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


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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!
I suspect we have VASTLY different criteria for evaluating RPGs. In terms of character-facing mechanics and chargen in general I don't have any real objections to what is there.

For me, the problem with this game is what is missing. Its written as if the last 20 years of RPG design basically didn't happen... There is no mention of how to make a story unfold and how the players and GM input into it, and no PROCESS for this is described at all.

That is, this game is basically from 1976 in terms of the role of the GM and the players. The GM makes up EVERYTHING that happens. Its her setting, her plot, etc. and the players are going to adventure in it. That was fine as a first cut at RPGing 40+ years ago, but Monte Cook should be able to do better. I feel like the game spends all its arrows on character mechanics and how the GM presents things, but nothing on the concept of play. Look at any PbtA game, there's a much more sophisticated design there, which is still equally simple.

So, I might take some ideas, possibly, in terms of some fun ideas for PC facing stuff for another game, but I wouldn't play this game as it is written. There are just better designs out there.
 

Retreater

Legend
That is, this game is basically from 1976 in terms of the role of the GM and the players. The GM makes up EVERYTHING that happens. Its her setting, her plot, etc. and the players are going to adventure in it. That was fine as a first cut at RPGing 40+ years ago, but Monte Cook should be able to do better. I feel like the game spends all its arrows on character mechanics and how the GM presents things, but nothing on the concept of play. Look at any PbtA game, there's a much more sophisticated design there, which is still equally simple.
That's basically how every RPG works, from D&D to Pathfinder, from Call of Cthulhu to Shadowrun, from Savage Worlds to Genesys, from Warhammer Fantasy to GURPS. Basically every RPG that isn't FATE or PbtA, and those are definitely outlier, indie games that aren't for everyone.
 

That's basically how every RPG works, from D&D to Pathfinder, from Call of Cthulhu to Shadowrun, from Savage Worlds to Genesys, from Warhammer Fantasy to GURPS. Basically every RPG that isn't FATE or PbtA, and those are definitely outlier, indie games that aren't for everyone.
LOL, no offense, but really classic response! Only some weird game that isn't really an RPG and doesn't fall under the aegis of "every RPG" would ever work that way.

I got news for you the vast majority of RPGs that have come out in the last 10 years work more like FATE or PbtA than any of the ones you mention (which are all older games, though some obviously have had updates in the 2010s). I'd also question whether PF2 really falls into the 'trad' category. I think it probably is more apt to put it in the same bucket as 4e, which is "games which can be interpreted as trad, but provide ample means to play them as story games."

My response is, all the games you listed are "definitely not for everyone." That pretty much is a given with all RPGs is it not?

I mean, the odd thing with Cypher is, it feels like the author WANTS to write a Story Game, but doesn't quite dare to take the plunge, or can't quite figure out how to structure things that way. He gets close a few times, you can expend an XP to amend the fiction, but ONLY to remove a 'GM Excursion', which is basically a forced obstacle where the GM imposes a consequence, entirely at his discretion and outside player control. I think you can also force a reroll by paying an XP point, again simply allowing the player to UNDO something. When I first looked at the description of the game, I really thought it would inevitably do something modern, but in the end, sadly no.

Honestly, OVERALL, it reminds me strongly of the generic d6 system (Old d6 Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off). Chargen and such are very similar, though obviously the details of mechanics are pretty different.
 

Retreater

Legend
I got news for you the vast majority of RPGs that have come out in the last 10 years work more like FATE or PbtA than any of the ones you mention
I mean if you want to take all of those indie games that combined sell maybe 1% of any of the other games I mentioned, sure. But they have no perceivable market share or impact on the broader hobby.
Do your local game stores have organized play for FATE? Are there popular live plays for PbtA? Is DREAD featured on Stephen Colbert?
 

Ghost2020

Adventurer
I mean, the odd thing with Cypher is, it feels like the author WANTS to write a Story Game, but doesn't quite dare to take the plunge, or can't quite figure out how to structure things that way.
No, it actually doesn't.
It's a medium crunch game, that shifts some GM actions around, and allows for the "I have a neat idea to add a complication".
Monte is one of the authors of D&D 3rd edition, I would imagine after that process he wanted a lighter dungeon crawl game that relieved the GM of some book keeping.

It seems to be that you're implying that Cypher is a bad story style game. Which it's not, that isn't one of its objectives.
 

Campbell

Legend
I agree with much of your criticism @AbdulAlhazred , but I do not think Monte Cook wanted to create a game that was anything like Apocalypse World. When you look at the other games he has developed and the videos where he is running Numenera it's fairly obvious that Monte Cook is very much attached GM storytelling and world building as a central feature of play. I think Cypher is pretty much custom tailored to enable that sort of play in the most seamless way possible. It does it more smoothly than pretty much any game I have come across.
 

I mean if you want to take all of those indie games that combined sell maybe 1% of any of the other games I mentioned, sure. But they have no perceivable market share or impact on the broader hobby.
Do your local game stores have organized play for FATE? Are there popular live plays for PbtA? Is DREAD featured on Stephen Colbert?
Well, I'm perfectly happy to look at those market share numbers you have.... I mean, this is the internet, I believe actual evidence of things, everything else is fantasy. In any case, the majority of games that are being published today are Story Games by my definition, not 'trad' RPGs. Yes, D&D has a large market share, as always, but we really don't know what the market overall looks like in any detail. Unless, again, you have some market research the rest of us don't.

Otherwise, I'm going to simply restate what I said before. You can label anything that doesn't fit your opinion of what RPGs should be as 'not an RPG' and 'fringe' and whatever other terms you are about to use, but its utterly irrelevant to this discussion. My bet is PbtA and FitD based games outsell Cypher System stuff 10:1 at least, does that matter?

The observation stands, as purely my opinion and analysis of the game, which is all the OP was asking for, what I thought of it. Which I'm sticking to. It is a decently well-written game, good production values overall, but the rules seem antiquated, especially considering the types of stories it is aiming at telling. Any game where I would consider using Cypher System I would 100x over build a PbtA based game, or run one of the dozens of high-quality ones that already exist, or maybe something based on FATE/SotC, Cortex, etc. There are a LOT of choices out there! A lot of very slick designs that work really well! It is basically irrelevant to me how much market share they have, I'm not a lemming! lol.
 

I agree with much of your criticism @AbdulAlhazred , but I do not think Monte Cook wanted to create a game that was anything like Apocalypse World. When you look at the other games he has developed and the videos where he is running Numenera it's fairly obvious that Monte Cook is very much attached GM storytelling and world building as a central feature of play. I think Cypher is pretty much custom tailored to enable that sort of play in the most seamless way possible. It does it more smoothly than pretty much any game I have come across.
I'm not saying he did. I'm just saying, from my perspective the game has little to offer. Honestly, for trad FRPGs 5e is perfectly good. I've played in some 5e campaigns. I ran some stuff a few years back with d6 variants, which did what Cypher is doing, maybe one is better than the other, I'm not really interested in even measuring that, because I wouldn't use d6 again either. It is not a BAD system, it is just old-fashioned.

I've bit the apple of Story Games and there is simply no going back. I can play some older games for the sake of old times or simply because I really know the other players really well, etc. but I won't run a trad game ever again. I don't even run 4e anymore, I've hacked it so much its a completely new game at this point.
 

Tantavalist

Explorer
My opinions on the Cypher System pretty much match the majority of replies here. It's got enough good ideas that I really, really want to like the game and see it work. But the unfortunate reality once you do more than casually peruse the rulebooks is that it just falls short.

What's even more frustrating for me is that a viable alternative exists. Invisible Sun, also by Monte Cook Games, is clearly inspired by the Cypher System. It includes all the elements that people have said that they like about CS while also solving every single issue with it that people have raised in this thread. It's a true 2e of Cypher, rather than what was released as the 2e of Numenera. It also has the single best XP system that I've ever seen, one that I often adapt to other games ever since I came across IS.

Unfortunately the company seems to be dead set on keeping the game system as a dirty secret that they hide from the gaming community as a whole. Invisible Sun is very, very steeply priced and that paywall stands between Joe Gamer and the single best product that Monte Cook Games has every produced. I will recommend IS to anyone who asks about it, but I also fully understand if anyone doesn't want to take the plunge and risk it.
 

Aldarc

Legend
He gets close a few times, you can expend an XP to amend the fiction, but ONLY to remove a 'GM Excursion', which is basically a forced obstacle where the GM imposes a consequence, entirely at his discretion and outside player control. I think you can also force a reroll by paying an XP point, again simply allowing the player to UNDO something. When I first looked at the description of the game, I really thought it would inevitably do something modern, but in the end, sadly no.
FWIW, Player Intrusions are now a thing as of the latest iteration of Numenera and the Cypher System.

I agree with much of your criticism @AbdulAlhazred , but I do not think Monte Cook wanted to create a game that was anything like Apocalypse World. When you look at the other games he has developed and the videos where he is running Numenera it's fairly obvious that Monte Cook is very much attached GM storytelling and world building as a central feature of play. I think Cypher is pretty much custom tailored to enable that sort of play in the most seamless way possible. It does it more smoothly than pretty much any game I have come across.
I generally think that this is how Monte Cook and a number of fans of the Cypher System understand the Cypher System as a story-focused game.

My opinions on the Cypher System pretty much match the majority of replies here. It's got enough good ideas that I really, really want to like the game and see it work. But the unfortunate reality once you do more than casually peruse the rulebooks is that it just falls short.

What's even more frustrating for me is that a viable alternative exists. Invisible Sun, also by Monte Cook Games, is clearly inspired by the Cypher System. It includes all the elements that people have said that they like about CS while also solving every single issue with it that people have raised in this thread. It's a true 2e of Cypher, rather than what was released as the 2e of Numenera. It also has the single best XP system that I've ever seen, one that I often adapt to other games ever since I came across IS.

Unfortunately the company seems to be dead set on keeping the game system as a dirty secret that they hide from the gaming community as a whole. Invisible Sun is very, very steeply priced and that paywall stands between Joe Gamer and the single best product that Monte Cook Games has every produced. I will recommend IS to anyone who asks about it, but I also fully understand if anyone doesn't want to take the plunge and risk it.
I would like to see MCG play around with IS or even offer a more stripped down version without elaborate language and terminology. Unfortunately, MCG seems more interested in publishing materials for the Cypher System and some upcoming heist game for Kickstarter.
 

FWIW, Player Intrusions are now a thing as of the latest iteration of Numenera and the Cypher System.
Interesting. That would move it a bit beyond 1984's MSHRP at least! I suspect it would still benefit from some additional process around things like exactly what is meant by 'success' on a check. PERSONALLY I would like to see something a bit more 'FitD-like' in terms of something that would govern the structure of conflict a bit more.

Even with Player Intrusions (and I'm assuming they are somewhat analogous to GM intrusions, maybe I'm wrong and there's more to it) there generally needs to be something which governs the valence of a check. In that sense Cypher System in its initial form is on a par with 5e. There's simply no way for a player to know or gauge what the impact of a check will be. Why spend tons of effort on gaining a success when you may be obligated by the GM to make 5 more tough checks to get to your goal? As with 5e and other 'trad' systems, combat is usually an obvious exception where the stakes and obstacles are clearly spelled out, so I'm sure THAT works fine.

But you need something like FitD clocks, 4e SCs, or else a very robust set of process/principles that spells out how things must 'move on now' such as PbtA games have. CS simply lacks that, even with the new rule (I think, correct me if I'm wrong).
I generally think that this is how Monte Cook and a number of fans of the Cypher System understand the Cypher System as a story-focused game.
Right, in terms of plot and overall direction and such, you are attending GM theater, or perhaps at most making suggestions that will be politely heard. Anything else is outside the realm of the game proper.
I would like to see MCG play around with IS or even offer a more stripped down version without elaborate language and terminology. Unfortunately, MCG seems more interested in publishing materials for the Cypher System and some upcoming heist game for Kickstarter.
So, what exactly is different in IS? Player Intrusions? I don't even really know the genre of the game (I haven't really followed MCG that closely).
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
It works perfectly for a beginner rpg like with No Thank You, Evil.

Numenera is a pretty great setting, and the Cypher mechanics are the best mechanic I've ever seen for single-use "magic" items.

Beyond that though, the PC mechanics are shockingly restricting for such an otherwise open ended system, so I couldn't recommend it
 



Aldarc

Legend
Right, in terms of plot and overall direction and such, you are attending GM theater, or perhaps at most making suggestions that will be politely heard. Anything else is outside the realm of the game proper.
Monte Cook is a product of his time as a game designer. He seems fairly rooted in '90s-'00s trad gaming but has an impressive '10s hype machine for his Kickstarter projects.

When I look at the things that I like about Monte Cook as a designer, it tends to be more about the worlds he creates (e.g., Ptolus, Diamond Throne, Numenera, Invisible Sun, etc.) and less about his mechanics.

So, what exactly is different in IS? Player Intrusions? I don't even really know the genre of the game (I haven't really followed MCG that closely).
I don't know it that well, and I have not seen a tutorial that explained the game mechanics properly. From what I gather, it's now a d10 system. But instead of 1-10, it's read as 0-9. Anything with a difficulty of 10+ requires the addition of magic dice, which is hardly out of the ordinary in a game where everyone is a mage. But complications can occur when using the magic die.

Also from what I recall, there is also a different XP and character advancement progression. There are a lot of other variables like the Sorte Deck, but these are the things that I sometimes have difficulty discerning through Cook's commitment to grandiose style over technical clarity in his writing of Invisible Sun.

It works perfectly for a beginner rpg like with No Thank You, Evil.

Numenera is a pretty great setting, and the Cypher mechanics are the best mechanic I've ever seen for single-use "magic" items.

Beyond that though, the PC mechanics are shockingly restricting for such an otherwise open ended system, so I couldn't recommend it
I recall how underwhelmed one of my players was after he went from the character creation of Fate to Numenera.
 

Monte Cook is a product of his time as a game designer. He seems fairly rooted in '90s-'00s trad gaming but has an impressive '10s hype machine for his Kickstarter projects.

When I look at the things that I like about Monte Cook as a designer, it tends to be more about the worlds he creates (e.g., Ptolus, Diamond Throne, Numenera, Invisible Sun, etc.) and less about his mechanics.
I have missed a lot of it. I recall playing in a game that was set in Ptolus once. It seemed VAST, but otherwise there wasn't so much different from things like City State of the Invincible Overlord, etc.
Reading about Invisible Sun, it sounds like a really ambitious sort of Zelazny-esque kind of thing, or sort of a 'magical Matrix' kind of thing. I'd get kicked in the arse if I paid $100 for a game though, lol.
I don't know it that well, and I have not seen a tutorial that explained the game mechanics properly. From what I gather, it's now a d10 system. But instead of 1-10, it's read as 0-9. Anything with a difficulty of 10+ requires the addition of magic dice, which is hardly out of the ordinary in a game where everyone is a mage. But complications can occur when using the magic die.

Also from what I recall, there is also a different XP and character advancement progression. There are a lot of other variables like the Sorte Deck, but these are the things that I sometimes have difficulty discerning through Cook's commitment to grandiose style over technical clarity in his writing of Invisible Sun.
It seems like an OK style for a setting. Not so sure it works for me in terms of a game. Cypher System seems mostly reasonably clear mechanically.
I recall how underwhelmed one of my players was after he went from the character creation of Fate to Numenera.
 

Lord Mhoram

Adventurer
For me, the problem with this game is what is missing. Its written as if the last 20 years of RPG design basically didn't happen... There is no mention of how to make a story unfold and how the players and GM input into it, and no PROCESS for this is described at all.

That is, this game is basically from 1976 in terms of the role of the GM and the players. The GM makes up EVERYTHING that happens. Its her setting, her plot, etc. and the players are going to adventure in it. That was fine as a first cut at RPGing 40+ years ago, but Monte Cook should be able to do better.

I agree with the general description, but that is one of the reasons I love it. The mechanics are for things that the players cannot do - fighting, skill checks, etc. No rules to get in the way of interaction, immersion or story creation - which I and my players do as second nature. I have tried and don't like Fate, PbtA and some other games you mentioned. I much prefer a traditional GM is world and most of the stories, players are characters who impact the story by action as their characters.

In a sense, Cypher came off like a traditional game for people that like a traditional structure, to get close to some of what games like you mentioned offer, without the mechanics, that I, for one, find irritating.
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
Since people are talking about Cypher in this thread.... someone above in the thread asked for some files I made for Cypher Fantasy, so here is the link:

Cypher System Fantasy Compendium - Monte Cook Games | Cypher System Creator Program | DriveThruRPG.com

Basically, it's all 5E OGL spells, most 5E OGL magical items, and some OGL monsters (and how to do all your own conversions, the formulas used in everything in the book.

If the link is not allowed mods please delete, I don't know if links are allowed as I posted this link one other place.
 
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