Giving Cypher System a Chance.

There’s a trio of major factors pulling me back toward this game after five or six years of letting the pdf collect virtual dust. First, I’ve been shopping for a new system to use as a base for some campaign and setting ideas. (Cypher was on sale for HALF OFF at the time of this writing.) Second, the OGL debacle over in 5E land made me start looking at games with their own licenses. Last, the video from The Dungeon Newb’s Guide: here. One other note, Sean K. Reynolds and others from Monte Cook Games on Twitter and elsewhere have been doing a great job of talking up the game.


I think I’ve underestimated this game.

Let’s talk about the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games. Based on Numenera originally, Cypher is a wonderful multi-genre toolkit for almost every setting imaginable. It is also available in print wherever print RPGs are sold. It’s also good to note there is a healthy fan community for the game with its own DMsGuild style creator site over at DriveThruRPG.com.

There’s a trio of major factors pulling me back toward this game after five or six years of letting the pdf collect virtual dust. First, I’ve been shopping for a new system to use as a base for some campaign and setting ideas. (Cypher was on sale for HALF OFF at the time of this writing.) Second, the OGL debacle over in 5E land made me start looking at games with their own licenses. Last, the video from The Dungeon Newb’s Guide: here. One other note, Sean K. Reynolds and others from Monte Cook Games on Twitter and elsewhere have been doing a great job of talking up the game.

Finding a highly adaptable system with just enough crunch to keep it interesting.

I made the mistake of overlooking Cypher early on because while it’s a beautiful, well thought-out system, there was no Open Game License or outlet to sell one’s own creations. It’s a weird quirk with me, but I just love having that option. (* The kicker is, once I start on a project, I usually can’t bring myself to release it into the wild, so to speak.) Monte Cook Games changed their stance on OGL issues several months ago which is great.

One of the major draws to me is the rule that the Game Master doesn’t roll dice- ever. (Although I still make random checks for tables, etc on my own accord.) It really frees the GM up just to run characters, plot, and make the game awesome. The system itself is simpler that D&D, in my opinion, but still based on a d20 roll.

Likewise, character generation is extremely simple. The character’s tagline determines some of their abilities. There are always three parts to the tagline. The start of character creation is to finish the sentence, “I’m a (blank) Blank who Blanks.”

For example- my character, Rufus, is a [Rugged Dwarven] Barbarian (Warrior) who [looks for trouble.] Each descriptor can come into play during the game giving more Experience or advantages/disadvantages.

There are some classes of sort that integrate with the tagline to describe some of the character’s basic functions. The rest is up to the player and GM to determine how the rest of the sentence applies in game. Character background matters quite a bit in this system. Characters can still range from complex and dramatic all the way to incredibly simple and easily played.

Cyphers are things such as spells, minor magic items, psychic powers and freaky sci-fi weapons for example. This means they can be disposable as well as practical. I know a couple of other games that have picked up on the idea and use it in their own systems.

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating here- Art sells games. Cypher has a lot of beautiful art pieces. It definitely helped sell the game to me. That, plus the simplicity/luster of the system and the game book. Cypher has some of the most gorgeous art pieces of any TTRPG I’ve seen in years. Family, I’ve had my nose in a lot of books and pdfs over the years and this one’s definitely a winner.

As previously mentioned, OGL was a concern.

I like a lot of Monte Cook Games and Cypher is a great system. The recent D&D 5E OGL nightmare has a lot of people looking for new game systems. Specifically, systems they can maybe get paid writing for. This might not be a requirement for most players and GMs, but some of us are a bit more apt to share our campaign worlds, creatures, and cyphers in this case.

The agreement to publish on DriveThruRPG is very generous. With all of the massive uproar over the D&D OGL, Monte Cook Games has also added content to their overall System Reference Document and worked on giving creators more to work with. This is an almost unprecedented move from a major TTRPG imprint. Personally, I think it makes Cypher worth a second look; worthy of appreciation in heaps. Thank you Monte and Cypher family.

This game is so darned easy to learn.

The Dungeon Newb’s Guide video is a really great, fast way to get introduced to the system. The Dungeon Dudes on YouTube have also had glowing reports about the game. Personally, I’ve had a copy of Cypher sitting on my phone and computer since about 2015.

Monte Cook is a big name in TTRPGs and when I heard about Cypher, I had to have it. I let it go for a long time, partly because of the cost associated with the print book, partly because of the OGL thing. They fixed both issues more recently. Hence, I have all kinds of good things to say.

One of the particularly stunning features of this system is its gonzo all-in approach to gaming. I can create creatures for my fantasy game in under 10 minutes. The stat blocks are not complicated. AND the GM is able to jump in and throw narrative intrusions at times. (Not to be overused.) Session Zero for the game also establishes setting and tone, so my players can do whatever they think would be fun from there. A little bit of number crunching and we’re off.

On a final note, I’m glad to have run into Sean K. Reynolds and others on Twitter. Sean’s blog and daily Twitter posts are a joy to read. Sean is a TTRPG industry legend right along with Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell and other MCG luminaries. They’re setting a great example throughout the gaming community and even more so in this time of D&D tumult. Keep up the good work!

Cypher Original Edition cover.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll give Cypher a try, even as a free download copy. Lots more to come on Cypher. I appreciate you. Happy gaming.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: