Posted on October 20, 2018
Time to hit the ol’ dusty trail?
An entirely idle thought crossed my mind the other day: GURPS tried to be a universal RPG system by piling on the rules, just so much customization, while the Cypher system might have a better chance of being a universal system by being simple.
This is not an original thought. There are a few games systems that take a more basic approach and I’ve heard, do it better than the Cypher System; FATE, Powered By The Apocalypse, etc.
But I like the Cypher System: on top of the simple rules, I like the Cypher’s wild card-ness in Numenera. A random throwaway piece of scavenged tech can turn any scene into a fiasco/triumph/complication and that isn’t a bug, that’s a feature. While other games (AD&D.x) lend themselves to a “Christmas tree” of magic items that people rely upon, you can’t really do that in Numenera. Your various power boosts are fleeting and changeable. And it’s SUPER fun when Bryce remembers that he has a lightning storm suppository and whips it out… in… in the heat of battle and THAT is the weird thing that turns the tide.
Being able to come up with Cyphers for a setting is pivotal for me then, because that’s the thing that makes the simple system the most fun. It’s easy in Numenera, you’re scavenging tech from a junkyard a billion years old and a planet wide. For other systems, the cyphers have to change up a bit.
(I’ve ordered a setting-agnostic Subtle Cypher deck. Rather than being cyphers for the characters to use, it’s better to think of them as cyphers the players use. I’ve yet to decide how I’ll fold them in to Numenera.)
So could I think of a setting/game that I’d really want to Cypherize? Two words: Yes.
There a couple of things that make me think the Weird West would make a good CS setting for us.
A: We all liked Deadlands.
B: We’re already using Poker Chips for our stat pools. Thematic!
C: Deadlands was a great setting with some really cool elements to the rules set and also some really time-consuming elements to its rules.
D: The character archetypes in Deadlands could be fairly easily recreated with the Blanking Blank who Blanks with enough depth. You can have your Fighter/Magic User/Specialist x Native/Mormon/Holy Roller/Tinhorn/Veteran/etc x Lives in the Wilderness/Uses Ghost Rock/Died a While Ago etc. The Cypher System Rulebook has a bunch of generic entries for this and with a few reskinned to be more setting appropriate and. A few created from whole cloth… That would be one of the few things that would have to be established before play.
E: The other thing that would have to be established before play would have to be the form of the Cyphers. But Deadlands has that built into its lore with Ghost Rock. Ghost Rock is (SPOILERZ!!!) literally ghosts trapped in rocks. That people burn as fuel. So what if you had a Ghost Rock chunk with a spirit that talked to you, let you know what it was, struck a bargain with you to help you when you released it? Suddenly your character is walking around with disposable boosts and effects… i.e. Cyphers.
Thinking about what I’d keep from the rules set, it’d pretty much only be the poker hands for spellcasting/arcane skills. That isn’t too hard – the poker hands simply turn into a number, that number can be the equivalent of a die roll. It’s a slower way to resolve things, but I like it a lot.
The other stuff, the different dice for stats and skills, the card draw for initiative, I’d abandon all that. I’d definitely put poker chips to use as bullets. Anything to get pencils down.
Well, that all seems like a lot of work. Good news everybody! Lots of other, more industrious, people have had the same thinks that I just thunk. I’ve found quite a lot of partially completed thoughts re: Weird West roleplaying.
If folks are interested, I’ll try to put something together out of what other people have come up with. If you’ve played Deadlands before let me know what you liked about it and what you didn’t.