There’s a lot I like about Monte Cook Games’ Numenera and The Strange RPGs: bizarre science-fantasy settings, evocative art, high-concept character construction, random tables with inspiring items and backgrounds, and rules to encourage continually cycling through shockingly powerful single-use items. It’s a combination that ensures plenty of surprises for everyone at the table, GM included, and the sessions I’ve run have been cited by my players as among my most memorable. Unfortunately, we really do not like the majority of the rules these games are built on. I am determined to make the use of all these Cypher System books I’ve bought over the years, though, so I’ve made an entire side-hobby out of writing up conversions to try in the future—one compatible with the rules as written, and one adapted from a super streamlined old school ruleset.
First up is Decyphered, a set of simplified Cypher System house rules. My goal was to do for Numenera and The Strange what The Black Hack does for Dungeons & Dragons: shuffle some numbers around and trim some details in order to reduce complexity and avoid common annoyances. For example….
- The difficulty scale is target level + 10 (rather than target level × 3, so you don’t have to calculate adjustments in units of 3).
- Effort has no upper spend limit (rather than restrictive rules making many early-game challenges nigh impossible), applies a straight +1 per point spent (rather than +3 for the first step, +2 for each additional step), and is only spent if the roll it’s spent on succeeds (rather than damaging you every time you are forced to adjust a roll to have any chance of success), balancing out the raised difficulty of low-level challenges in this difficulty scale.
- Edge can be added directly to your roll (rather than only applied to reduce effort costs), making it effectively usable as an ability score modifier.
- Modifiers are added to and subtracted from rolls (rather than subtracting bonuses from target numbers before you multiply them). Assets and aid use “advantage” rules familiar to players of the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
… And more, with additional options for those who want to roll for damage or who want “partial success” options on challenge rolls. Be warned, though: I have yet to playtest these rules myself, so some tweaking may be necessary for the numbers to all work out.
In addition, because these rules aim to let you use the material directly from your Cypher System books, these rules don’t correct for common complaints like foci that sound cooler than they are. If you want your Swift Jack who Rides the Lightning to actually be able to ride lightning anytime in the first few months of play, you’ll need not just a rules conversion, but an overhaul. Realizing this is what led me to do this all over again with a different system entirely.
My second hack is Into the Ninth World, built on the famously simple Into the Odd rules. (Yeah, Into the Strange is a much better title, but I’m more likely to run Numenera again before I next run The Strange.)
The easiest approach to this mashup, of course, would be to run Into the Odd as written and simply declare that the setting is a billion years in the future, built on eight previous aeons of civilization. If you’d like to work in some of the simpler and more evocative concepts from the Numenera rules and character options, however, this document offers some options you could take in their entirety or pick and choose from. For instance….
- Character types are rewritten to still offer some build options as you advance, but without requiring poring over a long list.
- Character foci do exactly what they say on the tin from session 1—no more waiting to Ride the Lightning. Includes a d30 list with converted foci, which should all have at least something interesting to offer (even for the character who Entertains).
- Esoteries (i.e., spells) offer an advancement option for players who rather like poring over longer lists. Includes 30 esoteries converted to work with Into the Odd rules, plus simple “take damage to cast” rules that let you get off some free casts just as you do in Numenera as written (thanks to Into the Odd‘s forgiving HP recovery rules).
- Creature conversion notes to help quickly generate Into the Odd stats for entires in Cypher System bestiaries.
Once again, however, I must confess that I have yet to playtest much of this. The elements build directly on Into the Odd arcana rules and Numenera rules for one-use cyphers should all work fine, at least; if you’re nervous about taking on too much new material, consider starting with those, and/or offering random foci as options for players who get arcana in their starting gear package.
If any readers out there happen to run either of these, please get in touch and let me know how it goes! And if you have a favorite set of Cypher System house rules or a neat hack of your own to share, please do leave it in the comments.