One of the core philosophies I took away from Numenera, and from most of my favourite RPGs, is that the books are there to provide ideas, not instructions. Yes, there are rules to follow and settings material to consider ‘canon’ but these don’t always have to be set in stone. While as a creator, you might have a specific vision of the experience you want to deliver, one that relies on following the things you have laid out in a very exacting manner, ultimately the users experience is out of your hands. Art doesn’t stop with the creator, but continues on forever with every interaction and usage by the consumer.
Numenera tries to stress this a number of times in the text: the rules are a guide, the settings material is a guide, it’s your game and your fun is the most important factor. It’s a philosophy I’ve tried to adhere to with Rusthaven, something that feels even harder to do with a sourcebook than a full game.
Everything in Rusthaven is written around a single vision of the Iron Wind, of a terrible, unknowable storm of great power that can never be controlled. There is a brutal, unforgiving beauty to it and a sense of incomprehensible, cosmic terror at something that can never be understood or tamed. That vision though, is just one idea, and while Rusthaven is focused around that vision, every part of it can be taken away in isolation and reworked to fit your own interpretation.
Throughout Rusthaven, many ideas are pitched to you about how society might work in a world where the Iron Wind exists. How do people deal with natural disasters in the Ninth World? Does the sparsely populated world even pay attention or know about the Iron Wind most of the time? Rusthaven asks a lot of questions and offers answers, but the answers are less important than the questions. It’s the ideas they create and the weird they stir up in your brain that Rusthaven was primarily written for. I’m a big advocate of highly improvisational GM-ing (personally, I do little to no prep for any game I run) and Rusthaven is primarily a tool to stir up the imagination and keep it primed to unleash the Iron Wind and associated terrors at a moments notice. As mentioned, answers are provided as well though, so those who prefer to plan and plot have the tools they need at their disposal as well.
So what exactly does Rusthaven cover? What ideas does it help you think about for your games? Currently, the book is broken down into 5 core sections:
The first section of the book focuses on expanding upon the nature of the Iron Wind itself, discussing and proposing what forms it takes, what effects it has and various ways of thinking about it. It then moves on to the Iron Winds place in the larger context of Ninth World society, briefly covering its influence on everything from organisations to city planning to travel. It covers the attitudes towards survivors, presenting a world where fear of the unknown drives people towards prejudice against the Iron Wind’s victims.
With the Iron Wind itself expanded and introduced, we move onto the books namesake, the settlement of Rusthaven. Rusthaven is a strange place of both exile and salvation. It is bleak, but also a place of great hope - a safe haven for those touched by the Iron Wind. This section describes the settlement, its history and the major players, events and rumours that surround it to create a rich location you can use in your games, even without involving the Iron Wind.
New descriptors and foci are covered in this section, including the new racial option descriptor Iron-touched. Iron-touched are much like mutants, but where mutants take their changes from a number of sources (which could include the Iron Wind), Iron-touched are solely the product of the Iron Wind’s terrible effects. Unlike mutants, Iron-touched are all obviously twisted by the Wind and their corrosions - the equivalent of mutations - are all distinctive as well as being beneficial, harmful or powerful.
In addition to new descriptors and foci, there are a series of new creatures, some created by the Iron Wind, some by something more sinister that lurks beneath Rusthaven itself. creatures cover a number of levels and themes, from the bizarre Razorgels that try to pierce themselves on sharp objects to attack with their corrosive innards to the powerful, biomechanical rocks known as Murkstone Builders.
Just as the Iron Wind can warp flesh, it can warp other forms of matter. The Iron Wind can create anything seemingly out of nothing and sometimes, some of those things are cyphers, artifacts and oddities. This section introduces a system for creating random cyphers with different modes of use, appearance and effect and provides a list of new artifacts and oddities to use and inspire you.
This final section covers a mini-campaign in 3 parts focused around Rusthaven, a terrible secret and a difficult choice that will change the future of Rusthaven forever. Following on from the mini-campaign is a series of adventure seeds - ideas and plot hooks for crafting adventures of your own using the material provided in the previous sections.