When we last left off, I had prepped for a fantasy horror campaign with the cypher system rules. This time around, I prepped a session, invited over a group of friends with a variety of levels of experience with RPGs, made characters and ran a game.
Session prep took the form of loose half page descriptions of four locations that were likely to be important to the session as well as names and descriptions of characters likely found in those locations, a few miscellaneous notes, and stats for two new opponents. All together, the prep took around two hours, most of which was spent hemming and hawing over if the scenario prior to the characters’ arrival made any sense (and fixing it when it didn’t), randomly generating names*, and researching were-hyenas. The cypher system easily delivers on it’s promise to just get out of the way and let you run your game. Most mechanical issues (skill challenges, many NPCs, mook level adversaries) are expressed as just a single number. More important elements can be expressed as a single number as well, but can also be expanded as much or as little as you choose. Here are some examples from my notes:
-With some calming, someone remembers everyone on the ranch has been on edge but doesn’t know why (int 3)
-With some healing skill, the symptoms are indicative of great trauma in the chest cavity. (His heart and lungs have been torn to shreds) (int 3)
Hyena Level 2(target # 6)
6 hps. does 2hp damage
Were-Hyena (Chiemeka Dalitso) Level 5 (target # 15)
Health: 15 points
Damage inflicted: 5 points
Modification: Attacks and defends as level 6, senses as level 7
Combat: most attacks have half effect. Following has full: magic, silver, attacks coated in disbous (an orange wolfsbane like flower) or wolfsbane
Were Hyenas are distracted by burnt offerings
Were Hyenas have a gaze attack that mesmerizes
Before the session I printed out a few pages from the rule book on each Type that players might choose, and a listing of Descriptors and Foci. There are too many descriptors and foci to print all of them, so we just pulled up the ones that looked interesting then printed the ones they chose. Character creation didn’t take a lot of time, but I’m not sure sheets were all filled out perfectly. If we have another session, I’ll have to go back over everyone’s sheet and check that everything is in order. This was due to the fact that none of us had used the system before more than any issue with the system. We ended up with a well rounded group with a mix of Types and with a wide variety of Descriptors and Foci. We had:
- A Mad Wizard who Siphons Power
- A Hideous Druid who Bears a Halo of Fire
- A Charming Bard who Entertains
- A Mechanical Warrior who Imbues Homonculi
- A Stealthy Cleric who Sees Beyond
Running the session was a simple affair. I had prepped the right material, but more importantly, unanticipated actions and questions were easy to resolve. For example, with the elements I had put into place, I had anticipated the most likely outcome was a pitched battle with the were-hyena and his minions, but the PCs instead figured out his human identity and negotiated peace with him. This was simple to adjudicate, as the default difficulty for unspecified actions is simply equal to the target’s level. I had some problems with setting difficulties and with knowing what was a reasonable challenge for the PCs and how many challenges made a good session, but those are the kind of things that you hone with practice with a system and there is some advice on the topic in the GMing chapter of the book. I also feel like I need to re-read some of the optional rules I used just to make sure I had them correct.
I do however, feel that character creation would have gone much more smoothly with a utility to choose Descriptors, Types, and Foci, that a lot of shuffling of papers would have been eliminated with ability cards (This may impact the above concerns as well. Players may use a lot more points from their pool when finding their abilities isn’t as difficult.), that genre flavored cypher cards would have been useful, and an official GM’s screen would have been preferable to my homemade version. All of these are things I could make myself, though not without a considerable outlay of time and not with professional quality. These extras aren’t essential, but they will certainly be welcome at my table when they arrive, either from Monte Cook Games, or from the fan base.
So, in the end, would I say this game lives up to it’s promises and would I recommend it to others? Yes on both counts. The game is simple and easy to run while being mechanically sturdy, the prep times involved are low, and there are myriad options available. While I feel the system will truly come into it’s own once all the extras are in place, I doubt it will take long for them to be put into place. The fan base has already made similar resources for prior games that use the cypher system, and they seem like too valuable add-on products for Monte Cook Games to not make them.
* Since we’re touching on randomly generating names: I love the random name generator at behindthename.com, but hate the fact that it can only generate one at a time. Anyone have a suggestion of a generator that’s as or more robust, but allows generation of lists of names?