Land of the Curse
(If you want the full experience, try listening to "Time's Scar" from the Chrono Cross original soundtrack while reading this post.)
Iadace cypher fans and newcomers alike!
My copy of the Cypher System Rulebook showed up while I was away at Gen Con 2015, and I've been quite excited to tear through its many pages. About a week before Gen Con I made the announcement to my regular Tuesday night gaming group that our next campaign would be Cypher System Fantasy – Ardeyn: Land of the Curse. If you saw my The Next Great Campaign post, you already received a glimpse of this as a potential campaign concept. My Tuesday night group is a natural fit for the Cypher System, since that’s what we’ve been playing, almost exclusively, since early 2014. Three of my Tuesday night gamers (+andrew lyon, +Craig McCullough, and +Jeremy Land) were actually part of my original playtest group for The Strange, and it is incredible that we’ve stuck together so long! Also included in the group are my friends Frank G., +Marc Plourde, and Andreas Walters +Andreas Walters – all players from my Numenera Tales of the Broken Mask campaign.
So by this point, we’re just one big, happy, Cypher System family!
While I enjoy running the Cypher System (either Numenera or The Strange) for new players, there is something magical that happens when you have veterans at the table. Like any other game, greater system literacy leads to smoother skill tests and encounters, and less stumbling over powers and abilities. Furthermore, and especially if you have the right selection of players (which I do), new character creation is thoughtful and intriguing. But I’ve noticed that veteran Cypher System players really go out of their way to embrace the “weird” or “strange”, and come to the table with brilliantly designed characters.
Honestly, I can’t wait for “Session 0” on Tuesday in which our group will cooperatively create a cast of characters.
Ardeyn and Inspiration
Choosing Ardeyn itself as a campaign setting for Cypher System Fantasy is almost a no brainer. The world is ready to go, complete with creatures, NPC’s, and artifacts already designed for the Cypher System. I know there are some game masters out there who enjoy creating their own fantasy settings from scratch, and truly I applaud you for your time and efforts. But personally, I’ve always preferred to run games in interesting, established settings, while still throwing in my own personal touches and twists. I love that feeling of discovery when I open up another author’s work. I relish learning the nuances and intricate details that a new world has to offer. This process makes me feel like a player in someone else’s world, even though I am the one running the game.
Despite only being one part of The Strange Corebook’s “setting”, Ardeyn is given a great amount of attention and detail. Thirty pages are devoted to Ardeyn in The Strange, and another eight in Worlds Numberless and Strange. Tack on all of the detail from the The Strange Bestiary, and over fifty pages from Ryan Chaddock Games’ Broken Immersion (which is devoted to Ardeyn), and I’m set. Actually, the fact that I don’t have an entire corebook devoted to Ardeyn is a terrific boon to my style of GM’ing. As a game master, I have most of what I need to run a believable game in someone else’s universe, but enough space to make the setting my own.
Setting a campaign in Ardeyn: Land of the Curse also gives me the opportunity to run a different kind of fantasy campaign. As an ardent fan of old-school fantasy gaming, and Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG in particular, I spend a lot of time tossing my players into dismal dungeons where they fight monstrous creatures and suffer terrible defeats. I have continuing games of DCCRPG already running, so want this Cypher Fantasy game to feel completely different and new.
I’ve read through the Ardeyn section of The Strange corebook twice now, and even with the Sumerian/Egyptian themes, I’m getting a vibe much more akin to Torchlight or even Japanese RPG's. Dragon Quest IX especially, with its take angelic beings, comes to mind. High magic, mythical creatures, and a risk of terrible darkness overtaking the world. Instead of exploring the subtle horrors of enduring week after week below ground on the hunt for treasure and glory, this campaign will focus on character development and story.
This will be the kind of campaign that starts out small, but should become world-shaking by its completion.
Since I commonly use video games as inspiration for my adventures and campaigns, I’ll probably pull a few more themes from Torchlight 2, which I just started a few weeks ago after finishing Torchlight 1 for the first time. I expect to go back to Dragon Quest IX as well, although it’s been about a year since I last left Aldo the Bard! In an effort to remain true to +Bruce R Cordell's original Sumerian/Middle-Eastern vision of Ardeyn I’ll probably watch the Mummy movies and the Scorpion King again.
I was looking for an excuse to re-watch all of those anyway.
To make sure that I’m fully embracing the backstories of my players, I’ve only sketched out a few pages of campaign notes. I’m waiting to meet all of the players in Session 0 before I even attempt to finish the first adventure. I really want each player to feel that their character is a cog in a much larger machine. Much like Numenera and The Strange, the Cypher System Rulebook encourages player character backgrounds and connections.
Delving Into the Cypher System Rulebook
Running a long term, fantasy-focused Cypher System game has been on my mind ever since our Quattro con Carnage experiment. To power the fourth leg of our jaunt through four systems, I hacked both Numenera and The Strange, using bits and pieces of both. The results pleased the group, and everyone was able to recreate their characters using the descriptor/type/focus concept from the Cypher System. The only distraction I had was with the “types”. Vector, Spinner, and Paradox, the three types in The Strange, carried too many themes and mechanics from their native game. Glaive, Jack, and Nano (from Numenera,) worked well enough, and I chose not to reskin the names so that other Cypher System fans could follow along with my on-the-spot conversion.
What became obvious as our five players made their fantasy characters, was that the Jack type filled quite a few roles… perhaps too many. While our elven magic-user was a nano, and our human fighter a glaive, our dwarf, thief, and cleric were all built using the Jack type. In hindsight, I wish I had borrowed the Spinner type from The Strange as well.
Thankfully the Cypher System Rulebook expands upon types in a way that gives players more options when building characters. Instead of three base types, the Cypher System Rulebook uses four: Warrior, Adept, Explorer, and Speaker. All of the universe-specific type abilities, such as a Nano’s innate skill with the Numenera or a Vector’s ability to Ease Translation, are removed, with room left for additional customization.
Going through the foci listed in the Cypher System Rulebook I realized that I was familiar with most of the options, and surprisingly I wasn’t bothered by the repetition. Between Numenera, The Strange, Numenera Character Options, and In Translation: The Strange Character Options, there are already dozens of potential foci that can be used to create characters in a Cypher System Fantasy campaign. There is no need to recreate the wheel. The Cypher System Rulebook arranges all of these foci in one book, and then gives players and GM’s a list of “suggested foci” for a fantasy campaign (this can be found on page 241). There are still some Ardeyn foci for The Strange, such as “Embraces Qephilim Ancestry” that I will allow in this campaign as well.
Not since the original Numenera corebook have I been so intrigued by some of the possibilities that could arise in a Cypher System Fantasy campaign:
- A Wealthy Warrior who Siphons Power
- A Doomed Adept who Howls at the Moon
- A Jovial Explorer who Casts Spells
- A Kind Speaker who Defends the Weak
So for Cypher System Fantasy I have 4 types, with 50 descriptors, and 52+ potential foci. Do the math… this kind of customization, in a class-based system, is astounding!
Perhaps my players will want some more options, so there are two additional levels of customization available in this Cypher System Fantasy campaign.
The Cypher System Rulebook brings a new concept to the table: Flavors. Flavors are sets of new type abilities that can be swapped out with existing abilities to enhance customization. These options are modular, and may fit some campaigns more than others, and so they do require some GM guidance. The flavors I will allow in our Cypher Fantasy – Ardeyn campaign are: Stealth, Magic, Combat, and Skills and Knowledge.
From Broken Immersion I will be allowing players to choose a “race” for their characters, as this is a theme central to most fantasy games, and MMORPG’s especially. As well as the Qephilim, players can be a Basmu (sort of like a draconian with useless wings), Kusarikku (a man/bull centaur), Rabisu (vampire), Girtablilu (an imperfect, unfinished, scorpion man that will be treated much like a “mongrelman” from D&D), and a Ugallu (a lion-headed man, much like a Kilrathi from Wing Commander). In Broken Immersion, a player can “purchase” their race-ability by paying 4 experience points, and each listed race has something unique.
Since Qephilim are not listed in Broken Immersion, I thought I’d add a racial ability of their own:
- Mythlight Grace: You gain 4 Intellect points. You have an asset on any attempts to navigate the ruins of your kind.
The Next Step
On Tuesday we will start off our Cypher System Fantasy – Ardeyn Campaign with an entire evening dedicated to character development. I’ll admit, I’ve seen some preliminary work from my players, and I’m absolutely stunned by the imagination, creativity, and effort my friends are putting into these characters. We haven’t even seen any stats yet, and players are weaving backstories and making connections. It’s going to be an exciting week.
You can expect the next post to include character introductions and builds, just in case you’d like to use these creations in your game, either as PC’s or NPC’s.
As we move forward, I will continue to write up the adventure summaries for each of our sessions, along with design notes, and any additional rules that I come up with, either on purpose or on the fly. Perhaps some of my players will offer their own contributions!
As always, if you have any suggestions, comments, or thoughts as we move forward, please let me know. I would truly enjoy hearing your opinions, and welcome any assistance I can receive. If you happen to know anyone else that may be interested in our Cypher System Fantasy campaign, please share this post with a friend.
Safe travels, and may the Maker and his Incarnations watch over you.