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More Thoughts on the Cypher System

Over the last few weeks I have posted several times about Numenera and praised the so-called Cypher system which powers the game. The same rules have also been used in The Strange, Monte Cook latest game he has written together with Bruce Cordell. What really amazes me about the system is that I am so happy with it.

Usually I tend to find things that annoy me pretty quickly. Some game systems have certain rules I want to change or throw out completely. In other cases the whole system just feels wrong somehow. But in the case of the Cypher system as presented in Numenera I am totally happy with the rules. They just work, don’t get in the way and feel elegant.

This has actually caused some issues when it comes to working on own designs. As I mentioned in another post before, everything I think about tends to mutate into a cousin of Monte Cook’s system. I love that the attributes in this system are some kind of meta currency you use to pay for special actions or to use effort. The fact that the GM never rolls and that NPCs are basically described by just their level takes some time to get used to. But if you got into the Cypher system mindset it’s extremely easy to run games even without zero prep time. Sometimes it feels as if the system has been created with me in mind. At the moment Numenera is definitely my favorite game.

But of course there are other things I’d like to run or play. Every time I think about other games I can’t help to think to myself: “Why can’t this game be as elegant and simple as Numenera?” Sometimes I am tempted to try if one could turn the Cypher system into something more generic. The Strange seems to be a better starting point than Numenera for such a project, but I still get the feeling that you’ll lose certain aspect if you use the system for games in a different setting. I can just hope Monte Cook Games will someday do the heavy hauling for me. In the meantime I’ll just run some more Numenera and perhaps The Strange.

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Mental Health in Roleplaying Games

Because of my personal and professional experience I know quite a lot about mental health issues. As you may well know I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder myself and since I work in a psychosomatic medicine department , I learned a lot about all kinds of psychological and psychosomatic disorders over the years. What sometimes bothers me, is how roleplaying games use mental health issues.

There are a lot of games which have rules for psychic disorders. The most prominent example is probably Call of Cthulhu. In most of these games your character gets a random disorder when he or she has lost a certain amount of mental health points. Most games don’t even bother to distinguish between different causes. Being confronted by unspeakable horrors from beyond has the same effect as seeing a loved one die or being close to death yourself. In one case my character in a Palladium Fantasy game was on the brink of death and got traumatized by that. What was the result? He suddenly had a phobia against fey creatures – no kidding!

This of course doesn’t make any sense. It might have, if the almost mortal wound had been caused by fey, but it was because of drowning. One other common mistake is that neuroses and psychoses are randomly thrown together – which doesn’t make any sense. Playing out a psychological disorder might be a very interesting and intense roleplaying experience. But in most games it’s handled so badly that it just becomes an excuse to play “crazy”.

I don’t expect total realism. But I would prefer it if game designers took these matters more seriously. Suffering from mental health issues is no laughing matter. And while some roleplayers can have lengthy discussions about how realisticly guns are simulated by roleplaying games, almost noone bats an eye when it comes to unrealistic “insanity” rules.

I have to admit I haven’t had the time yet to do some more research on the matter. I am sure there are a couple of games who treat the subject with respect. I faintly remember that the Trail of Cthulhu rules did a slightly better job when it came to insanity and mental stability than most games. But I have to double-check.

What is your stance on the matter? Are you bothered by the portrayal of mental health issues in RPGs, too, or do you just not mind? Do you know a couple of laudable examples you want to share? Feel free to post your thoughts below!

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Why do we play Roleplaying Games?

If you’ve followed discussions between roleplayers, read blogs, and played in different groups over the years, you’ve probably noticed that there are various approaches to roleplaying. In some cases you might even wonder if some people are actually engaging in the same hobby.

In addition to that the reasons why people play roleplaying games are often quite different. For some it’s just a way to spend time with friends, roll some dice, and stuff their faces with snacks. For others it’s a way to escape regular life and be someone else, have adventures, kill monsters and take their stuff, even if just for a few hours a week. There are also people how like the tactical aspects of some games and treat them like a slighty more involved miniatures game. These examples are just a small list of the vast reasons why people play roleplaying games. The reasons are as varied as the players themselves.

Recently I realized that roleplaying games are not just a nice pasttime but also something which helps me to relax, to charge my drained batteries so to speak. The social aspect of gaming is very important to me. But I also love the escapism, to be in someone else’s shoes for a few hours and to experience things I’d never do in real life. In real life I often feel helpless and overwhelmed. But in games I can stare danger right into the eye and overcome evil. I’m not that much interested in the tactical aspects of combat but I am a sucker for a good story.

Some people believe that there are wrong ways and wrong reasons to play roleplaying games. I doubt this is true. As long as everyone has fun regardless of why they sit at the game table, they are doing it right. What are your thoughts on this matter? Why do you play roleplaying games?

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