Cypher System Deadlands: Homebrew progress 2

You seem unsure about where Duluth and Chicago are, map, but this is by far the least inaccurate Deadlands map I could find. The rest appear to have been drawn from memory, one putting Bismarck, Fargo and Minneapolis all in the same state…

So after hammering out Fightin’ Sort, Spinner and Drifter as Character Types, I came up with a simple equipment list, thought about bullets, and fleshed out the Stealth Flavour and the Weird Science Flavour.

Numenera doesn’t have Flavours, so we haven’t used them before. Here’s how they work: You want to have a sneaky warrior sort, pulling off cool ledge kills and assassinating dudes, so you choose (in this setting) Fightin’ Sort with a Stealth Flavour. Whenever you go up a tier or buy an advancement, you can choose an ability from the Type or from the Flavour, but if you choose one from the Flavour you have to score out (figuratively speaking) one of the Fightin’ Sort abilities you haven’t taken yet. You can never take it, because it no longer exists for this kind of character you are building. This lets you weave in and out of the Stealth Flavour however you like. There’s no benefit or drawback to sticking with one Type with or without Flavour, it just changes the range of abilities from which you choose. If you just want a lot of fightin’ stuff, don’t bother adding Stealth to your Fightin’ Sort.

I’m currently working on the Harrowed Flavour. Both Weird Science and Harrowed Flavours have a mandatory ability that must be one of the first you purchase when you make a character: Phantasmalithology for Weird Scientists and Harrowed for… um… Harrowed. That’s outside of the Cypher System rules but seems like a good thing to do, especially for Harrowed. It’s tough to get to Third Tier and then decide that the potential you’ve realised was inside you all this time was as a corpse. (Don’t worry, everyone figures that out eventually, briefly).

Phantasmalithology touches on one of the design problems you’ll have any time you adapt an existing setting to Cypher System: what are the Cyphers? They’re the signature component of the Cypher System: throw-away powers and effects that come and go fast and keep the action moving in unpredictable ways. Fortunately in Deadlands, I think the answer was sort of obvious: Deadlands signature steampunk-super-fuel, Ghost Rock.

Ghost Rock is:

  1. …a substance that produces considerably more heat than the equivalent amount of coal and for much longer, although it gives off an eerie howl when burned.
  2. …suddenly found all over the US following the Great Earthquake of 1868, and seems to show up in contentious locations.
  3.  …compressed souls of the damned. That’s them howling. Ssh, don’t tell anyone.
  4. … a Kung Fu Western starring Gary Busey.

Whoever made this poster knows how to make best use of Gary Busey’s strong suits: teeth and shouting.

Cyphers can take three forms then in this homebrew, Ghost Rock infused potions and whatnot (easy enough throw-aways), Ghost Rock powered items (probably with more of these being artifacts) and Ghost Rock itself. This third I imagine as being a nugget of Ghost Rock that contains one very strong damned soul, someone that really stands out from the crowd   – the character crushes it, releases the soul and is granted a boon somehow related to the soul’s main sin, failing or transgression.

Were they a poisoner in life? They grant immunity to poisons when you set them free. Were they a cat burglar? You can climb sheer surfaces automatically for 20 minutes. A  traitor? They cause an enemy to turn on his allies. Envious? You yoink an item from another person. Wrathful? You fart angry thunderbolts, because I couldn’t play a Cypher System game where this couldn’t happen.

When it comes to the Harrowed, it makes for a pretty easy flavour to write, except that it changes how a few Cypher System rules effect the character. When they buy into Harrowed, they have to take the Harrowed ability instead of something else in whatever else they are. Then they get a leg up in terms of immunity to… almost everything in the long run. So there’s got to be balance. In Deadlands, you couldn’t choose to be dead, normally. It was just something that could happen to you if you were very lucky (?).

But since you can choose to be dead in this ruleset, I felt like a little more balance was needed. Sure, you can still buy cool abilities, like claws, see-in-the-dark eyes and the ability to scare the shit out of people. But now the intake of meat and booze is more necessary – you regenerate: like normal people do, (except limbs and such grow back) until you get to the 10 hour rest. Every other chump gets their usual d6+whatever, if you eat meat and drink liquor, you get it all back, no matter how much you’ve lost. the balance is that if you don’t have access to booze and meat, you don’t get that rest at all. You just sit there, unsleeping, with your bits practically falling out of you. If that situation goes on too long, there’s no hiding that you’re a shambling corpse.

In Deadlands there also the mechanic of the Manitou that is squatting in your body winning control over your presumably nicer, less damned soul. In the draft of the rules so far, this is effected through GM intrusions. Any time the player gets a GM intrusion, the Manitou gets more powerful and gains a Dominion point. The dead character can immediately spend an action and an XP to beat the Manitou back down, or they can buy back the ground they lost with 4XP later. If the Manitou ever gets 4 Dominion points, they completely subsume the player’s soul and that body is theirs forever.

That’s a deliberate XP drain, because being Harrowed already sets you up with an awful lot of advantage. A regular old GM intrusion, a Harrowed player is likely to want to buy those off with 1XP fairly often. At least more often than regular players do, which is almost never. And an intrusion because they roll a 1 is something they’ll end up spending XP on to negate the Manitou’s advances, at least when they have XP to spend.

The Cypher System isn’t about balance. I think it is balanced well, but it isn’t a game that ever stops people from MinMaxing the shit out of whatever, because it just isn’t really that sort of game. If you’re the fastest gunslinger in the West, well cool for you, what does that get you? Nothing. You just keep killing people who challenge you. MinMaxing will get boring. Discovering the unknown and adapting to the unexpected are what gets you XP. If you double down on just one thing, you’re likely not going to get far.

The Equipment list is a lot shorter than the Deadlands rulebook’s, because that has entry for particular guns. I… kinda don’t care what the guns are like. Cypher System has Light, Medium and Heavy weapons: All basic pistols are light weapons, do 2 pts of damage and that’s that. All rifles are medium and do 4. I don’t care if the Winchester was better than the Springfield but not as good as the Sharps. NOT THAT INTERESTING. So there’s just a Rifle entry, just a Pistol entry, just a Shotgun entry and players can come up with their own cool minutiae about their weapons if they really like.

I’m also not to interested in a bullet counting game.  I’ll just assume PCs have enough bullets… unless it is dramatically interesting for them to not have enough bullets. Running out of bullets will probably be a function of GM intrusions, but chances are shoot-outs that require multiple reloads won’t be that common… we’ll see. My initial idea for bullets in combat is that when we roll initiative players set out black poker chips for the number of bullets. When you’re out, you make a Speed test with however many bullets you’re going to try and shove in your gun as your difficulty level; so shoving one bullet in is very easy, you’d only have to roll a 3, while fully reloading a revolver would take an 18. Fail and you fuck it all up, fumbling around with your barking iron and your lead plums droppin’ everywhere.

Anyway, the next part I’m going to tackle is the three stripes of magic user. And try to find a better map. Jesus, do artists just not know what Lake Superior fucking looks like?

One Comment on “Cypher System Deadlands: Homebrew progress 2

  1. You sir are a got damn’d genius. Can’t wait to dig into this tomorrow at work.