[First Impressions Review] Cypher System Rulebook by Monte Cook Games

CSR-Cover-Free-Preview-386x500It’s not a surprise that I am a fan of Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System. Having done two series of Let’s Study articles for both Numenera and The Strange, I was very interested to see what the upcoming Cypher System Rulebook had to offer.

Thanks to the generosity of Monte Cook Games, I was given an opportunity to take a peek at a pre-production copy of the CSR! Needless to say, I was pretty stoked about it, which explains this First Impressions review.

What is it, and what is it for?

The Cypher System is the name of the rules that power Numenera and The Strange. Designed to put story at the forefront of gameplay, it kills a few interesting sacred cows to promote a much more dynamic style of play.

This makes it a prime candidate to be the baseline for a generic rpg product that people can use to spin off their own games. And now, Monte Cook Games makes it possible with the Cypher System Rulebook.

The Basic Mechanics

I’ve gone over the basic mechanics before in my Let’s Study articles for Numenera and the Strange, but I’ll try to give a quick summary here.

Basic mechanic is a 1d20 roll against a set target difficulty that ranges from 3 to 30. This difficulty is set by the Level of the obstacle or opponent. This allows the game to function without the GM having to roll, resulting in a much faster game.

Other fiddly bits involve the expenditure of a finite pool of Effort to reduce the difficulty of the task, and the use of set damage to further streamline play.

Rolling a 1 is always bad, while rolling a 19 or 20 results in getting a minor or major effect that further improves your success.

I’ve gone and said it before, but it’s fast, elegant. Furthermore, the focus on speed and offloading rolls from the GM’s duties allows for a much more interesting game as the GM can focus on the story.

Character Types

Previous games using the Cypher system featured three types with different names appropriate to their settings. The CSR gives them much more generic-sounding names for the sake of clarity: Warrior, Adept and Explorer.

However, the CSR also adds a fourth Type in the form of the Speaker. The Speaker fills the niche of the social character. While this has been folded into the other types in the previous games, I’m very happy to see them get their recognition with the CSR ruleset, as it is meant to cover more than the usual Action-Adventure genre, which is something we’ll come back to later.

The Types section also introduces Flavors, which are separate sub-packages of new abilities that can be traded into an existing type on a 1:1 basis. Meaning you can give up an ability pick from the Type in exchange for an ability from a Flavor. I’m all for customization, so I’m very happy to see this.

Character Descriptors

I’m glad to see that there’s a hefty serving of fifty different character descriptors in the CSR, all of which are geared towards being generic enough to fit any genre.

There’s something for everyone here, from Dishonorable to Perceptive, Vengeful to Noble. Negative-sounding Descriptors are particularly interesting as they give benefits while placing a great amount of personality to your character.

Character Foci

The third building block of characters is the Character Foci. Again, there’s a ton of different foci in the CSR, but what really stands out for me is the fact that they took the time to provide several tables of suggested Foci that work in the context of different genres. They have a list for fantasy, Modern / Horror, Sci-Fi and Superheroes.


Here’s probably the most exciting part for me. As a fan of the HERO system, I’m always delighted when I read through rules that twist an existing ruleset to work with a given genre.

As mentioned before, the CSR provides chapter for each of the following genres: Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi, Horror and Supers.

Each of the chapters goes into a quick summary of the genre, and how the GM can run it. To further assist, they include charts on which Types (and Flavors), Foci and even Creatures are appropriate for a game. In addition, genre-approriate equipment and artifacts are also covered here.

Some of the Genres also add further Racial Descriptors to denote non-human creatures. Further modifications for genres include special optional rules such as Shock for Horror, and my personal favorite: Power Shifts for Superheroes. I don’t want to spoil too much for this, but the rules for Power Shifts is a suprisingly elegant means to simulate the incredible ability superheroes without becoming needlessly complex.

Game Mastering Advice and Running the Game

The last section of the CSR is devoted to helping GMs run the game. From a collection of varied monsters that could fit various genres to the Cyphers that provide one-shot powers, the books gives all the toys that a GM would need, and the advice necessary to use them properly.

It’s not often that you get to say that a Generic Ruleset would be suited to a new GM, but the Cypher System Rulebook is definitely an exception. There’s enough here to give even fledgeling GMs the confidence to get started.

Overall, the Cypher System Rulebook is a master-class product that manages to become one of the most accessible generic rules I’ve had a chance to see. While I wish there was more pagecount dedicated to providing even more options for the various genres, I think that’s a holdover from my expectations as a HERO system GM.

As is it’s a brilliant product and one that is definitely worth having in your library.

The Cypher System Rulebook is now currently available for preorder in PDF format in the Monte Cook Games website:

[Numenera Actual Play, One Shot] In For A Penny, In For A Pound…

Thanks to a proper alignment of stars, I finally got my chance to run something new. In this case, it was Monte Cook’s Numenera. It was a one-shot, and the venue was a nearby Friendly Local Gaming Store called Makati B&B. The players were all new to me, so it was going to be one of those experiences where we all try to get along and finish the job.

Dramatis Personae

I had the players make characters beforehand to save time, and this is what I got:

Whyttman (Played by Raymz) is a Swift Jack who Rides the Lightning. She is a grizzled veteran, having spent her youth fighting in the crusades. Eventually becoming disillusioned with the Aeon religion, she ended up a mercenary, hiring out her services to the highest bidder. The caustic, ruthlessly pragmatic merc is known for her unerring aim and her lightning-infused arrows.

Mikael Mendoza (Played by Jak) is a Stealthy Glaive Who Works The Back Alleys. Abandoned as a child, he grew up with a street gang learning the ways of the thief. A gang war resulted in the deaths of his gang members, with Mikael barely able to escape with his life. This led to using his natural stealth skills towards more martial pursuits, killing off the rival gang one by one. Eventually caught and imprisoned for the murders, Malachore influenced Mikael’s decision to leave the criminal world and pursue mercenary work.

Zurt Namir (Played by DJ) is a Hardy Glaive who Rages. He’s ex-military who finished his tour of service and opted out of the service. Plying his skills for money to gather enough to retire comfortably. Currently looking for interesting adventures and experiences while he’s young.

Malachore (Played by Jose) is a Mechanical Nano who Fuses Flesh and Steel. He lost his arms from an accident thanks to Jack D Delver. Now he is in search for not only his missing mother but the source of numenera that took everything away from him.

Jack D Delver (Played by Gino) is an “expert” explorer who travels the world in search of adventure with his trusty friends gathering numenera along the way; by any means necessary, total bros with the Aeon priests and the Order of Truth with the unreasonable hate for cultists and abhumans.

It’s a pretty good spread of characters, honestly, with each one being unique enough to stand out among the rest. Players noted that character creation was incredibly easy, with some using an online tool to help come up with their characters.

Story begins after the jump!

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[Numenera] Need Weird Science-Fantasy Inspiration? Try Masters of the Universe

One of the bigger difficulties that new GMs tend to have when first encountering Numenera is how to adequately convey the weird science-Fantasy nature of the setting.

I’ve found that one shorthand that helps people get it right away is to basically explain that Numenera’s setting is very much like Eternia from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

How so? Well, let’s go over the details:

Wind Raider Box Art, from

1) Swords and Shields next to Blasters and Flying Vehicles

Numenera assumes that there are various magical artifacts that can do all sorts of wondrous things because of their magical nature. How they work is often poorly understood, but activating and operating them is something that the people of Numenera are good at.

In the MOTU world, you’ve got a lot of barbarians in loincloths armed with swords and shields, riding flying vehicles as if it was second nature.

2) The Ancient Past had a lot of Technology

Hordak and crew had a lot of strange technology to pull from, resulting in heroes armed with magic, weapons and strange technology.

Check out this write up for Wun-Dar, one of the ancient warriors of the He-Man Prehistoric setting of (I kid you not,) PRETERNIA.

“One hundred years before Prince Adam was born, Wun-Dar, a warrior from deep in the savage underground city of Tundaria, rescued a young woman who turned out to be the Goddess of Eternia. Providing him with cosmic battle armor and a sophisticated ray gun that could tap into almost unlimited power, the Goddess tasked Wun-Dar to protect both halves of the sword of He and keep them apart so as not to fall into the hands of evil. Like many warriors before him, Wun-Dar became known as “The He-Man”, battling in a savage way to keep evil from obtaining the key to the great power hidden inside the long-forgotten Castle Grayskull.”

3) Nobody finds this all that strange

Numenera is a game of discovery and adventure, where the player characters run amok in the setting digging up strange relics and ancient places (or occasionally running into ancient creatures / monstrosities) but none of them find the discordant nature of all the weird elements as particularly strange. To them, this is as normal as it gets.

MOTU also has this, with He-Man running into new and bizzare creatures and monsters, and he just engages them without really stopping to question himself if this is odd in any way. It’s this sort of accepting nature of both universes that helps as GMs then get license to throw in pretty much anything in a Numenera Game.

Games to run for 2015

Given the changes in my life with the upcoming kid (very soon now!) I’m looking at how I’ll be working some gaming into my schedule. At the moment I don’t really see myself running long campaigns just yet, which makes me more than a little sad. However, it does open up the possibility of running all sorts of one-shot using game systems that I’ve not really had the opportunity to try.

Foremost among these would be Kuro and Numenera, two games that I’ve been very impressed with but have not had time to run. Also on this list is Fantasy Craft, and once I’ve read up on the novels again, the Mistborn Adventure Game. I’ve a few other games in mind as well, with an eye towards supers gaming (so AMP: Year One might see some time in my gaming table as well!)

That’s it for now, I can’t pin things down with specifics just yet, but I’m honestly a little glad to have been given a bit of a break from running games every weekend. I can almost feel my brain decompressing and soaking up new stuff to inspire games in the future. I really ought to take longer breaks more often.

[Let’s Study The Strange by Monte Cook Games] Part 2: Basic Mechanics & Character Creation

Hey everyone, welcome back as I try to pick up from where I suddenly left off in my Let’s Study series for The Strange by Bruce Cordell and Monte Cook.

Core Mechanics

The basic mechanics for The Strange is actually the same as those in Numenera. When trying to resolve an action with an uncertain (and dramatically significant) outcome, the GM sets a difficulty. This difficulty is defined by a degree of difficulty, which ranges from 0 to 10. The degree of difficulty then determines the task’s target number. As a rule of thumb, the target number is always 3x the degree of difficulty. So a difficulty of 3 would have a target number of 9.

Skills, circumstance and equipment can decrease the difficulty of a task, making it easier for characters with the correct training and equipment to succeed.


Players roll a d20 to attempt a task. Unlike other systems, there are no bonuses here that modify your roll, you just look at the value that you rolled and compare that to your target number.


The mechanics in combat mirror those of the rest of the rules, which does help in simplifying things. The trick here is that the GM never rolls dice. Making an attack against an opponent involves rolling a d20 against the target number of your opponent.

Creatures have a level from 1 to 10, which in turn is usually the basis of the target number to hit them, as well as to avoid their attacks.

Damage is never rolled in the system, instead it’s a flat amount determined by the weapon or attack used.

Special rolls

Rolling a 19 or a 20 gives added perks to an attack or task. A 19 nets a minor effect, such as increased damage, or inflict some sort of status effect on your target. Outside of combat a 19 might get an extra perk to go with your success. A 20 on the other hand is a major effect and can get you an extra something that gives you a beneficial situation in addition to succeeding.

Rolling a 17 or 18 also gives you extra damage, but has no non-combat benefits.

Rolling a 1 is always bad as it means that the GM introduces a new complication into the encounter.

Character Creation

Making a character for The Strange should be interesting given that I don’t really have a strong grasp as to what the setting is like from the introduction. There’s a lot of high level information, but little in the way of me coming up with a concept. That said, the way that Numenera worked was filling out a sentence from options in the book so I hope that going through the chapter will be able to inform me better than the introduction did.

First off, let’s go over the primary stats of a character in the Strange. These are Might, Speed and Intellect. Each of these stats have two components: Pool and Edge.

Pool is the basic measurement of the stat. It’s essentially the raw value of the stat in question and is used to determine who is Stronger, Faster and Smarter among characters.

Edge on the other hand is how proficient a character is at the use of that stat. It serves as a discount whenever a character has to spend Pool to activate a power or use Effort.

Speaking of Effort, a character can spend 3 points in an appropriate Pool in order to reduce the Difficulty of a task by 1. This is called spending Effort, and the Edge value of the stat determines a discount that applies for the difficulty reduction’s total cost.

Character Descriptor, Type and Focus

Much like in Numenera, a character in The Strange is summarized in a single statement: “I am a [Adjective] [Noun] who [Verbs]”

It sounds funky, but it becomes rather elegant later on once you get to check out the various character components that fill in these slots. The adjective is called the character’s Descriptor, the noun is the character’s Type and the verb is the Focus.


We begin by picking the character’s Type first. Character types in The Strange come in 3 varieties: Paradox, Spinner and Vector.

Vectors are the action-people of the bunch. They’re physical savants with access to abilities that let them do more than normal people. These abilities, called Moves, are connected somehow to The Strange.

Paradoxes are the mad scientists and the sorcerers. They’re the characters capable of messing with the laws of standard physics in bizzare and interesting ways. Their abilities are called Revisions, and involve twisting the rules of reality to suit their purposes.

Spinners are the quick-witted talkers. They’re the ones who can bluff their way through security, convert the enemy to their side or win the hearts of minds of people. Their abilities are called Twists, which are used to distort, adjust and exploit situations.

For this character, let’s go with a Spinner. I’m intrigued by the idea of a fast-thinking character with just enough of an edge to make things work to his favor… kind of like John Constantine in Hellblazer.

As a First Tier Spinner, my character gets the following:

Starting Stat Pools:
Might 9
Speed 9
Intellect 10

I also get 6 more points to divide among my stat Pools. Spending those, I end up with:

Might 9
Speed 12
Intellect 13

I also start with the following abilities as a First-Tier Spinner:

Effort: 1

Quickminded: You have an Intellect Edge of 1, Might Edge of 0 and Speed Edge of 1

Cypher Use: You can bear two cyphers at a time

Practiced with Light and Medium Weapons: If you wield a heavy weapon, increase the difficulty of the attack by one step.

Manipulator: You are trained in deceiving, persuading or intimidating (choose one)

Translation: You can participate in the process of traveling to another recursion. As a spinner, you are most effective at hastening a translation.


Spin Identity (2+ Intellect points): You convince all intelligent creatures who can see, hear, and understand you that you are someone or something other than who you actually are. Cost increases by +1 per additional victim

Spin Encouragement (1 Intellect Point): While you maintain this twist through ongoing inspiring oration, your allies within short range modify the difficulty of one of the following task types (your choice) by one step: defense tasks, attack tasks, or tasks related to any skill that you are trained or specialized in. Action.


The next step is to pick a descriptor to fit the character. As with the Type, each Descriptor in the book also provides further modifications to the character.

For this character I decided to go for the following Descriptor:


Smart: +2 to your Intellect Pool

Skill: You are trained in all interactions involving lies or trickery

Skill: You are trained in defense rolls to resist mental effects.

Skill: You are trained in all tasks involving, identifying or assessing danger, lies, quality, importance, function, or power.

Inability: You were never good at studying or retaining trivial knowledge. The difficulty of any task involving lore, knowledge, or understanding is increased by one step.

Additional Equpiment: You see through the schemes of others and occasionaly convince them to believe you – even when, perhaps, they should not. Thanks to your clever behavior, you always start out with an additional $200 (or local equivalent) when you appear in a new recursion for the first time.

Initial Link to the starting Adventure: You talked your way into the situation because you thought it might earn you some money.


The last part of the character is the Focus. This works like the Descriptor and Type, but in The Strange, there’s a little twist to it as well.

The Foci of the character can change when translating to a different recursion. Some Foci can be dragged across to a different recursion, while others only work in a given recursion.

For this character, I figure I’d play up the entire espionage angle and just go for

Operates Undercover

Connections: Pick another PC, no matter how you hide or disguise yourself, this character always knows where and who you really are.

Equipment: Street clothes, disguise kit, light tools, duct tape, a weapon of your choice, a pen knife, a smartphone, and $700.

Minor Effect Suggestion: You can immediately attempt to hide after this action.

Major Effect Suggestion: You get a +2 bonus to Speed defense rolls for one round.

Tier 1: Investigate: You are trained in perception, cryptography, deceiving and breaking into computers. Enabler.

As you can see, character creation in The Strange, like in Numenera is a relatively straightforward process of stacking templates together. This opens the game up to all sorts of funky characters, and given the nature of Translation in the setting, you can even change your character’s Focus every time they translate to a new recursion.

I will have to repeat myself from my Numenera review here that the character creation system for The Strange is easy to learn, and quick enough for casual players to get started right away. Some players will need extra time to read through all the Types, Descriptors and Focus descriptions to try an optimize their character, but aside from that the process of creation itself is very swift.

Next up in the Let’s Study series for The Strange: the Rules of Translation, the funky world-shifting process that allows the player characters to shift from Recursion to Recursion.

If you’d like to study with us, you can get a PDF copy of The Strange from DriveThruRPG for only $19.99 or roughly Php 860.00

2014’s New Year, New Game Sale on DriveThruRPG this week!

DriveThruRPG‘s annual New Year, New Game Sale is up and running, with 50% off the price of over 80 different corebooks both new and old!

This year’s sale has excellent titles that I can personally recommend that are worth checking out if you don’t have them yet:

Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition

A permanent fixture in my top 5 rpgs of all time, L5R presents a rich and unique pseudo-japan setting where honor is a force more powerful than steel.


Monte Cook’s Numenera is weird science fantasy writ large. Set so far in the future that technology and magic are one and the same, Numenera is D&D turned on it’s head with interesting mechanics that reward exploration and discovery over just combat.

Part-Time gods from Third Eye Games

Imbued with the spark of divinity, player characters step up onto the grand stage of godhood in Eloy Lasanta’s Part-Time Gods! Modern sensibilities play with mythic themes. Definitely a solid player in the “modern gods” genre of games that holds its own alongside Scion and Nobilis.

Savage Worlds Deluxe: Explorer’s Edition

If you’re looking for a rules-medium game that can run any genre, then Savage Worlds delivers fun without the mechanical complexity of other systems. I’ve had a great time running Savage Worlds before, and the system is well supported with imaginative and interesting settings like Deadlands and Solomon Kane!

Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition

20 years is a long time for a game to exist, but Onyx Path injects new life to Werewolf: the Apocalypse in the definitive new volume that compiles the very best of Werewolf. Those who haven’t gotten into it before, or missed out on this Classic World of Darkness line will do themselves a favor by picking this up.

Little Wizards

Kids and Adults will love this game as it presents an interesting world full of opportunities for all sorts of adventures, while giving vital advice to the adults on how to run kid-friendly games!

[Let’s Study Numenera] Part 7: Review and Conclusions

Numenera is one of those few games that knew what it wanted to be and stuck to its guns all throughout. A rules-medium game of exploration and discovery in a gonzo setting set in the far, far future describes the game perfectly.

The rules are easy to understand, and the mechanics introduced are novel and useful, while subconsciously pushing an agenda when it comes to play styles. By rewarding discoveries rather than the killing of monsters, Numenera manages to step away from being just another D&D clone set in the far future to becoming it’s own thing.

I will admit that when I first flipped through it, I was afraid that it was just D&D with a different coat of paint, but now I see that there are certain simple, yet fundamental differences that make Numenera its own animal.

That said, mechanics aside, I feel that the setting could still be fleshed out a little more. I’m certain that more books in the future could be used to give a better glimpse of the civilizations in the game, but for now being able to pull from various sources of weird high-technology meets fantasy like Dune and The Incal or even other sources that are further afield like Adventure Time or Thundarr the Barbarian and even He-Man makes for fertile ground for idea mining as a GM.

Numenera is a breath of fresh air that manages to prove that there’s always space for something innovative in the marketplace. With interesting mechanics, a neat premise and easy to run rules, I can see this being an excellent introduction to the hobby and a must have for any RPG collection.


Numenera is available from DriveThruRPG for $19.99 or roughly Php 860.00

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