Actual Play Report–Cypher System, Predation
In my quest to actually keep my “gaming resolutions” for 2017, I finally got a Cypher System game to the table today for a one shot. Here were the impressions that my usual face to face group came up with. As a disclaimer, this came from one play through. We spent about two hours making up characters, and played for about three and a half hours.
My Up Front Preparation
I printed out “cheat sheets” for the Cypher System for my players, and I tried to create a broader cheat sheet for myself. That said, it wasn’t the best effort I have made when it comes to preparing a group for a one shot.
I wanted to see character creation in the system, but the highlights that I wrote for character creation didn’t end up being as helpful as I thought as I was making my notes.
In general, I’ve always thought that the Monte Cook games books were well formatted. They have nice sidebars with page references, descriptions of various terms, and some really nice call outs and highlighting in their charts.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I think the style of formatting and annotation that appears in the books is much more directly useful for the GM than it is for the players.
Because we were playing Predation, the book is set up as a supplement to the main Cypher System core rulebook, as opposed to the “all in one” approach with Numenera or The Strange. That means that to create a character, players are going to be cross referencing at least two books. I had hoped with the page references in the sidebars, this would be more intuitive, but character creation took a long time, and wasn’t as easy to walk through as I would have hoped.
Part of the problem is that about 75% of what the character needs for their modified character types is present in the Predation book, but the other part of the core character type information is in the core book, but just about every player thought they had all of the information they needed for type just from the entry in Predation, until they reviewed their sheets at the end.
It also feels as if the initial player choices could have been laid out differently than the other “tier” information. Just about every player missed the paragraph that explained what they got at tier 1, and all of the tiers are laid out in order, without a specific call out to just starting character options.
Starting equipment proved to cause some consternation as well. Equipment in many cases is listed as how many items of different expense “levels” are available. Many of the core equipment choices seemed less than optimal for the setting, which meant that after referencing the core book for number and expense of items, the Predation book was referenced again, to find the more setting specific equipment.
The final issue with equipment is that, outside of weapons and armor, its seems that most equipment is either narrative permission or an asset to rolls, but the way equipment is organized, it feels more granular than it needs to be.
Imparting the Rules
Every player had a cheat sheet, but I ran all of them through the basics of the rules–it may have been my explanation, but for a game that “feels” simple, it’s hard to explain all of the most important bits without the game starting to sound more complicated than it is.
Additionally, while the concept of lowering the difficulty worked well for everyone, the “helping out” rule, where players helping one another adds a +1 to the roll, wasn’t overly popular. It’s not that it was hard to track, just that it ran counter to how everything else in the game works.
It also took a few times going over the rules to get Edge and Effort straight.
XP being used for re-rolls, intrusion denial, and advancement wasn’t overly popular when explained to the table.
The setting of Predation was the most popular thing at the table. It was pretty much universally enjoyed by the table. Additionally, the setting rule of the players handing their companions to one another to play seemed to be popular as well.
Apparently people trapped in the past after a time-travel accident and having dinosaur companions while using super-science is a hit.
Playing the Game
Despite the somewhat complicated way the rules came across when I was attempting to explain the rules to group, once we started playing, with only a few references to the cheat sheet, the rules flowed pretty well at the table.
Additionally, while the table was hesitant about the XP rules, at the rate I handed the XP out at the table, they were less concerned about XP having multiple uses.
Overall, the game made a better impression after we played than it made when we first started making characters. It did feel as if some rules could have been trimmed a bit to make them more intuitive, but in actual play, everything went pretty smooth.
The setting had a lot of potential for story. I wrote a quick outline for the game session, and about of third of the story shifted just based on how some of the intrusions played out and based on player actions.
I also think that my general positive impression of the game system may have been reinforced by the fact that the game is very well set up for the GM to run the game. I think the rules work well at the table, but getting players into the game and interacting with the rules may not be as quick and intuitive as I had hoped.
- If I run Cypher System again, I need to plan more time for character creation
- I need to get a better handle on explaining character creation to the characters
- I need to see if I can tighten up my explanation of the rules if I present them in the future
- I want to see if character creation is more streamlined in an “all in one” ruleset like The Strange