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How To Play the Cypher System: Resource Management

By Jason Campbell

This is the first in a series of articles explaining interesting aspects of Monte Cook Games’ Cypher System RPG. The Cypher System is a genre agnostic role playing game, so it can be used to run fantasy, sci-fi, horror or anything else. It’s the core system behind other Monte Cook games such as Numenera and Old Gods of Appalachia. In this article we’ll explore how the Cypher System is more strongly based on resource management than other RPGs.

Cypher System

Resource management is an aspect of most role playing games, but the extent to which managing a player character’s resources ensures success can vary greatly between systems. Dungeons & Dragons requires a certain amount of resource management, but it’s not a core value of the game system. The most obvious examples of this are hit points and spell slots. A player manages their hit points by simply being more cautious as a PC’s hit points approach zero. Spell casters save their spell slots so they have their most powerful spells for critical encounters. Some PC classes have abilities that can only be used a certain number of times a day as well. 

In the Cypher System the resources a player manages are more core to the game system. In the Cypher System each PC has three abilities; might, speed and intellect. But these aren’t scores determined by die rolls,they are pools which are used in the game to increase the chance of success for any action, and they also represent health. With no separate pool of health points, a player has to keep careful track of these three pools. If all three pools fall to zero, the PC dies. 

The combination of these pools representing the chance to affect success rates of tasks as well as the PC’s health leads to an interesting effect that might not be obvious to newer players. This has the effect of making PCs weaker as they take damage and incur injuries. Many RPGs try to accomplish this by lowering a PC’s abilities as they lose health points. That approach inevitably leads to a death spiral where the PCs aren’t likely to survive once they incur significant damage. The Cypher System does this in a more elegant way. Let’s assume a PC has an ability to do extra damage with a favored weapon, and that ability costs 3 might points to use. When the PC is at full strength, perhaps 16, they’d likely use that to make overcoming an opponent easier. But if the PC’s might pool drops to 5, they might be cautious about using that ability. The PC still has that ability and it’s just as effective when their might pool is low as when it was full. But if a PC drops to only a few might points they’re at great risk if they then take damage from combat or other activities. It leads to important choices for the players, as they weigh the risk of using their key abilities when their ability pools are low.

It’s important to note that using points from a PC’s ability pools doesn’t guarantee success, it just increases the chance of success. That success is determined by rolling a twenty sided die and trying to roll at or above a difficulty class, but spending points to use abilities can lower that difficulty class. Playing a Cypher System character is a matter of managing resources and assessing risk. 

Do you have other questions about aspects of the Cypher System RPG? Let us know in the comments below, or email!