Time to hit the ol’ dusty trail?

An entirely idle thought crossed my mind the other day: GURPS tried to be a universal RPG system by piling on the rules, just so much customization, while the Cypher system might have a better chance of being a universal system by being simple.

This is not an original thought. There are a few games systems that take a more basic approach and I’ve heard, do it better than the Cypher System; FATE, Powered By The Apocalypse, etc.

But I like the Cypher System: on top of the simple rules, I like the Cypher’s wild card-ness in Numenera. A random throwaway piece of scavenged tech can turn any scene into a fiasco/triumph/complication and that isn’t a bug, that’s a feature. While other games (AD&D.x) lend themselves to a “Christmas tree” of magic items that people rely upon, you can’t really do that in Numenera. Your various power boosts are fleeting and changeable. And it’s SUPER fun when Bryce remembers that he has a lightning storm suppository and whips it out… in… in the heat of battle and THAT is the weird thing that turns the tide.

Being able to come up with Cyphers for a setting is pivotal for me then, because that’s the thing that makes the simple system the most fun. It’s easy in Numenera, you’re scavenging tech from a junkyard a billion years old and a planet wide. For other systems, the cyphers have to change up a bit.

(I’ve ordered a setting-agnostic Subtle Cypher deck. Rather than being cyphers for the characters to use, it’s better to think of them as cyphers the players use. I’ve yet to decide how I’ll fold them in to Numenera.)

So could I think of a setting/game that I’d really want to Cypherize? Two words: Yes.


There a couple of things that make me think the Weird West would make a good CS setting for us.

A: We all liked Deadlands.

B: We’re already using Poker Chips for our stat pools. Thematic!

C: Deadlands was a great setting with some really cool elements to the rules set and also some really time-consuming elements to its rules.

D: The character archetypes in Deadlands could be fairly easily recreated with the Blanking Blank who Blanks with enough depth. You can have your Fighter/Magic User/Specialist x Native/Mormon/Holy Roller/Tinhorn/Veteran/etc x Lives in the Wilderness/Uses Ghost Rock/Died a While Ago etc. The Cypher System Rulebook has a bunch of generic entries for this and with a few reskinned to be more setting appropriate and. A few created from whole cloth… That would be one of the few things that would have to be established before play.

E: The other thing that would have to be established before play would have to be the form of the Cyphers. But Deadlands has that built into its lore with Ghost Rock. Ghost Rock is (SPOILERZ!!!) literally ghosts trapped in rocks. That people burn as fuel. So what if you had a Ghost Rock chunk with a spirit that talked to you, let you know what it was, struck a bargain with you to help you when you released it? Suddenly your character is walking around with disposable boosts and effects… i.e. Cyphers.

Thinking about what I’d keep from the rules set, it’d pretty much only be the poker hands for spellcasting/arcane skills. That isn’t too hard – the poker hands simply turn into a number, that number can be the equivalent of a die roll. It’s a slower way to resolve things, but I like it a lot.

The other stuff, the different dice for stats and skills, the card draw for initiative, I’d abandon all that. I’d definitely put poker chips to use as bullets. Anything to get pencils down.

Well, that all seems like a lot of work. Good news everybody! Lots of other, more industrious, people have had the same thinks that I just thunk. I’ve found quite a lot of partially completed thoughts re: Weird West roleplaying.

If folks are interested, I’ll try to put something together out of what other people have come up with. If you’ve played Deadlands before let me know what you liked about it and what you didn’t.



4 Comments on “Time to hit the ol’ dusty trail?

  1. Since the Cypher system is so simple the flavour of the genre setting mostly comes through in the characters and the items available.
    The characters is probably the easy bit, just given the expansive nature of the selections available.

    *Name* is a *Adjective**Noun* who *Verbs*
    CS Rulebook has four character Types, the Noun part of that sentence, where Numenera 1 had three and Numenera 2 has six: Warrior, Adept, Explorer and Speaker. But instead of taking a tier in your Type, you could take a tier in your Flavour, of which there are five: Stealth, Tech, Magic, Combat and Skills & Knowledge. I’d reskin these as Rowdy, Sharp, Wanderer and Speaker or some such and the Flavours as Sneak, Gadgeteer, Marvel, Bruiser and Doc. Suggestions for setting appropriate names appreciated.

    Combining these with the 50 Descriptors (your *Adjective*)in the book (none seem inappropriate that I can see) and you start off with quite a range.

    The Foci is where you can add the most setting “feel” though, I think. There are some on the list that don’t work: you can’t have cyborgs running around as PCs… or can you? But Howls at the Moon seems like a very Weird West thing to have. Some, like good old Exists Out of Phase just takes a slight tweak to Weird West it – they can walk through walls because they’re a ghost, duh.

    Rugged Wanderer who Lives in the Wilderness, for your stereotypical mountain man. A Jovial Speaker who Interprets the Law for your simple country lawyer. A Naive Rowdy who Looks for Trouble for your Suchandsuch The Kid. A Spiritual Sharp who Awakens Dreams for your Hopi Dreamwalker.

    Lots to work with.

    • I like the sounds of the character naming and creation. I think I only played Deadlands perhaps once or twice unfortunately, so references to it don’t sound familiar. I really liked the cypher system in Numenera primarily for its ability to be used whenever and however. I didnt need to save up points or energy or manna so that at some point maybe I could poop out a lightning wall grenade inside a cave. I get why a game system would want to limit the usage of potentially game changing weaponery, but this wasn’t an issue in Numenera where anything…could…happen, and of course the cypher delivery could fail or have no effect. Having to buy them was completely ok, as well as having a maximum carrying capacity. It would have been nice to modify or build them, but I could see that getting out of hand and abused. How would the poker hand result in a “hit” or “miss”? A full house is worth 10, aces are 1.. and so on? I mean thats just fukin-a-cool

  2. Maybe expending effort gets you extra cards instead of lowering the difficulty? That makes effort less efficacious but it seems more fun. I like the “mysterious past” functionality of DL, not sure how you can incorporate that into cypher character creation though.

    It’s actually been a while since we’ve played so I can’t think of any other specifics, positive or negative, about DL at the moment.

    • I don’t recall the Mysterious Past… I’m going to have to dig out the DL book.

      I’d only use cards for spells/hexes. I think using them for other tests would be too time consuming. And it’ll keep Magic special. I think I’ll take a look at the poker hand probabilities, but yes, that’s how I was imagining the poker draw for spells. You get your 5 (maybe 4 , the Manitou demand sacrifice) cards and can buy more with chips. Factoring in Edge (one free card per) and Effort chips spent (more per tier) that’s not a crazy amount of cards.
      And I like that it would be possible for a Tier 1 spellslinger to luck out and get a great hand.