The versatile Cypher System powers tabletop adventures across genres

When an internal Wizards of the Coast document leaked in January detailing the proposed changes to Dungeons & Dragons’ Open Gaming license, the fan uproar led to record sales of rival tabletop role-playing games. One of the winners was the Cypher system by Monte Cook Gameswhich generated about three years worth of sales in just a few weeks, according to Monte Cook chief operating officer Charles Ryan.

“We saw thousands upon thousands of new gamers exploring the Cypher system,” he said. “Some of those people have made a rage purchase and then just go back to their D&D campaign, but others are going to explore. There are people who don’t really pay attention to what else there was, and now they have seen that there are other things and they will try them. In the coming months, we’ll be putting a lot of focus on how to get the people who made a purchase to actually play a game because we’re pretty confident they’ll win once they’ve played that game.” don’t go back.”

What is the Cypher System?

The Cypher system was introduced in 2012 with the record-breaking crowdfunding campaign for Numbers, Monte Cook’s scientific fantasy tabletop role-playing game set billions of years in the future. The success of the game inspired the creation of Monte Cook Games to use the mechanics of Numbers at other institutions. The second outing was The strange onea Quantum Leap-like game where characters jump between dimensions representing different genres.

“Once we did that, we were like Well, this system works for everything‘ Ryan said.

The Cypher System Rule Book provides guidance for running games and creating characters for environments ranging from post-apocalypse to fairy tales to superheroes. The key to the game’s versatility comes from how characters are created – putting together a descriptor, type and focus – for a huge amount of variability in concepts and plenty of options for reflavoring.

For example, you can build a Graceful Warrior Who Fights With Panache to be a reckless pirate, a Rugged Explorer Who Drives Like a Maniac for a Mad Max-inspired game, or a Clever Adept Who Employs Magnetism to be a character like Magneto to play. Each of these choices gives you access to its own group of skills and powers.

“I think a great descriptor gives you a great role-playing hook,” Ryan said. “It says something about your character right there in the name, and then it has some mechanics that support that.”

You can also use a taste system to exchange special abilities for even more flexibility. For example, a Speaker can gain the magical taste, which indicates that their ability to influence others comes from enchantment spells and they can also use their power to protect their own mind from attack, while a Warrior can gain knowledge if they are an assassin . trained in subterfuge and lock picking.

Using your stats

Cypher characters have three broad stats: Might, Speed, and Intellect. These represent both a character’s maximum values ​​in these areas, but also how many points they can spend on challenges related to them. For example, if you want to make an effort to dodge an attack instead of relying solely on your base score, you’ll need points from your Speed ​​pool. When attacking a strong enemy with a sword, you may want to use points from your Might pool to make it easier. Take damage from an attack, physical or psychological, and you lose points from a relevant pool. This results in some tough compromises between offense and defense that can get even more dramatic based on the genre.

“For a zombie apocalypse game I’ve played, the players can’t get bit,” said Ryan. “If you go into battle against the zombies, if you take damage from a zombie bite, it’s game over. Because the Cypher system has a mechanism where you put in effort when you really put in the effort to make something succeed and the cost of that effort comes from the same pools where the damage comes from, we’d be at the end of a battle and no one would have been bitten, but they are just as exhausted as they would be if they were harmed.

Swimming pools are refreshed by taking 10 hours of rest, but even a good night’s sleep just gives you the opportunity to recover. That means you should always be aware of your resources. One of a character’s most powerful abilities is a head start, which reduces the number of points it takes to put effort into one of their attributes, allowing them to push themselves more often.

Continuous progress

As players earn experience points, they can spend them to improve their characters by improving stats, edges, the number of points they can spend when exerting effort or training in a new skill. Once they purchase each of these perks, they gain a new level that gives them additional abilities based on their character description, type, and focus.

Players normally earn enough XP for each session, although XP can also be spent on a new roll. It’s a trade-off that Ryan says can keep the dice from getting in the way of a good story.

“I played a game Numbers once at a convention, and at the end of the whole adventure there was an angry mob of villagers who would come because of what the players had done,” said Ryan. “The Speaker character player stood up and gave this rousing speech and then they took their d20 and rolled a four. But right away that player said, “I’ll spend an XP and roll again,” and then he rolled an 8. Then someone else had XP and said, “I’ll throw in an XP for that person,” and then he rolled a 20 The adventure had this smashing conclusion that was super memorable.

What is a grade?

The Cypher System takes its name from cyphers, items first envisioned as bits of lost technology found in Numenera that have since been rebranded as anything with limited use, from a potion to a bomb to the blessing of a nature spirit. Players can only have a few figures with them at any given time, and you’ll likely gain new ones by exploring or defeating enemies, meaning you’ll have to use or lose the ones you have.

“You always have the default character skills that you’ve picked for your character, and then you have a few slots where the skill is always changing,” said Ryan. “That stimulates creativity.”

Also, due to the nature of single-use cyphers, they are less balanced than lingering equipment.

“Who cares if it has a big or a small effect?” Ryan said. “If it has a huge effect on that one adventure, it doesn’t unbalance the whole game. It just created a really cool dramatic moment. If it has a small effect, that’s fine too, because they just use it and replenish it.”

What do you need to play Cypher?

All you need to play Cypher is the Cypher System Rule Book and a set of dice, although depending on the setting or genre you’re interested in, you might want to read some other books. Numenera remains the most popular Cypher setting, but there are other options as well Stay alive! for horror, Claim heaven for superheroes, and The stars are fire for science fiction. Since the system is the same in all books, you can freely mix and match if you want to have space horror or superheroes fighting against an alien invasion.

“They really go in depth,” said Ryan. “The godforsaken fantasy book is about whether you want to play terry pratchett style humorous fantasy or classic high fantasy or gritty stuff and any kind of element of the genre you would like to explore.

Late backers are still being accepted for the highly successful BackerKit campaign for Adventures in the Cypher System, which includes a deluxe version of the core rulebook, plus a bestiary, an adventure book, and new post-apocalyptic and fantasy books. Each commitment includes a PDF of the Cypher System Rule Book so you can start reading before everything else is released early next year.

If you need advice or want to join a game, you can join the very active Cypher Unlimited Discord server. Streamers like Mr. Tarrasque, which once specialized in D&D, has been creating content for Cypher along with other games since the proposed OGL revisions. Cypher added its own open gaming license last year, so expect the number of books using the system to continue to grow alongside Monte Cook’s upcoming releases, including adaptations of the horror podcasts Ancient gods of Appalachia And The Magnus Archive.

“I think seeing the Cypher engine power different games will expose it to different audiences who will really enjoy it,” said Ryan. “There’s nothing more enjoyable for someone involved in making games than to see people play and enjoy their games.”