Why the Cypher System?

Both Joann and I have been playing Roleplaying games for a very long time. I can still remember living in Ohio when I first got the original D&D Red Box and used the little white crayon that came with it to color in the numbers on the dice that were included. At the back of the book, there was a solo adventure, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, but where you had to keep track of stats. Can I just say… I’ve hated Rust Monsters and Water Weirds ever since.

The two of us started together over Shadowrun from a Reddit post and Roll20, and my love for the cyberpunk genre has never faded because of it. From the beginnings of my role-playing days through our friendship and into our marriage, however, I learned that, for me (and truly, for us), role-playing was never about throwing dice. It was always about the stories we told. We have, both of us, shed real tears over characters we’ve played as they learned powerful lessons about life and about themselves. And there are experiences we have had on tables virtual and otherwise that we talk about with fondness and laughing years later, sometimes over Red Lobster’s cheesy biscuits. (Yes, there’s a story there. Perhaps we’ll tell it on here someday).

A few years into our friendship, I stumbled on a role-playing game that for whatever reason, captivated me. The setting was something new, something I’d never seen before, even though it came from Monte Cook, a guy whose work I had spent countless time playing with. The game was Numenera and even though our first attempt with it was a complete disaster, something told me I had something special. We tried again a couple of years later and Joann and I started figuring out what it was we had. The sections he wrote to GM’s like us spoke to us on a level that few books had. It was like he knew what was in our head and what we wanted out of a game and was giving us a gigantic neon sign pointing toward it.

Then, Monte Cook Games released a generic form of Numenera that they called the Cypher System (named for its roots in Numenera’s cyphers – powerful single use items like the magic potions of D&D). That system was open ended enough to tackle games from many different genres, from Classic Fantasy, to Science Fiction, to Horror, to Modern, to Superhero and beyond. The rules, like those of Numenera, were designed specifically for speed and to get out of the GM’s way so that they could help propel the story forward. Focused more on narrative and GM-Player and Player-Player interaction than dice rolling, it actively encouraged GM’s not to require rolls unless the result would mean something.

For me, that philosophy and the others that Monte Cook, Shanna Germain, and later Bruce Cordell and Sean K. Reynolds would write into those books unlocked a door. They set me free from what had, in a very real sense, been traps about how I thought about running games. My GM-ing style began to shift and the stories we told became much more vivid and player-focused. We have since seen revisions of both Numenera (in the form of Numenera: Destiny and Numenera: Discovery) and of the Cypher System (Cypher System Revised Rulebook) making both systems more robust, with more options, and more freedom to tell even better stories.

The shift in our thinking has been so profound over the last several years, that after much discussion, we decided to start this blog to start talking about some of these things, to get some of these ideas out to a wider audience. The hope being that more people will get excited about the kinds of stories that can be told using these methods and people will have more fun role-playing. With it having been such a big part of our lives before we met, and even bringing us together as friends and eventually a couple, it’s been a huge portion of our lives. We want to share that as much as we can and as widely as we can so that maybe, we can help others to have some of the rich experiences we’ve had too.

We look forward to talking with you about playing, running, and writing for the Cypher System. We welcome your comments. Have fun, and go tell some powerful stories.

  • Josh Walles

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