One of the things that I did not realize that I would enjoy as much as I do when we started Angel’s Citadel is the opportunity to read and review RPG products. While many of these are products that we ourselves purchase (partly because we want to play them, and partly because we want to support authors), occasionally, we have been gifted a review copy by the author themselves. Either way, we try to be as honest as we can so that both you, the reader, understand what you would be purchasing and so that the author(s) can see how their product resonates. Moreover, it gives me a chance to look at thought processes more in depth than I have previously as a player or even a GM.
So it is that this week, we at Angel’s Citadel have been given a copy of a new Cypher System supplement to review by none other than our friend Dean Lewis, better known as Alpha Dean to those in the Cypher community. Just released under the Cypher Creator system on DriveThruRPG, Mal’Vandal’s Mythic Vade Mecum works to bring more detail and some more traditional ideas to the concept of magic in the Cypher System. So let’s dive in and talk about the product.
Like most products on DriveThruRPG, this one is formatted as a 24 page PDF file. The layout elements from Fat Goblin Games are stock, but effectively bring a visual fantasy theme to the product. The bulk of the art inside is also stock from various sources, but that does not detract from the product itself, with most of the art being thematically fantasy anyway. The Revised Cypher System Rulebook from Monte Cook Games will be needed to make use of this supplement. Godforsaken will also be useful.
The first three pages of the PDF are commentary on worldbuilding and flavoring magic for the setting you are creating. It is a fairly standard breakdown for anyone who is familiar with other fantasy roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons in particular, but it covers the necessary details to give the reader the general idea of things to think about. Starting on page 7, we get into the rules portion which covers the remainder of the book. Dean has opted to add a fourth stat pool that he calls the Primal or Primordial pool. This pool essentially fuels metamagic feats and scales with XP spent as any other long-term advancement. This is further adjusted by character type so that there is not as much benefit for warriors to do so as there is adepts. It is not a bad idea, and the mechanics of it are not very different from the resource management of the standard Cypher pools (Might, Speed, & Intellect). If you understand resource management for those, this fourth will not be an issue to understand.
As you increase in Tier, in addition to an increase in your ability to spend points on metamagic feats and cast more spells, your mastery of magic goes up and the chance that it will cause mishaps (called Backlash) goes down. These mishaps can manifest as either outright damage based on the level of the spell and the amount of power you put into it from your Primordial pool or flavored effects (such as a haste spell causing you to slow down) depending on what is the most interesting option for the story.
Next, the reader will find 10 pages of spells that they can use in their fantasy campaign. These are thematically labeled and flavored spells and even though some many of these effects are common among the fantasy genre in other books under other names, the effort that was put into “Cypherizing” these (flavoring them and pairing them with a cost) is no small thing. Finally, there are optional rules for Enchanting (a fantasy version of “Crafting” with a rather interesting take on the cost of doing so and an alternate method for making such items “special” rather than simply an increase of damage) and Chaos/Wild Magic (or alternative Backlash Effects). While on the latter, some of the effects are on the silly side, the effort going into putting this kind of tool for a Cypher GM together cannot be neglected.
One of the biggest critiques I have of the product is that it could use some more editing. Both grammatical and organizational constructions in this product tend to make it either distracting at best or difficult to follow the train of thought at worst. Being someone who is very familiar with both the author and the editor of this product, I personally understand what both of them were getting at with the ideas they present. Someone new to Cypher or new to their products, however, might experience some difficulty there. Another thing that was difficult was the introductory flavor text. The font, darkness, and size choice made it difficult to read. Doing it larger and making it two pages or choosing a lighter font and spacing it out more would achieve the “hand-written” feel while still making it easy on the eyes.
The second thing I would have done differently would be to add a table of contents. It could have replaced the author’s introduction on page 2 of the PDF, but a hyperlinked index would help give a sense of the flow of the supplement. The fact that the PDF itself is bookmarked is definitely a help, so do not think that there are no “ease of navigation” tools provided, but it is my opinion that file bookmarks and tables of contents serve two different purposes.
From a layout perspective, The transition from page 5 to page 6 of the PDF also caused me to head check the first time I saw it, not realizing that it was a continuation of text. While the side note commentary is helpful, it needs to be rechecked to ensure that it is found on the page of the thing it is clarifying (for example, the Shape of the Pixie reskin in the sidebar of page 18 of the PDF should actually be on page 19 of the PDF).
The supplement would benefit from some “in-game” examples. For instance, in the Optional Magic section, the Enchanter portion might have something like, “Hareth the Enchanter is trying to create a Permanent Enchantment on a staff. The GM rules that it will cost him…,” simply to give a sense of the type of expenditures alluded to. A couple of examples of items might be useful as well. Such a construct is a common addition to rules sections in core books and supplements everywhere.
Overall, Dean presents some interesting ideas for bringing magic that vary from the core Revised Cypher System Rulebook and feels more like the magic systems that are popular in other games. Despite its editing flaws, Mal’Vandal’s Mythic Vade Mecum has quite a bit of content that one can readily drop into their Cypher System game and use. Particularly for newer Cypher GMs, that content will help flatten the curve of bringing a fantasy game to life using the Cypher System, particularly when paired with the Godforsaken supplement. To me, that’s a very good thing indeed. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles