A GM friend I’ve mentioned a few times in my articles is stuck somewhere between Pathfinder and the Cypher System (“CypherFinder,” he calls it). His problem is that he wants to continue running his games in a Golarion setting with Cypher rules, but keep classes and magic as similar as possible.
Mixing systems like that is quite hard due to the different concepts these two systems have. You might even say that Cypher is the antithesis of Pathfinder.
One of the problems he has are Cypher Wizards, and I offered to help out.
In Pathfinder, the player creates their Wizard by selecting the Wizard class. To understand what the Wizard class is all about, we will compare it to the Sorcerer class, which is most similar to how Cypher System Adepts work.
- Has no limit on spells known, as they write formulas in their the spellbook.
- Each morning must take time to prepare (prime) spells they plan to cast that day.
- Has a limit on how many spells they can cast per day.
- Once the spell is cast, it is expended from their mind, unless they prepared several copies of the same spell.
- Knows a limited number of spells.
- Does not need to prepare them.
- Has a limit on how many times they can cast per day.
- Once the spell is cast, it is not expended and can be cast again, provided that they didn’t reach their casting limit.
From this simplified list, we can see that the Wizard is meant to be versatile, as they can change their role on any given day by selecting different spells. The Sorcerer can be adaptable as well, but more reliable in their role as they can cast the same spell multiple times during an encounter.
In Cypher, a player will create their Wizard by choosing the appropriate Type, followed by a Focus. A proper type for a Wizard will almost always be an Adept as recommended on page 238 of the original Cypher Core book.
“You master powers or abilities outside the experience, understanding, and sometimes belief of others. They might be magic, psychic powers, mutant abilities, or just a wide variety of intricate devices, depending on the setting.”
Let’s create a Sorcerer - using the Adept as a base!
“An Adept: Fantasy: wizard, mage, sorcerer, cleric, druid, seer, diabolist, fey-touched”
So now we have our two types, Wizard and Sorcerer, but they are precisely the same - we don’t have any conceptual differentiation. For a solution, we need to look at the foci.
For our Wizard, Cypher offers Cast Spells, a focus that has the spellbook mechanic which allows versatility that we need. OK… What about the Sorcerer? Well, they can choose from various foci to make their character unique.
Hm, what about a Cleric? Here, Cypher suggests the Speaker type flavored with magic. Flavors in Cypher are minor type modifications. It boils down to replacing some of the less suitable Speaker abilities with some of the “magical” abilities from the Adept. OK, we have our Cleric type, but we are still missing core abilities that make Pathfinder Clerics - Gods, holly symbols, domains, and channeling. Again we need to look into foci to find our answer under a focus called Channels Divine Blessings.
Do you spot the problem here? If you want to play a Wizard, you must choose an Adept who Cast Spells, or in the case of the Cleric A Speaker/Adept who Channels Divine Blessings. To play a Sorcerer, you can be an Adept who Whatevers. Bears a Halo of Fire, Wears a Sheen of Ice, Rides the Lightning, etc - a lot of options to customize your Sorcerer but none for Wizards and Clerics.
Let’s backpedal a bit. What is a “type” exactly?
“Character type is the core of your character. Your type helps determine your character’s place in the world and relationship with other people in the setting.”
According to this definition, we see that the caster types we made so far are not determining anything, or at least they are not distinctive enough. If we look into published MCG settings, we can see that although they follow the same overall pattern, types are distinct mechanically and story-wise.
“Focus is what makes your character unique. No two PCs in a group should have the same focus. Your focus gives you benefits when you create your character and each time you ascend to the next tier.”
The focus, I believe, is our main problem. We already mentioned above that our Wizards and Clerics don’t have enough foci options, but looking at this definition, it’s even worse than that. Imagine we have two players at the table who both want to play a Wizard. They can never be unique, as both would need to choose an Adept who Casts Spells. The same goes for Clerics. Their characters will differ only by their spell selection.
Cypher System Hack
Now that we understand the core of the problem, one solution comes to mind. Move the spellcasting mechanic from the Cast Spells focus to our newly created Wizard type. Same for the Cleric - we’ll move Channels Divine Blessings mechanics over to the Cleric type. Most of the Pathfinder classes have very distinct game mechanics, and to preserve that feeling, we are forced to do the same.
Doing it this way, we end up with distinct types - our Wizards, Clerics, and Sorcerers will all have unique casting mechanics. Further, we’ve now cleared a way for our players to make their characters unique by enabling them to choose from a variety of different foci.
Considerations and Nuances
We sorted the main problem here, but there are still minor things to look into.
The first thing that comes to mind is the Wizard’s ability to write spells into their spellbook. So far we’ve used abilities from type and foci as spells, but out there in the world, our Wizards will be finding magical writings, runes, energies, and other manifestations - as cyphers. Creating an ability, i.e., a spell from any given cypher requires some thinking, if it’s even desirable — definitely something to think about beforehand.
One other thing with our current solution is that casting does not expend spells from a Wizard’s mind. It now works similar to the Arcanist class from Pathfinder. To me, this is an acceptable compromise but might be a problem for those Vancian purists out there.
The third problem with the Cypher System spellcasting mechanic is that it transforms all abilities into spells that need preparation. A Wizard can prepare a number of spells equal to their tier. Our first-tier Wizard can have only one prepared spell. One way to deal with this is to announce four first-level abilities from each type as cantrips, that they can cast at will.
Next, what about schools of magic specializations? You might leave that as a type mechanic, but another solution is to create foci out of them. Cypher already comes with a few ready for use, for example, Consorts with the Dead or Crafts Illusions.
That’s it, folks, you have your Golarion Wizard. Happy fireballing!