Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Nuts & Bolts #165 - Hacking the Cypher System - Slow Burn Horror Mode

Image Source: Stay Alive! page 71, (c) Monte Cook Games

Horror Mode is one of the many "bolt on" rules introduced in the original Cypher System Rulebook and carried forward in both the Revised edition and the Stay Alive! horror themed book. It's a simple enough rule where the range for player rolled GM Intrusions expands beyond natural 1s. As written it can be really useful for horror games and really help to build tension as the rolling of dice becomes fraught with the risk of a GM Intrusion without the balm of XP. 

A while back I had tried an alien invasion horror survival game I called Invasion! It stumbled early on due to players being unable to make it and I ultimately shut it down rather than try and force it to work with an uncertain roster of players. Continuous stories really require a strong recurrence of the cast at the table, so I felt justified.

Recently I have been prepping to reboot and try again, and part of that is a conscious decision to look at what rules I could add or manipulate to further add to the tone and feel of their weird idea of mine. Horror Mode seems like a good choice but the way that it ebbs and flows wasn't what I wanted in my game. Instead I wanted a slow pressure that would build reliably over time as the alien invasion pressed onward. I built a timeline of events that would take place (assuming the players don't find ways to slow the aliens down), and in the process I had milestones that would put pressure and stress on the setting and characters. It started to resolve that as the aliens hit their milestones things would get more dire for the colonists. 

Horror Mode is the perfect fit here, but at a much slower pace. Days will pass as the aliens execute activities and so days will pass between increases in the GMI range due to Horror Mode. The players may experience several sessions at a GMI range of 1-2 until another alien milestone is hit, permanently raising the range to 1-3. The players may also decrease the range by setting in motion their own actions to either set the aliens back, or make their own positions stronger to either counter the aliens or escape the planet. 

By slowing the increases in GMI range for Horror Mode, and allowing player actions to help roll that range backwards I hope to create a palpable sense of slow burning dread that will help motivate the actions of the characters. Slowing the speed at which Horror Mode ramps up and down is a minor change, but I think it can pay off for Gamemasters who are looking for a very specific slow burn experience at the table. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Nuts & Bolts #164 - Hacking the Cypher System - Super Smash

Image Source: Cypher System Rulebook page 272 (1st edition), (c) Monte Cook Games

So, I really enjoy superhero RPGs as a palette cleanser, especially nowadays. Especially when I am kicking off a dark campaign shortly. I use Cypher System a lot of the time (most of the time) because it does a good job emulating the feel without also getting in the way rules wise.

One of the things I like is GM Intrusions (and Player Intrusions) can allow characters to do super stuff that may not be written down on their stats or sheets. I can use it to have a metal guy ring like a bell and stun nearby characters after being hit real hard, or to have a character who cannot fly use a fiery rocket blast to gain limited flight.

One thing that is darn near ever present in the superhero genre (regardless of the sub-genre tones you may use) is that people tend to go flying when hit knocking into objects, smashing walls, or just being tossed away from the melee scrum. Usually in Cypher games I would treat this as a GMI or PI depending on the character and situation, but that doesn't really work in a supers game where it should be happening a lot. And I do mean A LOT. Characters getting knocked and thrown around helps to make combat less static, it moves the action around, and makes players consider the environment more. I think sending a character flying will also help make some of the super strong characters feel stronger. It makes faster characters gain an advantage over slower ones (they can get back into combat faster), and it is exciting as a it gives the impression of the attack really impacting even if it doesn't do any extra damage in the process.

In other words, IT'S EXCITING.

Sadly, I realized this all to late for my most recent game. It was still fun and had some really memorable moments, but I think about the missed opportunities for sending heroes and villains alike hurtling through the air and I wish I hadn't been locked into a mindset that these kinds of reactions were GMIs/PIs.

Instead I should have played it as a feature of the game. A default that such hits would cause recoil and send characters smashing through walls, flying through the air, and skidding along the ground. In the future I will being making a more conscious effort to do this. Non-super strong characters shouldn't send others very far unless they are specifically trying (PI, special ability, or result of a Major or Minor Effect), maybe just one foot per level (or tier) which can largely be hand waived entirely unless geography dictates that it matters.

For the super strong however, each shift in strength will increase this from 1' to 5' to 10' to 20'. Similarly characters with Single Attack shifts should have their attacks hit so hard that they gain a similar increase. An NPC who is level 6 and have 2 shifts in strength could hit another character so hard they would fly 60 feet away! (10' for 2 shifts x level 6 = 60).

This seems an easy fix, and I would rule that a player could opt out of sending their opponent flying by holding back on Strength Shifts or by attacking in other ways. An overhead smash might instead drive their enemy through the street and into the subway or sewers, or simply drive them into the dirt like a nail. The goal in the end is to play up the over-the-top aspects of the supers genre so that not only does it feel like a comic book (or a Marvel movie), but so that it feels different from other games you may run with Cypher System.