A Cult-Hit TTRPG Gets An Open License For Creators

Two characters study an ancient and mysterious artifact.

Image: Monte Cook Games

Indie tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) designers will have some new rules to play with soon. Monte Cook Games announced last week that its core set of tabletop roleplaying game rules, known as the Cypher System, is switching to an open license that will allow anyone to design and sell content using its rules. The game system’s community of dedicated fans and indie game designers has jumped at the opportunity.

While the company isn’t the first to make this move (Wizards of the Coast has long distributed Dungeons & Dragons content under a similar open license) this is a first for Monte Cook Games, which rose to prominence in 2013 with Numenera when Monte Cook, industry veteran and co-designer of the third edition of D&D, launched the company after a record-setting Kickstarter.

The Cypher System is quite different from the likes of your typical Dungeons & Dragons format; the game focuses more on narrative concepts than mechanical frameworks. Put another way, language and thematic ideas are more central than specific classes and party functions played out over rounds of combat. The Cypher ruleset originally premiered in the 2013 publication of Numenera, and reappeared in the company’s follow-up game The Strange before getting its own genre- and setting-neutral release as The Cypher System Rulebook in 2015. A 2019 revision implemented some slight tweaks.

Today the Cypher System enjoys a passionate and dedicated community full of enthusiasm over its alternative takes on the TTRPG formula. Twitch channels like Cypher Unlimited have thriving communities on Discord and Facebook, and several other community members have published their own material via the previously established (and more limited) Cypher Creator System.In a brief comment to Kotaku, Cypher Unlimited host Anthony (known as Spiggs18), described the Cypher System’s new open licensing agreement as a “game changer” for the community. (Full disclosure: I composed the opening music for Cypher Unlimited’s streams.)

One of the first products slated to release under the open license comes from Cypher Unlimited itself, a very party-appropriate game titled GM Roulette. Each player gets a chance to reframe the story taking turns as the GM. I’ve had the chance to play an early version of this game on one of their streams and it’s a lot of fun to see a game take unexpected turns when the role of Game Master gets passed around over the course of a single game. It’s also the kind of rule-breaking playfulness that I think emerges very organically from community spaces.

Accompanying Cypher Unlimited and GM Roulette in this round of early CSOL (Cypher System Open License) games are works from fellow community members and indie publishers Marlowe House and Ganza Gaming.

An illustration of a woman dressed in cyberpunk attire holds a machine gun on the cover of one of the Blood & Chrome supplement books.

Marlowe House has released a number of cyberpunk supplements under the older Cypher Creator System license.
Image: Marlowe House

Andrew Marlowe of Marlowe House described the freedom in securing funding for Cypher System products being of particular importance for the future of his content. “I’m a fledgling publisher” Marlowe told Kotaku, “and I’m limited in…

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