Numenéra: Gift of the Calimshan
In the youth of an age, people use the resources they have on hand, coupled with whatever understanding of their world they can master, to carve out a life for themselves.
In the Ninth World, the resources are the numenera—the detritus of the prior eras—and the people’s understanding of these resources is crude and incomplete.
The Aeon Priests possess just enough discernment and knowledge to suggest possible uses for things, but so much remains to be discovered.
Even the creatures and plants of the Ninth World are strange by-products of the prior ages; the past left behind flora, fauna, and machines, some designed by lore or nature, others transplanted from distant stars or dimensions.
The people of the Ninth World clothe themselves in newly spun fabrics but weave the artifacts of the past into each garment. They forge armor, weapons, and tools from materials recovered from ancient structures and devices. Some of these materials are metals, but others are (or appear to be) glass, stone, bone, flesh, or substances that defy categorization and understanding.
Those who risk the mysterious dangers to recover the relics of the past provide a valuable service. Typically these brave souls—warrior glaives, science-wielding nanos, and wily jacks—bring their findings to the Aeon Priests, who use the artifacts to fashion tools, weapons, and other boons for the growing civilization.
As time passes, more individuals learn to use the numenera, but it still remains a mystery to most people.
The People of the Ninth World
And then there are the visitants, such as the varjellen and lattimor who are not native to the earth but who now call the Ninth World home, and who have no more understanding of the past (even their own) than anyone else.
Ninth Worlders do wonder where they came from. They have a sense that Earth was once theirs, and then it wasn’t, and now it is again.
Life in the Ninth World
The life of a Ninth World human isn’t all that different from the life of a human around the year 1000AD. Farmers till fields, herders tend ﬂocks, hunters and trappers provide meat and skins, weavers create clothing, woodworkers build furniture, authors write books, and so on. Meals are cooked over fires. Entertainment comes from a travelling lute player, a group of singers, or perhaps comedic thespians.
Parents typically raise children, although in some places extended families are common. Many children attend some kind of school until the age of about twelve, when they learn a craft. Some students, usually those in larger cities, go on to higher learning. Most people live in small, agrarian villages, but some settle in larger towns or cities. The largest city in the Steadfast, Qi, has a population of 2,500,000.
Life expectancy varies wildly, but those who survive to the age of thirty can expect to live to at least sixty. It’s rare but not unheard of for someone to live to be ninety or even one hundred. Those fortunate enough to be rich or to live in a locale where the Aeon Priests have discovered secrets of longevity might live twice that long—or longer. The dead are buried or cremated.
Generally speaking, humans in the Ninth World are aristocrats, peasants, or slaves.
In some places, a “middle” or “merchant” class arises from the ranks of the peasants, populated by those who have wealth but not nobility.
True feudalism exists only in certain locations. A peasant likely earns a few shins per day, whereas a merchant could earn a hundred times that. Aristocrats rarely bother using coins at all except when dealing with the peasantry.
Only the nobles own slaves, which are usually taken from conquered enemies or their descendants and are considered property. Sometimes criminals are consigned to slavery as well. A few nobles prefer to use abhumans, and some own both kinds.
The religions of the Ninth World are varied and many.
With the exception of the Order of Truth’s quasireligious veneration of the past and the understanding its inhabitants had of the forces of the universe, no religion is widespread—they’re local affairs.
An explorer coming to a new town or village will find that the inhabitants have their own specific gods and religions. Some of these are based in local myths and stories, while others are more grounded in reality—creatures or other weird aspects of the world are often explained using the trappings of religion.
For example, a village might worship a machine intelligence left over from the prior worlds as a mysterious deity. In some places, religion is vital and fervent.
In others, it’s casual. And in some locations, the people have no concept of religion at all.
Language is a complex topic for a 21st-century reader trying to understand a civilization a billion years in the future.
In a fantasy or pseudomedieval fictional setting, it’s typical for everyone to talk in a vaguely Shakespearean British manner. This style of speaking probably isn’t appropriate for Numenera.
The Ninth World is filled with words that—while not strictly modern—aren’t medieval or Shakespearean either. And, of course, no one in the Ninth World actually speaks English.
Words like “pope” and “synth” and other real-world terms are just English approximations of words used by Ninth Worlders.
The Truth: The Aeon Priests teach a language based on rationality and intellect. Because of its name, it means something different in the Ninth World to say, “She speaks the Truth,” but that subtle double meaning is intentional on the part of the priesthood. The language’s rules are simple and straightforward, easy to teach and easy to learn.
The Truth is the predominant language in the Steadfast, where it’s spoken by about 80 percent of the people; in cities, that number is closer to 100 percent.
In the Beyond, about 60 percent of the people speak the Truth as their primary language, but many isolated villages have their own specific tongue.
Shin-Talk: This is a crude and simple language used only for trade and related tasks—counting, assessing quality, and so on. Shin-Talk is older than the Truth but not as widely used.
Other Languages: At least 500 (and perhaps far more) completely distinct languages are spoken across the Ninth World. It’s not unusual for a traveler to discover an isolated village—particularly in the Beyond—and be unable to speak to its few hundred residents because they have their own language.
Fortunately, this is a common problem, so people are used to struggling through interactions without relying on words.
Many people in the Ninth World cannot read. The Steadfast has an average literacy rate of about 50 percent. Although almost everyone can recognize a few written words of Truth, genuine literacy—the ability to read a contract or a book—is uncommon.
Reading is more common in cities, where up to 70 percent of the population might be literate.
In small towns and villages, the number is closer to 40 percent, and in very rural, isolated villages, it falls to 10 percent or less.
In the Beyond, literacy rates are about 50 percent in cities and 0 to 20 percent in the aldeia.
In communities that have a predominant language other than the Truth, literacy varies wildly.
People in the Ninth World have no concept of gold, silver, gemstones, or even diamonds as being valuable due to their scarcity. Such materials are valuable based on their beauty or usefulness alone.
Most civilized societies use generic coins commonly referred to as shins.
Shins are usually metal but can be made of glass, plastic, or substances that have no name. Some are jagged bits of interesting material or small, coinlike objects (such as highly decorative buttons from a machine), and others are properly minted and stamped, with writing and images.
No minted coin in existence today comes from a prior world—no coins survive from the ancient races, if indeed they used such currency at all.
Some regions of the Ninth World accept only coins that were minted in that realm; others accept all coins, regardless of origin. This custom varies from place to place and society to society.
Because shins are from the Ninth World, they rarely turn up in old locations.