Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #101 - Hacking the Cypher System - Modes of Play



Many thanks to +Ryan Chaddock for inspiring this column (kinda), as I found myself without an idea on a low energy week.

Horror mode is a thing. It's a cool way to mechanically build dread and horror in such a game. And it's in the book (by which I mean the CSR), which means that I don't really need to write about it as somebody already did.

Unless ...

Games have genres. Numenera is ... OK, Numenera is hard to pin down. Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Is it a medieval post apocalyptic game? Sorry, got distracted. The Strange is, on the surface, a science fiction game, but it also enables play in just about any genre depending on the recursion of the day. Gods of the Fall is a high fantasy game. Games have genres, but rules do not. The Cypher System Rulebook supports play in most any genre. Some may need a little extra effort, but hey, applying effort is what the Cypher System was designed for!

So if Horror is a genre, and it has Horror Mode as an additional rule, is there a possibility to interpolate the design philosophy to other genres? Yes. Yes, there is. Let's start by looking at what Horror Mode does, and then apply that to other genres.

Horror Mode helps to reinforce the genre by pushing the tone using GM Intrusions. That's it. How it does so, i.e. the mechanics, is how it does what it does, but what it does is help build a sense of dread, foreboding, and horror by pushing the tone. In the Horror genre dread, foreboding, and horror are your bread and butter. They ensure that the game feels the way it should and are a fundamental part of making the genre what it is. So what about other genres? How can you use the Horror Mode mechanics to push the tone of other genres?

The first thing to keep in mind is that GM Intrusions aren't merely an excuse for the GM to make life miserable for the players. According to the CSR (pg. 372), "GM intrusion is the main mechanic that the GM uses to inject drama and additional excitement into the game." Drama and excitement. Not pain and suffering. Not increased difficulty and added frustration. Drama. And. Excitement.

Now some games will gain excitement or drama from pain, or difficulty, and/or any number of other things. So yes, if you are playing a World War II game a GMI that gives a character a wound adds excitement and/or drama. In a game of teen romance you will probably want to use a different tactic; a character putting their proverbial foot in their mouth when talking to their crush for instance. A game of cyberpunk may want to use GMIs that push the tone by emphasizing the disconnect between man and machine, or perhaps the horrifying implications of the blurred lines between man and technology when true A.I. seek to gain "human rights."

  • Fantasy Mode - introduce elements of the supernatural, explore the difference between races, key off of the nature of polytheistic religions, explore the mercurial nature of magic, etc
  • Science Fiction Mode - explore the nature of man's relationship with technology (often skews negative), explore the relationship of humanity to alien life, key off the laws of unintended consequences, etc.
  • Romance Mode - have things misunderstood by a paramour, have crush find out about your feelings at an awkward moment, have an enemy find out about your feelings, etc
  • Cyberpunk Mode - emphasize the negative aspects of man-machine interface, introduce elements dealing with the rights of artificial life, key off of the societal impact of wealth stratification, explore the impact of increasing corporate power and independence, etc.
  • Superhero Mode - explore the relationship of power and responsibility, justice vs revenge, heroism versus vigilantism, key off the potential for mishaps of power, explore the dual nature of heroic identity and civilian identity
There are other genres and many have multiple tones that you can push. It's entirely possible to play a fantasy game with horror elements and use horror mode to push that tone. Likewise you could play with a mix of romance, teen, and comedy using the mode rules to push any or all of the tones associated with those genres. 

How else could you use the mechanics behind Horror Mode in non-horror games?