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Cypher System by Monte Cook Games: what do you think about it?

Strider1973

Explorer
Hi everybody! I'm thinking of investing my time and money on the Cypher System, by Monte Cook Games. I'm thinking of buying the Core Rulebook, Revised Edition, and the Expanded Worlds Supplement, but first I'd like to hear and read opinions and experiences of those who know the game and have played it.
There are a lot of thinks that I love about this game, from what I can see, and some things that I'm quite uncertain about if I like them or not, or how could they result at the gaming table.
In particular, I really like these things, about the Cypher System:
  1. it's a generic, universal setting and time agnostic rpg. Love this kind of game, I really like systems like Gurps (even if it's much crunchier), Fate or Savage Worlds. I really like the idea of customizing several settings using just one set of rules.
  2. it's narrative and fiction focused, with a rule system simple (without being simplistic) and elegant, from what I can see from reviews, videos and gameplay sessions
  3. it features terrific systems for character creation and development, with a lot of options for character customization
  4. the core rulebook has a fantastic "meta-" and "system agnostic" approach when it talks about storytelling, adventure and setting creation
Things I'm uncertain about:
  1. At a first impact, I'm not exactly an enthusiast of systems in which the players, and not the GM, roll all the dice, à la Dungeon World. First, for me the GM is a player too, and as a player I like rolling dice. Second, Game Masters, and not players, should roll for things like Perception, Stealth, Insight, Search, Survival and things like that. If the players roll for them, it could take away some of the suspense at the table: it's a small problem I have also with D&D 5e. Third, if as a GM I don't roll any dice, I can't fudge any roll, so, If I want to save o spare the life of some characters who have been unlucky, I can do only through the fiction and the narrative, which might be cool, but it could also be too "open" and "clear" to the players (es. okay, the orc just stunned you instead of killing you, the GM didn't want to kill you"
  2. I don't know if Adjectives (and even more Characters Arcs, even though they should be optional), might restrict too much the players' freedom in roleplaying their characters. I mean, if I play a "Furious Fighter who fights with Heavy Weapons" (I don't know if there are exactly these descriptors in the game), can I play it as thoughtful or cheerful for some sessions? Of course yes, but my questions remains, because I think that the game features mechanical advantages linked to the descriptors and the adjectives. What do you think?
  3. One last thing: cyphers. I know that they are one of the fundamental aspects of the game. I'd like to know how much essential they are to the game. I've enjoyed them playing "No, thank you evil!" (an rpg for families also by Monte Cook Games with mechanics similar to Numenera and Cypher Systems), I think that they work great in sci-fi or fantasy, as Numenera, The Strange od Gods of the Fall, but I think that they could require a little bit of thought and work by the GM if they are to be included in historical settings and the like.
So, what are your experiences, thoughts and considerations about the Cypher System?
Many thanks indeed, and I apologize for my English, very convoluted: it's not my mother tongue!
 

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Retreater

Legend
I've had nothing but bad experiences with it. My characters were all flat and didn't have options to do more than one or two things in a combat. Mechanically, the system is set up where I've seen half the party unable to contribute anything meaningful in encounters.
It's been a few years since I've tried it (thankfully). It's one of the few systems I actively avoid.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
The system uses plot coupon style mechanics where you trade back and forth meta tokens to enable some things to happen. That turns me away right off. I think it is a very streamlined system but again I didn't play past the first Numenera because I didn't like the plot coupons.
 

Retreater

Legend
I think it is a very streamlined system but again I didn't play past the first Numenera because I didn't like the plot coupons.
IME, it's "streamlined" to the point of just being a line. As I've heard other things described, it has the depth of a tablespoon.
 

Campbell

Legend
My personal experience is that the rules get out of the way in that they are really just a thin veneer over the GM deciding what happens. Outside of the cyphers I never really felt like the players had any meaningful tools to disrupt the status quo. It wasn't horrible. It's just the game did not really add to the experience of play. We would have been better off with freeform play.
 

DeviousQuail

Explorer
I DMed about a dozen sessions of Cypher. A couple were standard fantasy dungeon delves and the rest were in a modern setting using the super hero variant rules.

What I liked:
  • A lot of the mechanics of the game are great. Things like how crits work, being able to use effort to boost rolls, ease of using TotM compared to 5e, etc.
  • The list of Foci is extensive and it was really easy to make custom foci to plug into the game.
  • The classes are varied enough in their tier to tier choices to avoid every Warrior looking exactly the same.
What I didn't like:
  • Might shouldn't also be Health. I like the idea of losing Might, Speed, and Intellect if you have no more Health left. But just starting with Might taking 90% of damage sucks.
  • The way advancement is handled is not fun. Every 4th XP gets you a new tier of abilities from your class and unlocks a new foci ability. XP's 1-3 give small changes to pools, recovery, etc. Packing all the good stuff into 1/4 of your advancement makes the other 3/4 boring by comparison.
  • Using XP as currency, and meta currency in general, is a facet of gaming I don't enjoy. At all. So it's a negative for me but may not be for others.
Overall, the experience with Cypher was fine. I've stolen numerous mechanics from Cypher for use in other games making it worthwhile just for that. I don't see it being anything more than a change of pace game when we want a break from D&D though.
 

Faolyn

Hero
I've only played it a few times, and it was OK. It has its problems, though. You (the GM) are expected to randomly roll for cyphers whenever they're found, instead of deciding what seems logical. This also means that when PCs start out with cyphers, they might get something useless. That's what happened the last time I played--I had two cyphers that had no use for either me or the situation we were in. I dunno; I almost never roll randomly for treasure in any game I run, especially not for things that are effectively magic items.

Also, for a game that supposedly is about exploration, discovery, or knowledge, it really doesn't have a lot of rules on that and a very large percentage of their monsters have "hungers for flesh" or similar as their motivation. You know when people say D&D is primarily a combat game with exploration and social interaction tacked on? It's like that, but Cypher describes its system as "about both discovery and exploration, as well as achieving personal goals" then I would expect that discovery, exploration, and personal goals should get a section of the book in the same way that combat does, and that you would be able to get more non-combat abilities. And you mostly don't. Even most of the "exploration" abilities you can choose are combat/getting out of combat related.

I also feel that the company is putting out too many little physical things like decks of cards and even a big board (the guy who runs the cypher games at my table kickstarts them so gets all the goodies), which I think makes it awkward to run at times. Like you need all the expansion packs or something for a proper game.

System-wise, it's OK. I haven't played any one game long enough to be annoyed by things like your Might also being hp (also because our GM hasn't run us through combat adventures).
 

Lord Mhoram

Adventurer
It's my system of choice these days (edging out Genesys and Modern Age) - I love how simple it is. If you are looking for detailed tactical combat to drive the flavor - stay far away. It's up to GM and player to make descriptions in combat interesting - if you group defaults in D&D to "I rolled a 17 do I hit" "yes" "11 damage", then Cypher will be really bland.

My wife and I (we play this game solo) invest in character description and world that has our mechanics fit, but our imagination brings it alive. We find it really fun, and while this isn't a great description just a few big steps from freeform roleplaying (which we do often with characters in conversation and investigation, no matter the system), and it's a light enough system to work really well with that kind of approach.

WE also love using the idea of the "Subtle" Cypher - not an item, but a bennie or bonus you have, and when you use one, you get another. They can really work to support a character - with a bonus to attack meaning chi to a martial artist, magic burst to a spellcaster, or "power stunt" for a superhero.
 

Gnosistika

Mildly Ascorbic
I started playing last year. I've been a long term GM for a long while and after my group decided to take a long extended break from Genesys my one player suggested that she wanted run Cypher we all jumped in. And it is been a great experience.

I'll start with my criticism. I would have preferred a different magic system.

What I like.
Character creation is the most fun I've had in many years. It allows me to run with any crazy idea I have and make it work.
The "attribute" as resource is great, mimics getting fatigued when you exert yourself.
I like that combat is just part of the game, not a focus.

If you don't like engaging in the narative during encounters, the game is going to bland. This what ultimately ended our last Genesys game. Once we got to 400+ Xp things started slowing down, reading the dice became a chore and players became fatigued. CS is easier but requires player engagement.
If you are looking for more mechanical bite to your systems, this game is going to be bland.
If you like subsystems, the game is going to be bland.

I like the system, a lot, and will probably replace Genesys in future for a while at least.
 
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Ghost2020

Adventurer
Get the Rules Primer for a quick look

and
Cypher Shorts
You should be able to get some good ideas from these supplements about what to expect.

Also, I would say, check out The Strange. It's a great setting, with some neat concepts. It involves going to other realities, and your character changes from location to location. There's also a few adventures, a book full of other realities.

It's a different system that's for sure. I would say the GM not rolling dice is quite different, but it does let you work on story, setting up encounters, keeping track of GM Intrusions - to complicate character's lives and keep the story moving.
Monster stats are super easy to manage.

I've enjoyed what I've run, and I'm hoping to run more at some point.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I don't have time for a bigger post right this second, but in a nutshell: I really REALLY wanted to like it (a LOT of how it work "sounds" great to me), but unfortunately I found it just "meh". It was okay, but like others have said, it seems to have points that resist where you'd like it to be. (If that makes any sense).
 

jeffh

Adventurer
Here are two Facebook posts I've written about it at different times. TL;DR - tried it, didn't like it. EDIT: I should clarify that the second one is specifically about Numenera and a few bits of it may be specific to that implementation, but most of it will apply to all the main Cypher titles.


My group and I bounced right off Cypher. The mechanics are too weird and abstruse for our tastes. It's really hard to say what any of them mean in relatable, in-character terms. A high Might (for example) seems more indicative of endurance than strength, and higher scores don't (or only very indirectly) actually make you better at anything. And, especially when you see the stats in that light, there's almost nothing to differentiate characters from one another.

I feel like Cook was trying to find a middle ground between indie storygames (which don't appeal to me or some of my players at all, though I have one or two who like them) and D&D style crunch, and unlike 13th Age - a much more successful attempt at the same goal (thanks for introducing me to that one by the way!) - ended up with the worst, rather than the best, aspects of both.
Hard pass for me.

*

Not a fan.
As a GM I had a hard time translating the mechanics into anything that made sense to me and my players, and kept being put on the spot by natural 1s showing up at moments that made little narrative sense.

Players felt like there wasn't enough to differentiate their characters from one another.

I also never understood why "players roll all the dice" was supposed to be a selling point. Going in I didn't expect it to be better or worse than traditional RPG play, just different. Having actually tried it, my initial expectation was far too generous; I actively hated it. It makes me feel like a passive observer most of the time. It's also very unintuitive to most players, or at least most of my players.

The math doesn't work well and making the creature designs basically "everything on a given critter has the same difficulty except for a few explicit exceptions" puts the emphasis firmly on its worst features. A one-level difference between two creatures can be the difference between a cakewalk and a nearly insurmountable obstacle and it's very hard to gauge where that line is, and the books contain no guidelines on this topic that I was able to find. You probably could make a creature that, say, is easy to hit but packs a wallop, but the system doesn't naturally lend itself to it.

Lastly, this is more the fault of the adventure design (though the rules fail to do what good they could here), but when the game keeps telling you it's about exploration, it is, if not outright lying, at the very least displaying a profound lack of self-awareness. The books talk about this philosophy a lot but then present a system that doesn't read or play like it was designed around that philosophy at all. There's less mechanical support for exploration than there is in almost any other system I've seen. (But plenty for the sort of positioning-based tactical combat that the game explicitly says is at odds with its philosophy. It's like the system and the GMing advice were written, not only by different people, but by different people who didn't communicate much.)

And the adventures, at least the smaller-scale ones in the main books and various other sources... oh dear. They're almost completely linear, with not so much as a side passage with a treasure at the end to be found; there's nothing exploration-based about them at all. Vortex in particularly actively discourages it. It describes an environment that could lend itself to extended exploration but gives you one path to follow that LITERALLY has a glowing outline around it, and a token sidebar on what to do if the players go off the path (using, IIRC, those exact words!), that mostly amounts to "shove them back on".

And that's one of the better ones in that it at least acknowledges the possibility, if in a contemptuous sort of way, that the players will take an interest in the world around them and actually play the game the way Cook keeps hammering home that they should be playing it. Most don't even do that. To give another example, "Natural and Unnatural" from one of the mini-adventure books stops giving you any detail right at the point where anything exploration-based starts. That's the one I actually ran, but once the investigation in the town was done with I had to supply about two thirds of the adventure myself.

I went in excited to try it, and I do have to say one positive thing which is that the SETTING was a hit with my players - though even that was largely due to bits of colour I kept adding that were at most hinted at in the books. But the nuts and bolts of the mechanics and adventures are not well thought out at all and if I ever run anything else in that setting again, it won't be under those rules.
 
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Like some of the settings a lot--I'm going to do a call-out for the Strange here--but for a game with power packages I think they're simultaneously too random and too specific. I also think having the same pools that feed your abilities be the ones you take damage in is a fundamental design error, especially the one for fighting specialists. And while I think the progression in the advancement system is kind of clever, the one-off bottom cases is about as bad an idea here is it is in every other design I've seen do that.
 

mrm1138

Explorer
I've played and run it a few times, and I really like it. It's what I'd be running right now if I weren't in the middle of a long-running 5e campaign.

Unlike others, I actually really like the fact that attribute pools double as HP and XP can be used for rerolls and player intrusions. I think it adds a bit of strategy to the gameplay that makes the players have to think about what they value more in a given situation.

I also really like the fact that players make all die rolls. I feel like I'm freed up to concentrate on the story.

Last but not least, I love the simplicity of monsters and NPCs. Everything being essentially a difficulty level makes it so easy to run on the fly.
 

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