Monte Cook and Bruce R. Cordell, in their first major collaboration, bring you The Strange. It’s an RPG set on Earth, in the modern day. But a few people—a very few people—have discovered how to travel to other places. They call them recursions, and they’re like limited pocket dimensions with their own laws of reality, connected to Earth via a dark energy network beneath the normal matter of the universe. A dangerous, chaotic network they call the Strange.
The Strange was Kickstarted back in 2013 and raised just over $418,000 dollars. It was a super exciting Kickstarter back in the day, really pioneering social sharing goals and benefits. They funded an entire game line with core book, player's kit, decks, an app, an adventure path, and a few books. Recently, the Strange has been marketed as a setting in the Cypher system rather than its own distinct game line, like Numenera.
Out of the core book, you can run literally any adventure you imagine. You can do a spy thriller on Earth, battle against cults, or deal with metaphysical incursions from fiction, ancient gods, or broken intergalactic physics. Or you can recursion hop and go from world to world.
Recursions are pocket dimensions usually generated through "fictional bleed." If enough people over time have been thinking about Sherlock Holmes or Star Wars, a distilled reality forms in the Strange. And it can be visited. And explored. And denizens of that recursion can become sentient and travel on their own. Or you can mine them. Need a lightsaber? Pop into Rebel Galaxy and pull it back through an inapposite gate.
It's an infinitely complex setting with some really accessible frameworks baked in. Playing as agents of The Estate is an easy way to get everyone together with enough information to make informed decisions. Plus, you can model an entire game after Men in Black, X-Files, Supernatural, or Stargate SG-1. Then there are the supplements.
The Strange Bestiary: More than 150 creatures and characters across fictional worlds
Worlds Numberless and Strange: Nearly 70 new recursions to explore, defend, and mine
The Encyclopedia of Impossible Things: Hundreds of new cyphers and artifacts spanning every recursion
And short adventures, small PDF supplements, and the Dark Spiral adventure path.
As a Cypher System game, this is a players-only-roll system. Characters are made up of a sentence combining Descriptor, Type, and Focus. So, you’re an adjective noun who verbs. For example, you might be a Weird Spinner who Sees Beyond. There are three types—Vectors (direct application of force), Paradoxes (doing weird things), and Spinners (telling stories and making connections), a ton of descriptors, and quite a few foci. Plus, in the Strange—unlike other Cypher games—your foci is modular.
When you translate to a recursion, you take on the local context of that recursion. Mechanically, this means that you replace your Focus with something that makes sense in local context, unless you have a Focus that you can drag along with you. So, on Earth you might be a Brave Vector who Is Licensed to Carry, but when you translate to Ardeyn (a fantasy-based recursion), you might be a Brave Vector who Channels Sinfire.
Resolution is straightforward—you describe your action and the game master sets a difficulty between 1 and 10. You then choose if you want to modify that difficulty by applying Effort or using abilities, training, equipment, or help. Once you’ve set the modified difficulty, you take that number and multiply it by 3, getting your target number. Then you roll a single d20 and try to get the target number or higher.
For example, if you’re climbing a fence and the difficulty is 3, you need to get a 9 or higher. But if you have training in climbing, you drop the difficulty to 2. If you’ve also got someone to give you a boost, you might drop the difficulty to 1. Then you only need to roll a 3 or higher!
I always say that Cypher is a system that gives players a ton of freedom and makes it easy for game masters to improvise. Players have multiple tools and resources to decide how important succeeding on any given roll is before the roll happens, and then they have a finite, valuable resource to spend after a roll is completed if they still want to invest in it. The difficulty system, setting from one to ten, is intuitive and easy for game masters to apply difficulties and challenges to any system on the fly. Antagonist and adversary creation follows similar ease of access. All in all, it lets you put the story to the front by cutting down on unnecessary rolls and rules lookups.
When I got this book in my hands, I didn’t think I needed to play another RPG ever again. You can literally do anything with this game in a way that a lot of generic systems don’t support. Because creativity really flourishes when you’ve got at least a few guides and constraints. Unfortunately, I’ve only ever run one shots and a single short campaign in The Strange. Why? I think it’s because I’ve had trouble getting player buy in. If you say Stargate meets Sliders meets X-Files, that’s super cool, but it’s hard to nail down what the gameplay is going to look like. If you say “We’re playing Star Wars,” it’s a lot easier to get players to commit.
Nevertheless, give The Strange a try. It’s worth the price of admission, and it generates memorable table moments like few other games out there.
Monte Cook Games