wandering PCs. There are also some nice charts for each part of the story giving the location and status of major NPCs at the beginning of that chapter and providing space for you to note where they end up. If you modify the story because of crazy decisions the players make you can glance back at these to remind yourself when they last saw Mr. So-and-So and what state they left him in.
Either way, this is an excellent adventure that can be used for a range of GMs. For beginners, the story is straightforward and you have lots and lots of information to help you craft a fantastic world for your story. For experience GMs, you can use the tools that Janek has provided to really make the story yours and deal with flighty PCs or unexpected twists with a modicum of control.