Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Nuts & Bolts #147 - Hacking the Cypher System - Costs, Initial and Direct


Back in N&B #108 I lamented how underused Initial Costs are and I made a promise to make an effort to use the rule more at my table. Having been running a Freeport game with reasonable consistency over the past 6 months I've had a chance to do just that and it has given me ideas.

First and foremost I've ruled that at my table Initial Costs bypass Edge. I think this may, technically, go against the rules as written in the book, but I also allow players to use whatever pool they want if they can justify why that pool works. E.g. a warrior may pay 3 might to push a boulder out of the way, but an Adept may pay 3 Intellect to blast the bould to pieces with magic. Either way they pay 3 points.

Secondly I'm moving more and more to using Initial Cost in place of certain skill checks. Sometimes it's an offer to the group, "You can either all undergo a skill contest to chase down the target, or you can pay a cost of 4 points." This allows the group to decide if they want to risk the enemy getting away, or possibly being split up because one or more members couldn't keep up the pace and a fixed cost that they cannot avoid. It's resource management for the players and resource depletion for me as GM. In other instances the cost is the cost and I use this to ensure that critical information or actions that the adventure requires happen. If your whole adventure is predicated on the PCs bypassing a locked door and none of them manage a way past via skills, cyphers, and abilities, I set a Cost and allow them to bypass the obstacle. I usually do this only if there is no other good path forward and the PCs are in danger of stalling out and frustrating the players.

Thirdly I use it as a "mop-up tax" in combat. In the most recent session the PC, already quite resource depleted, got into a combat against six serpentfolk and a low level priest of the Unspeakable One. After several rounds saw them slay 4 of the serpentfolk and the priest, rather than drag out the last few rounds of combat I said that if each of them paid 2 points we'd jump to their inevitable victory. I could force the combat, potentially get some damaging hits in, and possibly send a character down, but after several rounds of combat this would have been somewhat not exciting and would have dragged the session down. I've done this several times in this campaign and the players seem to like the ability to clean up the no-name minions in this way after the big-bad is downed.

I probably use the Initial Cost rules as written (an initial cost required prior to a skill check) the least, though I do try to also do that. I think that the "Direct Costs" I've laid out above have made for a game with a grittier feel and allowed me to make the city of Freeport, with its pirates and cultists and dark gods, an appropriate level of dangerous for the PCs. I've also seen a lot more table discussion of rest and resources and how much more the characters can endure by doing this. For my money that's worth every point of effort spent as GM.