Review: Cypher System

Cypher System Corebook cover. Shows images from superhero, horror, scifi, and fantasy scenarios

The greatest thing about the prior Cypher System games, Numenèra and The Strange, is the simple, flexible, yet deceptively nuanced mechanics that work together to really animate any story you care to tell. Yet as liberating from the setting of the Ninth World as The Strange was, it still constrained the “anything goes,”” mentality of the system within a framework of alternate realities. What the Cypher System Rulebook offers is what The Strange so tantalizingly teased us with last summer, the tools to tell any story we like with Monte Cook’s elegant little game engine.
Cypher System Corebook cover. Shows images from superhero, horror, scifi, and fantasy scenarios

The concept of the Cypher System Rulebook is anything but original, and some might mistakenly think that because much of the content is similarly familiar, the book has little to offer: on the contrary though, the book provides a wealth of tips about how to customize a Cypher System game to meet any GM’s needs. Much like previous releases, the book begins with an introduction to the basics of gameplay, then proceeds to follow the A woman dressed in black hugged from behind by a ghostprocess of character creation through the selection of descriptor, type and focus: the adjective, noun and verb of the statement, “I am a ______ ______ who ______.” The Cypher System also adds a new concept – flavors. You can add a flavor to your type and get some new options for your character to pull from. The flavors include Technology, Magic, Combat, Stealth, and Skills/Knowledge. These let you customize your character a little more, like if you want a talk-y character who is also really good at punching people.

From there we discuss equipment, and that’s where things get interesting. Rather than a setting section,following the more detailed treatment of the rules, this book has breakdowns for the most common sorts of genre into which most players will naturally gravitate. In each such section, for Fantasy, Modern, Science Fiction, Superheroes, and Horror, there are tailored suggestions to make your games more unique and memorable. Beyond that, a helpfully well-populated list of creatures is just itching to be let out to challenge the PCs. These range from tried and true adversaries from the previous Monte Cook releases to creatures unreal and mundane from Earth and…elsewhere

So you’ve pick from the long list of foci and descriptors, select which character types you want in your game and what focis they can use. Next you go to the relevant genre section, read it through the advice there and then settle on what Cyphers and other equipment you think would be appropriate for the setting. Once done, you pick a few locales, populate them with settlements and set out some creatures and NPCs for them to run into. And just like that, you’re done with creating a campaign setting.

Ships in the air with bright lights above a victorian looking cityWhen you’ve figured all that out, you document everything on the campaign design sheet provided at the back of the book and hand it to your players to provide guidance for character creation. It’s as easy as that.

As I read through Numenèra for the first time, I thought about how much I loved the system and wished it could be adapted to other genres. Then I played The Strange and fell in love with the freedom I had to explore different genres in the same campaign. Now, we’ve come full circle. With the Cypher System Rulebook, I have the tools to tell the story my players want to tell. Thanks Monte Cook Games, and keep up the great work.

The Cypher System is available from Monte Cook Games as a hardback ($59.99) or PDF ($19.99). The PDF is also available on DriveThruRPG.

Aser is a visually impaired attorney and assistive technology instructor that started playing RPGs shortly before the podcast's founding. He ran our games of The Strange and Night's Black Agents, and is an advocate for accessibility in gaming. His gaming interests tend towards mythos horror, investigation, espionage, and military role-playing games.

Leave a Reply