This is how you play the Cypher System:
1. The player tells the GM what she wants to do. This is a character action.
2. The GM determines if that action is routine (and therefore works without needing a roll) or if there’s a chance of failure.
3. If there is a chance of failure, the GM determines which stat the task uses (Might, Speed, or Intellect) and the task’s difficulty—how hard it will be on a scale from 1 (really easy) to 10 (basically impossible).
4. The player and the GM determine if anything about her character—such as training, equipment, special abilities, or various actions—can modify the difficulty up or down by one or more steps. If these modifications reduce the difficulty to less than 1, the action is routine (and therefore works with no roll needed).
5. If the action still isn’t routine, the GM uses its difficulty to determine the target number—how high the player must roll to succeed at the action (see the Task Difficulty Chart on page 191). The GM doesn’t have to tell the player what the target number is, but he can give her a hint, especially if her character would reasonably know if the action was easy, average, difficult, or impossible.
6. The player rolls a d20. If she rolls equal to or higher than the target number, her character succeeds.
Thats it… that is how we play. Everything else, a mutation, a superpower, a skill, a sword.. are just things that fall under step 4.
What? You need more detail because you played D&D for years and can’t hand it being so simple… fine…
Each character gets one turn each round. On a character’s turn, she can do one thing—an action. All actions fall into one of three categories: Might, Speed, or Intellect (just like the three stats). Many actions require die rolls—rolling a d20.
Every action performs a task, and every task has a difficulty that determines what number a character must reach or surpass with a die roll to succeed.
Most tasks have a difficulty of 0, which means the character succeeds automatically. For example, walking across a room, opening a door, and throwing a stone into a nearby bucket are all actions, but none of them requires a roll. Actions that are usually difficult or that become difficult due to the situation (such as shooting at a target in a blizzard) have a higher difficulty. These actions usually require a roll.
Some actions require a minimum expenditure of Might, Speed, or Intellect points. If a character cannot spend the minimum number of points needed to complete the action, she automatically fails at the task.
DETERMINING TASK STAT
Every task relates to one of a character’s three stats: Might, Speed, or Intellect. Physical activities that require strength, power, or endurance relate to Might. Physical activities that require agility, flexibility, or fast reflexes relate to Speed. Mental activities that require force of will, memory, or mental power relate to Intellect. This means you can generalize tasks into three categories: Might tasks, Speed tasks, and Intellect tasks. You can also generalize rolls into three categories: Might rolls, Speed rolls, and Intellect rolls.
The category of the task or roll determines what kind of Effort you can apply to the roll and may determine how a character’s other abilities affect the roll. For example, an adept may have an ability that makes him better at Intellect rolls, and a warrior may have an ability that makes her better at Speed rolls.
DETERMINING TASK DIFFICULTY
The most frequent thing a GM does during the game – and probably the most important thing – is setting a task’s difficulty. To make the job easier, use the Task Difficulty table, which associates difficulty rating with a descriptive name, a target number, and general guidance about the difficulty.
Every difficulty from 1 to 10 has a target number associated with it. The target number is easy to remember: it’s always three times the difficulty. The target number is the minimum number a player needs to roll on a d20 to succeed at the task. Moving up or down on the table is called increasing or decreasing the difficulty, which is measured in steps.
For example, reducing a difficulty 5 task to a difficulty 4 task is “reducing the difficulty by one step.” Most modifiers affect the difficulty rather than the player’s roll. This has two consequences:
1. Low target numbers such as 3 or 6, which would be boring in most games that use a d20, are not boring in the Cypher System. For example, if you need to roll a 6 or higher, you still have a 25% chance to fail.
2. The upper levels of difficulty (7, 8, 9, and 10) are all but impossible because the target numbers are 21 or higher, which you can’t roll on a d20. However, it’s common for PCs to have abilities or equipment that reduce the difficulty of a task and thus lower the target number to something they can roll on a d20.
A character’s tier does not determine a task’s level. Things don’t get more difficult just because a character’s tier increases— the world doesn’t instantly become a more difficult place. Fourth-tier characters don’t deal only with level 4 creatures or difficulty 4 tasks (although a fourth-tier character probably has a better shot at success than a first-tier character does). Just because something is level 4 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant only for fourth tier characters. Similarly, depending on the situation, a fifth-tier character could find a difficulty 2 task just as challenging as a second-tier character does.
Therefore, when setting the difficulty of a task, the GM should rate the task on its own merits, not on the power of the characters.
MODIFYING THE DIFFICULTY
After the GM sets the difficulty for a task, the player can try to modify it for her character. Any such modification applies only to this particular attempt at the task. In other words, rewiring an electronic door lock normally might be difficulty 6, but since the character doing the work is skilled in such tasks, has the right tools, and has another character assisting her, the difficulty in this instance might be much lower. That’s why it’s important for the GM to set a task’s difficulty without taking the character into account. The character comes in at this step.
By using skills and assets, working together, and—perhaps most important— applying Effort, a character can decrease a task’s difficulty by multiple steps to make it easier. Rather than adding bonuses to the player’s roll, reducing the difficulty lowers the target number. If she can reduce the difficulty of a task to 0, no roll is needed; success is automatic. (An exception is if the GM decides to use a GM intrusion on the task, in which case the player would have to make a roll at the original difficulty.)
There are three basic ways in which a character can decrease the difficulty of a task: skills, assets, and Effort. Each of them decreases the difficulty by at least one step—never in smaller increments.
Characters may be skilled at performing a specific task. A skill can vary from character to character. For example, one character might be skilled at lying, another might be skilled at trickery, and a third might be skilled in all interpersonal interactions. The first level of being skilled is called being trained, and it decreases the difficulty of that task by one step. More rarely, a character can be incredibly skilled at performing a task. This is called being specialized, and it decreases the difficulty of a task by two steps instead of one. Skills can never decrease a task by more than two steps; being trained and specialized in a skill decreases the difficulty by only two steps, not three.
An asset is anything that helps a character with a task, such as having a really good crowbar when trying to force open a door or being in a rainstorm when trying to put out a fire. Appropriate assets vary from task to task. The perfect awl might help when woodworking, but it won’t make a dance performance much better. An asset usually reduces a task’s difficulty by one step. Assets can never decrease the difficulty by more than two steps.
A player can apply Effort to decrease the difficulty of a task. To do this, the player spends points from the stat Pool that’s most appropriate to the task. For example, applying Effort to push a heavy rock off a cliff requires a player to spend points from her character’s Might Pool; applying Effort to activate an unusual machine interface requires her to spend points from her character’s Intellect Pool. For every level of Effort spent on a task, the task’s difficulty decreases by one step. It costs 3 points from a stat Pool to apply one level of Effort, and it costs 2 additional points for every level thereafter (so it costs 5 points for two levels of Effort, 7 points for three levels of Effort, and so on). A character must spend points from the same stat Pool as the type of task or roll—Might points for a Might roll, Speed points for a Speed roll, or Intellect points for an Intellect roll.
Every character has a maximum level of Effort she can apply to a single task.
ROLLING THE DIE
To determine success or failure, a player rolls a die (always a d20). If she rolls the target number or higher, she succeeds. Most of the time, that’s the end of it—nothing else needs to be done. Occasionally, a character might apply a small modifier to the roll. If she has a +2 bonus when attempting specific actions, she adds 2 to the number rolled. However, the original roll matters if it’s a special roll.
If a character applies a modifier to her die roll, it’s possible to get a result of 21 or higher, in which case she can attempt a task with a target number above 20. But if there is no possibility for success—if not even rolling a natural 20 (meaning the d20 shows that number) is sufficient to accomplish the task—then no roll is made. Otherwise, characters would have a chance to succeed at everything, even impossible or ridiculous tasks such as climbing moonbeams, throwing elephants, or hitting a target on the opposite side of a mountain with an arrow.
If a character’s modifiers add up to +3, treat them as an asset instead. In other words, instead of adding a +3 bonus to the roll, reduce the difficulty by one step. For example, if a warrior has a +1 bonus to attack rolls from a minor effect, a +1 bonus to attack rolls from a special weapon quality, and a +1 bonus to attack rolls from a special ability, she does not add 3 to her attack roll—instead, she reduces the difficulty of the attack by one step. So if she attacks a level 3 foe, she would normally roll against difficulty 3 and try to reach a target number of 9, but thanks to her asset, she rolls against difficulty 2 and tries to reach a target number of 6.
This distinction is important when stacking skills and assets to decrease the difficulty of an action, especially since reducing the difficulty to 0 or lower means no roll is needed.
THE PLAYER ALWAYS ROLLS
In the Cypher System, players always drive the action. That means they make all the die rolls. If a PC leaps out of a moving vehicle, the player rolls to see if she succeeds. If a PC searches for a hidden panel, the player rolls to determine whether she finds it. If a rockslide falls on a PC, the player rolls to try to get out of the way. If a PC and an NPC arm wrestle, the player rolls, and the NPC’s level determines the target number. If a PC attacks a foe, the player rolls to see if she hits. If a foe attacks the PC, the player rolls to see if she dodges the blow.
As shown by the last two examples, the PC rolls whether she is attacking or defending. Thus, something that improves defenses might help or hinder her rolls. For example, if a PC uses a low wall to gain cover from attacks, the wall decreases the difficulty of the player’s defense rolls. If a foe uses the wall to gain cover from the PC’s attacks, it increases the difficulty of the player’s attack rolls.
If a character rolls a natural 1, 17, 18, 19, or 20 (meaning the d20 shows that number), special rules come into play. These are explained in more detail in the following sections.
1: Intrusion. The GM makes a free intrusion (see below) and doesn’t award experience points (XP) for it.
17: Damage Bonus. If the roll was a damage-dealing attack, it deals 1 additional point of damage.
18: Damage Bonus. If the roll was a damage-dealing attack, it deals 2 additional points of damage.
19: Minor Effect. If the roll was a damage dealing attack, it deals 3 additional points of damage. If the roll was something other than an attack, the PC gets a minor effect in addition to the normal results of the task.
20: Major Effect. If the roll was a damage dealing attack, it deals 4 additional points of damage. If the roll was something other than an attack, the PC gets a major effect in addition to the normal results of the task. If the PC spent points from a stat Pool on the action, the point cost for the action decreases to 0, meaning the character regains those
When an attack strikes a character, it usually means the character takes damage.
An attack against a PC subtracts points from one of the character’s stat Pools— usually the Might Pool. Whenever an attack simply says it deals “damage” without specifying the type, it means Might damage, which is by far the most common type. Intellect damage, which is usually the result of a mental attack, is always labeled as Intellect damage. Speed damage is often a physical attack, but attacks that deal Speed damage are fairly rare.
NPCs don’t have stat Pools. Instead, they have a characteristic called health. When an NPC takes damage of any kind, the amount is subtracted from its health. Unless described otherwise, an NPC’s health is always equal to its target number. Some NPCs might have special reactions to or defenses against attacks that would normally deal Speed damage or Intellect damage, but unless the NPC’s description specifically explains this, assume that all damage is subtracted from the NPC’s health.
Objects are like NPCs: they have health instead of stat Pools.
Damage is always a specific amount determined by the attack. For example, a slash with a broadsword or a blast with a spike thrower deals 4 points of damage. An adept’s Onslaught deals 4 points of damage. Often, there are ways for the attacker to increase the damage. For example, a PC can apply Effort to deal 3 additional points of damage, and rolling a natural 17 on the attack roll deals 1 additional point of damage.
Pieces of equipment and special abilities protect a character from damage by giving him Armor. Each time a character takes damage, subtract his Armor value from the damage before reducing his stat Pool or health. For example, if a warrior with 2 Armor is hit by a gunshot that deals 4 points of damage, he takes only 2 points of damage (4 minus 2 from his Armor). If Armor reduces the incoming damage to 0 or lower, the character takes no damage from the attack. For example, the warrior’s 2 Armor protects him from all physical attacks that deal 1 or 2 points of damage.
The most common way to get Armor is to wear physical armor, such as a leather jacket, a bulletproof vest, a chainmail hauberk, or bioengineered carapace grafts, depending on the setting. All physical armor comes in one of three categories: light, medium, or heavy. Light armor gives the wearer 1 point of Armor, medium gives 2 points of Armor, and heavy gives 3 points of Armor.
When you see the word “Armor” capitalized in the game rules (other than in the name of a special ability), it refers to your Armor characteristic—the number you subtract from incoming damage. When you see the word “armor” in lowercase, it refers to any physical armor you might wear.
Other effects can add to a character’s Armor. If a character is wearing chainmail (+2 to Armor) and has an ability that covers him in a protective force field that grants +1 to Armor, his total is 3 Armor. If he also has a cypher that hardens his flesh temporarily for +1 to Armor, his total is 4 Armor.
Some types of damage ignore physical armor. Attacks that specifically deal Speed damage or Intellect damage ignore Armor; the creature takes the listed amount of damage without any reduction from Armor. Ambient damage (see below) usually ignores Armor as well.
A creature may have a special bonus to Armor against certain kinds of attacks. For example, a protective suit made of a sturdy, fire-resistant material might normally give its wearer +1 to Armor but count as +3 to Armor against fire attacks. An artifact worn as a helmet might grant +2 to Armor only against mental attacks.
Some kinds of damage aren’t direct attacks against a creature, but they indirectly affect everything in the area. Most of these are environmental effects such as winter cold, high temperatures, or background radiation. Damage from these kinds of sources is called ambient damage. Physical armor usually doesn’t protect against ambient damage, though a well-insulated suit of armor can protect against cold weather.
DAMAGE FROM HAZARDS
Attacks aren’t the only way to inflict damage on a character. Experiences such as falling from a great height, being burned in a fire, and spending time in severe weather also deal damage. Although no list of potential hazards could be comprehensive, the Damage From Hazards table includes common examples.
THE DAMAGE TRACK
Hale is the normal state for a character: all three stat Pools are at 1 or higher, and the PC has no penalties from harmful conditions. When a hale PC takes enough damage to reduce one of his stat Pools to 0, he becomes impaired. Note that a character whose stat Pools are much lower than normal can still be hale.
Impaired is a wounded or injured state. When an impaired character applies Effort, it costs 1 extra point per level applied. For example, applying one level of Effort costs 4 points instead of 3, and applying two levels of Effort costs 7 points instead of 5.
An impaired character ignores minor and major effect results on his rolls, and he doesn’t deal as much extra damage in combat with a special roll. In combat, a roll of 17 or higher deals only 1 additional point of damage.
When an impaired PC takes enough damage to reduce one of his stat Pools to 0, he becomes debilitated.
Debilitated is a critically injured state. A debilitated character may not take any actions other than to move (probably crawl) no more than an immediate distance. If a debilitated character’s Speed Pool is 0, he can’t move at all.
When a debilitated PC takes enough damage to reduce a stat Pool to 0, he is dead.
Dead is dead.
RECOVERING POINTS IN A POOL
After losing or spending points in a Pool, you recover those points by resting. You can’t increase a Pool past its maximum by resting—just back to its normal level. Any extra points gained go away with no effect. The amount of points you recover from a rest, and how long each rest takes, depends on how many times you have rested so far that day.
When you rest, make a recovery roll. To do this, roll a d6 and add your tier. You recover that many points, and you can divide them among your stat Pools however you wish. For example, if your recovery roll is 4 and you’ve lost 4 points of Might and 2 points of Speed, you can recover 4 points of Might, or 2 points of Might and 2 points of Speed, or any other combination adding up to 4 points.
The first time you rest each day, it takes only a few seconds to catch your breath. If you rest this way in the middle of an encounter, it takes one action on your turn.
The second time you rest each day, you must rest for ten minutes to make a recovery roll. The third time you rest each day, you must rest for one hour to make a recovery roll. The fourth time you rest each day, you must rest for ten hours to make a recovery roll (usually, this occurs when you stop for the day to eat and sleep).
After that much rest, it’s assumed to be a new day, so the next time you rest, it takes only a few seconds. The next rest takes ten minutes, then one hour, and so on, in a cycle.
If you haven’t rested yet that day and you take a lot of damage in a fight, you could rest a few seconds (regaining 1d6 points + 1 point per tier) and then immediately rest for ten minutes (regaining another 1d6 points + 1 point per tier). Thus, in one full day of doing nothing but resting, you could recover 4d6 points + 4 points per tier.
Each character chooses when to make recovery rolls. If a party of five explorers rests for ten minutes because two members want to make recovery rolls, the other characters don’t have to make rolls at that time. Later in the day, those three can decide to rest for ten minutes and make recovery rolls.