Sunday, December 6, 2015

Villainous Scum - The Cypher System Awakens

No Need to Spend Force Effort

When I first set out upon my quest to explore the Star Wars Universe through both the Cypher System and the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game, I believed the latter journey to be far more difficult.  

Last week I drafted my "conversion notes" for running Star Wars with Dungeon Crawl Classics.  DCCRPG is designed for "sword & sorcery" fantasy gaming: pulpy, dark, gritty, weird, over-the-top campaigning where magic is forbidden and dangerous.  This is in contrast to Star Wars, where much of the universe is bright and colorful, and the line between good and evil is fairly clear.  But as I carefully considered fusing DCC and Star Wars, I took a closer look at the Expanded Universe and discovered an open canvas.  Granted, running Star Wars with DCC will feel much, much different than playing in the classic West End Games d6 system, but I hope that the experience will be wickedly refreshing.

On the other hand, I knew from experience that creating a Cypher System hack for Star Wars would be delightfully simple.  Back in the spring I ran Under Strange Suns, a campaign of The Strange that mashed together Star Wars, Dark Sun, and Sherlock Holmes.  The Estate Agents had to defeat the Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes, who had taken over the City State of Tyr in an Athas recursion, by allying themselves with the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes who had become a Jedi in a Knights of the Old Republic recursion.  

When I run The Strange, just about anything can and will happen.

I gave the players some basic guidance on which foci to select when traveling to the recursion of Dantooine, and threw together rules for a lightsaber artifact.  

That was it… that was the extend of my "rules" hack.  

While this worked for me and my group, I know that there are other game masters out there who would prefer a much more in-depth look at Star Wars in the Cypher System.  I also realize that there is a vast difference between running a few short adventures in a hastily built recursion and crafting a campaign lasting several dozen sessions within a full universe.  

Fortunately for fans of Numenera and The Strange who in the past used these two games to create their own in-house hacks for other genres, Monte Cook Games delivered the Cypher System Rulebook last summer!  Along with new descriptors, types, and foci, the Cypher System Rulebook gave players and game masters guidelines and recommendations for running different genres.  For the most part, the Science Fiction guidelines work great, and all gamers need to do is toss in a few tidbits of fantasy and they've got their perfect Star Wars game.

My goal, of course, is to share my opinions on those "tidbits."

What I'm about to share with these conversion notes is how to run a Star Wars game using the Cypher System "rules-as-written".  I'll point you towards my recommendations within the Cypher System Rulebook, as well as any other published Cypher System products.  I may re-skin concepts when necessary, and I expect fellow game masters to do the same.  But this will be a short and simple conversion, designed to get your group into the Star Wars universe with the Cypher System by your next game!

GM James' Star Wars to Cypher System Conversion Notes

Here are my suggestions for enjoying Star Wars through the Cypher System.  If you have any thoughts or suggestions let me know.


When I started looking at Cyphering Star Wars I grabbed my entire stack of MCG products and began page flipping.  Although there are so many options that can be borrowed, stolen, or hacked, here are those that I found the most helpful:
  • Cypher System Rulebook:  This one's obvious, as it's the engine that's going to run the game.  Now, if you don't have the CSR, you can easily use elements from Numenera and The Strange.  I recommend the Types from Numenera, but then consider the Foci from both systems.
  • Technology Compendium - Sir Arthour's Guide to the Numenera:  Aside from the smorgasbord of new Cyphers and Artifacts, there are some interesting notes about Automatons that directly translate to Droids.  
  • Worlds Numberless and Strange:  I have to believe that the Rebel Galaxy recursion was inspired by movies like Star Wars and TV shows like Battlestar Galactica.  The recursion gets ten full pages that can help give some ideas for Space Opera in the Cypher System.  We'll need this later when we talk about starships.  
  • The Translation Codex:  Who can go wrong with one hundred additional Foci?  This book by Ryan Chaddock Games delivers dozens of options that can be leveraged with Star Wars.  I won't be listing them all, but certainly your game can benefit from a bunch of these ideas.  

Handling The Force

The Cypher System got its name through the importance of an abundant supply of single-use items and abilities derived from ancient pieces of technology in the world (and later, "worlds") of Numenera.  The Cyphers can balance the game when necessary, as well as purposefully "imbalance" the game to create unique and amazing stories.  In our exploration of Star Wars through the Cypher System we will need to ensure the presence of these items. 

But we also need to include and embrace the Force.  The special, almost "arcane" power of the mysterious and living Force drives the Star Wars Saga forward.  Rather than just make it a part of the character creation process, a Star Wars GM using the Cypher System should try to pull the Force into the story whenever possible.  

I've found two game mechanics within the Cypher System Rulebook that give GM's the perfect excuse for "Injecting the Force:"  
  • GM Intrusions:  Often I've used the GM Intrusion mechanic to make physical altercations more challenging for players.  This especially happens in combat.  But to embrace "The Force" with a GM Intrusion, the Light Side/Dark Side morality should come into consideration.  The GM Intrusion could be a twist in an NPC's motive that gives a Jedi pause before coming to their aid.  These tough decisions can have long-lasting effects on the campaign, especially if a GM keeps record or the choices.    
  • Subtle Cyphers:  Page 343 of the Cypher System Rulebook discusses "Subtle Cyphers", Cyphers that could be one-time blessings, good fortune, or supernatural powers.  In Star Wars these should almost always be described as the "Living Force" guiding a character, either towards the light side or the dark.  

Character Design

The driving force in any role-playing game is the special party of player-characters.  While one could spend a lot of time tinkering with custom Types and Foci that fit the Star Wars Universe perfectly, I'm taking the path of least resistance.  

I keep saying I'm a Lazy GM, and that isn't an exaggeration!

Monte Cook Games already did the hard work for us, and all we need to do as Star Wars GM's is to offer our players some guidelines to creating characters that fit the Saga.  
  • Descriptors:  Any of the Descriptors offered in the Cypher System Rulebook could find their way into a Star Wars campaign.  Keep in mind that some may fit a Light Side campaign better than others.  
    • Cruel, Dishonorable, and Vengeful would most certainly fit characters following the path of the Dark Side.  Should anyone take these and choose a Force-Sensitive, there should be a discussion of the player character's motives within the game.
    • Empathic, Honorable, Kind, and Virtuous are perfect for Light Side characters.  When coming up with Force-centric GM Intrusions, the GM should constantly challenge these players to their adherence to the Light Side of the Force.  
  • Types:  Any GM who wants to run a Star Wars adventure should already have a working idea of what level of technology, science, and Force powers exist.  When players are choosing their Special Abilities for their Types, try to steer clear of any powers that don't fit within the Star Wars Universe.
    • Warriors, Speakers, and Explorers, require very little editing and re-skinning.  
    • Adepts obviously would need the most consideration.  In Star Wars, Adepts are Force Adepts, Force Witches, and Jedi.  Direct attack powers such as Onslaught  don't fit the Star Wars canon for Light Side Force Users, although a Dark Side Adept could have a low-level Force Lightning using the same rules.  
    • Flavors:  The Stealth, Technology, and Knowledge Flavors can all be ported "rules as written."  The same considerations for the Adept Type come into play for the Magic Flavor.  
      • Re-skin the Magic Flavor into the Force Flavor:  Many of these powers make a lot of sense, especially for the Jedi Knight built as a Warrior, who wants some additional Force Powers like Closed-Mind and Premonition.  Work with your players to make sure that everyone is in agreement with the types of abilities chosen.  
  • Foci:  When I went through the many Foci available for players characters in a Cypher System/Star Wars game, I sorted them based on their possible connections to The Force.  
    • General Foci:  Abides in "Metal: (Droid), Battles "Droids", Builds "Droids", Crafts Unique Objects, Dies (Translation Codex), Doesn't Do Much, Entertains, Explores Dark Places, Fights With Panache, Fires All Weapons (Translation Codex), Hunts With Great Skill, Infiltrates, Leads, Lives in the Wilderness, Looks For Trouble, Masters Defense, Masters Weaponry, Moves Like a Cat, Moves Like the Wind, Needs No Weapon, Never Says Die, Operates Undercover, Performs Feats of Strength (Wookie!), Pilots Starcraft, Stands Like a Bastion, Wields Two Weapons at Once, Works the Back Alleys, Works the System (Slicer), Would Rather be Reading, 
    • Force Sensitive Foci: Commands Mental Powers, Crafts Illusions, Focuses Mind Over Matter, Sees Beyond
    • Light Side Foci:  Defends the Weak, Works Miracle (Force Healer)
    • Dark Side Foci:  Fights Dirty, Murders, Rages, Rides the Lightning
  • Aliens:  There are countless alien species in the Star Wars Universe, and coming up with a separate Descriptor or Focus to cover each and every one would be a long and tedious task.  There are three ways of dealing with your favorite Alien species:
    • Use a Descriptor that matches the alien.  A Trandoshan may be Tough, while an Ewok is Stealthy.  
    • Use a Focus that fits the alien.  Perhaps your Wookie can't handle their "Rage", or your Twi-Lek "Moves Like a Cat."  
    • Just describe your character as the alien species without any kind of mechanical change.  
  • Droids:  Like with Aliens, I found three ways to handle Droid characters in your game:
    • There is the Artificially Intelligent descriptor in the Cypher System Rulebook. 
    • Abides in Stone, a focus for "golems" in the Cypher System Rulebook could be re-skinned as "Abides in Metal" or something similar.  This would fit better for assassin and battle droids, since most of the benefits are combative in nature.
    • There is always the non-mechanical option, and just letting the player create their own Descriptor/Type/Focus with a GM's approval. 


For the most part this is going to be easy.  Pages 253 - 256 completely cover just about all equipment, from Light Blasters to Jetpacks.  

Lightsabers are the exception.  

I've given a lot of thought to how to create a Lightsaber in the Cypher System.  They are too powerful to be simple gear.  When I ran Star Wars using The Strange I used the following mechanics:

  • Level 1d6+2
  • Form:  Metal handle with energy beam.
  • Effect:  
    • This weapon is considered "Light", however it inflicts 7 points of damage.  
    • Using a Lightsaber is dangerous to one who has not spent time mastering the weapon.  Each swing requires the user to spend 1 point of Speed or Intellect to use "safely".  Should they choose not to do so, if they miss their target they inflict 6 damage to themselves.  
    • A Lightsaber can be used to carve through material of the same level or lower. 
  • Depletion:  1 on a d10
I like this system because it forces Jedi characters to invest their own Experience Points in usage.  If the Depletion comes up, it means the device is broken, so they must keep a reserve of XP ready just in case.  


I'm going to come right out and say that the way the Rebel Galaxy recursion handles space combat may be my favorite ship-to-ship battle mechanic that I've ever seen in a role-playing game.  I've never been a big fan of tactical combat within tabletop role-playing games.  The game slows down and it can be very difficult to manage the scene within the starship itself along with the actual battle.  Some players may feel left out if their skills have nothing to do with piloting or even crewing a starship.  I prefer a narrative style with ship to ship combat, with few, if any mechanics.

Worlds Numberless and Strange (pages 115 to 117) takes the narrative-style approach and adds just enough rules to make starship captains and fighter pilots fun to play.  Each ship is given a "Level" and a count of "Crew" and "Weapon Systems".  Battles between vessels depend on the Level of each ship, and when smaller vessels are attacking larger it becomes imperative to get all the players involved in ways to reduce the difficulty.

Here are a few examples of Star Wars craft created using the Rebel Galaxy rules found in Worlds Numberless and Strange:
  • TIE Fighter:  Level 1, Crew 1, Weapon Systems 1
  • TIE Interceptor:  Level 2, Crew 1, Weapon Systems 1
  • X-Wing:  Level 2, Crew 1, Weapon Systems 2
  • Stock YT-1300 Freighter:  Level 3, Crew 4, Weapon Systems 1
  • Millenium Falcon:  Level 3 (4 for Speed actions/defense), Crew 6, Weapon Systems 2
Sure, this makes things like Deflector Shields and Proton Torpedoes more abstract, but that can all be fleshed out through discussion at the game table.  


Probably the easiest of all options, Foes in Star Wars can be re-skinned from Chapter 16 of the Cypher System Rulebook (creatures), or given slight modifications from Chapter 17 (NPCs).  

*     *     *

So that's it… a few simple pointers on running Star Wars using the amazing Cypher System game mechanics.  As always, if you have any feedback or input, let me know your thoughts.  

If you'd like to hear more, on Saturday December 13th I'll be on Google Hangouts On Air chatting with +Ryan Chaddock and +Marc Plourde.  The topic will be "Running Star Wars with the Cypher System."  

There are two ways to watch:

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