Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Mail Room: Cypher: Rust & Redemption (PDF)

They are shipping out the rewards for the Cypher System Rust & Redemption Kickstarter, and I have my PDF for the book. This is a nice 224-page, complete guide to post-apocalyptic adventures, and I am surprised at the level of detail they went into. This is really a high-quality idea and toolbox for post-apoc and survival games, and it lets you stay as grounded as you like, or go as wild as you like.

Using Cyphers as a one-time reward to restock different supply levels is genius.

The book has a sort of Fallout meets Gamma World vibe to it, but tries to keep grounded in the survival game. I sense a little bit of Numenera here, too, but not as magical and fantastical as that setting.

The best thing about Cypher System is its "make stuff up" factor. Since every threat in the game is rated on a difficulty class-like system, I could pull an idea out of my head, assign it a threat level and a few special abilities, tweak threat levels for offense and defense, and create a new monster or danger in about 10 seconds.

I can take any monster out of Gamma World and turn it into a Cypher System monster in about 30 seconds, it would take longer to read the stat block and description than it would to make the creature. One of the best things about Cypher System and Numenera is players do NOT know what they are in store for next, even more than Gamma World or any other game.

Cypher System is a better Gamma World than Gamma World, and I would say, mechanically, it would be an excellent system for Fallout, too.

Since "everything can be a challenge," you can rate a dangerous balancing act over a collapsed floor a number, and then, if you want to introduce another layer of threat, trip a GM intrusion on the party while they are midway across. The players can shift the narrative in their favor with XP spending.

A lot of these "on the fly" challenges in a game like Gamma World are typically tied to a module, and it takes a very creative game master to think of these on the fly. Cypher System lets me pull them out of thin air, assign them a difficulty, and then let the players deal with it using their skills, gear, and ability score pools.

I know; I could always say, "You see a collapsed area of a building, and it takes a DEX roll to cross it." In a B/X style game, what is the big deal? Make it up and assign a resolution mechanic. The difference is that the game master typically needs to know the game very well, as in, how does the game expect this sort of challenge to be resolved? Is it a saving throw? A roll-under check? How was this done in a module? Is there an acrobatics skill I need to go read? Athletics? What skill covers this? Is there a "balance" section of the rules in the movement chapter? Every game is different, and designers can handle the same simple things in a million different ways.

Aftermath is a good example. There are many special-case rules hidden everywhere in this game, and once you "program your brain" to know how everything is done, the game is easy and relatively simple. The books are short too, which helps you create that "mental index" you need when being a game master.

Cypher System is different. As a GM, I use no dice. I do my narrative thing and assign numbers to threats. I am sitting in pure "storytelling mode" and relaxing, with my "mental index" being a few cheat sheets and a passing knowledge of the rules. Since character creation is the meat of the game, all the heavy lifting was done then, and that is mostly making picks by players off lists.

You would think, since Cypher System's threats are "just numbers," they would feel "all the same," - but they aren't. You can say the same thing about an orc versus a goblin in B/X; the numbers are so close; how are they different? Is it the description text? The art?

It is what you do with those numbers, and rarely do the numbers matter since it is you bringing them to life.

I am looking forward to getting the physical book, this one has been a long time coming, and I will be digging into the PDF here soon.

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