Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #18 - Quattro con Carnage - Cypher System/Numenera RPG (a look at gaming across systems)

This blog references the Quattro con Carnage experiment being run by +James Walls and specifically the seventh and eighth sessions featuring the Numenera/Cypher System RPG segment, and my prior blog posts discussing my thoughts on Basic Fantasy RPGDungeon Crawl Classics, and Savage Worlds.

After six sessions and three game systems Quattro con Carnage enters the Cypher System. Compared to the three systems before, in which I had a total of one session's worth of prior experience with Savage Worlds only, I know the Cypher System well having had played it for the past year and a half.

Coming into the system was an easier transition than in prior weeks, I was able to create the Cypher version of Lommán myself with minimal effort. Lommán Senan is a Honorable Jack who Works Miracles. We were using Numenera types for this game and I felt that the jack presented the best cross between fighting capability and mystic like powers/abilities that would make for the closest approximation of a cleric from the prior systems. For his healing abilities it made the most sense to Work Miracles, and after six weeks of play Honorable was clearly the best fit for Lommán's descriptor given his approach to handling his companions and the people they had encountered.

Picking up where the prior session had left off we found the party treading water in a hole deep below the Ever After. Which is where the Jack's Flex Skill ability showed itself useful. Numenera has what I'd call an open skill system, with skills being a broad or as narrow as the player and GM are willing to agree upon. I decided that Lommán would be trained in "spelunking" for that moment, allowing him to help the group in getting out the current situation. Of course that didn't go as planned, as the Elfin queen who had sent us to this cavern showed up to thank us, and then betray us.

So instead of trying to get out, we were thrown into a pitched battle in a not entirely shallow pool of water with some ghostly elves. Stuck with a weapon turned to glass Lomman focused primarily on support, but was able, with some effort and an increased difficulty, to fling a few ranged "smites" around. Cypher system encourages players to use abilities in not-so-obvious ways and also allows players and GMs to stretch abilities beyond their given use by increasing the difficulty of the attempt. So a normally melee only ability like Bash (standing in as a Smite power) could be flung into a ranged attack with a little Effort and an increase in difficulty.

Of course Effort is probably where Cypher differed most from prior systems. Being able to improve our odds of success, or the outcome (read: damage) of our efforts made things more predictable, and allowed for actions to fall under player control a little more often. Effort is a risk/reward proposition however, reducing your "hit points" from use.

Effort made the final showdown with Magrizt the old god a lot more interesting. With each use the characters could ensure they hit, or add to the damage they could deal (helping to push past his formidable armor), but they weakened themselves in the process. The group's warrior even went so far as to reduce himself to disabled with a single point remaining between life and death to deal a massive (nearly) death blow to Magrizt. The action was heroic and cinematic and is probably the perfect use of "epic".

I'm surprised that after eight weeks and four game systems that the characters still felt very much themselves throughout the entire process. The gained a little more power after leaving BFRPG but between DCC, Savage Worlds, and Cypher there wasn't nearly as much a power curve as I expected. Likewise I came into this experiment expecting to enjoy the Cypher sessions the most, but I find that for what we were trying to accomplish I think that DCC might have been the best fit, though SW and Cypher were by no means un-enjoyable, there was just something about DCC that felt like it fit better.

DCC isn't a system I would play all the time, and I wouldn't even use it for all my fantasy games, but if the tone and feel of the game is one where the characters are very much mortal, but still capable of great feats DCC seems to fit the best. Savage Worlds characters felt very capable, and extremely though, while Cypher characters were similarly capable but more mortal. It all depends on what you want from tone and feel, and there is a fine line indeed between the three systems.

After 8 weeks I'm done as a player, +James Walls portion experiment has come to a close and I got a good look at 3 RPG systems that were almost entirely new to me. But the experiment isn't done, for the next two weeks I will be taking these characters (minus Lomman) through the AGE (adventure gaming engine) system from Green Ronin. It's an opportunity to see how that system compares, and to demo it for people who have not played. So sometime this week and next (hopefully, otherwise next week and the following) I'll be posting some actual play summaries, and with luck maybe Jim will share his thoughts as well.

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