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Cortex Prime - What are your ideas for custom made systems?

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Just got my unlock code for Cortex Prime. The book is sitting at home, waiting until I return from work abroad, but Fandom has done an excellent job making a highly readable, navigable, and searchable on-line version of the the Cortex Handbook. I am very impressed with the system and its flexibility to build nearly any kind of game you would like to run. The rules can be as light or as crunch as you like. I don't think it will suffer from the GURPS problem (you can play any theme of game but it still feels like GURPS) but only time playing will tell.

I'm interested in reading about games other Cortex Prime fans are building or thinking of build.

I'm thinking the rules would be very well suited for building a Quantum Leap style game or a dimension-travel/shifting game.

A Quantum Leap style game might get a bit too fiddly, but I think as long as you have no more than one leap per session you can easily skin the characters between sessions.

A dimension/time travel style game would allow players to keep their characters the same and challenge them in radically different settings, would be easier to GM, and would be preferable to players who are invested in their character builds.

I was considering using Cortex Prime to run a MAGE-style game. The rules would be much cleaner and having digital assets would make running it much more pleasurable than dealing with the god-awful massive MAGE rules book or PDF. But I don't see how I can capture the flavor of magic in MAGE with the Cortex Prime rules. MAGE's rules for magic are so unique and flavorful, it is what makes the game. This is one example where I just don't see using the Cortex Prime kit to capture that same feel.

Still, I see Cortex Prime becoming one of my most preferred systems to run games in.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
My biggest roadblock to creating/running Cortex Prime now lies in ma deficiencies with creating workable/presentable character sheets. Nevertheless, I have some campaign ideas for Cortex on the backburner.

(1) Fantasy Renaissance "Venice": Take a one-shot that I ran with Fate in a fantastical version of a city based on Renaissance Venice, using 7 Virtues as one of the trait sets. Still undecided about the last 1-2 trait sets, whether to use roles, affiliations (i.e., nobility, priests, merchants, peasants), skills, or even relationships.

(2) Dark Crystal / Zelda: A mashup inspired by the Dark Crystal and Zelda. Off-brand elves (e.g, Hyrulians, Gelflings) questing in their magical, alien lands.

(3) Pirates of Dark Water: Not a straight-up conversion, but again something more inspired by the cartoon setting, plus probably Earthsea. Pirates on the fantastical high seas in an alien world.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I missed the kickstarter, but I've since bought in for the PDF and website.

My first is apt to be an experiment - take Leverage (which is already Cortex+) and add some magic/supernatural elements, to enable fantasy or sci-fantasy capers.
 

angille

Explorer
I think I should probably edit my sig to include this, but I've got a whole mess of builds I've thrown together, in various states of having rules or sheets. the ones I've put the most time into are:
  • Mythikal — it started as my way to get D&D-like stories into a Cortex table, but it's something utterly different now. the two things it does that I'm proud of I stole from other places, lol. its pathways are from the System sans Setting blog, and doubling a single trait set (skills in my case) is from Dragon Brigade.
  • coreTEK — I have no small feelings of both imposter syndrome and FOMO from having sketched this out before Lancer was announced, and still having nothing to show while they're fully published. anyway, think Lancer, but Cortex.
  • Shuffle — a one-shot engine in a box of cards. very It's Not My Fault. I actually had my second, approved proof in hand when the Fandom buyout was announced.
  • Whiskey, Grits, n' Demon Spittle — started off as a straight build of Brisco County Jr./Wild Wild West, but as I started world-building to strip the IP and decolonize the source material, it's turning into something altogether different.
I missed the kickstarter, but I've since bought in for the PDF and website.

My first is apt to be an experiment - take Leverage (which is already Cortex+) and add some magic/supernatural elements, to enable fantasy or sci-fantasy capers.
there's a similar convo over on rpgnet discussing this very concept. also Rob Donoghue threw together a build a few years ago.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Mythikal — it started as my way to get D&D-like stories into a Cortex table, but it's something utterly different now. the two things it does that I'm proud of I stole from other places, lol. its pathways are from the System sans Setting blog, and doubling a single trait set (skills in my case) is from Dragon Brigade.
The Japanese "table talk" RPG Ryuutama does something similar as Dragon Brigade. There are four attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Spirit. For given checks, players roll 2 dice composed of any two attribute (or even one doubled) and add them together. So a Sense check may require INT + SPI, while a Drinking contest may require STR + SPI, and Stealth may require DEX + DEX. Actually a standard traveling day for this RPG about traveling pilgrims consists of a Condition Check (STR + SPI), a Travel Check (STR + DEX), a Direction Check (INT + INT), and a Camping Check (DEX + INT).

Also, one thing that I like about what you do with your skills in Mythikal, which is also something I like in Blades in the Dark and Stars Without Number, is framing skills in terms of Actions or Verbs rather than Nouns.

there's a similar convo over on rpgnet discussing this very concept. also Rob Donoghue threw together a build a few years ago.
I'm a big fan of Rob Donoghue and his blogs, as he discusses a fair amount about Fate, Cortex, and Blades in the Dark. He has a good sense for the strengths of a system and isn't afraid to tinker and cross-pollinate ideas between systems.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
I think I should probably edit my sig to include this, but I've got a whole mess of builds I've thrown together, in various states of having rules or sheets. the ones I've put the most time into are:
  • Mythikal — it started as my way to get D&D-like stories into a Cortex table, but it's something utterly different now. the two things it does that I'm proud of I stole from other places, lol. its pathways are from the System sans Setting blog, and doubling a single trait set (skills in my case) is from Dragon Brigade.
Also I was looking over your attributes/skills for Mythikal (i.e., Body, Mind, People, and Soul). As Body, Mind, and Soul are fundamentally part of the human person, my OCD was thinking about the People category. I was wondering whether renaming "People" to "Heart" might be better for your purposes. I think Heart may work as we have several sayings that imply a distinction: e.g., "winning hearts and minds" or "I put my heart and soul into X."
 

angille

Explorer
Also I was looking over your attributes/skills for Mythikal (i.e., Body, Mind, People, and Soul). As Body, Mind, and Soul are fundamentally part of the human person, my OCD was thinking about the People category. I was wondering whether renaming "People" to "Heart" might be better for your purposes. I think Heart may work as we have several sayings that imply a distinction: e.g., "winning hearts and minds" or "I put my heart and soul into X."
those are really just targets for SFX phrasing, and in context "people" sounds natural imo. the others might need adjustment I guess.
  • Charismatic Combatant: When pairing a people skill with Fight or Shoot, boost your lower skill.
  • Deep Reserves: When you push your Resolve stress, also boost a soul skill.
I use "boost" here as shorthand for "step up or double" — I found I was using that for... everything, lol. so in my games, it's just A Thing™. the four skill categories do more in the Fate version, where they also influence the stress pools.
 

Aldarc

Legend
It doesn't make Mythikal any less mythic, and you definitely have a stronger grasp of the system and the sort of game you want, so keep on trucking. I would love a chance to playtest Mythikal if it ever gets to a public playtest stage.
 

Just got my unlock code for Cortex Prime. The book is sitting at home, waiting until I return from work abroad, but Fandom has done an excellent job making a highly readable, navigable, and searchable on-line version of the the Cortex Handbook. I am very impressed with the system and its flexibility to build nearly any kind of game you would like to run. The rules can be as light or as crunch as you like. I don't think it will suffer from the GURPS problem (you can play any theme of game but it still feels like GURPS) but only time playing will tell.

I'm interested in reading about games other Cortex Prime fans are building or thinking of build.

I'm thinking the rules would be very well suited for building a Quantum Leap style game or a dimension-travel/shifting game.

A Quantum Leap style game might get a bit too fiddly, but I think as long as you have no more than one leap per session you can easily skin the characters between sessions.

A dimension/time travel style game would allow players to keep their characters the same and challenge them in radically different settings, would be easier to GM, and would be preferable to players who are invested in their character builds.

I was considering using Cortex Prime to run a MAGE-style game. The rules would be much cleaner and having digital assets would make running it much more pleasurable than dealing with the god-awful massive MAGE rules book or PDF. But I don't see how I can capture the flavor of magic in MAGE with the Cortex Prime rules. MAGE's rules for magic are so unique and flavorful, it is what makes the game. This is one example where I just don't see using the Cortex Prime kit to capture that same feel.

Still, I see Cortex Prime becoming one of my most preferred systems to run games in.

Is there a good summary or detailed review of Cortex? This is the first I've heard of it, and as a relentless tinkerer with systems, it sounds interesting, but my Google-fu is weak.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Is there a good summary or detailed review of Cortex? This is the first I've heard of it, and as a relentless tinkerer with systems, it sounds interesting, but my Google-fu is weak.
At its heart, Cortex is a roll and keep system where characters assemble a dice pool, often of different die types, from their applicable trait sets,* roll, and then add the two highest values. Players may also pick a die type from the roll - e.g., d12, d10, d8, etc. - to serve as the Effect/damage of the roll. The GM may use a static number for the opposition or roll the opposition pool from whatever resources they have available.

* Traits are one thing that make Cortex more difficult to pin down. Players typically have 3-4 prime sets. When assembling a dice pool, it's usually only one die from each set. The list of Traits vary a lot between games of Cortex: e.g., Values, Relationships, Skills, Attributes, Roles, Assets, etc. The only Trait that is consistent is Distinctions, which are much like Aspects in Fate in that they are three fictional descriptors of your character. Distinctions are each rated at d8, but players can downgrade their roll, if one of their Distinctions could work against them, from a d8 to a d4 to earn Plot Points that can be used in various ways.

Cortex is a classless and levelless system as well. Class-like dials and knobs exist, and character progression exists, but it's like Fate where the games are typically less Zero-to-20 Levels of Hero sort of deal. I believe that @angille's Mythikal utilizes class-like Disciplines, but I'm not sure how they work.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Is there a good summary or detailed review of Cortex? This is the first I've heard of it, and as a relentless tinkerer with systems, it sounds interesting, but my Google-fu is weak.
The basic rules are available on their website: Cortex Tabletop Roleplaying Game | Fandom Tabletop
They also made their Hammerheads game, based on the system available for free here: Cortex Tabletop Roleplaying Game | Fandom Tabletop

But if you want the full Handbook, which includes all the rules for building your system, as well as the two games in addition to Hammerheads (Eidolon Alpha and TRACE), you need to buy the book or online subscription. Note: unlike WotC and DnD Beyond, when you buy the Cortex Handbook, you get a redemption code for the on-line version. The book is just shelf candy for me. Really nice artwork. But I prefer reading and referencing the rules online. So much easier to search, navigate, and read on a laptop, smart phone, or tablet computer than it is to read the book or PDFs.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what other online resources they will release for it.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Cortex is a classless and levelless system as well. Class-like dials and knobs exist, and character progression exists, but it's like Fate where the games are typically less Zero-to-20 Levels of Hero sort of deal. I believe that @angille's Mythikal utilizes class-like Disciplines, but I'm not sure how they work.
That said, there are options in the handbook to build a class-based (archtypes) and XP-driven game. But I'm not so interested in recreating a D&D type game with Cortex. I'm currently smitten with the scene-based advancement where you log scenes that you can then use for call-backs when that experience is relevant to current test or you can "cash" them in for various types of enhancements to your character.
 

Is there a good summary or detailed review of Cortex? This is the first I've heard of it, and as a relentless tinkerer with systems, it sounds interesting, but my Google-fu is weak.
Cortex is a problem to look up, because it's three different engines... from essentially 2 design teams.

All the Cortex Systems use ratings in dice sizes, rather than fixed numbers. All use a resource called plot points.

Cortex classic is grab stat die and skill die, roll them and total, compare to a difficulty number. Hitpoints for damage, but otherwise fairly traditional. Games include Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, Sovereign Stone

Cortex Plus is a more narrativist design. Still ratings in dice... largely assumes rolling 3-10 dice of various sizes and picking which two are used for success, and one of the leftovers as a damage size in some flavors. All Cortex Plus games are heavily adapted cores with the following commonalities:
  • 3 Distinctions. Each is rated d8. You have the option, if a distinction would be negative, to use it as a d4, instead, and gain a plot point. (not true of Smallville)
  • two character defining abilities besides distinctions, ranging from d4 to d12
    • MHRP: Affiliation (d6 to d12), Powers (d4 to d12), specialties (skills, really) d6.
    • Firefly: Attributes, Skills, Specialties
    • Leverage: Attributes, Roles
    • Smallville: Values, Powers, Relationships
  • Assets: gear and such, usually d6, sometimes d8
  • Firefly has special abilities for distinctions and for signature assets. MHRP has them for power sets.
  • Standard pool assembly modes in each game; in all, plot points can be used to add extra dice
    • MHRP: the relevant Affiliation, one power from each power set, one distinction, one specialty, one asset. If opponent has damage, the current damage as well as a freebie
    • Firefly: 1Attribute, 1 skill, one specialty of that skill (if any), 1 distinction, 1 asset, 1 relevant scene condition, 1 relevant damage complication
    • Leverage: 1Attribute, 1 Role, 1 Distinction, 1 Asset.
    • Smallville: 1 value, 1 relationship, 1 asset
  • 1's on dice generate complications and provide plot points.

Cortex Prime is a toolkit... it's really seeming to be a second edition of the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide... Cam has, however, streamlined several things, at least based upon the preview on the Cortex Prime website and for Masters of the Universe. There's enough there on the website to actually use as a quickplay in his "Hammerheads" setting - a pastiche of Thunderbirds Are Go! It very close to Cortex Plus, but just enough to trip one up. Still, assemble pool, pick 2 to count for success total, one for damage/effect size.

While I'm fond of Firefly, the streamlining of Cortex Prime is probably for the better.

If you want to see the "spotlight" (quick play preview): Cortex Tabletop Roleplaying Game | Fandom Tabletop
 

Cortex is a problem to look up, because it's three different engines... from essentially 2 design teams.

All the Cortex Systems use ratings in dice sizes, rather than fixed numbers. All use a resource called plot points.

Cortex classic is grab stat die and skill die, roll them and total, compare to a difficulty number. Hitpoints for damage, but otherwise fairly traditional. Games include Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, Sovereign Stone

Cortex Plus is a more narrativist design. Still ratings in dice... largely assumes rolling 3-10 dice of various sizes and picking which two are used for success, and one of the leftovers as a damage size in some flavors. All Cortex Plus games are heavily adapted cores with the following commonalities:
  • 3 Distinctions. Each is rated d8. You have the option, if a distinction would be negative, to use it as a d4, instead, and gain a plot point. (not true of Smallville)
  • two character defining abilities besides distinctions, ranging from d4 to d12
    • MHRP: Affiliation (d6 to d12), Powers (d4 to d12), specialties (skills, really) d6.
    • Firefly: Attributes, Skills, Specialties
    • Leverage: Attributes, Roles
    • Smallville: Values, Powers, Relationships
  • Assets: gear and such, usually d6, sometimes d8
  • Firefly has special abilities for distinctions and for signature assets. MHRP has them for power sets.
  • Standard pool assembly modes in each game; in all, plot points can be used to add extra dice
    • MHRP: the relevant Affiliation, one power from each power set, one distinction, one specialty, one asset. If opponent has damage, the current damage as well as a freebie
    • Firefly: 1Attribute, 1 skill, one specialty of that skill (if any), 1 distinction, 1 asset, 1 relevant scene condition, 1 relevant damage complication
    • Leverage: 1Attribute, 1 Role, 1 Distinction, 1 Asset.
    • Smallville: 1 value, 1 relationship, 1 asset
  • 1's on dice generate complications and provide plot points.

Cortex Prime is a toolkit... it's really seeming to be a second edition of the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide... Cam has, however, streamlined several things, at least based upon the preview on the Cortex Prime website and for Masters of the Universe. There's enough there on the website to actually use as a quickplay in his "Hammerheads" setting - a pastiche of Thunderbirds Are Go! It very close to Cortex Plus, but just enough to trip one up. Still, assemble pool, pick 2 to count for success total, one for damage/effect size.

While I'm fond of Firefly, the streamlining of Cortex Prime is probably for the better.

If you want to see the "spotlight" (quick play preview): Cortex Tabletop Roleplaying Game | Fandom Tabletop

Thanks, that helped a lot!
 

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