Beloved Tabletop RPG Will Now Let Fans Make, Sell Their Own Games

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

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

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

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Andrew Marlowe of Marlowe House described the freedom in securing funding for Cypher System products being of particular importance for the future of his content. “I’m a fledgling publisher” Marlowe told Kotaku, “and I’m limited in what I can afford to pay freelancers, artists, editors, layout etc.” Having legal clearance to crowdfund his game with an open license dramatically changes the scope of what he’s able to produce. His upcoming book, Blood and Chrome, a cyberpunk setting and sourcebook, was originally intended to come out under the older Cypher Creator System license, which would’ve come with more limits on funding options and limit where it could be sold. He also stated that he’s excited to see “the sorts of things that might be weird and experimental from the community.”

Christopher Robin Negelein of Ganza Gaming also told Kotaku that the CSOL has allowed him the freedom to work on a “licensed property like Mystery Flesh Pit National Park” and that he hopes the upcoming “expanded Cypher ecosystem” will let folks know there are other games besides D&D out there, especially when indie products using these rules will now have the freedom to crowdfund and use print-on-demand services. Part-time indie designers, Negelein said, “have to choose what we can accomplish with the limited time we have” and so having more freedom via an open license means that those choices can be more impactful.

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Charles Ryan, CFO of Monte Cook Games, told Kotaku that folks familiar with Wizards of the Coast’s open game license should expect very familiar material here, though he stresses designers wait for the finalized license and source material before making any final product decisions.

Monte Cook Games first conceived of switching to an open license fairly early on, but wanted time to set expectations and standards around its Cypher System products first, similar to how Dungeons & Dragons established its own brand long before Wizards of the Coast launched its open game license with the third edition rules in 2000.

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The core rules that powered Numenera will soon be available for anyone to build and sell original worlds with.
Image: Monte Cook Games

Ryan said that with so many great creators producing solid material for the Cypher System Creator program, and with so many different settings and rules published by Monte Cook Games in the past 10 years, it’s now time to let community and indie designers help expand the Cypher System world, and his company’s looking forward to seeing what exciting products, both homebrew and commercial, will result.

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Following the lead of the official Dungeons & Dragons “Systems Reference Document” (SRD), Monte Cook Games is promising to release a new Cypher System Reference Document this summer. This reference will contain the core rules for free copying and general usage, but several intellectual properties from Monte Cook Games, like the Numenera setting, remain under copyright.

Open licenses in TTRPGs are very much like when a video game developer builds in official mod support, just with added opportunities to transform them into sellable products with a clear legal framework to avoid intellectual property issues. A similar comparison might be the use of the Unreal and Unity engines by indie devs. D&D and others have enjoyed this flexibility across both commercial and homebrew projects for years. Now the Cypher System community will get its shot.

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