The Strange

[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.

Genres

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:

[Let’s Study The Strange by Monte Cook Games] Part 6: Running The Strange & Conclusions

Happy New Year everyone!

Today we’re on the GM section of The Strange. This is the section in the book that is meant for the Game Master’s use, and goes into the important things to remember when running a game of The Strange. This covers not just basic mechanics and rules but also into the thinking behind the methods presented when running.

I appreciated the fact that The Strange took the time to guide the GM through the process of planning and running a game. This includes laying the foundations behind a successful session, where fun is the primary objective. The rules of The Strange are reasonably simple, and therefore it becomes more important to have a detailed GM section to show just how flexible the rules are when being applied to all sorts of situations.

The GM section also has a host of Cyphers, mysterious one-use devices that serve as temporary powers that the Agents can use. Cyphers are neat and interesting, and having the ability to carry only a limited amount encourages players to use them as soon as they have an opportunity. The surprise factor of not knowing what kind of Cypher you’ll run into next is part of the appeal.

An entire section is also devoted to the nuances of running a game set in the unique and bizarre setting of The Strange. These aren’t really groundbreaking revelations, but are nice to know especially to GMs new to the setting, or to GMing in general.

I find that The Strange’s GMing section is pretty good as far as core rulebooks are concerned. It took on the challenge of being able to teach someone to run games set in such a unique and exotic setting and gives them enough tools with regards to Cyphers, alternate mechanics and advice to get any GM to sound confident and capable in the table.

When I first started reading the book, The Strange felt a little bit hurried, with so many splendid ideas but a mad scramble to try and put them all down to paper. While I still feel that the book still could use a little improvement in how it introduces concepts to the readers, I can’t say that it’s a bad game. Numenera was definitely worth checking out for it’s crazy gonzo science-fantasy vibe, but The Strange marries the same gonzo, kitchen-sink thinking and bolts on modern day urban-fantasy and mad science into it as well.

For fans of such settings, who aren’t afraid of trying a different kind of mechanic, pick up The Strange. It will definitely be worth your time.

You can get a PDF copy of The Strange from DriveThruRPG for only $19.99 or roughly Php 860.00

[Let’s Study The Strange by Monte Cook Games] Part 5: Creatures & NPCs

I’ll confess that the most amusing chapter of The Strange would have to be the Bestiary. If a game goes and labels itself “Strange” and expressly states that it is a setting that allows pretty much anything to exist (as a recursion, or something else) then you’ll at least expect to find some totally crazy concepts for monsters.

The Strange core book does not disappoint in this regard.

As with Numenera, creature entries in The Strange feature more than just the mechanical bits, and a general description of what a creature looks like, but also its motivations, possible interactions, combat behavior, and possible uses in game for a GM looking to employ a given monster in their game.

Most of the monsters in this section are given a full color illustration, with some of them looking very weird indeed. I’m normally hesitant to talk about artwork as I don’t consider myself as an expert, but there’s definitely a spark of madness in majority of the monsters in the book.

The monsters aren’t just the usual cookie cutter orc and goblins either, everything is pretty out there, and one of my favorites is the “Dark Energy Pharoah” whose backstory is so amusing that it’s bordering on something I’d expect to see out of a Jodorowsky book.

The NPC section is pretty useful, with a handful of generic builds for the usual people you’d normally run into in a game, while having stats for some noteworthy few characters that would be fun encounters for a group of Agents. I wish there were a few more of these though, as it feels that the authors had to cut out some content for space.

Overall this section of the book alone adds tremendous value to The Strange as a setting, and to Numenera GMs who are looking to add to their already substantial roster of oddities to run into. The beauty of the system found in both games is that it’s simple enough to use assets from either game in the other, without any major hiccups.

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

[Let’s Study The Strange by Monte Cook Games] Part 4: Recursions

We’ve hit on the concept of Recursions earlier on in this series, but this part of the book is the one that deals with the mechanics behind them in play. Recursions are neat in the sens that it’s an excuse for a GM to tack on pretty much any setting they can think of to a game of The Strange and it will work out just fine.

Recursions possess several traits, such as a Level, which determines the difficulty of translating into that recursion, and Laws, which dictate the physics that rule over the particular recursion, such as magic or mad science.

Another interesting fact is that with the discovery of a “Reality Seed” player characters can actually create their own Recursions, ranging from small pocket dimensions to fully mature alternate worlds that follow their whim. Obviously it isn’t easy, and there’s plenty of room for things to get “interesting” but that’s all part of the fun.

This section also delves into the three main settings of The Strange: Earth, the magical realm of Ardeyn and the world of Mad Science known as Ruk. Each of these goes into detail on the nature of each of the settings, including plot hooks, NPC factions and unique locations.

This opens up The Strange to all manner of games, from espionage, to conspiracy and high adventure across dozens of interesting scenarios.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, The Strange isn’t really just a setting as much as it’s ALL settings. Fans of world-hopping and cross-genre stories will adore The Strange as it gives you ever excuse to be elsewhere and elsewhen at the drop of a hat. I can totally see a campaign revolving around agents pursuing villains across a dozen worlds modeled after well-known videogames, for example.

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

[Let’s Study The Strange by Monte Cook Games] Part 3: Translations

One of the most interesting concepts in The Strange has to be that of Translation. Essentially, player characters are able to shift from one recursion to another through a process called Translation, which changes a person so that they fit and make sense in the new world that they’re going to.

The process of translation is neat because it gives the character a different look and even skills that fit the recursion. This process of Translation can make a character look very different in another world.

Translation is performed by player characters (and other special characters) through the process of a four-hour trance. After a Translation recursor need to acclimatize to their new world, which leaves them slightly vulnerable as they cannot access their focus abilities during this time as they settle into place.

Translation isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, however, as it also requires knowledge or a sympathetic connection to the recursion you plan to Translate to. This can be an object from the destination recursion, or a likeness of the destination (like a photo) or knowledge of three specific and related details about the destination recursion, or finally a recursion key.

These are only necessary on the first visit, as recursor can go back to any recursion they’ve visited before without these.

Translation isn’t a certain thing, as there’s a chance that the process could fail, and spectacularly so. This could lead the team in some very weird situations as they might find themselves in a strange and unknown recursion and will be forced to survive until they recover enough to translate back to a familiar world.

Out of all the concepts I’ve run into so far in this game, Translation is perhaps the one that I’m having the most fun with in The Strange.

This comes from the fact that recursions can be pretty much anywhere you can think of. With the tendency of some recursions to be brought into existence by leaking literature or fiction from our world to The Strange, you can have adventures where player characters end up Translating to Equestria from My Little Pony, or Eternia from He-Man.

Regardless of where they end up, there’s bound to be all sorts of fun you can have from trying to figure out the new recursion and what you have to do when you’re there.

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

[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.

Rolling

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.

Combat

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.

Type

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.

Twists:

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.

Descriptors

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:

Clever

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.

Focus

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

And I’m back!

I’ve returned from my business trip to Singapore last Saturday night, but with a few social obligations and my Wedding Anniversary yesterday I’m only really beginning to settle in to the old routine just now. Apologies for those left waiting for the rest of the Let’s Study series for The Strange, but I’ll get back to that shortly once I have all my ducks in a row.

In other good news, I was able to get a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook courtesy of my brother, who flew in from Australia on vacation. He was able to find a copy there and bought it a week before he was heading home. This means I’ll be able to get a review or a Let’s Study series on 5e very soon.

Well, that’s it for this momentary personal post. I just need to get my bearings and I should be able to continue my series on The Strange.

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