Today I have a review of a game that I was very excited for when I first heard about it. Well, it is more of a setting, but it is the one that got me into the Cypher System by Monte Cook Games. That setting is Predation by Shanna Germain and it is freaking awesome. To start let’s discuss a little about the system because I haven’t addressed it directly yet on the blog. Some of you may recognize the way the system works from its predecessors Numenera and The Strange. These mechanics were developed into their own universal RPG system that is based more on discovery and adventure than combat. From that a Kickstarter was run featuring three setting books that use the core system and among those was Predation. I’ll get into more of the mechanical specifics but the key things to know about the system is that the GM never rolls, XP can be used to avoid certain horrible events, and it is discovery that earns XP and allows for advancement.
I only have one question to ask that will help determine how interested you might be in this Cypher setting. Do you like dinosaurs? If your answer was no, then I am a little disappointed in you. If you said yes then let’s talk about Predation! In addition to dinosaurs Shanna Germain’s world includes cybernetics and time travel…sort of. Grevakc is a land that exists in the past, during the Cretaceous period. There dinosaurs roam the land alongside humans and equipped with cybernetic augmentations. The reason for this is that the history of Grevakc happened in the far future, after time travel became possible. A global conglomerate allowed folks to travel back in time for top-secret research and activities. Too bad a life-ending disaster was on its way. Worse time-travel was shut down and people were abandoned to the Cretaceous. Those poor folks were your ancestors. Your history, the history of your people is all myth to you. Stories that have been told by your elders about a time with not just modern things we know about but even better advancements. Things like cell phones and dogs are known to you only from tales and pictures. All the characters of Predation know is that Grevakc is dangerous, full of dinosaurs, is rife with cybernetics, and has terrible time storms. This game is about exploring that dangerous land and discovering connections to your future-history. Perhaps you want to make sure people die out so that evolution can lead to your ancestors properly. Or perhaps you seek a way through time to your grandparent’s future and escaping the doom that will befall Grevakc. Regardless, this setting has so many amazing stories to tell!!!
The Cypher System is an interesting universal system that I am very glad to have found through Kickstarter. I am sure someone would have shown it to me eventually, but finding it there allowed me to hop on at a perfect time. When you make a character in this system you, essentially, form a sentence that describes your character. Classes as you would recognize them do not exist. Instead you have a type which is a more general form of class that includes things like explorer and speaker. These can be defined by the abilities you take, the way you play, and the genre/setting your character exists in. You also define the character with a descriptor and a focus. The descriptor can be something like brash which enhances your stats towards a character that fits that descriptor. Finally your focus is something that represents your training, super powers, or abilities. This depends on the setting and how you describe it, but grant you special abilities. Each of these also help develop your background and why you are part of the adventure. From all this you have three pools: might, speed, and intellect. These act as resources for your abilities and pushing yourself in rolls, as well as taking hits in bad situations. As for XP is awarded for completing goals or quests, but also for PCs completing the goals that they set for themselves. Discovering new things is one of the best ways to earn XP as well. For Cypher it is more about finding information or artifacts and completing missions. These are spent in a variety of ways, but the most familiar would be character advancement. All in all, this system is interesting, incredibly flexible, and awesome.
Predation uses the core rules as its base, but does the important work of creating setting-specific options. There are specific types that link to the world of Grevakc such as the Tec which focuses on science, technology, and finding a way to use the tools left by their ancestors. Beyond the types you can use many of the descriptors and foci of the core book, but Predation adds some more that fit with the setting itself. Alongside that are suggestions for those that are most fitting to the setting. With this you can make all kinds of characters. These aren’t the only lists to help you flesh out the general rules from the core book into a game of Predation. Another example includes a fairly robust list of additional skills you might want to take that have specific relevance such as paleontology or cybernetics.
Shanna Germain doesn’t just bring setting specific items to the table though, there are also whole new pieces to the game and an awesome take on cyphers. Part of playing a Predation game is that you have a companion. This might be a small dinosaur guide, a large protecting raptor, or even a prehistoric mammal. Regardless, this companion is a character unto themselves with personality and advancement alongside the character. I love this because it tugs on a common event from many of the games I run: the desire to take on companions or pets. This always happens whether it is a small magical beast, a familiar, or a goblin that needs help. By building it into Predation and giving one to every player, there is a mechanical backbone for this awesome and fun experience. As for cyphers, I adore the way they are handled in Predation. In the core rules these can be anything from magical artifacts to technology to potions of some kind. It is purposefully nondescript because of the universality of the rules. This can also make it a little challenging to decide what works best for the group. In the world of Grevakc though, there is one way to get cyphers and that is time anomalies. They give you a certain amount, contain a certain amount, and act a certain way. Specifically, they re-write your DNA to allow you to use a temporary ability. This is just the right amount of specificity for me. It leaves me open to change things up and flavor things in a variety of ways but gives me a framework to work from. I really appreciate this clever and elegant handling of cyphers, especially in a world with technology, dinosaurs, and time travel.
Predation is handled like every other Cypher book I have had a chance to open, and it is well done. These books have a basic and defining layout style. Their are headers with the section at the top of each page and the borders for these are color coded to the larger chapter it is contained in. For example the red section is going to have your adversaries, the blue is the GM’s section, and orange is world lore. It makes finding things a lot easier than simply flipping to an estimate. Text is clear and easy to read with bolding, fonts, colors, and heading all delineating different things in specific ways. On top of that, though, there is a side bar built into every page. It is a column on the outer edge that is separated by a thin line. In this sidebar are flavor text, quotes, suggestions, ideas, and page references for things found nearby. At first glance and my first impression, these are intrusive and unnecessary, taking up useful space. As you look through the book though, these become amazing and helpful things to look at. Definitely an awesome idea that I haven’t seen anywhere else.
The table of contents, index, and glossary are all included but each is a little lackluster. They are minimal and though I am getting used to this in game books, it is a little disappointing. The ToC is simple, providing chapters and sections. Honestly, you don’t need much more here, but the glossary has very little words for a book full of dinosaurs, paleontology, and cybernetics. Then the index is okay as it includes what things are in parenthesis for many items. However, I would find it more helpful to have listed that category and then sub-listed its contents. It simply could be more robust and better laid out. Finally let’s talk art. The art for this game is awesome. Page after page of dinosaurs and the contrasting images of a prehistoric world with futuristic technology. One of my favorite, simple images is that of the teslasaur which is a squat, partially feathered stegosaur that has electricity-arcing metal plates in place of the natural ones. It is, simply put, freaking awesome.
Predation is an amazing setting for dozens of reasons, some of which I have shared with you above. It is well worth the value of cover price for the hardcover and if you are looking to get it, you should. Keep in mind that you do need the core rules, though. That book is also worth having in hard cover and has enough to let you run games not just with Predation but in fantasy, super hero, contemporary, sci-fi settings and more. If you like universal rules and awesome settings than look no further. Cypher comes close to tying Savage Worlds as my favorite universal rules system and Predation is my favorite setting at of both systems.