By Christopher Robin Negelein Art Credit: Icheinfach
For some, it’s the urge to push the envelope to see what happens when a rule system is stressed tested and for others it’s more the safety net of doing something different but in familiar surroundings. But you are always going to find GMs who want to use an RPG for what it’s not designed for.
Cypher is sexy machine for doing Big Damn Heroes doing Big Damn things in fancy CGI. I’ve often said that Cypher was “D&D, levels 5 to 20 with half the math and none of the wait.”
But a semi-regular request (and occasional straw man) is to make Cypher more “realistic” [Lololololololo! Realism in a hobby of flying cyberdragons and steampunk spells]
In Mortal Fantasy and Cruel Stars: Characters, I’ve tackled different types of gritty, from more prep time spent on making a custom skill list with rules for amateurs to the zero-to-hero level advancement of D&D. So to save all of us some time in the near future, I’ve compiled a few ideas.
I don’t suggest you use all of these ideas, pick and choose what tickles your fancy:
Before you game even begins
- Really dive deep on considering making a skill list. Tweak the types (and do you really need the Adept in a gritty game?) to reflect this list. In other words, if you don’t want Balancing as a skill in your game of brutal Viking warriors, it’s no longer a choice in the Physical Skills special ability.
- Be more specific on what a skill does as it relates to your game. The better you can visualize what all the skills do, the more confidence you have when players use them.
- Spend time deciding what Types, Cyphers and Foci fit your vision and cherry pick the ones that sell your theme and power level. The prep in this stage, the less hassle later on. Hand the list to your players.
- Do the "Modifying Type Aspects", page 63 where you permanently trade a cypher slot for a skill, but perhaps let them keep one cypher,
- If a player is not trained in a weapon, it only does 2 damage at most, making even getting a Practiced level in a weapon a super big deal.
During the game
- Start the game with 0-Tier characters: They get their Descriptor and only one special ability from their type. As they mature, into 1-Tier characters, they get their Focus special ability
- Subtle cyphers or use the charts in Cruel Stars: Gears to give the heroes manifest Cyphers that are more “spy-fi” than sci-fi.
- Split up XP for rerolls and in-game bonuses from XP purely for advancement. Better yet, “milestone” your advancement and tell your crew when they level up.
- Reroll XP- you can’t re-roll a 1.
- If you don’t have some sort of “Newb Skill” rule, then don't be shy about hindering a when someone attempts something they have no Training in.
- The Damage Track: Add two more levels, Limping, which subtracts three points from your Speed Stat Pool and Harmed, which takes three points from your Might Pool. Light/Medium/Heavy Damage is 2/3/4 and applied to your Damage Track only. There is only Light/Heavy Armor which absorbs 1 / 2 points of damage. (In games with no Armor, Damage can be 1/2/3.
Perhaps the biggest piece of advice to go through is that you get some buy in from your players. The game also promotes more pulpy play and there will be a lot of options they see in the book that they won’t be able to utilize and it might cause some friction.
Also GMs may have an open mind to the idea that they might broaden their initial campaign concept a bit more later in the campaign so the players get do get to enjoy the toy box they were denied at earlier tiers.
'Cause Cypher is really more fun when you just let it go full bore.
Go, Ganza! Go!
[Update: Dean M. Lewis, or AlphaDean on the great and uber-friendly Cypher Unlimted Discord, been a great collaborator on past projects and had some great additional ideas to add to the article. Honored, I asked him to submit this addendum for even more ways to add grit to your Cypher games.]
So first things first. This is in no way a slight or throwing shade on my friend and collaborator Ganza Gaming or Chris for those not in the know. His work as always is stellar and I can actually see using these rules as is in many cases. What follows is just my perspective or take on bringing some grit to Cypher. So, with that being said I’m going to sort of review Ganza’s rules and give my take on them. Then I will list my gritty rules. I hope this helps, inspires and continues the creation of awesome adventures in the annals of Cypher System.
I love the character creation process so much and how rich and fleshed out the characters from the beginning so that’s why I would shy away from the Tier 0. I don’t necessarily want players to feel that zero to hero thing like other D20 based games.
I absolutely love the idea of modifying character advancement to make things feel a bit grittier
I like the addition to the damage track. That’s something I probably would leave as in any iteration.
Grit in Cypher by Alphadean – Dean M. Lewis
Certain cyphers are more volatile or unstable than others. I would introduce an instability roll when cyphers are found during game play. Make a difficulty check vs the cypher level. Add the level of the cypher to the die roll. (i.e. Level 5 cypher = diff 15. Character rolls d20 +5 for the check.) If the difficulty roll is failed the cypher is unstable and can be unpredictable. When used the GM gets a free intrusion linked to that cypher.
I'd like to introduce “Trauma” & “Fatigue”
Trauma is damage to pools and is harder to heal. If you’ve taken half or more damage to a pool it is harder to heal. So until you recover enough point to be higher than half, all recovery rolls are hindered in the sense that you only recover half the amount rolled on the dice.
Fatigue is caused by the depletion of pools. When a PC has lost at least 75% of a pool things are just harder. At this point any task attempted related to this pool is hindered until the character brings that pool above 75%.
Armor Depletion: All armor has a rating based on its type Light Armor rated at 10; Medium Armor rated at 20; Heavy Armor rated 40; When that armor blocks damage its rating is reduced by the number of points it blocks. If the armor reaches 0 it is destroyed. Armor can be repaired (healed if organic) by using recovery rolls on the armor instead of recovering a pool.
Elite Enemies these npc’s all have a special ability of sorts and modified damage Light 4, Medium 6, and Heavy 8.
Bosses and Right Hands – all have at least 2 special abilities and Modified damage as well Light 6, Medium 8, and Heavy 12.
Our original take on player intrusions were that they cost 2 xp.
You cannot automatically become trained in a new skill or go from trained to specialized. Your PC must make this training a part of the narrative somehow. Seeking out the person or the facility upgrade their skills or attaining new ones. You can express this as an additional 2xp for the player intrusion.
Go, Ganza! Go.
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