Third day, third Cypher System Kickstarter look-over, to see what we know, what we can probably extrapolate, and what I, at least, am hoping for from the setting. Of all three, Unmasked is the one that catches my interest the most sharply; it promises a mix of psychological horror and superheroes, two things that are often mixed badly but which work well when properly blended. On top of that, I have a tendency to drizzle psychological horror into most of the games I run, so this is certainly something that speaks to me.
What we know for sure
You’re someone with a ruined childhood, a person who was locked up before becoming something other than your baseline self. This suggests most of the characters probably have either some form of significant mental illness (or are at least treated that way by other people) or that they’re criminals. Given the horror aspect, I’m betting it goes more toward the former than the latter.
At some point during your confinement, you make a mask; the artwork for the cover shows a person wearing a gas mask, a person with the kind of goggles that might go with an industrial work site, and someone wearing a ski mask with rather large buttons sewn over the eyeholes. Two of the three are exhibiting obvious supernatural powers, while the other probably wouldn’t be packing the hardware she is without some kind of superhuman might. The masks give the wearers superheroic power, but also erode their sense of identity as, presumably, the superhero aspect takes over.
There’s a place called Magonia mentioned, as it suggests that everyone who wears one of these masks remembers the place from their childhood; all of you are looking for it, and all of you know something terrible is coming. It’s not clear if this terrible thing is coming to Magonia from Elsewhere, from Magonia to the normal world, or from the normal world to Magonia.
There’s going to be plenty of superheroism available to anyone who wants to just straight-up go four-color-comic, I expect; you can do that with the Cypher System itself, and I fully expect Unmasked to be usable as a backdrop to this kind of thing. That said, the horror aspect could be far more interesting, as it begs the question of how much of what you see and do is real and how much is just in your head.
The Masks are what’s got me going, though; I fully expect ideas for how to adapt foci into Masks, and that swapping Masks with someone else may be able to alter your Focus into something new – a luchador mask decorated with flames may give you a fire-themed focus, while a solid black ski mask might give you command over powers of darkness. All of them likely come with suggestions on how the Masks can influence the personality of the wearer, as well.
You’ll probably be able to expect a full rogues’ gallery of other Masked people, as well – good, bad, and indifferent alike. I’m hoping for clear-cut Good Guys who are still pretty horrific – people who’ve let themselves be subsumed entirely into the persona of an over-the-top cliche-spouting hero who just cannot function properly in a world stained with shades of grey. I’m also hoping for a nice list of apparent villains who keep their Mask at bay, manipulating the power it offers and the corrosion it inflicts on their sense of self as they work to actually make the world a better place and stop whatever the terrible doom that’s coming is.
More than that, I’m expecting it to include the people who think they’re helping by trying to cure you of ‘Disassociative Mask Disorder’ but who are unwitting pawns in a struggle for something much more powerful and dangerous.
What I’m hoping for
I’m hoping that the game gets the psychological horror blended smoothly into the superhero aspect, rather than the clumpy mess I usually see when people try; I have some faith it’ll happen, since MCG tends to put a lot of care into their products, but there’s always a risk for something that touches on any kind of horror that it’ll be done badly. The farther you go from the kind that gets passed off for horror on the movie screen via gore and surprise, the easier it gets to do it badly.
I’m also hoping for the big threat of the setting to not be in the rogues’ gallery. I’d rather have a set of options as to what the danger is, each one with a few pages of detail about it and how a campaign built around it might go. I’d love to see an option where Magonia is under threat and all the Masks know it, but they have to figure out if the threat is one of their own, something entirely alien, or the encroachment of mundane society. I’d also like to see one where the threat is growing in the heart of Magonia and puts all the well-meaning people that are interfering at risk, both via infestation and conversion and by outright destruction. A Mythos-ish option, where the Masked world and the mundane world are both equally at risk but only the Masks can detect it and fight it is another delightful idea.
I’m also hoping for a set of foci that become progressively more horrific and take an ever-greater toll on the sanity of the mask-wearer to use them, making the focus a struggle between the person and the thing that exists on the other side of the mask’s power. Something that suggests that perhaps the masks themselves are the threat, both to Magonia and to the mundane world – and the only way to fight them is by using them, creating a downward spiral destined to fall apart into ruin at the end. The question is how long you can hold out and keep things together before you slip and become one of the monsters you’ve been fighting?
Lastly, I’d like to see something to allow for powersets tied to Masks; an easy way to hot-swap your character in the middle of everything by trading one mask for another, more quickly and painlessly than the way it operates in The Strange. Perhaps even tie personality traits to masks – so that if multiple people wear identical masks, the same traits manifest for all of them, and perhaps even they might find themselves with an urge to work together to do the will of the persona the mask represents.
And that kind of existential erosion and Mythos-grade paranoia are why I’m looking forward to Unmasked.