Cypher System: Playing the Character You Want to Play (Part 1)

Cypher System: Playing the Character You Want to Play (Part 1)

This is the fourth in a series of articles by Monte about designing, running, and playing the Cypher System. You can read the first one here.

Another of the big goals of the Cypher System is aimed directly at players. I think in order to be invested in a character and really enjoy the game, most players need to play a character they really want to play. So, rather than look at the options first and say, “Oh, this gets me a +3 in this skill, so I’ll choose that option,” the Cypher System encourages players to come up with a character concept and then tailor their character’s skills, abilities, and stats to fit that concept.


This is why, for example, the game doesn’t have a hard-and-fast, limited list of skills, but a list of suggested skill ideas. If you want your character to be skilled in college football trivia, crepe making, or reasoning with the elderly, I certainly don’t want the game’s mechanics to stop you. This is even more true of character creation in the Cypher System Rulebook than in Numenera or The Strange. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In all Cypher System games, character creation is a matter of creating a sentence that describes your character. The form of that sentence is “I’m an adjective noun who verbs,” such as “I’m a strong-willed spy who moves like a cat,” or “I’m a mad wizard who controls gravity.” All of those elements in the sentence are game mechanic words that help define your character. The first element (the adjective), is the descriptor, and it often gives you modifications to your stats, and provides additional skills or abilities—and maybe defines a few things you’re not so good at. The second element (the noun) is the type, and it is the backbone of your character, providing the most influence on stats and abilities. The third element (the verb) is the focus, and it helps really distinguish your character by providing a few really unique abilities. Both type and focus change and improve as your character grows and gains experience over time.

In the Cypher System Rulebook, because we cover potentially any genre, the options had to be both wide (there are 50 descriptors and more than 70 foci to choose from) and extremely flexible. Although there are only four types, each is very broad and filled with potential for customization. Further, the game offers the option of “flavors” that you can use to really make the character what you want. So, for example, if your fantasy warrior grew up on the streets of a big city, he might have the stealth flavor, and might have abilities oriented toward sneaking, picking pockets, and so forth—things he picked up on the mean streets to survive. Or, if your interstellar diplomat has had some self-defense training, she might be flavored with combat, giving her some skills with weapons, martial arts, or defensive maneuvers.

(Continued in Part 2)

Look for additional thoughts on the Cypher System over the weeks to come! The Cypher System Rulebook hits stores in early August, but is available for pre-order now!

Read the whole series here:

1: Logic as the Core Mechanic

2: Player Authority

3: Player Authority and the GM

4: Playing the Character You Want to Play, Part 1

5: Playing the Character You Want to Play, Part 2

6: Easy on the GM, Part 1

7: Easy on the GM, Part 2


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