Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cypher System Round Four: Falling For It

We're four sessions in to Cypher System now. Often around this time I might be enjoying elements of a game, disliking others, and usually I have a pretty good sense about how it's going to go for the long run. It took about 4-5 sessions to really decide I liked 13th Age, and a like amount to decide that despite what I love about Mythras it's specific combat mechanics just weren't enjoyable, or that after five sessions I thoroughly was intrigued and frustrated by Genesys Core all at once.

I'm four sessions in with Cypher System and I have come to the conclusion that this is a system that resonates really, really well with the type of GM I am. It's definitely a game which operates in the "GM design style" space, Gumshoe, FATE and most other games, there's a certain expectation of GM style that comes with Cypher System, and systems like this tend to resonate really well with those who can get in to their approach. For example, Gumshoe: GMs who disliked the Call of Cthulhu skill mechanic as a pass/fail (or played it that way) love Gumshoe because it moves to a different sort of mechanic that turns clues into a resource point system for the players. If you as a GM fail to understand how people had a problem with "failing forward" or moving the story along in the regular CoC rules, then Gumshoe's assertion it was a problem to be fixed will perplex you, and the mechanic presented may well be annoying. This is because it is a fix to help a specific kind of GM and style.

Cypher System is very much for GMs who don't want to sweat rules and want to have a system that focuses on the narrative and world-building elements. It's about catering to an experience, while providing a stronger set of mechanics for players to worry about. But the point where player and GM interact in the rules? That's one of the simplest functions of the game.

90% of the material for Cypher System (including Numenera and The Strange) is about inspiring the GM to delve deep in to interesting stories. 10% is about giving more stuff to players to work with. It seems to balance well, because most of my prep on this game as GM has been about world building, and for a system which operates on so few working pieces, it's really doing a fantastic job of giving me what I want.

It does lack in the context of "emergent complexity from mechanics," something I also like at times. D&D and especially Pathfinder do that really well: it's when the system builds deliberate complexity in its design to allow for all sorts of unexpected emergent gameplay elements. These two systems, and others, can do that exceedingly well. In Cypher System, it wants the emergent complexity to spring from the story being told, the areas being explored, and the actions spawned therefrom by the players.

As an example, in Pathfinder you might have a fight where an exciting triple crit drops a foe, or someone uses a feat in an interesting way, or a monster's ability has an unexpected effect. A save made when you didn't expect it, or a shot made that shouldn't, can lead to interesting narrative results spawning from mechanical effect.

In Cypher System, the emergent complexity spawns a bit from this, but more from the GM using intrusions judiciously, players taking advantage of assets and everyone riffing off of the story. An impressive combat maneuver might come from someone asking "Can I stand on my horse, turn around, and fire my bow while galloping?" and the GM sets a level and runs with it rather than explaining you are missing the following requisite feats. (In defense, D&D 5E can handle this improv pretty well, too.) In some games, stuff like this happens because you build toward it. In others, it happens because you are empowered to try (even if you fail).

Anyway, tonight, the fourth night, was a great deal of fun and I anticipate playing this game for a long time to come now. I'm already working on an SF and a superhero setting for future games. It's quite possibly replaced Savage Worlds as my go-to generic RPG--for now, at least.

No comments:

Post a Comment