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Tales from Gen Con: An Evening With Monte Cook Games

Last week, I attended the annual “Gen Con” convention, a large event in Indianapolis that stands as a gathering for all those who play and enjoy tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons, The Cypher System, Pathfinder, and more.

Seeing as it was my first-ever convention, I was blown away by the size of the event. Held in the expansive Indiana Convention Center, the event featured two massive show floors, each packed with hundreds of stands from artists, game makers, musicians, and characters alike.

I attended the event with two friends, and we visited a number of the teams responsible for crafting some of our favorite systems. The first of these such visits was a night with the team behind “The Cypher System” – Monte Cook Games. The Cypher System is a simpler and more adaptable set of rules with a focus on story and improvisation over math and hard numbers. During the event, I was able to speak to almost every member of Monte Cook Games, including Mr. Cook, and they expressed a number of details concerning their hopes for the future of their systems.

The Cypher System is not designed with any particular setting in mind – it’s meant to be used for any type of game a person wishes to run, in any number of settings. However, Monte Cook Games has released a number of books on settings using The Cypher System in the past, such as The Strange and Numenera. Since their debut, Numenera has proved the most popular, and it appears to be the only module receiving individualized content from the development team.

This has left many fans of other modules, most prominently those invested in The Strange, feeling left out. When asked if the studio would be creating more content for The Strange, Monte Cook Games author Charles Ryan had this to say:

“The problem with releasing content just for “The Strange” is that only people who play “The Strange” will look at it, but really it’s all Cypher System. So if we mark a book as “The Strange” and someone doesn’t play that, they won’t look at it, even though it’s all content for The Cypher System and they could still use it.” He goes on to explain that the same thing applies in reverse: Every book branded with the “Numenera” tag won’t be picked up by anyone playing “The Strange”, even though both games take place in The Cypher System, and all the content in one setting could be easily converted to another. Due to this, the team will be focusing on releasing more generalized content in the future that encourages people to add their own spin onto established settings in The Cypher System.

During the chaos of the convention, I was able to get my single biggest question through to Mr. Cook. The question concerns the methods the creative team uses to develop content for their books, because if you’ve never seen the art of settings and creatures of the worlds of The Cypher System, be warned: Things | tend | to | get | real | crazy, | real quick.

Going in to meet Mr. Cook, I had assumed that he, or another author, would send an artist a description of something they wanted, and then write the setting or creature into a book while the art is completed. But Mr. Cook informed me that it usually works the other way around.

“When working with artists, I’ve found that art inspires writers, but words and descriptions limit artists. So when we’re making a new book, I tell the art team that I want something weird, and I write a story around whatever they tell me.”

It’s a process that reveals a lot about the amount of trust the Monte Cook Games team places in each of its members. Being a small team of under 20 individuals, it’s incredible the vast amount of content the team has produced over the past few years.

To learn more about Monte Cook Games, visit their website at

Featured Image via Joe Detrano

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Walker

    August 14, 2018 at 1:33 am

    Very cool

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