Monday, August 31, 2020

Hybrid cyphers and carts before horses


By Christopher Robin Negelein  Art: public domain 

It seems that for many GMs running Cypher for modern/sci-fi settings that are low in preternatural atmosphere or super science presents a tricky situation. 

A part of that comes from the mindset established for most of our  human history. A tool does one thing and does it well. For example hammer drove in nails, a padlock secured a hasp and when you pushed a button one thing happened. 

As you know, in the modern age we don’t even have buttons anymore press a surface at a certain spot and wonderful things happen. Sow while Classic (that’s what I’m calling the first printing run) and Revised offer great suggestions with spy-fi toys like cuff-link explosives or drugs or even viruses, there is one suggestion, smartphone apps, that could use a deeper dive.

Communication and technology.

Because it’s just not the app, but also the power of the phone and radio communication technology for the last 100 years that we could tap into for a hybrid sort of subtle/manifest cypher.*

For another example, smartphone app’s GPS could call down a  Detonation (Spawn) cypher as an air strike, but in a World War II game the PC would be on the horn calling in coordinates for experimental artillery fire.

And in between we have telephones, CB’s, ham radio and walkie talkies. But the real star of these cyphers are who is on the other end of the end.

Is the phone call or text reaching out to a knowledge expert, a fixer or a satellite up link?  The possibilities are endless on who can be helping the character, and the GM, rationalize where the cypher’s effect came from. 

But if you need some help, simply roll or pick a quick idea on the Calling It In table.

D6 Calling It In

1 Radio in artillery

2 Phoning a professor

3 App for maker expert

4 Video walk through

5 Texting a mentor

6 Hyperlink to AR map

Either way, this sort of cypher sits in between the worlds of subtle and manifest cyphers and something to explore even more.  

The horse before the cart

But there is a further twist we can add to these cyphers thanks to the Revised rule of Player Intrusions. Simply that a player can choose how the cypher manifests (be subtle or not) just before they use it. 

In both versions of the Cypher Rulebook that says you shouldn’t get hung up on a cypher’s form as the GM assigns it to you. That is great advice, but there is another option to consider. With the new narrative control that Player Intrusions bring, it’s not a far stretch to have players assign the source of the cypher just before they use, as compared to making it fit what the GM gave them. 

This way a player is not staring at a hammer cypher on their character sheet and looking for nails, but seeing a problem and then seeing how they can fit the effect of a cypher to the job. 

Cypher veterans already do this with aplomb, but for beginners not thinking how a gun sight would fit on their bow when they can reimagine it as a special bow attachment or a text of encouragement from their coach or a super spy safecracker giving you the latest tips.

It’s a simple step, but one that might suit your style, give it a try!

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