Information regarding the Superhero genre starts on page 289 of the Revised Cypher System Rulebook (Red Cover, Copyright 2019, Monte Cook Games). As of this post, in that genre, there is the supplement Unmasked, by Dennis Detwiller. Heroic Essentials, Mix Tape 1, by Dean M. Lewis, and I happen to be the guy writing this article.
Some people might say why, supers? My answer is always the same. Why not supers? Allow me to say a few things on the topic of supers before we even get into Cypher System Supers. This genre is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been reading comics for well over 40 years, and I still cannot get enough. The ideas, concepts, and images evoke such strong emotions. I remember turning the pages of those books hanging on each word and longing to see the next picture. Sometimes, I’d finish a book and find myself breathless. Fast forward to today with movies and television the way they are, and it’s a feast for fandom. With Cypher System at the helm, it’s also a feast for the role-player. At its core, the Cypher System is a narrative based RPG that allows you to simulate cinematic action.
In some respects, I’d say the Cypher System was conceived to run the superhero genre. I know this is probably not the case, but it handles the type of game with an ease not found in most systems. The modular nature of the Cypher System coupled with its simple mechanics and add in the concept of Power Shifts, and you have a trifecta of dreams come true for running or playing a superhero game. Power Shifts in most straightforward terms are just free levels of effort. In my opinion, Power Shifts can be so much more. This concept translates perfectly into heroic abilities. More on Power Shifts coming, I promise.
I need to talk more about the genre for a moment. In most cases, people automatically think superhuman abilities when we say supers, but that’s not always the case. Sometime a supers game may not be seen as a superhero style game at first glance. This is where I ask you to take a paradigm shift with me. This is one genre that can be mashed up or re-skinned to look nothing like itself and still be a very (super) heroic story. There are the dark and gritty tales that will counterbalance the brightly lit four-color heroics. Then there are the street-level stories of those who mete out justice instead of beings who can bend the fundamental forces of the universe to their will. Perhaps your group is a bunch of wheel-men who drive cars and defy physics behind the wheel. Let’s not forget the super-spy who do the impossible through sheer force of will and impressive tech. You can find even find tales of the peerless amid a horror tale. Those gifted with unfathomable knowledge and/or cursed with abilities that only they can wield against otherworldly forces. All these things are within the purview of supers. With the Cypher System, all these scenarios are yours for the playing and so much more.
The concept of cyphers in superhero settings can be daunting or hard to wrap your mind around at first. Many get bogged down with this, but I’m here (and so is MCG) to help. A cypher in this type of game doesn’t have to be (and in most cases isn’t) a physical item or a manifest cypher. It can be conceptual. Monte Cook Games refer to them as subtle cyphers and give you a lovely bevy to choose from and even a deck of cards. For this genre, they are also so easy to create. Before, the subtle cypher deck was a thing. I was churning these things out like “Intestinal Fortitude”, “Second Wind”, “Did You Think I’d Quit”, and a personal favorite “One Will Stand”.
Just like all the other sections in the book, supers have a list of Types and Foci recommended. I think with supers more than any other genre, mixing and matching Foci, Type, and Flavors is a prerequisite. This section gives examples of Power Shifts in-game. Here is the primary thing with supers in cypher though: The part of the book on Foci gives you the tools to create tons of power concepts. Trust me, if it is not available, you’ll be inspired and empowered to create it.
Remember, I said I was going to revisit that concept of Power Shifts? Well, here we are. In my games, not only are power shifts free levels of effort, but they can also be used to create power stunts. For example:
Let’s say a player chooses “Controls Gravity” at Tier One and decides that instead of Power Shift, they want a Power Stunt. After discussing it with the GM, they come with the ability “Gravity Pulse.” All targets in an immediate range are affected. They take two points of damage and knocked off balance.
So here is break down to my approach to creating a Supers Game:
- Decide what genre of superhero game you want to create based on the feel you’re looking for (Gritty, Four-Color, Sci-Fi, etc…)
- Decide what power level you want the players having (Street Level, Meta, Cosmic, etc…)
- How are the powers acquired?
- Session Zero – a discussion of the game with the players as well as character creation and motivations
From here, you are golden. Its time to open your city to its new heroes. Perhaps you have a team of intergalactic peacekeepers ready to protect the galaxy. Is your group the ones that protect the world from the things that go bump in the night? Whether it is a tale far-flung across the sea of stars or just a bunch of kids trying to come to terms with their new world and strange new abilities, it doesn’t matter as long as you are having fun. If you’ve read this far, it’s apparent that you love super-heroics and all that comes with it too. Get your dice, get your players, and get your Cypher Supers on!
If I missed something or need to go further into a section or if you want me to ramble some more, let me know. I hope this was helpful.
- Dean M. Lewis