A Time of Contemplation – Cypher System

Cypher is the system behind Monte Cook Games’ Numenera and their upcoming game The Strange.  If you follow this blog, then you already know that I am a big fan of this game.  Since reading Ryan Chaddock’s Celestial Wisdom and Angels & Ashes supplements, I felt like I could hack the Cypher system to the high fantasy world of Ta’nar.  But while it might be doable, I want to see how it stacks up to the other systems, before I hitch the Darks Wars to it.  Especially with how well a recent playtest of Ta’nar went with 13th Age.  (For a review of the system check out my Numenera review.)


How closely does the system match to the high magic, epic fantasy style found in Ta’nar? 10/10 – Thanks to the narrative play that Cypher encourages, this game could be a perfect system to use at the table.  The GM intrusion mechanic would enable me nudge the game towards the thrilling heroics that the world supports.  The simplicity of Cypher allows the players to attempt anything, and thanks to the effort mechanics, players can choose when to excel at something.  They can craft their characters to be whatever they want.

World Score: 10/10


Ascending to Godhood 8/10 – While there is no innate mechanic for this, with Celestial Wisdom in hand, it would be a simple matter to craft a set of powers and prestige that players can purchase with XP as medium and long term benefits.

Establishing & Management of Nations 4/10 – There are no real rules for this in Cypher.  This two can be solved with a clever manipulation of the XP and level system.  Also, Ninth World Assassin, which was just bought for me by one of my players (Thanks Nick!), has rules for guilds.  And Ryan Chaddock has a new political book coming out soon.  So these numbers may be revised at a later date before the end of this series.

Customized Deities 6/10 – Creating deities would just be a matter story or perhaps involve a creative use of focus and descriptors.  But like 13th Age and ACKS, this would require some work on my part to get up and running.  Unlike the other two games, Cypher has no built in framework at this point, although Celestial Wisdom points the way.

Mass Combat 4/10 – Mass combat, like the Nations questions, has no clear rules at this point.  But again, with two new books coming into the rotation here soon, this number may be revised.  Monte Cook’s blog post on companions gives me a great idea on how to run this, which I may write up and post on this blog later.

Creation of Races 10/10 – Non-human in Cypher is a function of Descriptors.  And while there are currently none that fit the races of Ta’nar, they would be remarkably easy to craft.  The main book has guidelines for creating descriptors, and there are a number of great articles that I can reference for this.

Creation of Classes 6/10 – This category was hard for me to rate.  This is because of how you build characters in Cypher.  What other games refer to as ‘class’, in Cypher is actually a combination of type and foci.  While I could create a myriad of foci to deal with the minutia of Ta’nar, this could be very time consuming or limited in, well focus.  The Types are fine as they are, but I would like a broader range of abilities for them.  With the Character Options book coming out soon, this number to may be subject to change.

Simple Monster Creation Rules 10/10 – Cypher should score 11 in this category.  The elegance of the Cypher system allows me to creature truly unique monsters completely on the fly.  Assign a difficulty, fudge some numbers for story, make an ability or two and we are good to go.  I have already done this type of creation multiple times at the table, on the spot.  I don’t believe my players are any the wiser.

Fast interesting combat 7/10 – Like ACKS, combat in Cypher is fast but requires player initiative to buy into the narrative combat.  It is very rules light, but wide open to any stunt the players wish to try.  As the game is focused on discovery, the combat doesn’t need to be as tactical as a game that is focused on XP sacks you must break open.  There are some optional rules that I would most likely put into play to give it more robustness for some of my more mechanically minded players.  The GM intrusion mechanics, like in many other situations in the game, really can make combat interesting and dynamic.

Mechanics Score: 55/80


Does my play group enjoy it? 10/10 – Oh yes.  Even when I was running for 10 players, everyone enjoyed the simplicity of the system and the ease of play.  I feel that if I could run it at 4-5 players, I would be able to focus so much more on the personal stories that Cypher would be even more amazing.

Did I enjoy it? 10/10 – Yes!  The narrative nature of the game, the fact that I don’t roll dice, and the GM intrusion mechanic all added up to this being my favorite game to run from my side of the screen.  It is fast, focused, and easy to run.

Is the system one that lends itself to mastery? 7/10 – Eh.   I honestly don’t know.  With the Character Options book coming out soon, we will have rules for changing descriptors and focus.  The onus would be on me to provide my players concrete examples of what they can spend XP on for medium and long term rewards, otherwise my group hordes their XP for tiering up.  But with all of the material I would have to come up with for gods, nations, guilds, and mass combat, I could see this not being a problem.

Mechanics Score: 27/30

Combined Score: 92/120 ~ 77%

At this point Cypher is out of the running.  But within the next month, this score could radically change for the better.  It is already close to the other two games.  If these next three are as good as I expect, Cypher could pull out into a strong lead.  It would not take much to push Cypher ahead of the other two games.  Next Monday, I will see you for a look at RuneQuest!


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