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Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Robert R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/01/2017 18:17:15

Cypher System (CS) It is an innovative and fun system that invites creativity and group interaction. They system is generally easy to learn for GM and player. If you enjoy Numenera and The Strange, CS is the same system but is meant to be for any genre of play. It is the "any genre” aspect that keeps me from giving CS 5 stars. I give it 4. Here is why.

Right out of the book CS tends to be supernatural and/or magical. There are supernatural abilities/aspects built into the character TYPES that MUST be edited or removed if one wants to use CS for a mundane or realistic game. Plus the Cyphers are definitely supernatural/magical. CS adds "Subtle Cyphers" that will work in realistic settings. CS does sort the Descriptors and Foci into genre but the GM should read them as some just don't fit where CS says they should. So, if the GM is preparing to use CS for a realistic or non-magical setting some abilities/aspects will HAVE to be modified or taken out. This is why, In the back pages of the book (and available on the web), there is the Campaign Design Worksheet. Use it. It's fun.

CS also has what are called Flavors. These are generic abilities that can substitute the Tier abilities of a given Type. Flavors are, in my opinion, the key to building the best and most versatile characters in CS. The Flavors are; stealth, technology, magic, combat, and skills and knowledge. Flavors are used as SUBSTITUTES for an ability that is built in to a Type. Give your Warrior some TECH abilities or more SKILLS. With Flavors you can truly make the character you want!

I will say it again, CS doesn't do realistic/non-magical perfectly right out of the book. The GM must read and edit/modify and then use the Campaign Design Worksheet to keep track of the genre YOU make. The worksheet is there because CS is MADE to tweak and tool with. If gaming is your thing, this process should turn out to be a lot of fun. CS encourages you to make YOUR game. And when you do CS is a unique and versitile system for single session or camapign play in ANY genre. Cool.

Thanks for reading and remember that this is only MY opinion. Yours may be different.


[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jeff C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/04/2016 00:20:27

I think this book is well-laid out. The art is nice. It's one of the longest gaming books I've seen in ages. There's even a full print version available at Monte Cook's website. At least it uses somethng other than plain six-sided dice.

I'm not going to recap all of the nice things said in other reviews. Yes, the system is okay-ish, the character types, skills, etc are okay for some genres. But as a generic system, this game fell critically short of my expectations. Cypher shouldn't be called a "generic" system. It should be called a "generic FANTASY system."

This game is great for fantasy and hand-wavey laser-sabre science fantasy (as long as you don't need space combat...) It's okay for Cthulhuoid modern horror where guns aren't an issue. Cypher fell down for me on the same thing practically everything Monte Cook's name appears on. It's a fantasy game written for fantasy gamers.

If you want a game with guns, firearms combat, big guns, vehicles, giant robots or starships- this is not the system for you. From the very start, reading the character types, you can see this system is designed around magic, psionics and the supernatural in every game, every genre it touches. It's geared toward medieval fantasy, modern horror, and maybe supers on a stretch. If you want lots of spells, psionics, cartoon fluffy bunnies, radioactive elf mages, Cypher works. If your game setting is some sort of alternate reality, possibly with pretentious naming conventions, that looks nothing like Earth, it's great.

However, right out of the gate, if you want any sort of non-magic modern setting for your game, Cypher falls flat. Basic firearms skills that should be available at character creation don't appear until character tiers 3, 4 or 5. Dual wielding pistols? Not likely. Starship combat? Mecha? Vehicle combat in general is not adequately covered. Supers? The character types and power scaling aren't a good fit.If you want a cyberpunk game, mecha, historical, modern without a supernatural component, martial arts without a mystic element, or a starship-troopers type game- look elsewhere. Despite it's advice about running games and handling different genres, (as long as they look pretty much like D&D or Call of Cthulhu, or WoD,) it really just doesn't do everything a generic system should do. I'm sure it works fine for Numenera or Strange.

Also, Cypher claims not to support the "zero-to-hero" mentality, yet Tier 1 characters pretty much scream "chumps!" at full volume. You start out somewhat competent, but you still have to spend xp to level abilities and gain tiers. A lot of zero-to-hero issues revolve around how GM's treat the player characters. Cypher, unfortunately, really doesn't discourage that mentality when you see what the characters really aren't capable of at character creation.

Sorry, I can't justify a higher rating for this game when it completely fell apart on every tangent of the three settings I wanted to use it for. It's got a lot of cute gimmicks and it's great if you want yet another medieval fantasy system for medieval fantasy gamers. Really, I think the gaming community needs to stop feeding the already over-inflated egoes of T$R, White Wolf and WotC alumni. Looks like I'm back on the hunt for a new, good generic system or slowly and steadily designing my own system-only to see it never reach publication. Sigh.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by IOANNIS D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 01/09/2016 11:52:20

I really like this system but i give two stars for after sale support, no official forum, no errata, no rules clarification, no response in e-mails.Compare this to HERO system or Savage Worlds support.

[2 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Anthony G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/20/2015 15:08:44

Ever since Numenera was release I have been dying for the cypher system to be released as its own book. While the mechanics of Numenera are awesome, I couldn't get my entire group behind the "weird" setting. Releasing the cypher system on its own solves this problem as it lets a great story based system be applied to other genres without too much homebrew work to be done.

The cypher system nailed character creation, mainly by removing character traits as just backgrounds and justifications for stats by making them the main focus of the character. I absolutely love the way that character creation works, especially considering it is not setting specific with the generic "Wizard Cleric Rogue" classes seen in more classic RPGs.

The system is simple enough to make a roleplaying game less about dice and number crunching, and more about the story itself and the roleplaying that goes with it.

I highly recommend the cypher system for both those who are looking to run it, as well as inspiration for other systems as well. There is a huge section that focuses entirely on being a better game master by putting the setting first rather than the rules, and this is true for all roleplaying games. I look forward to using this system on its own, and taking large portions of it for other games that I run in the future.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Kenneth S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/30/2015 08:07:24

I really love this system. After playing Numenera, which came out first, I though the system would probably fit to other genres, and Monte Cook proved me right. I'm excited. My players and I are enjoying the more control of the characters and story that the Cypher System not only allows but encourages.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Tim G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/15/2015 20:49:06

I had been looking for a good story-driven generic rules set and this one does not fail to deliver. I was already a player of Numenera and The Strange and this was almost like an answered prayer. My group has not had this amount of fun with a generic set in a long time and I highly recommend it regardless of your preferred genre!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Simon H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/07/2015 10:12:22

The Cypher System Rulebook is a guide to running generic RPGs using the role-playing system that underpins the other recent Monte Cook games Numenera (I'm a big fan) and The Strange (the setting just didn't grab me although the "recursions of reality" concept was really groovy).

For owners of either Numenera, The Strange or (like me) both.

What's new?

  • Fourth character type "speaker"
  • Character type modifier "flavours"


  • Not enough guidance on genre Cyphers. Bizarrely, despite stating on numerous occasions that Cyphers are a core feature of the Cypher System, the genre sections only list "artefacts" which are a kind of multi-use Cypher. What looks actually wanted was a raft of examples of single use Cyphers in the genre sections rather than the few examples that are distributed elsewhere in the book.
  • Strange inconsistencies around classic character types, especially the "adept". At the beginning of the "adept" character type section it is suggested as the Base type for all magic users such as Druids and Clerics. However, in the Fantasy genre section is it suggested these types should be a "speaker" flavoured with magic and an "explorer" flavoured with magic respectively.
  • The genre sections are a bit thin. Is there enough guidance here to convert your favourite genre setting to the Cypher System? Yes. Is there enough material here to run anything except the most vanilla version of a particular genre? Probably not.

Overall this was a worthwhile purchase for me, but it doesn't quite achieve what it sets out to do - which is to eliminate the endless setting books that usually accompany any generic RPG system. I expect that those will follow in due course due to consumer demand for reasons that I hope I’ve made clear.

Any truly hardcore RPG enthusiast could probably have taken the structure of the Cypher system from, say, Numenera and used it in a completely different setting already. The Cypher System Rule Book makes an arduous a task into an easy one and adds some useful additional material, but inevitably there's considerable overlap between this and the other rulebooks. Whilst up until now I'd have been wary of using the Cypher System outside of Numenera, this book has delivered the confidence to use it in any genre.

For those unfamiliar with the Cypher System

What's great The Cypher System itself is a brilliantly and gorgeously streamlined RPG system that has strongly narrative roots with just enough crunch to keep it real. Mr Cook makes a strong case that a lot of “fine grained” systems don’t really achieve detail, they just slow the gameplay down. I have to agree. Therefore, one of it’s main features is a suitably course-grained system.

  • Tasks are given a difficulty number that differentiates them in 15% chunks.
  • Damage is a flat number (2 for light weapons, 4 for medium and 6 for heavy).
  • NPCs and monsters can be defined with as little as a single number.
  • Best of all - only the players ever roll dice. The section on GM advice is worth its weight in mithril/ gold/ silver bullets/ transuranics/ adamantium (and although it's very similar to the sections in Number and The Strange, such solid advice bears regular rereading).

Here’s an attempt to describe the system in a nut shell:

Character Creation A character is initially defined by a descriptive sentence in the form "... is an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs]". Each of these partially defines a set of present benefits and the options for advancement. The noun ("type") is essentially a character class, of which there are four (essentially fighter, magic-user, rogue and bard - "warrior", "adept", "explorer" and "speaker") which can be further "flavoured" with stealth, technology, magic, combat, or skills and knowledge, allowing further character advancement options to be swapped in to the basic types (effectively giving 20 basic character classes). The adjective ("descriptor") is the most subtle, adding "colour" to the character by giving a slant to their motivations and actions, whilst the verb "focus" describes the thing they do best.

Character Stats Beyond this, characters have three base stats (basically ST, DX and IQ - "might", "speed" and "intellect") that start between 7 and 18 (by point allocation). However, these are pools which are depleted both as damage and by "effort", which reduces the difficulty of a task. Each stat has an associated "edge" rating that reduces the cost of effort, but there is also an “effort” rating that limits the amount of effort available for a single task. Characters also have skills which are either “trained” or “expert” which reduces the difficulty rating by one or two points respectively. Finally a character has a Cypher rating that limits the number of Cyphers that can be carried simultaneously.

Task Resolution Tasks are rated on a 0 - 10 difficulty scale. The target number on a d20 is three times the difficulty. It should be obvious that tasks of difficulty 7 or above are impossible. However, you can reduce the difficulty through Effort (the number of levels limited by the character's Effort Rating), skills (a maximum of 2 levels) and any other assets such as equipment and other people helping (a maximum of a further 2 levels). In combat whether a character hits (attack roll) or is hit (defence roll) is resolved in exactly the same way. A roll of 1 allows the GM to introduce a complication ("GM intrusion") and a roll of 19 or 20 gives bonus effects. If a character can reduce the difficulty to 0 then success is automatic and there is no roll - solving the "5% chance of a fatal accident tying your shoelaces" problem.

Character Advancement XP are awarded by the GM either as an enticement to accept a (non-rolled) "GM intrusion" or as the result of making a significant discovery that progresses the story. In the former instance they are awarded in pairs. The second XP is given to another player at the awarded player's discretion. 1XP can be spent to refuse a "GM intrusion" or re-roll any die. 4XP can be spent to train a new skill (or become expert in a trained skill), or distribute 4 extra points to the stat pools, or increase the effort rating or the edge in one stat of the character, by one. Once all of these have been done (once, but the player decides the order), the character advances to the next "tier" (there are 6 in all). At this point they also gain new tier abilities.

GM Intrusions A clever mechanism that allows the GM just enough narrative control without the players feeling rail-roaded. Essentially the GM offers 2XP to a player (one for them, one to give to another player) to introduce a complication. The player can refuse by spending 1XP if they have one, but in a narrative game the upside is almost certainly going to outweigh the downside (if there really is any - usually more complications that serve the direction the GM intends the story to go = more fun in the end).

The Eponymous Cyphers These are one-use abilities and represent the core of the Cypher System. The advantage is that characters can do extraordinary and powerful things but just once, largely preventing game-balance issues.They translate easily in a fantasy game into scrolls or potions, but are trickier in grittier modern or post apoc settings. However, even as I whinge, I keep getting ideas on how these might appear in different settings, so perhaps my concerns at their absence from the rulebook is less problematic than I imagine. However, I still maintain that despite it all there will be a place for genre books in the same vogue as GURPS, collecting all the genre advice in one place.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Tyler D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/06/2015 22:57:58

With all the repetitive content from the strange and Numenera I was disappointed with the purchase having owned the other books. This is 400 pages stating an obvious fact about the system, it's flexible for any setting, and it did not need all the reused content to demonstrate that. For those new to the system this is a one stop shop and essential first book. For the value to those without the other books and my love of the system, 4 stars. To owners of other products, 2 stars

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Robert L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/26/2015 11:38:21

I decided to review this because while I own Numenera and the Strange I have not really played them, and beyond looking at the rules a bit, I mostly focused on reading the setting of those games. Also I have been neck deep in D&D for the last two years so it’s been awhile since I went through those books. Basically this is an outsiders perspective, I haven’t played any of Monte Cook’s previous games. Why then would I buy the Cypher System Rulebook, why not? 2015 is a year of amazing RPG’s what is one more for the pile.

Cypher System is a generic system, however the focus is definitely on heroic, borderline super heroic characters. Luckily I had just got done re-reading GURPS before I went through this, and in my mind Cypher System is anti-GURPS. GURPS has a narrow focus on “realism” and characters are fairly fragile feeling. Given I have never played GURPS but that was the impression I got. Cypher System characters on the other hand feel very competent and powerful even at low level. It’s a very interesting difference, and over all I like it.

The writing frankly is wonderfully annoying. During the description of how the mechanics work, they typically explain the concept twice in two different ways. At first I hated it, and wanted to beat myself about the head and face with my desk. It turns out this is a feature not a flaw, the rules really stuck in my head after reading them. Which considering I never rolled dice for this game is a good thing. Still if you find yourself getting frustrated as you get into the middle of the book it becomes clear what is going on.

Cypher System uses three stats, which are Might, Speed, and Intellect. One of the more innovative mechanics is these stats form a pool which are a resource you and use, and basically your hit points. This managing aspect is pretty neat, and I really want to see it in action. I worry a bit as some of my players get analysis paralysis sometimes with stuff like this, and I won’t like I don’t play casters in D&D because I have the problem as well. So we will see how it pans out.

The system itself is based on rolling a d20 and trying to beat a target number. However the players have a lot of ways to mess with the target number. Players can either lower it by basically spending their pool, or by class abilities, or both. While the system itself is a little fiddly, because you can both have positive modifiers to your d20 rolls, while at the same time subtracting from the difficulty. It’s by far not the most fiddly system I have ever played and enjoyed (I’m looking at you Iron Kingdoms Unleashed). But after coming from D&D for as I said years, doing anything but adding numbers to d20 rolls seems like more effort that it deserves. It’s honestly the biggest argument I have gotten into with my players who have taken a look at the system. I don’t have a good answer beyond it’s probably not a big deal during actual play, and I enjoyed the heck out of FATE so what do I know.

The system has several Genre chapters to get you in the mood. Presented are Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Modern, and Superheroes. After getting to know the rules for the system in previous chapters, most of the suggestions for genre fall into the “well duh” column (remember how well they explained rules). But all in all thats a good thing, it means the system is easy to customize and they had done a good job explaining the rules in previous chapters. I also really enjoyed the little aside at the end of the chapters talking about how to mash two of the genre chapters together. 
Overall I really really liked the game, and I want to give it a try. The game has a focus on competent and frankly superhuman characters. It’s funny they have all this art from the old west scattered through the book, but the system doesn’t handle gritty well in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with that, I have yet to see a universal system that handles gritty and superhuman well under the same framework. The game itself has a lot of innovative mechanics, one I forgot to mention is rolling is in the hands of the players. The GM just says what the difficulty of the task, hitting a foe, or defending from an attack. It also forces the hand of the “all the dice are on the table” style of play. So if your looking for a generic system, and you want it to have a fair amount of depth, but not I need a graphing calculator to make a character level of it, give this a go.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jared T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/24/2015 13:51:58

When I first saw the pre-order for this book I was at the same time elated and trepidatious. My fear was that there would not be any substantial moves forward for the system since the Numenera and The Strange books. Obviously, the advice for moving the system to other genres would be awesome, but my real fear was that rules wise it would just be the exact same as Numenera and Strange (mixing the types of both).

After a read through, and some time to digest, I am happy to report that I was needlessly worried. There are enough minor refinements and additions to the core system to really help tweak what is already a great system. The addition of flavors is a welcome option to make different kinds of characters. As simple as it seems though, the move of some of the core type features to their options list and giving them more choices on the option was perfect. This is exactly the sort of refinements I want to see from a system that bills itself on flexibility.

As usual in Monte Cook Games books, the art is very good, and the layout is different enough from Numenera and The Strange to give the book its own feel. Still feels like it has the quality of other MCG products, but it stands apart from their other Cypher System products well.

The only critique I can come up with so far is that I would have liked to see more mention of how to use the book with the current games. The lack of that leaves a slight disconnect between the two. For example, there is no direct correlation of Jacks to the types in this book. The Jack Flex Skill makes an appearance as a Third Tier ability in one of the flavors. I would like to have also seen at least one type whose default edge was Speed rather than Might or Intellect. That all said, the system is so easy to modify or tweak it would be easy to add one in if wanted!

All in all I think anyone who likes the Cypher System will find this book useful. For adding to a Numenera or Strange game I doubt that this book would worth the money for the small bits that don't already exist in those, but for anyone that enjoys the Cypher System and thought of using it in any other setting, this book is full of awesome ideas. Or if you are like me and obsess over all the details of a system and want the latest version of the rules, this will certainly fit that bill. I know my Numenera campaign will be using it!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Jay S. A. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/23/2015 20:51:22

Thanks to the generosity of Monte Cook Games, I was given an opportunity to take a peek at a pre-production copy of the CSR! Needless to say, I was pretty stoked about it, which explains this First Impressions review.

What is it, and what is it for?

The Cypher System is the name of the rules that power Numenera and The Strange. Designed to put story at the forefront of gameplay, it kills a few interesting sacred cows to promote a much more dynamic style of play.

This makes it a prime candidate to be the baseline for a generic rpg product that people can use to spin off their own games. And now, Monte Cook Games makes it possible with the Cypher System Rulebook.

The Basic Mechanics

I’ve gone over the basic mechanics before in my Let’s Study articles for Numenera and the Strange, but I’ll try to give a quick summary here.

Basic mechanic is a 1d20 roll against a set target difficulty that ranges from 3 to 30. This difficulty is set by the Level of the obstacle or opponent. This allows the game to function without the GM having to roll, resulting in a much faster game.

Other fiddly bits involve the expenditure of a finite pool of Effort to reduce the difficulty of the task, and the use of set damage to further streamline play.

Rolling a 1 is always bad, while rolling a 19 or 20 results in getting a minor or major effect that further improves your success.

I’ve gone and said it before, but it’s fast, elegant. Furthermore, the focus on speed and offloading rolls from the GM’s duties allows for a much more interesting game as the GM can focus on the story.

Character Types

Previous games using the Cypher system featured three types with different names appropriate to their settings. The CSR gives them much more generic-sounding names for the sake of clarity: Warrior, Adept and Explorer.

However, the CSR also adds a fourth Type in the form of the Speaker. The Speaker fills the niche of the social character. While this has been folded into the other types in the previous games, I’m very happy to see them get their recognition with the CSR ruleset, as it is meant to cover more than the usual Action-Adventure genre, which is something we’ll come back to later.

The Types section also introduces Flavors, which are separate sub-packages of new abilities that can be traded into an existing type on a 1:1 basis. Meaning you can give up an ability pick from the Type in exchange for an ability from a Flavor. I’m all for customization, so I’m very happy to see this.

Character Descriptors

I’m glad to see that there’s a hefty serving of fifty different character descriptors in the CSR, all of which are geared towards being generic enough to fit any genre.

There’s something for everyone here, from Dishonorable to Perceptive, Vengeful to Noble. Negative-sounding Descriptors are particularly interesting as they give benefits while placing a great amount of personality to your character.

Character Foci

The third building block of characters is the Character Foci. Again, there’s a ton of different foci in the CSR, but what really stands out for me is the fact that they took the time to provide several tables of suggested Foci that work in the context of different genres. They have a list for fantasy, Modern / Horror, Sci-Fi and Superheroes.


Here’s probably the most exciting part for me. As a fan of the HERO system, I’m always delighted when I read through rules that twist an existing ruleset to work with a given genre.

As mentioned before, the CSR provides chapter for each of the following genres: Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi, Horror and Supers.

Each of the chapters goes into a quick summary of the genre, and how the GM can run it. To further assist, they include charts on which Types (and Flavors), Foci and even Creatures are appropriate for a game. In addition, genre-approriate equipment and artifacts are also covered here.

Some of the Genres also add further Racial Descriptors to denote non-human creatures. Further modifications for genres include special optional rules such as Shock for Horror, and my personal favorite: Power Shifts for Superheroes. I don’t want to spoil too much for this, but the rules for Power Shifts is a suprisingly elegant means to simulate the incredible ability superheroes without becoming needlessly complex.

Game Mastering Advice and Running the Game

The last section of the CSR is devoted to helping GMs run the game. From a collection of varied monsters that could fit various genres to the Cyphers that provide one-shot powers, the books gives all the toys that a GM would need, and the advice necessary to use them properly.

It’s not often that you get to say that a Generic Ruleset would be suited to a new GM, but the Cypher System Rulebook is definitely an exception. There’s enough here to give even fledgeling GMs the confidence to get started.

Overall, the Cypher System Rulebook is a master-class product that manages to become one of the most accessible generic rules I’ve had a chance to see. While I wish there was more pagecount dedicated to providing even more options for the various genres, I think that’s a holdover from my expectations as a HERO system GM.

As is it’s a brilliant product and one that is definitely worth having in your library.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cypher System Rulebook (2015 edition)
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
by Michael J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/22/2015 15:08:04

Got the book around the 20th of July. Now i´ve had some time to read in it. Most of the Descriptors und Foci are obviously taken from Numenera, the Numenera Character Options and The Strange. But there´s also lots of new stuff. Some rules where slightly tweaked, which is good, they now feel a lot better at the gamingtable. How you can choose your starting equipment is very good, no more useless Micromanagement. The Hints for the different Genres are very good also.

Final Verdict: Worth every Penny, if you like the Cypher System.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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