Unmask Expanded Worlds For Your Cypher System Games

There has been a lot of releases from Monte Cook Games over the last few months, as books come out and Kickstarter funded projects roll out, as it looks like the company is clearing the decks for the release this summer of their big project, Invisible Sun. Today, I am going to look at a couple of releases for the more generic version of their house system, the Cypher System game. This is going to be an MCG two-fer as I talk about the Expanded Worlds and Unmasked supplements.


The Expanded Worlds supplement does exactly what it says: it expands the "world" from the Cypher System Rulebook. For those who may not have the core book, the Cypher System Rulebook take a much more generic approach to the Cypher System rules than Numenera or The Strange, so instead of having premade settings the book talks about how you can adapt the rules of the game to different genres. You will get a list of items/equipment that would be appropriate to that genre, types of appropriate artifacts for that sort of game, any customizations to the character types (what they call what is roughly the equivalent to character classes in the game), as well as the monsters and creatures from the bestiary section that would be appropriate for that genre.

In Expanded World designer Bruce Cordell build upon the foundation of the Cypher System Rulebook by giving players and GMs advice and mechanics for a number of new fiction genres. The new genres are post-apocalyptic, mythological, fairy tale, childhood adventure, historical, crime/espionage and hard science fiction. "Mythological" supports a style sort of like the remake of the Clash of the Titans movie, while "childhood adventures" is in a Goonies/Stand By Me/Stranger Things kind of mode. The crime/espionage genre rules talk running tradecraft and deal with informants and investigations in the Cypher System rules.

There is a large section of new character descriptors and foci in the book too. Many of them are for the new genres in the book, but you can really use most of them in a wide variety of different types of games. Descriptors and foci are ways to describe your Cypher System character, and they also give characters special abilities. The special abilities from descriptors are given out at first tier (or level), while the abilities from foci are spread across your character's development. The idea of foci is a good one, and I like how it takes the necessarily broad character types and not only focuses them into genre appropriate modes, but also helps with niche protection. Rather than "just" a Warrior, you can have a Warrior Who Eliminates Occult Threats. One problem with generic implementations of games is that they tend to lose their flavor in exchange for a wider functionality. The Cypher System rules work to circumvent that weakness, and succeed.

The book is rounded out with a bestiary of creatures and NPCs that player characters can encounter in the various genre frames. The art for the creatures, and throughout the entire book, is just spectacular. I have said a number of times that I am a fan of bestiaries, even for games that I don't play. You learn a lot about a game, and a lot about the focus of a game, by the sorts of creatures that they have write-ups for. With books from MCG, even when they discuss a creature that is well known they try to pivot things just enough that it give a fresh take on the creatures. Considering how so much in role-playing games is about perpetuating the familiar, this is a good thing.

I think that Expanded Worlds is a useful tool to Cypher System group, whether you are going to use the book specifically for the genres included or not. There are enough new character mechanical bits with broad application to make the book broadly useful. You could even use much of it in games of The Strange, as well. I'm not sure that the new rules bits would be as useful in a Numenera game, but there are already a number of options for characters in that line.


The second book that I am going to be talking about is Unmasked by Dennis Detwiller. This supplement is Detwiller's first full book for Monte Cook Games, and it is a setting supplement for the Cypher System Rulebook.

I have been a fan of Detwiller's work for a long time, and I have a shelf full of Delta Green books to prove it. This supplement demonstrates his creativity. Unmasked is a super-hero setting with an interesting twist to it. Set in the 1980s, it is like Miracle Man meets The Power Rangers meets The Mask (the scarier comic book version that Dark Horse Comics originally published). You play teen super heroes that who transform into super-powered beings. There is an obsessive quality to the backgrounds of these characters, in that they are drawn to objects in the world around them. They have to gather these items, and once gathered they assemble them into a mask. It is this mask that allows them to change forms and access super powers.

The character creation is slightly more involved than other Cypher System games, because you are creating kind of creating two versions of the same character. The foundation is the same, but some things are for their teen "form," and others are for their mask form. There are new character types that are built around the character tropes of super-hero comics: smasher, thinker, mover and changer. All of these types are built around archetypes that would be familiar to anyone who has played a super-hero game, whether as an RPG or a video game. If you wanted to use Unmasked for a more generic approach to playing super-heroes, you can easily take out some of the tier abilities that are specific to the setting without impacting the overall power level of characters.

But, I think that using Unmasked as a generic set of super-hero rules does an injustice to the uniqueness of the game's setting. There is already no shortage of super-hero games that are built to cover the eventualities of any sort of super-hero story. It is really nice to see a super-hero game that is focused upon a particular type of setting. Unmasked could be the next Underground or Brave New World.
Cyphers in Unmasked are given a new name: mementos. Characters in Unmasked are able to sense the presence of cyphers, and inherently know that they are items of special power. Much like in comic books, mementos are echoes and memories of other worlds, and other times, as well as places that once existed and now are gone. Mostly mementos are mundane looking objects, small things that are easily overlooked if you cannot see their specialness.

Unmasked, as a setting, is rooted in an understanding of comic books and their tropes that Detwiller has demonstrated on past projects. It is as much of a subversion of the tropes of 80s teen super-hero comics like Power Pack, Cloak and Dagger and The New Mutants as his earlier game Godlike subverted the concepts of the golden age of comics. In order to wring something new and exciting out of these tropes, you really have to know what you're talking about. I don't think that Detwiller gets the credit for his understanding of super-hero comics that designers like Steve Kenson or Darren Watts get for their more straight forward approaches to super-heroes. Detwiller makes some of the most original super-hero settings in gaming because he knows the source material inside and out.

If you're looking for a super-hero setting that is more than just the same genre ideas, you need to check out Unmasked. But, more than just being a good look at the super-hero tropes, it is also a really good book to go through if you want to subvert the character ideas of the Cypher System to use in making your own genre mashups. There are a lot of good reasons to pick up this book.
 

Comments

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
I got both as part of the kickstarter. Excellent books. I am not a Supers sort of guy, but the reviewer is right, the setting and how powers are handled in Unmasked are very intriguing. The Expanded Worlds has all sorts of additions youcould add to ANY Cypher System game.
 

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