Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #80 - Hacking the Cypher System - Cypher Supers Special

On Sunday evening I chatted with +James Walls and +Ryan Chaddock about how to use the Cypher System Rulebook for superhero games. I wanted to compile some of my thoughts on the matter and provide some reference for peoples' use.

In Translation

I mentioned in the show that In Translation, which is a book for The Strange, has a bunch of foci I consider really useful for superhero games. I didn't bother running through a comprehensive list though because I was planning that here. The following Foci are so far exclusive to In Translation:

  • Aspires to Be Posthuman
    • With abilities including telekinesis and telepathy this is a psychic focus that would fit somebody like Jean Grey to a tee
  • Controls Nanomachines
    • I admit, this is a bit of a stretch, but I'm reasonably certain that there are characters in the comics with these abilities.
  • Excels Physically 
    • This is probably the best choice for Steve Rogers/Captain America with his super soldier enhanced physique and reaction time
  • Is a Cyborg
    • You could certainly use Fuses Flesh with Steel to build a character like Cyborg or Metallo but Is a Cyborg provides another option that plays differently, which is always nice
  • Projects Energy
    • This is a little more varied than straight energy blasts like say from Cyclops, but it works well as an alternate for Human Torch to Bears a Halo of Fire
  • Rejuvenates the Infirm
    • Healing others is much less common that self regeneration, but there are some less well known like Elixer who can do so. Again this is an alternate to Works Miracles
  • Sculpts Light
    • What color is your lantern? Seriously, look no further for hard light objects, beams, force fields, armor and travel. There's even a sidebar on the color spectrum.
  • Soars Across the Sky
    • So here's a weird one. An entire focus just for flying, when I cannot think of a single super who's only power was flight. Still if you are building a custom focus and need comparable flight options, this is a good resource. And your type abilities can easily help to round out a flyer like Angel/Archangel
  • Throws Boulders
    • Hulk smash! Sure we have Performs Feats of Strength but again options. 
  • Wears an Iron Suit
    • I touched on this directly. It's hard to be Iron Man out of the gate, but this focus will give you that armor suit and you can integrate type abilities to round out the powers early on.
There's also a Wolverine in the room. He's staring at me and wondering why his healing sucks. I'll tell you what I told him, you may want to grab a copy of The Strange (or borrow one) so you can use the Regenerates Tissue focus. After all, claws are pretty easy by comparison.

Trading Options 

I mentioned this as an idea during the show: as an optional rule the GM may allow players to trade some of their Power Shifts to gain higher tier powers from their foci early. Basically this is swapping a current benefit for a future one. Players normally gain five power shifts to start the game, and when using this option they could defer one or more of these shifts to gain access to a focus power from a higher tier. The player gains the deferred shift back when they reach the tier of the deferred power.

Example: Bob decided he really wants to Wield Two Weapons at Once with medium weapons right out of the gate. He defers a power shift at Tier 1 to gain the Tier 3 focus power of "Dual Medium Weild." When Bob's character reach Tier 3 instead of the normal focus power he regains the deferred power shift.

GMs will need to watch this carefully, and probably should not allow more than two such deferments, but it will allow for certain concepts to work at Tier 1 that normally wouldn't be available.

Negative Power Shifts

Ryan proposed the idea of negative power shifts. Basically taking the normal bonus of a power shift and inverting it. So a negative shift in Dexterity makes all tasks related to movement, acrobatics,
initiative, and speed defense one level more difficult. Taking a negative shift in this way would allow your character to gain another positive shift in another category.

If you wanted to make a very strong and tough character that lumbered around clumsily you could take a negative shift in Dexterity and then gain an additional shift for use in Resilience or Strength. This would potentially allow a character to have 3 shifts in 2 categories.  Again GMs need to watch this, and negative power shifts in Single Attack or Power categories are probably not appropriate since they are easily worked around.

Alternately such negative power shifts could be applied conditionally. Such as a character taking such a shift in resilience against a specific type or attack, or when in the presence of a specific material (i.e. the kryptonite weakness). Negative shifts of this kind should reward Power Shifts on a 2 to 1 basis to account for the fact that they don't apply at all times. For rarer situations the GM may want to increase that ratio even farther. The idea being that odds of encountering the trigger and the value of the Negative Shift should be the same. If a triggering weakness is only expected to show up in 1/4 of game sessions a character would need four Negative Shifts to generate one Power Shift.

Note that if a character has Negative Shifts that apply when exposed to (for example) kryptonite then GMs should not feel compelled to reward GMIs for the appearance of Kryptonite. The idea here is that the player have already received a reward for this weakness in the form of compensatory Power Shifts. For a GMI and narrative focused system see below...

Narrative Disadvantages & Weaknesses

Alternately, instead of weaknesses being tracked with Negative Shifts some GMs may prefer to simply note what weaknesses, drawbacks, and other "heroic foils" the characters have an use them in session as fodder for GM Intrusions. In this way the sudden reveal of kryptonite gains the player (and an ally) some Experience. This can also work well for things that are less about mechanics and more about character and story. Example: having a villain threatening to reveal a secret identity has no mechanical impact but does have character and story impact. A GM Intrusion is perfect for this, as it rewards the player in game for something that makes the game session and story more engaging and interesting.