Posted on November 6, 2017
This is a naked and shameless plug to try to convince Steven to pick up Predation and introduce the Scottish game group to play a Cypher System game and tell me how they liked it. Because I think they’d like it. I think they would like it a lot.
Regardless of settings (and there are some really cool ones) the core elements of the Cypher System stay in place across all Monte Cook Games, with the exception of Invisible Sun, which has some stuff that isn’t just variations on the theme. Numenera was the first, but there’s also the dimension-hopping The Strange and a Cthulhu-mythos settings and superhero settings and stuff like that. Predation is an iteration of the cypher system that really grabbed me though, with a few new things thrown into the normal rules mix.
What’s the same as other CS games:
- Still rules-light for fast, engaged play. Characters take about 20 minutes to create, rules take about 5 minutes to grasp the basics.
- GM still doesn’t roll dice and there’s still a focus on cooperative storytelling between players and GM.
- Characters are still created modularly with the “NAME is a DESCRIPTOR TYPE who FOCUS” with descriptor, type and focus determining your abilities and possibilities for progression.
- GM Intrusions allow the GM to make player’s lives a little more tricky in exchange for XP.
- Cyphers are still relatively abundant and powerful one-shot items.
- The setting! The setting is Earth’s Late Cretaceous period. In the near, but not super-near future a corporation discovers time-travel and begins sending people back to the late cretaceous to research, harvest and experiment – basically reaping the bounty of an untouched earth.
- The twist: Time-travel stopped working and everyone in the distant past is stuck there. Players take on the role of the descendents of those company employees who were trapped. On top of the regular old dangers of the environment, time shenanigans abound now that humans have dabbled in the timestream. This is bad news because it a) really messes up history as we know it, b) it’s still super freaking dangerous in the Cretaceous and c) everyone knows that in the not too distant future, an asteroid is going to obliterate almost everything. Which makes it a pre-apocalyptic game, which is pretty great.
- Buddies! Part of the work of scientists had been the domestication and alteration of dinosaurs and every player gets a dinosaur (or early mammal) companion. This isn’t a disposable, interchangeable asset, this is a party member that’s pretty well fleshed out and can be specialized for particular roles. They get their own turn and have their own abilities, unlike a Level 2 Follower in Numenera, who is just level two for everything.
- The twist: Your dinosaur companion that you, the player, direct is played by another player at the table. They do their rolling, they characterize them based on their descriptors and they give them personality. So you might direct your Ankylosaur to defend you against attackers, but how the Ankylosaur goes about doing that is up to another player. (Awesomely: Ankylosaurs do everything awesomely)
- Cyphers: Obviously can’t be the same as in Numenera, where they are often jerry-rigged remnants of million year old tech. Instead, Predation seems to focus on genetic modifications which grant temporary benefits, while some may be leftover tech from the good old days when the time gates were still open.
- Motivations: The several-kilometer wide elephant hovering just over the room means that the humans of the Cretaceous have to decide what to do. Go quietly into that good night, sacrificing themselves but preserving pre-history as they know it? Rage against the time-stream and try to find a way back to their home-time? Or try to survive the cataclysm, inadvertently rewriting what we know about the past of our species? Or are they not bothered because nobody know exactly when the asteroid hits anyway and between 65 million years ago and 66 million years ago is a pretty comfortable cushion of time?
I can see why the Cypher System would be fun to play in different settings – it’s a ruleset that makes good table-times easy and it encourages a type of play that is fun, fast and engaging. For people who’ve played Fiasco or some of the other story-building games I think it would be a relatively easy transition to playing CS games. For someone who’d spent a long time playing a rules-comprehensive RPG, it was a nice change to get into Numenera.
But of all the settings other than Numenera, this is the only one that really grabs me on setting alone. This is a cool story, and I’m interested to see how it plays out over the course of a few games or a campaign. I might pick it up at some point to do a handful of one shots.
Okay, that was my sales pitch. Take it away, 21st century Earth’s greatest living actor:
Thank you, that was… what we all expected.