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Cypher System Rulebook

Cypher System Rulebook

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Any character, any campaign. If you can imagine it, the Cypher System makes it easy!


The Cypher System is the critically acclaimed game engine that powers any campaign in any genre. You may have heard of it as the system that drives the award-winning Numenera roleplaying game. Lauded for its elegance, ease of use, flexibility, and narrative focus, the Cypher System unleashes the creativity of GMs and players with intuitive character creation, fast-paced gameplay, and a uniquely GM-friendly design.

The Cypher System is easy for beginners to learn, but offers all the depth, nuance, and complexity you want. Some people call it a “rules-light” system, but it has the power and sophistication of games that are much more mechanically heavy—and yet it is substantially more flexible. GMs find the game easy to prep for and easy to run—it frees up the GM’s attention, in prep and at the game table, to focus on cool, creative ideas rather than numbers, mechanics, and “crunch.”

Cypher System characters are built from the concept up. A descriptive sentence provides not just an easily-understood overview of the character, but also the mechanical basis for skills, abilities, and stats. And the Cypher System gives players amazing narrative engagement, rewarding player-driven subplots and giving players resources to bear on the tasks and situations they most want to succeed at.


Uniquely Easy on the GM

While preparing for their games, and at the game table, Cypher System GMs spend their time and mental energy thinking up exciting and creative adventures, settings, encounters, twists, NPCs, and creatures—while spending only mere minutes on numbers and stats. This is in part due to the elegant, math-free simplicity of the system, and in part because of the “players roll all the dice” approach, which shares the mechanical burden with the players.

The Cypher System is amazingly easy to adjudicate. The GM decides how difficult a task is on a simple 1-to-10 scale, and the players apply their skills, resources, and other assets to lower that number—and then they roll the dice. If you can rate a task between 1 and 10, you can run the Cypher System—even if your adventure goes in a completely unexpected direction, or you’ve had no time to prep. Of course there’s more to it, and creatures, encounters, and special situations can add layers of additional sophistication. But at the heart of it all is that 1-to-10 scale.

And that’s it! Virtually everything that makes routine actions more complex is on the players. The GM is the arbiter of what skills, special abilities, and other assets apply, but it’s up the the players to bring these elements to bear, resolve the final difficulty of the task, and roll the dice. This has the dual benefit of increasing the players’ narrative engagement and keeping the mechanical work of running the game off the GM’s plate.

All the while, the GM is focused on running imaginative encounters, spinning great adventures, and building vivid and memorable campaigns!


Intuitive, Descriptive Characters

Cypher System characters are built with a three-part sentence. You might be a Rugged Warrior who Stands Like a Bastion. A Guarded Adept who Keeps a Magic Ally. Perhaps a Graceful Explorer who Moves Like the Wind. Or a Charming Speaker who Bears a Halo of Fire. Each part of your sentence says something about your character—but also provides some of your abilities, skills, and stats. They even offer guidance on your connections to other characters in your party, creating bonds that can be a foundation for an ongoing campaign, or facilitate great roleplaying in one-shot adventures.

Cyphers give characters single-use abilities frequently gained and spent, adding variety to the character’s capabilities and providing exciting new approaches and options. Depending on what’s appropriate for the campaign, cyphers can be subtle, representing advantageous conditions, blessings, or unusual turns of luck, or manifest, in the form of minor magic items, charms, or bits of unusual technology.

Character arcs encourage and reward players for pursuing their characters’ own motivations, in addition to the overall story of the campaign. Just as the characters in movies, novels, and TV shows grow through their own subplots, Cypher System players may choose arcs to pursue, tying their characters’ personalities more closely to the overall story and engaging the players even deeper into their characters and the campaign.

Creating a great Cypher System character is as easy as coming up with a great concept. You build the character you imagine through a short, easy, largely math-free character creation process. And you get a character with depth, nuance, and flexibility.


Narrative Focus

Everything about the Cypher System is focused on making great characters, adventures, and campaigns. The flexibility of the system frees the GM to build the adventures they imagine with a focus on creativity over “work,” and the GM intrusion mechanic enables great plot twists that the players welcome rather than shy away from.

For their part, the players call upon resources such as Effort, player intrusions, and flexible uses of XP to influence the course of the game and bring advantages to the rolls and situations they most want to succeed. And character arcs let players bring their own priorities to the game, developing satisfying and engaging subplots in collaboration with the GM.


Any Campaign, Any Genre

The Cypher System is flexible. From fantasy to science fiction, horror to post-apocalyptic, superhero to cyberpunk, the elegance of the Cypher System makes it easy. The Cypher System Rulebook includes advice and special rules for nine different genres.

The same flexibility that makes Cypher System characters so awesome also makes it easy to customize them to your campaign. Simply pick the types, descriptors, and foci that are appropriate to your setting, and exclude those that aren’t. The Cypher System Rulebook even makes it easy to customize your own types and foci.

Whatever game you want to run—whatever world you want to create and explore—the flexible, fast-paced, narrative-focused Cypher System makes it easy!


The Cypher System Rulebook

The 448-page Cypher System Rulebook gives you all the character options, equipment, game rules, special coverage of key genres, creatures, NPCs, and cyphers you need for any game.

  • Complete game rules
  • Special rules and advice for nine specific genres, including fantasy, modern, science-fiction, horror, superheroes, and post-apocalyptic
  • Four character types, each easily customized to the needs of your setting
  • 50 descriptors and more than 90 foci, along with all the tools to create new foci
  • Loads of equipment and hundreds of cyphers and artifacts
  • Nearly 60 creatures and NPCs
  • Great GM advice on adapting the Cypher System to a variety of settings, and on running fun, engaging, fast-paced, easy-to-GM game sessions

Start a new campaign set in a fantasy land of elves and fae creatures, a science fiction setting spanning the galaxy, or a modern slasher horror game. The Cypher System Rulebook gives you everything you need to run your game using the critically acclaimed, award-winning, and just plain fun-to-play Cypher System!

How to Play the Cypher System

Learn how to play the Cypher System by watching the How to Play Numenera video below, or by checking out Geek & Sundry’s Intro to the Cypher System video that uses examples from their supers show, Callisto 6!

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Reviews (2)
Discussions (13)
Customer avatar
Ross M May 23, 2021 1:05 pm UTC
I've probably missed relevent info, but can anyone confirm if this is just a 2nd printing of the original book (listed on DTRPG as the 2015 edition), or is it worth picking up if you already have the 2015 book?
Customer avatar
Christopher H May 24, 2021 6:52 pm UTC
It's more of a revised edition than a 2nd printing, kind of like 3.5 was for D&D.

If you scroll a little further down this Discussions section, there's a reply from the publisher to a question I asked about what was changed.
Customer avatar
Hamilton R December 07, 2020 8:26 pm UTC
There is no print on demand function here? -- I looked on Amazon, they don't even sell print copy. -- How can we get a printed copy of Cypher System v.2?
Customer avatar
Tim P January 31, 2021 7:41 pm UTC
They do now. Also, check eBay, MKG205 is the book.
Customer avatar
MR. S April 11, 2020 5:13 am UTC
would this game work for, say, an Interstellar or Ad Astra-esque game?
Customer avatar
Christopher H April 12, 2020 12:29 am UTC
It has a sci-fi section where it goes over some stuff, like which "powers" you should allow, hard sci-fi tropes , and rules like 0g).
There's also a Cypher book called The Stars Are Fire, whic is sci-fi too.

Customer avatar
Jeff B January 16, 2020 2:38 pm UTC
If you already own Numenera Discovery, is there any reason to purchase this book?
Customer avatar
Brian S January 16, 2020 7:52 pm UTC
If you only plan to run games in the Numenera universe, no you don't need this book. If you love the system and would like to run games in other settings, it's a great value.
Customer avatar
Jeff B January 18, 2020 1:31 am UTC
Thanks. I went ahead and purchased this book, just for reading if nothing else.
Customer avatar
Joseph M October 08, 2019 3:23 pm UTC
Does this book make the Expanded Worlds book redundant?
Customer avatar
Charles R October 08, 2019 7:05 pm UTC
Hi, Joseph. It does include some elements that were previously covered in Expanded Worlds, including a couple of the genres, but the bulk of that book is still relevant.

Customer avatar
Christopher H October 07, 2019 6:07 pm UTC
If you make a revised-revised edition:
As cool as it it to have all the abilities alphabetized, a one-sentence description of the ability in the character types section would have been real helpful. Having to bookmark multiple areas to compare abilities sucks.
Customer avatar
Nathaniel B October 02, 2019 6:23 pm UTC
New book. Have they changed the GM never rolls dice bit?
Customer avatar
Brandon T October 02, 2019 11:43 pm UTC
Customer avatar
Nathaniel B October 03, 2019 12:46 am UTC
Too bad. As the GM I like to be able to pick up the dice and participate in the "game" portion of things.
Customer avatar
Richard H October 03, 2019 12:55 pm UTC
You could always make the defense rolls for the players.
Customer avatar
Nathaniel B October 03, 2019 10:56 pm UTC
Why? I don't see any reason to buy a book for a system I know I will have to alter before we even sit down at the table for the first time.
Customer avatar
Jimmy P November 18, 2019 3:46 am UTC
A lot of Cypher mechanics are innovative and might sound weird at first. As a GM, I see value in not having to roll every darn NPC rolls. It helps me focus on the story, describe the action, and plan your next moves. My players enjoy rolling because it gives them some control over their character's fate. It is not about a hidden threat from behind a screen. It is in your face, a roll good or get clobbered type situation. You can still surprise them by having their opponents pull surprises (he's way better at attacking than defending... difficulty 5 it is to defend against him!).

At the end of the day, this game might not just be for you. But to write off one of the best games out there today, just based on that, seems fairly close-minded to me. Hope you find the right game for you!
Customer avatar
Nathaniel B November 20, 2019 11:26 pm UTC
I have tried other games where all rolls are done by the players only, and I hate it. As for being one of the "best games" out there that is completely subjective.
Customer avatar
Greg S October 01, 2019 3:18 am UTC
Only problem with the Cypher System is that there is no adventures for it. That's the problem with publishers that don't allow third party publishers to make products based on their rules set. If Monte Cook Games is not making adventures for it, then this system is useless. Designing your own adventures is a pain when you work for a living. Many people want to buy pre-made adventures.
Customer avatar
Arokha S October 01, 2019 4:39 pm UTC
They have made adventures for Cypher System though. And for the derivative Cypher System games (The Strange, Numenera, etc). There's a trillion for Numenera in particular.
Customer avatar
Brandon T October 01, 2019 7:46 pm UTC
Additionally running other game's adventures is super swift. I've run Curse of the Crimson throne and Second darkness (Pathfinder adv paths) in the system - my only prep is reading the adventures.
Customer avatar
Christopher J October 02, 2019 1:12 am UTC
While it's indeed nice to see quality adventures directly from the publisher, one of the beautiful things about the Cypher system is how fricken easy and flexible it is to adapt adventures from any other setting with almost no preparation.
Customer avatar
Christopher H October 02, 2019 1:38 am UTC
They have a Content Creator section. Is there something from stopping 3rd party publishers from making adventures?
Customer avatar
Greg S October 02, 2019 10:02 am UTC
Except that I hate the concept of Numenera and the mixing of fantasy and technology in an RPG game. I hated the idea of it in old school D&D with Blackmoor & Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and I hate it now. It does have quite a few adventures for it but not trillions.

For Numenera you have the following adventures: Discovery has 4 adventures, the starter set has an adventure book, Spire of the Hunting Sound, Ashes of the Sea, Slaves of the Machine God has 16 adventures, Explorer's Keys has 10 adventures, Strange Revelations has 10 adventures, The Dark Spiral is a multi-part adventure, Devil's Spine has 3 adventures, Weird Discoveries has 10 adventures, Escape from the Jade Colossus is an adventure, Forgetting Doomsday is an adventure, Into the Violet Vale is a short 13 page adventure, Shadewalker has a 10 page short adventure, Skein of the Blackbone Bride has a short 14-page adventure, The Hideous Game is an adventure, The Thief, the Clave, and the Ultimatum is a complete standalone adventure,...See more
Customer avatar
Arokha S October 02, 2019 6:49 pm UTC
I didn't literally mean '1 trillion', and I personally consider 60+ first-party-published adventures quite a bit. Additionally they do appear to let third parties publish adventures... I can find several on DTRPG here, including one that appears... to be a soccer team management RPG using the cypher system, which ... confuses me a little.
Customer avatar
Luke S November 12, 2019 2:40 pm UTC
Kinda sounds like you maybe it's you, my dude.

As you've demonstrated quite exhaustively, there's a ton of content to play. You just don't like any of it. So clearly the problem isn't a lack of content. If you don't like it, that's totally fine! Everyone has their thing. But maybe just lead with the fact that you're very picky about what types of products you enjoy playing.
This is a generic system, after all. Most generic systems are built to be sandboxes for the DM, and naturally it carries a much less tight narrative focus than Numenera, the flagship setting for Monte Cook.

So if you want to play a long campaign in whatever very specific slice of genre you actually do enjoy, just go play it in another game.
Customer avatar
Greg S November 23, 2019 7:47 am UTC
There's just mainly stuff for Numenera and a few for The Strange. Not the generic Cypher System Core Rules though. The published adventures for the Cypher System Core Rules are JUST ONE SHOTS. Play it once and then your characters sit in Limbo because there are not any others after that.

For example, in the space adventure, there is no further space adventures. In the one with HARP, it sounds like X-Files and then after that your done. There are no more X-File type of adventures. You might be able to do the dinosaur one after that but that drastically takes Mulder and Scully and puts them into Land of the Lost. Its just all over the place.

A campaign is a series of linked adventures. The Cypher System Core Rules don't have any. They're just one shots.
Customer avatar
Aldrich W December 17, 2019 3:22 am UTC
Why wouldn't you want to develop your own campaign? And even if you decided to use another's setting it sounds as if this would be easy to do.

I'm not getting it.
Customer avatar
Greg S March 24, 2020 9:42 pm UTC

It takes time to come up with an idea for an adventure, plot elements, acts, naming people, places, drawing maps. You know, the stuff that makes it immersive. That takes way too much time. i even like to find images of NPCs if I can. It all allows you to better picture the story.

I prefer to play something that is already professionally written. You know its already vetted to some degree. Multiple people worked on it and gave input as well as their seal of approval.

Call of Cthulhu has a ton of stuff for modern settings that are already written. The rules are good enough but I would prefer using modifiers versus Advantage & Disadvantage mechanics that 7th edition has as if you have a 90% to do something, then a disadvantage is not going to do much. You only have a 10% chance of failure. However, a modifier of a minus 20% makes your 90% chance drop to 70%. Now you have a 30% chance of failure. That is way more effect. Advantage / Disadvantage mechanics suck,...See more
Customer avatar
Jeff C September 28, 2019 4:28 pm UTC
Will there be a print version available on DTRPG?
Customer avatar
Brandon T September 30, 2019 3:51 pm UTC
They don't typically. You'd need to do it via their site or your local bookstore.
Customer avatar
Jeff C October 07, 2019 8:48 pm UTC
Cool. Thanks for getting back to us.
Customer avatar
Todd M September 28, 2019 1:12 pm UTC
Any official responses to specific criticisms, here or elsewhere?
Customer avatar
Brandon T September 30, 2019 3:52 pm UTC
fwiw you can join the discussions up on the cypher-unlimited discord where we talk about mechanics pretty in depth.
Customer avatar
Jeffrey K September 28, 2019 4:55 am UTC
Will there be a preview?
Customer avatar
Diego B September 30, 2019 3:27 pm UTC
Customer avatar
Kevin B September 27, 2019 10:04 pm UTC
So is this the introductory book to the Cypher system? The book GMs need to create worlds using these rules? Is this the Numenera system?
Customer avatar
Christopher H September 28, 2019 4:50 pm UTC
It's the same system, just without a setting and some other stuff folded in. I believe Numenara added a 4th class after this book came out. Between this and Expanded Worlds, there might be some Foci that you don't have in Numenara (they might be in The Strange and other books).
Customer avatar
Christopher H September 27, 2019 6:18 pm UTC
So what's changed between this book and the previous rulebook? Was stuff from Expanded Worlds folded in?
Customer avatar
John B September 27, 2019 7:33 pm UTC
I'd like to know this too. It's not listed as a new edition (other than date) so I'm not sure why it needs a totally new book instead of an update to what we have already bought.
Customer avatar
Charles R September 27, 2019 7:47 pm UTC
It's completely reorganized to make it easier to customize your campaigns and to access character info at the game table. It's 32 pages bigger (it's MCG's biggest book to date!). It contains new systems for player intrusions, character arcs, and cypher shorts, among other things. And it covers nine specific genres with additional rules and advice (there were six in the original).

Mechanically, it's the same system, and this isn't a new edition. You don't need to change your existing campaign or characters to use this book. (I've been running a zombie apocalypse campaign for well over a year, and didn't make any changes to it or any of the characters when we started using the new rulebook.) This new version just takes the lessons of the past five years and improves and expands the corebook accordingly!

Customer avatar
Chad H September 27, 2019 8:20 pm UTC
Thanks for the info!
Customer avatar
David J September 28, 2019 11:47 am UTC
Thank you for the clarification. Seems like it might be useful to include a few comments about the difference between versions somewhere in the product description, yeah?
Customer avatar
Christopher H September 30, 2019 5:55 pm UTC
There are some minor changes to abilities.

Will there be a list explaining what was added and dropped/changed?
I noticed that Warriors lost Extra Edge, but gained Improved Edge (functionally the same, but Improved allows you to choose Intellect Edge instead of Speed).

I saw this because I was comparing the new rulebook to Gods of the Fall.
Customer avatar
Aleksandr V October 04, 2019 9:19 pm UTC
Can't post external link so just go to Monte Cook website >> News >> "What’s New in the Cypher System Rulebook?" (article from 3rd Oct)
It's pretty good overview of changes.
Customer avatar
Christopher H October 10, 2019 7:08 pm UTC
That was helpful, but I was also hoping to get a list of "Replace X ability with Y" since some fell by the wayside. I liked that article though; I think the shift in design was good.
Customer avatar
Robert R November 12, 2019 6:36 am UTC
Since this is not a new version and more or less an update it would be a good motivator for owners of the 2015 version to be eligible for a discount. I purchased the Cypher System core in pdf AND hard copy. Not to mention hundred$ in Numenera and The Strange titles; PDF and hard copy.
Yea, a discount would be proper for those with proof of purchase.

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