With all the excitement around trying out new systems, many groups and GMs are going through a crash course or steep learning curve this week. If you’re transitioning from 5e to Cypher System, particularly if you’re trying to continue an existing campaign or adapt a 5e resource you already have, at some point you’ll have to figure out what to do with the monsters. Should you spend prep time converting? Should you just guess? What if you break the game, or TPK the characters?
Here’s the good – even great – news. You don’t have to do a detailed, point-by-point conversion. It’s simply not worth it, because Cypher System is less tactical than 5e. The fiddly bits don’t matter.
It’s hard to internalize this until you actually play. I know you want some hard numbers (because 5e DMs NEED hard numbers). So I consulted (indirectly) an expert to help – Monte Cook himself. Last year he published his personal campaign setting, Ptolus: The City By the Spire in both Cypher System and 5e. I quickly checked the 5e CR ratings for enemies and compared them to their Cypher System Levels.
As you can see, Cypher Levels only go up to 10, which compresses the options for 5e CRs to funnel into. It also means you have plenty of wiggle room when “converting” enemies. Because the Stat Blocks for Cypher System creatures are so standardized, you’ll quickly get a feel for how powerful something should be. Everything is tied to their Level, reading the section Understanding the Listings in the Cypher System SRD will make it clear. By default, creatures do damage equal to their Level. Their “AC” is equal to their Target Number. Their Health is equal to their Target Number. If those standard numbers feel too weak or strong, or if the creature has specific strengths or weaknesses – feel free to adjust. There’s some very simple examples in the SRD under Normal Animals – for example a Grizzly Bear is Level 5 – but has 20 Health (normally it would have 15). A Black Bear is Level 3, but attacks as Level 4 – so it does 4 damage.
As for special abilities – those translate pretty easily too. Just apply the affect to the PC as listed, with the difficulty being the creature’s Target Number.
Let’s take a look at this in action with a relatively simple creature available in both system’s SRDs – a Ghoul.
The 5e Ghoul has a CR of 1, and the Cypher System Ghoul is Level 4. That pretty much matches up with our chart above. It has a 5e AC of 12, and a CS Target Number of 12, so that’s easy too, feels right. The CS Ghoul does damage as a Level 5 creature, so it hits a little harder than most…that feels right too, the 5e Ghoul averages 7 or 9 points of damage, but can hit for up to 14 points. As we get to Special Abilities, the ghoul paralysis, we see it’s pretty much a straight conversion. In both cases after a successful hit, the character needs to make an additional roll against a DC/Target Number. That roll is made against a physical attribute – Constitution or Might. The duration in both cases is 1 minute. In both cases, another roll is allowed every round after a failure. The CS ghoul applies some lingering effects after a recovery.
And that’s about it. You can absolutely do this on the fly while playing a game. With a little practice, it becomes easier and easier, because of the fluid and abstracted nature of Cypher System. Special abilities and spells can be ported right over, since there’s no limits on what can happen in the system – it’s all fair game. Damage amounts are easy to think about since the range is small and well defined.
I encourage GMs trying to make this transition to just poke through a few creatures in the 5e SRD vs the Cypher System SRD, particularly ones that match. You’ll see its less a mathematical conversion than it is a straight port over – all the math is abstracted away.
Give it a shot, it’s easier than it seems at first, and have fun!