Review: Godforsaken (Cypher System)

Product: Godforsaken (Print & PDF)
Author: Monte Cook & Sean K. Reynolds
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
Summary: Expanding upon the “Fantasy” genre chapter in the Cypher System Rulebook, this added supplement gives you all the tools to take fantasy games in the Cypher System to the next level. It contains plotting advice, breakdowns of the genre, additional rules, ancestries, creatures, cyphers, artifacts, foci and abilities. The supplement ends with a full Fantasy campaign setting, including two adventures. It’s a 224 page fantasy framework.
Snap Judgement for Busy Wyverns: If you had any questions on how to run a fantasy game in the Cypher System after reading the core rulebook, this book very likely has the answers for you. If you’re moving away from your current system to try out fantasy in the Cypher System, this book will absolutely make the move easier. However, do not expect full-blown campaign and adventure support in the Godforsaken setting – that sort of thing doesn’t exist. If you like your current campaign setting, or are looking at adapting another setting to the Cypher System, this book will not help you do it – luckily adapting things into the Cypher System is generally fairly easy.

What is it?
This book is 224 pages, divided into three sections: 160 pages of Fantasy Worldbuilding advice (this includes 113 pages of “cypherized” rules), 48 pages describing the Godforsaken Campaign Setting, and two adventures spanning 16 pages. You can pick up the pdf for $19, or the hardback for $50. A combo purchase runs $56. It does require the Cypher System Rulebook to use – it does not contain the basic Cypher System Rules. This is not a standalone fantasy setting like Numenera.

A significant portion of the book, I felt, was devoted to building your own fantasy setting from the ground up. Lots of words spilled on types of fantasy plots, fantasy sub-genres, the role of magic in your world, where to find inspiration, etc. There’s even a sidebar on an unusual idea for a campaign – The Great City. I wonder who came up with that. It was all very interesting in its own way, though I did feel this part went on too long, and there are better generic fantasy worldbuilding resources out there. I wasn’t sure why this part was so long, but more on that later.

If you’re looking to run a full D&D style campaign in Cypher System – this book covers the bases the core rulebook does not. You get some traditional species descriptors like Dragonfolk, Gnomes and Halflings. You get in depth notes on how to translate traditional character classes into the Cypher System. Particularly tricky to translate, only using the core rulebook, are Vancian-style (D&D) Wizards and Wild Mages, as well as shapeshifting Druids. This book helps with that, coming up with alternate ways to handle spellcasting to approach “prepared vs. spontaneous” styles. There’s also 4 new foci – for the druid you get Takes Animal Shape and Walks the Wild Woods, for the wild mage you get Uses Wild Magic, and to plug a general fantasy gap, Wields an Enchanted Weapon. New abilities to match those foci are included too. There’s a good section on medieval fantasy equipment and converting the abstract Cypher System economy into something more concrete and gold piece based. There’s an extensive section on crafting cyphers, artifacts and general magic rules. For example, how should Death & Resurrection be handled in the Cypher System? Several options are presented. Every magical discussion has some concrete examples, like Ritual Magic or Magical Technology. There’s a short section on handling traps. Pretty much anything fantasy RPG related that wasn’t covered by the core rulebook is here.

The book goes on to present the Godforsaken campaign setting. Its basic concept is a familiar one – a safe, boring home base, called “Bontherre”, from which adventures can be launched, and loot returned and sold. This model is used in plenty of campaign settings and gameplay methods, and breaks no ground. The wrinkle of the Godforsaken settings is the unsafe, adventure areas – they are harsh, and the Gods of Bontherre hold no sway there. They are the Godforsaken Lands. The book outlines, in fair detail, 3 of the Godforsaken lands, their hazards and their locales. Significant NPCs are introduced, as well as important quest resources.

Rounding it all out are 2 short adventures set in the Godforsaken lands. I thought they were pretty decent, though not necessarily amazing or the best way to introduce the Godforsaken lands. I thought “Secret of the Soulsmith” was more interesting than “Within the Monstrous” – and they could be fun one-shot, trial balloons for the setting.

What makes it good?
If you’re transitioning from another RPG system to Cypher System, and don’t want to have to come up with a lot of basic things on your own – this is the book for you. It’s going to be a very helpful toolkit – particularly the 113 pages of cypherized rules and examples. All that stuff is very well done.

If you’re looking to launch your own world in a Cypher System campaign, the worldbuilding part is a good primer, and will definitely get you started on the base theories behind fantasy worlds and stories. I do think you’ll need more though after this.

The Godforsaken setting is…fine. If you don’t want to have to convert anything, and just jump in somewhere – its a good start. My home campaign setting is similar in that there’s a “home base city” and everywhere else is dangerous. Godforsaken really triples down on that idea, as the Godforsaken lands aren’t just the countries next door – they’re actually alien worlds. This leaves an opening for the GM to expand upon the Godforsaken lands by later introducing pretty much any alien world they want – be it Golarion, Toril or some version of Earth. Anything is possible.

How do I use it?
Since this is not a stand-alone, you’ll need the Cypher System Rulebook along with it. Those 2 combined will serve nicely as a Player’s Handbook/Dungeon Master’s Guide/Monstrous Compendium combo. You even have a couple of starting adventures if you don’t want to write your own or adapt an external adventures. After that – you just run your RPG as normal!

Well now – we have to be honest here – we weren’t super impressed with Godforsaken. There’s a few reasons for this. First, the worldbuilding section is just too long, but not long enough to be comprehensive. It’s committing the sin of being right in the middle, and I’m not 100% certain who the intended audience is. It covers some well-trod ground without adding too much new or insightful. If you want a master class in this topic, go pick up the Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding.

The cypher rules section is solid, but once again, lacking just a bit! We felt the recommendations for Warlocks and Witches was very dismissive – they really could have used some attention with new foci and abilities. We really would have liked to see more foci and abilities in general, we think that this is a missed opportunity. We found the subsystems to implement Vancian, D&D magic to be a little cumbersome – but that’s because Cypher System just isn’t really designed that way. So that’s OK in our book.

The Godforsaken setting…is fairly detailed, but again comes up on the edge of not quite detailed enough. A GM wanting to run in the setting is definitely going to have to do some work….and some convincing of his players. The setting starts out as human-only. As you travel to new Godforsaken lands and meet new species, they will become available for player characters. This is a very curious decision – why limit this example setting so strictly? Anyone coming from another, traditional fantasy RPG is going to immediately balk at that restriction. From there, they introduce species in the Godforsaken lands that are new, unique and not included in the earlier section of the book. There’s a lot of creativity there, but it just doesn’t mesh with the rest of the book. I’d love to see more adventures in the Godforsaken setting, to see what else they had in mind – but those adventures just don’t exist. For all of Monte Cook Games strengths, supporting these genre-specific “White Book” campaign settings is not one of them. They just don’t have the staff necessary for that support.

Final Thoughts
There’s a lot of RPG shopping going around right now, with the great 2023 OGL mistake from Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast. Many of them are people who haven’t played any RPGs beyond D&D (and maybe only ever used official WotC materials) – and are searching for a not-too-unfamiliar home. We’ll be blunt here – the Godforsaken setting isn’t going to feel like home to them. If they’re looking for a one-stop, fledged out campaign setting using the Cypher System, Numenera is the only choice. It being sci-fantasy will be the bigger barrier there, but it’s certainly a shorter hill to climb than the Godforsaken setting. We really wish MCG had designed something a little more traditional-fantasy friendly, while still showing the kind of creativity they’re known for. Pathfinder or an OSR system is going to be a much easier sell to a D&D refugee. Any adaptation advice, even in the most abstract, would have been a good idea to include in this supplement too – and it’s just not there.

Recommend or Not?
PDF Recommend. Frankly, as much as it hurts to say – we’d only recommend picking Godforsaken up as a PDF. That’s fair value for the expanded rules for fantasy in the Cypher System, which are solid and useful. I don’t think the campaign setting is compelling enough to warrant buying the hardback. Spend the money saved on more Forgotten Realms supplements, or the Midgard Worldbook. You’ll be much, much happier.

2 thoughts on “Review: Godforsaken (Cypher System)

  1. Feels like a good review. I’ve not played Cypher, though I did follow along with the campaign that Mike Shea did. I think if I were to break down and give the system a try, I’d almost certainly use Numenera. There are just so many other choices for straight up fantasy. Have a great week!

    Liked by 1 person

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