Cyper System: X-COM

Today, I’ll be looking at a quick and dirty conversion of the X-COM video game into something that can serve as either a one-shot or a campaign for the Cypher System.

X-COM exists in a slightly nebulous state, genre-wise. It’s certainly got plenty of soft sci-fi elements, but it’s also strongly imbued with modern elements and some aspects of science fantasy. Plot-wise, it seems relatively simple – aliens start terrorizing the Earth as part of an invasion, using an array of machines, genetic engineering, and psychic powers to do so. Unrevealed at first is that this isn’t a “real” invasion attempt; the masterminds of the invasion are attempting to create a superior lifeform, and manipulating humans into it as a part of the process. Many of the creatures faced by combat teams are failed attempts to find or create this superior lifeform.

Notably, all four of the Types from the Cypher System fit equally well into such a game; while you might expect it to be a military game, the truth is that X-COM makes it clear that the organization depends on maintaining the good will of the various governments in the face of the terrorism inflicted by the alien forces, exploring locations altered by alien activity, and bringing civilians to safety. A campaign could readily be built around an advance scout team, infiltrators in one of the groups operating in opposition to X-COM, or a straight-up military campaign.

Alien foes – and human ones who’ve either turned quisling or decided to oppose X-COM to pursue their own goals – can turn up all over. A typical campaign in this model, however, will likely follow a campaign of escalation; players will need to focus themselves in order to be ready before each new wave of danger breaks over the world. Going from Sectoids and Thin Men to more powerful Mutons and Sectopods will consume campaign arcs, with desperate combats occupying much of the direct game time. Player ingenuity will lead to the GM needing to arbitrate actions that the video game would never have allowed – which is where the Cypher System really shines.

The rules for Subtle Cyphers should certainly be used for an X-COM game, save for those cyphers that represent advanced alien technology not able to be reproduced on Earth. On the other hand, the research aspect of X-COM ensures that the GM should come up with interesting options to swap out for the usual advancement aspects if a player so desires. The option to switch Foci should also be available; advances as the campaign progresses may make some Foci available when they were at first, allowing things like Fuses Flesh and Steel or Focuses Mind Over Matter to be viable.

The culmination of most campaigns will be the assault on the mothership, an event that involves facing particularly powerful Ethereals (strongly psionic aliens and the theoretical original species that began the attempt to create a New Species). While ordinarily this isn’t possible without a psi-active individual with a unique level of power, for the purposes of a Cypher System game the players may come up with ingenious methods of assaulting the ship as non-psychic humans. No matter what, there exist natural follow-ups to such games – not the least being post-apocalyptic games where the characters, new or old, have to deal with an Earth changed forever in the aftermath of the invasion – from the human scale of governments and societies scarred by the attacks and shaken by the proof that Others exist and are hostile to the level of genetically engineered lifeforms disrupting the ecosystem and making the world an essentially alien planet.

Come back tomorrow for a few converted creatures – Sectoids, Thin Men, and Mutons!

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Cyper System: X-COM

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