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

aramis erak

Legend
I've read a lot of good things about it. So I grabbed the humblebundle a couple weeks back.

I had no bleeding clue which book was the initial corebook. There's the "Discovery Corebook" and the "Destiny Corebook," and the "Numenera Players Guide." I started with Discovery, which seems to be the right one.

Actually skimming a bit in the discovery corebook...
1d20 for 3× Difficulty number... a bit coarse. That abilities shift the Difficulty in steps is no big deal for me.
All rolls player facing. I'm good with that.
Layout? functional and pretty.
Fixed damage, bonuses to in on 17+? Not a dealbreaker, but...
3 stats? Hmm...
Effort spending from stat pools? It's a way of giving a bonus
Att Pool, att edge, and max effort... it keeps the numbers in check. Spending pools to use abilities...

Initial classes... Glaive? Jack? Nano? Jack is a good label for what it is... but Glaive and Nano? If you have to have read the rulebook to understand what the class is about, it seems a bit pretentious.

Checking Destiny, the new types, again, are one clear (Wright), and one WTF? (Arkus) The third, Delve, is hinting at its competences.

I see influences from Fate, from Dying Earth, from D&D... I can also see some influences from Baker's Apocalypse World, but they're small and in tone. «GM interruptions» is a term that is clearly is from the narrativist playbook. (pun intended.) And it works very much like Fate «compels.» Those interruptions are the kind of thing that Baker was avoiding in AW; in AW, they are only for when the story stalls. In Fate, they're for enforcing the disad element of aspects.
Here, they're not clear on the why, only on the how.

Advancement seems to be potentially really quick, too.

I could see running it, but I wouldn't have been willing to pay the original price. It feels on first read like "Monte does Dying Earth better than Gary"...

It's definitely neither trad nor totally narrativist. Like Fate, it's a mechanicalized narrativism, with strong nods to Trad.

I've got other things to try first... And other things to return to before hand.
 

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It's definitely neither trad nor totally narrativist. Like Fate, it's a mechanicalized narrativism, with strong nods to Trad.

I've got other things to try first... And other things to return to before hand.
Some of the choices are a bit odd but the rules really encourage exploration and interaction as much as conflict, IMO. Additionally, for me at least, it requires the right group. Back in 2016 the group I had was great but preferred combat, but these days the group I'm with has some great role-players and we've played together long enough that the interactions are top-notch. If you try it, I hope it works out for you.
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
Sorry to raise this thread, but I saw that you had Private Message your notes to a few people and I was hoping you'd willing to do that for me. Thanks!
totally agree.. could you send me the pm?
thanks

BHH
I'd like to jump in on this too! :)
Sorry I didn't reply sooner, I don't read these forums much anymore.

Here ya go!

 

daddystabz

Explorer
It is one of my favorite systems of all-time and I've played/GM'ed nearly everything you can imagine in my over 30 years of TTRPG experience. Numenera is also one of my favorite settings ever. I disagree with a lot of the criticisms in this thread. I have a HUGE RPG collection and have read soooooo many games. Cypher simply rocks for me.
 

I've only played Numenera and it was thoroughly and unequivocally meh for me. There were some interesting ideas in the setting. But the basic mechanics simply gave almost nothing and indeed when the only effect being a strong character has is providing a spendable dice pool then the playing habits it encourages are turtling and avoiding the rules because you have basic skill at very little, just little chits that add to d10 rolls and that you want to keep for when they are valuable.
It is one of my favorite systems of all-time and I've played/GM'ed nearly everything you can imagine in my over 30 years of TTRPG experience. Numenera is also one of my favorite settings ever. I disagree with a lot of the criticisms in this thread. I have a HUGE RPG collection and have read soooooo many games. Cypher simply rocks for me.
Could you explain why? Becaue this isn't my experience at all.
 

Could you explain why? Becaue this isn't my experience at all.

I also love Cypher, so I will respond as well, even though I'm not who the question was directed at.

I think Cypher fills a niche that is almost impossible to fill and it does a great job of it. It walks the line of trad system/narrative approach. And that is why everone says "I want to like it, but just can't". People who want a robust mechanics to help define progression and flavor find it lacking as it is somewhat mechanics light... but still a traditional system; for example -Task resolution instead of conflict resolution, what is on your character sheet is your skills (although anyone can try just about any skill with just an characteristics role), "hit points" and such. People looking at it as a loose system to have narrative options find it lacking even though it has some elements of narrative mechanics (GM intrustion, Player intrusion, abilities fairly freeform to be defined how the players want - with something being magic or tech, or mutation or just something else).

Why I think it fails to find purchase with many people are those that are solidly in one of those camps, and Cypher is sort of sitting in the muddy area between them.

Enough theory though - lets talk why I like it. My preferences will be on major display here:
For the last 30 or so years my primary system has been HERO. Powers are generic with the player defining the special effects - 10d6 ranged damage could be fire, ice, a telekinetic punch a batarang, a nonlethal bullet - and that was one of the absolute strengths of the system. Your character idea is not constrained by special effects that the designers came up with. However HERO is a very crunch system, and can take lots of time to prep, notably if you build all the npcs yourself. But it does give lots of imaginative freedom.
I do prefer a Trad game where the GM controls the world, and the players control the characters and a task resolution (as opposed to conflict resolution) in the way the game is handled.
But as I have gotten older, I find I have less time, and especially the wife has less time and enthusiasm for all the mechanics. So we have been looking for a universal game to fit our needs. The wife was really frustrated with D&D 3.X/Pathfinder, as she likes to structure stories out the game, even using literary tools (Rising falling action, foreshadowing ect) and felt constrained by that system; and while she would set up possible hooks, the players would respond, and she would change what was being told (sandbox rather than railroad). HERO worked better as she could just build whatever she wanted. We tried Fantasy Age/Modern Age, Genesys and a couple others.
Then we found Cypher. It has a robust enough ruleset in mechanics to ground the game reality in, but a very open flexible approach to how the world runs, the story and such to make telling stories fun again. And after 30 years of hero, with us defining effects of abilities based a slim mechanical base, we had no issues making Cypher come alive.

All in all it is best, in my opinion, for people who like the idea of narrative games, but hate the structure that tends to come along with them (fate aspects for example). So basically a part traditional game, part narrative. Which is exactly what I was needing in a game.
 


Aldarc

Legend
GMed Numenera and loved it. The system is perfectly tailored to the setting. I just don't see myself playing any other setting with that system.
Right now MCG are mostly releasing genre-oriented supplements - a sort of "Look! See! The Cypher System can do [Sci-Fi, Horror, Superheroes, etc.]!" - when what I wish they would do is sit down and try to create something that leans heavy into the strengths of the Cypher System elements, potentially expanding it forwards rather than laterally, as it feels they have been doing the past few years.
 

Right now MCG are mostly releasing genre-oriented supplements - a sort of "Look! See! The Cypher System can do [Sci-Fi, Horror, Superheroes, etc.]!" - when what I wish they would do is sit down and try to create something that leans heavy into the strengths of the Cypher System elements, potentially expanding it forwards rather than laterally, as it feels they have been doing the past few years.
What would 'forwards' be? I assume that each new genre adds at least a few unique elements to those available to characters, right? If this is 'lateral' expansion, then what would 'forwards' really consist of? New subsystems? Newer forms of rules? I mean, basically, as was discussed up thread, its a trad system. Assuming that isn't going to change, the only other direction of expansion is into different genre/milieu/tone, so somehow producing a variant/expansion that, for example, let you run super powerful characters, etc.
 

I have relatively minimal experience with the system itself...but even what experience I have has shown me how much I dislike several of its core mechanical concepts. In particular I strongly oppose the use if XP as the bennie currency. It doesn't feel tactical, it feels like every option is bad, either fail and suffer because you didn't use it, or burn your future to save your present and thus setting yourself up to fail later on because you did. Neither of those feels good to play.

As others have noted, I find its particular "narrative but trad" approach falls flat. 13A is far and away my preference on that front.
 

Aldarc

Legend
What would 'forwards' be? I assume that each new genre adds at least a few unique elements to those available to characters, right? If this is 'lateral' expansion, then what would 'forwards' really consist of? New subsystems? Newer forms of rules? I mean, basically, as was discussed up thread, its a trad system. Assuming that isn't going to change, the only other direction of expansion is into different genre/milieu/tone, so somehow producing a variant/expansion that, for example, let you run super powerful characters, etc.
Cleaning, tightening, and potentially streamlining the rules they have. There are some significant sore spots such as, for example, XP as both a leveling currency and a bennie currency. It's pretty noteable, IMHO, that Invisible Sun separated these two things out.
 

mrm1138

Explorer
Cleaning, tightening, and potentially streamlining the rules they have. There are some significant sore spots such as, for example, XP as both a leveling currency and a bennie currency. It's pretty noteable, IMHO, that Invisible Sun separated these two things out.
I like the way XP is used for both, just as I like the way your stat pools are used for both health and as spendable resource. It becomes an interesting resource management system where you have to weigh whether the immediate benefit outweighs the long-term benefit.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I like the way XP is used for both, just as I like the way your stat pools are used for both health and as spendable resource. It becomes an interesting resource management system where you have to weigh whether the immediate benefit outweighs the long-term benefit.
IME, there is nothing "interesting" about it, since players (again IME) invariably save them for tier advancement rather than spend them as bennies.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I have relatively minimal experience with the system itself...but even what experience I have has shown me how much I dislike several of its core mechanical concepts. In particular I strongly oppose the use if XP as the bennie currency. It doesn't feel tactical, it feels like every option is bad, either fail and suffer because you didn't use it, or burn your future to save your present and thus setting yourself up to fail later on because you did. Neither of those feels good to play.

Yeah, this is one of mine. I get what they were trying to do with the five tiers of advancement, but making the bottom one (the pseudo-bennies) the way it is seems to me as bad an idea as it is every other time I've seen it. That and the glaive Strength expenditure were the two things that just seriously put me off (though I'm not in love with exception based design in general, so I don't really like how the powers were done either, but I know that's one where I'm off the mainstream).
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
IME, there is nothing "interesting" about it, since players (again IME) invariably save them for tier advancement rather than spend them as bennies.

Past experience is that they don't; that's the problem; some people do that and some people don't, and that ends up creating problems down the line that just get worse and worse. We saw this one all the way back with the original DC Heroes game, which did the same thing (it was kind of in vogue back then, as the Star Wars game and TORG also did it) and it was dramatic how much the rich got richer with it.
 

Past experience is that they don't; that's the problem; some people do that and some people don't, and that ends up creating problems down the line that just get worse and worse. We saw this one all the way back with the original DC Heroes game, which did the same thing (it was kind of in vogue back then, as the Star Wars game and TORG also did it) and it was dramatic how much the rich got richer with it.
This seems like the big issue, ultimately. You get Joe who spends his and does splashy stuff, but pretty soon he's falling behind Jim, who just saves his up for advancements (and can then, relatively speaking, do the splashy stuff better WITHOUT the expenditure). Now, if saving your XP ultimately COSTS you more XP (because of how it is earned) that might bring things back into balance. It would, however, seem to still fall to the core of @Aldarc's objection, which IIUC is that you are discouraged from doing cool stuff.

I don't really see the draw of forcing this sort of meta-game level resource dilemma on the players anyway. Wouldn't it be better to run the resource game at the fiction level?
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
This seems like the big issue, ultimately. You get Joe who spends his and does splashy stuff, but pretty soon he's falling behind Jim, who just saves his up for advancements (and can then, relatively speaking, do the splashy stuff better WITHOUT the expenditure). Now, if saving your XP ultimately COSTS you more XP (because of how it is earned) that might bring things back into balance. It would, however, seem to still fall to the core of @Aldarc's objection, which IIUC is that you are discouraged from doing cool stuff.

I don't really see the draw of forcing this sort of meta-game level resource dilemma on the players anyway. Wouldn't it be better to run the resource game at the fiction level?

That was exactly how I saw it work out back in the DCH days before we split out hero points and experience. I know its an approach some people are really attached to, but I never saw anything good come from it. The best defense of it I've even seen is the people defending MSH karma on the idea that superheroes are pretty static anyway, so it was good to pressure them to stay that way (and where the cost of advancement was such that spending it tactically could seem a bit attractive) but I'm not sure I buy it.
 

This seems like the big issue, ultimately. You get Joe who spends his and does splashy stuff, but pretty soon he's falling behind Jim, who just saves his up for advancements (and can then, relatively speaking, do the splashy stuff better WITHOUT the expenditure). Now, if saving your XP ultimately COSTS you more XP (because of how it is earned) that might bring things back into balance. It would, however, seem to still fall to the core of @Aldarc's objection, which IIUC is that you are discouraged from doing cool stuff.

I don't really see the draw of forcing this sort of meta-game level resource dilemma on the players anyway. Wouldn't it be better to run the resource game at the fiction level?
Yeah that's pretty much the horns of the dilemma. If the cost of saving XP is too low, the incentive is to hold onto them until you no longer desire to advance. If the cost of saving them is too high, then spending them doesn't feel like doing cool stuff, it feels like a mandatory payment to be permitted to succeed. Yet the only reason not to hoard (within the rules, that js) is if hoarding entails losing...which means being punished unless you spend.

Given the difficulty of evading the Scylla of "I'm losing out on permanent rewards by spending XP to boost success" and the Charybdis of "welp, time to pay the XP toll so I'm allowed to potentially succeed," I can see why a lot of games just don't go there.

It also doesn't help that natural player psychology gets in the way. RPGs as a whole are notorious for inducing hoarding behavior in players. The fact that (for example) T:TON had to punish players for hoarding (of cyphers) was pretty much proof that they knew this was a problem and couldn't find a way to make not-hoarding enjoyable on its own merits. (I don't know if that rule exists in the actual Cypher system.) Trying to design systems that defy general trends of player psychology is a fool's errand IMO.
 

That was exactly how I saw it work out back in the DCH days before we split out hero points and experience. I know its an approach some people are really attached to, but I never saw anything good come from it. The best defense of it I've even seen is the people defending MSH karma on the idea that superheroes are pretty static anyway, so it was good to pressure them to stay that way (and where the cost of advancement was such that spending it tactically could seem a bit attractive) but I'm not sure I buy it.
Well, if the choice is between some highly tactical and situational buff, and a more general but less useful one, or some minor situational enhancement, it does have a bit different character. I still agree there's no real point in pushing this on the players. I'd MUCH rather see a more organic, or more particular, implementation of the 'horns of the dilemma' sort of situation. "Do I save my brother or my girlfriend?" has a lot more resonance than "do I finish this guy off, or do I add a build option", which IMHO just don't really relate at all. I mean the later COULD be cast in the same terms as the former, but that's a whole additional jump and it won't often come off IME.
 

Yeah that's pretty much the horns of the dilemma. If the cost of saving XP is too low, the incentive is to hold onto them until you no longer desire to advance. If the cost of saving them is too high, then spending them doesn't feel like doing cool stuff, it feels like a mandatory payment to be permitted to succeed. Yet the only reason not to hoard (within the rules, that js) is if hoarding entails losing...which means being punished unless you spend.

Given the difficulty of evading the Scylla of "I'm losing out on permanent rewards by spending XP to boost success" and the Charybdis of "welp, time to pay the XP toll so I'm allowed to potentially succeed," I can see why a lot of games just don't go there.

It also doesn't help that natural player psychology gets in the way. RPGs as a whole are notorious for inducing hoarding behavior in players. The fact that (for example) T:TON had to punish players for hoarding (of cyphers) was pretty much proof that they knew this was a problem and couldn't find a way to make not-hoarding enjoyable on its own merits. (I don't know if that rule exists in the actual Cypher system.) Trying to design systems that defy general trends of player psychology is a fool's errand IMO.
Yeah, I would have thought the lesson of 4e Consumables and Rituals was stark enough. Getting players to spend even 1 gold piece on that stuff was like pulling teeth. What did they want that gold for? Who knows? It was valueless by itself, but sure enough the players were always determined to pile it up (I mean, you could build a weak magic item once in a while if you wanted, or you could have potions and rituals in practically every encounter, and many of them KICKED ASS). Anyway, its the same basic choice, and it is a design that is always doomed not to go in a fun direction.
 

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