Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #87 - Hacking the Cypher System - Power Shifts

I have ALL the Strength Power Shifts!
Art by Boris Vallejo

So ... Power Shifts. The Cypher System Rulebook (CSR) decided to give us the tools to turn our games not just to 11, but all the way to 15 (or so)! The CSR gives us these tools for use in Superhero games, but that's hardly the only way to use them. Gods of the Fall (GotF) has only recently come out and uses the same rules as "Divine Shifts" representing the godly might that the player can wield as they travel down the path to godhood. But what else can Shifts be used for, and how can we possibly expand on the current offerings?

The core Power Shifts as presented in the CSR are flat bonuses that expand a character's ability within a certain category. The core options for Shifts are:
  • Accuracy
  • Dexterity
  • Healing
  • Intelligence
  • Power
  • Resillience
  • Single Attack
  • Strength
Gods of the Fall removed the "Power" shift and added a "Special Ability" shift that, I think, is intended to do the same thing but make it more evident that it expands the scope of powers that are not attacks.
By the by, Power Shifts are basically a free level of always on Effort for the tasks related to that Shift's category. Some exceptions apply. Limited time only. Call now. 1-800-Shift-Me
Some of you may already have seen that some of these seem more martially focused than others, and Accuracy and Single Attack certainly are, and Healing (which is more Recovery than healing) is sort of combat adjacent if you catch my meaning. Still the others, especially Power, have the ability to affect wide scope change to a character's capabilities.

With the exception of Healing and Resilience (partially) all of these function in a more or less the same way. This is pretty handy for keeping mechanics simple and fairly light (lite?), but it stifles options at the design level slightly. Adding free Effort can only do so much right? Well, looking at how those aforementioned exceptions stack up can open up some potentially new options:
  • Raw Potential
    • Some people have more power to pull from than others. The character gains +8 pool points to distribute as they desire to their pools. 
  • Effort
    • The character always has a little bit more potential in reserve that they can apply to any task. The character gains +1 Effort rating, and increases their Effort limit accordingly from 6 to 7 (or beyond). What the character gives up in free Effort they gain in the ability to apply more Effort to any given task.
  • Cypher Bearer
    • Some people know best how to juggle the delicate power of cyphers without mishap. Increase your Cypher Capacity by 3.
  • Defense
    • Some heroes are just hard to hurt. You gain a shift on all Might, Speed, and Intellect defense tasks.
  • Social
    • Since Intellect doesn't cover social abilities this seems a natural add. This grants the usual free level of effort on ALL social tasks regardless of the type of social interaction. 
  • Others? If you have an idea I'd like to hear it.
But what about actually using Power Shifts? The CSR includes them for Superheroes, and GotF has them representing divine power, but what other genres? Science fiction, be it cyberpunk, or space opera, could easily integrate Power Shifts in the form of bionics or cybernetics or even genetic manipulations or alien attributes. I could easily imagine a combat cyborg with multiple ranks in Strength and Resilience for instance. 

An interesting twist on a horror game could be to give Power Shifts at the cost of character sanity or humanity. A vampire might have shifts in Strength and Dexterity, but is now nocturnal and harmed by sunlight and holy symbols. A werewolf may gain Dexterity and Healing shifts at the cost of losing control during the full moon and being burned by silver. Meanwhile a magic user may gain Power or Single Attack shifts at the cost of points from their intellect pool as their sanity crumbles. 

What about a straight up action hero game? Maybe the characters gain just a single shift to show they are action heroes, or maybe they gain none, but at any time they can make use of one (or maybe more?) shift at the cost of sliding down the damage track one step immediately afterwards. This let's the characters execute the occasional epic feat but bruises and bashes them, upholding the longstanding tradition of action movie heroes ebbing and surging throughout the film's climax. 

What other genres can you think of to use power shifts for? What about other unique ways to implement them rather than just building different flavors of superheroes or gods?