Review: Heist on Miracle IV (Cypher System)

AdventureHeist on Miracle IV
Author: Dominque Dickey
PublisherMonte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
SummaryYour wealthy patron is convinced that evidence of alien intelligence has been uncovered on the research station Miracle IV, and she’s paying you handsomely to retrieve it. But the station’s staff has been replaced with synths, and its AI has some surprising tricks up its sleeve. And it soon becomes clear: whatever’s been discovered at Miracle IV, it may be even bigger than alien intelligence. With mere hours to pull off the caper, can you and your associates uncover the truth—and make it off Miracle IV alive?
Snap Judgement for Busy Wyverns: A fun, intense adventure that doesn’t quite live up to the mission statement – at least not for Cypher System novices. It does, however succeed in generating passionate engagement with the story from the players – even as a one shot!

What is it?
This is a short, 7-page adventure loosely set within “The Revel”, the official Stars are Fire campaign setting, using Cypher System rules from Monte Cook Games.

What makes it good?
Leverage. Ocean’s 11. Inception. The Sting, Three Kings, Logan Lucky and more – we love a good heist story. But in my experience, they can be really tough to translate into a tabletop RPG. Dominique Dickey tries their hand at this in Heist on Miracle IV – a sci-fi heist on a ship to steal evidence of first contact with extraterrestrial beings. It’s a compelling hook! Dominique helpfully provides character hooks and motivations in the adventure, and I randomly assigned them to the pre-generated characters I made for this one-shot story. They also recommended playing the adventure in real-time, 3 hours for 1-3 players and 2.5 hours for 4-5 players, as way to keep the tension from flagging. I think that’s good advice for experienced Cypher System players – and good advice for running heists at the table in general!

In this adventure we have some really compelling characters; “Blackstone”, the ship AI and Nate Lasson, the owner (and villain) of the Miracle IV. My players (I’ve this twice, for two different groups) were especially interested in Blackstone.

Each room on the ship has decent descriptions, though the GM is expected to fill in quite a few gaps. Suggested GM intrusions in the margins are helpful and useful. NPC motivations are clear.

How do I use it?
I used this short one-shot to introduce two different groups to the Cypher System – and to introduce myself to running Cypher System games. Both times were a success – everyone was interested in playing more Cypher System games in the future, and one group spent quite a lot of time after the session writing up post-game actions from their characters! I don’t know if I’d launch this into a campaign – but if I wanted to, I absolutely could The player engagement was like nothing I’ve ever experienced from a one-shot. I think some of that had to do with how narratively powerful the Cypher System is, and how compelling the twists and reveals are in the adventure.

Downsides?
I found it impossible to run the game in real-time, because we just weren’t familiar enough with the Cypher System to run smoothly enough. We had to jump out of game too often to explain rules, think about how the mechanics worked and help people understand character sheets. A little too much pressure for a pressure-cooker adventure! So in retrospect, I should have chosen some other way to introduce people to the system. I just loved the adventure synopsis, and was really excited to run a sci-fi heist.

The first big plot sticking point I ran into as a GM was right at the beginning of the heist. They’re put in an airlock and then…there’s not a whole lot of options. I struggled to get them in without an intrusion that took away the stealth option. I’m not certain how this could be fixed, so it’s something to consider, a smoother way to setup the breach into the station.

The only other plot “oops” moment I ran into – twice as well – was how powerful the revenge hook was for a player. It meant a quick end for the main NPC. Both times the vengeful player was able to get the NPC alone and….that was it.

Unrelated to the adventure itself, we ran into some Stars are Fire confusion around the taser rules. The book states “4 points of electrical damage and on a failed Might defense roll, target is stunned for 1 round, losing their next action.” In the Cypher System, the GM never rolls, so we had a discussion around – should the player make a defense roll for the NPC target and hope for a fail? Or should the player roll a second attack roll and hope for success? I think in the moment we went with the former, but it should probably be the latter.

Final Thoughts?
Did this capture the feel of a fast paced, tension-filled heist? No, not quite…though partly due to our inexperience. Did the adventure itself captivate the imaginations of my players and spark them wanting more? Absolutely, 100%. It’s one of the most engaging adventures I’ve ever run. In both cases an email thread started up post-game with after-action reports and some in-character “what happens next” write-ups.

Recommend or Not?
Recommend – though not as the first Cypher System experience you may have. But if you need a drop-in, short adventure that revolves around heisting a mysterious alien(?) artifact in your sci-fi Cypher System game – Heist on Miracle IV works like gangbusters.

If you want to know more about Dominique Dickey, the adventure’s author, you can follow them on twitter @DomSDickey. Additionally they’ve done two in-depth interviews – one with Cypher Unlimited and one during their time as an intern at Monte Cook Games.

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