Pen and Paper RPG House Rules

Making our favorite games even better


Some of my writings on various settings involving my long-standing RPG started back in the 90s which I am updating and using a modified Cypher system I’m working on. Below is some of the old system with a modern cyberpunk setting involving hackers, grifters, thieves, and killers.

The Cypher system turns out to be remarkably similar to what I was trying to achieve so obviously I like it a lot and it is easier to adopt a system that is already in existence than it is to slug away with design and realism decisions by yourself.

The origins of the system and setting connect to Roger Zelazny’s Amber Diceless system and from there had a visit from Julian May’s Pliocene and Zelazny’s Donnerjack after a few years with heavy influence from Ars Magica, Mage: The Ascension, and the first Matrix movie. From there shows like Leverage and Hustle influenced one of the main modern settings.

With a bit of Norse and Sumerian mythology and the movie Dark City it evolved into an Eight Worlds universe with a dead world because Pluto had lost its planet status and the first world was killed by a Greg Bear style grey goo apocalypse by a rogue artificial intelligence who decided the best way to go around any sort of defense against rogue AI was to go back in time and take over before such safeguards could be put in place. For superpowers, I enjoyed the ideas in the movie Push when merged with Julian May’s ideas which were one of the modern settings.

In response this caused a catastrophe as the various primal powers resisted and cut that world from the world tree and this shattered the cosmos into a superposition of states and possible worlds which was anchored by a future with time travel which made a link to 8 time periods to stabilize the time stream into just a few thousand possibilities that cluster around the “real” worlds like bubbles around a center point.

Then I watched Fringe and had some ideas on the time-traveling future being particularly bleak and worked from there.

After that I saw how well Cypher worked and I’m going to use that with some modifications and adapt the Strange to work with my Eight Worlds setting.

Below is my old info pertaining to the pre-Cypher system.

Attributes: Body, Speech, and Mind. One of these three attributes is used on all tests whether conflict tests or success tests. Body is applied to tests of involving physicality. Speech for social activities. Mind for mental tasks. The rating a character has in an Attribute is where that character stands in standard deviations from the norm on the bell curve. A PC with a Mind of +4 is a genius while a Body of -2 is either a couch potato or chronically ill. As you can see below most normal people sit between -1 and +1.


Destiny: is a number of charges in which a PC can either rework what and how and engagement works for greater success, a bit of back history for the character, or shape a scene or a bit of the story with the GM.

Legend: is analogous to the level of the character. It is the base or default die rolled when taking an action. Starts at d4. Someone with Legend has agency and free will. A robot or a mook henchman doesn’t have Legend and “rolls” or takes min which is a (1 + a professionalism modifier.)

Origin: is the time period, Socio-economic status, and location/s that the character has experienced. This provides familiarity with the kinds of things that a person with that background would likely know. A teen of 2016 from middle-class midwest USA is going to have familiarity with smartphones while a time traveler from Victorian England is going to be baffled.

Profession: develops that Origin providing more familiarity with things relating to a job or position. Being a Lawyer doesn’t mean that you are good at winning in the courtroom as that would be handled by Speech primarily but it does give you the knowledges a lawyer would need like knowing the law, knowing the procedures involved in a courtroom, and how to interact with police or clients.

Seizing the Initiative: When a PC decides that they are going to initiate action and begin a conflict encounter. If they succeed then they act first and set the stage for the first engagement.

Tactics of mistake are part of the personality of the character and they reveal how they go about getting stuff done. Each tactic provides different game mechanics and different story choices. Each tactic provides a permanent advantage to the character at all times and an advantage when chosen as the specific tactic for the conflict for this engagement.

The total ratings of a character’s tactics are equal to their Legend die. So a character with a Legend of d6 has six points to spend between the five tactics.

Vigor and Fortitude is a tactic or style of the blunt, the strong, and the tough. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are imposing and powerful figures able to apply force skillfully and able to get the job done or can handle failure well.

The focus of this tactic is on the outcome of an engagement. This tactic provides a permanent advantage to the outcome of a test or engagement whether causing injury or in resisting damage (Fortitude). When this tactic is chosen for an engagement the character adds the difference between the opponent’s Vigor and Fortitude and their own. For example, a PC with a V&F of 2 whose opponent had a V&F of 0 would add 2 to their test total for the outcome of the engagement. In a physical fight that means that the damage would be 2 greater if the PC had a success or if the PC failed their Fortitude would be 2 higher making it easier for them to take a hit.

Celerity and Agility are about speed, reaction, accuracy, and grace. Most people with a high rating is this tactic is fast in wit and fast with the fist. The focus of this tactic is on the success of the engagement.

The permanent advantage is on striking your opponent and evading your opponent. When this tactic is chosen for an engagement the character adds the difference between the opponent’s Celerity and Agility and their own. For example, a PC with a C&E of 2 whose opponent had a C&E of 0 would add 2 to their test total for the success of the engagement. In a physical fight that means that their total would be 2 higher for tests involving striking or hitting their target or evading their target.

Audacity and Courage are about boldness and risk-taking. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are bold and brave with a passion for the novel and extraordinary. The focus of this tactic is on seizing the initiative in a conflict and strengthening the outcome of the engagement whether it is a success or failure.

Prudence and Sense are about being cautious and opportunistic. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are perceptive, rational, and hard to deceive. The focus of this tactic is opposing Guile and Artifice and weakening the outcome of the engagement whether it is a success or failure.

A prudent character is perceptive and seeks out the weaknesses of their opponent. It opposes Guile and Artifice. By watching and learning a prudent character can add their rating in this tactic to their total in the next engagement in this encounter. During this engagement, if this tactic is chosen the outcome of the engagement is lessened by this tactic’s rating.

Guile and Artifice are about being devious and thinking ahead. Most people with a high rating in this tactic are able to outmaneuver their opponents either through trickery at the moment or planning out situations where the advantage is theirs. The focus of this tactic is more complex than the other tactics as it provides the rating that the PC uses for their Old Age and Treacheries and covers things like forcing an opponent into backing up to a wall or stabbing them in the back from the shadows.

Youth and Skills are the abilities of the character that “bump” up the Legend die.

Old Age and Treacheries are tricks or unlikely bits of knowledge. These can be added in-game by spending destiny and adding a new story to a character. Say a PC picks up an Assault Rifle and has no origin, profession, or skill with them. By spending a destiny charge the player can invent a “summer spent with crazy survivalist uncle” and gain basic familiarity with various types of firearms and be able to talk survivalist lingo passably well. They could also be something like a dad teaching lockpicking to his kid because mom is always forgetting her keys. Or it could be something like quick draw which provides a bump to the first engagement in an encounter when using pistols. It is something small and unique that gives the character a bit of edge and color.

Qualities and Quirks are the PCs talents, gifts, and personality traits.

primarily focused on personality and talents versus the kind of experiential knowledge found in Youth and Skills or Old Age and Treacheries. Say someone is born with an amazing sensitivity to taste than that would be a Quality or Quirk. Being ‘Always Wealthy’ means that no matter what happens and the PC will fall into money eventually. The personality qualities are based around the Big 5 and the morals found at

Assets might be a really nice car, or a butler, or a bespoke Italian suit. They are items or beings that are a part of a character’s story. A Stark has their dire wolf and John Wick always has the cool sports hot rod. Hard to imagine Bruce Wayne without Alfred.

Activities and Connections cover hobbies such as playing chess or collecting wine, Influences like downtown LA clubs, Silicon Valley tech world, eastside gangs, Railroads in Japan, Oil and Natural gas companies, the Yakuza in Hawaii, black market smugglers in Russia, Wall Street bankers etc and Relationships are those people who are beyond just a contact for one of the above influences or hobbies but like an Army buddy who saved your life or your best friend in college. Hobbies and Influences give you various contacts that you can use to get favors like a security guard at an airport letting you in so you can speed race without interference or call someone to clean up a bunch of dead bodies or just ask a question about quantum electrodynamics from your physics professor.

Weapons and armor…duh.

Wounds, anxiety, and stress. When getting hurt in a physical contest you usually get wounds, in social you get anxiety and loss of face, and in mental battles you get stress.

Fortitude is your threshold or ‘soak’ for that type of threat. It is split into Body, Speech, and Mind and adds an attribute and for Fortitude the ‘Vigor and Fortitude’ rating plus any qualities and quirks that apply. So, a stunt actor with a Body of +3 and Vigor and Fortitude of +2 and Legendary Toughness (d4 Legend so half of 4 is 2) would have a Body Fortitude of 7. The same character might have a Social Fortitude of 3 and a Mental Fortitude of 3 so they wouldn’t be as resistant to harm in those areas.

Resilience is how fast you pop back or recover from injuries. This has the same body/speech/mind split and has the tactic of Audacity and Courage adding to the PCs total along with qualities like Fast Healer or tricks like “bounces back from adversity”.

Injuries provide a penalty to tests taken while injured. One can have a cut to the shoulder physical wound providing a -2 to Tests, a broken nose providing a -1 to Tests while suffering from mental trauma or stress from seeing a friend die horribly -2. Thus, they would suffer a total of -5 to all Test Totals.

The Encounter:

The main structure of conflict in the game is the encounter. Within an encounter, you have engagements which are like rounds in a game in which the first step for a PC involves either seizing the initiative or reacting to the actions of those seizing the initiative.

The first mover chooses the action they want to engage in and will thus choose an attribute and a tactic to take. Add together Attribute + Tactic + Qualities and roll Legend die modified by Youth and Skills and Old Age and Treacheries. Have opponent do the same. Whoever is higher wins the engagement and inflicts an injury on the opponent or there is a stalemate.

The next encounter can have a change in initiative and arena of battle though that is rare.

This is a collection of the links to posts about my new game system and the campaign Rogues and Masterminds: Hack, Grift, Steal, Kill.


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