by Christopher Robin Negelein Art Credit: Public Domain, Wikipedia
This is blog post that tackles another recurring Cypher question. “Where are the combat tactics is Cypher? It all looks like bland dice rolls.”
That question get to the heart of one Cypher’s funny little facts. It’s often harder to teach to those who are habitual RPGers as compared to people new to the hobby.
Many long time gamers are used to seeing their RPG tactics come in three different frameworks.
Keywords.The Keyword framework is built on the idea that certain actions, conditions and positions must be met in a certain order to stack as many legal bonuses on the dice. To sum up, A Combatant has to wielding his Longsword to activate a bonus that stacks with a Flanking Bonus that stacks on a Hate Enemy bonus but before all they drank a potion to get in that flanking position, and so on. Most of these bonuses are based on the individual character build, but if every individual is doing their job in the fight, it works a well oiled machine. Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 are the exemplars of this style.
Wargame. In this framework, the game offers a menu of options that everyone could possibly attempt to acquire bonus and then players see which one apply to their PCs or their positioning or by utilizing the terrain on the map. Players take Cover and Aim, or try Tricksto bottleneck the bad guys until they can hit a Flank and take them down. With the team communicating and working in concert, they can get the edge they need to whittle down the bad guys. i.e. the players themselves are working like a well oiled machine. Savage Worlds is a great example of this type of combat.
Slice and Dice. Other types of RPGs do a combination of these two. Even the examples I gave use a little bit from the other column to spice things up.
But what do I do?
While both versions of the Cypher Rule, have a GM section called The Rest of the Rules that delves into how GM’s should look at cyphers and character abilities differently; there’s not a similar section for players who are looking for the usual signposts for their combat options.
If you follow these adages, though, you find that Cypher is full of decision points that will reward smart play versus just calling out, “I swing.”
Teamwork to make the enemy go “erk”. Your group is usually divided into two teams. Those who go before the baddies and those who go after. Make the synergies of these two mini-teams work in your favor. Pick most productive order to do your actions in, not who rolled in descending order.
Cypher is my fer the taking. This is where Cypher’s nod to Old School gaming comes in. Let the whole party, not just the cypher owner, come up with ways to use their cyphers in combat. Especially the ones that don’t have an obvious combat use. Can you use them to distract the enemy, delay them, create a speed bump? It’s a puzzle for the whole group and maybe even the GM can offer up ideas. Odds are if it’s cool, it will work.
Always bet on the Asset. How does that teamwork, cyphers and skills become synergistic? In Assets. Put forward to the GM how these shenanigans you’ve cooked up can produce assets to help someone in the party make a lethal strike or set up the enemy for a sucker punch. Sure you max out at two, but that means you’ve reduced your Target number by 6 points. What was a Level 6 (18) is now a Level 4 (12), which is much better odds.
Boom goes the daya-Might (Pool.) Cypher is design that if your character does what they are expected to at their level, Edge will make that cost free. It’s only if they are pushing themselves beyond expectations they have to pay. This is all part of the different philosophy of resource management as compared to most RPGs which focus on dice bonus management.
So when all of those Assets and teamwork and Skills pile up, that is the time to use Effort and really special abilities to alpha strike the enemy. Odds are that even if the enemy is not down, it has been set up for the round or even the very next player to finish the job.
That’s the trick, combat is quick. Lots of GMs create adventures that are strings of combat encounters out of necessity for the XP mill. Cypher doesn’t give out XP like that, it just doesn’t. Combats are more for the spice and to add tension to an adventure -- and most are done in five rounds or less. If a GM converts an old fantasy adventure, they will discover a lot of the fights are not mechanically necessary and might only keep them around for the sake of expectation or even the fear of “I have no idea of what to do here!”
Done in proper Cypher, a lot of those maps become strangely empty.
Put up your dukes -- as an example.
Sure, let's come up with a straightforward example:
- The Crew is at Tier 2.
- Player Allie is an Explorer has a Reality Spike Cypher
- Player Bo is an Adept who has the focus Employs Magnetism
- Player Kris is a warrior whose taken a few scratches but still has most of his Might Pool, thanks to biding his time with cheaper attacks that his Edge 2 makes free
- Player Del is a Speaker
- The enemy is a tough nut to crack in plate mail.
The dice clatter in the dice tray and the initiative order is Allie, Bo and Kris before the Enemy and Del by themselves. Sorry Del.
All the players get their heads together to assess their abilities, skills and cyphers. The first “team” decide to go as Allie, Bo and Kris more to pull off their plan than to stick to alphabetical order.
Player Allie pulls a Reality Spike cypher in her satchel. What does it do? It can be placed anywhere, including thin air, and it sticks there. You have to exceed in a Level 8 Might check to even knock it out of place. Seems cool, but not combatty, right?
Allie smirks and puts it at about chest height to activate it, then taking a step back.
Then Player Bo uses Move Metal with their **Employs Magnetism** Focus. to pull the enemy in plate mail toward the Reality Spike and pin them there. Maybe Bo asks the GM if they could use Effort to keep the enemy pinned in place. Or asks if the pinning is worth two Assets (in the past the GM gave the group one Asset if Bo used Move Metal to just tug at steel armor.)
Regardless, Kris brings up his Warrior and digs deep into his Might Pool. He uses two levels of Effort (one to really ensure the hit and the other for extra damage. He also tells the GM that if he rolls 17 or above, he wants the effects to be all in damage.) His 2 Edge is Might takes some of the sting out of it but he will be "tired" for pulling off this alpha strike. Before all this, he was only doing special abilities that cost him only 1 or 2 Might, ergo free thanks to his edge. If Kris rolls a natural 20, it is all reimbursed.
On the enemy’s turn the GM could decide a whole of options to challenge Bo's mastery of magnetism or try to slide around the Reality Spike to come flying toward the party (thanks to Move Metal) and all that.
But let’s just said for the sake of making this a simple example, he fails and is stuck there.
At this point, Player Del knows what they are going to do, using their Speaker abilities to convince Plate Mail Villain to give up. Del rolls the dice, with 2 Effort, crossing their fingers and ...
Holy cow! What happened?
Regardless of the outcome, in one round, the group has creatively weakened an opponent in a way that's way cool way thanks to Ganza Gaming’s Cypher Adages!
In no time flat, your GM will find themselves grateful they don't have to roll dice because they are trying to keep up with you.
And the next fight is going to be a whole different challenge because the Realty Spike is used up and gone. Better roll on the cypher table again.
Go, Ganza! Go.
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