One of the key components of the Cypher system lies in the existence of the cyphers – one shot items that provide players with powers that can be as ridiculously powerful and unusual as the GM wants. With that in mind, I’ll be dipping into Cypher Space again to go over how these tools interact with the soft sci-fi setting I have.
I’m going to start by dividing cyphers into two categories – modern and Prior. Modern cyphers are those that, even if they’re not common, the players stand a chance of finding something available when they arrive at a civilized star system. Healing packs, short-term defense screens, one-shot weapons like grenades, and the like are the kind of thing that you can expect to find among the ranks of modern cyphers. The current era of galactic civilization is still comparatively young and working on learning the secrets of the universe anew, so unusual devices will still be pretty exotic and hard to come by.
Cyphers from the Priors, on the other hand, are the kind of thing that players will stumble across by accident on worlds with ruins from the great civilizations of the past, the ones who mastered the fundamental nature of the universe and manipulated it for their own use. A modern cypher might get you a jetpack that lets you fly around for a few hours; a Prior cypher will get you an anti-gravity sled that lasts a full day before the last charge runs out. Prior devices are an excuse to bend, break, and/or ignore the laws of physics on a whim, at the will of the GM who chooses to let them loose in the game. There’s no promise of ever seeing another cypher like that again, and the effects are almost certain to be amazing.
Often, modern cyphers are attempts to replicate the effects of Prior cyphers; the industrial world of Zuzian IV is well-known for producing Hyperpulse Grenades that open miniscule rifts into hyperspace, briefly exposing an area to the strange radiation. These grenades are an attempt at duplicating the failsafes used by the Zuzian Empire’s spies, a cache of Prior devices keyed to activate when the spy dies; the activation tears open a rift that draws the spy’s corpse and most other things nearby into hyperspace, effectively exiling them from the universe. Even the best attempts at recreating Prior devices falls short by orders of magnitude, however.
Other, more subtle Prior cyphers also exist; things like jewelry dug up from an ancient ruin, still glistening despite the eons, may have a special power woven into it by ancient technology. It may provide a sudden burst of Armor in the form of a probability twist, making the damaging shots glance to the side, or it might subtly magnify the wearer’s inertia, granting them an asset in movement-related tasks. These cyphers are almost never recognized as such, given their level of near-magical power, and no knock-offs are likely to exist.
It would be remiss to not also address the existence of artifacts in Cypher Space, given their similarity to cyphers. Again, artifacts can be divided into modern and Prior categories; modern artifacts are almost always attempts to recreate Prior devices. As such, a modern artifact might be something like the energystaves of the Scions of Sorkios, elegant-looking poles crammed with machinery that can produce a controlled ‘spike’ of a force field at the end. These devices can be used to very slowly and crudely hack through any matter of a lower level than the energystaff itself, and have a distinctive silver-blue radiance when activated that makes them appear quite impressive in the hands of the Scion Imperial Guard.
The device from which the energystaves are derived, however, is the sacred symbol of the Scions – the Force Halberd of Sorkios, a delicate pole of metal handed down since before recorded memory among the Scions that can generate an axe-like blade of force that can easily cleave materials of a level equal or lower than it, as well as produce blasts of kinetic energy that can flatten anything in a small area. The Scions rarely activate the Prior device, fearful that it may one day run out of power.
Another Prior ‘artifact’ that modern artifacts have been derived from is the Antaran Sentinel Ship, a destroyer-sized automated ship that remains in orbit around Antara II; attempts to communicate with it are met with silence, attempts to approach it are met with increasingly powerful weaponry, and attempts to attack the world it guards are met with horrifically powerful responses; any ship-based weapon systems that power up within a light-minute of the ship will find a sensor lock on them. Even the planet itself isn’t entirely safe; weapons above personal firearms on the surface are destroyed with a precision orbital strike.
The Antaran people are absolute pacifists as a result, but their proximity to the destructive power of the ship has given them all they need to build sidearms that can mimic the power of the ship’s armament. These are used on Antara II as tools for sculpting the landscape; robots are sent out with them to flatten areas for new building or clear fields to make them ready for planting, in case the power of the device should spike too high and prompt the Sentinel to destroy it.
The Antaran Sentinel Guns aren’t particularly powerful, but the resonance of their beams allows them to bypass most forms of defense and carve straight through normal matter, rendering both conventional armoring and force fields effectively useless. Unfotunately, attempts to scale the weapons up have all spectacularly backfired, with the least-destructive attempt leaving a crater a kilometer across behind.
Finding a cache of Prior devices – particularly a cache all of the same type – is the dream of many members of Exploration looking to retire early on a new fortune. More often, the challenges involved in such a cache result in the other kind of early retirement…