The Setting and History

Numenera is set a billion years in the future. Civilizations have risen and fallen on Earth. In that time eight previous “worlds” have come and gone, leaving behind remnants of their existence. While previous worlds were said to have flourished, this one is built upon the ruins of the past, and that is kind of the style of Numenera: discovering the history and wonders of the previous worlds.

Even though the current inhabitants live at about a Medieval level of technology, the leftover remnants of these advanced societies lie all around them. Some of these are extremely helpful: advanced tools, valuable means of communication and learning, transportation, defenses, and weapons. Others are dangerous: genetically altered monstrosities, flesh-warping radiation, creatures transplanted from distant stars, and clouds of out-of-control nanobots, just to name a few.

Numenera is a world that is both a product of technology and saturated in it: not only has the ground been processed, reshaped, and re-processed, but the very air is filled with countless nanites (which is how nanos use their “magic”). This setting, called the Ninth World, provides all manner of opportunities and challenges to those that call it home.


To the people of the Ninth World, recorded history began about 900 years ago, with the work of learned scholars who organized themselves into what would later become the Aeon Priests. Before that time, humans lived in barbaric tribes and isolated farming villages.

No one knows how much time passed between the fall of the previous civilization and the rise of the Ninth World. Likewise, no one can agree on where Ninth Worlders came from. It’s clear that many residents of the prior worlds were not human, but perhaps some were.


Most of the land mass has once again joined to form a gigantic supercontinent, leaving the rest of the globe to the mercy of a single ocean besieged perilous storms and dotted with islands. “Impossible” landscapes are a normal part of the topography. Islands of crystal float in the sky. Inverted mountains rise above plains of broken glass. Abandoned structures the size of kingdoms stretch across great distances, so enormous that they affect the weather. Massive machines, some still active, churn and hum. But for what purpose?


Even the weather of the Ninth World is an artifact of the numenera. In the Steadfast and the Beyond, it grows colder as you travel south. The southernmost lands of the Steadfast, for example, have cool summers and harsh winters. The central and northern portions have warmer summers, but even the southern edge of the Cloud Crystal Snowfield sees snow and frost in the winter.

The mountains of the Black Riage have long, oppressive winters, with the southernmost passes open for only a few months.

Overall, the climate is dry, and with a few exceptions (along the coast, for example), rain is uncommon and accompanies terrible storms. Rumors say that particularly harsh or strange storms are either the result of a harmful numenera effect or the slow degradation of a beneficial one.

Either way, storms with dangerous winds, hail, and lightning grow more frequent each year. Other storms— still thankfully very rare— bring oily black rains that kill crops rather than nourish them, or weird magnetic fluctuations that bend matter and disrupt minds. But even these pale in comparison to the most terrifying weather effect in the Ninth World: the Iron Wind.


The Iron Wind is the Ninth-World term for clouds of dangerous nano spirits, that are far too tiny to see, which travel across the landscape in terrible clouds borne by strong winds. These warp everything they touch, transmuting all matter.

An Iron Wind storm twists the ground, turns rock into clouds of vapor, and creates new features out of thin air. And woe to any living thing caught in its passing. Trees become rocks, pools of water, or unrecognizable lumps of pulsing, living substance. The Iron Wind tears apart creatures only to rebuild them in bizarre, seemingly random shapes. Flesh is transmuted to nonliving substances, ropy tendrils, or even more alien configurations or textures. Nine times out of ten, this transformation results in the death of the creature—sometimes a long, painful death as it tries to cope with its new form.


A billion years in the future, all the animals we know in the 21st century are long gone.
However, animal types—mammals, reptiles, insects, birds, and so forth— remain. People might talk about rats, deer, flies, or ravens, but the beasts being described are at least slightly different than the creatures we think of today.

The Setting and History

Numenera - Seeking the Past LightCWU