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Rules of the Game

Cypher System games are played in the joint imagination of all the players, including the GM. The GM sets the scene, the players state what their characters attempt to do, and the GM determines what happens next. The rules and the dice help make the game run smoothly, but it’s the people, not the rules or the dice, that direct the action and determine the story—and the fun. If a rule gets in the way or detracts from the game, the players and the GM should work together to change it.

This is how you play the Cypher System:

  1. The player tells the GM what they want to do. This is a character action.
  2. The GM determines if that action is routine (and therefore works without needing a roll) or if there’s a chance of failure.
  3. If there is a chance of failure, the GM determines which stat the task uses (Might, Speed, or Intellect) and the task’s difficulty—how hard it will be on a scale from 1 (really easy) to 10 (basically impossible).
  4. The player and the GM determine if anything about the character—such as training, equipment, special abilities, or various actions—can modify the difficulty up or down by one or more steps. If these modifications reduce the difficulty to less than 1, the action is routine (and therefore works with no roll needed).
  5. If the action still isn’t routine, the GM uses its difficulty to determine the target number—how high the player must roll to succeed at the action (see the Task Difficulty table). The GM doesn’t have to tell the player what the target number is, but they can give the player a hint, especially if the character would reasonably know if the action was easy, average, difficult, or impossible.
  6. The player rolls a d20. If they roll equal to or higher than the target number, the character succeeds.

That’s it. That’s how to do anything, whether it’s identifying an unknown device, calming a raging drunk, climbing a treacherous cliff, or battling a demigod. Even if you ignored all the other rules, you could still play the Cypher System with just this information. The key features here are: character Actions, determining task difficulty, and determining modifications.

Key Concepts


Anything a character does that is significant—punch a foe, leap a chasm, activate a device, use a special power, and so on. Each character can take one action in a round.


Any creature in the game capable of acting, whether it is a player character (PC) run by a player or a nonplayer character (NPC) run by the game master (GM). In the Cypher System, even bizarre creatures, sentient machines, and living energy beings can be “characters.”


A measure of how easy it is to accomplish a task. Difficulty is rated on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Altering the difficulty to make a task harder is called “hindering.” Altering it to make a task easier is called “easing.” All changes in difficulty are measured in steps. Difficulty often equates directly with level, so opening a level 3 locked door probably has a difficulty of 3.


A decrease in a task’s difficulty, usually by one step. If something doesn’t say how many steps it eases a task, then it reduces the difficulty by one step.


Spending points from a stat Pool to reduce the difficulty of a task. A PC decides whether or not to apply Effort on their turn before the roll is made. NPCs never apply Effort.


An increase in a task’s difficulty, usually by one step. If something doesn’t say how many steps it hinders a task, then it increases the difficulty by one step.


The opposite of trained—you’re hindered whenever you attempt a task that you have an inability in. If you also become trained in the task, the training and the inability cancel each other out and you become practiced.


A way to measure the strength, difficulty, power, or challenge of something in the game. Everything in the game has a level. NPCs and objects have levels that determine the difficulty of any task related to them. For example, an opponent’s level determines how hard they are to hit or avoid in combat. A door’s level indicates how hard it is to break down. A lock’s level determines how hard it is to pick. Levels are rated on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). PC tiers are a little like levels, but they go only from 1 to 6 and mechanically work very differently than levels—for example, a PC’s tier does not determine a task’s difficulty.


The normal, unmodified ability to use a skill—not trained, specialized, or an inability. Your type determines what weapon skills you’re practiced in; if you aren’t practiced with a type of weapon, you have an inability in it.


A d20 roll made by a PC to determine whether an action is successful. Although the game occasionally uses other dice, when the text simply refers to “a roll,” it always means a d20 roll.


A length of time about five to ten seconds long. There are about ten rounds in a minute. When it’s really important to track precise time, use rounds. Basically, it’s the length of time to take an action in the game, but since everyone more or less acts simultaneously, all characters get to take an action each round.


Having an exceptional amount of skill in a task. Being specialized eases the task by two steps. So, if you are specialized in climbing, all your climbing tasks are eased by two steps.


One of the three defining characteristics for PCs: Might, Speed, or Intellect. Each stat has two values: Pool and Edge. Your Pool represents your raw, innate ability, and your Edge represents knowing how to use what you have. Each stat Pool can increase or decrease over the course of play—for example, you can lose points from your Might Pool when struck by an opponent, spend points from your Intellect Pool to activate a special ability, or rest to recover points in your Speed Pool after a long day of marching. Anything that damages a stat, restores a stat, or boosts or penalizes a stat affects the stat’s Pool.


Any action that a PC attempts. The GM determines the difficulty of the task. In general, a task is something that you do and an action is you performing that task, but in most cases they mean the same thing.


Having a reasonable amount of skill in a task. Being trained eases the task. For example, if you are trained in climbing, all climbing tasks for you are eased. If you become very skilled at that task, you become specialized instead of trained. You do not need to be trained to attempt a task.


The part of the round when a character or creature takes its actions. For example, if a Warrior and an Adept are fighting an orc, each round the Warrior takes an action on their turn, the Adept takes an action on their turn, and the orc takes an action on its turn. Some abilities or effects last only one turn, or end when the next turn is started.

Taking Action

Each character gets one turn each round. On a character’s turn, they can do one thing—an action. All actions fall into one of three categories: Might, Speed, or Intellect (just like the three stats). Many actions require die rolls—rolling a d20.

Every action performs a task, and every task has a difficulty that determines what number a character must reach or surpass with a die roll to succeed.

Most tasks have a difficulty of 0, which means the character succeeds automatically. For example, walking across a room, opening a door, and throwing a stone into a nearby bucket are all actions, but none of them requires a roll. Actions that are usually difficult or that become difficult due to the situation (such as shooting at a target in a blizzard) have a higher difficulty. These actions usually require a roll.

Some actions require a minimum expenditure of Might, Speed, or Intellect points. If a character cannot spend the minimum number of points needed to complete the action, they automatically fail at the task.

Determining Task Stat

Every task relates to one of a character’s three stats: Might, Speed, or Intellect. Physical activities that require strength, power, or endurance relate to Might. Physical activities that require agility, flexibility, or fast reflexes relate to Speed. Mental activities that require force of will, memory, or mental power relate to Intellect. This means you can generalize tasks into three categories: Might tasks, Speed tasks, and Intellect tasks. You can also generalize rolls into three categories: Might rolls, Speed rolls, and Intellect rolls.

The category of the task or roll determines what kind of Effort you can apply to the roll and may determine how a character’s other abilities affect the roll. For example, an Adept may have an ability that makes them better at Intellect rolls, and a Warrior may have an ability that makes them better at Speed rolls.

Determining Task Difficulty

The most frequent thing a GM does during the game—and probably the most important thing—is set a task’s difficulty. To make the job easier, use the Task Difficulty table, which associates a difficulty rating with a descriptive name, a target number, and general guidance about the difficulty.

Every difficulty from 1 to 10 has a target number associated with it. The target number is easy to remember: it’s always three times the difficulty. The target number is the minimum number a player needs to roll on a d20 to succeed at the task. Moving up or down on the table is called hindering or easing, which is measured in steps.

For example, reducing a difficulty 5 task to a difficulty 4 task is “easing the difficulty by one step” or just “easing the difficulty” or “easing the task.” Most modifiers affect the difficulty rather than the player’s roll. This has two consequences:

Low target numbers such as 3 or 6, which would be boring in most games that use a d20, are not boring in the Cypher System. For example, if you need to roll a 6 or higher, you still have a 25% chance to fail.

The upper levels of difficulty (7, 8, 9, and 10) are all but impossible because the target numbers are 21 or higher, which you can’t roll on a d20. However, it’s common for PCs to have abilities or equipment that ease a task and thus lower the target number to something they can roll on a d20.

A character’s tier does not determine a task’s level. Things don’t get more difficult just because a character’s tier increases—the world doesn’t instantly become a more difficult place. Fourth-tier characters don’t deal only with level 4 creatures or difficulty 4 tasks (although a fourth-tier character probably has a better shot at success than a first-tier character does). Just because something is level 4 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant only for fourth-tier characters. Similarly, depending on the situation, a fifth-tier character could find a difficulty 2 task just as challenging as a second-tier character does.

Therefore, when setting the difficulty of a task, the GM should rate the task on its own merits, not on the power of the characters.

Modifying the Difficulty

After the GM sets the difficulty for a task, the player can try to modify it for their character. Any such modification applies only to this particular attempt at the task. In other words, rewiring an electronic door lock normally might be difficulty 6, but since the character doing the work is skilled in such tasks, has the right tools, and has another character assisting them, the difficulty in this instance might be much lower. That’s why it’s important for the GM to set a task’s difficulty without taking the character into account. The character comes in at this step.

By using skills and assets, working together, and—perhaps most important—applying Effort, a character can ease a task by multiple steps to make it easier. Rather than adding bonuses to the player’s roll, reducing the difficulty lowers the target number. If they can reduce the difficulty of a task to 0, no roll is needed; success is automatic. (An exception is if the GM decides to use a GM intrusion on the task, in which case the player would have to make a roll at the original difficulty.)

There are three basic ways in which a character can ease a task: skills, assets, and Effort. Each method eases the task by at least one step—never in smaller increments.

(By using skills, assets, and Effort, a character can ease a task by a maximum of ten steps: one or two steps from skills, one or two steps from assets, and one to six steps from Effort.)


Characters may be skilled at performing a specific task. A skill can vary from character to character. For example, one character might be skilled at lying, another might be skilled at trickery, and a third might be skilled in all interpersonal interactions. The first level of being skilled is called being trained, and it eases that task by one step. More rarely, a character can be incredibly skilled at performing a task. This is called being specialized, and it eases the task by two steps instead of one. Skills can never decrease a task by more than two steps—any more than two steps from being trained and specialized don’t count.


An asset is anything that helps a character with a task, such as having a really good crowbar when trying to force open a door or being in a rainstorm when trying to put out a fire. Appropriate assets vary from task to task. The perfect awl might help when woodworking, but it won’t make a dance performance much better. An asset usually eases a task by one step. Assets can never ease a task by more than two steps—any more than two steps from assets don’t count.


There are some abilities or items that ease a task, but are not described as assets, so they do not count toward the asset limit. For example, attacks with light weapons are eased, the Blinking cypher eases defense tasks, and the Negotiate ability eases persuasion and deception.

Other abilities or items are specifically described as assets, so they do count toward the asset limit. For example, shields provide an asset to Speed defence, the Sound Dampener cypher provides an asset to Stealth tasks, and the Handy ability gives you an asset to crafting items.

(The important thing to remember is that a skill can reduce the difficulty by no more than two steps, and assets can reduce the difficulty by no more than two steps, regardless of the situation. Thus, no task’s difficulty will ever be reduced by more than four steps without using Effort.)


A player can apply Effort to ease a task. To do this, the player spends points from the stat Pool that’s most appropriate to the task. For example, applying Effort to push a heavy rock off a cliff requires a player to spend points from the character’s Might Pool; applying Effort to activate an unusual machine interface requires them to spend points from the character’s Intellect Pool. For every level of Effort spent on a task, the task is eased. It costs 3 points from a stat Pool to apply one level of Effort, and it costs 2 additional points for every level thereafter (so it costs 5 points for two levels of Effort, 7 points for three levels of Effort, and so on). A character must spend points from the same stat Pool as the type of task or roll—Might points for a Might roll, Speed points for a Speed roll, or Intellect points for an Intellect roll.

Every character has a maximum level of Effort they can apply to a single task. Effort can never ease a task by more than six steps—any more than six steps from applying Effort doesn’t count.

Free Level of Effort:

A few abilities give you a free level of Effort (these usually require you to apply at least one level of Effort to a task). In effect, you’re getting one more level of Effort than what you paid for. This free level of Effort can exceed the Effort limit for your character, but not the six-step limit for easing a task.

Rolling the Die

To determine success or failure, a player rolls a die (always a d20). If they roll the target number or higher, they succeed. Most of the time, that’s the end of it—nothing else needs to be done. Rarely, a character might apply a small modifier to the roll. If they have a +2 bonus when attempting specific actions, they add 2 to the number rolled. However, the original roll matters if it’s a special roll.

If a character applies a modifier to the die roll, it’s possible to get a result of 21 or higher, in which case they can attempt a task with a target number above 20. But if there is no possibility for success—if not even rolling a natural 20 (meaning the d20 shows that number) is sufficient to accomplish the task—then no roll is made. Otherwise, characters would have a chance to succeed at everything, even impossible or ridiculous tasks such as climbing moonbeams, throwing elephants, or hitting a target on the opposite side of a mountain with an arrow.

If a character’s modifiers add up to +3, treat them as an asset instead. In other words, instead of adding a +3 bonus to the roll, reduce the difficulty by one step. For example, if a Warrior has a +1 bonus to attack rolls from a minor effect, a +1 bonus to attack rolls from a special weapon quality, and a +1 bonus to attack rolls from a special ability, they do not add 3 to their attack roll—instead, they reduce the difficulty of the attack by one step. So if they attack a level 3 foe, they would normally roll against difficulty 3 and try to reach a target number of 9, but thanks to their asset, they roll against difficulty 2 and try to reach a target number of 6.

This distinction is important when stacking skills and assets to decrease the difficulty of an action, especially since reducing the difficulty to 0 or lower means no roll is needed.

The Player Always Rolls

In the Cypher System, players always drive the action. That means they make all the die rolls. If a PC leaps out of a moving vehicle, the player rolls to see if they succeed. If a PC searches for a hidden panel, the player rolls to determine whether they find it. If a rockslide falls on a PC, the player rolls to try to get out of the way. If a PC and an NPC arm wrestle, the player rolls, and the NPC’s level determines the target number. If a PC attacks a foe, the player rolls to see if they hit. If a foe attacks the PC, the player rolls to see if they dodge the blow.

As shown by the last two examples, the PC rolls whether they are attacking or defending. Thus, something that improves defenses might ease or hinder their rolls. For example, if a PC uses a low wall to gain cover from attacks, the wall eases the player’s defense rolls. If a foe uses the wall to gain cover from the PC’s attacks, it hinders the player’s attack rolls.

Special Rolls

If a character rolls a natural 1, 17, 18, 19, or 20 (meaning the d20 shows that number), special rules come into play. These are explained in more detail in the following sections.

1: GM Intrusion

The GM makes a free intrusion (see below) and doesn’t award experience points (XP) for it.

17: Damage Bonus

If the roll was a damage-dealing attack, it deals 1 additional point of damage.

18: Damage Bonus

If the roll was a damage-dealing attack, it deals 2 additional points of damage.

19: Minor Effect

If the roll was a damage-dealing attack, it deals 3 additional points of damage or the PC gets a minor effect in addition to the normal results of the task. If the roll was something other than an attack, the PC gets a minor effect in addition to the normal results of the task.

20: Major Effect

If the roll was a damage-dealing attack, it deals 4 additional points of damage or the PC gets a major or minor effect in addition to the normal results of the task. If the roll was something other than an attack, the PC gets a major effect in addition to the normal results of the task. If the PC spent points from a stat Pool on the action, the point cost for the action decreases to 0, meaning the character regains those points as if they had not spent them at all.

GM Intrusion

GM intrusion is explained in more detail in the Running The Cypher System chapter, but essentially it means that something occurs to complicate the character’s life. The character hasn’t necessarily fumbled or done anything wrong (although perhaps they did). It could just be that the task presents an unexpected difficulty or something unrelated affects the current situation.

For GM intrusion on a defense roll, a roll of 1 might mean that the PC takes 2 additional points of damage from the attack, indicating that the opponent got in a lucky blow.

(For complete details about GM intrusion and how to use it to best effect in the game, see the Running The Cypher System chapter.)

Minor Effect

A minor effect happens when a player rolls a natural 19. Most of the time, a minor effect is slightly beneficial to the PC, but not overwhelming.

A climber gets up the steep slope a bit faster. A repaired machine works a bit better. A character jumping down into a pit lands on their feet. Either the GM or the player can come up with a possible minor effect that fits the situation, but both must agree on what it should be.

Don’t waste a lot of time thinking of a minor effect if nothing appropriate suggests itself. Sometimes, in cases where only success or failure matters, it’s okay to have no minor effect. Keep the game moving at an exciting pace.

In combat, the easiest and most straightforward minor effect is dealing 3 additional points of damage with an attack. The following are other common minor effects for combat:

Damage object:

Instead of striking the foe, the attack strikes what the foe is holding. If the attack hits, the character makes a Might roll with a difficulty equal to the object’s level. On a success, the object moves one or more steps down the object damage track.


For one round, all of the foe’s tasks are hindered.

Knock back:

The foe is knocked or forced back a few feet. Most of the time, this doesn’t matter much, but if the fight takes place on a ledge or next to a pit of lava, the effect can be significant.

Move past:

The character can move a short distance at the end of the attack. This effect is useful to get past a foe guarding a door, for example.

Strike a specific body part:

The attacker strikes a specific spot on the defender’s body. The GM rules what special effect, if any, results. For example, hitting a creature’s tentacle that is wrapped around an ally might make it easier for the ally to escape. Hitting a foe in the eye might blind it for one round. Hitting a creature in its one vulnerable spot might ignore Armor.

Usually, the GM just has the desired minor effect occur. For example, rolling a 19 against a relatively weak foe means it is knocked off the cliff. The effect makes the round more exciting, but the defeat of a minor creature has no significant impact on the story. Other times, the GM might rule that an additional roll is needed to achieve the effect—the special roll only gives the PC the opportunity for a minor effect. This mostly happens when the desired effect is very unlikely, such as pushing a 50-ton battle automaton off a cliff. If the player just wants to deal 3 additional points of damage as the minor effect, no extra roll is needed.

Major Effect

A major effect happens when a player rolls a natural 20. Most of the time, a major effect is quite beneficial to the character. A climber gets up the steep slope in half the time. A jumper lands with such panache that those nearby are impressed and possibly intimidated. A defender makes a free attack on a foe.

Either the GM or the player can come up with a possible major effect that fits the situation, but both must agree on what it should be. As with minor effects, don’t spend a lot of time agonizing over the details of a major effect. In cases where only success or failure matters, a major effect might offer the character a one-time asset (a modification of one step) to use the next time they attempt a similar action. When nothing else seems appropriate, the GM can simply grant the PC an additional action on their turn that same round.

In combat, the easiest and most straightforward major effect is dealing 4 additional points of damage with an attack. The following are other common major effects for combat.


The foe drops one object that it is holding.


For the rest of the combat, all tasks the foe attempts are hindered.

Knock down:

The foe is knocked prone. It can get up on its turn.


The foe loses its next action.

As with minor effects, usually the GM just has the desired major effect occur, but sometimes the GM might require an extra roll if the major effect is unusual or unlikely.

Retrying a Task after failure

If a character fails a task (whether it’s climbing a wall, picking a lock, trying to figure out a mysterious device, or something else) they can attempt it again, but they must apply at least one level of Effort when retrying that task. A retry is a new action, not part of the same action that failed, and it takes the same amount of time as the first attempt did.

Sometimes the GM might rule that retries are impossible. Perhaps a character has one chance to convince the leader of a group of thugs not to attack, and after that, no amount of talking will stop them.

This rule doesn’t apply to something like attacking a foe in combat because combat is always changing and fluid. Each round’s situation is new, not a repeat of a previous situation, so a missed attack can’t be retried.

Initial Cost

The GM can assign a point cost to a task just for trying it. Called an initial cost, it’s simply an indication that the task is particularly taxing. For example, let’s say a character wants to try a Might action to open a heavy cellar door that is partially rusted shut. The GM says that forcing the door open is a difficulty 5 task, and there’s an initial cost of 3 Might points simply to try. This initial cost is in addition to any points the character chooses to spend on the roll (such as when applying Effort), and the initial cost points do not affect the difficulty of the task. In other words, the character must spend 3 Might points to attempt the task at all, but that doesn’t help them open the door. If they want to apply Effort to ease the task, they have to spend more points from their Might Pool.

Edge helps with the initial cost of a task, just as it does with any expenditure from a character’s Pool. In the previous example, if the character had a Might Edge of 2, they would have to spend only 1 point (3 points minus 2 from their Might Edge) for the initial cost to attempt the task. If they also applied a level of Effort to open the door, they couldn’t use their Edge again—Edge applies only once per action—so using the Effort would cost the full 3 points. Thus, they’d spend a total of 4 points (1 for the initial cost plus 3 for the Effort) from their Might Pool.

The rationale of the initial cost rule is that even in the Cypher System, where things like Effort can help a character succeed on an action, logic still suggests that some actions are very difficult and taxing, particularly for some PCs more than others.


Distance is simplified into four basic categories: immediate, short, long, and very long.

Immediate distance

from a character is within reach or within a few steps; if a character stands in a small room, everything in the room is within immediate distance. At most, immediate distance is 10 feet (3 m). Immediate distance is sometimes referred to as close, or even point-blank, particularly when referring to ranges.

(The words “immediate” and “close” can be used interchangeably to talk about distance. If a creature or object is within arm’s reach of the character, it can be considered both immediate and close.)

Short distance

is anything greater than immediate distance but less than 50 feet (15 m) or so.

Long distance

is anything greater than short distance but less than 100 feet (30 m) or so.

Very long distance

is anything greater than long distance but less than 500 feet (150 m) or so.

Beyond that range, distances are always specified—1,000 feet (300 m), 1 mile (1.5 km), and so on.

All weapons and special abilities use these terms for ranges. For example, all melee weapons have immediate range—they are close-combat weapons, and you can use them to attack anyone within immediate distance. A thrown knife (and most other thrown weapons) has short range. A small handgun also has short range. A rifle has long range.

A character can move an immediate distance as a part of another action. In other words, they can take a few steps to the light switch and flip it on. They can lunge across a small room to attack a foe. They can open a door and step through.

A character can move a short distance as their entire action for a turn. They can also try to move a long distance as their entire action, but the player might have to roll to see if the character slips, trips, or stumbles for moving so far so quickly.


For more details on characters' movement options, see the Move action.

GMs and players don’t need to determine exact distances. For example, if the PCs are fighting a group of guards, any character can likely attack any foe in the general melee—they’re all within immediate range. However, if one trooper stays back to fire a blaster, a character might have to use their entire action to move the short distance required to attack that foe. It doesn’t matter if the trooper is 20 feet (6 m) or 40 feet (12 m) away—it’s simply considered short distance. It does matter if the trooper is more than 50 feet (15 m) away because that distance would require a long move.

Other Distances

In rare cases where distances beyond very long are needed, real-world distances are best (1 mile, 100 kilometers, and so on). However, the following shorthand distances can be useful in some settings:


On the same planet.


Within the same solar system.


Within the same galaxy.


Anywhere in the same universe.




Generally, keep time the same way that you normally would, using minutes, hours, days, and weeks. Thus, if the characters walk overland for 15 miles (24 km), about eight hours pass, even though the journey can be described in only a few seconds at the game table. Precision timekeeping is rarely important. Most of the time, saying things like “That takes about an hour” works fine.

This is true even when a special ability has a specific duration. In an encounter, a duration of “one minute” is mostly the same as saying “the rest of the encounter.” You don’t have to track each round that ticks by if you don’t want to. Likewise, an ability that lasts for ten minutes can safely be considered the length of an in-depth conversation, the time it takes to quickly explore a small area, or the time it takes to rest after a strenuous activity.

Action Time Usually Required
Walking a mile over easy terrain About fifteen minutes
Walking a mile over rough terrain (forest, snow, hills) About half an hour
Walking a mile over difficult terrain (mountains, thick jungle) About forty-five minutes
Moving from one significant location in a city to another About fifteen minutes
Sneaking into a guarded location About fifteen minutes
Observing a new location to get salient details About fifteen minutes
Having an in-depth discussion About ten minutes
Resting after a fight or other strenuous activity About ten minutes
Resting and having a quick meal About half an hour
Making or breaking camp About half an hour
Shopping for supplies in a market or store About an hour
Meeting with an important contact About half an hour
Referencing a book or website About half an hour
Searching a room for hidden things At least half an hour, perhaps one hour
Searching for cyphers or other valuables amid a lot of stuff About an hour
Identifying and understanding a cypher Fifteen minutes to half an hour
Identifying and understanding an artifact At least fifteen minutes, perhaps three hours
Repairing a device (assuming parts and tools available) At least an hour, perhaps a day
Building a device (assuming parts and tools available) At least a day, perhaps a week

Encounters, Rounds, and Initiative

Sometimes in the course of the game, the GM or players will refer to an “encounter.” Encounters are not so much measurements of time as they are events or instances in which something happens, like a scene of a movie or a chapter in a book. An encounter might be a fight with a foe, a dramatic crossing of a raging river, or a stressful negotiation with an important official. It’s useful to use the word when referring to a specific scene, as in “My Might Pool is low after that encounter with the soul sorcerer yesterday.”

A round is about five to ten seconds. The length of time is variable because sometimes one round might be a bit longer than another. You don’t need to measure time more precisely than that. You can estimate that on average there are about ten rounds in a minute. In a round, everyone—each character and NPC—gets to take one action.

To determine who goes first, second, and so on in a round, each player makes a Speed roll called an initiative roll. Most of the time, it’s only important to know which characters act before the NPCs and which act after the NPCs. On an initiative roll, a character who rolls higher than an NPC’s target number takes their action before the NPC does. As with all target numbers, an NPC’s target number for an initiative roll is three times the NPC’s level. Many times, the GM will have all NPCs take their actions at the same time, using the highest target number from among all the NPCs. Using this method, any characters who rolled higher than the target number act first, then all the NPCs act, and finally any characters who rolled lower than the target number act.

(An initiative roll is a d20 roll. Since your initiative depends on how fast you are, if you spend Effort on the roll, the points come from your Speed Pool.)

The order in which the characters act usually isn’t important. If the players want to go in a precise order, they can act in initiative order (highest to lowest), by going around the table, by going oldest to youngest, and so on.

For example, Charles, Tammie, and Shanna’s characters are in combat with two level 2 security guards. The GM has the players make Speed rolls to determine initiative. Charles rolls an 8, Shanna rolls a 15, and Tammie rolls a 4. The target number for a level 2 creature is 6, so each round Charles and Shanna act before the guards, then the guards act, and finally Tammie acts. It doesn’t matter whether Charles acts before or after Shanna, as long as they think it’s fair.

After everyone—all PCs and NPCs—in the combat has had a turn, the round ends and a new round begins. In all rounds after the first, everyone acts in the same order as they did in the first round. The characters cycle through this order until the logical end of the encounter (the end of the fight or the completion of the event) or until the GM asks them to make new initiative rolls. The GM can call for new initiative rolls at the beginning of any new round when conditions drastically change. For example, if the NPCs gain reinforcements, the environment changes (perhaps the lights go out), the terrain changes (maybe part of the balcony collapses under the PCs), or something similar occurs, the GM can call for new initiative rolls.

Since the action moves as a cycle, anything that lasts for a round ends where it started in the cycle. If Umberto uses an ability on an opponent that hinders its defenses for one round, the effect lasts until Umberto acts on his next turn.

A Closer Look at Situations that Don’t Involve PCs

Ultimately, the GM is the arbiter of conflicts that do not involve the PCs. They should be adjudicated in the most interesting, logical, and story-based way possible. When in doubt, match the level of the NPCs (characters or creatures) or their respective effects to determine the results. Thus, if a level 4 NPC fights a level 3 NPC, the level 4 NPC will win, but if they face a level 7 NPC, they’ll lose. Likewise, a level 4 creature resists poisons or devices of level 3 or lower but not those of level 5 and above.

The essence is this: in the Cypher System, it doesn’t matter if something is a creature, a poison, or a gravity-dispelling ray. If it’s a higher level, it wins; if it’s a lower level, it loses. If two things of equal level oppose each other, there might be a long, drawn-out battle that could go either way.


Anything that your character does in a round is an action. It’s easiest to think of an action as a single thing that you can do in five to ten seconds. For example, if you use your dart thrower to shoot a strange floating orb, that’s one action. So is running for cover behind a stack of barrels, prying open a stuck door, using a rope to pull your friend up from a pit, or activating a cypher (even if it’s stored in your pack).

Opening a door and attacking a security guard on the other side are two actions. It’s more a matter of focus than time. Drawing your sword and attacking a foe is all one action. Putting away your bow and pushing a heavy bookcase to block a door are two actions because each requires a different train of thought.

If the action you want to accomplish is not within reach, you can move a little bit. Essentially, you can move up to an immediate distance to perform your action. For example, you can move an immediate distance and attack a foe, open a door and move an immediate distance into the hallway beyond, or grab your hurt friend lying on the ground and pull them back a few steps. This movement can occur before or after your action, so you can move to a door and open it, or you can open a door and move through it.

The most common actions are:


An attack is anything that you do to someone that they don’t want you to do. Slashing a foe with a curved dagger is an attack, blasting a foe with a lightning artifact is an attack, wrapping a foe in magnetically controlled metal cables is an attack, and controlling someone’s mind is an attack. An attack almost always requires a roll to see if you hit or otherwise affect your target.

In the simplest kind of attack, such as a PC trying to stab a thug with a knife, the player rolls and compares their result to the opponent’s target number. If their roll is equal to or greater than the target number, the attack hits. Just as with any kind of task, the GM might modify the difficulty based on the situation, and the player might have a bonus to the roll or might try to ease the task using skills, assets, or Effort.

A less straightforward attack might be a special ability that stuns a foe with a mental blast. However, it’s handled the same way: the player makes a roll against the opponent’s target number. Similarly, an attempt to tackle a foe and wrestle it to the ground is still just a roll against the foe’s target number.

Attacks are sometimes categorized as “melee” attacks, meaning that you hurt or affect something within immediate reach, or “ranged” attacks, meaning that you hurt or affect something at a distance.

Melee attacks can be Might or Speed actions—player choice. Physical ranged attacks (such as bows, thrown weapons, and blasts of fire from a mutation) are almost always Speed actions, but those that come from special abilities tend to be Intellect actions.

Special abilities that require touching the target require a melee attack. If the attack misses, the power is not wasted, and you can try again each round as your action until you hit the target, use another ability, or take a different action that requires you to use your hands. These attempts in later rounds count as different actions, so you don’t have to keep track of how much Effort you used when you activated the ability or how you used Edge. For example, let’s say that in the first round of combat, you activate a special ability that requires you to touch your foe and you use Effort to ease the attack, but you roll poorly and miss your foe. In the second round of combat, you can try attacking again and use Effort to ease the attack roll.

The GM and players are encouraged to describe every attack with flavor and flair. One attack roll might be a stab to the foe’s arm. A miss might be the PC’s sword slamming into the wall. Combatants lunge, block, duck, spin, leap, and make all kinds of movements that should keep combat visually interesting and compelling. The Running The Cypher System chapter has much more guidance in this regard.

Common elements that affect the difficulty of a combat task are cover, range, and darkness. The rules for these and other modifiers are explained in the Attack Modifiers and Special Situations section of this chapter.

Attack Modifiers and Special Situations

In combat situations, many modifiers might come into play. Although the GM is at liberty to assess whatever modifiers they think are appropriate to the situation (that’s their role in the game), the following suggestions and guidelines might make that easier. Often the modifier is applied as a step in difficulty. So if a situation hinders attacks, that means if a PC attacks an NPC, the difficulty of the attack roll is increased by one step, and if an NPC attacks a PC, the difficulty of the defense roll is decreased by one step. This is because players make all rolls, whether they are attacking or defending—NPCs never make attack or defense rolls.

When in doubt, if it seems like it should be harder to attack in a situation, hinder the attack rolls. If it seems like attacks should gain an advantage or be easier in some way, hinder the defense rolls.

(Precise ranges are not important in the Cypher System. The broadly defined “immediate,” “short,” “long,” and “very long” ranges let the GM quickly make a judgment call and keep things moving. Basically, the idea is: your target is right there, your target is close, your target is pretty far away, or your target is extremely far away.)


If a character is behind cover so that a significant portion of their body is behind something sturdy, attacks against the character are hindered.

If a character is entirely behind cover (their entire body is behind something sturdy), they can’t be attacked unless the attack can go through the cover. For example, if a character hides behind a thin wooden screen and their opponent shoots the screen with a rifle that can penetrate the wood, the character can be attacked. However, because the attacker can’t see the character clearly, this still counts as cover (attacks against the character are hindered).


Sometimes where a character stands gives them an advantage or a disadvantage.

Prone Target:

In melee, a prone target is easier to hit (attacks against them are eased). In ranged combat, a prone target is harder to hit (attacks against them are hindered).

Higher Ground:

In either ranged or melee combat, attacks by an opponent on higher ground are eased.


When a target isn’t aware of an incoming attack, the attacker has an advantage. A ranged sniper in a hidden position, an invisible assailant, or the first salvo in a successful ambush are all eased by two steps. For the attacker to gain this advantage, however, the defender truly must have no idea that the attack is coming.

If the defender isn’t sure of the attacker’s location but is still on guard, the attacks are eased by only one step.


In melee, you can attack a foe who is adjacent to you (next to you) or within reach (immediate range). If you enter into melee with one or more foes, usually you can attack most or all of the combatants, meaning they are next to you, within reach, or within reach if you move slightly or have a long weapon that extends your reach.

The majority of ranged attacks have only two ranges: short range and long range (a few have very long range). Short range is generally less than 50 feet (15 m) or so. Long range is generally from 50 feet (15 m) to about 100 feet (30 m). Very long range is generally 100 feet (30 m) to 500 feet (150 m). Greater precision than that isn’t important in the Cypher System. If anything is longer than very long range, the exact range is usually spelled out, such as with an item that can fire a beam 1,000 feet (300 m) or teleport you up to 1 mile (1.5 km) away.

Thus, the game has four measurements of distance: immediate, short, long, and very long. These apply to movement as well. A few special cases—point-blank range and extreme range—modify an attack’s chance to successfully hit.

Point-Blank Range:

If a character uses a ranged weapon against a target within immediate range, the attack is eased.

Extreme Range:

Targets just at the limit of a weapon’s range are at extreme range. Attacks against such targets are hindered.

(The GM might allow a character with a ranged weapon to attack beyond extreme range, but the attack would be hindered by two steps for each range category beyond the normal limit. Attacks with hard limits, such as the blast radius of a bomb, can’t be modified.)

(In certain situations, such as a PC on top of a building looking across an open field, the GM should allow ranged attacks to exceed their maximum range. For example, in perfect conditions, a good archer can hit a large target with a bow and arrow at 500 feet (150 m), much farther than a bow’s typical long range.)


What characters can see (and how well they can see) plays a huge factor in combat.

Dim Light:

Dim light is approximately the amount of light on a night with a bright full moon or the illumination provided by a torch, flashlight, or desk lamp. Dim light allows you to see out to short range. Targets in dim light are harder to hit. Attacks against such targets are hindered. Attackers trained in low-light spotting negate this modifier.

Very Dim Light:

Very dim light is approximately the amount of light on a starry night with no visible moon, or the glow provided by a candle or an illuminated control panel. Very dim light allows you to see clearly only within immediate range and perceive vague shapes to short range. Targets in very dim light are harder to hit. Attacks against targets within immediate range are hindered, and attacks against those in short range are hindered by two steps. Attackers trained in low-light spotting modify these difficulties by one step in their favor. Attackers specialized in low-light spotting modify these difficulties by two steps in their favor.


Darkness is an area with no illumination at all, such as a moonless night with cloud cover or a room with no lights. Targets in complete darkness are nearly impossible to hit. If an attacker can use other senses (such as hearing) to get an idea of where the opponent might be, attacks against such targets are hindered by four steps. Otherwise, attacks in complete darkness fail without the need for a roll unless the player spends 1 XP to “make a lucky shot” or the GM uses GM intrusion. Attackers trained in low-light spotting ease the task. Attackers specialized in low-light spotting ease the task by two steps.


Similar to illumination, factors that obscure vision affect combat.


A target in mist is similar to one in dim light. Ranged attacks against such targets are hindered. Particularly dense mist makes ranged attacks nearly impossible (treat as darkness), and even melee attacks are hindered.

Hiding Target:

A target in dense foliage, behind a screen, or crawling amid the rubble in a ruin is hard to hit because they’re hard to see. Ranged attacks against such targets are hindered.

Invisible Target:

If an attacker can use other senses (such as hearing) to get an idea of where the opponent might be, attacks against such targets are hindered by four steps. Otherwise, attacks against an invisible creature fail without the need for a roll unless the player spends 1 XP to “make a lucky shot” or the GM uses GM intrusion.


Being in shallow water can make it hard to move, but it doesn’t affect combat. Being in deep water can make things difficult, and being underwater entirely can seem as different as being on another world.

Deep Water:

Being in water up to your chest (or the equivalent thereof) hinders your attacks. Aquatic creatures ignore this modifier.

Underwater Melee Combat:

For nonaquatic creatures, being completely underwater makes attacking very difficult. Attacks with stabbing weapons are hindered, and melee attacks with slashing or bashing weapons are hindered by two steps. Aquatic creatures ignore these penalties.

Underwater Ranged Combat:

As with melee combat, nonaquatic creatures have problems fighting underwater. Some ranged attacks are impossible underwater—you can’t throw things, fire a bow or crossbow, or use a blowgun. Many firearms also do not work underwater. Attacks with weapons that do work underwater are hindered. Ranges underwater are reduced by one category; very-long-range weapons work only to long range, long-range weapons work only to short range, and short-range weapons work only to immediate range.

Moving Targets

Moving targets are harder to hit, and moving attackers have a difficult time as well.

Target Is Moving:

Attackers trying to hit a foe who is moving very fast are hindered. (A foe moving very fast is one who is doing nothing but running, mounted on a moving creature, riding on a vehicle or moving conveyance, and so on.)

Attacker Is Moving:

An attacker trying to make an attack while moving under their own power (walking, running, swimming, and so on) takes no penalties. Attacks from a moving mount or moving vehicle are hindered; an attacker trained in riding or driving ignores this penalty.

Attacker Is Jostled:

Being jostled, such as while standing on a listing ship or a vibrating platform, makes attacking difficult. Such attacks are hindered. Characters trained in balancing or sailing would ignore penalties for being on a ship.

Special Situation: Combat Between NPCs

When an NPC ally of the PCs attacks another NPC, the GM can designate a player to roll and handle it like a PC attacking. Often, the choice is obvious. For example, a character who has a trained attack animal should roll when their pet attacks enemies. If an NPC ally accompanying the party leaps into the fray, that ally’s favorite PC rolls for them. NPCs cannot apply Effort. Of course, it’s perfectly fitting (and easier) to have the NPC ally use the cooperative actions rule to aid a PC instead of making direct attacks, or to compare the levels of the two NPCs (higher wins).

Special Situation: Combat Between PCs

When one PC attacks another PC, the attacking character makes an attack roll, and the other character makes a defense roll, adding any appropriate modifiers. If the attacking PC has a skill, ability, asset, or other effect that would ease the attack if it were made against an NPC, the character adds 3 to the roll for each step reduction (+3 for one step, +6 for two steps, and so on). If the attacker’s final result is higher, the attack hits. If the defender’s result is higher, the attack misses. Damage is resolved normally. The GM mediates all special effects.

Special Situation: Area Attacks

Sometimes, an attack or effect affects an area rather than a single target. For example, a grenade or a landslide can potentially harm or affect everyone in the area.

In an area attack, all PCs in the area make appropriate defense rolls against the attack to determine its effect on them. If there are any NPCs in the area, the attacker makes a single attack roll against all of them (one roll, not one roll per NPC) and compares it to the target number of each NPC. If the roll is equal to or greater than the target number of a particular NPC, the attack hits that NPC.

Some area attacks always deal at least a minimum amount of damage, even if the attacks miss or if a PC makes a successful defense roll.

For example, consider a character who uses Shatter to attack six cultists (level 2; target number 6) and their leader (level 4; target number 12). The PC applies Effort to increase the damage and rolls an 11 for the attack roll. This hits the six cultists, but not the leader, so the ability deals 3 points of damage to each of the cultists. The description of Shatter says that applying Effort to increase the damage also means that targets take 1 point of damage if the PC fails the attack roll, so the leader takes 1 point of damage. In terms of what happens in the story, the cultists are caught flat-footed by the sudden detonation of one of their knives, but the leader ducks and is shielded from the blast. Despite the leader’s quick moves, the blast is so intense that a few bits of metal slice them.

Special Situation: Attacking Objects

Attacking an object is rarely a matter of hitting it. Sure, you can hit the broad side of a barn, but can you damage it? Attacking inanimate objects with a melee weapon is a Might action. Objects have levels and thus target numbers. Objects have a damage track that works like the damage track for PCs.


is the default state for an object.

Minor damage

is a slightly damaged state. An object with minor damage reduces its level by 1.

Major damage

is a critically damaged state. An object with major damage is broken and no longer functions.


is destroyed. The object is ruined, no longer functions, and cannot be repaired.

If the Might action to damage an object is a success, the object moves one step down the object damage track. If the Might roll exceeded the difficulty by 2 levels, the object instead moves two steps down the object damage track. If the Might roll exceeded the difficulty by 4 levels, the object instead moves three steps down the object damage track. Objects with minor or major damage can be repaired, moving them one or more steps up the object damage track.

Brittle or fragile objects, like paper or glass, decrease the effective level of the object for the purposes of determining if it is damaged. Hard objects, like those made of wood or stone, add 1 to the effective level. Very hard objects, like those made of metal, add 2. (The GM may rule that some exotic materials add 3.)

The tool or weapon used to attack the object must be at least as hard as the object itself. Further, if the amount of damage the attack could inflict—not modified by a special die roll—does not equal or exceed the effective level of the object, the attack cannot damage the object no matter what the roll.

Activate a Special Ability

Special abilities are granted by focus, type, and flavor, or provided by cyphers or other devices. If a special ability affects another character in any kind of unwanted manner, it’s handled as an attack. This is true even if the ability is normally not considered an attack. For example, if a character has a healing touch, and their friend doesn’t want to be healed for some reason, an attempt to heal their unwilling friend is handled as an attack.

Plenty of special abilities do not affect another character in an unwanted manner. For example, a PC might use Hover on themselves to float into the air. A character with a matter-reorganizing device might change a stone wall into glass. A character who activates a phase changer cypher might walk through a wall. None of these requires an attack roll (although when turning a stone wall to glass, the character must still make a roll to successfully affect the wall).

If the character spends points to apply Effort on the attempt, they might want to roll anyway to see if they get a major effect, which would reduce the cost for their action.


As a part of another action, a character can adjust their position—stepping back a few feet while using an ability, sliding over in combat to take on a different opponent to help a friend, pushing through a door they just opened, and so on. This is considered an immediate distance, and a character can move this far as part of another action.

In a combat situation, if a character is in a large melee, they’re usually considered to be next to most other combatants, unless the GM rules that they’re farther away because the melee is especially large or the situation dictates it.

If they’re not in melee but still nearby, they are considered to be a short distance away—usually less than 50 feet (15 m). If they’re farther away than that but still involved in the combat, they are considered to be a long distance away, usually 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 m), or possibly even a very long distance away, usually more than 100 feet to 500 feet (30 to 150 m).

In a round, as an action, a character can make a short move. In this case, they are doing nothing but moving up to about 50 feet (15 m). Some terrain or situations will change the distance a character can move, but generally, making a short move is considered to be a difficulty 0 action. No roll is needed; they just get where they’re going as their action.

A character can try to make a long move—up to 100 feet (30 m) or so—in one round. This is a Speed task with a difficulty of 4. As with any action, they can use skills, assets, or Effort to ease the task. Terrain, obstacles, or other circumstances can hinder the task. A successful roll means the character moved the distance safely. Failure means that at some point during the move, they stop or stumble (the GM determines where this happens).

A character can also try to make a short move and take another (relatively simple) physical action, like make an attack. As with the attempt to make a long move, this is a Speed task with a difficulty of 4, and failure means that the character stops at some point, slipping or stumbling or otherwise getting held up.

Long-Term Movement

When talking about movement in terms of traveling rather than round-by-round action, typical characters can travel on a road about 20 miles (32 km) per day, averaging about 3 miles (5 km) per hour, including a few stops. When traveling overland, they can move about 12 miles (19 km) per day, averaging 2 miles (3 km) per hour, again with some stops. Mounted characters, such as those on horseback, can go twice as far. Other modes of travel (cars, airplanes, hovercraft, sailing ships, and so on) have their own rates of movement.

Movement Modifiers

Different environments affect movement in different ways.

Rough Terrain:

A surface that’s considered rough terrain is covered in loose stones or other material, uneven or with unsure footing, unsteady, or a surface that requires movement across a narrow space, such as a cramped corridor or a slender ledge. Stairs are also considered rough terrain. Rough terrain does not slow normal movement on a round-by-round basis, but hinders move rolls. Rough terrain cuts long-term movement rates in half.

Difficult Terrain:

Difficult terrain is an area filled with challenging obstacles—water up to waist height, a very steep slope, an especially narrow ledge, slippery ice, a foot or more of snow, a space so small that one must crawl through it, and so on. Difficult terrain hinders move rolls and halves movement on a round-by-round basis. This means that a short move is about 25 feet (8 m), and a long move is about 50 feet (15 m). Difficult terrain reduces long-term movement to a third of its normal rate.


Deep water, in which a character is mostly or entirely submerged, hinders move rolls and reduces round-by-round and long-term movement to one quarter its normal rate. This means that a short move is about 12 feet(4 m), and a long move is about 25 feet (7.5 m). Characters trained in swimming halve their movement only while in deep water.

Low Gravity:

Movement in low gravity is easier but not much faster. All move rolls are eased.

High Gravity:

In an environment of high gravity, treat all moving characters as if they were in difficult terrain. Characters trained in high-gravity maneuvering negate this penalty. High gravity reduces long-term movement to a third of its normal rate.

Zero Gravity:

In an environment without gravity, characters cannot move normally. Instead, they must push off from a surface and succeed at a Might roll to move (the difficulty is equal to one-quarter the distance traveled in feet). Without a surface to push off from, a character cannot move. Unless the character’s movement takes them to a stable object that they can grab or land against, they continue to drift in that direction each round, traveling half the distance of the initial push.

Special Situation: A Chase

When a PC is chasing an NPC or vice versa, the player should attempt a Speed action, with the difficulty based on the NPC’s level. If the PC succeeds at the roll, they catch the NPC (if chasing), or they get away (if chased). In terms of the story, this one-roll mechanic can be the result of a long chase over many rounds.

Alternatively, if the GM wants to play out a long chase, the character can make many rolls (perhaps one per level of the NPC) to finish the pursuit successfully. For every failure, the PC must make another success, and if they ever have more failures than successes, the PC fails to catch the NPC (if chasing) or is caught (if chased). As with combat, the GM is encouraged to describe the results of these rolls with flavor. A success might mean the PC has rounded a corner and gained some distance. A failure might mean that a basket of fruit topples over in front of them, slowing them down. Vehicle chases are handled similarly.


You can wait to react to another character’s action.

You decide what action will trigger your action, and if the triggering action happens, you get to take your action first (unless going first wouldn’t make sense, like attacking a foe before they come into view). For example, if an orc threatens you with a halberd, on your turn you can decide to wait, stating “If it stabs at me, I’m going to slash it with my sword.” On the orc’s turn, it stabs, so you make your sword attack before that happens.

Waiting is also a good way to deal with a ranged attacker who rises from behind cover, fires an attack, and ducks back down. You could say “I wait to see them pop up from behind cover and then I shoot them.”

(Waiting is also a useful tool for cooperative actions.)


Defending is a special action that only PCs can do, and only in response to being attacked. In other words, an NPC uses its action to attack, which forces a PC to make a defense roll. This is handled like any other kind of action, with circumstances, skill, assets, and Effort all potentially coming into play. Defending is a special kind of action in that it does not happen on the PC’s turn. It’s never an action that a player decides to take; it’s always a reaction to an attack. A PC can take a defense action when attacked (on the attacking NPC’s turn) and still take another action on their own turn.

The type of defense roll depends on the type of attack. If a foe attacks a character with an axe, they can use Speed to duck or block it with what they’re holding. If they’re struck by a poisoned dart, they can use a Might action to resist its effects. If a psi-worm attempts to control their mind, they can use Intellect to fend off the intrusion.

Sometimes an attack provokes two defense actions. For example, a poisonous reptile tries to bite a PC. They try to dodge the bite with a Speed action. If they fail, they take damage from the bite, and they must also attempt a Might action to resist the poison’s effects.

If a character does not know an attack is coming, usually they can still make a defense roll, but they can’t add modifiers (including the modifier from a shield), and they can’t use any skill or Effort to ease the task. If circumstances warrant—such as if the attacker is right next to the character—the GM might rule that the surprise attack simply hits.

A character can always choose to forgo a defense action, in which case the attack automatically hits.

Some abilities (such as the Countermeasures special ability) may allow you to do something special as a defense action.

Do Something Else

Players can try anything they can think of, although that doesn’t mean anything is possible. The GM sets the difficulty—that’s their primary role in the game. Still, guided by the bounds of logic, players and GMs will find all manner of actions and options that aren’t covered by a rule. That’s a good thing.

Players should not feel constrained by the game mechanics when taking actions. Skills are not required to attempt an action. Someone who’s never picked a lock can still try. The GM might hinder the task, but the character can still attempt the action.

Thus, players and GMs can return to the beginning of this chapter and look at the most basic expression of the rules. A player wants to take an action. The GM decides, on a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult that task is and what stat it uses. The player determines whether they have anything that might modify the difficulty and considers whether to apply Effort. Once the final determination is made, they roll to see if their character succeeds. It’s as easy as that.

As further guidance, the following are some of the more common actions a player might take: Climbing, Cooperative Actions, Crafting, Building, and Repairing, Guarding, Healing, Interacting With Creatures, Jumping, Looking or Listening, Moving a Heavy Object, Operating or Disabling a Device, or Picking a Lock, Riding or Piloting, Sneaking, Swimming, Understanding, Identifying, or Remembering, Vehicular Movement, Vehicular Combat.

(Players are encouraged to come up with their own ideas for what their characters do rather than looking at a list of possible actions. That’s why there is a “do something else” action. PCs are not pieces on a game board—they are people in a story. And like real people, they can try anything they can think of. (Succeeding is another matter entirely.) The task difficulty system provides GMs with the tools they need to adjudicate anything the players come up with.)


When a character climbs, the GM sets a difficulty based on the surface being climbed. Climbing is like moving through difficult terrain: the move roll is hindered and the movement is half speed. Unusual circumstances, such as climbing while under fire, pose additional step penalties.

Difficulty Surface
2 Surface with lots of handholds
3 Stone wall or similar surface (a few handholds)
4 Crumbling or slippery surface
5 Smooth stone wall or similar surface
6 Metal wall or similar surface
8 Smooth, horizontal surface (climber is upside down)
10 Glass wall or similar surface

Cooperative Actions

There are many ways multiple characters can work together. None of these options, however, can be used at the same time by the same characters.


If you use your action to help someone with a task, you ease the task. If you have an inability in a task, your help has no effect. If you use your action to help someone with a task that you are trained or specialized in, the task is eased by two steps. Help is considered an asset, and someone receiving help usually can’t gain more than two assets on a single task if that help is provided by another character.

For example, if Scott is trying to climb a steep incline and Sarah (who is trained in climbing) spends her turn helping him, Scott’s task is eased by two steps.

Sometimes you can help by performing a task that complements what another person is attempting. If your complementary action succeeds, you ease the other person’s task. For example, if Scott tries to persuade a ship captain to let him on board, Sarah could try to supplement Scott’s words with a flattering lie about the captain (a deception action), a display of knowledge about the region where the ship is headed (a geography action), or a direct threat to the captain (an intimidation action). If Sarah’s roll is a success, Scott’s persuasion task is eased.


When a character uses their turn to distract a foe, that foe’s attacks are hindered for one round. Multiple characters distracting a foe have no greater effect than a single character doing so—a foe is either distracted or not. A distraction might be yelling a challenge, firing a warning shot, or a similar activity that doesn’t harm the foe.

Draw the Attack:

When an NPC attacks a character, another PC can prominently present themselves, shout taunts, and move to try to get the foe to attack them instead. In most cases, this action succeeds without a roll—the opponent attacks the prominent PC instead of their companions. In other cases, such as with intelligent or determined foes, the prominent character must succeed at an Intellect action to draw the attack. If that Intellect action is successful, the foe attacks the prominent character, whose defenses are hindered by two steps. Two characters attempting to draw an attack at the same time cancel each other out.

(Two characters attempting to draw an attack at the same time cancel each other out.)

Take the Attack:

A character can use their action to throw themselves in front of a foe’s successful attack to save a nearby comrade. The attack automatically succeeds against the sacrificial character, and it deals 1 additional point of damage. A character cannot willingly take more than one attack each round in this way.

Crafting, Building, and Repairing

Crafting is a tricky topic in the Cypher System because the same rules that govern building a spear also cover repairing a machine that can take you into hyperspace. Normally, the level of the item determines the difficulty of creating or repairing it as well as the time required. For cyphers, artifacts, other items that require specialized knowledge, or items unique to a world or species other than your own (such as a Martian tripod walker), add 5 to the item’s level to determine the difficulty of building or repairing it.

Sometimes, if the item is artistic in nature, the GM will add to the difficulty and time required. For example, a crude wooden stool might be hammered together in an hour. A beautiful finished piece might take a week or longer and would require more skill on the part of the crafter.

The GM is free to overrule some attempts at creation, building, or repair, requiring that the character have a certain level of skill, proper tools and materials, and so forth.

A level 0 object requires no skill to make and is easily found in most locations. Sling stones and firewood are level 0 items—producing them is routine. Making a torch from spare wood and oil-soaked cloth is simple, so it’s a level 1 object. Making an arrow or a spear is fairly standard but not simple, so it’s a level 2 object.

Generally speaking, a device to be crafted requires materials equal to its level and all the levels below it. So a level 5 device requires level 5 material, level 4 material, level 3 material, level 2 material, and level 1 material (and, technically, level 0 material).

The GM and players can gloss over much of the crafting details, if desired. Gathering all the materials to make a mundane item might not be worth playing out—but then again, it might be. For example, making a wooden spear in a forest isn’t very interesting, but what if the characters have to make a spear in a treeless desert? Finding the wreckage of something made of wood or forcing a PC to fashion a spear out of the bones of a large beast could be interesting situations.

The time required to create an item is up to the GM, but the guidelines in the crafting table are a good starting point. Generally, repairing an item takes somewhere between half the creation time and the full creation time, depending on the item, the aspect that needs repairing, and the circumstances. For example, if creating an item takes one hour, repairing it takes thirty minutes to one hour.

Sometimes a GM will allow a rush job if the circumstances warrant it. This is different than using skill to reduce the time required. In this case, the quality of the item is affected. Let’s say that a character needs to create a tool that will cut through solid steel with a laser (a level 7 item), but they have to do it in one day. The GM might allow it, but the device might be extremely volatile, inflicting damage on the user, or it might work only once. The device is still considered a level 7 item to create in all other respects. Sometimes the GM will rule that reducing the time is not possible. For example, a single human can’t make a chainmail vest in one hour without some kind of machine to help.


The sentence "This is different than using skill to reduce the time required" is left over from the previous edition of Cypher, where a player could choose whether their character's skill would ease the crafting task (as normal), or reduce the time taken. The option to reduce the time taken has not survived in to this edition, so this sentence should probably also have been removed.

Possible crafting skills include:

  • Armoring
  • Bowyering/fletching
  • Chemistry
  • Computer science
  • Electronics
  • Engines
  • Genetic engineering
  • Glassblowing
  • Gunsmithing
  • Leatherworking
  • Metalworking
  • Neural engineering
  • Weaponsmithing
  • Woodcrafting

Characters might try to make a cypher, an artifact, or an alien psionic starship do something other than its intended function. Sometimes, the GM will simply declare the task impossible. You can’t turn a vial of healing elixir into a two-way communicator. But most of the time, there is a chance of success.

That said, tinkering with weird stuff is not easy. Obviously, the difficulty varies from situation to situation, but difficulties starting at 7 are not unreasonable. The time, tools, and training required would be similar to the time, tools, and training needed to repair a device. If the tinkering results in a long-term benefit for the character—such as creating an artifact that they can use—the GM should require them to spend XP to make it.

(Circumstances really matter. For example, sewing a dress by hand might take five times as long (or more) as using a sewing machine.)

(The GM is free to overrule some attempts at creation, building, or repair, requiring that the character have a certain level of skill, proper tools and materials, and so forth.)

(Obviously, what is considered “weird stuff” will vary from setting to setting, and sometimes the concept might not apply at all. But many times, there will be something in the setting that is too strange, too alien, too powerful, or too dangerous for PCs to mess around with (or at least mess around with easily). Einstein may have been extraordinary, but that doesn’t mean he could reverse-engineer a teleporter made in another dimension.)

Difficulty Craft General Time to Build
0 Something extremely simple like tying a rope or finding an appropriately sized rock A few minutes at most
1 Torch Five minutes
2 Spear, simple shelter, piece of furniture One hour
3 Bow, door, basic article of clothing One day
4 Sword, chainmail vest One to two days
5 Common technological item (electric light), nice piece of jewelry or art object One week
6 Technological item (watch, transmitter), really nice piece of jewelry or art object, elegant craftwork One month
7 Technological item (computer), major work of art One year
8 Technological item (something from beyond Earth) Many years
9 Technological item (something from beyond Earth) Many years
10 Technological item (something from beyond Earth) Many years


In a combat situation, a character can stand guard as their action. They do not make attacks, but all their defense tasks are eased. Further, if an NPC tries to get by them or take an action that they are guarding against, the character can attempt an eased Speed action based on the level of the NPC. Success means the NPC is prevented from taking the action; the NPC’s action that turn is wasted. This is useful for blocking a doorway, guarding a friend, and so forth.

If an NPC is standing guard, use the same procedure, but to get past the guard, the PC attempts a hindered Speed action against the NPC. For example, Diana is an NPC human with a level 3 bodyguard. The bodyguard uses their action to guard Diana. If a PC wants to attack Diana, the PC first must succeed at a difficulty 4 Speed task to get past the guard. If the PC succeeds, they can make their attack normally.


You can administer aid through bandaging and other succor, attempting to heal each patient once per day. This healing restores points to a stat Pool of your choice. Decide how many points you want to heal, and then make an Intellect action with a difficulty equal to that number. For example, if you want to heal someone for 3 points, that’s a difficulty 3 task with a target number of 9.

Interacting With Creatures

The level of the creature determines the target number, just as with combat. Thus, bribing a guard works much like punching them or affecting them with an ability. This is true of persuading someone, intimidating someone, calming a wild beast, or anything of the kind. Interaction is an Intellect task. Interacting usually requires a common language or some other way to communicate. Learning new languages is the same as learning a new skill.


Decide how far you want to jump, and that sets the difficulty of your Might roll. For a standing jump, subtract 4 from the distance in feet to determine the difficulty of the jump. For example, jumping 10 feet (3 m) has a difficulty of 6.

If you run an immediate distance before jumping, it counts as an asset, easing the jump.

If you run a short distance before jumping, divide the jump distance (in feet) by 2 and then subtract 4 to determine the difficulty of the jump. Because you’re running an immediate distance (and then some), you also count your running as an asset. For example, jumping a distance of 20 feet (6 m) with a short running start has a difficulty of 5 (20 feet divided by 2 is 10, minus 4 is 6, minus 1 for running an immediate distance).

For a vertical jump, the distance you clear (in feet) is equal to the difficulty of the jumping task. If you run an immediate distance, it counts as an asset, easing the jump.

(There’s nothing wrong with the GM simply assigning a difficulty level to a jump without worrying about the precise distance. The rules here are just so everyone has some guidelines.)

Looking or Listening

Generally, the GM will describe any sight or sound that’s not purposefully difficult to detect. But if you want to look for a hidden enemy, search for a secret panel, or listen for someone sneaking up on you, make an Intellect roll. If it’s a creature, its level determines the difficulty of your roll. If it’s something else, the GM determines the difficulty of your roll.

Moving a Heavy Object

You can push or pull something very heavy and move it an immediate distance as your action.

The weight of the object determines the difficulty of the Might roll to move it; every 50 pounds (23 kg) hinders the task by one step. So moving something that weighs 150 pounds (68 kg) is difficulty 3, and moving something that weighs 400 pounds (180 kg) is difficulty 8. If you can ease the task to 0, you can move a heavy object up to a short distance as your action.

Operating or Disabling a Device, or Picking a Lock

As with figuring out a device, the level of the device usually determines the difficulty of the Intellect roll. Unless a device is very complex, the GM will often rule that once you figure it out, no roll is needed to operate it except under special circumstances. So if the PCs figure out how to use a hovercraft, they can operate it. If they are attacked, they might need to roll to ensure that they don’t crash the vehicle into a wall while trying to avoid being hit.

Unlike operating a device, disabling a device or picking a lock usually require rolls. These actions often involve special tools and assume that the character is not trying to destroy the device or lock. (A PC who is attempting to destroy it probably should make a Might roll to smash it rather than a Speed or Intellect roll requiring patience and know-how.)

Riding or Piloting

If you’re riding an animal that’s trained to be a mount, or driving or piloting a vehicle, you don’t need to make a roll to do something routine such as going from point A to point B (just as you wouldn’t need to make a roll to walk there). However, staying mounted during a fight or doing something tricky with a vehicle requires a Speed roll to succeed. A saddle or other appropriate gear is an asset and eases the task.

Difficulty Maneuver
0 Riding
1 Staying on the mount (including a motorcycle or similar vehicle) in a battle or other difficult situation
3 Staying on a mount (including a motorcycle or similar vehicle) when you take damage
4 Mounting a moving steed
4 Making an abrupt turn with a vehicle while moving fast
4 Getting a vehicle to move twice as fast as normal for one round
5 Coaxing a mount to move or jump twice as fast or far as normal for one round
5 Making a long jump with a vehicle not intended to go airborne (like a car) and remaining in control


The difficulty of sneaking by a creature is determined by its level. Sneaking is a Speed roll. Moving at half speed eases the sneaking task. Appropriate camouflage or other gear may count as an asset and ease the task, as will dim lighting conditions and having plenty of things to hide behind.


If you’re simply swimming from one place to another, such as across a calm river or lake, use the standard movement rules, noting the fact that your character is in deep water. However, sometimes, special circumstances require a Might roll to make progress while swimming, such as when trying to avoid a current or being dragged into a whirlpool.

Understanding, Identifying, or Remembering

When characters try to identify or figure out how to use a device, the level of the device determines the difficulty. For a bit of knowledge, the GM determines the difficulty.

Difficulty Knowledge
0 Common knowledge
1 Simple knowledge
3 Something a scholar probably knows
5 Something even a scholar might not know
7 Knowledge very few people possess
10 Completely lost knowledge

Vehicular Movement

Vehicles move just like creatures. Each has a movement rate, which indicates how far it can move in a round. Most vehicles require a driver, and when moving, they usually require that the driver spends every action controlling the movement. This is a routine task that rarely requires a roll. Any round not spent driving the vehicle hinders the task in the next round and precludes any change in speed or direction. In other words, driving down the road normally is difficulty 0. Spending an action to retrieve a backpack from the back seat means that in the following round, the driver must attempt a difficulty 1 task. If they instead use their action to pull a handgun from the backpack, in the next round the difficulty to drive will be 2, and so on. Failure results are based on the situation but might involve a collision or something similar.

In a vehicular chase, drivers attempt Speed actions just like in a regular chase, but the task may be based either on the level of the driver (modified by the level and movement rate of the vehicle) or on the level of the vehicle (modified by the level of the driver). So if a PC driving a typical car is chasing a level 3 NPC driving a level 5 sports car, the PC would make three chase rolls with a difficulty of 5. If the PC’s car is a souped-up custom vehicle, it might grant the PC an asset in the chase. If the PC is not in a car at all, but riding a bicycle, it might hinder the chase rolls by two or three steps, or the GM might simply rule that it’s impossible.

Vehicular Combat

Much of the time, a fight between foes in cars, boats, or other vehicles is just like any other combat situation. The combatants probably have cover and are moving fast. Attacks to disable a vehicle or a portion of it are based on the level of the vehicle. If the vehicle is an armored car or a tank, all attacks are likely aimed at the vehicle, which has a level and probably an appropriate Armor rating, not unlike a creature.

The only time this isn’t true is with battles where only vehicles and not characters are involved. Thus, if the PCs are in a shootout with bank robbers and both groups are in cars, use the standard rules. However, battles between starships of various kinds—from gigantic capital ships to single-pilot fighters—are a frequent occurrence in far-future science fiction settings. A submarine battle between two deep sea craft could be quite exciting. Characters in a modern-day game might find themselves in a tank fight. If PCs are involved in combat in which they are entirely enclosed in vehicles (so that it’s not really the characters fighting, but the vehicles), use the following quick and easy guidelines.

On this scale, combat between vehicles isn’t like traditional combat. Don’t worry about health, Armor, or anything like that. Instead, just compare the levels of the vehicles involved. If the PCs’ vehicle has the higher level, the difference in levels is how many steps the PCs’ attack and defense rolls are eased. If the PCs’ vehicle has the lower level, their rolls are hindered. If the levels are the same, there is no modification.

These attack and defense rolls are modified by skill and Effort, as usual. Some vehicles also have superior weapons, which ease the attack (since there is no “damage” amount to worry about), but this circumstance is probably uncommon in this abstract system and should not affect the difficulty by more than one or maybe two steps. Further, if two vehicles coordinate their attack against one vehicle, the attack is eased. If three or more vehicles coordinate, the attack is eased by two steps.

The attacker must try to target a specific system on or portion of an enemy vehicle. This hinders the attack based on the system or portion targeted.

That’s a lot of modifications. But it’s not really that hard. Let’s look at an example of a space battle. A PC in a small level 2 fighter attacks a level 4 frigate. Since the frigate is level 4, the difficulty of the attack starts at 4. But the attacking craft is weaker than the defender, so the attack is hindered equal to the difference in their levels (2). The fighter pilot must make a difficulty 6 attack on the frigate. However, the fighter is trying to swoop in and damage the frigate’s drive, which hinders the attack by another three steps, for a total difficulty of 9. If the fighter pilot is trained in space combat, they reduce the difficulty to 8, but it’s still impossible without help. So let’s say that two other PCs—also in level 2 fighters—join in and coordinate their attack. Three ships coordinating an attack on one target eases the task by two steps, resulting in a final difficulty of 6. Still, the attacking PC would be wise to use Effort.

Then the frigate retaliates, and the PC needs to make a defense roll. The level difference between the ships (2) means the PC’s defense is hindered by two steps, so the difficulty of the PC’s defense roll starts out at 6. But the frigate tries to take out the fighter’s weapons, hindering their attack (easing the PC’s defense) by two steps. Thus, the PC needs to succeed at a difficulty 4 task or lose their main weapons systems.

It’s important to remember that a failed attack doesn’t always mean a miss. The target ship might rock and reel from the hit, but the bulk of the damage was absorbed by the shields, so there’s no significant damage.

This bare-bones system should allow the GM and players to flesh out exciting encounters involving the whole group. For example, perhaps while one PC pilots a ship, another mans the guns, and another frantically attempts to repair damage to the maneuvering thrusters before they crash into the space station they’re trying to defend.

(During a vehicular battle, particularly a space battle, there’s a lot of chatter about shields failing, hull integrity, being outmaneuvered, coming in too fast, and whatnot. These sorts of details are great, but they’re all flavor, so they’re represented in the rules generally, rather than specifically.)

(For more details about vehicles, refer to the Genres chapter.)

(Training in driving makes the character practiced in using a vehicle as a weapon. If the vehicle is used to run over a victim or ram an enemy vehicle, treat a motorcycle as a medium weapon and treat a car or truck as a heavy weapon.)

Targeting Task Attack Hindered Effect
Disable weapons Two steps One or more of the vehicle’s weapons no longer function
Disable defenses (if applicable) Two steps Attacks against the vehicle are eased
Disable engine/drive Three steps Vehicle cannot move, or movement is hampered
Disable maneuverability Two steps Vehicle cannot alter its present course
Strike power core or vital spot Five steps Vehicle is completely destroyed


When an attack strikes a character, it usually means the character takes damage.

An attack against a PC subtracts points from one of the character’s stat Pools—usually the Might Pool. Whenever an attack simply says it deals “damage” without specifying the type, it means Might damage, which is by far the most common type. Intellect damage, which is usually the result of a mental attack, is always labeled as Intellect damage. Speed damage is often a physical attack, but attacks that deal Speed damage are fairly rare.

NPCs don’t have stat Pools. Instead, they have a characteristic called health. When an NPC takes damage of any kind, the amount is subtracted from its health. Unless described otherwise, an NPC’s health is always equal to its target number. Some NPCs might have special reactions to or defenses against attacks that would normally deal Speed damage or Intellect damage, but unless the NPC’s description specifically explains this, assume that all damage is subtracted from the NPC’s health.

Objects don’t have stat Pools or health. They have an object damage track, just like how PCs have a damage track. Attacking objects might move them down their damage track.

Damage is always a specific amount determined by the attack. For example, a slash with a broadsword or a blast with a spike thrower deals 4 points of damage. An Adept’s Onslaught deals 4 points of damage. Often, there are ways for the attacker to increase the damage. For example, a PC can apply Effort to deal 3 additional points of damage, and rolling a natural 17 on the attack roll deals 1 additional point of damage.


Pieces of equipment and special abilities protect a character from damage by giving them Armor. Each time a character takes damage, subtract their Armor value from the damage before reducing their stat Pool or health. For example, if a Warrior with 2 Armor is hit by a gunshot that deals 4 points of damage, they take only 2 points of damage (4 minus 2 from their Armor). If Armor reduces the incoming damage to 0 or lower, the character takes no damage from the attack. For example, the Warrior’s 2 Armor protects them from all physical attacks that deal 1 or 2 points of damage.

The most common way to get Armor is to wear physical armor, such as a leather jacket, a bulletproof vest, a chainmail hauberk, bioengineered carapace grafts, or something else, depending on the setting. All physical armor comes in one of three categories: light, medium, or heavy. Light armor gives the wearer 1 point of Armor, medium gives 2 points of Armor, and heavy gives 3 points of Armor.

When you see the word “Armor” capitalized in the game rules (other than in the name of a special ability), it refers to your Armor characteristic—the number you subtract from incoming damage. When you see the word “armor” in lowercase, it refers to any physical armor you might wear.

Other effects can add to a character’s Armor. If a character is wearing chainmail (+2 to Armor) and has an ability that covers them in a protective force field that grants +1 to Armor, their total is 3 Armor. If they also use a cypher that hardens their flesh temporarily for +1 to Armor, their total is 4 Armor.

Some types of damage ignore physical armor. Attacks that specifically deal Speed damage or Intellect damage ignore Armor; the creature takes the listed amount of damage without any reduction from Armor. Ambient damage (see below) usually ignores Armor as well.

A creature may have a special bonus to Armor against certain kinds of attacks. For example, a protective suit made of a sturdy, fire-resistant material might normally give its wearer +1 to Armor but count as +3 to Armor against fire attacks. An artifact worn as a helmet might grant +2 to Armor only against mental attacks.

Ambient Damage

Some kinds of damage aren’t direct attacks against a creature, but they indirectly affect everything in the area. Most of these are environmental effects such as winter cold, high temperatures, or background radiation. Damage from these kinds of sources is called ambient damage. Physical armor usually doesn’t protect against ambient damage, though a well-insulated suit of armor can protect against cold weather.

Damage From Hazards

Attacks aren’t the only way to inflict damage on a character. Experiences such as falling from a great height, being burned in a fire, and spending time in severe weather also deal damage. Although no list of potential hazards could be comprehensive, the Damage From Hazards table includes common examples.

Source Damage Notes
Falling 1 point per 10 feet (3 m) fallen (ambient damage)
Minor fire 3 points per round (ambient damage) Torch
Major fire 6 points per round (ambient damage) Engulfed in flames; lava
Acid splash 2 points per round (ambient damage)
Acid bath 6 points per round (ambient damage) Immersed in acid
Cold 1 point per round (ambient damage) Below freezing temperatures
Severe cold 3 points per round (ambient damage) Liquid nitrogen
Shock 1 point per round (ambient damage) Often involves losing next action
Electrocution 6 points per round (ambient damage) Often involves losing next action
Crush 3 points Object or creature falls on character
Huge crush 6 points Roof collapse; cave-in
Collision 6 points Large, fast object strikes character

Space Hazards

A few specific hazards that you can include as part of an encounter involving a spacecraft follow. These hazards are more site specific than the general threats presented in Chapter 5: Conflicts of the Future.

Gravity Well

All bodies in space produce a gravitational field, though usually only things the size of a small moon or larger pose a hazard to unprepared (and sometimes even to prepared) spacecraft. The larger the body, the “deeper” and wider the associated gravity field. Any time a spacecraft launches from a moon or planet, it must escape the gravity well. For RPG purposes, that’s either a routine task, or a low-difficulty one (assuming no complicating factors are at play).

Gravity wells become a hazard when a spacecraft encounters one unexpectedly—usually because of a navigational or sensor error, but occasionally because of a moon or extreme gravity source being someplace unforeseen.

Slingshot Trajectory:

An unexpected encounter with a gravity well can sling a spacecraft off on a new and unwanted trajectory on a failed piloting task, the difficulty determined by the situation.


An unexpected encounter with a gravity well can also capture a spacecraft in the gravity well’s orbit, forcing the craft to expend additional power to get free (power it may or may not have)

Black Hole

Black holes are just extreme gravity wells. All the dangers associated with a gravity well also apply to black holes. A couple of additional hazards are also associated with black holes, notably tidal destruction (“spaghettification”), time dilation, and being swallowed.

Tidal Destruction:

Mechanically speaking, while a spacecraft feels tidal forces by passing too close to a black hole’s event horizon, all tasks aboard the craft are hindered, Void Rules are in effect, and if a GM intrusion is triggered thereby, the ship sustains major damage and risks coming apart. Meanwhile, PCs in the ship (assuming some sort of fantastic tech-rated gravity nullifier isn’t in use) suffer 1 point of ambient damage each round.

A ship near a very large black hole (like Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy) can avoid tidal effects because the gravity gradient is so much wider, but still feel relativistic time dilation.

Relativistic Time Dilation:

From a mechanical perspective, spacecraft that survive close encounters with black holes and return to normal space discover that more time has passed than expected, which could range from fairly inconsequential minutes or hours, to far more serious days, months, years, centuries, or more.

Past the Event Horizon:

The event horizon is the point of no return, where not even light can escape the clutch of gravity. If a spacecraft falls into a black hole, assuming it is not spaghettified by tidal forces, it is still lost from the universe of its origin. At least, it’s lost assuming no intervention from a fantastic tech-rated post-singularity AI or ancient ultra.

Radiation Belt/Solar Flare

Radiation belts of intensely charged particles trapped by magnetic fields around some planets and moons can surge, causing radiation exposure. An unexpected solar flare, or the drive plume of a massive spacecraft, can cause the same unexpected exposure.

Ship Damage:

The ship suffers minor or major damage, requiring repair and perhaps even replacement of parts. This damage is as serious as you require for the purposes of creating an interesting story.

Radiation Sickness:

When PCs are exposed to intense radiation, they suffer 3 points of ambient radiation damage for each minute the character fails a difficulty 3 Might defense task. If the character fails three such defense rolls during any single period of radiation exposure, they suffer acute radiation sickness, a level 8 disease that drops them one step on the damage track for each day they fail a Might defense roll until they expire.

Asteroid/Debris Field

Movies often depict asteroid belts as densely packed fields of tumbling rock that ships must constantly swerve through to avoid a collision. Such locations are not easy to find in the solar system. But such situations can occur in fantastic settings, or possibly in solar systems other than Earth’s.

Evasive Asteroid Piloting:

During any round a spacecraft moves through a densely packed asteroid or debris field, the pilot (or shipmind) must succeed on a piloting task, whose difficulty is set by the situation. On a failed roll, a collision occurs. Each time a collision occurs, the ship (and possibly its crew) is damaged according to the track laid out below. Collisions are assumed to be major rocks or pieces of debris, or possibly a series of smaller pieces of debris all impacting nearly simultaneously, with one getting through the shielding.

Finding Shelter:

The best way to find shelter in order to effect repairs, or hide from pursuers, is to try to find an asteroid or piece of debris large enough for the spacecraft to land on or find a crevice to slide into. To land a spacecraft on an asteroid or big piece of debris is a challenging (difficulty 5) piloting task to match the asteroid’s spin, then slide into the cramped space.

Ship Collision Damage Track
Number of Collisions Effect
1-3 One or more of the spacecraft’s weapons are disabled until repaired
4-6 Spacecraft’s drive is hampered; all piloting tasks are hindered until repaired; crew takes 2 points of damage
7 Spacecraft suffers a blow-out into vacuum in one of its compartments; affected crew must succeed on difficulty 5 tasks to hold on and face vacuum exposure
8 Spacecraft suffers general life support failure; all crew not in suits face vacuum exposure
9 Spacecraft cannot alter its present course; all piloting tasks fail until drive repaired; crew takes 4 points of damage
10 Spacecraft is completely destroyed

FTL Instability

Even though many different kinds of faster-than-light options are available, any use of FTL in a setting faces similar sorts of hazards at three different points: when first entering FTL, while in FTL transit, and when exiting FTL.

Entering FTL:

Whether engaging warp drive or passing into the mouth of a wormhole gate, complicating factors might require a piloting roll, with the difficulty determined by the situation. On a failed roll, any number of bad outcomes are possible, though the least dramatic is that the craft simply fails to enter FTL and cannot do so until the PCs determine the reason and rectify it.

In FTL Transit:

A dark drive failure or some weird instability in a wormhole throat, or some other issue during FTL transit could occur. Usually, these instabilities are not something a pilot can avoid, because they should be presented as a GM intrusion, at which point the PCs can attempt to avoid or deal with the situation.

Instability could result in a spacecraft dropping out of FTL only partway to the destination, dropping out in some completely unrecognized part of space, dropping out at the right place but months or years late, or failing to drop out at all and thus continue to move through the abnormal spaces that FTL transit posits.

Alternatively, enemy ships—or creatures—might use some sort of fantastic technology to attack a PC’s craft while in FTL transit, which might force the craft back into normal space, or result in a firefight in the abnormal folded space of FTL itself (probably even more dangerous than regular combat, depending on your setting’s version of FTL).

Exiting FTL:

The same sorts of complications could bedevil a craft exiting FTL as when entering. If so, a piloting roll is required. However, on a failed roll, results include a collision (use the Ship Collision Damage Track), an inadvertent spray of high-energy particles from abnormal space acting as a particle cannon accidentally aimed at some other craft or space station at the destination location, or creating/falling into a spatial anomaly.

Spatial Anomaly

Finally, hard-to-categorize irregularities in space-time go by the broad term of “spatial anomaly.” Most of the time, spatial anomalies are hazards found in fantastically-themed settings, but not always. Because these things are anomalous, no one set of guidelines can fit them all. That said, spatial anomalies are usually a side-effect of some other factor at play, such as a hidden black hole, a dimensional rift, or the distortion field surrounding a range of post-singularity AIs estivating in the gravity wall of a magnetar.

Generally speaking, spatial anomalies are a few light-seconds up to a few light-years across. It’s difficult for spacecraft to navigate within spatial anomalies, and they face many challenges if they attempt to (or are forced to) do so

The Effects of Taking Damage

When an NPC reaches 0 health, it is either dead or (if the attacker wishes) incapacitated, meaning unconscious or beaten into submission.

As previously mentioned, damage from most sources is applied to a character’s Might Pool. Otherwise, stat damage always reduces the Pool of the stat it affects.

If damage reduces a character’s stat Pool to 0, any further damage to that stat (including excess damage from the attack that reduced the stat to 0) is applied to another stat Pool. Damage is applied to Pools in this order:

  1. Might (unless the Pool is 0)
  2. Speed (unless the Pool is 0)
  3. Intellect

Even if the damage is applied to another stat Pool, it still counts as its original type for the purpose of Armor and special abilities that affect damage. For example, if a character with 2 Armor is reduced to 0 Might and then is hit by a creature’s claw for 3 points of damage, it still counts as Might damage, so their Armor reduces the damage to 1 point, which then is applied to their Speed Pool. In other words, even though they take the damage from their Speed Pool, it doesn’t ignore Armor like Speed damage normally would.

In addition to taking damage from their Might Pool, Speed Pool, or Intellect Pool, PCs also have a damage track. The damage track has four states (from best to worst): hale, impaired, debilitated, and dead. When one of a PC’s stat Pools reaches 0, they move one step down the damage track. Thus, if they are hale, they become impaired. If they are already impaired, they become debilitated. If they are already debilitated, they become dead.

Some effects can immediately shift a PC one or more steps on the damage track. These include rare poisons, cellular disruption attacks, and massive traumas (such as falls from very great heights, being run over by a speeding vehicle, and so on, as determined by the GM).

Some attacks, like a serpent’s poisonous bite or a Speaker’s Enthrall, have effects other than damage to a stat Pool or shifting the PC on the damage track. These attacks can cause unconsciousness, paralysis, and so on.

(When NPCs (who have only health) suffer Speed or Intellect damage, normally this is treated the same as Might damage. However, the GM or the player has the option to suggest an appropriate alternate effect—the NPC suffers a penalty, moves more slowly, is stunned, and so on.)

The Damage Track

As noted above, the damage track has four states: hale, impaired, debilitated, and dead.


is the normal state for a character: all three stat Pools are at 1 or higher, and the PC has no penalties from harmful conditions. When a hale PC takes enough damage to reduce one of their stat Pools to 0, they become impaired. Note that a character whose stat Pools are much lower than normal can still be hale.


is a wounded or injured state. When an impaired character applies Effort, it costs 1 extra point per level applied. For example, applying one level of Effort costs 4 points instead of 3, and applying two levels of Effort costs 7 points instead of 5.

An impaired character ignores minor and major effect results on their rolls, and they don’t deal as much extra damage in combat with a special roll. In combat, a roll of 17 or higher deals only 1 additional point of damage. When an impaired PC takes enough damage to reduce one of their stat Pools to 0, they become debilitated.


is a critically injured state. A debilitated character may not take any actions other than to move (probably crawl) no more than an immediate distance. If a debilitated character’s Speed Pool is 0, they can’t move at all. When a debilitated PC takes enough damage to reduce a stat Pool to 0, they are dead.


is dead.

(The damage track allows you to know how far from death you are. If you’re hale, you’re three steps from death. If you’re impaired, you’re two steps from death. If you’re debilitated, you are only one small step from death’s door.)

Recovering Points in a Pool

After losing or spending points in a Pool, you recover those points by resting. You can’t increase a Pool past its maximum by resting—just back to its normal level. Any extra points gained go away with no effect. The amount of points you recover from a rest, and how long each rest takes, depends on how many times you have rested so far that day.

When you rest, make a recovery roll. To do this, roll a d6 and add your tier. You recover that many points, and you can divide them among your stat Pools however you wish. For example, if your recovery roll is 4 and you’ve lost 4 points of Might and 2 points of Speed, you can recover 4 points of Might, or 2 points of Might and 2 points of Speed, or any other combination adding up to 4 points.

The first time you rest each day, it takes only a few seconds to catch your breath. If you rest this way in the middle of an encounter, it takes one action on your turn.

The second time you rest each day, you must rest for ten minutes to make a recovery roll. The third time you rest each day, you must rest for one hour to make a recovery roll. The fourth time you rest each day, you must rest for ten hours to make a recovery roll (usually, this occurs when you stop for the day to eat and sleep).

After that much rest, it’s assumed to be a new day, so the next time you rest, it takes only a few seconds. The next rest takes ten minutes, then one hour, and so on, in a cycle.

If you haven’t rested yet that day and you take a lot of damage in a fight, you could rest a few seconds (regaining 1d6 points + 1 point per tier) and then immediately rest for ten minutes (regaining another 1d6 points + 1 point per tier). Thus, in one full day of doing nothing but resting, you could recover 4d6 points + 4 points per tier.

Each character chooses when to make recovery rolls. If a party of five PCs rests for ten minutes because two of them want to make recovery rolls, the others don’t have to make rolls at that time. Later in the day, those three can decide to rest for ten minutes and make recovery rolls.

Recovery Roll Rest Time Needed
First recovery roll One action
Second recovery roll Ten minutes
Third recovery roll One hour
Fourth recovery roll Ten hours

Restoring the Damage Track

Using points from a recovery roll to raise a stat Pool from 0 to 1 or higher also automatically moves the character up one step on the damage track.

If all of a PC’s stat Pools are above 0 and the character has taken special damage that moved them down the damage track, they can use a recovery roll to move up one step on the damage track instead of recovering points. For example, a character who is debilitated from a hit with a cell-disrupting biotech device can rest and move up to impaired rather than recover points in a Pool.

Special Damage

In the course of playing the game, characters face all manner of threats and dangers that can harm them in a variety of ways, only some of which are easily represented by points of damage.

Dazed and Stunned:

Characters can be dazed when struck hard on the head, exposed to extremely loud sounds, or affected by a mental attack. When this happens, for the duration of the daze effect (usually one round), all of the character’s tasks are hindered. Similar but more severe attacks can stun characters. Stunned characters lose their turn (but can still defend against attacks normally).

Poison and Disease:

When characters encounter poison—whether the venom of a serpent, rat poison slipped into a burrito, cyanide dissolved in wine, or an overdose of acetaminophen—they make a Might defense roll to resist it. Failure to resist can result in points of damage, moving down the damage track, or a specific effect such as paralysis, unconsciousness, disability, or something stranger. For example, some poisons affect the brain, making it impossible to say certain words, take certain actions, resist certain effects, or recover points to a stat Pool.

Diseases work like poisons, but their effect occurs every day, so the victim must make a Might defense roll each day or suffer the effects. Disease effects are as varied as poisons: points of damage, moving down the damage track, disability, and so on. Many diseases inflict damage that cannot be restored through conventional means.


Paralytic effects cause a character to drop to the ground, unable to move. Unless otherwise specified, the character can still take actions that require no physical movement.

Other Effects:

Other special effects can render a character blind or deaf, unable to stand without falling over, or unable to breathe. Stranger effects might negate gravity for the character (or increase it a hundredfold), transport them to another place, render them out of phase, mutate their physical form, implant false memories or senses, alter the way their brain processes information, or inflame their nerves so they are in constant, excruciating pain. Each special effect must be handled on a case-by-case basis. The GM adjudicates how the character is affected and how the condition can be alleviated (if possible).

NPCs and Special Damage

The GM always has final say over what special damage will affect an NPC. Human NPCs usually react like characters, but nonhuman creatures might react very differently. For example, a tiny bit of venom is unlikely to hurt a gigantic dragon, and it won’t affect an android or a demon at all.

If an NPC is susceptible to an attack that would shift a character down the damage track, using that attack on the NPC usually renders it unconscious or dead. Alternatively, the GM could apply the debilitated condition to the NPC, with the same effect as it would have on a PC.

Magical Rules Module

Crafting Magic Items

Potions, scrolls, and other one-use items are cyphers, and longer-lasting items are generally artifacts.

Crafting Cyphers

  1. Choose Cypher Level. Creating a low-level cypher is easier than creating a high-level one. The character decides what level of cypher they’re trying to create, which must be in the level range for the cypher as listed in the Cypher System Reference Document.

    Note that some cyphers have the same effect no matter what level they are, so the character could make crafting easier by creating the lowest-level version of that cypher, but the GM is always able to rule that a particular cypher must be crafted at a certain level or higher for it to work. In particular, a stim is very strong for its level range, and should always be treated as a level 6 cypher when crafted by a PC.

  2. Determine Materials. Just as crafting an axe requires iron and wood, crafting a magical cypher requires strange and exotic materials—powdered gems, ink from monsters, mysterious herbs, and so on. The level of the cypher determines how expensive these materials are, according to the following table.

    Cypher Level Materials Cost
    1 One inexpensive item
    2 Two inexpensive items
    3 One moderate item
    4 Two moderate items
    5 Three moderate items
    6 One expensive item
    7 Two expensive items
    8 Three expensive items
    9 One very expensive item
    10 Two very expensive items
  3. Assess Difficulty. The difficulty of a magic item crafting task is always equal to 1 + the level of the cypher. The crafter can reduce the assessed difficulty of a crafting task with skill training (such as being trained or specialized in brewing potions or scribing scrolls), assets, special abilities provided by their focus or type, and so on. Using a formula, recipe, or other guideline for a specific cypher counts as an asset for this purpose.

    Because this is an activity requiring special knowledge, it is not possible for a character with no skill (or with an inability in this skill) to do this sort of crafting; the character cannot attempt the task at all.

  4. Determine Time to Craft. The amount of time it takes to craft a magical cypher is determined by the assessed difficulty, so decreasing the assessed difficulty not only means the character is more likely to succeed, but also that they have to spend less time on crafting it. See the table below.

    For any time in excess of nine hours, the process is assumed to have stages where the character is not actively working on it, just checking on it occasionally to make sure everything is going as planned—allowing the base ingredients of a potion to cook for a few hours, stirring to make sure the ingredients don’t congeal, allowing ink on a scroll to dry, and so on. In other words, the character is able to perform other actions in the vicinity of the crafting (such as studying, resting, eating, and so on), but couldn’t craft on the road or in the middle of a dungeon.

    Assessed Difficulty Time to Craft
    1 Ten minutes
    2 One hour
    3 Four hours
    4 Nine hours
    5 One day
    6 Two days
    7 One week
    8 Three weeks
    9 Two months
    10 Six months
  5. Complete Subtasks. The crafting character must complete multiple subtasks that are steps toward finishing the process. The number of subtasks required is equal to the assessed difficulty of the crafting task attempted. So a crafting task assessed as difficulty 5 requires five subtask successes.

    The difficulty of each individual subtask begins at 1 and increases by one step for each remaining subtask, until the crafter succeeds on the final, highest-difficulty subtask. Generally, subtask attempts occur at equally divided intervals over the course of the full time required to craft the item.

    If at any point the crafter fails on a subtask, the item isn’t ruined. Instead, the character only wasted the time spent on that subtask, and can spend that much time again and then try to succeed at that same subtask. If the crafter fails twice in a row on the same subtask, the character can continue crafting, but in addition to losing another interval of crafting time, more crafting material (equal to one of the kind of item needed to craft it) is destroyed in a mishap and must be replaced before crafting can continue.

    A player may ask to apply Effort to each subtask. Applying Effort is something they do in the moment, not over the course of days or weeks. Generally speaking, Effort cannot be applied to any crafting task or subtask that exceeds one day

Crafting Artifacts

Crafting an artifact is similar to choosing a new type or focus ability—the character has many to choose from, they select the one that best fits their intention, and thereafter they can use the artifact much like they’d use any of their other character abilities. The main difference is that most artifacts don’t cost Pool points to activate, and character abilities don’t have a depletion stat that eventually removes the item from play. Crafting artifacts is handled as a long-term benefit of character advancement; the character and GM agree on the artifact to be crafted, and the character spends 3 XP. If the item is fairly simple, the GM can skip the crafting details and just say that after a period of time, the PC creates the artifact. For an item that significantly alters gameplay—granting the character vast telepathic powers or giving them the ability to teleport at will—the GM can give the item an assessed difficulty equal to 3 + the artifact level and require the character to follow the crafting steps for creating a magical cypher. Crafting this kind of artifact takes up to five times as many materials and up to twenty times as long as crafting a cypher of the same assessed difficulty

Ritual Magic


Ritual magic has two aspects related to time: how long it takes to prepare the ritual, and how long it takes to perform it. The preparation time is how long it takes to get ready to perform the ritual. The performance time is how long the ritual takes from start to finish, once the preparations (if any) are complete.

Difficulty and Subtasks

Completing a ritual has an overall difficulty level, usually equal to the level of the challenge. Sometimes there isn’t a clear idea of what level the challenge should be—teleporting a group of people to a nearby city and raising a person from the dead don’t have an obvious task level. In these cases, the GM should choose a level for the ritual based on what would make an interesting experience for the players. Instead of having the success or failure of this sort of magic come down to one roll, ritual magic lets the GM build tension by requiring the players to make rolls for multiple subtasks. The subtasks start at difficulty 1, and the subtask difficulty increases by 1 each time until the players make a final roll at the highest difficulty. A ritual with an overall difficulty of 4 has four subtasks, with the first one at difficulty 1, the second at difficulty 2, the third at 3, and the last one at 4.

If at any point the PC fails a subtask, the ritual isn’t automatically ruined, but it costs time—a failure means the time spent on that subtask was wasted, but the character can spend that much time again and try to succeed at that same subtask. The GM may decide that later attempts at that subtask are hindered, or that a certain number of failures during the ritual (perhaps equal to half the ritual’s overall level) means the whole thing needs to be started again. Skills, assets, and other special abilities can ease subtasks just like they do with any other task (which might make some of the subtasks routine and not require a roll at all). Characters may apply Effort to each subtask.

Pool Investment

Some rituals might require the PCs to spend points from their Pools on each subtask, with Might representing blood or vitality, Speed representing energy, and Intellect representing will or sanity. Multiple PCs involved in the ritual could collectively contribute to this cost (and if a ritual costs many points, spreading out the cost in this way may be necessary to prevent a participating PC from dying during the ritual).

Accelerated Performance

The GM may allow a character to speed up a ritual, reducing the time required for one or more subtasks. Generally, reducing a subtask’s time by half should hinder the subtask, and reducing it by half again (reducing the time needed to a quarter of the normal amount) should hinder the subtask by an additional step (two steps total). The minimum amount of time for a subtask is 1 round (unless the subtask is routine, in which case the GM may allow it to take no time at all).

Example Rituals

The following are examples of common magical rituals suitable for many fantasy settings. Specific details of a ritual may vary depending on what the characters are trying to accomplish; for example, a ritual to ask a demon for a favor might be similar to one used to ask an angel, but the exact details are probably very different. Everything listed in a ritual is merely a suggestion, and the GM should alter, add, or remove whatever they like to suit their campaign.

Understanding the Examples

Each ritual is described in the following format.


The overall level of the ritual, which determines how many subtasks it has.


The preparation time (if any) and performance time.


Things other characters can do to participate and help.

Side Effects:

Negative consequences for failed rolls or GM intrusions.


Resources that can help success.


What kind of Pool points the ritual costs.

Other Assets:

Kinds of abilities that can help success.


Call upon a powerful supernatural entity such as a deity, archangel, demon lord, or ancient elemental to ask for a favor that the entity can and is likely to do (nothing it would ethically oppose). If the ritual is successful, the entity makes its attention known, such as by manifesting as a light, noise, or visible spirit. It may ask for more information, for a task or favor in return, or for a service to be named later. The entity is not compelled to do the favor; the ritual merely gains its attention and gives the characters the opportunity to speak their case.


The level of the entity


Four hours of preparation, one hour of performance


Chanting, lighting candles, holding gifts/reagents

Side Effects:

Curse, hallucination, prerequisite quest (a challenge or task the characters must perform before the entity will consider answering)


Scroll giving the history of and important details about the entity, offerings of gratitude or appeasement


Might or Intellect

Other Assets:

Knowledge or control of similar entities

Beseech only draws the entity’s attention; the various Conjure rituals bring the summoned entity bodily to the ritual space to talk in person.

Conjure the Dead

Summons the spirit of a dead person or creature (commonly called a “ghost”), which appears in the summoning circle prepared for the ritual. The spirit remains there for about a minute, during which time the summoners can interrogate them or persuade them to share information. The spirit usually wants something in return (such as messages conveyed to the living or unfulfilled tasks completed). If the characters don’t comply, they must magically threaten or compel the spirit to obey.


The level of the dead spirit


Three hours of preparation, one hour of performance


Chanting, holding hands in a circle, manipulating a spirit device

Side Effects:

Haunting, possession


Mementos of the spirit’s life, the spirit’s former physical remains, a person or creature to possess


Might or Intellect

Other Assets:

Knowledge or control of similar entities, religious or cultural connections, secret name of the spirit

A ghost remembers much of its life, including whether it knows, likes, or hates the people summoning it, and will act accordingly.

Conjure Demon

Summons a demon (an evil supernatural creature from another dimension, plane, or realm) to command or convince it to perform a task. The demon is primitive and bestial, not a creature of great wits and charm. The demon remains there for about a minute, during which time the summoners must bargain with or command it to perform a deed that takes no longer than an hour and requires it to travel no more than about 50 miles (80 km)—spying, murder, and destruction of property are common tasks. Usually the demon has to be threatened or magically coerced into obeying. If the summoners fail to get it to comply, it makes one attack against them and then returns to wherever it came from (and probably bears a grudge for the unwanted summoning).


The level of the demon


Three hours of preparation, one hour of performance


Bloodletting, chanting, lighting candles, holding gifts/reagents, tracing the summoning circle

Side Effects:

Aggression, bad smell, curse, equipment damage or theft, possession


Blood; meat; magical inks or paints for a summoning circle; contracts; a person to possess; objects representing anger, destruction, or hatred (according to the desired service)


Might or Intellect

Other Assets:

Knowledge or control of similar entities, secret name of the demon

Conjure Devil

Summons a devil (an evil supernatural creature from another dimension, plane, or realm) to command or convince it to perform a task. The devil remains there for about a minute, during which time the summoners must bargain with or command it to perform a deed that takes no longer than an hour and requires the devil to travel no more than about 50 miles (80 km)—spying, stealing, guarding, and murdering are common tasks. The devil usually wants something in return (even if just an agreement for a later favor); otherwise, the characters must threaten it or have some way to force it to obey. If the characters fail to strike a bargain, the devil returns to wherever it came from (and probably is annoyed at the interruption).


The level of the devil


Three hours of preparation, one hour of performance


Bloodletting, chanting, lighting candles, holding gifts/reagents, tracing the summoning circle

Side Effects:

Bad smell, curse, infernal mark, possession


Blood; magical inks or paints for a summoning circle; contracts; a person to possess; objects representing betrayal, deception, or greed (according to the desired service)


Might or Intellect

Other Assets:

Knowledge or control of similar entities, secret name of the devil

Conjure Elemental

Summons a primordial elemental spirit of air, earth, fire, or water, which appears in a physical form. The elemental remains for about a minute, during which time the characters must attempt to bribe, threaten, or bargain with it. An elemental is usually summoned to do something that takes no longer than an hour and requires it to travel no more than about 50 miles (80 km)—attack, guard, and scout are common tasks. The elemental typically wants something in return for its service, usually a gift or bribe appropriate to its nature—incense for air, gems for earth, oil for fire, salts for water, and so on. If the summoners can’t come to an agreement with the elemental, it might make one attack before it leaves.


The level of the elemental


Three hours of preparation, one hour of performance


Chanting, music, using ceremonial objects, holding gifts/reagents, tracing the summoning circle

Side Effects:

Damage, weakness toward one kind of attack


Gifts (black powder, gems, ice, incense, oil, salt, soil, water, wood), destroying opposing items or creatures


Might, Speed, or Intellect, depending on the kind of elemental

Other Assets:

Elemental power, knowledge or control of similar entities, nature magic, secret name of the elemental

Elementals are simple creatures whose interests and attentions are focused on themselves and their element. Flattery and playing up their strengths are the key to bargaining with them.


Wards a location against evil influences and unwanted magic for a year and a day. The ritual affects an area up to a very long distance across. Evil creatures and magical effects of less than the ritual’s level can’t enter the area or use abilities against it. If the PCs are warded out of the designated area, they must make an Intellect defense roll to enter it (and another each minute while within the area, or retreat) and all their actions inside or targeted within the area are hindered by two steps.


The level of the effects to protect against


One hour of preparation, two hours of performance


Drawing lines and symbols along the border, chanting, calling out local features (with candles, runestones, or other suitable markers)

Side Effects:

Lights, sounds, weak spots or “back doors” in the barrier


Silver dust, sacred oil, buried blessed gemstones



Other Assets:

Warding magic, religious knowledge

Enchant Weapon

Enchants a light, medium, or heavy weapon with magical power, granting an asset on attack rolls with the weapon for the next day.


3 or 4


Thirty minutes of preparation, one hour of performance


Side Effects:

Weapon attack hindered, higher GM intrusion rate


Rare oils, gem dust


Speed or Intellect

Other Assets:

Battle tactics, weapon crafting

In a high-magic campaign, a higher-level version of the Enchant Weapon ritual might grant a second asset on attack rolls, grant extra damage, affect multiple weapons at once, or all of the above.


Imprisons a creature in a vessel (usually a valuable box, clay pot, or other closeable container, but it might be a gem, the heart of a tree, or another atypical object) for as long as the vessel remains closed and undamaged. The ritual forces the creature into the vessel, either in a spiritual form or by shrinking it to a size that will fit within the vessel.


The level of the creature


Sixteen hours of preparation, one hour of performance


Chanting, carrying or protecting the vessel

Side Effects:

Bystander imprisoned with the target, containment has a flaw, target lashes out


Vessel, symbolic bindings (chains, ropes, shackles, and so on), anathema objects



Other Assets:

Control magic, grappling, imprisoning magic, wards


Drives out unwanted spirits (ghosts, demons, or something else) from an area up to a long distance across. Once cast out, the spirits cannot return for a year and a day (although most of them decide to move on long before that time comes). Completing the ritual doesn’t prevent other spirits from entering or inhabiting the area, but it is likely that they can sense that an exorcism happened there, and most choose to avoid such an area so they don’t suffer the same fate. The ritual can also be used to cast out spirits from a possessed creature, preventing those spirits from returning for a year and a day. As with using the ritual to cleanse a location, this doesn’t prevent other spirits from afflicting the creature, but later spirits can sense the recent exorcism and prefer to avoid that creature.


The level of the most powerful hostile presence to be exorcised


Two hours of preparation, two hours of performance


Chanting, positive emotions, presenting holy objects, restraining afflicted individuals, tracing the area with incense

Side Effects:

Lights, sounds, hideous physical transformations, injuries, telekinesis


Bindings, candles, holy water, religious icons and books, scapegoats



Other Assets:

Warding magic, religious knowledge

Using an exorcism ritual on an area is mainly for getting rid of spirits afflicting the area in ways other than possessing a creature—throwing objects, causing nightmares, making noises, and so on.

Flesh For Knowledge

Sacrifices some of the ritualist’s flesh, inflicting Might and Speed damage equal to the level of the ritual and permanently reducing the character’s Pools by 4 points (the character can divide this loss between Might and Speed as they see fit). The character experiences painful hallucinations that give them insight and understanding. They immediately learn one type or focus ability available to them (any ability they could learn by spending 4 XP as an advancement).


Twice the tier of the ability the character wishes to learn


One hour of preparation, one hour of performance


Chanting, restraining the subject of the ritual

Side Effects:

Lasting damage, permanent damage, scarring


Silver knife, silver vessel


See above

Other Assets:

Pain tolerance, surgery

Instead of permanently reducing a character’s Pools by 4 points, the GM could allow other permanent penalties such as reducing an Edge stat by 1 (to a minimum of 0), gaining an inability in a useful skill, or permanently reducing all points gained through recovery rolls by 2.


Rids a creature of an ongoing affliction, such as a disease or poison, or any unwanted magical effect, such as a curse or charm spell. In some versions of this ritual, whatever is ailing the creature gets forced into a nearby specified creature or object, which is then discarded or safely destroyed.


The level of the affliction or effect to remove


One hour of preparation, two hours of performance


Applying reagents, chanting

Side Effects:

Affliction or effect spreads to another creature, target moves a step down the damage track


Anointing oils, healing herbs, objects repellent to the source of the affliction, magical paint for writing on the target, scapegoat, silver dust



Other Assets:

Healing magic, resistance to the target’s affliction


Restores a dead being to life. The creature is restored to full health and is ready to act as soon as the ritual is completed. Depending on how they died and the nature of death in the setting, the creature may or may not remember anything that happened after they died.


The level of the deceased (at least tier 6 if a PC)


Five hours of preparation, two hours of performance


Applying reagents, chanting, prayers, shielding the corpse from hostile entities

Side Effects:

Creature moves a step down the damage track, enmity of a death god, lasting damage, scarring, sympathetic damage


Deceased’s corpse, healing ointment, items of emotional significance (such as devotion, hope, or regret), items of importance to the deceased, parchment extolling the deceased’s history and deeds, soul-sympathetic items


Might or Intellect

Other Assets:

Close relationship with the deceased (such as a connection or family relation), healing magic, necromancy, spirit knowledge, secret name of the deceased

A lesser version of the Resurrection ritual might bring the creature back to life, but only to the debilitated or impaired state on the damage track instead of hale, requiring further rest or healing.

Sacrificial Rite

A creature is ritually killed and its soul is placed in an object. The soul object might be a temporary destination so the soul can be transported and used elsewhere (such as an offering to a demon or as part of a spell), or it might be the final destination for the soul (such as placing it in a sword to create a magic item).


The level of the creature (at least tier 6 if a PC)


One hour of preparation, one hour of performance Roles: Chanting, playing instruments, bearing the soul object, restraining the creature, slaying the creature

Side Effects:

Creature rages or escapes, damage, dying curse, haunting


Bindings, creature to be sacrificed, drum, flute, silver knife, soul object (its level must be at least as high as the creature’s level)


Might or Intellect

Other Assets:

Death spells, instant-kill abilities, soul manipulation

Magical Technology

To craft items of magical technology in a setting where they are commonplace, use the standard rules for crafting regular (nonmagical) items.

Magic Plus Technology

Whatever technology exists in the setting could be magically enhanced if magic is also present. Such items would almost certainly be manifest cyphers or artifacts. Here’s an example cypher:

Frozen Timepiece

1d6 + 2


Creates or transforms into a pocket watch that seems to be made of ice. Upon activation of the cypher, the user can take normal actions, but everything and everyone around them is frozen in time. The user cannot affect anything else, but they can move through the world and take actions that affect themselves or their own belongings (bandage a wound, repair a broken item, and so on). The effect lasts for one round per cypher level.

And here’s an example artifact:

Truth Binoculars

1d6 + 2


Pair of binoculars with a large runic symbol on them


Not only do these make it easy to see things far away, but looking through them also allows the viewer to see through illusions and see things that are normally invisible, assuming the effect has a level lower than that of the binoculars.


1–2 in 1d100 (check each use)

To craft items that are both technological and magical, either you need to make the device first and then enchant it, or you need to enchant it as it is made. Either way, the skills for making the device and for making it magical are likely very different.

Technology that Interacts with Magic

In a world with scientists and engineers faced with the presence of real magic, some of them would develop ways to interact and cope with it. Technological devices that are not magical but deal with magic could include:

Magic detector (expensive):

This simple white badge glows purple in the presence of magic. Once it detects something magical, it does not function again.

Mystical hazard suit (very expensive):

This full-body protective suit is cumbersome and clumsy, not unlike a hazmat suit. However, all of the wearer’s tasks to resist magical effects are eased. If the wearer takes even 1 point of physical damage, the suit rips and no longer functions until it is repaired and resealed.

Spellscrambler (very expensive):

Essentially a sonic grenade, this device produces a variety of strange electromagnetic signals—some audible and very loud, some not—on a number of frequencies. The mental processes needed to cast a spell are impossible to achieve for one round within a short distance of the device. Like any grenade, it can be used only once.

Magic That Interacts With Technology

In a world where magic and technology coexist, wizards will have spells and effects that protect them from shotgun blasts as well as sword blades, and radiation as well as fire or frost. Consider, for example, these effects as cyphers:

Finding Prying Eyes

1d6 + 3


Magically discovers if anything is watching or listening to the user right at that moment, and reveals the source. Electronic surveillance devices, long-range scopes, hidden cameras, and magical scrying attempts all trigger this effect. In all these cases, the “source” is the nearest representation. So a hidden microphone is revealed, but not the location of the listener.

Power Device

1d6 + 2


Magically powers one device that can fit within an area a short distance across. The device is now fully powered, charged, or fueled. If the cypher is used on an automobile, for example, the gas tank is full. If used on a flashlight, the battery is fully charged.

Screen Control

1d6 + 2


A Technological Screen (A Television, Computer Monitor, smartphone, or the like) within short range shows whatever the user wishes for up to one minute per cypher level. The display can be pictures, text, or meaningless shapes and colors.

Because magic works on intuitive rather than scientific levels, mages could have spells that disrupt technology, even though the technology involved might not have any common principles

Mind Control

From a rules perspective, mind control is fairly straightforward: one creature decides what actions another creature takes (perhaps limited in that the controlled creature won’t take actions that harm them or go against their nature, such as attacking friends). But what’s happening inside the controlled creature’s head—whether during the effect or afterward—often isn’t specified. There are several options for the GM to consider, either for all kinds of mind-control magic or on a case-by-case basis.

  • Confusion: The controlled creature doesn’t understand why they’re doing things they normally wouldn’t do, but they aren’t aware of any outside influence on their thoughts and actions. Once the control is over, the creature may admit that they don’t know why they did those things, or come up with an explanation justifying (to themselves and others) their reasons for those actions.
  • Dream: The controlled creature is aware of what’s going on but perceives it in a dreamlike state. They may believe that they’re in control of themselves the entire time, or somewhat aware that they’re not fully in control (similar to being intoxicated by drugs or alcohol or disoriented by an illness). Afterward, the creature might feel strange about the events but may not realize that someone else was controlling them.
  • Trapped: The active thoughts in the controlled creature’s head come from the controller, but the creature still has a small voice or awareness in the background, like they’re a prisoner in their own mind. This horrible situation usually means the controlled creature reverts to normal once the control is gone, and is probably very upset that their mind and body autonomy were violated.

One way to present mind control more safely is to disallow certain actions but otherwise leave the character in control. For example, being charmed by a vampire might mean the PC can’t attack the vampire (or its allies) or run away, but is still able to call for help, heal themselves, leave at a normal pace, and take other actions. Alternatively, the character can be given a specific command, and until they comply with that command their other actions are hindered by one or more steps. If the player is willing to engage with the parameters of the mind control, the GM may award them an additional 1 XP (or, to approach it from the opposite direction, the GM can offer them a GM intrusion that the mind control is happening, and allow the player to spend 1 XP to refuse it, or go into XP debt if they want to refuse it but have no XP to spend).

A rule for any game: don’t use mind control (or anything) to make a character have sex without the player’s permission. For more information and guidelines about consent in RPGs, read the free Consent in Gaming PDF at https://myMCG.info/consent

Mystical Martial Arts

If the setting calls for wuxia-style fantasy martial arts or similar types of action, you can make a few rule changes to portray the kinds of things characters in such stories can accomplish.

  • Running and climbing speeds and jumping distances are doubled. For those trained in running, climbing, or jumping, the speeds and distances are tripled instead of doubled. For those specialized, they are quintupled. For all intents and purposes, this means that everyone can run up a wall or jump very high in the air, and masters can practically fly or run across water.
  • Everyone knows kung fu. Unless a person is a simple farmer, herder, or merchant, they know how to fight with elaborate and powerful martial arts styles. This doesn’t change anything in the game mechanically—no one gets the ability to use weapons that they wouldn’t normally have under the rules. But it does change the flavor, suggesting that no PC is entirely ignorant of weapons or close combat.
  • Players are encouraged to come up with interesting names for their martial arts abilities. Instead of using a Bash attack, perhaps it is “The Three-Flower Fist,” and instead of Fury, a character uses “The Rage of the Sevenfold.” It is reasonable for high-tier martial abilities such as Amazing Effort, Jump Attack, or Finishing Blow to be described with a magical flare—blazing auras of fire, brilliant cascades of light, ethereal figures overlaying the character, and so on.
  • Materials and objects are easier to destroy. For the purpose of attacking objects, subtract 2 from the level of any material (minimum of 0). It should be relatively simple for any character to smash through a plain wooden door with little effort, and true warriors can shatter stones with their blows.
  • Wounds heal faster. Everyone gains +1 to all recovery rolls.
  • Superhuman abilities exist. Consider adopting some of the rules for the superhero genre, in particular the power shift optional rules. These may derive from almost supernatural levels of training in various techniques (such as dianxue) but probably mostly from neili.

    The touch of death—killing by using precise nonlethal force on key points of the body.


    Internal force—building up and cultivating the energy known as qi and using it for supernatural effects.


Some creatures (demons, ghosts, entities of living mental energy, and so on) have the ability to possess a living person, taking over a character’s body as if it were the creature’s own. The creature must touch the character to attempt possession (even if the creature’s touch normally inflicts damage, the possession attempt doesn’t inflict damage). The character must make an Intellect defense roll or become possessed, whereupon the creature’s immaterial form disappears into the character.

The first round in which a character is possessed, they can act normally. In the second and all subsequent rounds, the possessing creature can try to control the actions of the host, but the character can attempt an Intellect defense roll to resist each suggested action. Successful resistance means that the character does nothing for one round. When the creature isn’t trying to control the host, the character can act as they choose. Usually, a possessing creature’s actions are limited to controlling its host and leaving the host (the creature’s own abilities are unavailable to it while in someone else’s body).

While it possesses a character, the creature is immune to most direct attacks (though not so the host; killing the host will eject the creature). For example, hitting a demon-possessed human with a sword hurts only the human, not the demon controlling them. Mental attacks and special abilities that only affect possession or the type of possessing creature usually work normally

A possessed character is allowed an Intellect defense roll to eject the creature once per day. The defense roll is hindered by one additional step each day of possession after the first seven days. An ejected, cast-out, or exorcised demon is powerless for one or more days. One way to exorcise a demon is to command it out in the name of an entity that has power over the demon. This can be attempted once per day and grants the possessed character an additional Intellect defense roll to eject the demon.

Possession is like mind control in that it takes away a player’s ability to control their character, and that can make some players very uncomfortable. See the section on mind control and consent for more information.

Secret and True Names

Learning a creature’s true name comes with a subtle and instinctive awareness and understanding of that creature, including its strengths and weaknesses. In general, this eases all tasks related to that creature (including attacks, defenses, and interactions) by two steps. In some cases, confronting a creature with knowledge of its true name might be enough to convince it to perform a service without compensation. A creature doesn’t automatically know if someone has learned its true name (although there is magic that can reveal this knowledge), but they can usually figure out that an informed opponent has some kind of advantage against them and deduce that their secret name is involved.

Learning a true name is difficult and takes time. A character wanting to discover a creature’s true name might choose the Uncover a Secret character arc to do so.


Unless the GM’s intention is to make the players regret that their characters were offered a wish, it’s best to give them what they ask for, as much as it is within the power of the creature to do so. If the GM wants to twist the wish, do so as a GM intrusion—that way, the character still gets a reward, and they can either accept the twisted wish (which isn’t as good as they had hoped) or pay 1 XP to reject the intrusion (which represents them coming up with airtight wording that can’t be twisted).

Second, consider the level of the creature granting the wish—that’s basically the level of the wish, as the creature shouldn’t be able to grant a boon more powerful than itself. Therefore, it’s reasonable that a level 6 creature could create a level 6 effect. The GM could look at the creature’s other abilities (or abilities of other creatures of its level), decide if what the PC is asking for is within its power, and either grant the requested wish or adjust the result downward until it’s appropriate for the creature’s power.

Wishing for more wishes doesn’t work because a creature shouldn’t be able to create something more powerful than itself—at least not without some investment of time and other resources, like a character using XP to acquire an artifact.

Fantasy Rules Modules

Awarding Treasure

It’s best to think of gold and magic as two different kinds of currencies that characters have access to.


The Cypher System abstracts item costs into general categories— inexpensive, moderate, expensive, and so on. Starting characters generally have access to only a few inexpensive and moderate items and perhaps one or two expensive items. In a typical fantasy campaign, the characters should become wealthier as they advance.

Manifest Cyphers

The expectation is that PCs will use cyphers often because they’ll have many opportunities to get more; if the players can exploit this mechanic by selling off most of their cyphers in town, they’re abusing the rules to make gold. The GM might be tempted to discourage this behavior by reducing how often the PCs gain new cyphers, but that goes against the premise of cyphers in the game: they should be common enough that the PCs use them freely instead of hoarding them. The key to addressing this selling-cyphers wealth problem is to make it harder to sell or trade cyphers for gold.

The PCs can have opportunities to trade their cyphers with NPCs in town, whether that’s at a magic item shop, the tower of a mentor wizard, a thieves’ guild, a temple, other adventurers, or the local government. The kinds of cyphers these NPCs can offer may be limited in theme (such as a benevolent church that makes healing potions and trades them for other useful cyphers) or quantity (such as having only one or two cyphers available each month). Two cyphers of the same level are generally considered to be about the same value, although local biases and NPC interests may affect their willingness to trade certain items despite or because of a level disparity


Artifacts are the high end of magical currency, and in terms of buying and selling them, they’re like manifest cyphers: not something a typical NPC can use, and beyond what a typical NPC can afford, but they could be traded for a different artifact of about the same level. Unlike cyphers, the game doesn’t assume that PCs have frequent opportunities to gain new artifacts or replace the ones that deplete.

In a pinch, an artifact is worth the equivalent of one or two very expensive items or one exorbitant item, depending on what the artifact can do. An artifact that grants an asset to one kind of roll is probably worth about as much as a very expensive item, one that adds +1 Armor might be worth two expensive items, and a strong defensive or offensive artifact could be worth about the same as an exorbitant item.

Dungeons, Castles, and Keeps

This section describes several kinds of common physical features and their game stats. Any of these levels can be adjusted up or down by the GM—a wall made from soft wood can have a lower level than a typical wall, stone can be reinforced by magic so its level is higher, and so on.


Walls are generally either constructed (intentionally built by a creature) or natural (already existing without any work by a creature). Anything describing walls in this section also applies to ceilings and floors.

  • Paper wall (level 1): This thin wall only blocks sight. Creatures can attack through a paper wall as if attacking blindly (hindered by four steps), but it’s usually easier to break a hole in the wall and attack through the hole. Paper walls are vulnerable to piercing and slashing weapons (attacks are eased). A gauzy curtain is equivalent to a paper wall, and a cloth wall is probably level 2.
  • Wooden wall (level 4): This is a typical wall for an average wooden house. The walls of a decrepit shack or a partition within a dungeon might be only level 2 or 3, but the exterior palisade wall of a fort or a log cabin might be level 5. Wooden walls are vulnerable to fire (attacks with fire are eased) but resistant to bashing and piercing weapons (attacks are hindered).
  • Stone wall (level 6): Constructed stone walls are bricks or masonry (fitted stones), with or without mortar to hold them in place, or hewn stone (dug into existing natural rock). Natural stone walls are usually unworked stone (like a cave wall or cliff face, which tend to be uneven) but might have areas where creatures smoothed or modified them to suit their needs for a living space. Some constructed stone walls are reinforced with metal bars on the surface or built inside, increasing its level to 7. Stone walls are vulnerable to piercing weapons (attacks are eased) but resistant to bashing and slashing weapons (attacks are hindered).
  • Iron wall (level 7): These expensive walls are usually reserved for protecting something important, like a vault.


Doors are access points for encounters and (if trapped or infested with dangerous creatures) can be encounters all on their own. In most cases, trying to break through a door involves damaging its latch or hinges rather than destroying the main portion of the door (trying to destroy the door instead of the latch and hinges is a hindered task).

  • Simple wooden door (level 2): This is a fragile door meant to close off an interior space for privacy rather than to keep out a determined intruder. Instead of a single piece of wood, a simple wooden door is usually made of multiple planks nailed together on a frame or with support struts. Wooden doors of all strengths are vulnerable to fire (attacks with fire are eased) but resistant to bashing and piercing weapons (attacks are hindered).
  • Good wooden door (level 3): This is a stronger door meant to provide some security, such as for a typical house or shop.
  • Strong wooden door (level 4): This is a heavy door reinforced with wood or metal to make it difficult to break. An especially strong wooden door, such as the main entrance to a fort or castle, is probably level 5.
  • Stone door (level 5): These heavy doors are usually carved from a solid block of stone and designed to pivot on a center point. They are common in places like dungeons where wood and metal are scarce. Stone doors are vulnerable to piercing weapons (attacks are eased) but resistant to bashing and slashing weapons (attacks are hindered).
  • Iron door (level 6): A solid iron door is meant to protect something very valuable or vulnerable, such as a vault or a king’s tomb. In a damp environment like a dungeon, they tend to rust and stick in place.
  • Wooden portcullis (level 3): The gaps in a portcullis present more defense opportunities than a door, such as allowing archers to fire at the creatures trapped by it. They’re also useful in closing access to a waterway without impacting its flow. A wooden portcullis is relatively fragile and usually isn’t meant to keep anyone out for long.
  • Iron portcullis (level 6): Much sturdier than wood, an iron portcullis is meant to keep creatures in place as long as necessary. Often the best way to get past a portcullis is to lift it instead of breaking it, but some are designed to lock in place to prevent this. A door to a prison cell is essentially a type of iron portcullis.


One common element of fantasy exploration—particularly for castles and dungeons—is the danger of traps.

Triggering Traps

Mechanical traps have a triggering mechanism—something set up to react when an unauthorized creature is in the area. Magical traps have triggers that are usually based on proximity—if a creature enters the area the trap is “watching,” it activates.

Finding Traps

Most characters won’t notice traps unless actively looking for them; they don’t know a trap is in the area until their presence, movement, or action triggers it. Characters can passively or actively search for traps if they suspect such dangers are present.

Passive searching for traps means one character (usually in the front of the group) is carefully checking the area before moving forward. This means the group moves at about half normal speed, but they get to make a search roll for any traps the GM has in their path. Allowing characters to passively search in this way means the players don’t have to keep stating over and over that they’re looking for traps. The drawback for them is that it takes them more time to get anywhere (which means time-based special abilities and cyphers will run out sooner).

Active searching is used when the characters worry or suspect that there is a trap in the area and want to find it. Active searching takes about one round for each immediate area searched. Rather than having the players make separate rolls for each immediate area, the GM should have them make one roll for the entire room; if successful, they find the trap, and if they fail, they don’t find it. If there is a second trap, the GM can have them make another roll after they’ve resolved the first trap.

Disabling, Damaging, And Bypassing Traps

A character can attempt to disable a trap so it’s no longer able to activate or harm anyone. Normally this task has the same difficulty as the trap’s level, but some traps are rickety and easy to disable, while others are carefully crafted and much harder to disable. Traps are objects and use the object damage track. Characters can attack a trap with weapons or special abilities to damage or destroy it. Some traps may be vulnerable to certain attacks or unusual means of sabotage (such as hammering a piton into a groove where a blade springs out). Magical traps can be damaged or disabled with special abilities.

Instead of disabling a trap, a character can try to bypass it so they and their allies can get past it without triggering it but still leave it as a danger to anyone else who passes through the area. The task to bypass a trap is hindered by two steps

Failing an attempt to disable, bypass, or sabotage a trap means it activates. usually the trap’s target is the acting character, and the trap’s attack is eased because the character placed themselves in harm’s way

Unless a character has the ability to manipulate magic, it’s very difficult to bypass a magical trap (the attempt is hindered by two additional steps).

Understanding the Listings

The rest of the chapter presents a large number of traps with game stats. Every trap is presented by name, followed by a standard template that includes the following categories. If an entry doesn’t apply to a particular trap, it is omitted from the listing.


Like the difficulty of a task, each trap has a level. You use the level to determine the target number a PC must reach to find, evade, or disable the trap. In each entry, the difficulty number for the trap is listed after its level (always three times the trap’s level).


This general description explains what the trap does, how it operates, whether it resets automatically, if it has a limited number of uses, and so on.

Damage Inflicted:

Generally, when a trap hits a creature, it inflicts its level in damage regardless of the form of attack (arrow, poison, collapsing ceiling, and so on). The entries always specify the amount of damage inflicted, even if it’s the normal amount for a trap of its level.


Use these numbers when a trap’s information says to use a different target number. For example, a level 4 trap might say “defends as level 5,” which means PCs attacking it or trying to disable it must roll a target number of 15 (for difficulty 5) instead of 12 (for difficulty 4). Typical modifiers are to the trap’s attacks, defenses, and stealth (how hard or easy it is to notice the trap).

GM Intrusion:

This entry suggests one or more ways to use GM intrusions in an encounter with the trap. It’s just one possible idea of many, and the GM is encouraged to come up with their own uses of the game mechanic.

Common Trap Poisons

  • Blindness: The poison blinds the creature if they fail a defense roll. Typical durations are one minute, ten minutes, and one hour.
  • Choking: The poison makes the creature choke and cough if they fail a defense roll. Typical durations are one minute, ten minutes, and one hour. Severe versions of choking poison might make a creature start to suffocate.
  • Damage Track: The poison moves the creature down one step on the damage track if they fail a defense roll.
  • Debilitating: The poison hinders all of the creature’s actions by one or two steps if they fail a defense roll. (Some poisons may affect only certain kinds of actions, such as Speed defense rolls or Might-based tasks.) Typical durations are ten minutes, one hour, and ten hours.
  • Instant Damage: The poison inflicts damage (Might, Speed, or Intellect) one time if the creature fails a defense roll.
  • Ongoing Damage: The poison inflicts damage (Might, Speed, or Intellect) immediately. When a certain amount of time has passed (such as every round or every minute), it inflicts damage again if the creature fails its defense roll. The ongoing damage usually ends on its own (such as after five additional rounds of damage) or after the creature makes a defense roll against it. Usually the ongoing damage is a much smaller amount than the initial damage, such as 1 point every round.
  • Paralysis: The poison prevents the creature from taking any physical actions if they fail a defense roll (this might leave them standing in place like a statue, or make them go limp and collapse to the floor). Typical durations are ten minutes, one hour, and ten hours.
  • Sleep: The poison knocks the creature unconscious if they fail a defense roll. Typical durations are ten minutes, one hour, and ten hours. The poison might also make the creature groggy, hindering all actions for an additional amount of time equal to how long the unconsciousness would have lasted (for example, knocking out a creature for an hour and then making them groggy for an hour, even if they’re awakened early).

Arrow 4 (12)

Fires an arrow or crossbow bolt. The simplest one-use trap of this kind is an actual crossbow (perhaps hidden behind a hole in a wall or door) rigged with a tripwire to pull the trigger; a creature would need to manually reset this trap for it to be a danger again. More complex traps might automatically reload from a supply of bolts so the trap can be triggered multiple times, or fire automatically once triggered until the ammunition is expended. A variant of this trap releases a volley of arrows into the targeted area, affecting multiple creatures or the same creature more than once.

Damage Inflicted:

4 points


Defense and stealth as level 6 (if hidden behind a hole in the wall)

GM Intrusion:

The arrow is barbed, and removing it inflicts 3 points of damage. The arrow is attached to a string, cord, or wire, with the other end tied to something dangerous like a falling block or an electrical shock.

Crushing Wall 6 (18)

A section of a wall falls over onto the targeted character. This is usually a one-use trap (although a similar trap could be built in its place).

A variant of this trap is a deadfall, where something heavy (such as a log, huge stone block, or cart full of rocks) falls from a higher position onto the character. Sometimes the falling block is made to exactly fit a trapped corridor so that triggering the trap makes the area impassible.

A less lethal variant drops a large amount of sand or dirt, inflicting 3 points of ambient damage (ignores Armor). Another variant releases oil (perhaps burning) or marbles, inflicting 3 points of ambient damage and making the area difficult terrain.

Damage Inflicted:

6 points (ignores Armor)

GM Intrusion:

The fallen wall blocks access to an exit. The wall debris buries the character, who is trapped until they can dig free. Another trap, hazard, or threat is behind the fallen wall (such as arrow traps or a room full of zombies) and can now reach the characters.

Disintegration 7 (21)

A magical ray of eerie energy blasts the character, disrupting their physical matter. Any creature killed by the ray (or any object destroyed by it) turns to dust.

Damage Inflicted:

15 points

GM Intrusion:

In addition to inflicting damage, the ray moves the character one step down the damage track. Part of the ray splits or ricochets off the character and strikes a second creature, inflicting 10 points of damage.

Explosive Glyph 4 (12)

A magical rune activates when touched or passed over, exploding in an immediate or short area. Typical glyphs inflict acid, cold, electricity, or fire damage, but more unusual versions include ones that inflict holy, shadow, thorn, unholy, or stranger types of magical energy damage. A nonmagical variant of this trap sprays a mist of acid, a jet of electrified salt water, or a gout of burning oil.

Damage Inflicted:

4 points of energy damage (ignores Armor); all creatures in the area take 1 point of damage even if they make their defense roll.


Stealth as level 5

GM Intrusion:

The glyph marks the character’s face with a symbol indicating they are a thief. The glyph makes the character run away in fear for one minute. The character is cursed, and all of their actions are hindered until the curse is removed.

Flooding Room 4 (12)

Exits to the room close off and the area starts to fill with water. Within a few minutes, the entire room is flooded and creatures in it begin to drown.

A variant of this room reduces the air pressure (either by pumping it out through tiny holes or by retracting the floor or ceiling). As the air gets thinner, characters are hindered by one, two, or three steps before falling unconscious and starting to suffocate. (Restoring the air allows the characters to awaken, but doesn’t move them back up the damage track.)

Damage Inflicted:

None until drowning starts


Defends as level 7

GM Intrusion:

Hostile creatures such as piranhas or electric eels are in the water and attack all creatures. The room fills with water faster than expected because the floor and/or ceiling are also moving toward each other.

Mangler 3 (9)

A small hole in the wall extends sharp blades or weights when a creature reaches into it, mangling their hand and hindering all actions requiring that hand by one or two steps.

A floor variant is a small trapdoor over a closed compartment, which mangles the character’s foot when they step on the trapdoor, reducing their movement speed by half.

Another variant is a needle trap attached to a small peephole or spyhole in a door or wall. The trap springs when the character touches the area around the hole (even a slight touch with their face as they look is sufficient), inflicting lasting damage to the character’s eye and partially blinding them. A gentler variant traps the character’s limb in glue instead of inflicting damage. The character’s extremity might be glued to the hole, or they may be able to pull free but have a glue pot stuck on their hand or foot.

Damage Inflicted:

3 points, plus lasting damage


Stealth as level 4

GM Intrusion:

The trap has hooks, holding the character in place and inflicting damage when they try to escape if they fail a Speed defense roll. The glue attracts a swarm of fire ants or wasps. The glue is also a slow-acting acid or poison.

Net 3 (9)

A net suspended above the character drops and constricts (and perhaps lifts the character off the ground). Large net traps can affect multiple creatures at once. This kind of trap usually requires a creature to manually reset it.

A variant of this trap is a snare made of sturdy cord or wire.

Damage Inflicted:

Entanglement (trapped character cannot move until they use an action to make a Might or Speed defense roll to break or escape the net)


Attacks as level 5, defends as level 2

GM Intrusion:

The net is barbed, inflicting 1 point of damage each round that the trapped character tries to move. The net is the nesting place for biting insects, which swarm and attack the trapped character and all nearby creatures each round.

Pit 4 (12)

A trapdoor in the floor opens, dropping the triggering character into a pit. Larger versions of this trap can catch multiple characters at once. The trap can be reset by moving the trapdoor back into its closed position. In outdoor areas, this trap is more likely to be a pit covered in leafy branches (or a tarp) and camouflaged by soil and other debris.

A variant of this trap is a bridge over a chasm, river, or other dangerous location that is rigged to collapse when enough weight reaches the middle section.

Damage Inflicted:

1 point of ambient damage per 10 feet fallen (ignores Armor)

GM Intrusion:

The trapdoor is slippery with oil, hindering attempts to catch the edge and avoid falling. The trapdoor closes after the character falls through, trapping them inside in the darkness. The walls of the pit are greased, hindering attempts to climb out by two steps. A dangerous creature is at the bottom of the pit (or in a room adjacent to it). The pit is filled with poison gas. The trapdoor detaches and falls into the pit, inflicting 1 point of ambient damage per 10 feet it falls. The pit has spikes at the bottom, inflicting an additional 4 points of damage to anyone who falls in.

Poison Gas 3 (9)

The area slowly fills with poison gas. Because it takes a minute or more for the poison to become thick enough to cause harm, it is likely that the character won’t realize at first that they’ve sprung a trap.

A variant of this trap fills the room with flammable gas, which explodes if there is an open flame (such as from a torch) or a spark (such as a metal weapon against metal armor), inflicting fire damage equal to the trap’s level.

A further variant fills the room with dead air (containing no oxygen), which slowly extinguishes flames and suffocates creatures.

Damage Inflicted:

As poison


Stealth as level 5

GM Intrusion:

The character has an allergic reaction to the gas, which hinders all their actions for an hour after exposure because of sneezing, watery eyes, or itchy skin. The gas makes the character hallucinate, mistaking their companions for enemies, until they make an Intellect defense roll. The gas is flammable.

Poison Needle 5 (15)

A poisoned needle jabs at a character touching the trapped object (usually a lock or treasure chest) or is fired from a mechanism similar to an arrow trap. It may have a reservoir of poison that allows it to attack several times.

Damage Inflicted:

1 point (plus poison)


Stealth as level 6

GM Intrusion:

The trap releases acid into the lock mechanism, making the trapped object impossible to unlock. The trap releases acid into the container, destroying some of the valuables inside. The trap releases a puff of poison gas instead of a poisoned needle, affecting all nearby characters.

Portcullis 5 (15)

An iron portcullis drops from the ceiling to block access to an area or separate a character from others nearby. If the creature dodging the falling portcullis wants to choose which side of the trap they end up on, the Speed defense roll is hindered. Otherwise, it is even chances what side they end up on.

A variant of this trap is a solid wall. A magical variant is a force field.

Damage Inflicted:

5 points

GM Intrusion:

The portcullis impales the character, trapping them beneath it until it is lifted or destroyed. The portcullis is electrified, inflicting 1 point of damage each time it is touched or attacked with flesh or a metal object. A second portcullis drops nearby, trapping a character in a small area. Murder-holes in the ceiling allow enemies to make ranged attacks on the trapped character.

Rolling Boulder 6 (12)

A large boulder, wheel, or barrel rolls into the area, crushing anything in its path. Depending on the configuration of the area, the boulder might follow a specific path, ricochet erratically, break open pit traps, or get stuck somewhere.

A variant is a large iron weight on a chain that swings from the ceiling. The weight swings back and forth several times, giving it multiple chances to hit the characters, but decreasing its damage with each swing until it stops and becomes an obstacle.

Damage Inflicted:

6 points


Defends as level 7

GM Intrusion:

The boulder crashes through a door or wall, giving other dangerous creatures access to the character’s location. The boulder blocks the way out. The boulder carries a character along with it for some distance. The boulder is hollow and full of burning oil, leaving a fiery trail behind it. The boulder is hollow and contains undead skeletons, which jump out as it moves and attack nearby creatures.

Slicing Blade 5 (15)

A thin blade slices out from a gap in the wall, floor, or ceiling. The trap might be designed to sweep the entire area (such as the width of a corridor) or leave a tiny safe space just beyond the blade’s reach so a creature who knows of the trap can get past it. This kind of trap is usually designed to reset automatically after a minute or has a lever nearby that allows a creature to reset it manually.

Damage Inflicted:

5 points


Attacks as level 6

GM Intrusion:

The blade is a magical weapon with an additional effect, such as inflicting 3 points of fire damage. The blade is rusted and breaks off when it hits the character, inflicting 1 point of damage (ignores Armor) each round after the initial attack until it is healed.

Sliding Stair 4 (12)

A stairway or section of stairs unexpectedly turns into a ramp. Anyone who makes a Speed defense roll can catch hold near where they were standing; otherwise, they slide or tumble to the bottom and take damage. This kind of trap usually resets after a minute or has a manual reset lever at the top or bottom of the stairs.

Damage Inflicted:

1 point of ambient damage per 20 feet slid (ignores Armor)

GM Intrusion:

The trap releases oil, hindering attempts to climb the ramp or stairs by two steps. Tiny blades stick out between the sections of the ramp, inflicting an additional 3 points of damage. The trap releases a boulder to roll down the stairs after the sliding character, inflicting an additional 3 points of damage.

Snake Pit 4 (12)

The trap drops the character into a pit full of snakes or drops a large number of snakes on the character. The snakes immediately attack the character and perhaps others in the area.

Damage Inflicted:

As per the swarm of snakes

GM Intrusion:

The snake poison is especially potent, moving the character one step down the damage track if they fail a Might defense roll. The snakes constrict the character, hindering their actions until the snakes are defeated.

Spear 4 (12)

The trap fires a spear, javelin, or other large projectile. (In many ways, this is a scaled-up and more dangerous version of an arrow trap, and the same suggestions for that trap apply to this one.)

Damage Inflicted:

6 points


Defense and stealth as level 5 (if hidden behind a hole in a wall)

GM Intrusion:

The impact of the spear knocks the character prone. The spear is barbed, and removing it inflicts 3 points of damage. The spear is attached to a string, cord, or wire, with the other end tied to something dangerous like a falling block or an electrical shock

Teleporter 6 (18)

The trap magically moves the character to another location within about 1,000 feet (300 m), typically a prison cell, an oubliette, or a very deep pit. It’s more efficient to kill an intruder than to teleport them, so teleportation is usually reserved for trapping creatures for interrogation.

Damage Inflicted:


GM Intrusion:

The teleport destination is above the ground, causing the character to fall some distance and take damage (1 point of ambient damage per 10 feet fallen). The destination is dangerous, such as a tiny room lined with spikes, a shark tank, or a boulder in a lava lake.


Player characters have the option to gain followers as they advance in tier, as provided by type or focus special abilities. Followers do not need to be paid, fed, or housed, though a character who gains followers can certainly make such arrangements if they wish. A follower is someone whom a character has inspired (or asked) to come work with the character for a time, aiding them in a variety of endeavors. A follower puts the PC’s interests ahead of, or at least on par with, their own.

The PC generally makes rolls for their follower when the follower takes actions, though usually a follower’s modifications provide an asset to a specific action taken by the PC they follow.

(If a follower dies, the character gains a new one after at least two weeks and proper recruitment.)


A follower can help a PC in one or more tasks, granting the PC an asset to that task. The level of the follower indicates the number of different tasks they can help with. The tasks that the follower is able to help with are predetermined, usually chosen by the PC when they gain the follower. A level 2 follower who the player determines is a spy could grant a PC an asset on two different tasks, such as stealth and deception. Followers cannot help with tasks that they don’t have modifications for; for the purpose of helping, treat the follower as if they had inabilities in all nonmodified tasks.

When the follower acts autonomously rather than helping the PC, they act like a normal NPC that has modifications. Thus, the modification increases their effective level for the associated task by one step. For example, the level 2 spy follower with modifications for stealth and deception attempts stealth and deception tasks as if they were level 3 and all other tasks as level 2.

Follower Assets to Combat and Defense:

A follower cannot grant an asset to a character’s attacks or defense until the follower is level 3 or higher. Even then, the follower can help with attacks and defense only if they have a modification for that kind of task.

Some abilities may grant a special exception to this rule. For instance, the Serv-0 Defender ability gives your level 1 Serv-0 follower (a machine companion) a modification for Speed defense.

Follower Level Progression:

A follower increases in level by 1 each time a PC advances two tiers after gaining that follower. When the follower gains a level, the PC also chooses the task that the follower gains a modification for.

Exceptional Follower:

When a character gains a follower, there’s a small chance that the follower will be exceptional in some way, a cut above other followers of their kind. The GM determines when an exceptional follower is found, possibly as an additional reward for smart or engaging roleplaying where the PCs impress or otherwise positively interact with one or more NPCs, some of whom may later go on to become one of their followers. An exceptional follower has the same qualities as a regular follower but is 1 level higher.


Any PC can potentially gain a pet, though a pet typically doesn’t provide modifications. If a character wants a pet that can do this, they must gain the pet through an an ability or focus that grants followers. On the other hand, a well-cared-for pet grants an asset to a PC’s tasks related to achieving peace of mind, finding comfort, and resisting loneliness.

Breathing Life into Followers

The modifications provided by followers could come across as fairly dry and mechanical. To avoid that, you could present each follower in a way that makes them more compelling and interesting. Here are a few examples of how to describe a follower, depending on their mix of modifications.

  • A firebrand diplomat able to convince an enemy horde to back down.
  • A veteran commander whose presence bolsters the entire community’s military might.
  • A genius medic who invigorates everyone with their healing techniques.
  • An imaginative architect whose works both beautify and defend the city.
  • A tricky spy whose intelligence on enemy movements is invaluable.

The Cypher System is a setting-generic tabletop roleplaying game designed by Monte Cook Games.
This product is an independent production and is not affiliated with Monte Cook Games, LLC. It is published under the Cypher System Open License, found at https://csol.montecookgames.com.
CYPHER SYSTEM and its logo are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC in the U.S.A. and other countries. All Monte Cook Games characters and character names, and the distinctive likenesses thereof, are trademarks of Monte Cook Games, LLC.