Reflections On Cypher

Yesterday, I was blessed to receive a cool package from Monte Cook Games. Most exciting was the “Claim The Sky” superhero genre book for the Cypher System. Check it out!

I’ve not had a chance to open and explore these items yet… but the weekend is young!

My first thought was around the enjoyment I have found in playing the Cypher System despite the fact that it’s a game designed for a very different aesthetic to the one I have recently been driving towards. And that’s pretty interesting.

Cypher is a fairly traditional roleplaying game but one that is designed to help groups to tell exciting, action-packed, and adventurous stories. Monte Cook’s focus is on the collaborative story-telling that he believes is the central goal of RPGs.

Cypher does a very good job of freeing up the GM to focus on the story while requiring the players to know all the rules, roll all the dice, and drive their characters into action. The World is mere setting and almost an after-thought to many games – a backdrop for the characters and the action.

Of course, interestingly, Monte Cook also created some amazing fantasy Worlds: Ptolus is one and Numenera is another. For all the thousands of words written about these Worlds, GMs and players generally report that you can largely ignore the background while you play – it’s all often treated as colourful decoration. I remember a friend saying that you can pretty much skip all the setting material in Numenera and treat it as optional.

For me, this is the antithesis of what I want from my play. I bought Ptolus and Numenera because I want to explore those worlds. I want to absorb and delve deeper into these realms and discover the characters who dwell there. The story that emerges from that exploration is going to be fascinating… but the story is not the goal. Discovery is the goal.

And oddly, that’s the stated goal in Numenera: discovery. I’ve always felt that Monte Cook misses the most interesting thing about his Worlds while he is busy encouraging us all to focus on sharing cool stories. For me, the Worlds he creates are some of the richest and under-utilised realms in gaming. When I play Cypher System games, I want to go deeper.

So… I am going to have to work out what to do with these games and their worlds. Cypher requires the players to know the rules. They roll all the dice. Nothing much of anything, really, is behind the screen – just the situational notes the GM holds even as they are encouraged to be flexible with the details.

There are so many opportunities to mess around with different methods of play to match the various worlds and rules in my collection. I was simply very pleased to get another dose from Monte Cook Games.

Game on!

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