Cypher System

The basics of Monte Cook’s Cypher System Rulebook (ISBN-10: 1939979382, ISBN-13: 978-1939979384) are pretty simple. However, one quirk that frequently confuses players used to other tabletop role-playing games comes from the “buying down Difficulty” rule. The following home rule cheatsheet aligns the die mechanic into a more familiar method: “Roll 1d20 and add numbers to equal or beat a target number for success.”

BASIC RULES

CHARACTER DEFINITIONS

Characters are defined by a three-part phrase: A (descriptor) (type) who (focus). Put another way: An (adjective) (role) who (does these special things best).

Instead of packaging ability options in a character class, or creating a big menu of diverse abilities to buy with character building points, character creation simply involves picking one option for each part (and sometimes then customizing a few options under the type).

For example, a fantasy barbarian hero might be defined as “a hardy warrior who rages,” while a modern-day espionage agent could be “a mysterious combat-trained explorer who operates undercover.” The rulebook lists few dozen options in each category to mix-and-match.

Character Tier is pretty much the same as “character level” from other RPGs, but there are only six tiers setting up a broader scale – each covering a few smaller steps of improvement.

Cyphers, from which the game takes its name, are essentially “random character abilities” frequently gained, used and changed throughout play. (See below for examples.)

CHARACTER STATS

There are only three core character stats – Might, Speed and Intellect – but they do not grant direct bonuses to actions as one would expect from other tabletop role-playing games. Having a high Might stat does not necessarily mean your character gains any bonus for attempting acts of strength or stamina, but it could…

Instead, these stats make up a sort of “effort and fatigue dice pool” that goes down due to three reasons:
* When lost due to damage (like hit points).
* When used to “buy” d20 dice roll bonuses on task challenges. (Technically, to “buy” down the Difficulty target number needed to succeed, but see hack below.)
* When used to “activate” some types of character special abilities.

A closer “ability score” measure is the Stat Edge which tracks the “discount” a character gets on spending stat pool points during the game.

DIFFICULTY LEVELS & TASK d20 ROLLS NEEDED
Enemies and challenging tasks are rated on a scale from 0 (trivial) to 10 (beyond belief). For a character to succeed in an action or avoid a threat, the player must make a d20 roll equal to a better than three times the difficulty level:
* Level 0 (Routine) … automatic success
* Level 1 (Simple) … roll 3 or more
* Level 2 (Standard) … roll 6 or more
* Level 3 (Demanding) … roll 9 or more
* Level 4 (Difficult) … roll 12 or more
* Level 5 (Challenging) … roll 15 or more
* Level 6 (Intimidating) … roll 18 or more
* Level 7 (Formidable) … roll 21 or more
* Level 8 (Heroic) … roll 24 or more
* Level 9 (Immortal) … roll 27 or more
* Level 10 (Impossible) … roll 30 or more

MODIFIERS/CONDITIONS
* +0 … Related Ability Edge 0 to Edge 2
* +3 … Related Ability Edge 3 to Edge 4 (“free effort”)
* +6 … Related Ability Edge 5 or more (“free effort”)
* -3 … Inability in Skill
* +0 … Untrained Skill
* +3 … Trained Skill
* +6 … Specialized Skill
* +3 … One asset (tool, advantageous situation)
* +6 … Two or more assets
* +3 … Spend stat pool points (Effort 1)
* +6 … Spend stat pool points (Effort 2)
* +9 … Spend stat pool points (Effort 3)
* -3 … Dazed or Impaired
* +0 … Attack With Medium or Heavy Weapon
* +3 … Attack With Light Weapon
* +6 … Attack With Surprise
* varies … Abilities & Cyphers

SPECIAL d20 ROLLS
* Natural 1 … Free GM Intrusion and no XP awarded for it
* Natural 17 … +1 damage bonus if combat roll
* Natural 18 … +2 damage bonus if combat roll
* Natural 19 … +3 damage or minor effect (strike specific body part, knock back, move past, distract)
* Natural 20 … +4 damage or major effect (knock down, disarm, stun, impair)

USING XP
At the start of a new challenge or encounter (“GM intrusion”), the GM awards two XP cards to the key affected player. One of those awarded XP cards must immediately must be given to another of the player’s choice at the table. If the challenge or encounter affects all the characters more or less equally, then every player is awarded one XP card.

Spending XP cards…
* 1 XP … Reroll a d20 (any player), use best result rolled
* 1 XP … Refuse a GM Intrusion
* 2 XP … Gain short-term benefit (local/limited skill or ability)
* 3 XP … Gain long-term benefit (familiarity +1, contact, title/job, wealth, artifact)

XP VERSUS EFFORT
* A player must say if stat pool points are used for bonus Effort BEFORE a d20 roll.
* A player may say XP is used to reroll a d20 AFTER seeing the results of a roll.
* Both Effort and XP may be used on the same action.

RECOVERY ROLLS
Regain 1d6+1 Stat points as desired.
* First recovery roll in a day = 1 action
* Second recovery roll in a day = 1 minute
* Third recovery roll in a day = 1 hour
* Fourth recovery roll in a day = 10 hours

COMBAT

DISTANCE / MOVEMENT
* Immediate (0 to 10 feet / 0 to 3 m): Move as part of another action
* Short (10 to 50 feet / 3 to 15 m): Move as action for whole turn
* Long (50 to 100 feet / 15 to 30 m): Move as action, Speed task roll needed based on terrain difficulty

INITIATIVE
* Every player rolls 1d20 with bonus modifiers if noted on an ability or active cypher.
* NPCs start with an initiative score equal to level x 3.
* Turns are taken each round in initiative order, highest to lowest.

ACTIONS IN COMBAT
A character may do one of the following options: Immediate move and action, or short move, or long move with successful Speed roll.
* Melee Attack: Might or Speed task
* Ranged Attack: Speed task

Defense does not count as action.
* Defend Melee Attack: Speed task
* Defend Ranged Attack: Speed task
* Resist Physical Shock: Might task
* Resist Mental Shock: Intellect task

DAMAGE TRACK
Typically damage loss affects Might first, then Speed, then Intellect.

Hale (1 or more points in all Stats)
* No hindrances.

Impaired (no pool points in 1 Stat)
* Effort costs 1 extra point per level.
* Natural d20 rolls of 17 to 20 only deal +1 damage.
* Ignore minor and major effects.

Debilitated (no points in 2 Stats)
* Cannot take any action other than to crawl immediate distance.
* If Speed 0, cannot move.

Dead (no points left in any Stats)
* Dead is dead.

WEAPONS & DAMAGE
* Light Weapon: 2 damage on hit (also, light weapons attack at +3)
* Medium Weapon: 4 damage on hit
* Heavy Weapon: 6 damage on hit
* Crush: 3 damage
* Huge Crush: 6 damage
* High-Speed Collision: 6 damage

ARMOR: Reduces above damage per hit by the value of the armor. Does not reduce ambient damage.

Ambient damage…
* Falling: 1 damage per 10 feet / 3 m
* Minor Fire: 3 damage per round
* Major Fire: 6 damage per round
* Acid Splash: 2 damage per round
* Acid Bath: 6 damage per round
* Severe Cold: 3 damage per round
* Shock: 1 damage per round
* Electrocution: 6 damage per round

STAT CARDS

MIGHT STAT POOL POINT

Think of Might stat points as “strength currency.”

Always subtract your Might Edge from any cost of Might stat points.

Might stat point use…
* Lost due to physical damage, or overflow from other damage.
* Spend some number to activate special powers as listed.
* Spend 3 Might to retry a Might task after a failure.
* Spend 3 Might to cause +3 damage on a melee hit.
* Spend 3 Might for +3 bonus to d20 roll.
* Spend 5 Might for +6 bonus (requires Effort 2).
* Spend 7 Might for +9 bonus (requires Effort 3).
* Spend 9 Might for +12 bonus (requires Effort 4).
* Spend 11 Might for +15 bonus (requires Effort 5).
* Spend 13 Might for +18 bonus (requires Effort 6).
* Can be regained by recovery rolls (action, minute, hour, 10 hours).
* All spent points regained following 8 hours of rest.

SPEED STAT POOL POINT

Think of Speed stat points as “dexterity currency.”

Always subtract your Speed Edge from any cost of Speed stat points.

Speed stat point use…
* Lost due to physical damage, or overflow from other damage.
* Spend some number to activate special powers as listed.
* Spend 3 Speed to retry a Speed task after a failure.
* Spend 3 Speed for +3 bonus to d20 roll.
* Spend 5 Speed for +6 bonus (requires Effort 2).
* Spend 7 Speed for +9 bonus (requires Effort 3).
* Spend 9 Speed for +12 bonus (requires Effort 4).
* Spend 11 Speed for +15 bonus (requires Effort 5).
* Spend 13 Speed for +18 bonus (requires Effort 6).
* Can be regained by recovery rolls (action, minute, hour, 10 hours).
* All spent points regained following 8 hours of rest.

INTELLECT STAT POOL POINT

Think of Intellect stat points as “mental currency.”

Always subtract your Intellect Edge from any cost of Intellect stat points.

Intellect stat point use…
* Lost due to psychic or mental damage, or overflow from other damage.
* Spend some number to activate special powers as listed.
* Spend 3 Intellect to retry a Intellect task after a failure.
* Spend 3 Intellect for +3 bonus to d20 roll.
* Spend 5 Intellect for +6 bonus (requires Effort 2).
* Spend 7 Intellect for +9 bonus (requires Effort 3).
* Spend 9 Intellect for +12 bonus (requires Effort 4).
* Spend 11 Intellect for +15 bonus (requires Effort 5).
* Spend 13 Intellect for +18 bonus (requires Effort 6).
* Can be regained by recovery rolls (action, minute, hour, 10 hours).
* All spent points regained following 8 hours of rest.

CYPHERS

Cyphers are one-time use special powers. The genre of the story will determine how these items “work” in the character’s world (magic potions in a fantasy world, gadgets from Q branch in an espionage game, spontaneous mutations in a post-apocalypse nightmare, and so forth).

Characters typically start with 2 or more cyphers are the start of play and can find new ones to regain or swap out during play.

Each cypher has a level which may affect what it does or simply rate how difficult it is to counter or resist.

EXAMPLE CYPHERS

ADHESION (Level 1d6): Allows for automatic climbing of any surface, even horizontal ones. Lasts for twenty minutes.

AGE TAKER (Level 1d6+4): Begins a process of rejuvenation that removes years from the wearer’s physiological age. Over the course of the next seven days, the wearer sheds a number of years equal to three times the cypher’s level. The cypher doesn’t regress physiological age past the age of 23.

ANTIVENOM (Level 1d6+2): Renders user immune to poisons of the same level or lower (and ends any such ongoing effects, if any, already in the user’s system).

ARMOR REINFORCER (Level 1d6+1): The user’s Armor gains an +1 enhancement for a day.

ATTRACTOR (Level 1d6+4): One unanchored item your size or smaller within long range is drawn immediately to you. This takes one round. The item has no momentum when it arrives.

BANISHING (Level 1d6): For the next 24 hours, each time you strike a solid creature or object (with a weapon or your fist), a burst of energy teleports it an immediate distance in a random direction (not up or down). The difficulty of a teleported creature’s actions (including defense) is modified by one step to its detriment on its next turn.

DENSITY (Level 1d6+2): For the next 24 hours, each time you strike a solid creature or object with a weapon, the weapon suddenly increases dramatically in weight, causing the blow to inflict 2 additional points of damage.

DETONATION (Level 1d6+2): Projects a small physical explosive up to a long distance away that explodes in an immediate radius, inflicting damage equal to the cypher’s level. Roll for the type of damage:
* 01–10 … Cell-disrupting (harms only flesh)
* 11–30 … Corrosive
* 31–40 … Electrical discharge
* 41–50 … Heat drain (cold)
* 51–75 … Fire
* 76–00 … Shrapnel

DETONATION (CREATURE) (Level 1d6+1): Projects a small physical explosive up to a long distance away that explodes and creates a momentary teleportation gate. A random creature whose level is equal to or less than the cypher’s level appears through the gate and attacks the closest target.

DETONATION (DESICCATING) (Level 1d6+2): Projects a small physical explosive up to a long distance away that bursts in an immediate radius, draining moisture from everything within it. Living creatures take damage equal to the cypher’s level. Water in the area is vaporized.

EQUIPMENT CACHE (Level 1d6+1): The user can rummage around and produce from the cypher a desired piece of equipment (not an artifact) whose level does not exceed the cypher’s level. The piece of equipment persists for up to 24 hours, unless its fundamental nature allows only a single use (such as with a grenade).

Etc.