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Example scenario: Trapped In Flames

The Premise: The characters work in a tall skyscraper. Suddenly, there’s an explosion, and the fire alarms start ringing!

Character Creation

The characters should be relatively mundane people. No supernatural powers. Cypher Short character suggestions include:

Office Worker:

This is probably someone with the Sneaking type. The player should figure out the character’s name, a very short personality brief, what company they work for, and what their job is: data entry, customer service, accounts manager, and so on.

Middle Manager:

This is probably someone with the Searching and Discovering type. The player should figure out the character’s name, a very short personality brief, and what company they work for.


The Talking type would work well for this character. The player should figure out the character’s name, a very short personality brief, and what company they work for.

Custodial Worker:

This could be a Performing Physical Actions character, or possibly a Searching and Discovering character. The player should figure out the character’s name and a very short personality brief. They have keys to most of the doors of the building and know the layout well. They might also have something like a mop and wheeled bucket, or a cart with various cleaning supplies, if the player wishes.

Security Guard:

This is probably someone with the Performing Physical Actions type. The player should figure out the character’s name and a very short personality brief. They have a weapon (a nightstick, a taser, or perhaps a handgun), and keys to most of the doors in the building. They know the layout well.

No one has any special equipment other than the typical: a cell phone, car keys, a half-drunk coffee, and maybe a briefcase with papers and pens or a tablet computer.

All random people in the building are level 2 or 3 NPCs.

The Setup

The characters all work in a tall skyscraper that houses many different businesses in a large city. They don’t necessarily work together or even know each other. But they’re all in a large lobby on the twenty-fifth floor, in front of a bank of four elevators, waiting for one to arrive. (A custodial worker probably is cleaning nearby rather than waiting for the elevator.) Suddenly, they hear an explosion, and the floor shudders and shakes. The fire alarms start ringing, and the power goes out, followed quickly by emergency lighting switching on, giving the area dim light.

Obviously, the goal for the characters here is to get to safety. A safety-conscious person (like a security guard) would know that the safest thing to do is stay put, at least until the location of the fire is known (going down into smoke and flames is how many people die in high-rise fires).

What the PCs don’t know (yet) is that a terrorist has planted a number of bombs in the building. One of them went off prematurely on the tenth floor. There are more bombs, designed to bring the entire structure down. And because the bomb exploded early, the bomber is still in the building.

Other facts:

  • The floor the PCs are on has only a few other people on it currently.
  • It will take about ten minutes for first responders to arrive. They will take positions around the base of the building, and, after determining that the fire is on floor 10, will evacuate floors below that and set up on floor 8. This will likely take ten to fifteen minutes. During this time, authorities will attempt to contact anyone on floors above 10 and tell them to stay put, so office phones and some cell phones will start ringing. It’s very likely that more bombs will go off at this time, with rescue workers recalled for safety.
  • Emergency services will be jammed with calls. • The elevator cabs all descend to the ground floor and no longer function.
  • Whenever the fire spreads to a new floor, the sprinklers will go off. This is enough to keep the fire from spreading too much or too quickly, but the incendiary bombs make it impossible for the sprinklers alone to put the fire out.

Possible Encounters

Staying Put:

People from higher floors start coming down, alone or in small groups. Some of them claim to have information. Some of it is true and some isn’t. Things they might try to say include:

  • A gas main broke, and not only is there a fire danger, but the building is also filling with gas. (This is false.)
  • This is a terror attack! We have to get out of here at any cost! (This is true, although this NPC has no evidence or details, and the hysterical panic they feel probably doesn’t help.)
  • Something crashed into the building! (This is false.)
  • Terrorists are in the building, killing and kidnapping people. (This is false, for the most part. There’s just one bomber, and he’s trying to sneak out.)
  • Rescue teams are on their way up. (This is false.)
  • Rescue teams are landing evacuation helicopters on the roof. (This is false. It might be a tactic they try eventually, but it’s not happening yet.)

Most of the NPCs coming down from above continue down the stairs to lower floors, with or without the PCs.

Checking cell phones:

PCs can reach their loved ones at first, although this provides no real information. If they’re able to get through to emergency services, they are told that emergency responders are on their way and to stay put. It’s too soon to get much information from the internet, although a few minutes after it happens, there are reports of an explosion in the building on either floor 10 or floor 12. Building Wi-Fi is down. Data and phone usage becomes spotty about five minutes after the explosion and can’t be relied upon.

Going Up a Stairwell to the Roof:

There is a pregnant person on the stairway who can’t be moved. Helping them deliver the baby safely is a difficulty 3 Intellect-based task and will take about twenty minutes.

Reaching the Roof:

There are a few other people on the roof, but no rescue workers. Eventually, a small helicopter flies overhead, and if the bomber is not visibly present, it will circle but not land. This is the terrorist’s accomplice in a small two-person helicopter. The pilot is level 3 and has body armor (+2 Armor), a handgun, and a knife. If the bomber is present, the helicopter will land very briefly to try to rescue him.

Going Down a Stairwell:

The PCs hear cries for help as they pass by a floor. If they investigate, they find an office close to the stairs where someone is trapped underneath a very heavy shelving unit. It is a difficulty 4 task to rescue them. They are level 2 and their leg is quite injured.

Going Further Down the Stairwell:

Three people stand in the stairwell and tell the PCs to go back up. They say it’s not safe to try to evacuate, and the PCs should go back up to higher floors. They won’t take no for an answer. They will argue with the characters, and trying to win that argument is a difficulty 7 task. They will use force to back up their point—they won’t try to harm the PCs, but they will try to physically block the characters. Getting past them is a difficulty 5 task. Individually, they are each level 3.

Going Even Further Down the Stairwell:

Smoke! The stairwell is quickly becoming a chimney, even before the PCs get close to the tenth floor. Visibility is almost nil (treat as complete darkness) and characters must succeed at Might defense rolls each round or suffer 2 points of damage and lose their next action. The difficulty level starts at 2 but increases by 1 every other round.


If the PCs descend to the eleventh floor, they find fire rages there (and it extends down to the ninth). The explosive(s) are incendiary and designed to start hot fires that can eventually bring the building down. Characters on these floors must make Speed defense rolls each round or suffer 6 points of damage. Even characters who succeed at their rolls suffer 3 points of damage from the heat, flames, smoke, and lack of oxygen.

Firefighters to the Rescue:

Eventually, the firefighters make a clear and relatively safe path out of the building through one of the stairwells, and they work to get everyone out. This is a great time for one last GM intrusion, or for the PCs who have seen the bomber to spot him trying to sneak out posing as a victim—perhaps as they exit the building.

GM Intrusions

Explosion: First and foremost, the GM’s best tools in this scenario are the subsequent explosions from more bombs. The bomber has planted many bombs throughout the building, and they can go off any time, any place. This isn’t just one GM intrusion, but several, and they come in two varieties:

Close explosion: One or more PCs are threatened by falling debris (difficulty 5). Speed defense rolls are required; otherwise, victims suffer 6 points of damage and are trapped and need to work to get free.

Very close explosion: All PCs must succeed at Speed defense rolls or suffer damage as mentioned above. Even those who succeed suffer 3 points of damage. Plus, there are smoke and fire dangers in the immediate area, as described in the “Going Even Further Down the Stairwell” encounter. Wherever the PCs are currently, that place is not safe. More debris will fall, floors will collapse, and fire and smoke will spread. If the PCs are on the roof, this might mean there’s a risk of being blown off!

The Terrorist: The PCs spot the bomber setting another bomb. He is a level 5 NPC with body armor (+2 Armor), a handgun, and a knife. He’ll fight, but mostly he just wants to get away. A GM intrusion allowing him to get away from aggressive PCs means they can encounter him again somewhere else. Eventually, he tries to get to the roof and signal his ally in the helicopter to pick him up. Failing that, he ditches his gear and tries to get out with the rest of the victims when the firefighters arrive.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, the PCs very likely just want to get to safety. When they do, the scenario is pretty much over. They’re wrapped in blankets by firefighters and loaded into ambulances. If they stopped or apprehended the bomber, the authorities will want to talk to them, and they will be hailed as heroes in the press.

It’s not hard to imagine how you could modify this scenario slightly for the science fiction genre using a space station rather than a skyscraper. You could also have one of the PCs be an undercover FBI agent on the lookout for the terrorist, or even an undercover foreign agent working for the terrorist.

The Cypher System is a setting-generic tabletop roleplaying game designed by Monte Cook Games.
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