Cypher System Conversions

Today, for a friend, I’ll be talking about how to take things you have – books, video games, or whatever else you might have on hand – and turn them into playable material with the Cypher System. It’s relatively simple, but I’ll be operating on the idea of the person doing the converting being a novice to GMing.

First thing, of course, is to pick what you want to convert; I’m going to presume that everyone has this part covered, since it’s hard to convert something otherwise. Presuming you’ve got that out of the way and you’re familiar with it, we can move on to the actual conversion.

You’ll need to figure out how to remove the main characters from the story’s spotlight and leave space for the PCs; in the case of something like Lord of the Rings, you do this by picking places and events where the Fellowship isn’t actively involved. If you’re doing something in Harry Potter, you put the characters in Hogwarts a year ahead or behind the trio and have them deal with other aspects of Hogwarts and the threat of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. In Star Wars they might be part of the Rebellion or Empire (or First Order/Resistance), but they’ve got their own story that runs parallel to the official one.

Alternately, if it’s something more open and with the characters of the official material less central to things, you can simply snip out the protagonist characters and let the PCs sit directly in their spot. Games like Mass Effect and most MMOs are good for this; books generally aren’t, because they tie the character to the world more firmly. A simple enough book might allow for it.

Then, having settled that, you need to move on to the mechanical portion; thankfully this is the Cypher System, which makes it relatively easy. At the most basic level you look at the challenges the players will face and assign levels to them so that you know what the PCs need to roll to overcome that challenge. Getting past a single upset hobbit might be only a level 2 or 3 challenge; getting past Fluffy the knock-off Cerberus is obviously tougher – a level 6 or 7 challenge at base. Identify the parts of the story that you want to be challenges for the players, assign them levels, and be ready to change it if it looks like you’ve made a mistake during game play.

After this, you’ll need to decide what challenges have special features and which are modified for certain tasks. Fluffy might be only a level 3 challenge if you bring some music to lull it to sleep; a Geth from Mass Effect might have an extra 1 to 3 levels of difficulty if you’re going against it via computer interface or if you’re dealing with it socially with a quarian in your group. Modify the challenges so that players can overcome them if they think a little creatively.

If your game involves the cyphers the system is named for, think about what you intend to hand out; rolling for it or letting the players roll for it is fine, but if this is your first time you may want to pick the cyphers beforehand so that you aren’t thrown off-kilter by a surprise cypher’s effect.

Last, decide if this is going to be a single shot or something that you’ll carry on from; if the latter, be sure to include things in the last half to give the players a reason to go into the next adventure. Maybe the opposition leader gets away and the players will want to go after them; maybe they learn about a legendary artifact hidden away; maybe there’s a dungeon to explore under the final opponent’s base. Building an ongoing story becomes easier the more you do it, but focusing on one-shot adventures is fine early on in your GMing career.

So, to summarize:

  • Pick something to convert and make sure you’re familiar with it.
  • Either remove the main characters or chart a plot next to them for the PCs to step into.
  • Assign levels to the parts that will be challenges.
  • Add modifications to the challenges so players have a reason to be creative.
  • Consider pre-assigning treasure so that nothing throws you for a loop.
  • Decide if this is a one-shot or ongoing.
  • Be prepared to invoke Rule Zero (the GM is always right) to adjust things on the fly if they’re too easy or too hard. GM intrusions are great for making things tougher, and they reward the players for things getting tougher by giving out free XP.

That’s it, really. Go forth and have fun!

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Cypher System Conversions

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