Horror #

Although it’s very likely a subset of the modern genre, horror as a genre gets special treatment. Unlike the other genres, horror doesn’t necessarily suggest a setting. Any setting can be horrific. Horror is more of a style. An approach. A mood.

You could easily have horror in other times and settings, but for our purposes, we’ll deal with a default setting in the modern day. The PCs are probably normal people, not secret agents or special investigators (although being a part of a secret agency that deals with monsters in the shadows could make for a fine horror game).

Suggested types and additional equipment for a horror setting are the same as in a modern setting.

Encyclopedia Of Horror Mechanics #

This chapter describes many different optional rules (called “horror modules”) for making horror games more exciting or suspenseful. Horror modules are tweaks the GM applies to the rules to make a horror scenario even more scary or to represent how an event usually happens in a horror genre

If a module changes the options that players or PCs have, the GM should tell the players about it when the game begins. For example, if the GM is using the Character Posse module, the players should know about it at the start of the game so they can become familiar with all their characters instead of having to pause when they switch scenes and spend several minutes reviewing a second set of characters. Likewise, players should know if their healing options are affected by the Ironman module, or if they have additional recovery roll options from the Hysteria module.

This chapter also suggests various modules that are appropriate for different horror genres. The GM should feel free to use some, all, or none of those modules when running a game of that type, or introduce other modules to provide a unique twist to the game.

General Horror GM Intrusions #

The following GM intrusions work for most horror genres.

  • Something foils a character’s attempt to escape: a getaway car won’t start, they drop the keys that unlock the exit door or lock up the villain, or the shotgun they’re using to clear a path jams or runs out of shells.
  • The antagonist enters a secure or sealed room by an unexpected method: crashing through a door or wall, crawling out of a ventilation shaft, jumping out of a trap door, manifesting electronically through a Wi-Fi signal, or teleporting.
  • A mysterious noise nearby amplifies the tension, and when investigated reveals itself to be… a cat, either perfectly calm or hissing and leaping. This often allows for a momentary de-escalation followed by a real scare, such as the antagonist reaching out of the darkness to grab a character.
  • A dramatic and/or ridiculous amount of blood and gore from something that just got killed splashes on a character, blinding them until they take an action to wipe their eyes clean.

Bad Penny #

An unwanted or dangerous object (such as a cursed artifact) keeps turning up, no matter how many times the PCs try to discard or destroy it. In many cases, there might be only one way to rid themselves of the item (such as dousing it with holy water or burying it in a graveyard) or only one way to destroy it (such as burning it in a church or stabbing it with a magical dagger). The item might slowly repair itself—and depending on the item, it might be more frightening if it shows up fully intact or still bearing damage from how the PCs tried to destroy it.

This reappearance usually isn’t because the item is literally walking to wherever the PCs are (although if the item is something like a cursed doll, that might make it more frightening). In most cases, it just happens to be where the PCs went, found in an unobtrusive place like the back of a closet, under a car seat, or in the bottom of someone’s luggage. If the item is intelligent (or controlled by a hostile intelligence), it might use NPCs to bring it back to the PCs, and might sacrifice those NPCs in dramatic and gory ways to make sure it ends up back in the hands of the PCs. For example, if the PCs abandon a haunted ring, on the next day when they’re waiting for a train they recognize a man they saw earlier just as he gets hit by an oncoming train, and his severed hand—wearing the ring—lands at their feet. Even if the PCs go to a remote area with no people, one of them might suddenly vomit up their lunch—and the haunted ring.

Character Posse #

Every player is given at least two characters to run, each with about the same amount of background and abilities so they’re all suitable as main characters. A player usually runs only one of these PCs at a time. As the action in the story changes locations, the GM can have one or more players switch their active PC and interact with the other active PCs and the story in a different way. This keeps the players from knowing which characters are supposed to have the important roles in the story, allows for some of the PCs to split off for a while without the rest of the group having to wait, and gives every player a backup character to play if their active PC dies.

Character Posse works best when the characters are very simple and don’t have many abilities that require a lot of knowledge and description. That way the player can focus on the personality of the PC and not have to keep remembering a stack of complicated abilities. In a non-fantastic modern setting, that often means characters who have a lot of skills and automatic or simple bonuses (like Combat Prowess and Fleet of Foot) but one or zero abilities that have durations or require special actions (like Anecdote and Muscles of Iron).

Dead All Along #

A handful of people are forced to stick together under unusual circumstances—they’re survivors of a shipwreck, quarantined to avoid an outbreak of a deadly disease, waiting for a riot to leave their neighborhood, or locked away from an approaching zombie horde. They hear strange noises, glimpse shadowy figures, and find that things move about or disappear when nobody is looking. The PCs begin to suspect they’re being haunted by ghosts or observed by mysterious aliens; one or more of them disappear or are found dead. Eventually the PCs realize that they are ghosts of people who haven’t come to terms with their own deaths, and the weird experiences are their limited interactions with the real world and the living people trying to bury their bodies or put their souls at peace.

In these stories, the emotional journey of the ghosts is about understanding their situation and coming to terms with their deaths. In normal play, GM intrusions are complications that the characters have to deal with, but to represent the secret and inverted expectation of this module, GM intrusions are used to simplify what the characters experience, but with a spooky twist.

When a PC crosses over and disappears, that player can still participate in the game by using the Ghostly Helpers module.

Fragility #

Whenever a character selects the Increasing Capabilities option for advancement or gains an ability that permanently increases their Pools, they can add a maximum of 1 point to their Might Pool and 1 point to their Speed Pool; other points left over (if any) must go to their Intellect Pool, even if that’s not normally an option for the ability. This does not apply to the extra points the player can divide among their Pools at character creation. This creates a more “realistic” game scenario where the PCs are more like normal people who don’t get much more powerful physically over the course of a campaign, but still can learn new skills, advance their minds, and so on.

This module does not affect abilities like Enlarge (which temporarily adds 4 points to your Might Pool), but it does affect abilities like Enhanced Might, Enhanced Speed, and Lead From the Front (which permanently increase one or more Pools).

Ghostly Helpers #

In a horror story, it’s common for major characters to be killed or incapacitated, but in a horror RPG, that means the player of a dead character doesn’t have much to do. The Ghostly Helpers module gives players whose characters are out of the game two ways to have an active role in the scenario.

First, the dead character is still able to spend their XP to give a living character a reroll. To facilitate this, the GM should allow players to award the second 1

XP from a GM intrusion to a dead character (although this would come up only if there is one character left alive and the second XP would be wasted) and give dead characters 1 XP whenever there is a group intrusion.

Second, the dead character is able to use their subtle cyphers to help a living character. Depending on the cypher, this might be a direct benefit to the PC (like easing a roll) or interfering with an NPC (like making an opponent drop their weapon). When the GM gives out more subtle cyphers, any excess ones (beyond the cypher limit of living PCs) should go to the dead characters, up to the cypher limits of the dead characters (any extra cyphers beyond that are lost).

The player of a dead character always gets to decide when to help and which PC to affect with their help—they’re not merely extensions of the living PCs. Whether this help is just fate or coincidence working on behalf of the PC, or if it literally is the lingering ghost of a dead character trying to save a living person, depends on the scenario and the GM.

Help from a dead character doesn’t have to be from a ghost. Depending on the genre, it might be the influence of a guilty artificial intelligence, a sentient weapon with a grudge, a cultist with conflicting loyalties, and so on

Hallucination Reset #

In some horror genres, it’s unclear if the character is truly experiencing what’s happening in the story, or if they’re hallucinating or dreaming it. In some cases, their fear response

to the real events happening around them prompts their conscious or subconscious imagination to create an unreal scenario that’s even more terrifying, only to have them snap out of it and find themselves in a prior (but perhaps still very dangerous) situation. This sort of hallucination allows the story to go completely off the rails and then suddenly return to normal.

If the GM plans to have a hallucination reset, they should keep track of damage taken, equipment used, and XP spent for each character (if using cypher and XP cards, there should be a separate space for each character’s used cards). When the hallucination ends, stop the action, explain that the PCs find themselves at an earlier point in the story (or wake up after some time has passed if it’s a dream), and restore their Pools, equipment, and XP to their previous state. If the GM doesn’t know exactly how much each character’s Pool changed, allow each PC to make a free recovery roll to compensate for it.

If the GM needs to use a hallucination reset to recover from a disastrous outcome, they should try to reset the PCs as close as possible to their previous state, relying on the players’ recollection of which cyphers and XP belonged to each character. As it’s unlikely that they kept track of how many Pool points they spent in the now-false encounters, the GM can allow each of them a free recovery roll to make up for it.

Used carefully, a hallucination reset leaves the characters wondering what is real, and it can be a tool for the GM to rewind an encounter that goes out of control or accidentally kills a character because of poor rolls. Used too much, it risks causing the players to lose interest in the game because the frequent resets undermine their emotional connections to their characters and negate any progress in the story.

Note that a deliberate and planned reset can deliberately do strange things with the story because it’s completely in the characters’ heads. A horror game about werewolves might have a dream or hallucination about fascist soldiers attacking the PCs with flamethrowers. One about aliens might show the antagonists turning into sexy vampires. A haunted house might convince the PCs that they’re tearing off their own faces. A hallucination might even include elements of something that will happen in the future, so when the actual event occurs (perhaps in a later session) the players won’t know if they should act on their “future memories” of these events or ignore them as falsehoods.

Horror Mode #

Horror Mode is an optional rule discussed in the Cypher System Rulebook. When using this rule, the GM can escalate the tension by increasing the range of numbers that trigger a GM intrusion: first on a roll of 1 or 2 instead of 1, then a roll of 1 to 3, then a roll of 1 to 4, and so on. The Escalation Rate table below shows what causes the intrusion range to increase.

Horror Mode is unique among the horror modules in that the default assumption is that the GM is using it for every horror game, at least some of the time. Using Horror Mode makes the players aware of the risks they take every time they make a roll. They won’t take easy tasks for granted, and they might apply Effort to turn an easy task into a routine task so they don’t have to roll at all and risk an intrusion. This ends up depleting their Pools faster, which makes them feel more vulnerable.

Escalation Rate #

Activity Intrusion Range Increases by 1
Exploring a large area Every time a new intrusion is indicated by a die roll
Exploring Every ten minutes or every time a new intrusion is indicated by a die roll
Combat Each Round

Hysteria #

Screaming is a natural reaction when you’re frightened, but it’s also likely to draw the attention of whatever is frightening you. The Hysteria horror module encourages characters to give in to the natural instinct to scream, but introduces dangerous consequences for doing so.

At any time, as an action, a PC can use a free one-action recovery roll (which doesn’t use up the one-action recovery roll that all characters get), but doing so means they also spend that action loudly screaming. Because of this noise, the GM can make a free intrusion and doesn’t have to award XP for it.

A PC’s ten-minute recovery roll takes only one minute, but the PC has to scream and have an emotional meltdown for the entire time. As with the previous option, this allows the GM to make a free intrusion (after the recovery period) and they don’t have to award XP for it. The PC still has the option of resting normally for ten minutes to use the ten-minute recovery roll (without screaming, and without the free intrusion).

In most situations that use Hysteria, the free intrusions involve drawing the attention of something that wants to harm the PCs or the sudden appearance of something dangerous.

Instant Panic #

Most people in real life aren’t prepared for the existence of aliens, monsters, or killer robots, and seeing something that shatters their worldview is frightening and traumatic. The first time a character sees a creature (or anything else suitably horrifying) they thought wasn’t possible or only existed in books and movies, they must make an Intellect defense roll against the creature’s level. If they fail, for one round either they’re paralyzed with fear or they run in the opposite direction.

Repeat appearances by the creature (or other creatures like it) that they’ve seen before usually don’t trigger this reaction a second time, but encountering a large number of those creatures or seeing them do something unusual might trigger it. For example, seeing a ghoul crawl out of a storm drain might trigger panic; seeing another ghoul (or the same one again) won’t trigger it again, but seeing a large pack of ghouls approaching, or seeing one ghoul eating a dead person could trigger another panic reaction. Even if a character has gotten over their initial panic, the GM can prompt it again as an intrusion if the circumstances warrant it.

Ironman #

There are no cyphers (subtle or manifest) or artifacts that heal, and all other healing effects (such as recovery rolls and Healing Touch) restore only the minimum amount possible. For example, a tier 2 character using a recovery roll would get only 3 points (as if they rolled a 1 on a d6, plus 2 for their tier) to add to their Pools. This results in a gritty, dire scenario where the only way PCs can restore their Pools is with recovery rolls and character abilities that heal.

Cypher System characters are tough and resilient, even at tier 1, but Ironman brings them down to a more realistic power level. Ironman is more punitive for characters whose abilities cost Pool points and less of a challenge for characters whose abilities don’t cost anything (such as Physical Skills). For a slightly less challenging option, allow the use of healing cyphers and artifacts, but limit them to the minimum amount.

Last Survivor #

Sometimes the antagonist kills off all the protagonists one by one, leaving only one survivor to challenge them. In the journey toward that point, it’s not clear who the last survivor will be, and sometimes a potential last survivor is eliminated unexpectedly or sacrifices themselves so that another person may live. The Last Survivor horror module is a way for PCs to temporarily thwart fate, but it inevitably feeds toward the last surviving character having extra advantages when dealing with the murderous antagonist.

When using this module, the GM places a token on the game table that represents the last survivor, and puts a piece of paper (or an XP card) underneath the token that represents 1 XP. Whenever there is a GM intrusion, instead of giving 2 XP to a player and letting that player award 1 XP to another player, the GM gives 1 XP to the chosen player, and the other 1 XP is added to the last survivor token. Whenever there is a group intrusion, 1 XP is added to the last survivor token (as if the last survivor were a separate PC).

At any time, a player can decide that their PC becomes the last survivor by picking up the token and its XP.

However, those XP belong to the role of the last survivor and always remain separate from individual character XP. While a PC is the last survivor, they gain the following benefits and restrictions:

  • All rolls to save them from being killed are eased by two steps.
  • The last survivor XP can be spent only by the last survivor, and only on the last survivor’s rolls, never on any other players’ rolls. (The PC can still spend their personal XP normally, including on other players’ rolls.)
  • At any time, whoever has the token can pass the role of last survivor to another player. The receiving player gets all the XP associated with the last survivor (if there are none, the GM immediately gives 1 XP to the token).
  • Once a player has given up the role of last survivor, they can never again be the last survivor.
  • If the last survivor role has no XP left to spend, and there are no other players to pass the token to (because everyone else has already been the last survivor), the last survivor can pass the token to the GM in exchange for their character getting 1 XP. Once this happens, the last survivor token is removed from the game.

Madness #

Madness is an optional rule discussed in the Cypher System Rulebook. When using this rule, if Intellect damage from fear or shock reduces a PC’s Intellect Pool to 0, they regain points in the Pool, but their maximum Intellect Pool is reduced by 1. If their Intellect Pool is ever reduced to 0 again, they go insane and replace their current descriptor with the Mad descriptor.

Perilous Venture #

Sometimes the PCs need to perform a ritual or other complex action that takes several rounds or minutes, and if they make mistakes along the way it’s a setback instead of an outright failure. For example, they might need to read a banishing spell out of an old book, mix and heat the chemicals for a zombie cure, or draw a magic circle around a building to contain hostile ghosts. Rather than having their success or failure come down to one roll, the GM can build tension by requiring the players to make multiple rolls called subtasks. The subtasks start at difficulty 1, and the difficulty increases each time until the players make a final roll at the highest difficulty (equal to the overall level of the challenge, such as the demon they want to banish, the original zombie virus, or the most powerful ghost attempting to leave the house).

Generally, these subtasks occur at equally divided intervals over the course of the full time required to complete the ritual. If at any point the PC fails a subtask, the ritual isn’t ruined, but it costs time—a failure means the time spent on that subtask was wasted, but the character can spend that much time again and try to succeed at that same subtask.

Skills, assets, and other special abilities can ease subtasks just like they do with any other task (which might make some of the subtasks routine and not require a roll at all). Characters may apply Effort to each subtask. Of course, applying Effort is something characters do in the moment, not over long periods of time, so it’s generally impossible to apply sustained Effort on a task or subtask that takes longer than a day.

The GM should decide if a given ritual is something that other PCs can help with. Even if it initially seems like a solo venture (like reading a spell from a book), it might benefit from assistants who repeat a chant, burn candles, perform arcane gestures, or just hold the acting character upright as the ritual drains their strength. In general, giving multiple PCs something to do is better than having everyone wait on the sidelines while one character holds the spotlight.

To make the situation more interesting, the GM can introduce a time challenge, like requiring the PCs to finish by a specific time (perhaps a midnight deadline for containing the ghosts in the house, or banishing a demon that’s inflicting damage to an NPC every round it possesses them). This puts pressure on the PCs to complete the process as soon as possible.

The GM can also add side effects for failed rolls or as intrusions. For example, a weak spot in the salt line might allow one powerful ghost to break free, an error in the banishing spell might painfully enrage the demon and hinder the next subtask, electrical or magical energy might lash out and harm a nearby character, and so on. The ritual might use up quantities of a limited resource, such as holy water, silver powder, or rare herbs; if the PCs have only enough materials to complete the ritual (perhaps with a little extra in case they make one mistake), that forces them to use Effort, XP, and other tricks to make sure they don’t fail too often and run out.

Finally, some rituals might require the PCs to spend points from their Pools on each subtask, with Might representing blood or vitality, Speed representing energy, and Intellect representing will or sanity. Other physical or mental tolls could also require points from Pools. Multiple PCs involved in the ritual could collectively contribute to this cost.

Poor Choices #

Sometimes people in horror do dumb things. They wander off alone to investigate a weird noise. They abandon their friends and try to escape in a rusty old car. They have sex in a spooky barn. These things usually put them in danger and sometimes get them gruesomely killed. Using the Poor Choices module means the GM can use intrusions to make the characters do things that the audience of a horror movie would think are stupid.

These intrusions work like the normal kind (the GM awards 2 XP, and the player gives one of them to another player). However, while normal intrusions are subtle changes that influence the situation, using Poor Choices lets the GM abandon that restraint and dictate a specific overt character action, even if it’s something that the player wouldn’t normally choose.

These intrusions can be risky, but they shouldn’t be obviously self-destructive or harmful. For example, the GM shouldn’t use an intrusion to make a PC drink something that they know is poisonous, jump out of an airplane without a parachute, punch a police officer, or stare directly at an eclipse. The idea is to put the character in a complicated situation more forcefully than the player might choose, but not set up the character for failure. The players know they’re in a horror scenario, but their characters don’t, and this helps prevent the players from using metagame knowledge to keep the PCs out of trouble. Another way to look at it is the characters should act as if they live in a world where horror movies don’t exist, so they don’t know not to do these things.

As with any GM intrusion, the player can choose to spend 1 XP to refuse a Poor Choices intrusion, but they should consider accepting the intrusion for the sake of the story, and because they’ll need the XP later.

Poor Choices Intrusions #

The following are examples of GM intrusions to use with the Poor Choices module.

A character investigates a strange noise on their own. (“It’ll be fine!”)

  • Two or more characters sneak off to have sex.
  • A character leaves behind an important piece of equipment, such as a weapon, phone, car keys, or their outer layer of clothes. (The GM can use this intrusion after the fact when a player tries to use a specific item.)
  • A character gets drunk or high.
  • A character falls asleep.
  • A character slips away to urinate out in the woods or a nearby scary building.
  • A character doesn’t care that nearby animals are acting strange (especially if they’re guard dogs).
  • A character doesn’t shoot a dead monster in the head. (“We need to save ammo.”)
  • A character runs away into the dark or away from a place that would be a better, safer direction to run.
  • A character reads aloud words from the weird old book they found, or they play an old recording of someone else reading the book aloud.
  • In a multistory building, a character runs upstairs or down into a basement (where they could get cornered) instead of outside where they could escape in any direction.
  • A character chooses a dumb or obvious hiding place, such as a closet or under a bed.
  • A character tries to escape by squeezing through a space that no human could reasonably get through quickly, such as a doggie door or a tiny window in a garage door.
  • A character hides the fact that they’ve been bitten by a zombie, have a weird rash like the one they saw on the walls of the alien spaceship, or have been hearing a spooky voice telling them to kill their friends. (“I’ll be okay.”)
  • A character runs straight down the road to get away from a pursuing vehicle (instead of onto the sidewalk, behind a big tree, or around a tight corner).
  • A prone or supine character crawls away from approaching danger instead of getting up and running.
  • A character doesn’t call the local authorities for help when they hear something dangerous.
  • A character ignores or rationalizes a weird noise.
  • A character jumps into the water—a lake, swimming pool, sacred fountain, and so on.
  • A character goes into the cave, mine shaft, or creepy house. (“I’m just going to look around for a second.”)
  • A character insists on staying behind while everyone else goes on ahead. (“Someone should be here when the sheriff shows up!”)
  • A character doesn’t check the back seat of a car before getting in and starting it.
  • A character ignores an obvious creepy clue that there’s something wrong in the house, like a bloody axe, a room full of taxidermy animal heads, or newspaper clippings about recent murders.
  • While being pursued, a character calls for help or otherwise attracts attention (like banging on store windows at midnight).
  • A character tries to pet an unknown lifeform.
  • A character tries to make peaceful contact with an obviously hostile entity. (“It’s as frightened of us as we are of it!”)
  • A character unlocks a door or disables a security system to let a scared stranger into a safe area.
  • A character doesn’t bother to turn on the lights.
  • A character uses an action taunting their foe.
  • A character follows a trail of blood.
  • A character ignores good advice from a helpful and knowledgeable NPC. (“That old lady was a superstitious kook.”)
  • A character uses a firearm as a loud, ineffective solution for a simple problem (like shooting a padlock).
  • A character picks up a shady or outright scary-looking hitchhiker.
  • A character scares another character (perhaps by grabbing their shoulder unexpectedly and shouting) as a joke.
  • A character momentarily forgets how to do a simple action, like open or close a door.
  • A character forgets to put their phone on silent mode.
  • A character imitates or makes fun of a creepy doll or statue.
  • A character tries to help a child who has no reason for being there.

Possession #

Some demons have the ability to possess a living creature, taking over a character’s body as if it were the demon’s own. The demon must touch the character to attempt possession (even if the demon’s touch normally inflicts damage, the possession attempt doesn’t inflict damage). The character must make an Intellect defense roll or become possessed, whereupon the demon’s immaterial form disappears into the character.

The first round in which a character is possessed, they can act normally. In the second and all subsequent rounds, the possessing demon can try to control the actions of the host, but the character can attempt an Intellect defense roll to resist each suggested action. Successful resistance means that the character does nothing for one round. When the demon isn’t trying to control its host, the character can act as they choose. A possessing demon’s actions are limited to controlling its host and leaving the host (the demon can’t use its own abilities while in someone else’s body).

While it possesses another creature, the demon is immune to most attacks (though not so the host; killing the host will eject the demon).

A possessed character is allowed an Intellect defense roll once per day to try to eject the demon. The roll is hindered by one additional step each day of possession after the first seven days. An ejected, cast-out, or exorcised demon is powerless for one or more days. One way to exorcise a demon is to command it out in the name of an entity that has power over the demon. This can be attempted once per day and grants the possessed character an additional Intellect defense roll to eject the demon.

Other kinds of creatures (ghosts, beings of pure mental energy, and so on) may have the ability to possess characters in the same way that demons do.

Secret Twist #

It’s common when tensions are high and lives are on the line that humans get paranoid and start to turn on each other, interpreting stressed behavior as suspicious and seeing enemies in the eyes of strangers. This is compounded when there is an active threat that can disguise itself as human (like an alien or demon) or take off a mask and pretend to be a fellow prisoner or victim (like a chainsaw killer), only to reveal themselves when the perfect opportunity comes along. These secret twists are the source of many jump scares and unexpected betrayals that create chaos and paranoia.

To use a secret twist, the GM first needs to decide three things:

  • The secrets they want the PCs to keep from each other. Examples might be “Your character is actually the shapechanging alien that is hunting everyone on the spaceship,” “The chainsaw killer is the identical twin of your character,” or “Another PC ruined your life but they don’t realize who you are.”
  • The best time to reveal the secret to the player involved. This might be something the player learns before the game starts or a revelation during the game. If there are multiple secrets, the players might learn them at different times. For example, the PC whose life was ruined by another character might know this at the start of the game, but another PC might not know they had an identical twin (perhaps they were separated at birth).
  • The best time to reveal the secret to the other characters. The GM might choose to push it out into the open (perhaps with a GM intrusion) or let the player decide when to reveal it. For example, the GM decides that walking into a dark room with a black light is how all the human PCs realize that one character is really a shapeshifting alien with UV-fluorescing skin, but the GM allows the PC whose family fortune was stolen by another character to bring that up on their own (perhaps when they’re alone with the thief).

If revealing the secret to the players is supposed to happen during the game, it would be suspicious if only one player was pulled aside for a conversation about it—the other players would know something unusual was going on. Instead, the GM can call a quick break in the game and send that player a text. Even better, the GM could send every player a secret text so that nobody is singled out by having to read a text. Alternatively, the GM can give a physical note to every player (perhaps using the secret twist Special Cards); some of these notes might be secrets and some innocuous, but the fact that everyone gets a note disguises who might be getting a secret twist. By making sure that each note has some kind of value (such as by letting a player trade it in later for an asset or a subtle cypher), players who don’t receive a special secret still spend a reasonable amount of time reading the note and keeping it safe.

If the players are especially skilled at roleplaying, there may be opportunities for multiple secret twists, especially those that change a character’s identity. For example, in a scenario where there are duplicates of the PCs walking around in their city (evil twins, clones, aliens, or the like), the identity of individual characters might switch from the originals to duplicates and back again several times during the game.

Multiple shifts of identity are probably easier for the GM and players to handle if they take place over several game sessions and each session starts with players knowing exactly who they’re playing. It also helps if the players take separate notes about what the original and the duplicate know.

Shock #

Shock is an optional rule discussed in the Cypher System Rulebook. When using this rule, seeing something terrifying means a PC must make an Intellect defense roll. The difficulty is based on the level of the scary thing, or the GM can simply choose the level (see the Shock Levels table). Failure on the defense roll means either the character takes Intellect damage or

the player temporarily loses control of the character (the GM decides if they scream, freeze, run, or take some other appropriate action, perhaps with input from the player).

Shock Levels #

Event Level
Something unexpected darts or jumps out 1
Something suddenly moves just out of the corner of the eye 2
A sudden loud noise (like a scream) 2
Unexpectedly seeing a corpse 2
Watching someone die 3
Seeing something impossible (like an inanimate object sliding across the floor) 4
Watching a friend die 5
Seeing a monstrous creature Creature Level
Witnessing something supernatural (like a spell) 5
Seeing something mind-bending (like an impossible, multidimensional demigod coalescing out of thin air) 8

Unease #

Horror isn’t always overt monstrosities trying to tear your limbs off or drag your soul into Hell. Sometimes it’s something slightly off-putting, a stretching of the norm, an itching behind your eyes, or a sinking feeling in your stomach. You can feel that something is wrong, but you don’t know exactly what, and you’re not sure what to do about it. Your body isn’t sure if it should jump into fight or flight, so you’re anticipating a spike of adrenaline and it’s very distracting.

With the Unease horror module, whenever a character is in the presence of something disturbing that risks breaking their worldview, all their actions are hindered. Normally this happens whenever the triggering situation is within a short distance of the character, but the range might vary depending on what the PC sees and the nature of the disturbance. For example, a demon the size of a house might cause unease whenever it’s within very long range, but a city-sized alien starship hovering in the sky might affect people whenever they can see it even though it’s a thousand miles away.

If the GM plans to have an ongoing Unease effect throughout an entire game session (like an alien death fleet), they should consider using physical reminders in the game area so players don’t forget its effects. Over time, the GM might allow characters to become used to these worrying sights, perhaps due to exposure or maybe by purchasing the familiarity as a medium-term benefit.

Some creatures in the Cypher System already have the ability to make others uncomfortable just by being in the same area, so if they are the only weird creatures the GM plans to use in a horror game, there’s no need for the Unease module.

In some ways, Unease is a more limited form of Instant Panic but can also be used in tandem with it.

Horror games allow us to explore some pretty dark topics from the safety of our own game tables. But before you do that, make sure everyone around your table is okay with that. Find out what your players will find “good uncomfortable,” which is something that makes us squirm in our seats in a great horror movie, and “bad uncomfortable,” which is something that actually makes a player feel nauseated, unsafe, or offended. Being scared can be fun, but being sickened isn’t.

Consider the age and maturity of everyone in the game, perhaps in terms of the movie rating system. Tell the players what you think the game you’re running would be rated. If everyone’s okay with an R rating, then fine. You can have a spooky game that’s on the level of a kids’ movie rated G—more like Scooby-Doo than Saw, in other words. A PG rating might be right for a game that’s more creepy than horrific, with ghosts and spooky noises but not axe-wielding maniacs.

The different ratings suggest different kinds of content for your game. Finding a dead body is horrible, but watching someone get decapitated is something else entirely. Getting chased around by an alien that wants to eat you is one thing, but having it gestate and burst out of your own intestines is another. You need to know where the line is for everyone participating, and you need to know it right from the beginning.

For more information and advice on safe ways to address consent issues in your game, read the free Consent in Gaming PDF at myMCG.info/consent

Horror Creatures And NPCs By Level And Genre #

Level Name Genre
2 Hivemind child Aliens, dark magic, science gone wrong
2 Skeleton* Comedy horror, dark magic, demons, zombies
3 Cannibal Comedy horror, cryptids, dark magic, degenerates, zombies
3 Nightgaunt Aliens, cryptids, Lovecraftian
3 Vampire, transitional* Degenerates, science gone wrong, vampires
3 Vat reject* Doppelgangers, science gone wrong, simulacra
3 Zombie* Degenerates, Lovecraftian, science gone wrong, zombies
4 Deep one* Lovecraftian
4 Devil* Dark magic, demons
4 Ghost* Ghosts, dark magic, J-horror/K-horror
4 Ghoul* Cryptids, degenerates, Lovecraftian, zombies
4 Grey* Aliens, doppelgangers, science gone wrong
4 Mad scientist Aliens, body horror, comedy horror, demons, doppelgangers, Lovecraftian, science gone wrong, simulacra, werewolves, zombies
4 Werewolf * Degenerates, science gone wrong, slashers, survival horror, werewolves
5 Cryptic moth Cryptids
5 Demon* Dark magic, demons, J-horror/K-horror
5 Fallen angel* Dark magic, demons
5 Ichthysian Comedy horror, cryptids, science gone wrong
5 Killer clown* Clowns, comedy horror, killer toys, slashers
5 Killing white light* Aliens, Lovecraftian, science gone wrong
5 Mi-go* Aliens, body horror, cryptids, Lovecraftian
5 Replicant* Doppelgangers, simulacra
5 Wendigo* Cryptids, degenerates
5 Witch* Dark magic, degenerates, demons
6 Mummy Aliens, dark magic, mummies
6 Reanimated Cryptids, science gone wrong, simulacra
6 Yithian Aliens, doppelgangers, Lovecraftian
6 Vampire* Degenerates, science gone wrong, vampires
6 Xenoparasite* Aliens, body horror, science gone wrong
7 Fundamental angel Demons, science gone wrong
7 Shoggoth Aliens, body horror, Lovecraftian
8 Blob Aliens, body horror, Lovecraftian, science gone wrong
8 Elder thing Aliens, cryptids, Lovecraftian, science gone wrong

Creature Found In The Cypher System Rulebook #

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The huge, undulating mass of this creature is composed of a mucus-like solid. The half-amorphous blob defeats its foes by absorbing prey, integrating a victim’s tissue into its own. In essence, the victim becomes the blob, and all of the victim’s knowledge is available to the blob for later use.

If it later desires, a blob can release a nearly perfect replicant of any creature that it has absorbed. Replicants have the memories and personalities of the originals, but they do the blob’s bidding, which is usually to explore distant locations or lure prey into the open using a friendly face. A particularly well-crafted replicant might not know it’s not the original. Creating a replicant takes a blob a day or two of effort, during which time it’s unable to defend itself or eat, so it’s not a task the creature attempts lightly.

Motive: Assimilation of all flesh

Environment: Anywhere

Health: 66

Damage Inflicted: 8 points (acid gout)

Movement: Immediate; immediate when burrowing

Modifications: Speed defense as level 5 due to size

Combat: The blob can project a gout of acid at short range against a single target. Though slow, a blob is always moving forward. A character (or two characters next to each other) within immediate range of a blob must succeed on a Might defense roll each round or be partly caught under the heaving mass of the advancing creature. A caught victim adheres to the blob’s surface and takes 10 points of damage each round. The victim must succeed on a Might defense roll to pull free. A victim who dies from this damage is consumed by the blob, and their body becomes part of the creature.

If a blob has absorbed living flesh within the last hour, it regenerates 3 points of health per round while its health is above 0.

Interaction: A blob’s favored method of communication is to absorb whoever tries to interact with it. If a replicant is handy, the blob might talk through it if the blob can touch the replicant and use it like a puppet.

Use: The old man the PCs accidentally hit with their vehicle has a weird, mucus-like growth on one hand (in addition to the damage he sustained in the accident). He probably should be taken to the hospital to have his injuries and the quivering growth looked at.

Loot: A blob might have several cyphers swirling about in its mass that it uses to equip replicants.

GM intrusion: The character pulls free of a blob they were caught under, but a piece of quivering protoplasm remains stuck to their flesh. They must do serious damage to themselves (enough to incapacitate) within the hour, scraping off the protoplasm before it absorbs them and becomes a new mini-blob.

Cryptic moth
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Normal moths are enigmatic, gauzy haunts of twilight. The feathery touch of their wings on your face can startle, even frighten. This is to be expected, since moths are the children of cryptic moths, malign and intelligent entities of another realm. Sometimes referred to as mothmen, other times as shadow faeries, cryptic moths are certainly alien. Each possesses a unique wing pattern and coloration, and, to some extent, body shape. These patterns

and colors may signify where in the hierarchy a particular cryptic moth stands among its siblings of the night, but for those who do not speak the language of moths, the complexity of their social structure is overwhelming.

Motive: Capture humans, possibly for food, possibly for breeding purposes

Environment: Almost anywhere, usually at night

Health: 23

Damage Inflicted: 5 points

Movement: Short; long when flying

Modifications: All knowledge tasks as level 6; stealth tasks as level 7 while invisible

Combat: Cryptic moths usually enter combat only when they wish, because until they attack

and become visible, they can remain unseen and invisible to most eyes. The touch of a cryptic moth’s wing draws life and energy from targets, inflicting 5 points of Speed damage (ignores Armor).

Cryptic moths regain 1 point of health per round while their health is above 0, unless

they’ve been damaged with a silvered or cold iron weapon, or by electrical attacks.

Once every hour or so, a cryptic moth can summon a swarm of normal moths to aid

them in combat or, more often, serve as a fashion accessory or component in a piece of living art.

Moth swarm: level 2

If a cryptic moth is prepared, it may carry cyphers useful in combat, and perhaps even an artifact.

Interaction: Although very few cryptic moths speak human languages, peaceful interaction

with these creatures is not impossible. It’s just extremely difficult, as they see most

humans as a source of food or bodies to lay their eggs in.

Use: A character is followed by a cryptic moth intent on capturing and enslaving them.

Loot: A cryptic moth usually has a few cyphers, and possibly a delicate artifact.

GM intrusion: The cryptic moth grabs the character and flies up and away, taking the victim with them.

Elder thing
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Elder things are mostly extinct, but a few remain trapped in the Antarctic ice or rule over crumbling cities in deep trenches at the bottom of the ocean.

Beholding an elder thing bends the mind to the point of breaking. An elder thing has a great barrel-like body standing some 8 feet (2 m) tall. Knobby protrusions in the crown and base each unfold five appendages that recall the arms of a starfish. When agitated, an elder thing unfolds a pair of wings that help it flutter a limited distance.

Meddling by elder things created multicellular life that spread across Earth billions of years ago and ultimately brought about humanity. As the younger species grew in numbers and influence, the elder things went into decline, a process hastened by wars against strange beings from other worlds and uprisings by the servitor race they created, the shoggoths.

Motive: Reclaim absolute sovereignty

Environment: In arctic regions or deep underwater

Health: 30

Damage Inflicted: 6 points

Movement: Immediate; long when flying

Modifications: All tasks related to knowledge of magic or science as level 10; Speed defense

as level 6 due to form

Combat: An elder thing can attack with five tentacles divided any way it chooses among up

to three targets within immediate range. A target hit by a tentacle must also succeed on a Speed defense roll or become grabbed until it escapes. Each round, the elder thing automatically inflicts 6 points of damage on each grabbed target until the victim succeeds on a Might defense roll to escape.

An elder thing can reach into the mind of a target within short distance. If the target fails an Intellect defense roll, the elder thing reads their thoughts while the target remains within long

distance. During this time, the elder thing knows everything the target knows, hindering the target’s attack and defense rolls against the elder thing. The elder thing can use an action to rend the target’s thoughts, which inflicts 6 points of Intellect damage on a failed Intellect defense roll. An elder thing can passively read the thoughts of up to two creatures at one time.

An elder thing also might carry a few cyphers and an artifact it can use in combat.

Interaction: An elder thing communicates through whistles and pops created by moving air through tiny orifices arranged around its body. Elder things see humans as a lesser form of life and may demand worship, sacrifices, or something else from people it encounters.

Use: Fishermen return to a coastal village with a large block of ice in tow. In the ice is something dark and large—an elder thing frozen alive. If the thing thaws out, it will likely take over the community and enslave the people living there.

Loot: An elder thing usually has one artifact and two or three cyphers.

GM intrusion: A character who sees an elder thing for the first time goes temporarily crazy on a failed Intellect defense roll. They might stand in place and gibber, run away, or laugh hysterically for a few rounds. If the character takes damage, they shake off the temporary madness.

Fundamental angel
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Fundamental angels are mysterious holy beings that maintain and guard fundamental concepts of the universe, such as time, gravity, and energy. They have powers and agendas deriving from higher states of reality. They are strange, terrifying, and inconstant in form, unlike the relatively benign and comprehensible winged humanoids from religion and myth.

In the rare times when mortals interfere with these concepts, fundamental angels manifest in the world to set things right. They have intervened to destroy cataclysmic atomic weapons, power sources that skirt the rules of matter and energy, and life forms that betray the principles of creation.

For the purpose of vampire aversions, the angel’s direct and area attacks count as religious power or sunlight, whichever is worse for the vampire.

Motive: Preserving the natural order

Environment: Anywhere, usually in response to mortal activity

Health: 35

Damage Inflicted: 8 points

Armor: 2 (+3 against energy)

Movement: Short; short when flying

Modifications: All knowledge as level 9; attacks against mad science and supernatural targets as level 8

Combat: A fundamental angel attacks other creatures by creating a long-range blast of

bright divine energy that inflicts 8 points of damage. In addition, it automatically inflicts 4 points of damage each round against all creatures within short range, although it can shield itself with wings or other protrusions to negate this effect against individuals.

Any creature within long range that sees it and fails an Intellect defense roll becomes frightened unless the angel tells it (specifically or in general) not to be afraid.

As an action, it can teleport up to a hundred miles away or transport itself fully to its native dimension where it exists as pure thought and spirit.

Interaction: A fundamental angel operates on a mental and metaphysical level far above humans and doesn’t bother to explain itself to anyone other than its targets. It goes out of its way to not harm innocent creatures. It can communicate with any creature that uses language.

Use: “FEAR NOT!” says the radiant being that appears out of nowhere. It ignores bystanders and uses a beam of energy to destroy a scientist and his experimental reactor.

Loot: Fundamental angels sometimes create or refresh subtle cyphers by their mere presence.

GM intrusions:

A fundamental angel’s successful attack also blinds its opponent, lasting until they make an Intellect defense roll (try once each round).

A fundamental angel makes a second attack this round against a target that is adjacent to its primary target.

Hivemind child
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A hivemind family is a scouting expedition of part-alien creatures sent to study and infiltrate human society, either out of scientific curiosity or as a long-term plan for world domination or human extinction. Some entities might intercept human astronauts, reprogramming their DNA or attaching a parasite to their mind or soul. Others might send a machine to

an isolated community, remotely impregnating some of the inhabitants to gestate and give birth at the same time. The end result is a group of hivemind children who have a psychic link, unusual powers, and loyalty to their inhuman creators.

Hivemind children often have a very similar appearance even if they have different parents—they might all have pale blond hair, unusually wide-set eyes, six fingers on one hand, or an odd posture. They eerily match each other’s expressions and movements. They think and speak as children years older than they appear. Their emotional responses are muted to an almost sociopathic extent.

Depending on their origin, the weird children may be mentored or protected by an altered adult, or by human parents in denial about the monsters they care for.

Motive: Conquest, exploration, infiltration

Environment: Human settlements

Health: 6

Damage Inflicted: 2 points

Movement: Short

Modifications: Mental attacks and Intellect defense as level 3; defend against attacks from

living creatures as level 3 due to mind reading; perception and scientific knowledge as

level 4

Combat: Individually, hivemind children are physically no stronger or more durable than

a typical human. Their true strength is in their ability to read and control minds. Their telepathic link means that if one of them knows something, all of them within long range automatically know it.

Hivemind children can automatically read the surface thoughts of anyone they can

see within short range, even if the target is unwilling. As an action, they can force

an intelligent living creature within short range to take a physical action, including something that would cause the target harm, such as forcing a target to stick their hand into boiling water, steer a moving car off a cliff, or shoot themselves with a pistol (if used as an attack, this inflicts damage equal to the hivemind child’s level or the controlled creature’s level, whichever is greater).

Two hivemind children within short range of each other automatically augment each other’s mental powers, allowing them to read or control minds of two targets at once as a level 4 creature. Four within short range of each other can read or control minds of four targets at once as a level 5 creature, and eight or more can work together to read or control minds of eight people as a level 6 creature.

Interaction: Hivemind children want to protect themselves and observe humans and will try to do so until they appear as old as adults. Their long-term goals are unclear but probably don’t have humanity’s best interests in mind.

Use: Children born after a scientific expedition are strange and different. Multiple small villages all over the world experience births of children with weird abilities.

Loot: Hivemind children may have no useful items or one weird science device they’ve built with their inhuman knowledge.

GM intrusions:

A group of hivemind children briefly manifest a teleportation or telekinesis ability

at the same level as their mind control.

The injury or death of one hivemind child angers the rest, increasing their level and damage by +2 for one round.

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Ichthysians are thought to be aquatic evolutionary offshoots of hominids or the result of experiments trying to fuse human and amphibian or fish DNA. They are physically similar to humans standing fully upright, with webbed hands, claws, froglike or fishlike features, gills, and strong muscles from a lifetime of swimming. They live in the water but are comfortable with extended forays onto land. Their intelligence is between that of a smart animal and a human; they can use simple tools such as rocks and sticks, and may build dams to modify waterways in their territory.

Some ichthysians are reputed to have the ability to heal others, and local villages may worship these beings as gods.

Motive: Hunger for flesh, curiosity, solitude

Environment: Anywhere near bodies of fresh water Health: 18

Damage Inflicted: 6 points

Armor: 2

Movement: Short on land; long in the water

Modifications: Strength-based tasks and swimming as level 6; defense against poison as level 3

Combat: Ichthysians attack with their

powerful claws. They are less mobile on land and prefer to attack from the water. If overmatched, they would rather flee to deep, dark water than fight to the death.

An ichthysian regenerates 2 points of health each round as long as it starts the round with at least 0 health. This regeneration greatly extends their lifespan, and it is common for them to live to be more than two hundred years old.

Ichthysians are prone to mutation, especially in response to pollutants and other chemicals. These mutations might be physical deformities, but could be as strange as transparent flesh, poisonous skin, extra eyes with enhanced senses, or extra limbs.

Interaction: Ichthysians are not aggressive but will retaliate with full force against anything that attacks them, and one can remember specific enemy humans from its past.

Use: A cryptid fish-person has been spotted in the vicinity of a deforested area adjacent to a mighty river. Villagers tell stories of an ancient water god that heals sickness and grants wishes.

Loot: An ichthysian’s lair might have a strange relic or device that works like a cypher or artifact.

GM Intrusions:

A slain ichthysian suddenly regenerates 5 health and immediately attacks or tries to flee.

The ichthysian suddenly mutates in response to an attack, thereafter gaining +2 Armor or +2 levels in defense against that type of attack.

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Mummies are intelligent undead, usually royalty or members of the priesthood, risen from their burial places to destroy those who disturbed their rest. Many seek to undo wrongs against them from ages past or re-establish themselves in their former high stations.

Motive: Vengeance, love, power

Environment: Regions where mummification was common Health: 24

Damage Inflicted: 7 points

Armor: 2

Movement: Short

Modifications: Climb, stealth, ancient history, and ancient religion as level 8

Combat: Mummies are strong, capable of lifting an adult human with one hand and throwing the person across a room. They attack with weapons that were buried with them or use their fists. A mummy usually has one or more of the following abilities:

Curse: Anyone who disturbs a mummy’s tomb must make an Intellect defense roll or become cursed, which hinders their

actions by two steps (forever, or until cured).

Disease: The mummy’s attacks carry a rotting disease. The target must make a level 5 Might defense roll every twelve hours or take 5 points of ambient damage.

Lifelike appearance: A mummy can repair its body to assume a fully human appearance. This usually requires time and the flesh of several people, often those who awakened it.

Magic: Once per hour, the mummy can cast a spell from the Minor Wish character ability.

Minion: Animate up to four mummified bodies as mindless lesser mummies or skeletons (depending on how well the bodies are preserved), lasting for one day.

Lesser mummy: level 3, climb and stealth as level 4; health 12; Armor 1

Swarm: Call a swarm of bugs (usually scarab beetles or scorpions) to attack a foe or obscure vision.

Swarm of bugs: level 3

Interaction: Mummies want to destroy anyone who disturbs their burial places. Ambitious mummies might choose living beings to be their spies and servants, bribing them with funereal treasures or threatening them into submission.

Use: Villagers whisper that a tomb has been opened and a mummy’s curse will strike down anyone who gets in the creature’s way.

Loot: Mummies usually have treasures equivalent to three or four expensive items and perhaps a handful of magical manifest cyphers or even a magical artifact.

GM Intrusions:

  • A dying mummy speaks a curse upon those who killed it, hindering all their actions by two steps (forever, or until cured).
  • What was overlooked as a fake or a prop turns out to be an actual mummy and attacks a character.
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A nightgaunt’s hands and feet have no opposable digits. All its fingers and toes can grasp with firm but unpleasant boneless strength. Hungry nightgaunts swoop out of the night, grab prey, and fly off into darkness. The creatures sometimes “work” for other agencies, though often enough, their goals are obscure.

Motive: Unknowable

Environment: Anywhere dark, usually in groups of four to seven

Health: 9

Damage Inflicted: 4 points

Armor: 1

Movement: Immediate; long when flying (short when flying with a victim) Modifications: Perception and Speed defense as level 4; stealth

as level 7

Combat: A nightgaunt can attack with its barbed tail. To catch a foe, a nightgaunt dives through the air from just outside of short range. When it does, it moves 100 feet (30 m) in a round and attempts to grab a victim near the midpoint of its movement. A target who

fails a Speed defense roll (and who isn’t more than twice the size of the nightgaunt) is jerked into the creature’s boneless clutches and carried upward, finding themselves dangling from a height of 50 feet (15 m).

The nightgaunt automatically tickles grabbed victims with its barbed tail. This subtle form of torture hinders all the victim’s actions by two steps.

Interaction: Nightgaunts never speak, and they ignore anyone who attempts to interact with

them, whether the communication takes the form of commanding, beseeching, or frantically pleading. Such is the way of nightgaunts.

Use: Someone who bears one or more of the PCs a grudge discovers a tome of spells and summons a flight of nightgaunts, which set off in search of their prey.

Loot: One in three nightgaunts has a valuable souvenir from a past victim, which might be an expensive watch, a ring, an amulet, or sometimes a cypher.

GM intrusion: The character is startled by the nightgaunt and suffers the risk of temporary dementia. On a failed Intellect defense roll, the character shrieks and faints (or, at the GM’s option, babbles, drools, laughs, and so on). The character can attempt a new Intellect defense roll each round to return to normal.

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A reanimated is a humanoid creature patched together from corpses (or crafted directly from muscle, nerves, and sinew), then returned to life through a hard-to-duplicate series of electromagnetic induction events. Though made of flesh, a reanimated’s return to consciousness and mobility is marked by a substantial increase in hardiness, resistance to injury, and longevity. On the other hand, the process usually obliterates whatever mind was once encoded in the donor’s brain, giving rise to a creature of monstrous rage and childlike credulity. Sometimes the reanimated is bound to its creator in service, but such ties are fragile and could be snapped by an ill-timed fit of fury.

Motive: Defense, unpredictable

Environment: Anywhere in service to a mad scientist, or driven to the edges of civilization Health: 70

Damage Inflicted: 7 points

Movement: Short; long when jumping

Modifications: Speed defense as level 4; interaction as level 2; feats of strength and toughness as level 8

Combat: A reanimated attacks foes with its hands. Any time a foe inflicts 7 or more points of damage on the reanimated with a single melee attack, the creature immediately lashes out in reactive rage and makes an additional attack in the same round on the foe who injured it.

If the reanimated begins combat within long range of foes but outside of short range, it can bridge the distance with an amazing leap that concludes with an attack as a single action. The attack inflicts 4 points of damage on all targets within immediate range of the spot where the reanimated lands.

Some reanimated are psychologically vulnerable to fire, and they fear it. When these reanimated attack or defend against a foe wielding fire, their attacks and defenses are hindered by two steps.

If struck by electricity, a reanimated regains a number of points of health equal to the damage the electricity would normally inflict.

Interaction: Fear and food motivate a reanimated, though sometimes beautiful music or innocence can stay its fists.

Use: Depending on where a reanimated falls along its moral and psychological development, it could be a primary foe for the PCs, a secondary guardian to deal with, or a forlorn beast in need of aid.

GM Intrusion:

The character’s attack bounces harmlessly off the stitched, hardened flesh of the reanimated.

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Shoggoths vary in size, but the smallest are usually at least 10 feet (3 m) across. They are the product of incredibly advanced bioengineering by some strange species in the distant past. They are angry, vicious predators feared by any who have ever heard of these rare creatures (or who have encountered them and somehow survived to tell the tale). They were created by the elder things but overthrew their masters and now roam the vast, ancient cities they have claimed for themselves.

Rumors abound of a few very rare, particularly intelligent shoggoths that intentionally reduce their own mass and learn to take on the forms of humans so they can integrate themselves into society (and prey upon humans at their leisure).

Motive: Hungers for flesh

Environment: Anywhere

Health: 35

Damage Inflicted: 10 points

Armor: 10 against fire, cold, and electricity

Movement: Long

Modifications: Speed defense as level 6 due to size

Combat: Shoggoths sprout tendrils and mouths and spread their wide, amorphous forms, allowing them to attack all foes within immediate range. Those struck by a shoggoth’s attack are grabbed and engulfed by the thing’s gelatinous body and suffer damage each

round until they manage to pull themselves free (engulfed creatures can take no other physical actions while they are caught). Each round of entrapment, one object in the victim’s possession is destroyed by the foul juices of the amorphous horror.

Shoggoths regenerate 5 points of health each round. They have protection against fire, cold, and electricity.

Interaction: A shoggoth can’t be reasoned with.

Use: The PCs find an ancient structure of metal and stone. Wandering through it, they note

that every surface is clear of dirt and debris. Soon they discover why—a shoggoth squirms through the halls, absorbing everything it comes upon (and it fills the passages it moves down, floor to ceiling, wall to wall).

Loot: A shoggoth’s interior might contain a cypher.

GM intrusion: The character is engulfed in the shoggoth, their gear scattered throughout the thing’s undulating form, and their body turned upside down so that escape attempts are hindered.

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The yithians (also known as the Great Race of Yith) were immense wrinkly cones 10 feet (3 m) high, with a head, four limbs, and other organs spreading from the top of their body. They communicated by making noises with their hands and claws, and they moved by gliding their lower surface across a layer of slime, like a slug. Their civilization was destroyed a billion years before the present day, but they transported their minds into new bodies far in the future and may still be encountered observing the past (our present) by telepathically inhabiting human bodies.

Motive: Knowledge Environment: Anywhere Health: 22

Damage Inflicted: 6 points Armor: 2

Movement: Short

Modifications: All knowledge as level 8; Intellect defense as level 7; Speed defense as level 5

due to size and speed

Combat: Although large and hardy, members of the Great Race are ill-suited to physical

combat. If they must engage in melee, they use pincer-like claws. They almost always wield artifacts and cyphers, however, which makes them dangerous opponents. Assume that a yithian has one or more of the following abilities arising from advanced technology devices:

  • Force field that grants them +3 Armor

  • Mental field that gives them +4 Armor against any mental attack

  • Ray emitter that inflicts 7 points of damage up to long range

  • Cloaking field that renders them invisible for up to ten minutes

  • Stun weapon with short range that makes the target fall unconscious for ten minutes

Yithians have the ability to transfer their consciousness backward or forward through time, swapping minds with a creature native to the era they wish to observe. A yithian inhabiting the body of another creature is in complete control of that body. A creature trapped in the body of a yithian must attempt Intellect-based tasks each time it wishes to exert control.

For the most part, it is trapped in the yithian’s body and is merely along for the ride.

It’s worth noting that the bodies the yithians use are not their original bodies, but instead the bodies of supremely ancient creatures that they inhabit. The Great Race hails originally from some extraterrestrial world.

Interaction: Yithians are not malicious, but they are quite focused and relatively uncaring about other races, such as humans.

Use: A yithian projects its mind across the aeons, swapping consciousnesses with the character. While controlling the character’s body, the yithian is there mainly to learn and observe, and rarely takes any violent actions.

Loot: A yithian encountered in the flesh will have 1d6 manifest cyphers and very likely a technological artifact.

GM intrusion:

The yithian produces a cypher that has a function that is perfect for its current situation: a teleporter to get away, a protective field against precisely the kind of attack being used against it, or a weapon that exploits a weakness of the character’s.


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A cannibal is someone who has decided that eating other people is not only necessary but desirable. Whether this decision was forced by circumstance or made out of some secret, maladaptive urge, cannibals are dangerous because they hide in plain sight, pretending friendship and aid for strangers until their prey lowers their guard. That’s when a cannibal strikes. Some cannibals like it raw; others delight in elaborate preparations.

Motive: Hungers for human flesh

Health: 12

Damage Inflicted: 5 points

Movement: Short

Modifications: Deception, persuasion, intimidation, and tasks related to friendly interaction as level 6

Combat: Cannibals use whatever weapon is at hand. They usually don’t attack unless they can surprise their prey. When cannibals have surprise, they attack as level 5 creatures and inflict 2 additional points of damage.

Interaction: Cannibals seem friendly and charming until they decide you are for dinner. Use: Characters looking for a place to sleep, hide, or stay for the night are invited in by one

or more cannibals—perhaps an entire family of them.

Loot: A cannibal has currency equivalent to a very expensive item and possibly a cypher.

GM intrusion: The cannibal reveals a severed and gnawed- upon body part of a previous victim. The character must succeed on an Intellect defense task or be stunned and lose their next turn.

Mad scientist
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A mad scientist is someone who delves into areas of science best left unexamined, abandoning ethics and pushing for what can be created without asking if it should be.

Motive: Understanding and exploiting reality

Environment: Usually in a lab

Health: 15

Damage Inflicted: 7 points

Movement: Short

Modifications: Defends as level 6 due to a gadget (or cypher); knowledge of advanced

science as level 7

Combat: Mad scientists are usually accompanied by security guards, robots, zombies, or

some other appropriate creature. A mad scientist can attempt to take command of an enemy’s technological device (armor, a weapon, a cypher, a robot, and so on) within short range for up to one minute using a handheld device.

Mad scientists usually have access to a long-range energy or high-velocity weapon that inflicts 7 points of damage. They often carry manifest cyphers that increase Armor, confuse opponents’ senses, or transform themselves into a form that eases all their actions by two steps.

Interaction: Mad scientists are narcissistic and love to monologue about their work. They negotiate but usually are sociopathic and don’t care about other people. Some are filled with self-loathing but too far gone to feel they can change.

Use: Blackouts and strange noises have been traced to a location found to hold a secret lab where a scientist is creating something amazing and monstrous.

Loot: Mad scientists have a few manifest cyphers and possibly an artifact.

GM intrusion: The mad scientist produces a gadget or cypher that proves to be the perfect answer to a dilemma at hand.

Horror Artifacts #

Most of the time, a horror artifact will be something really weird—an ancient tome of forbidden necromancy, an alien device that humans can barely understand, and so forth. They are often unique items rather than one of a type. Horror artifacts should probably come with a risk, such as a built-in cost, a drawback, or something else that makes using them another way to heighten the tension of the game. Several examples are below.

Book Of Inversion #

Level: 8

Form: Very large book of ancient providence, the cover bound in iron and wrapped in chains with a level 6 padlock

Effect: When opened, the Book of Inversion shows a pair of pages that detail a magic spell in the reader’s language, complete with disturbing diagrams. The spell’s effect varies, but it is always some kind of horrible attack—a target is driven mad, a target is turned inside out, a target seeks to murder their best friend, several targets are cursed with a rotting disease, and so forth. The reader can automatically cast the spell as an action, one time only. More insidiously, if successful, the spell confers pleasure to the caster and fully restores all of their Pools. The caster must make an immediate Intellect defense roll or be compelled to use the book (and thus a new spell) again the next day. This compulsion is so strong that the caster will kill their dearest loved one to complete the task. If they are unable to use the book again, they are driven permanently mad. Woe to the caster who uses the book on the last time before it is depleted (at which point it crumbles to dust).

Depletion: 1 in 1d10

Shadow Box #

Level: 7

Form: Wooden and black metal box, about 12 inches by 7 inches by 3 inches (30 by 18 by 8 cm), with a hinged lid and a clasp

Effect: When the box opens, shadows seethe out. These shadows coalesce into a form that best represents a deep fear in the subconscious of the person who opened the box. The opener must make an Intellect defense roll to master the shadow thing, which then acts as a level 7 creature under their control for five rounds before fading away. If the roll fails, the creature attacks the opener and anyone else around. To make matters worse, the opener spends the first round frozen in terror, doing nothing.

Depletion: 1–2 in 1d6

Sphere 23 #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: A 7-inch (18 cm) sphere of what appears to be fluid metal, tinted red

Effect: Possibly one of a number of identical alien artifacts recovered in remote locales across the earth, the so-called sphere 23 will grant a wish to anyone who holds it and uses an action to concentrate on it. The wish can be anything, including something that bends reality: raising the dead, altering time, and so forth. However, the wisher must immediately make a Might defense roll or be consumed by the sphere. If the roll succeeds, they must then make an Intellect defense roll or be driven permanently and irrevocably mad.

Depletion: 1–3 in 1d6

Horror Cyphers #

Many horror genres feature physical objects that the protagonists can use—alien devices, magical talismans, or mysterious objects with an unknown origin. This chapter describes examples of these objects as cyphers, which can be awarded like other manifest cyphers or in place of subtle cyphers. Unlike those in the Cypher System Rulebook, the manifest cyphers listed here include suggestions for what form the cypher takes (although in a game with magic, any of these cyphers might exist as a potion or spell on a scroll in addition to or instead of the forms listed here).

Most of these are marked as fantastic cyphers, although depending on the genre and circumstances of the game, they might be completely normal.

For your convenience, the cyphers have been organized into lists by horror genre or theme so you can randomly roll for something appropriate to your game without getting one that doesn’t apply (such as a cypher against vampires in an alien invasion horror game). If you’re running a game that mixes several genres, switch between lists each time you need to award a new manifest cypher.

Alien Cyphers #

1-2 Anathema siren (aliens)
3-4 Decaptitative longevity
5-6 Horrific arm
7-8 Horrific eye
9-10 Horrified integrated weapon
11-12 Humanity tester
13-14 Invisibility revealers
15-16 Mind swapper
17-18 Primitive doppelganger
19-20 Visage scrutinizer

Body Horror Cyphers #

1-2 Ascendant flesh vivisector
3-4 Decaptitative longevity
5-6 Horrific arm
7-8 Horrific eye
9-10 Horrific face
11-12 Horrific integrated weapon
13-14 Horrific orifice
15-16 Insanity suppressor
17-18 Primitive doppelganger
19-20 Reanimator

Classic Monster Cyphers #

1 Anathema siren (cryptids)
2 Anathema siren (mummies)
3-4 Anathema siren (undead)
5-6 Anathema siren (vampires)
7-8 Anathema siren (werewolves)
9 Ascendant brain vivisector
10 Ascendant flesh vivisector
11 Corrupted canopic jar
12 Decaptitative longevity
13 Ghost detector
14-16 Invisibility serum
17 Reanimator
18-19 Silgarho infusion
20 Unphantomed limb

Dark Magic And Occult Cyphers #

1-4 Anathema siren (demons)
5-7 Decapitative longevity
8-11 Homunculus flask
12-14 Mind swapper
15-17 Reanimator
18-20 Revenant serum

Demon Cyphers #

1-4 Anathema siren (demons)
5-7 Horrific arm
8-10 Horrific face
11-13 Humanity tester
14-16 Reanimator
17-20 Visage scrutinizer

Ghost Cyphers #

1-8 Anathema siren (ghost)
9-20 Ghost detector

Lovecraftian Cyphers #

1-2 Anathema siren (aliens)
3-4 Anathema siren (cryptids)
5-6 Anathema siren (extradimensional creatures)
7 Anathema siren (undead)
8-9 Horrific arm
10-11 Horrific eye
12-13 Horrific face
14-15 Horrific integrated weapon
16-17 Insanity suppressor
18-19 Invisibility revealer
20 Mind swapper

Mummy Cyphers #

1-6 Anathema siren (mummies)
7-12 Corrupted canopic jar
13-16 Reanimator
17-20 Revenant serum

Science Gone Wrong Cyphers #

1 Anathema siren (simulacra)
2 Ascendant brain vivisector
3 Ascendant flesh vivisector
4 Decapitative longevity
5 Ghost detector
6 Ghost trap
7 Homunculus flask
8 Horrific arm
9 Horrific eye
10 Horrific face
11 Horrific integrated weapon
12 Humanity tester
13 Insanity suppressor
14 Invisibility revealer
15 invisibility serum
16 Mind swapper
17 Primitive doppelganger
18 Reanimator
19 Revenant serum
20 Unphantomed limb

Undead Cyphers #

1-3 Anathema siren (ghosts)
4-6 Anathema siren (vampires)
7-9 Anathema siren (undead)
10 Decapitative longevity
11-12 Ghost detector
13 Ghost trap
14 Reanimator
15 Revenant serum
16-18 Silgarho infusion
19-20 Wolfsbane potion

Vampire Cyphers #

1-6 Anathema siren (vampire)
7-12 Humanity tester
13-20 Silgarho infusion

Werewolf Cyphers #

1-5 Anathema siren (werewolves)
6-10 Ascendant brain vivisector
11-15 Reanimator
16-20 Wolfsbane potion

Zombie Cyphers #

1-8 Anathema siren (undead)
9-14 Reanimator
15-20 Revenant serum

A Selection Of Horror Cyphers #

Anathema Siren #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Amulet or device

Effect: Creates a strange and annoying noise about the volume of a human shouting. The noise is especially aggravating toward one type of creature; creatures of this type have all their actions hindered by two steps (hindered by three steps if the cypher level is 7 or higher) while within short range of the cypher. The user must use their action each round to manipulate the cypher for the noise and its effects to persist, or it goes silent and loses all power. The siren can be used for up to one minute per cypher level. Roll a d100 to determine what sort of creature is affected:

01-10 Aliens (probably one specific kind of alien)
11-16 Animate dolls and puppets
17-22 Cryptids
23-32 Demons
33-28 Doppelgangers
39-48 Ghosts
49-54 Mummies
55-64 Robots
65-70 Simulacra
71-80 Vampires
81-90 Werewolves (or some other werecreature)
91-95 Extradimensional creatures
96-00 Undead

Ascendant Brain Vivisector #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: If used on a beast whose level is less than the cypher level, this enhances connections in the beast’s brain so it attains near-human intelligence and sapience, and gains a basic understanding of one specific language keyed to the cypher. The beast remembers its prior, simpler existence and understands that it has been made smarter. This transformation lasts for one day per cypher level, and then the beast reverts to its normal self slowly over the same number of days, often with violent and erratic outbreaks. For example, if the beast becomes smarter for five days, it loses intelligence gradually over days 6 through 9 and is back to normal on day 10. Additional uses of the cypher tend to have diminishing returns.

When used with an ascendant flesh vivisector, the resulting creature looks, thinks, and acts like a human.

Using this cypher on a beast whose level is too high might end up elevating its intelligence somewhat but also instigating aggressive behavior.

Ascendant Flesh Vivisector #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: If used on a beast of no larger than human size whose level is less than the cypher level, this radically alters the beast’s shape so it resembles a human being. The beast-human still thinks and acts like a beast, but it looks like a human and can perform actions using its human dexterity (such as turning a doorknob or walking upright). This transformation lasts for one day

per cypher level, but after an equal amount of time the beast reverts to its normal shape (in the manner described for the ascendant brain vivisector cypher). Additional uses of the cypher tend to have diminishing returns.

Using this cypher on a beast whose level is too high might end up temporarily transforming it into a human with bestial features.

Orrupted Canopic Jar #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Jar made of clay or carved stone

Effect: Breaking open the jar (which destroys the preserved organs inside) permanently grants the user an asset (two assets if the cypher level is 6 or higher) on all attacks and defenses against mummies within short range.

Ecapitative Longevity #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Injection or potion

Effect: Brings a dead creature’s head (but not the body) back to life for a limited time as an undead creature. The cypher can be used up to an hour before or after death (in anticipation of dying or in response to someone’s death) and requires up to ten minutes to take effect, at which time the creature recovers 1d6 + 6 points to their Pools. Because they are only a head, a PC reanimated this way has a maximum Might and Speed Pool of 3 each. The head has all the mental abilities they had when they were alive (including psychic or telepathic abilities) and can speak, but all their actions are hindered. They have the same appearance as before, except the wounds that killed them are still visible, and in general they have an unnatural look. They do not need to eat, drink, or sleep, but they can still rest if they want to (such as to make a recovery roll). The head remains in this active state for one day per cypher level, after which time it dies again and cannot be reanimated with this cypher.

When using a decapitative longevity cypher to bring a head back to life, it can be left attached to the inert body, or someone can carefully sever the head from the body, which doesn’t harm the head.

Ghost Detector #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Amulet, crystal, or device

Effect: Automatically indicates if a ghost, spirit, or similar entity is within a short distance (a long distance if the cypher is level 6 or higher). If the user takes an action to study or focus their attention on the cypher, they can narrow down what quarter-arc of a circle the ghost is

in. If the ghost is normally invisible, it becomes somewhat visible (hindering its stealth attempts by one step). The cypher remains active for ten minutes per cypher level.

Ghost Trap #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Crystal or device

Effect: Can be thrown up to a short distance, where it releases a burst of transdimensional energy in an immediate area that absorbs ghosts (including spirits, phased beings, and similar creatures) but does not affect corporeal entities. PCs who meet these criteria must use an Intellect-based action (difficulty equal to the cypher level) to avoid being trapped. NPC ghosts are not affected if their level is higher than the cypher level. The trap holds the ghosts for up to one hour per cypher level, after which they automatically break free (and are probably very angry).

Ghosts in a trap can be permanently stored in a ghost vault.

Homunculus Flask #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Ornate, opaque alchemical bottle filled with strange fluid

Effect: To activate this cypher, you must open the bottle, add a few fresh drops of your blood (inflicting 1 point of Might damage to you), stopper it again, and leave it alone for one day. When the bottle is next unstoppered, a hand-sized creature called a homunculus crawls out; it vaguely resembles you and serves you for one day per cypher level before dissolving into useless goo. Each time you give it an order, you must make an Intellect defense roll against it; if you fail, it becomes free to ignore your commands (but might pretend to be obedient so it can plot against you).

Homunculus: level 2; alchemy, all defenses, and stealth as level 3

Horrific Arm #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Injection or pill

Effect: The user’s body rapidly grows a monstrous arm that is approximately the same size as one of their existing limbs. The arm is ugly and malformed, but fully functional.

The user can use this arm as if it were one of their own. The new arm does not grant the user additional actions or attacks in a round, but it can be useful for carrying things. Damage to the arm does not affect the user (the arm can take 6 points of damage directed at it before it becomes nonfunctional). The arm lasts for one day per cypher level.

Horrific Eye #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Injection or spell

Effect: The user’s body rapidly grows a monstrous eye (including a retractable eyestalk if the cypher level is 6 or higher) at the spot where the cypher is applied to their body. The user can see out of this eye as if it were one of their own (including any extraordinary vision-based senses the user normally has). The eye gives the user an asset on vision-based perception rolls, and depending on where it is located, it may allow the user to look around corners surreptitiously. Damage to the eye does not affect the user (the eye can take 1 point of damage directed at it before it becomes nonfunctional). The eye lasts for one day per cypher level.

Horrific Face #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Injection or pill

Effect: The user rapidly grows a monstrous face (or an entire head if the cypher level is 6 or higher) somewhere on their body. The user can use the senses of this face and talk, breathe, and eat with it (for example, if their normal face is underwater or wrapped in plastic). The face gives the user an asset on perception rolls when its senses can be used—for example, it could hear someone sneaking up on the user, but it couldn’t see them if its eyes were covered, and it can’t help with identifying tastes unless its mouth is also used. Damage to the face does not affect the user (the face can take 3 points of damage directed at it before it becomes nonfunctional). Most people react with disgust to a creature with a visible extra face, hindering all interaction tasks. The face lasts for one day per cypher level (two days if the cypher is level 6 or higher).

Horrific Integrated Weapon #

Level: 1d6 + 3

Form: Weapon you can hold in one hand

Effect: The weapon extends tendrils, skin, wires, nerves, or other material into and through the user’s hand, physically connecting itself to the user for one hour per cypher level. While connected, the user gains an asset on attacks with the weapon and cannot be disarmed, but cannot use that hand for anything except wielding the weapon. The user can detach or reattach the weapon by spending a full minute concentrating on its physical connection to their body. When the duration ends, the weapon detaches and becomes a normal weapon of its type. Roll a d20 to determine the kind of weapon:

1-4 Hunting knife
5-8 Machete
9-12 Nightstike
13-16 Light handgun
17-20 Medium handgun

Horrific Orifice #

Level: 1d6 + 3

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: The user’s body rapidly grows a strange orifice in their torso, large enough to fit a human fist but flexible enough to hold a compact disc or videocassette tape. One cypher held within the orifice doesn’t count toward the user’s cypher limit. As an action, the user can cause the orifice to appear or disappear (when the orifice isn’t present, anything contained within it is inaccessible except through surgery). The orifice remains for one hour per cypher level, after which it expels its contents and disappears.

Someone who fully understands how a horrific orifice cypher works might be able to program the user with new memories or control their mind by inserting data devices into the orifice.

Humanity Tester #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: Reveals whether a targeted creature is human or some sort of inhuman impostor (such as an alien, demon, doppelganger, simulacrum, or vampire) if the cypher’s level is greater than the creature’s disguise level. If the cypher’s level exceeds the impostor’s level by 4 or more,

it also marks the impostor for the next several hours so people can recognize it by this mark.

The specific nature of a humanity tester depends on the setting and what sort of creatures are common. In a world with multiple kinds of creatures that pretend to be human, the tester might recognize all fakes or detect only one specific kind of fake

Insanity Suppressor #

Level: 1d6

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: Temporarily negates insanity or a mental disorder in a creature (two such effects if the cypher level is 6 or higher). Example disorders include delusions, manias, compulsions, phobias, psychopathy, and schizophrenia. The creature loses all negative symptoms of their insanity or mental disorder for one day. Each day after that, the creature must make a level 1 Intellect defense roll to prolong the effect; failure means relapse. The roll is hindered by one step for each day that has passed since the cypher was used.

Invisibility Revealer #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Device containing a liquid or silvery powder

Effect: Sprays its contents up to a long distance, revealing all invisible creatures within short range of the targeted point for one round per cypher level. Affected invisible creatures remain visible if they move outside the area, and those outside the area become visible if they enter the area.

Invisibility Serum #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Device, flask, or injection

Effect: The user’s body becomes as transparent as air, making them effectively invisible for one minute per cypher level. However, their clothes and equipment are not affected, so the user must go naked if they want to be unseen. While invisible, the user is specialized in stealth and Speed defense tasks. They remain invisible even if they do something to reveal their presence or position (attacking, using an ability, moving a large object, and so on), but anyone trying to attack or physically interact with them on that turn gains an asset to do so.

Because the user is as transparent as air, when they are in water, mist, smoke, or anything other than reasonably clean air, they look like a person-shaped hole in whatever material they’re in.

The serum has detrimental effects on the mind. Each minute it is in effect, the user takes 2 points of Intellect damage. Many users have become “stuck” in the invisible state and eventually go mad as a result.

Mind Swapper #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Amulet or device

Effect: The user attempts to swap minds with a creature within short range that is no larger than a human. The target can make an Intellect defense roll to resist. If the swap is successful, the user gains control of the creature’s body (and vice versa). Physical abilities remain with the body, but mental abilities go with the mind; for example, an Adept with Onslaught (a mental ability) could take over the body of a Warrior with Swipe (a physical ability), and could use either of these while controlling the Warrior’s body. All actions of both creatures are hindered while the swap is in effect, although long-term practice in a mind-swapped body eventually overcomes this penalty. The swap lasts for one hour per cypher level, after which the two minds return to their previous bodies.

Clever users of a mind swapper have an ally restrain or sedate them before swapping minds so their target doesn’t cause trouble in the user’s body.

Primitive Doppelganger #

Level: 1d6 + 1

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: The user’s body begins growing a physical duplicate of the user, which harmlessly tears free after a few rounds and exists as an independent level 1 creature that looks exactly

like the user. The doppelganger can communicate in a language known to the user and obeys the user’s simple instructions, but otherwise appears to know very little of the world. After one hour per cypher level, the duplicate dies, melts, burns out, falls apart, or otherwise becomes nonfunctional.

Depending on the game setting, the doppelganger might be a robot, a clone, a temporal duplicate, or something else entirely. It may or may not have scars, tattoos, or other non-genetic features of the original.

Reanimator #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Amulet or injection

Effect: When used on a corpse of a creature no larger than a human, it reanimates as a violent zombie that is not under the user’s control. This reanimation process takes a few minutes (a few rounds if the cypher is level 4 or higher, or one round if level 6 or higher).

Revenant Serum #

Level: 1d6 + 4

Form: Injection or potion

Effect: Brings a dead person back to life for a limited time as an obsessed creature called a revenant. The cypher can be used up to an hour before or after death (in anticipation of dying or in response to someone’s death) and requires up to an hour to take effect, at which time the creature recovers 1d6 + 6 points to its Pools. The new revenant is usually obsessed with revenge on its killer or accomplishing one last task before truly dying again.

A revenant has all the abilities it had when it was alive, but all its actions are hindered. It has the same appearance as before, except the wounds that killed it are still visible, and in general it has an unnatural look. It does not need to eat, drink, or sleep, but it can still rest if it wants to (such as to make a recovery roll). The revenant remains in this active state for one hour per cypher level, after which it dies again and cannot be reanimated with this cypher.

Silgarho Infusion #

Level: 1d6

Form: Flask or injection

Effect: Suffuses the user’s body with a mixture of colloidal silver (sil), concentrated garlic (gar), and holy water (ho), making the user repellent to most vampires, which usually have an aversion to one or more of these materials. Vampire attacks with melee weapons against the user are hindered. Any PC vampire who attempts to feed on the user gains no sustenance and must make a Might defense roll or feel nauseous and have all their actions hindered for one minute. Any NPC vampire who attempts to feed on the user gains no sustenance and all their actions are hindered for one minute. The cypher’s effect persists in the user’s body for one day (two days if the cypher is level 4 or higher).

If used directly against a vampire instead of being applied to a living creature, it affects the vampire as silver, garlic, and holy water normally would.

Because a human body can’t dispose of colloidal silver, excessive intake of it causes a condition called argyria that turns skin purple or purple-grey

Unphantomed Limb #

​​Level: 1d6

Form: Device, injection, or pill

Effect: Gives a user who is missing a

limb the ability to create a psychic construct in the form of a limb (two limbs if the cypher level is 5 or higher) that takes the place of and functions like their missing limb (or limbs). The unphantomed limb looks and acts like a typical healthy specimen of its kind, including having fingerprints. However, its motion is controlled by the user’s will rather than by muscles and nerves, so any physical action the limb takes is an Intellect task instead of a Might or Speed task; for example, a melee attack with the unphantomed limb is an Intellect task, and to apply Effort, the user must spend points from their Intellect Pool. Damage to the limb affects the user as if the attack were on the user’s body. The limb lasts for one day per cypher level.

Visage Scrutinizer #

Level: 1d6 + 2

Form: Device, crystal, injection, or pill

Effect: Grants the user a heightened

ability to see disguised people and creatures for what they really are. Tasks to see through conventional disguises (makeup, prosthetics, wigs, and so on) are eased by three steps. If the disguise is instead a comprehensive change like a full-body illusion, mental projection, or hologram, the user automatically sees through it if the disguise’s level is lower than the cypher’s level. The cypher lasts for one hour.

Wolfsbane Potion #

Level: 1d6

Form: Flask or injection

Effect: Suffuses the user’s body with a mixture of colloidal silver and wolfsbane, making the user repellent to werewolves (and similar werecreatures). Wolfsbane is poisonous, and using this cypher inflicts Speed damage and Intellect damage equal to the cypher’s level. Werewolf attacks with melee weapons against the user are hindered. Any werewolf who attempts to feed on the user feels nauseous and all its actions are hindered for ten minutes. The cypher’s effect persists in the user’s body for one day (two days if the cypher is level 4 or higher). If used directly against a werewolf instead of being applied to a living creature, it hinders all the werewolf’s actions and stops it from regenerating for several minutes.

Using GM Intrusions In Horror Mode #

With the GM intrusions coming fast and furious toward the end of Horror Mode, it’s easy to run out of ideas. In combat, intrusions might just mean that the monster or villain gets a surprise extra attack or inflicts more damage. Perhaps a PC is thrown to the ground or nearer to the edge of a cliff. If the characters are running away, one might trip and fall. If the PCs are exploring, a bookcase topples, potentially hitting someone. Think of all the similar moments you’ve seen in horror films.

Sometimes, if the GM prefers, the GM intrusion can simply be something frightening, like a moan or a whisper. These aren’t dangerous to the PCs, but they escalate the tension and indicate that something bad is getting closer.

In fact, while in Horror Mode, GMs should mostly refrain from doing anything bad, ominous, or dangerous unless it’s an intrusion (either from a die roll or through the awarding of XP). In a horror game, GM intrusions are an indication that things are bad and getting worse, and whenever possible, the GM should allow the Horror Mode escalation to drive the action. This makes the GM more of a slave to the dice than in other Cypher System situations, but that’s okay.

Consider this example. The PCs have tracked something that is probably committing a series of horrific murders to an old factory. They enter the building to explore. The GM knows where the creature is hiding in the factory, but decides that it doesn’t become aware of the characters until an intrusion is indicated. The only clue the PCs have is a mysterious noise off in the darkness. The creature doesn’t move toward them until another GM intrusion occurs. Now they hear something dragging across the factory floor, coming closer. But it’s not until a third intrusion occurs that the creature lunges out from behind an old machine at the PC who rolled the die.

In some ways, the status quo doesn’t change until an intrusion happens. This could be seen as limiting the GM and the need for pacing, but remember that the GM can still have an intrusion occur anytime they desire, in addition to waiting for the low die rolls.

GMs may want to limit the number of intrusions to no more than one per round, no matter what the dice indicate, but that should be based on the situation.

Optional Rule: Madness #

Having characters descend into madness is an interesting facet of some kinds of horror and can make long-term horror campaigns more interesting. The easiest way to portray blows to a character’s sanity is through Intellect damage. When PCs encounter something shocking, as described above, they always take Intellect damage. If they would normally move one step down the damage track due to the damage, they instead immediately regain points (equal to 1d6 + their tier) in their Intellect Pools but lose 1 point from their maximums in that Pool. Characters whose Intellect Pools reach 0 go insane. They lose their current descriptor and adopt the Mad descriptor, regain 1d6 + tier points to their Intellect Pools, and gain +1 to their Intellect Edge. If they ever reach a permanent Intellect Pool maximum of 0 again, they go stark raving mad and are no longer playable.

Intellect Edge offers an interesting means to portray a character who is knowledgeable (and perhaps even powerful in terms of mental abilities) yet mentally fragile. A character with a low Intellect Pool but a high Intellect Edge can perform Intellect actions well (since Edge is very helpful) but is still vulnerable to Intellect damage (where Edge is of no help).

Since Cypher System games are meant to be story based, players should recognize that the degrading sanity of their character is part of the story. A player who feels that their character is going mad can talk to the GM, and the two of them can work out the means to portray that—perhaps by using the Mad descriptor, permanently trading up to 4 points from their Intellect Pool to gain +1 to their Intellect Edge, or anything else that seems appropriate. Mental disorders, manias, psychopathy, schizophrenia, or simple phobias can be added to a character’s traits, but they don’t need to be quantified in game statistics or die rolls. They’re simply part of the character.

Inabilities in personal interaction or any area requiring focus might be appropriate, perhaps allowing the PC to gain training in weird lore or forbidden knowledge. Or maybe the opposite is true—as the character’s mind slowly slips away, they become oddly compelled or can obsessively focus on a single task for indefinite periods, and thus they gain training in that topic or skill. These kinds of changes could be balanced with inabilities, such as being unable to remember important details.

As another way to represent madness, the GM could hinder Intellect-based tasks that would be considered routine, such as “remembering your friends and family” or “caring what happens to your best friend” or “stopping yourself from injecting a mysterious substance into your veins.” These routine tasks normally have a difficulty of 0, but for a PC who has lost their mind, they might have a difficulty of 1, 2, or even higher. Now the character must make rolls to do even those simple things.