The Science Fiction genre starts on page 270 of the Cypher System Rulebook (red cover) printed 2019. It’s not the first genre, but it is the first one on our minds as it is near and dear to our heart. You can also find Stars are Fire, a nice space supplement by Bruce Cordell, and Predation, involving dinosaurs and post apocalyptic Science Fiction, by Shanna Germain. They are available at Monte Cook Games. Vurt is an officially licensed, fully-enclosed setting for the Cypher System by the gang over at Ravensdesk Games. Additionally, Ganza Gaming’s Christopher Negelein has a couple of supplements for Science Fiction for his setting Cruel Stars called Characters and Gear that can be found over at DriveThruRPG.
Science Fiction. It’s been addressed over and over in video games, books, movies, television shows and even other systems of TTRPG (Table Top Role Playing Games). However, let’s talk about what you can do with Science Fiction in the Cypher system. Sure I can say, “You can do whatever you want,” but does that really answer the question? I don’t think so.
I’m going to try to break it down into steps, a guideline of the best ways we have found to run such a campaign.
- Decide your campaign style and flavor. Easier said than done, but when you’re talking about something as broad as Science Fiction it’s important to know from the start. Flavors of Science Fiction include everything from Space Opera to Futuristic Earth, and everything in between. There are entirely too many to list here. The Cypher System is at its finest when the GM and the players collaborate, so sit down together and discuss the kind of story you want to tell together. You could call this a “Session Negative One” as it is important to understand what kind of story everyone (including the GM) wants before character creation even happens.
- The Cypher System Rulebook has a good listing of what Types and Foci recommended for a Science Fiction setting on page 271 and page 272. You can use those, and feel free to mix and match with what you want to do with regards to your flavor of Science Fiction. For example, the list of Types and Foci for a Hard Science Fiction setting can and should be different than the list for a Science Fantasy or a Space Opera.
- How much or how little Science do you want to add to your campaign? Do you want to go with Hard Science, with scientific accuracy and details, even if in your own mind, as to how each technological level was achieved? For those intimidated by this approach, Bruce talks about a mindset in The Stars are Fire, pages 7 thru 10, for less-technological savvy GM’s that will hopefully put your mind at ease. Do you want to go softer, more fluid, technological levels exist but they’re not central to the story you’re trying to tell? You can do that as well. Both approaches (and all their minute variants) are equally valid, but they require different mindsets. These mindset shifts are not, for the most part, rule set shifts, but storytelling shifts. The most important factor in a good Cypher game is story continuity, especially if you’re the GM.
Once you’ve decided your flavor, and you’ve decided your science level, and you have your players. Where to start?
- Star Trek had an excellent lead out with their TV Show, ‘Captain’s Log, Star-date’ which was useful to let you know when, and where you are. So you could definitely start there. It will also give you an idea as to what happened previously.
- Action is always a good place to get the adrenaline pumping. Not necessarily combat, but just action in and of itself can start the immersion.
- The Bar Trope: No matter when, where, or what the future may hold, a bar will exist, and it’s always a place they can meet.
- You can also use the full length adventure or the two Cypher Shorts from Stars are Fire, or Heist on Miracle IV.
- You and your players picked this genre for a reason, find the reason in the setting that you want to use and lean into it. When you as a GM do this, your enthusiasm will spill over onto your players and they will get excited too resulting in greater immersion for all of you.
- Joann Walles
Updated 8/4/2020: Added Ganza Gaming’s Cruel Stars supplements
Updated 8/6/2020: Added Ravensdesk Games’ Vurt books