Changing your Skin

How to reskin artifacts and cyphers to different genres.

Artifacts and Cyphers are a part of what makes the Cypher System unique to other systems. The Revised Cypher System Rulebook (Red Cover Copyright 2019 Monte Cook Games) reads as follows:

Cyphers can sometimes be physical items like equipment, but they work very differently. To be entirely accurate, cyphers might have the veneer of equipment, but don’t fall into the trap of confusing the two. Cyphers are far more akin to PC special abilities than to gear. In a fantasy game, they might be potions, scrolls, or charms. In a science fiction game, cyphers might be interesting throwaway devices or alien crystals of unknown providence. In other games, they might just represent good fortune or sudden inspiration. 

Artifacts are more powerful than equipment and can’t simply be purchased. The genre chapters offer a few sample artifacts appropriate for various settings. Each artifact has a level and a rate of power depletion. When an artifact is used or activated, the player rolls the designated die (1d6, 1d10, 1d20, or 1d100). If the die shows the depletion number(s), the item works, but that is its last use. A depletion entry of “—” means that the artifact never depletes, and an entry of “automatic” means that it can be used only once. Depowered artifacts can sometimes be recharged using the repair rules, depending on  the item’s nature. Other special abilities can also repower an expended item, but probably for only one use.

Revised Cypher System Rulebook, page 204

There is a more in depth explanation on Cyphers and examples of cyphers in Chapter 24 starting on page 377. Including examples of the difference between Subtle Cyphers and Manifest Cyphers.

What I’m going to talk about however, is not necessarily the Cypher itself, but how to flavor or describe the cypher or artifact based on the genre you’re playing in and how to flavor the ‘effect’ of the cypher or artifact. 

So I typically use one of two ways to do this:

The first way is ‘go with what you know.’ If you’ve played other games, ‘Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, Final Fantasy, etc and you’ve had single use items, ‘potions, burner commlinks, phoenix down’ before. You, and probably your players know what these items look like, so you don’t have to describe as much.

The second way is the way of decks. Have we mentioned how much we like decks, it should be coming soon. You can use the ones produced by Monte Cook Games. Josh’s favorite, or the ones that I use most called The GameMaster’s Apprentice from Larcenous Designs.

Artifacts are a little harder, they aren’t single use and the depletion rate varies, but the above for the cypher still holds true for effects. However, you’ll want to make them look different. Such as a wand for fantasy, a gun or phaser for Modern and Science Fiction, etc.  For the depletion, think of it like a percent.  The smaller the number of dice sides the bigger chance it depletes.  Common depletion rates as shown above in the quote are 1 in 1d6, 1 in 1d10, 1 in 1d20, and 1 in 1d00 (17%, 10%, 5%, and 1% respectively).  Set the depletion rate to what makes sense for your game.  This gets back to one of the mantras of the Cypher System.  USE LOGIC.

Now, one of the big things covered is that you can’t ‘buy’ cyphers or artifacts the same way you can buy regular equipment, and that’s OK. You can have them find them, either in trash heaps, on bodies, or even just tripping over it. The other thing you could do as a GM is have a specialty shop where they can buy the manifested cyphers, but have it deal in something other than standard currency so they get the immersion factor without you having to scramble around trying to figure out when, where and how they find new cyphers. You can even skin the Cypher Shop to look different in each game. In Fantasy it could be an apothecary who sells dried animal and plant parts, potions and the odd scroll or two. In Modern or Sci-fi it could be a Black Market merchant who is never in the same place twice and sells strange devices or alien crystals. You can even use the Cypher NPC decks to flavor your merchants with looks, speech, and even attitude.

  • Joann Walles

Now on DriveThruRPG, from Angel’s Citadel… A brand new, original setting for the Cypher System! The Hope’s Horizon Starter Kit requires the Revised Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games.

5 thoughts on “Changing your Skin

    1. I have not personally used the CyForge Cypher Creator Cards, like I have the GameMaster’s Apprentice. I don’t feel comfortable commenting about things I don’t know. I will look into it and get back to you with my opinion. I’m sure though, that they will be wonderful because I haven’t been disappointed by anything produced for Cypher.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jai,

      Great question! Although I have not actually used the CyForge Creator Cards in game, we DO have them, and I’ll give you my take on looking at them from that standpoint. Take it with a grain of salt. The CyForge cards are, in fact, MORE generic than the MCG cypher cards and so might be more useful from the standpoint that you ought to be able to take the prompts there (the action, the visual prompt, and the form) and mix and match to come up with one that fits a Numenera game, or a Gods of the Fall game, or one of your own creations equally well.

      There are, however some disadvantages. Cypher level needs to be made up on the fly, as do the specifics of what the cypher actually does. This is not a concern with the MCG decks. You trade some detail for some flexibility. Ultimately, in my head, it comes down to style. If you’re comfortable making up that level of detail on the spot, the CyForge deck is probably going to work just fine for you (and would eliminate multiple other decks). For me, personally, I like the detail. I (or Joann) will probably still try and use them at some point to test it out and at that point be able to give a “proper commentary”, but for now, that’s my take on it. Happy Gaming!

      – Josh Walles


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