Genre: Historical, Modern and Post Apocalyptic

The Cypher System makes game prep look as easy as… this guy does rappelling down a skyscraper.

The section on running Historical games begins in the Revised Cypher System Rulebook on page 307, the one on Modern games begins on page 261, and the one on Post-Apocalyptic games on page 295. The reason these three are together in this blog is because they all have something in common. One is past, one is present and one is a ‘potential future’, but they are all, typically, ‘our world’. 

Historical: Running a historical game comes with it’s own challenges and rewards. The first, and typically the most difficult to overcome is accuracy. You’re going to want to keep true to the time period you’re running in. There is a distinct lack of tech so some foci won’t work as well and will need to be adapted or altered. ‘Works the System’ and ‘Infiltrates’ are the first two that come to mind. You’ll want to be accurate and do some research, but don’t focus on history books involving big battles, most everyone knows those, instead try to find books about the daily lives of people. That will give your game a bit more realism and if you talk to most writers and long-time GM’s, the small stories are the ones that tend to be most engaging.

For those still worried about it, the advice I have to give is this: The counsel Bruce Cordell gave in The Stars are Fire for running Science Fiction games (pages 6-8 of that book) can work here with some advance buy-in from your group. If you make an effort to research the time period some, and they agree that this is a game and not a history book, you can come to a happy medium. You can even engage them to help you. Have someone at the table that is a major history buff in the time period you are working in? Have them participate in describing the scene and atmosphere in a historically accurate way.

The reward of playing or running in a historical game is the thrill of ‘being there’. You’re the soldier in the trenches, fighting the good fight. You’re competing for a role to perform from one of Shakespeare’s plays. You’re joining Henri Giffard on the first dirigible (Airship). 

Modern: I’ve found this one to be the easiest and the hardest genre to run in. It’s the easiest because today’s current internet abilities make finding a location, a climate, even a street easy. You can use Google Maps and actually get down to street view level in most cities in the world. You can run any flavor of game easily in the modern setting, from horror, to romance, even toss in fantasy or a splash of science fiction. 

It’s the hardest for the exact same reason it’s the easiest: Technology.  Your players’ characters will have it, from smartphones, to laptops, to cars, trains and airplanes. They can talk to people, move quickly and it changes the aspect of the game. You can’t always deny them access to the world or information, so you have to be more careful about how you present information. Playing the ‘you don’t have cell service’ card will get old fast for you and your players. Unless you’re in a sewer, then cell phone service sucks, but that’s a story for a different time. Remember, the design philosophy of the Cypher System, that Josh talks about in his post on Why Game Balance Doesn’t Matter. The Player Characters are telling stories so that their Characters can do awesome stuff in the context of the universe you are creating together. Cheer them on when they do, then focus on what happens next.

Post-Apocalyptic: What can I say about this one?  It’s been covered by RPGs, books, TV shows, movies, and games. For centuries people have discussed and considered the fall of civilization. So, what does that mean in the Cypher System?  Well, just like with any other genre, the first thing you need to consider is time frame and technological level. Second, you need to decide what kind of threats your PCs have to face in the form of creatures or other people. Third, you need to decide how scarce or plentiful resources are, food, water, safe shelter.

A bleak, landscape overrun by zombies is only one of many Post-Apocalyptic stories you could tell…

Peter Kievvall put out a couple of Post-Apocalyptic books on DriveThruRPG that are worth checking out. From Monte Cook Games, Sean K. Reynolds’ Stay Alive has some parts in its tool box for running a horror themed post apocalypse as well. 

  • Joann Walles

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