When I was a kid, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I memorized names, watched Jurassic Park on loop, and poured through National Geographic information books. My brother and I had Jurassic Park dinosaur action figures that we gleefully set up massive battles amid the ferns in the yard with raptors stalking the X-Men and pterodactyls swooping down at a Starfleet away team. It was fun and a crazy mash of worlds… and it’s the reason I was so excited when I saw Predation in Monte Cook Game’s lineup of Cypher worlds.
With the release of the Cypher System Rulebook, MCG followed it up with a Kickstarter for ready-to-go settings. The first setting, Gods of the Fall, came out last summer and it had some great potential for new games (check out my character-creation review if you need a refresher). Predation, though, is the explosive sort of setting that makes you want to play it immediately after reading it. Even if you aren’t a dinosaur-freak (and take a long look at how you’re wasting your life if you aren’t) I highly recommend you pick up Predation.
Allow me to make my case.
Let me start by laying out the setting of Predation, especially since I had some misconceptions about it from the promotional material and I like the actual setting much better. The whole thing starts in the distant future (we’ll get there) when a company called SATI figures out how to send people back in time. So they send more than 20,000 “commuters” back to the Cretaceous Period for undisclosed reasons as part of “Trial c.” At the height of the experiment the time travel machines overloaded and detonated. The scientists on the Cretaceous end tried to build replacements but the technology wouldn’t work anymore. The only thing it did, in fact, was possibly increase the threat of time anomalies which race across the landscape leaving anachronisms in their path (more on those later).
Fast-forward 100 years (still 65 million years ago… whatever) and the survivors of Trial c have built societies in the Cretaceous as they can. They’re breeding dinosaurs, refurbishing SATI equipment, creating new technologies, and formulating new philosophies for the new world. Some hold fast to the mysterious mission of SATI, others (the so-called “Butterflies”) have gone native and are trying to thwart the SATI loyalists and anyone else trying to repair the time travel technology. The third leg of the large-scale organizations is the Christian fundamentalists of the Genesix Fellowship who are looking for proof that the Garden of Eden exists.
There are other communities scattered throughout Larmidia and Appalachia (the two parts of what will become North America, separated by the Western Interior Seaway) and most of those have quirks and local religions and power groups to challenge player characters. Dinosaurs have also been modified for a century and now the place is lousy with armored raptors and triceratopses with nanite healing. Life finds a way, as the man says…
Characters in Predation are created much like other Cypher System games with the “[[adjective]] [[noun]] who [[nouns]]” format. The biggest change is the companions but I’ll be talking about those below. The initial discussion includes some new details including a new skill list and a few different character generation methods.
There are five new descriptors in the book. Daring characters are good at exploring and trying hew things, while Slick characters are good at out-smarting and conning others. Savage characters have given over to their bestial side, while Empirical characters study and experiment as well as learn on the fly. The weirdest one is Volcanic which creates “slow to anger” characters and is an excellent addition to any Cypher game, if a bit cutesy.
There are also new foci for your character and a list of foci specifically designed for Predation. My first cursory glance brought up one surprising hole in the list of appropriate foci: there’s no Controls Beasts. In a setting with such magnificent beasts, this is a confusing focus to miss and it seems a lot more appropriate than Crafts Illusions. However, reading the new foci it seems like the authors didn’t like how that focus fit with the setting and would rather write up a new version called Walks with Dinosaurs that focuses on dinosaurs as characters instead of as minions who serve you (that’s the realm of companions as described below).
Before I get into the other new foci it’s worth pointing out the notes to reflavor some existing foci. Builds Robots is repurposed as Builds Cyborgs since robots are very rare and cybernetics are relatively common. Masters the Swarm mentions the need to know what swarms are around in the Cretaceous whereas Moves Like a Cat becomes Moves Like a Raptor due to a lack of cats. Sees Beyond is pitched as an expression of the time anomalies while Travels Through Time is repurposed as Sees Through Time and involves mentally traveling instead of physically transporting.
Alright, now the new stuff. Besides Walks with Dinosaurs (above) there are three other foci newly available to characters. Plays God is a combination of healer and genetic mad scientist for those who love the echoes of Jurassic Park in this setting. Predates is for those players who would rather be playing dinosaurs; you gain claws, stalking abilities, and animal frenzy. You can also get in on the enhancements with Self-Evolves which gives you all sorts of cybernetics to play with.
Lastly, and out of order from how Cypher usually presents things, are the types. They have new backgrounds but reuse abilities from the Cypher System Rulebook so it’s not a straight one-to-one relationship with the core types. Like Gods of the Fall, Predation has lists of abilities that generally come from the closest-analog core rulebook type but borrow from other sources including flavors and other types. There is also a Crataceous flavor that people can choose from to give them dino-related abilities. The terminology goes like this: Karns are the warriors of the setting, Tecs are scientists that loosely relate to the Adept, Pteryx are the fleet explorers of the setting, and Osteons are the clever speakers of the setting.
One thing to note with the types is that they get one less ability than normal and that’s for a simple but really exciting reason: companions. In the world of Predation there are dinosaurs everywhere and that includes the players’ party. They are like mini-characters that pal around with your main characters but they’re different from companions (such as those from the Leads focus) in two important ways. First, they aren’t just NPCs with a level number but increasingly effective characters with particular abilities and their own version of descriptors (called dispositions). Secondly, and in keeping with Cypher’s philosophy of giving all the rolls to the players, companions are played by another player at the table.
To create your companion, the process looks like this: you choose what sort of creature you want then a disposition and then pick out abilities at each tier, giving you a [[disposition]] [[creature]] that can [[abilities]]. Sound familiar? Like I said, types in Predation get one less ability at each tier and that’s because their companion gets an ability (something like attacking on command, scouting ahead, relaying what it sees through cybernetics, distracting the enemy, etc). If you don’t want your companion to get a new ability, or you don’t want a companion at all, you can get those tier abilities back.
As your companion you can choose from Tyrannosaurs (including albertosaurus, daspletosaurus, and others), Raptors (from the tiny bambiraptor to the massive utahraptor), Ornithomimids (things like the anzu or the struthiomimus), Ceratopsians & Anklyosaurs (lumping all the big tanks like triceratops and euoplocephalus together), Pterosaurs (anything flight-capable from the little piksi to the giant southern aerotitan), and Early Mammals (everything from alphadon to cimolestes to zalambdalestes). Like a character’s type, the sort of companion decides some of its basics like health, armor, skills, and combat options.
The dispositions are fairly straightforward and add some personality to the companion. Your utahraptor might be quick and abnormally smart but mine is clumsy and lovable. The full list of dispositions is: Clever, Clumsy, Curious, Flashy, Intimidating, Sociable, Timid, and Vigilant.
Now in practice, your companion works much more like a player character than an NPC. It gets its own action on your turn: acting before you, at the same time (for an enabler ability), or after you, of even holding its action to act in another player’s turn and assist them. They don’t do these things automatically, though: you have to request that they do it and make an Intellect roll (difficulty based on your tier and decreasing to 0 as you get to tier 5) to communicate with them. They’ll defend themselves (they roll defense as normal but have no pools to spend), follow you around, eat and drink, and notice predators without you having to direct them but if you want them to do anything else (including attacking, hiding, etc) you’ll have to direct them. For the players controlling the companions, though, there are some notes to give them an idea of what a companion’s disposition plays like.
This isn’t really like doubling the number of characters at the table since companions aren’t terribly complex, but I imagine it’s like increasing it by half during combat. You’ll want to make sure players’ attention doesn’t drift but since combat and other rolls in the Cypher System are pretty fast that hopefully won’t be too much of an issue.
Creatures and Equipment
While most of it is too much into the weeds to cover in this post, there are a couple interesting items in the Equipment chapter that would be good to mention. First is the materials, which are a really awesome mix of future tech and frontier gear. For instance, smart fluid and piezotextiles are straight out of Greg Bear while wetweave (produced by genetically-altered orb weaver spiders) and solarium (a self-healing material made of artificial biofilm). The idea of having a smart fluid vest covered with dino-hide is just… Man, I want to be stranded in the Cretaceous.
The second thing to mention is the Body Upgrades, Augments, and Enhancements table which provides cybernetics like a grafted tail, a retinal camera, or a cybernetic limb. It’s cool that these are items rather than being a focus or cypher, but there are only five of them which is way shorter than I want it to be… For reference, I want it to be 200 pages. Oh well.
The cyphers for Predation are good and should meld very easily with whatever other cyphers you want to use from the Cypher System Rulebook or The Strange. Numenera might be a slight stretch since most of those are so magical, but even the dimension-hopping stuff from The Strange could work as timeline-hopping stuff if you want to go in that direction. Some of them (aglow which makes you glow or hold manifest which extends a cypher’s effects up to one day) could fit into any world but a lot of them are distinct to the setting of Predation: stigmergic (scent and look at an area like a dinosaur), timeseeker (find time anomalies), syrnix (mimics dinosaur sounds to communicate better), companion connector (mentally talk to your companion for 24 hours), etc. There are also some sweet artifacts including fullerene wings, pterodrone (pterosaur-shaped drone), third eye (replacement cybereye), etc.
The really exciting part of the book, of course, are all the dinosaur creatures with common names as well as scientific ones. I intend to list them all for those as excited as I am. First the straightforward dinosaurs are: anzu, apatosaurus, archelon, bambiraptor (really thought this was made up), carnosuchus (an invented mini-version of sarcosuchus so I’m counting it), dakotaraptor, entelodont (aptly known as ghasthounds), lythronax, nerezza (a sneaky type of microraptor), and stygimoloch.
In addition there are the acroplocerex (mobile weapons platforms on an anklyosaurus), argoraptor (guard dog raptors), cyberdrones (partly-organic, insectile flying drones), platypode (genetic hybrids of parasaurolophus used for aquatic labor), pygmy sauroposeidon (bred to not be walking mountains), supersaurus (basically Indominus rex with arm cannons), and teslasaurus (stegosaurus with electrical, Pikachu attack… the only one I’ve rolled my eyes at).
One last note before I wrap things up: this is not the Cretaceous, it’s the Cretaceous where people with future-tech have been living for a century. Sure there are modified creatures working for compounds but there are also modified creatures running wild and burninating up the countryside. Creatures, wild or otherwise, often have upgrades that you can roll for randomly, though there are suggestions in each creature’s write-up. They come in five different types: self-healing upgrades, external additions (armor or boost exoskeletons), mental upgrades, cybernetic body parts, and genetic engineering/crossbreeding. You can pick or roll for the category and then roll 1d6 to determine the specific upgrade. There are 17 creatures (not including stuff from other sourcebooks) and 30 upgrades so we’re talking about more than 500 different types of enemies for your players to face.