By now, most of you have noticed that Josh and I have been tabletop roleplaying gamers for a long time. We’ve spent countless hours both behind the DM screen and in front of it. From Dungeons & Dragons to Shadowrun, numerous games in between, and now the Cypher System. In them all, we’ve tried to make the experience fun for both ourselves and the others at the table, including coming up with unique and viable characters. It didn’t always work, but some of our fondest memories were of those games when an off-the-wall character concept just worked and the game became infinitely more interesting.
Unique characters. No matter how many games we played, or different things we tried, sometimes making unique characters meant making characters that weren’t good for other things. Dungeons & Dragons, as much as I love the system, tends to provide cookie cutter characters until third level. Sure, you can make a few differences in spell choice, but if you’re a physical character (Fighter, Barbarian, Rogue, Paladin), you were just like every other physical character until third level (discounting the skills you get from background). Shadowrun was much the same, a Street Sam is a Street Sam, is a Street Sam. To make yourself great at something, something else had to give. This was a sad thing for us, when we’ve played so much, ran so much. We wanted to know what would give us something new? Something with zing.
Cypher System, at first read, felt like any other system. You had your tanky physical, you had your magical, and you had your in-betweens. Then, we discovered the Flavors section, and suddenly our world shifted. Now we could make the characters in our heads come to life and it was exhilarating. In the Revised Cypher System Rulebook, Monte Cook describes Flavor as:
“… groups of special abilities the GM and players can use to alter a character type to make it more to their liking or more appropriate to the genre or setting. For example, if a player wants to create a magic-using thief character, she could play an Adept with stealth flavoring. In a science fiction setting, a Warrior might also have knowledge of machinery, so the character could be flavored with technology“Revised Cypher System Rulebook, page 34
The five flavors available are: Stealth, Technology, Magic, Combat, and Skills and Knowledge. The mechanics of the way they work are explained in detail on page 34, but in essence it’s a one for one trade. You take your type ability, Warrior, Explorer, Speaker, Adept and substitute a Flavor ability of equivalent tier. This alters your type to fit the character you wish to play better. But how do you do it if you’re the GM and you want to make sure your players play characters that fit the feel of your setting?
Monte Cook Games has several excellent examples of how to do this in Predation and Gods of the Fall. Both settings create custom types using flavors to help expand out how their characters were built to fit the setting. For instance, Gods of the Fall has a Character Type called the Champion (Gods of the Fall, page 106) that is based on the Warrior type except as stated in that book. At Tier 1, there are 12 Tier abilities to choose from. One of them is mandatory (Extra Edge), and you are to pick three more. Of those twelve abilities, three of them are not Warrior Abilities: One of them is from Tier 1 Magic Flavor, one is from Tier 1 Stealth Flavor, and one is actually from the Tier 1 Speaker list.
In the Revised Core Rulebook, however, they made it even easier. Instead of simply giving you the lists of abilities split into Character Types and Flavors by Tier and limiting you to those to potentially mix and match, they put each ability into an encyclopedic list alphabetically. Then they gave you lists of each kind of ability (by generic categories such as attack abilities, control abilities, movement abilities, cure abilities, etc…) sorted into low-tier, mid-tier, and high-tier abilities. This way, when you’re creating your own Types for your setting, you can look at the Tier you are trying to create, (say Tier 3) and then go to the lists and start looking at the mid-tier abilities to build your Type Ability choice list for your players.
To explain it in further detail I’m going to use an example: Hope’s Horizon. Mostly because it’s near to my heart and well, it’s ours so I can talk about it all I want. Those of you that have bought it will have already seen this, but those of you that haven’t, I’m going to explain to you how we did the custom Character Types for the Hope’s Horizon Starter Kit. For this example, I’m going to talk about the Human Magi-Tech.
The base class for the Magi-Tech was the Adept, and then I added technology flavoring. I went through and combined the lists between Adept and Technology Flavor. Then I subtracted Abilities that wouldn’t fit for our vision of these characters in this particular setting. The background of the bulk of Magi-Tech’s is that of a rebuilt Earth, one formed through a nanite controlled process of terraforming. Magi-Techs were infected by those nanites and for reasons unknown as yet, entered into an involuntary symbiotic relationship with them. So I made their magic tied more with a technological flavor over an Adept’s flavor that was tied more to nature, like that of the Sylphine (another playable species). This gives both the players and the characters a sense of uniqueness, and a sense that their character and character type mean something, without sacrificing the ability of either race to play a “caster”.
In summary, the Cypher System, much in the vein of the Lego article we posted last week, gives you building blocks of generic Character Types and Flavors to mix and match with, but it goes even further than that. It provides the GM with an even more fundamentally small building block, the Character Ability, already sorted into roughly it’s appropriate level, in order to build even more highly customized Character Types that meet more exacting setting specifications. That is the engine powering the characters of Hope’s Horizon, and it can power the settings that you dream up as well. Happy gaming!
- Joann Walles
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