Review: A Major Minor Problem (Cypher System)

Product: A Major Minor Problem (PDF)
Author: H. Osborne
Publisher: Unformed Worlds
System: Cypher System
Summary: Step aboard the Desperate Measures in A Major Minor Problem, our second sci-fi adventure.  In this two-sided adventure, you can choose to play as the capable crew of the Desperate Measures or as a group of resourceful young privateers striving to save their world. Will you discover the truth in time to stop an explosive ending?
Snap Judgement for Busy Wyverns: Need a quick adventure based on a chance encounter in space with a potentially hostile ship? Maybe as a follow-up to Bright Lunar Night? Whether your crew is the white hats or the black hats (or even grey hats), this two-way adventure can easily fit your needs.

What is it?
The author has a pretty good description: This 23-page adventure comes with options and intrusions galore, eleven fully-written NPCs, a new streamlined space combat system, a new social “chase” mechanic called “parlay”, and a handy map.  Running a drop-in game or convention game?  We’ve got you covered with several fully-written Player character sheets ready to pick up and play in a separate (included) release. Thanks to the talented Ian Stead for the Desperate Measures spaceship art! This independently produced adventure is compatible with the Cypher System.  As written, it works best with a group of Tier 1-3 PCs; we give suggestions for increasing difficulty (especially in space combat) for higher Tier groups.

And that all checks out. This is a fairly dense adventure, though it is a “two-way” adventure – the author has ambitiously created a full scene list from each side of the encounter. Play can originate from either ship – a pretty standard crew-for-hire on odd jobs, or a more stripped down privateer ship.

What makes it good?
First, the two-way nature of the adventure is very cool. It’s easy to slot this into your sci-fi campaign, no matter how your players play. I really liked that – and the adventure does play very differently from either side, as the motivations and capabilities of each ship and crew are quite disparate. H. Osborne has included just about everything you need to run this adventure right out of the PDF, with stats for all NPCs, ships, lots of suggested cyphers and intrusions. Give it a full readthrough, organize your notes (more on that later) and call your friends to the table for a tense standoff in space. We really liked the “parlay” call-out – it’s pretty much a standard skill challenge for a social interaction, but defining it as chasing a resolution to the negotiation, and framing the challenges around that goal, is really smart. This gives a really strong structure to the role-play options at few points in the adventure. Well done.

How do I use it?
You’ll need the Cypher System Rulebook of course, or the Cypher System Reference Document. We strongly recommend reading the whole adventure through, and then carefully reading the “side” you’ll be running (either the Minor or the Major Problem). And lastly, really organize your notes and reference material from the adventure – you’ll want the NPC information quickly at hand, as well as some handouts or quick references for the ships and ship-to-ship combat. We’d expect the majority of your prep to be just reading through, and organizing information.

If it wasn’t clear already – the biggest problem we encountered was the organization and layout of this adventure. And to be clear – it’s not bad, its relatively standard – but we feel the “canonical” Cypher System layout to be much superior. This is laid out in a standard 2-column page, just as you’d see in many other RPG layouts. Unfortunately, this leads to a LOT of page flipping for GM Intrusions, cyphers, NPCs, etc. Were we to run this, we absolutely would have to reproduce pretty much everything (copy and paste) outside of the main text to have at hand as we ran each scene. We greatly prefer having the one or two-column layout with sidenotes, as you see in official Cypher System or Monte Cook Games products. We can’t fault Unformed Worlds for going with an industry standard layout. We see two solutions to this problem; One – Independent creators such as Unformed Worlds (and others!) come up with their own “Cypher System” style layouts (as we have done for our own Busy Wyvern creations), or Two – Monte Cook Games puts out a clear style guide defining column and sidenote widths, font size, etc. We encourage independent creators for Cypher System to really think strongly about layout.

So the downside here is that there is SO MUCH helpful information in this adventure that we want more of it in the place we need to see it, when we need to see it. That’s not a huge minus (almost a plus really) but it was a little hard to keep track of everything as we read it. Lots of page flipping. We didn’t realize how much the Cypher System sidenote layout helped until it wasn’t there!

The only other downside is that the plot does rely heavily on a setting that has waygates/stargates for FTL travel, so if your setting doesn’t have those, you’ll have to do some creative work to adapt this to your universe.

Final Thoughts
It seems sci-fi adventures for Cypher System – well all types of adventures – are a little thin on the ground out there right now. This is a welcome addition to the library of options, and it is an interesting adventure. We like the flexibility (and re-playability) of the two-sided effort. It must have been quite a challenge to think of it from both sides like this, and we applaud that creativity! We look forward to more Unformed Worlds adventures.

Recommend or not?
We give it a Recommend. This is a fun little adventure, from either side, and worth having in your library for a sci-fi campaign. Unformed Worlds previously put out a heist adventure, The Iridium Conundrum, that is pretty good too. We haven’t read it as closely, but suffice to say it is a VERY comprehensive attempt at a heist adventure. Lots of information that, again, you may want to organize in a different way for smoother play. But also – worth having in your library for a sci-fi campaign. It also could be a good follow-up for Bright Lunar Night, given that the crew would need some money fast and a quick Iridium score would definitely open some doors.

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