Into the North - Cortex Plus Heroic Fantasy actual play

pemerton

Legend
Over the past year or so my group has been playing a bit of Marvel Heroic RP, mostly as an alternative when the full 4e crew can't turn up.

Last week I bought the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide and, knowing that one of our players would be in the US for a couple of weeks, I wrote up some PCs to run a Heroic Fantasy session.

I ended up adopting a "hack" that was a mix of standard MHRP and the fantasy rules in the Guide. Each PC had 2 power sets, roughly one background and one class; and I made up a list of specialties drawing on MHRP, the Guide, and the D&D 4e list.

The PCs were deliberately conceived so as to be suitable either for a Japanese or a Viking setting; when we played yesterday the players all voted for vikings, and so that's the way it went.

The 5 PCs (only 4 of whom saw play) were:

* A swordthane (or ronin in the Japanese version) who is DISCIPLINED (a version of the elf background power set) and WELL-EQUIPPED (a version of the fighter class power set, plus a Hercules-style SFX allowing a power-up of Riding or Combat assets);

* A berserker who is BORN TO FIGHT (a version of the human background power set) and goes into a BERSERK FURY (a version of the barbarian class power set);

* A lone scout who is a werewolf (or a fox spirit, in the Japanese version) who is a SKINCHANGER (bits and pieces from lizardfolk and druids) and READY FOR ANYTHING (bits and pieces from the rogue, I think the ranger as well, and the Punisher in the Civil War book for MHRP);

* A troll (or korobokuru in the Japanese version) who is of THE ESSENCE OF THE EARTH (dwarf background power set) and is a SHAPER OF THINGS (two powers - Earth Control and Melee Weapon - plus appropriate SFX like rune-carver and the like);

* A seer (who ended up not being played, as noone chose it) who is NOT FULLY OF THIS WORLD (based on the otherworld background power set) and who suffers from SHAMANIC VISIONS (I made this one up myself).​

(I've attached the sheets to this post.)

After people chose their characters, and we voted on vikings over Japan, the next step was to work out some background. The PCs already had Distinctions and Milestones (that I'd written up, picking, choosing and revising from the Guide and various MHRP datafiles) but we needed some overall logic: and the swordthane needed a quest (one of his milestones) and the troll a puzzle (one of his milestones).

So it turned out like this: the Berserker (who has Religious Expert d8) had noticed an omen of trouble among the gods - strange patterns in the Northern Lights; and similar bad portents from the spirit world had led the normally solitary scout (Solitary Traveller distinction, and also Animal Spirit) to travel to the village to find companions; and the troll, a Dweller in the Mountain Roots, had also come to the surface to seek counsel and assistance in relation to the matter of the Dragon's Curse; and, realising a need for a mission, the village chieftain chose the noblest and most honourable swordthane of the village - the PC, naturally - to lead it.

And so the unlikely party of companions set out.

I'm not sure what the "official" practice is, but I tend to treat these briefing/start-up contexts as Transition Scenes, and so allow any player who wants to spend the initial Plot Point on a resource to do so. So the berserker started with a d6 Token of the Gods, while the swordthane spent a PP and added a d6 to the Doom Pool to have a d8 Steed derived from his Riding Expert.

Thus equipped, the group travelled to the north, gradually climbing through the foothills ever higher towards the snow-capped peaks. In spring and summer the more adventurous herders might be found here running their animals upon the pasture, but in the autumn there were no humans about.

Cresting a ridge and looking down into the valley below, they can see - at the base of the rise on the opposite side - a large steading. Very large indeed, as they approach it, with 15' walls, doors 10' high and 8' wide, etc. And with a terrible smell. (Scene distinctions: Large Steading, Reeks of Smoke and Worse.) After some discussion of whether or not giants are friends or foes, the swordthan decides to knock at the gates and seek permission to enter. Some dice rolls later and he has a d6 Invitation to Enter asset, and a giant (I used the Guide's Ogre datafile) opens the gate and invites him in.

Meanwhile (I can't quite remember the action order) the scout has climbed up onto the top of the pallisade, gaining an Overview of the Steading asset, and the troll has remembered tales of Loge the giant chieftain, gaining a Knowledge of Loge asset. And the berserker - who has the Deeds, Not Words milestone which grants 1 XP when he acts on impulse - charged through the open gate at the giant, inflicting d12 physical stress.

But the swordthane - who was hoping to learn more about his quest - used his Defender SFX to take the physical stress onto himself (in the fiction, stepping between giant and berserker and grabbing hold of the latter's axe mid-chop). And the berserker - whose player was happily taking 3 XP for being rebuked by an ally for his violence - calmed down.

The next action cycle took place in the main hall of the steading, into which the PCs were led by the giant at the gate. I drew heavily on the G1 thematic here - all but one of the players was familiar with it. And I got to add in my third scene distinction - Great Wolves under the trestle tables and gnawing on bones at the sides of the hall.

I'm not going to remember all the details of this one, but highlights included: the swordthane opening up negotations with Loge, the giant chief, including - in response to a demand for tribute - offering up the steed as a gift; the scout, after successfully parlaying his Overview of the Steading asset into a Giant Ox in the Barn asset, leading the ox into the hall and trying to trade it for the return of the horse, and failing (despite the giant chief's Slow distinction counting as a d4), and subsequently avoiding being eaten (a stepped-up Put in Mouth complication, as per the Giant datafile in the Guide) only by wedging the giant's mouth open with his knife (a heavily PP-pumped reaction roll); and the swordthane successfully opening a d6 Social resource (based on his Social Expertise) in the form of a giant shaman in the hall, who agreed that the troubles plaguing the human lands were afflicting the giants too, and so they should help one another.

In the end, the PCs succeeded in stepping up their Persuaded to Help complication on Loge above d12, and so he relented and decided to befriend them rather than try and eat them. Unfortunately the PCs got little information out of the Transition scene. The swordthane and the berserker each spent their one remaining PP on a recovery roll (the berserker fully recovered from emotional stress inflicted by the giant chieftain; the swordthane partially recovered from his physical and his emotional stress, with a d8 physical and d4 emotional remaining); the troll spend his sole PP to ensure that his Knowledge of Loge and his Works asset would endure into the next action scene; and only the scout created a resource, but a Great Wolf one (from his Outdoor Expertise), not any sort of information. The scout also successfully performed a support action, helping the giants cook up the horse for the feast, which helped with some of the recovery roles.

The player of the swordthane commented that, if the horse had been successfully gained back from the giants, he was going to name it "Lucky". So naturally there were plenty of jokes about the fillets of Lucky being served up at the giants' table.

After some days (weeks? who can follow the passage of time among these wild viking types) of revelry with the giants, the PCs set off again, continuing north. They climbed higher and higher into the base of the mountains, with temperatures dropping and light snows falling at night. Coming to the edge of a glacier-carved valley, they could see - on the other side - an iron door in the valley wall.

After some discussion of the seasonality of the door (being inaccessible when the ice comes down the valley in winter), they decided to investigate it. This was hard, as the Doom Pool had grown from 2d6 at the start of the session to 2d12 and 1d10. The scout successfully created a Knowledge of Denizens asset, which he passed to the troll; the troll drew on his knowledge of making(Crafting Master d10), his knowledge of the makers (the afore-mentioned asset) and his control over the earth and stone to try and reshape the stone just enough that the door would pop open, but failed. Attempts by the berserker to force it open by sheer strength, and by the swordthane to try and spot some weakness in it, failed too. (And as the PCs rolled 1s, the Doom Pool was growing during this time.)

Then I spent 2d10 from the to introduce some new opposition (I have a chart drawn up for this purpose, constructed by induction from the examples provided in the published MHRP scenarios) - a 3d8 mob of goblin door wardens (with d8 armour and spears) and their 3d8 fire lizard pet (with a d8 AoE fiery breath and d8 bite). The goblins tried to scare the PCs off, but inflicted emotional stress only on the berserker. Then the swordthane charged, but couldn't make any headway. But the berserker went next, and using his Sweep SFX (the AoE SFX but limited to attacks against mobs) he knocked two dice off the mob and left them with d8 physical stress (as well as d6 emotional stress that someone - maybe the Swordthane? - had inflicted as part of a reaction to the intimidation attempt).

We had to break there, but hopefully will get a chance some time to pick the game up again.

Some observations: the D&D rather than comic-book vibe meant that more of the action was about creating assets rather than fighting things. This meant that the Doom Pool, especially as it grew larger, became a very noticable burden for the players. I still find that managing the Doom Pool is the hardest part of running this system, though I think I'm getting better at it.

But I think the system did a pretty good job of supporting the D&D/fantasy feel, with no real changes but altering the specialty list and reflavouring a few abilities. I probably didn't need the Hacker's Guide to do this, but it certainly gave me the inspiration and some examples that motivated me to prepare for and run the game.

View attachment Bodyguard.docx
View attachment Berserker.docx
View attachment Scout.docx
View attachment Troll.docx
View attachment Seer.docx
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Sorry, I don't have time to read the entirety (I will tomorrow). Just one quick question so I can use it as reference when I'm reading.

Did you use the CPHG Exploration Scene conflict resolution mechanics or did you just use standard Action Scene resolution mechanics (stress out an enemy...which in an Exploration Scene would be the amalgamation of obstacles which are standing between you and your goal/destination)?
 

pemerton

Legend
Just one quick question so I can use it as reference when I'm reading.

Did you use the CPHG Exploration Scene conflict resolution mechanics or did you just use standard Action Scene resolution mechanics (stress out an enemy...which in an Exploration Scene would be the amalgamation of obstacles which are standing between you and your goal/destination)?
I just used standard Action/Transition scenes. I skimmed the stuff on Exploration scenes in the Guide but didn't read it closely - they seemed near enough to Transition scenes that I wasn't going to worry about the difference, either in mechanical terms or in terms of having to "skill up" my group. For the same reason I just used Physical/Mental/Emotional stress.

So the starting situation - working out why these 4 people are working together, what their mission is, etc - was treated as a Transition scene.

All the stuff at the steading was an Action Scene - so action being passed between participants, building assets by rolling against the Doom Pool, etc. (I think in the Guide it would mostly have been a Social scene with social conflict.)

After they "stressed out" (by way of complication) the giant chieftain, there was a Transition scene.

Then another Action scene at the door, which started with (attempts at) asset creation and then morphed into combat when I had the door open with some hobgoblins and their fire lizard behind it.

From the MHRP rulebook it's not 100% clear what the action economy is within a Transition scene, but I treat it as 1 action, either recovery or support/asset-creation. (With no stunt or resource dice in the pool, but I think I might have (inadvertently) allowed that rule to be broken yesterday, because I think the scout stunted to include his Enhanced Reflexes in his cookery support action - "fillet de Lucky"!)
 

pemerton

Legend
This is really great!

Cheers,
Cam
Hey, thanks for dropping by my thread! And thanks for a really fun game. (MHRP is the only supers game I've ever run, despite having a near-complete run of the X-Men from the beginning to the end of the Claremont era, and plenty of other comics from the same era.)

And while I (hopefully) still have your attention, can I ask how you handle action economy in Transition Scenes?
 

Cam Banks

Explorer
Transition scenes don't generally have actions in them - that's what action scenes are for. The exception is recovery actions, which can take place in transition scene as well as action scenes.

A transition scene is primarily a way to introduce new resources (representing investigation or research, or building things, or calling on your contacts). This means you get assets for your next action scene. They serve also to bridge action scenes together in the story, but that's not so much a mechanics thing as it is a narrative pacing thing.

By the way, I'm not sure if you knew or not but I've acquire the license to design and publish new Cortex-based material, beginning with a huge update for the system called Cortex Prime which is Kickstarting later this month. At my Patreon, I showcase preview material and post playtest documents for Cortex Prime as well as my own IP (worlds like Eidolon and Swordbridge). KS backers will also get a copy of the system reference document in process, which patrons have been had access to so far.

Cheers,
Cam
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Hey [MENTION=3817]Cam Banks[/MENTION] , thanks for dropping by [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s thread. If you're still about and care to offer a response, I'd be curious if you have insight on the design of Exploration Scenes for Fantasy Heroic. They're sort of a Transition Scene/Action Scene (Resource + Recovery + the Exploration Roll and any augments from other PCs) mash-up. I'm curious why this route was taken rather than just unifying the Action Scene conflict resolution mechanics across the board and just treating Exploration with the same system machinery as Combat and Social. I don't know how much involvement you had in that design (you have the broad credits, but not the specific credits there) so a "meh, I don't really know" will suffice if that is the case (afterall, 5e designers seem to regularly forget seminal components of their own game!).

Thanks for your time, regardless.

Pemerton, I'll read this fully through and comment tomorrow or the next day. I'm formally swearing off my getting-sucked-in-itude of the LTH thread!
 

Cam Banks

Explorer
Hey Manbearcat,

Fantasy Heroic's scene structure was designed to really accent the specific types of scenes seen in dungeon delving adventures, allowing GMs to plan around those types of scene rather than just make them more generic. I like the exploration roll concept, for example, as it implies a different time scale than the combat scenes, but they're also not the same as those transition scenes that move the passage of time quickly along in order to get to the next fun part. You could pretty easily switch this all out for something else, Cortex is plastic that way.

Cheers,
Cam
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Hey Manbearcat,

Fantasy Heroic's scene structure was designed to really accent the specific types of scenes seen in dungeon delving adventures, allowing GMs to plan around those types of scene rather than just make them more generic. I like the exploration roll concept, for example, as it implies a different time scale than the combat scenes, but they're also not the same as those transition scenes that move the passage of time quickly along in order to get to the next fun part. You could pretty easily switch this all out for something else, Cortex is plastic that way.

Cheers,
Cam
Thanks Cam. And I agree, the system is robust to changes like that. I just use the normal Action Scene structure for Exploration conflicts because I want them to have a lot of meat on their bone. That said, I can certainly see how the default Exploration resolution mechanics can lead to a Powered By the Apocalypse "snowball effect" with a complication/situation-changing spree (which is very good), but I think I just like the unified structure for the sake of mental overhead minimization (especially for newer players, of which my C+ Heroic Fantasy game features 2).

Thanks for making a great game.
 

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