In preparation for attempting to adapt my original setting, The Devil’s Debtors: The Collectors, for the Cypher System, I’ve formulated my own method for handling cyphers in the world.
The Devil’s Debtors is a world of pseudo-religious mythology, where demons do battle against angels and both sides use humanity as their pawns. For a setting that so prominently features divine and blasphemous powers, the cyphers as represented in Numenera and The Strange didn’t sit quite right. I loved the idea of characters being able to acquire single-use powers over the course of play, but cobbled-together technological doodads didn’t fit the bill. Which brings us to: Cyphers in The Devil’s Debtors.
In The Devil’s Debtors, cyphers aren’t physical things. They’re little bits of ethereal flotsam, random twists of reality which are normally divorced from the material world. That is, until they become attached to the essence (read: soul stuff) of people, places, and objects. Once a thing has cyphers “stuck” to it, they begin exhibiting signs of divine (or demonic) inspiration. For mundane individuals, the most a cypher will ever do is give them a so-called “religious experience” the feeling of something special reaching out and grabbing at their soul. For others, a cypher might actually take effect, generating strange effects such as speaking in tongues or healing hands. Even when a user isn’t activating a cypher, the simple effect of “holding” a cypher within their essence generates a minor supernatural effect.
Such beneficial effects are the purview of only one side of the cypher-coin. Blessings, as they’re called in The Devil’s Debtors, are cyphers that generate subtle and generally beneficial effects. On the other side is Stigmas — embodying the crude and fiendish aspects of creation. Stigmas twist reality in extreme and grotesque ways, and the similarly pollute the bodies and auras of those who have become attached to them.
In this setting, a cypher doesn’t automatically cause these strange effects in individuals. In Numenera and The Strange, a cypher user must identify a cypher before using it (if they want to know its effect before they activate) it. Similarly, a cypher in The Devil’s Debtors must be manifested to learn its effects. Manifesting a cypher is a simple Intellect task (difficulty 1-2) as it is in those other games, but manifesting comes with an additional effect: the user takes on a characteristic related to the cypher their holding.
To randomly generate a stigmatic manifestation on the fly, look no further than the mutation charts found in the Numenera (pg. 123-128) and The Strange (pg. 240-242) core rulebooks. I would generally lean towards cosmetic mutations for cyphers, but circumstances may call for other kinds. When pre-generating cyphers, I’ve tried to link the manifestation with effect of the cypher to make custom deformities to hint at the cyphers’ powers.
For additional mutations see the Numenera Character Options (pg. 44-50)