Why Play: Cypher System

The Cypher System is the ‘generic’ version of the rules first portrayed in Numenera and then refined and modified in The Strange; all three games can easily interact, and they’re all produced by Monte Cook Games. So why, if you have one or both of the first two, would you want to pick up the Cypher System Rules? Why pick up the CSR book over the others, if you don’t have any of them?

The generic aspect of the rules is one primary reason; unlike some other generic systems, the CSR book does one very important thing – it provides a set of genres and suggestions for how to use the rule system within those genres. It also includes modified rules as needed, to show potential GMs how to modify the core rules to fit their preferred game setting.

Another is the simple ease of the rules; while character generation can take some tme for anyone not fully familiar with the game, the rules involved with playing the game make it easy to pick up and easy to understand. It’s an ideal system for people new to tabletop RPGs, and for long-time players looking for a system that won’t take a lot of time to become familiar with.

The core book comes with four example genres already laid out; fantasy, science fiction, horror, and superheroic. Each one comes with examples of what descriptors and foci will work readily in the genre, example character concepts, tweaks to the rules for the genre as needed, examples of artifacts to fit the genre, special descriptors that might apply, and lists of possible equipment and suggested creatures from the book’s bestiary.

The best example of the rule tweaks comes from the superheroic genre, which introduces the concept of power shifts – a way for superheroes to go beyond the normal 1-10 bounds of the Cypher System, letting them exceed human capabilities in their specialties by granting them what amounts to permanent, automatic Effort. It’s a minor rule tweak that adds a tremendous amount of flavor and function – which is, really, the nature of the Cypher System itself.

One top of characters, rule functions, and genre sections, the core book also contain a GM-specific segment, containing creatures, sample NPCs, a selection of cyphers, and advice on how to run the game to best effect. Overall, it’s one of the better-made sections on GMing advice that I’ve seen, covering the gamut from teaching new players the ropes to handling mature themes in a group.

I can say with confidence that I’d feel comfortable running most of the settings I’m familiar with using these rules; a few need special care and handling that the CSR can’t quite mimic without being bent a bit too far out of the basic shape, but everything from the Pathfinder setting of Golarion to the cyberpunk-and-sorcery of Shadowrun and the space opera of Star Wats can handily fit inside this toolkit of rules with only a few tweaks.

If you have a favorite setting that you’d like to introduce new people to without introducing them to the often complex rule systems attached to those settings, certainly give the Cypher System a try; with a new Kickstarter apparently in the works for the system in the near future, now is a good time to give it a test to see if you like it.

Why Play: Cypher System

2 thoughts on “Why Play: Cypher System

  1. Thanks for your review. Haven’t tried the system yet but I own the book and will do it in the near future. I’m curious about those settings that won’t work out of the box, as you write, “a few need special care and handling that the CSR can’t quite mimic without being bent a bit too far out of the basic shape”, and what you can do about it.


    1. Kassil Roshah says:

      One specific example is Eclipse Phase, which I detailed a Why Play on today, and the Warhammer 40K universe. Some specific subsystems in EP don’t work well with the way the Cypher System works, although it can be kludged around for those truly interested, and the over-the-top grimdark nature of 40K is poorly emulated by the Cypher System, where you _always_ have a chance, one way or another; I’ll look at the ones I don’t think will work easily with the CSR setup and do a post about it sometime soon.


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