Who Wants a Cypher-Kiss?

Good News! CypherCaster issue 5 is Out!

Cypher Caster Magazine, issue 5. With ton of great content, including and interview with Bruce R. Cordell, Shanna Germain, and Dennis Detwiller.

Plus an instant adventure by yours truly, Kiss of Death! Kiss of Death, a Numenera adventure, which takes place in Branu’s Kiss, a watery world floating in space found in Into the Night from Monte Cook Games.

You see Numenera fans, I haven’t forgotten you.


Plus an article on cypher limits by Marc Plourde, another Into the Night instant adventure, this one by James Walls, and a Strange recursion by Rustin Coones & Scott Robinson.

Check it out at DriveThruRPG.

Spotlight Cards

Index cards HipsterIndex cards are a GM’s best friend. Remember the Hipster PDA?

I hate forgetting to give each player time in the spotlight. Therefore, I love having an index card for each player. I shuffle them before the game, and then flip the deck so I can see the top PC card.

On the left I put the information from the game system I need to be able to improv, things from the player’s character sheet. I don’t need numbers, just the background bits that help in roleplaying.

On the right side of the card I put the stuff the player loves to do in game with this PC. Play with his pet bear, drink at her regular watering hole, flirt with their favorite NPC, and so on.

I finish the left side with a question to myself. Has this PC gotten the spotlight yet? If not, I give them the spotlight ASAP, then put this card on the bottom of the deck and make sure the next PC gets a spotlight moment.

What’s a spotlight moment? When you let the PC shine, make them the star of a scene. If they have a favorite action, like pick pocketing, flirting, or flying, I let them go for it. Action scene or pure roleplay, I make sure the character gets center stage.

Here’s some examples. You can probably improve on these because no one knows your players better than you.

Cypher System; Dread Unicorn GamesThis is the Cypher System card. I have another question to myself: Has the PC had a GMI (Game Master Intrusion) yet? I’m talking a GM Intrustion that gives them experience points. The card helps me remember. GM Instrusions are fun, and players love the XP that comes with them.

Spotlight Cards

13thagecompatible250This is the 13th Age card. When I’m working on a spotlight moment, I need the PC’s One Unique Thing, their Icon Relationships, and their Backgrounds. Under the notes I might include favorite icon spirits and agents from past icon relationship rolls.

Spotlight Cards2

Ampersand on BlackHere’s the 5E card. What’s important for spotlighting a 5E character might include the PC’s background, trait, ideal, bond, and flaw.

Spotlight Cards3

gumshoe_logoHere’s a generic GUMSHOE card. Drive and Occupation give me a handle for spotlight scenes.

I thought about doing a card for each GUMSHOE game, but realistically, I’d do them as needed for the games I’m running. On the right side I’d definitely list any sources of stability if they are used in this system, species for Ashen Stars, and so on…

Spotlight Cards4

It’s easy enough to make your own for your favorite game system. They help me, maybe they’ll help you.

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A Plague of Ones, Part II The Bad and the Ugly

Now it Gets Bad.

Now it Gets Ugly.
crapIn Numenera, The Strange, and all other Cypher System games, the rule is: roll a one, the GM gets a “free” GM Intrusion with no experience point award. Ones are supposed to happen. 5% of the time.

But if you game enough, you’ll be sure to run into the dreaded plague of ones. So many ones, what’s a GM to do? A lot depends on what’s going on in an encounter.

Last time we talked about the good side, when everyone is still having fun, despite the plague of ones. Now let’s look at the harder problem, where the ones are wrecking your game.

ZzzA Plague of Ones in an Encounter that is No Longer Interesting


The cypher system is made for fast, exciting combat. But if the PCs just keep missing and are running out of pool points, what do you do? (For a more general solution, see End With a Bang.)

Adding typical combat intrusions (creature/artifact/environment) will slow down combat. But there’s yet another one sitting there on the table, taunting you. We’re assuming the combat is not spiraling down the TPK drain (see below), so why not try a different kind of intrusion?

If the foes flee, combat ends, and you can move to a more interesting scene. Next time the NPCs will be better prepared for the PCs (+1 level for attacks? Return in greater numbers? Find a higher level friend?). An iron door or a force screen could stop the party from pursuing and prolonging the pain. The foes might jump through a secret door and lock it behind them. Perhaps the foes can wave some treasure, say a cypher or artifact, at the PCs as they vanish. So long, suckers!

Or, give a typical combat intrusion a silver lining that helps bring the dragging combat to a close. The artifact sword slipped out of the PC’s hand and flew across the room, but it also cleaved through a statue revealing hidden cyphers (that are perfect for ending the fight) within.  A creature careens into the PC, knocking them both across the floor, but put itself in a vulnerable position for a different PC. Thanks Nojo! And sorry about the concussion…

Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)

It’s not any fun anymore, so end it. Maybe give some damage for doing something dangerous like climbing, then narrate how the rest of the party got the PC over the wall. The item in the workshop broke, the PC needs new parts, so try again another session. End it and jump to an exciting scene. The workshop’s doors fly off their hinges and in comes a hulking steam powered automaton!


Same thing, wrap it up and move on. Give the PC one last insult, and show the party the door. If this is a critical plot point, an NPC can whisper to a different PC to arrange a private meeting later. “The king will never listen to you now, but the prisoners in the vineyards still need you. Meet me in the park at midnight…”

A Plague of Ones in an Encounter that Threatens to Ruin the Session

Oh noes. Too many sessions like this can kill a campaign. At least you can blame the dice.


tpkAll these ones are pointing in one direction: TPK. Move to capture or let the PCs retreat. An intrusion could set off a trap that imprisons the PC, followed by an ultimatum for a party surrender. The PC could be mind controlled. A larger trap is sprung, and the way out is blocked while more foes join in the battle. “Surrender!”

way outOr nudge the party into fleeing. Describe how the tide has turned against them, and the foes are trying to encircle the PCs. A friendly NPC could try and hold off the foes. “Fly, you fools!” Drop the PC down the damage track and just let them know “You still have time to flee.” 

Dropping a PC down the damage track encourages them to flee as it makes the player feel vulnerable.

Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)

It’s hard to see how this kind of failure would kill a session, but if the players keep hitting their head on the wall, help them move on. Leave the scene and narrate to something fun. The wall collapsed, the workshop blew up, and a week later the party reaches the baron’s tower (or whatever the next fun scene is).


It’s sad their social strategies have failed, but they did. So move on and narrate them to something exciting. If you succeed here at the tower, those back home might change their minds. But first things first. Like those giant clockwork worms heading your way. What do you do?

Move On

You see a common thread in all of these suggestions? If it’s not fun, cut the scene and move on. Sometimes groups will get stuck trying the same thing over and over again, waiting for the dice to save them. Help the players move on, and everyone will benefit.

It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun. So when it’s not, move on.

A Plague of Ones, Part I

Too many Ones in a Cypher System Game? — It’s All Good

crapIn Numenera, The Strange, and all other Cypher System games, the rule is: roll a one, and the GM gets a “free” GM Intrusion with no experience point award. Ones are supposed to happen. 5% of the time.

But if you game enough, you’ll be sure to run into the dreaded plague of ones. So many ones, what’s a GM to do? A lot depends on what’s going on in an encounter.

Subjectively, more ones than is normal feels like a lot more. If the group’s been rolling 10% ones instead of 5%, they’re sure to notice. And claim that 25% of their rolls are ones! And since rpgs are entertainment, it’s the perception that counts.

A Plague of Ones in a Fun Encounter

This is the easy case. Everyone’s having a good time. People are laughing at all the ones showing up. (For when the Fun-O-Meter flatlines, see Part II: The Bad and the Ugly). The biggest problem is coming up with new and entertaining GM Intrusions.

Go with, or against, the theme of the game. Numenera intrusions should be high-weird. Intrusions in The Strange often work with the theme of the recursion. Playing a horror game? More horror!


Praithian War Snake from The Sun Below adventures for NumeneraOMG, another GM Intrusion, what can I do? Try another kind of GM Intrusion. You’ve been using creature intrusions? Great, now try a cypher or artifact intrusion. Or have the floor fall in, gravity reverse, objects turn into bubbles. Another foe shows up. A dead foe gets back up, always a table-pleaser. Or have the PC spring a trap.

There’s nothing wrong with going back to creature intrusions, just sprinkle some other types in between.

Environmental (climbing, crafting, and so on…)

The poor nano has rolled three ones in a row trying to climb that wall? OK, falling is good to start with, but then think outside the box. Itchy insects have a hive right where the nano puts his hand. A passerby spots them, and wants to talk. The PC gets to the top, but falls over the other side. At least they’re with the party now.

Crafting? They made something, but not what they set out to make. Perhaps it will work as intended, but have side effects, like being loud when the PCs want to be stealthy, or dripping oil on the Prince’s favorite carpet, and so on.


MasksPerhaps you started with a social faux pas or two, now what? The PC is already looking like an idiot, move on. The PC could convince an NPC to do something, but not at all what the character intended. Communication breakdown! Has the slip of the tongue implied a marriage proposal? Was the party trying to hide their true motives? Oops, they just gave them away.

Next Time

Next time we’ll look at the harder problem when people are rolling ones and the players are not having fun. Attention is flagging or maybe even people are no longer willing to engage. What will you do?



Cypher System Creature: Child of Golthnor

The Child of Golthnor is found in The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady. For more on this horror, and it’s parents, see the adventure. Without the adventure, just gloss over it’s parentage.

TiersThis eldritch horror is designed as an extreme challenge to any tier party, from tier one to tier six. Need a transdimensional boss fight? The child is here to help. Stats are presented in three groups, separated by /s. The first stat is for tiers 1 and 2. The second for tiers 3 and 4. The last for tiers 5 and 6.

Child of Golthnor 6/8/10 (18/24/30)

Dread Unicorn Games; The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady; Numenera adventure
Art by Doug Scott

This transdimensional child of a synite and Golthnor is a sanity-blasting monstrosity. It usually stays invisible, but once it attacks, it shows its true form: a 16 foot (5 m) synite saucer covered in weeping red eyes and lipless drooling mouths. Atop the saucer is a writhing mass of purple trunks and tendrils, some ending in eyes, others in fanged maws.

The first Child of Golthnor the PCs meet has a lumpy humanoid face that stares out in horror from this mass of corruption, whispering, “Help me,” in a dozen languages, including Truth. Perhaps this is a face the PCs have met before in happier circumstances.

Motive: Open the door between worlds and let Golthnor in. Seek out esoteries that deal with transdimensional entities. Eat mass quantities of fresh meat.

Environment: Any, especially near a portal to other dimensions.

Health: 18/30/42

Damage Inflicted: 6/8/10

Armor: 3/10/25 vs. normal physical weapons; 1/3/6 vs. numenera weapons and esoteries.

Movement: Short (flying)

Modifications: Speed defense 8/10/10 when invisible; 5/7/9 when visible. Those in thrall to Golthnor are immune to the Child’s sanity blasting attacks.

Combat: When invisible, approaching within 100 feet (30 m) causes an Intellect attack that does 3/4/5 points of Intellect damage if not resisted. To physically attack, the Child must become visible.

When visible, looking at it the first time causes an Intellect attack that does 6/12/18 points of Intellect damage.

A Child of Golthnor attacks twice per round, with a bite and a constricting trunk.

Bite: 7/9/11 points of damage

Twisted jaws clamp down on your flesh and grind back and forth. Will the pain ever stop?

Trunk: 11/15/19 points of damage from crushing and blood drain. Target must escape the next round to avoid automatic crushing and blood drain.

You can’t breath and it feels like your ribcage is about to pop. Dozens of mouths burrow into your wounds and suck. Your head spins as your blood is drained. The trunk holds on, obviously unsated.

Interaction: Will only assist those in thrall to Golthnor.

Use: This creature is great for defending a portal that Golthnor is trying to open.

Loot: The saucer yields 1d6 squirming bio-mechanical cyphers.

GM Intrusion: A mass of tendrils reaches for the face of someone in immediate range, level 8/10/10. If it hits, it forces the target’s mouth open, and a wriggling mass of pus with worm-like appendages slides down the victim’s throat. Move down one step on the damage track and gain the Gibbering descriptor until Golthnor is defeated (use Mad if you don’t have The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady).

Options: In a Cypher System horror game where you are using shock levels, the Child of Golthnor counts as mind-bending. Any encounter that ends up with a Child of Golthnor is a great excuse for using Horror Mode.

In a recursion of The Strange, a Child of Golthnor may be a mad-science child of a robot and a planetovore.

More: Follow the link for more information on The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady.