Like most kids, I loved dinosaurs when I was growing up. It was a few hours away, but I made several pilgrimages to the Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah to pretend to dig up dinosaur bones and learn about why the Utahraptor was the best raptor. (Don’t hold me to that, it’s just what they told me). So I think, like many, opening an RPG where you get to live alongside dinosaurs re-opens a lot of childlike glee.
Predation is the most recent addition to Monte Cook Game’s Cypher Systems line, an adaptation of the wonderfully flexible Cypher System to bring you dinosaurs and science. The setting is that a few hundred years in our future, the Space and Time, Intg. (SATI) corporation started sending ‘commuters’ back to the Cretaceous Period for some now unknown reason. Nine years after this time travel began, all of the machines on the Cretaceous side of the Gre-Vakian c trials malfunctioned, trapping the commuters in the past. Now we’re 100 years after The Last Commute, and Grevakc is its own society, made up of the descendants of the 20,000 people left to live with the dinosaurs. These people are the descendants of scientists and soldiers and have all kinds of advanced technology to build their communities. However, they all know that at some point they’re civilization is going to be wiped out by an asteroid, and many are desperate to find the secrets of time travel once more.
Shanna Germain, the author of this campaign setting, has clearly spent a lot of time researching dinosaurs and technology to make this world believable for a hard sci-fi campaign, while leaving the joy and fun of dinosaurs for something more light-hearted. This setting builds on the Cypher System Core Rulebook, which is required for play, and therefore a lot of elements are going to be very familiar. Cyphers, Artifacts, and Oddities (here called Remnants) all still exist, but have a great deal of flavor added to them. Cyphers are no longer objects you find while searching, instead they’re changes encoded in your DNA when you encounter time anomalies, strange glitches in reality suspected of being caused by time travel. Since they’re part of your DNA, cyphers are no longer transferable. But I’m ok with that, I like the idea that you have a bioluminescent protein suddenly encoded in your cells that will allow you to glow for a short time. Artifacts and remnants are pieces of technology that might be from SATI or maybe something else, also transported by the time anomalies.
Predation also renames the four character types; Karn is the warrior type, Tec the adept, Pteryx the explorer, and Osteon the speaker. For most of the abilities associated with each type you need to refer to the core book, but each has a few new special abilities for this world. In addition, they’re provided with Cretaceous abilities, which work like a flavor all of the characters automatically have. There are eight new descriptors, and four new foci. Germain also provides a list of foci that are appropriate to use in Predation, including new ones found in Expanded Worlds. One touch I appreciated is that she provided alternate names for some of the existing foci to make them more Predation relevant.
One of the most exciting changes to the Cypher System in Predation is the addition of the companion, a dinosaur (or early mammal!) that assists your character in all of your tasks. These companions start at level two, and have different abilities, health, armor, and damage depending on the type of companion you choose. The abilities are generally assets to some sort of action taken by your character. By grouping them into types like Raptor or Ornithomimid, you’re able to pick any dinosaur you want to be a companion without a lot of additional work. As you level up your character, you also get to level up your companion, picking new skills or improving them physically, or even cybernetically. What I really love about the companions is that you don’t play your companion, and neither does the GM. Instead another player at the table controls your companion, rolling for their actions and helping to infuse them with personality. Don’t worry, you get to pick a disposition, which works like a descriptor for a PC, which gives you an asset and also gives them a basic personality. Controlling your companion isn’t always easy, especially at lower tiers. So for first and second level, an order is accompanied by a difficulty 3 intellect test. But as you and your friend grow and change, this difficulty decreases until it goes away.
A good part of the book is dedicated to building what the existing world looks like in Grevakc, including the major cities, landmarks, festivals, notable people, plot hooks, and organizations. The Genesix Fellowship, for instance, is looking for the Garden of Eden, while the Butterflies are trying to prevent any research into re-establishing the ability to travel back to the future. Either of these groups, along with SATI would make interesting allies or enemies throughout the campaign.
The bestiary contains the basic stats you need for encountering most unmodified dinosaurs, though the entries focus mainly on the ones that have undergone some amount of bioengineering. I particularly loved the Teslasaurus, and ankylsaur that has been modified with electrical eel DNA. Germain provided scientific names for all of the imagined dinosaurs, but also they’re common and slang names to make your game a little more natural sounding.
The book closes with a starting adventure that I’m holding off on reading in the hopes that I can find someone else to run it for me. Germain also provides a solid reading list, and resources she found useful when writing the scenario, in case you want to build onto the setting to make it your own. Predation is of course compatible with all of the other Cypher games, so if you need a bioengineered dinosaur to show up in the Ninth World, or want to step into a Cretaceous recursion in The Strange you can easily pull from here.
My only complaint about Predation is that there isn’t more of it. I hope that in the next few years Germain and everyone at MCG can find the time to develop more for this really fantastic setting. But until then, I plan on enjoying every bit of this amazing world that we’ve been given to explore.
Images belong to Monte Cook Games, TM and © 2017 Monte Cook Games, LLC