What do I think about Cypher now?

It has been some time now since I started my game of Cypher System.  I have been playing the game in the Netrunner setting and I have formed an opinion of the game as a whole.  There are things I love, things I don’t and bits in between.  Let me tell you about some of what I have been thinking.

A chat with Cameron Corniuk Helped me clarify some stuff

I had a lot going on in my head since I started playing Cypher system.  Cameron had been writing blogs on here about other games I just would not play now if you paid me to.  A lot of that is because of the ease of play of the Cypher System.

I used to be a Pathfinder GM.  I loved the crunch of the system and the surety of knowing there was pretty much a rule for every situation.  But then with the steady growth of the rules that surety turned into a hatred of the bloat.  There were books they reneged on and tried to pretend they did not exist.  There was stuff they had written into that system that they waved flags about and told me to ignore.  Crunch had overwhelmed me.  I needed a game that allowed myself to just run a game I could be proud of.

I told Cameron all of this with an online chat.  He was talking Pathfinder 2.0 and I was talking Cypher.  He said to me;

Man.  With Cypher under your skin you will never play Pathfinder again.

And he is probably right.

Inside of cypher system organiser

What I really like

There is too much here to write so I will concentrate on the two take homes for me.  Running this game as a GM is less than a chore and more of a joy.  You strip away all of the huge amount of preparation and expectation and you find yourself asking yourself one thing as your notes go into action.  How can I make this cooler.

Sure, you start with an idea and some preparation around that idea.  You probably have a few NPC’s or foes and some ideas on how they will run.  they definitely have some difficulty numbers about them.  But the moment that idea hits the table you are immersed in the game.  Your plans and plots are likely going to fall apart.  The one thing you as a GM are thinking about is how can this moment right now be cooler than it already is.

Then you intrude.  The players draw out the massive ruby from the idol’s eye.  You grin and hand the player holding the glittering prize two experience points, one for him and one destined for someone else and you say;

The glittering prize is hot to the touch and you reflexively recoil at the heat dropping the ruby into the snake pit at the feet of the idol.

They have the option to pay you an experience point and say no to the intrusion.  In my experience to date though, the player sees how cool that makes the situation and they take the intrusion (and the experience) and play on.

I mentioned preparation above…

That is one of the cool things about this game.  Preparation is so quick.  I have run three full session games (around four hours each).  For those games, in total, I do not think that I have even done a full hour of preparation.

This is not a game weighed down by statistics and heavy rules.  This is a game about learning about the game as much as the players do.  I spent a fair bit of time designing for the first two games and in each instance the players took that left turn at Albuquerque.  That is brilliant.

You see, I am always espousing how it is much better to learn about a game with your players.  I love the Apocalypse World idea of “What do you do?” or “What is it that you see?”  You run with these portions that the player injects.  That is what is happening in my game and I am truly seeing the Android Netrunner universe come alive with every game.

How am I doing with Cyphers?

I have said publicly that I am struggling a bit with this.  But I am beginning to get on top of it.  Last game I injected a good few cyphers into the game and it did not feel unnatural.  But I did plan for their use and therefore they feel less like random drops and more like a natural part of the game.  The players even used them frequently.

Are they what Monte Cook says in the book?  They are the heart of the game?  I do not think so.  I feel that Cyphers are a nice addition but justifying them in any setting apart from fantasy is too much of an onus on the GM.  Why can’t I have two burner chips?  Because of this artificial limit inflicted on me?

They are good but the idea of them is romantic more than practical.  I even had one of the players show up with a purchase they made online.  Subtle cyphers he called them but in reality they were no cyphers at all.  They were tactics that the players should come up with by themselves.  Not receive them as drops in a scene.

OK, what don’t I like?

We all knew I was getting to this point.  It is a very minor thing though.  I do not like rules talk at the table.  When rules get in the way of the narrative I dislike it.  I tell the players it is a difficulty 5 task and then they spend the next few minutes talking about I have this asset so it drops that to a 4, and I am specialised in this skill so that makes it a 2 and I am going to put a level of effort in so that drops it to a 1 so I need a three or above on a d20.

These were conversations happening every five minutes of the first game.  They began to lessen on the second game and now we have played our third (fourth coming tomorrow) they lessened even more.  Some of you that play the game are possibly wondering how you could avoid that style of conversation.  let me give you two examples that I spoke to Cameron about.

Bad Example

 Difficulty 5?  Well I am specialised in that skill so that makes it a 3 and I have a wrench as an asset so that is a 2.  Finally I will apply a level of effort with speed to bring it to a 1 and I need to roll above three.

Good Example

Johnny whips out his trusty wrench and quickly tries to change the spark plugs – he is an ace mechanic.


I am still loving this game.  It is true that I have lost players because I want to play Netrunner the way I feel it should be done.  Player’s have two characters.  One is a corp stooge and the other is a street character.  That is Netrunner.  There was little judgement about which side you were because you had to play both.  This game was my break and so I will play it the way I want.

Seriously, if you are sitting there wondering what this Cypher System is about because you can’t game without thinking about Feats, take a look.  If you are a GM do yourself a favour and take a good long look.  Then bite the apple and play it.  You will not be disappointed.  Keep rolling (unless you are the GM!)…

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