Cypher System House Rules

I particularly like the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games. However, there are a few things that I houserule to make the game more appealing to my players (most of which are either younger, or do not regularly play Cypher games).

The most common combination of rules I’ve been playing with lately are one-shots using Roll d6 + Paperless + No Experience Points.

In a Nutshell

MCG’s Cypher System is based on difficulties. Every action a player can imagine can be assigned a difficulty number and there is no fixed list of actions a player can take. Because of this, character sheets are simple and don’t require calculating and tracking stats. If you can imagine it, you can attempt it.

There is no “recommended mix” of player types, and no “healers” or “tanks”. Players are encouraged to play the style and personality of character that speaks to them.

Base Rules

Players don’t need to buy anything to play the Cypher System.

Start by getting the Cypher System Rules Primer. This document is all that a player really needs in order to understand the system. (Character creation steps and options are not included in the primer, and are customized to the setting of the campaign. This will be handled in the first session.)

Cypher System is simple enough that all of the rules for day-to-day interactions can be summarized on a single sheet of paper (Though the MCG licensing rules prevent such a sheet from being shared publicly in a place like this.) A quick reference, and a copy of the larger system rulebook will be available at the gaming table.

Modifications

Roll d6

This is a rule that can be adopted on a session-by-session basis as long as there are no +1 / +2 items in use. This rule is mainly for when there are players who prefer simpler dice mechanics.

D20 target numbers are removed, and replaced by a d6 which maps directly to difficulty numbers. This prevents the player from having to constantly multiply and divide by 3 to determine if they were successful.1

Roll d6: Special Rolls

If “Roll d6” house rule is used, then this rule should also be used.

When the player rolls a natural 6, they can roll again to determine the strength or the nature of the special effect.2

  • 1-2 deals 1 or 2 points of extra damage IF the attack hits.
  • 3-4 deals 3 or 4 points of extra damage OR a minor effect IF the attack hits.
  • 5-6 deals 5 or 6 points of extra damage OR a major effect and the attack always hits.

Roll d6: GM Intrusion

If “Roll d6” house rule is used, this rule should also be used.

GM intrusions are not automatic when a 1 is rolled. But if the GM chooses to add a degree of chance, a d6 can be rolled with a 1 indicating a GM intrusion.3

Paperless

Playing in the car on a long road-trip has some special challenges. In this case, everyone simply plays characters built in the NPC style.

The player has 18 hit points (making this compatible with the damage track specified in the “Damage Taken” rule.

Players do not have might, intellect, or speed pools, skills, or special abilities other than what is specified below:

Defense target numbers match the Level of the character. And characters have a weapon or use an ability that deals damage similar to that of a weapon.4

Give a character two skills and one special ability per Level. Skills lower the difficulty of a related task (and stack to a max of 2), and special abilities have some unique effect that is flavorful for that character. If an ability does damage, it should deal between 2-6 points, as a weapon might.

An example Level 2 character might be:

Gramm is a viking with shaggy brown hair and a love of folk songs and dragons. He is GOOD at dodging(1) and throwing an axe(1), and GREAT at sailing(2). He weilds a medium axe(4 dmg) which he can throw a short range. He has a pet fledgling dragon who has a light fire breath (2 dmg, -1 difficulty to hit) at short range. He can also call upon his viking ancestors to give their power to his axe, which does an additional 2 damage on its next successful hit.

Damage Taken

This is an experimental rule, and it is unclear exactly how it affects game balance.

A separate hit point pool is created, which is a “fourth stat” for the player. This is in addition to Might, Speed, and Intellect, and is called Hit Points. The Hit Point pool is fixed at 18 hit points for humans.5

When creating a character, the Might, Speed, and Intellect pools are all reduced by 4 from the values listed in the type description.

When a player falls below the following HP values, they move to the corresponding point along the damage track:

  • 12 HP - impaired
  • 6 HP - debilitated
  • 0 - unconscious

Players move back up the damage track when HP is healed above to at least the number specified. Death is not automatic, it is role-played and happens only when it seems appropriate to do so.

When Might, Speed, and Intellect pools are depleted, players do not move down the damage track.

No Experience Points

This mechanic is removed entirely.

Normally, a player can buy upgrades with XP and after four such purchases they move to these next level. Instead of costing XP, these opportunities will be given by the GM at the appropriate times and XP will not be tracked.6

Players can re-roll one difficulty check per in-game day.

Secrets

This rule allows for a way to spice up long-running campaigns.

Players can encounter and learn secrets through gameplay which can alter any aspect of the game. In most games, these secrets will be exceedingly rare, but this is situational dependant. Secrets can be powerful, but they do not have to be. Let the story be your guide as to how this can be implemented.7

Examples might include:

  • Any time a 1 is rolled on an Intellect challenge, re-roll it one time and take the new value.
  • Gain super-human constitution and add 6 hp to your Hit Points pool (if the Damage Taken house rule is used).
  • A shadow whispers in your ear when someone or something is nearby that does not want to be found.

  1. Modifies CSRP, p. 2, and is inspired by mechanics in No Thank You Evil and Invisible Sun. ↩︎

  2. Modifies CSRP, p. 8, and keeps ratios similar to the original d20 rules. Special damage is also 50% stronger. ↩︎

  3. Modifies CSRP, p. 10. ↩︎

  4. See CSRP, p. 5 for information on weapon types and damage. ↩︎

  5. Modifies CSRP, p. 6, and is inspired by mechanics in Invisible Sun. This is intended to encourage players to actually use their pools, as they tend to hoard points for fear of being damaged. Damage is also handled in a way that is more intuitive to players. ↩︎

  6. Modifies CSRP, p. 13, and keeps the essence of the XP buy system while removing XP tracking itself (which seemed to confuse some players). ↩︎

  7. New mechanic inspired by secrets in Invisible Sun. ↩︎