Most people who know me would admit that superheroes typically aren’t my “jam”. While I have spent a decent amount of time reading comic books, and am familiar with many of the common comic-book superheroes and their stories (including alternate histories/timelines etc…), it was never a “passion” of mine. However, I wanted to give writing a review about a superhero book a try, so here we are. Unmasked, based on the Cypher System Core Rulebook (which is also required to use this setting), is my first foray into discussing the Superhero genre. The setting was written for the original Cypher System rulebook, but will work just fine with the Revised Cypher System Rulebook.
To start off the discussion, the book is fairly well laid out, and has some interesting artwork. It is, perhaps, not as glamorous as some of the other things we’ve seen from the Monte Cook Games team, but it’s fairly good. The actual production quality of the book is typical of the rest of Monte Cook Games’ offerings: both sturdy and well constructed.
Unmasked involves a two-in-one gameplay. You as a player are playing both a teenager, with the teenager troubles of high school, and you have also been gifted (or cursed depending on how you view it) with a Masked side, the side of you that’s superpowered and has the ability to fight evil things and use mementos . Mementos are the Cyphers of the Unmasked universe and are only usable by the Prodigies (the teenagers with super powers).
Reflecting this, the character sheet for Unmasked has two parts as well. One part, that’s smaller is the teen, with its own stat pools, name, and descriptor. The second part that’s larger, is the Mask Part, and contains the name of the mask side, descriptor, type, and foci. In a lot of ways this feels similar to the strange dichotomy between the Incredible Hulk and Bruce Banner. (Massive green rage monster of destruction vs quiet, science guy) This comparison grows even more evident when you read into the ‘What does the mask think of the teenager’ section (page 20) and the fact that they can put the teenager into some very uncomfortable situations.
Traversing through the Unmasked PDF, Dennis Detwiller does cover different flavors of the superhero setting that might be intriguing to play. The eighties are the focus years of the setting, with interesting takes on including them and the different types are from that era including so many of the cringy stereotypes so many of us lived through in that time. He also goes into helpful detail on running the setting and game, which is useful when you typically don’t run a Supers setting. Also included is a sort of quick adventure seed generator as well as a preliminary adventure for GM’s to run called Mister Monster.
Critque & Summary
So, the things that I like about Unmasked: The GM Toolbox and advice section are both useful and well written (Chapters 16 and 17). The thing I don’t like about Unmasked is kind of a strange thing. When he goes into detail, he really goes into detail which is good, but in my opinion he focused so much on detailing specifics, that the stuff he didn’t cover, or glossed over didn’t receive enough attention. While portions of this setting could be used as a tool box of sorts (though Monte Cook Games is coming out with an actual Superheroes toolbox book as part of their Heroes of the Cypher System Kickstarter), I don’t know that I personally would want to run this system. There are, however, some people that really enjoy it. In particular, I would suggest talking to @BertrumMiller#0546 on the Cypher Unlimited Discord. His help was invaluable for writing this supplement from a different perspective. Happy gaming!
- Joann Walles