By Christopher Robin Negelein Image by thisisorka from Pixabay
“How do I convert my personal game world to Cypher?” is perhaps the most common question to come across my desk, and by desk I mean the Internets of Discord and gaming forums.
The question comes from people who have been either world building in a system agnostic way, like a novel or an almanac, or they’ve decided to take their homebrew from the world's most famous RPG to Cypher. Most of these sandboxes will be some flavor of fantasy.
And when some game masters think about doing this, they think of doing a conversion and doing it with commitment to equivalencies. For example, you could assume that each tier of Cypher must equal 3 levels of 5e/d20 because the math is hella convenient.*
I’d say that’s a forest for the trees sort of thinking process and that you should think in much more abstract and meta terms. Because here’s the secret, Cypher is a lot more flexible when you use a certain technique.
The art of subtraction
The Cypher book suggests 55 focuses for a Fantasy game. They range from Works the Back Alley to Travels Through Time. Even better, the book has a Campaign Worksheet in the back so you can show players which focuses those are. There’s 92 total focuses if you’re curious.
And while it's tempting to use this whole kitchen sink with so many cool focuses and such, you are not beholden to offer those 55. They are not all at the same power level nor theme.
Your game would be much better served by curating that 55 down to 45 or even 35 to make a list that’s closer to the flavor AND power level of your vision. That doesn’t mean you can’t open up to those other focuses later or even cannibalize them for parts. [“ I know you want to run a Helen of Troy mythical game, Vicky, but can’t I just go pickpocketing once in a while? Please?”]
It’s also an old adage in business and GMing, you get a much smoother transition by being stricter in the beginning. You establish upfront that you’re serious about the established as you also assess the personalities you're working with. Then you can loosen things up after people are in the habit of working with you and you know who can handle the extra freedom.
Being an easy going GM/boss at first and then trying to tighten up things later is always an uphill battle if not a lost one.
So by narrowing focus (see what I did there), it gives your players more clarity for the type of game you plan to run.
Remember when I mentioned tweaking the game to fit your vision? Now throw that word out the window.
The natural tendency is that we bend a game’s rules (or invent a new game system) to fit a world - usually basing our concepts of a setting from what we get in fiction or the media. I’ve already chatted about how that can be a flawed premise from the start. Over the years D&D has been used to tackle gothic horror, magical post-apoc, and magitech. And 5e, we’ve already seen demonic post-apoc and even a sci-fi project I was attached to. Esper Genesis is a great example of how you create a setting that embraces the game mechanics - like spell slots -- possibly even better than D&D does. And all games have built in assumptions, like fantasy tropes. D&D has the big bads a distance away, either literally or deep underground or on another plane because you need room for that XP grind.
Making cyphers an integral part of the setting can lead to cool twists you never thought of for your game. Are they literal parts of divine rainfall? Alien artifacts? Relics from a gone by age that creates shadows over your own civilization?
And now that you’ve allowed yourself to open your world to changes, think about how your own players can mix things up and tweaking the details again. *Sure*, you many be thinking, *I'll just make the PC knight part of this minor noble house.* A natural reaction to the thought of *Well, if I make them a bigger part of the picture they might ... change things.* But why is that such a bad thing?
Making your world anew
Remember there's your original vision and then the version you put out there for play. Your players haven't reached into your laptop and deleted your work (unless you have overshared your GDrive permissions) no more than they ripped out pages from a game book sitting on your shelf (or if they have, please go get new players!)
Just relax and go along for the ride. Quick side note: If you are Tiny d6 fan, I made a thing! Check it out and get your urban fantasy on!
[Your Cypher straw man of the day: Magic users don’t have enough spells compared to my d20 game. Most first level 5e magic users have access to 3 to 4 cantrips, 2 first levels and either two more spells or a special shtick. This facility with spellcasting comes at the cost of totally sucking at almost anything else
In comparison, the old school Cypher Adept gets four abilities (spells), a Focus ability and the only Type to have three cyphers. Yep, cyphers count and spells - and often are more outrageous than the actual abilities an old school Cypher character had. Totally counts.
The new Revised has taken it a step further and offered ways for PCs to buy more spell-like abilities and even offers hot swaps if you have a spell book. So now the straw man is even more staw… uh, strawy?]
*Default Cypher is really more like levels 5 to 20 of d20 or 5e. Characters start off much more competent.
Go, Ganza! Go.
I'm open to bribes for more Cypher stuff! You can do a one-timer at https://ko-fi.com/ganzagaming , or regularly via this Patreon. Regardless, I'm still working on Solar Sails, a fantastical world of SPELLs that's JAMMERed with all sorts of the fantastical.
Check out my 5e stuff! https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=negelein&x=0&y=0&author=&artist=&pfrom=&pto=
Cypher PDFs! https://tinyurl.com/yxfj29by
Ganza Gaming Twitter @ChrisRNegelein
I’ve been writing 5-star, award nominated, and Electrum selling gaming stuff for both Cypher and 5e SciFi. You'll see how it's all done behind the scenes and get free stuff after clicking that pledge button.
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