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%


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dbm

Savage!
We played a Firefly campaign which was interesting and I personally enjoyed it. It didn’t do a huge amount for the rest of my group, however, and it is less likely to get played again in future for that reason. I think its strongest feature is the ability to support antagonistic characters within functioning groups (demonstrated by Smallville where Clark Kent and Lex Luther can both coexist). I think it would be a great system for playing an Ars Magica style game with a community of characters who co-exist but who are in tension with each other.

The downside was it felt like you were playing a dice game along side the RPG, but you could just as easily criticise many RPGs that you are playing a tactical skirmish game alongside the RPG, so I think this is more an overriding preference than an inherent weakness in the design. I could certainly see it being more attractive to players who did not come out of a war gaming heritage.
 

Aldarc

Legend
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.
This is pretty much my hang-up with Cortex Prime. It's a versatile kit and well-loved by its adherents, but I also find a lot of advice about grokking the system from those same fans to be a bit vacuous, vague, and mostly unhelpful, especially for newcomers who are looking to get into Cortex.

Like one of the most requested things I have seen people ask advice about is how to do magic. But the usual truistic answer is "it depends on what you want magic to do." Which while true, generally doesn't help people who are trying to grok the system. So what usually happens, IME, is that those people throw their hands up in frustration and go play/grok some other system.

With Fate, people can point to relatively cheap published materials for examples. With Cortex, a lot of those potential examples are either out-of-print or were removed from DriveThruRPG due to publisher reasons.
 

I've never bounced off superhero games harder than Silver Age Sentinels or Sentinel Comics.
Silver Age is a BESM system, and has effectively been replaced by Absolute Power - which arguably was a downgrade, but that's another subject completely. Sentinel Comics is a heavily modified version of Cortex and was largely written by Cam Banks. They're not even vaguely similar designs beyond being in the supers genre.

I can understand liking Cortex better than Sentinel Comics, but they're still cousins. You can see the family resemblance throughout - distinctions became a mix of status dice and principles abilities, powers are still powers, skills became qualities, a variation of the life points mod is in use, and complications, assets, and other traits went from variable dice to flat numerical mods to your effect dice. Admittedly, Sentinel Comics simplifies contest/conflict resolution in some ways that probably go farther than they needed to, but it does make the system easy to teach. I've seen people struggle to grasp Cortex Prime conflicts often enough to think that maybe some middle ground between the two systems' approaches would optimal. Sentinel Comics' abilities can also feel restrictive (especially to someone coming from Cortex), although Risky actions compensate for that to some degree. The character generation in SC is almost entirely different unless you use the "secret third method" and just pick what you want, and may be the weakest element of the whole system in terms of play longevity - you can use the same set of menus for just so long before stuff starts feeling repetitious.
 


timbannock

Adventurer
Supporter
Silly me, in my last post I should have linked to this database of fan-made games:
A more comprehensive version of that can now be found as a site at:

cortexhacks.timbannock.com
Like one of the most requested things I have seen people ask advice about is how to do magic. But the usual truistic answer is "it depends on what you want magic to do." Which while true, generally doesn't help people who are trying to grok the system. So what usually happens, IME, is that those people throw their hands up in frustration and go play/grok some other system.

With Fate, people can point to relatively cheap published materials for examples. With Cortex, a lot of those potential examples are either out-of-print or were removed from DriveThruRPG due to publisher reasons.
This has been solved with the release of Tales of Xadia, Keystone Fantasy, and most especially The Arcanist's Toolkit. You can find releases of that caliber here:

cortexprime.rileyrouth.com
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
I very much like the various Cortex Plus implementations. None were a generic catch-all implementation. Instead they were purpose-built to fit the various IPs they were bundled with (Smallville, for instance, is wildly different than Leverage in implementation). I'm not so hot on Cortex Prime. At the end of the day, it does what it sets out to do, but IMO it's just another generic system. There is a variant called Cortex Lite, though, that I love because I am smitten with rules-light games.
 


Kannik

Hero
A more comprehensive version of that can now be found as a site at:
cortexhacks.timbannock.com
Thanks Tim!
I very much like the various Cortex Plus implementations. None were a generic catch-all implementation. Instead they were purpose-built to fit the various IPs they were bundled with (Smallville, for instance, is wildly different than Leverage in implementation). I'm not so hot on Cortex Prime. At the end of the day, it does what it sets out to do, but IMO it's just another generic system. There is a variant called Cortex Lite, though, that I love because I am smitten with rules-light games.
Huh, that's interesting... that in taking all the purpose-built versions and smushing them together into a single book as a toolkit has perhaps made it feel bland/generic. I guess especially if someone new comes to it and doesn't immediately recognize (and personally I don't think it is as well explained in the book as it could be, nor are there enough overarching genre examples) that not every bit is intended to be used in each game. Hmm, now I'm pondering if a book on how to create/example campaigns for more broad/generic themes and genres (rather than the specific settings in the spotlights) might be a boon to the game's reach.

Like one of the most requested things I have seen people ask advice about is how to do magic. But the usual truistic answer is "it depends on what you want magic to do." Which while true, generally doesn't help people who are trying to grok the system. So what usually happens, IME, is that those people throw their hands up in frustration and go play/grok some other system.
Yeah, that can be a big catch-22 of a starting system, with not enough examples/familiarity that is a barrier to people starting to play, which is then a barrier to creating more examples/familiarity since there's few playing, and the cycle repeats. Tales of Xadia is a big deal in that respect, and great to see the Directory that Tim posted starting to get populated with more material.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
Huh, that's interesting... that in taking all the purpose-built versions and smushing them together into a single book as a toolkit has perhaps made it feel bland/generic. I guess especially if someone new comes to it and doesn't immediately recognize (and personally I don't think it is as well explained in the book as it could be, nor are there enough overarching genre examples) that not every bit is intended to be used in each game. Hmm, now I'm pondering if a book on how to create/example campaigns for more broad/generic themes and genres (rather than the specific settings in the spotlights) might be a boon to the game's reach.

I'd like to see something more like the Cortex Hacker's Guide (previously for Cortex Plus) published for Cortex Prime that shows some detailed and specific genre implementations of the system, as well as some better guidance to those ends than what exists in the core book. I think people would buy something like that.
 

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