Grading the Cortex Plus and Cortex Prime System

How do you feel about the Cortex Plus/Prime System?

  • I love it.

    Votes: 11 20.0%
  • It's pretty good.

    Votes: 11 20.0%
  • It's alright I guess.

    Votes: 5 9.1%
  • It's pretty bad.

    Votes: 2 3.6%
  • I hate it.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I've never played it.

    Votes: 24 43.6%
  • I've never even heard of it.

    Votes: 2 3.6%

Kannik

Hero
Have you played or run the Cortex Plus or Cortex Prime system? Have you played one of the many licensed games that were released, or did you pick up a system core book and run a campaign of your own? If so, what did you think of it?

The original Cortex system (now called Cortex Classic) was first released with the Serenity RPG and was a very different system with a very different intent than its later incarnations. Starting in 2009, Margaret Weis Productions brought on Cam Banks to guide the system forward into their later games, pivoting the system to have a much stronger focus on the fiction, on the characters, and the unfolding narrative. This Cortex Plus system was eventually used, with tweaks for each setting, for the Smallville, Leverage, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and Firefly RPGs.

As MWP exited the RPG space, Cam Banks licensed the rules and began to create a further refined version named Cortex Prime that incorporated all that came before into a modular system that can be custom-built for different campaign styles, themes, and tones. Accompanying the Kickstarter was five volumes of mini-campaigns (of which four volumes have been released to backers), and one complete game, Tales of Xadia (based on the Netflix show The Dragon Prince) has been released.

As noted in the previous “Grade…” threads, “the D20 System is the undeniable favorite for tabletop RPGs today, but there are plenty of options out there for those who don't like D20 or might be looking for something different. The goal in these little surveys is to highlight the different systems and options available to tabletop fans...not bash on anyone's favorites.”

So! If you’ve played Cortex Plus or Cortex Prime, I’d like to hear about your experiences. What do/did you like or dislike about it? If you haven’t played, was there something that dissuaded you from giving it a try?

And as before, just for fun I’ll take the responses to give the system a “grade.” :)

Grade: B+
Of those who voted, 96% have heard of it but only half (51%) have played it.
Of those who have played it: 41% love it, 37% like it, 19% are lukewarm, 4% dislike it, and 0% hate it.


Previous entries:
Grading the Cypher System
Grading the Pathfinder 2E (D20) System
Grading the Savage Worlds System
Grading the Fate/Fate Core System
Grading the Modiphius 2d20 System
Grading the GURPS System
Grading the Powered by the Apocalypse System
Grading the D6 System
Grading the Hero System
Grading the Storyteller System
Grading the Megaversal/Palladium System
Grading the Basic Role-Playing System
Grading the SAGA System
Grading the Warhammer 40K RPG System
Grading the Rolemaster/Spacemaster System
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Kannik

Hero
For myself, I unabashedly love the Cortex Prime system. Pretty much every single game/campaign I think of running these days I would run in one of three systems, and Cortex Prime is one of them (D&D is another, for D&D games, with my own system being the third). I first gave Cortex Plus a try through Firefly, and it was intriguing enough for me to support the Prime Kickstarter, and I've run 3 different games/campaigns with it.

What do I love so much about this system? Several things, but the most important of them is the character/narrative focus of the game. Every aspect of your character influences the rolls, and every roll reflects who the character is. And because of this, every roll has the potential to further develop, complicate, and enrich your character’s as well as the campaign’s story.

(When comparing it to FATE, the main difference is that while in FATE your Aspects only play a role when you spend a FATE point, every one of your rolls in Cortex will involve one of your Distinctions, either by supporting or hindering you.)

In addition, the game is set up such that each character has plenty of latitude to accomplish things in their own way which helps make them feel distinct, interesting, and opens up more avenues for RP, as does the fact that each character is given equal ability to move and affect the narrative forward (playing styles of campaign with characters of different ‘power’ levels or based on different power sources is very possible in Cortex).

Other bits of the game that I really love are the various resolution systems for different types of obstacles or encounters (action order vs challenges vs contests vs tests), the way the dice pool system allows for some nifty/interesting mechanics, and the variety of different modules and mods to build the game to suit what’s important to that campaign, whether action, community, relationships, caution, gonzo, psychological, sociological, or combinations thereof.

If there’s one aspect that is a niggle for me, it is that same die pool system. While it allows for neat things and is also great for allowing many factors to come into play without overpowering things (or needing to do complex math), those very things also can make it tough as a GM to get an easy grasp on probabilities and the character’s capabilities when choosing/designing opposition and task difficulties. But that’s but a minor thing that should become less and less of an issue as we gain more experience in playing/running. :)
 

I've never played Cortex Prime but have run most of the Cortex Plus games. And I used to refer to Cortex Plus as Gonzo Fate.

One of the things I really loved about it was how different MHRP, Leverage, Smallville, and the rest all were.
 

I'm fairly fond of it but have only played a few homebrew games, never run. As a toolkit it seems quite versatile (born out by the published systems that have used it) although at times gameplay can feel like a flavorless exercise in die rolling unless everyone strives to be descriptive about things. Also seems to have some issues with larger combats (or perhaps my GMs were confused - I didn't own the book at the time) and as Neonchameleon said, it's hard to judge what a reasonable level of opposition is either in or out of combat. It's always harder to give challenge building advice in a toolbox, but Cortex Prime could really benefit from more suggestions on how to avoid unintentional walkovers or wipeouts.

I'd be inclined to rate it higher if I didn't prefer its descendent, the Sentinel Comics RPG. It isn't as directly connected to Cortex as Marvel Heroic was and has some glitches of its own, but in many ways it's a streamlined evolution of Cortex Prime with a similar but easier to explain die rolling system and a better (but imperfect) section on designing opposition at various difficulty levels. OTOH, it pays a cost in being much less versatile than Cortex Prime. You can use it for most superhero game styles (and not just in the Sentinels universe, either - all of the folks I've gamed it with used homebrews) but not much else without a lot of work, and really wants you to have at least 3-4 players, so solo or dynamic duo/team-up games require some effort.
If there’s one aspect that is a niggle for me, it is that same die pool system.
If you haven't looked at the SCRPG core book already, I'd really recommend doing so if supers gaming is of interest. Its dice mechanics. bonus/penalty system and partially pre-set abilities go a long way toward taking the guts of Cortex and making a sleeker, more easily grasped gameplay experience. If you're not into supers though, it's probably better to stick with Cortex Prime.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I absolutely love Cortex Plus and Prime. MHR is my all-time favorite superheroes RPG. It worked like a charm. After running it for years, the massive dice pools for every action and reaction did begin to wear thin. I prefer Prime as you can build the system into something you want with ease. But that same flexibility seems to stop a lot of people from grokking the system.

Smallville, Leverage, and Firefly were also wonderful games that used Plus. I preferred bits of each but none of them as whole games. So when the Hacker’s Guide and later Prime came along, I was quite happy.
 

MHR is my all-time favorite superheroes RPG. It worked like a charm. After running it for years, the massive dice pools for every action and reaction did begin to wear thin.
MHR is pretty great but I'll still point out that Sentinels uses consistent three die pools, and almost everything that would be an added die in Cortex (complications, assets, non-prime traits, etc.) becomes a numerical +/- bonus or penalty instead generated (usually) by Boost/Hinder actions or narrative twists. It's not as versatile, but it does play smoothly. Less time spent fiddling with huge die pools, if nothing else.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I bought the Cortex Prime book. I really like the system and would love to use it to create a system to run a home brew campaign in. I wish the oneline tool was more than an e-reader for the book. It would be great to have a tool that allows you select the various options to create your own system, rather than manually creating your own system document.

But the main hurdle is I just don't have the time create a homebrew campaign world and adventures.
 

Kannik

Hero
I bought the Cortex Prime book. I really like the system and would love to use it to create a system to run a home brew campaign in. I wish the oneline tool was more than an e-reader for the book. It would be great to have a tool that allows you select the various options to create your own system, rather than manually creating your own system document.

But the main hurdle is I just don't have the time create a homebrew campaign world and adventures.
That is one of the big missings right now with Prime, with only one prebuilt campaign being sold (Tales of Xadia) and the rest no longer available due to licensing reasons. Fortunately many people have posted their builds for all manner of genres, and hopefully the Spotlight books (each with several games/campaigns) will be made available to non-backers.

(And if you can find the older books somewhere they can easily be used with Prime)
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
MHR is pretty great but I'll still point out that Sentinels uses consistent three die pools, and almost everything that would be an added die in Cortex (complications, assets, non-prime traits, etc.) becomes a numerical +/- bonus or penalty instead generated (usually) by Boost/Hinder actions or narrative twists. It's not as versatile, but it does play smoothly. Less time spent fiddling with huge die pools, if nothing else.
I've never bounced off superhero games harder than Silver Age Sentinels or Sentinel Comics. Whichever you're talking about might have less rolling huge dice pools, but I'll gladly take that over whatever's going on with either Sentinel game you might be referring to.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I bought the Cortex Prime book. I really like the system and would love to use it to create a system to run a home brew campaign in. I wish the oneline tool was more than an e-reader for the book. It would be great to have a tool that allows you select the various options to create your own system, rather than manually creating your own system document.

But the main hurdle is I just don't have the time create a homebrew campaign world and adventures.
You can copy MHR by picking all the "superheroic" options in Prime. You can copy Smallville by picking all the "dramatic" options in Prime. I think the "action" options are a mix between Leverage and Firefly. It's been awhile since I really sat down with the Cortex Prime book.

Tag the players in for worldbuilding. Have them make characters and provide a supporting cast and rogues gallery. Build the world and adventures from that. Superhero stories are really formulaic. Pick a villain and give them a goal, then set them about achieving it. The heroes get wind of the scheme and try to stop them. Most superheroes being almost entirely reactive helps a lot. Monster of the Week is great for mystery, monster creation, and using clocks to countdown the villain's plan. Masks is great for villains and drama.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top