Will Cortex Prime light our darkest hour?

Optimus Prime displaying the Cortex logo matrix of leadership
It’s Optimus Cortex Prime, geddit?

The Kickstarter for Cortex Prime is currently live, and it’s doing rather well. It funded in 36 hours (I helped!), it has just passed its third stretch goal, and it still has 12 days to go.

Cortex Prime is the latest iteration of the Cortex roleplaying system and, more immediately, the successor system to Cortex Plus, which gave us games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Leverage, Firefly and my favourite Smallville. (I’ve blogged about Smallville a lot. Have a look.)

This seems like a good time to talk about my feelings for the new game. In short, I’m looking forward to it. My last Cortex Plus game, the X-Men drama Worthington Academy, wrapped up last year. I had no intention of running another one, but just before the Kickstarter launched I was starting to get the itch for a new Cortex Plus Drama campaign, and so Cortex Prime showed up at just the right time.

But what do I think about what I’ve seen so far?

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A roll in the hay with Kagematsu

Cover of Kagematsu

Kagematsu is a roleplaying game by Danielle Lewon, based on a design by S.R. Knipe. The simplest, most obvious summary of the game would be to call it a romance game, but there are aspects to it that prevent it from being so easily pigeonholed. If you’ve heard of Kagematsu, you probably know it as the game that must always be GMed by a woman, and that’s important to its exploration of gender and power imbalance.

I have been wanting to play it for a long time, and I’m glad I have because there is so much to say about this game!

Here’s the highlight, though: I had a great time playing Kagematsu. I want to play it again. I recommend it, but there are things that I wish the game did better so I fully understand if it’s not the game for you.

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Star Wars under the Microscope: What if Darth Vader wasn’t Luke’s father?

Our Star Wars timeline in Microscope. Only the events of A New Hope were considered fixed.

A long time ago (about a week), in a galaxy far, far away (an hour on the London underground), I sat down with three of my friends to play a game of Microscope that retold the Star Wars saga. Let me tell you about it!

“So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”

I used to write a lot of fan fiction. I don’t do that much anymore, because now I prefer to collaborate with other people when making up stories, but one of the pieces of fan fiction that I never got round to writing was an alternate Star Wars saga, exploring what might have happened if the franchise had gone in another direction during the production of the original trilogy. Things could have been vastly different if the producers had made different decisions at that early stage.

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I ❤ Heroes of the Hearth

Seven Wonders cover, from Pelgrane Press LtdHeroes of the Hearth is a GM-less, diceless story game by Stiainín Jackson. In Heroes of the Hearth, you tell the story of a group of villagers, the family and loved ones left behind by the fantasy adventurers who have left home to battle evil. It is included in Pelgrane Press’ Seven Wonders anthology.

I recently had a chance to play the game, and I  it. (I “heart” it, you see, because the heart symbol stands for love and “heart” sounds like “hearth”… Visual wordplay is difficult, ok?)

Before playing it, I’d been worried whether I’d enjoy the game. The characters were all pre-generated and I was concerned they would be flat or hard to customise. The scene structure seemed paradoxically to be very rigid and yet offer little support.

Which just goes to show that you should never review roleplaying games without playing them, because my fears were unfounded and I had a great time. Let me tell you about it!

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My fan mail to Primetime Adventures

Primetime Adventures (2nd edition) cover, via RPGGeek.comPrimetime Aventures is a game by Matt Wilson, billed as a game of television drama. It focuses on the dramatic lives and personal issues of a group of characters as if they were the ensemble cast of a TV show. Pretty much any sort of TV show works.

Dramatic roleplaying games are exactly my cup of tea, so I’d heard about Primetime Adventures and I had been looking forward to giving it a try. At the most recent meeting of my monthly RPG Book and Brunch Club, I finally got my chance. So what did I think of it?

I love this game. It’s not just a cup of tea. It’s afternoon tea at the Ritz. The game knows what it is designed to do, what kind of play it is supposed to facilitate and encourage, and it accomplishes that expertly. More importantly, playing it was a lot of fun.

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My glum and jovial discovery of Swords Without Master

Frostfire Monkey by pierdrago. Used without permission

Swords Without Master is a game by Epidiah Ravachol designed to emulate the classic sword-and-sorcery, weird fiction, pulp adventure tales typified by Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian stories. I’ve mentioned the game before (in my post on using pictures as aspects in Fate), but I’ve finally played it properly and now I want to talk about it.

The overtone

Overall, I like Swords Without Master. I think it’s a great game and it excellently captures the feel of the genre it’s trying to emulate. I would happily play it again as either a Rogue or Overplayer.

I had more mixed feelings about my first experience of the game. That’s not a big problem. Mixed feelings are entirely appropriate for Swords Without Master, which is all about tone (usually jovial and glum) and how different tones intersect in cool ways.

In this post, I’m going to talk about some of my first impressions. And because I’m fairly certain that most (if not all) of the issues I had with it can be resolved with more experience, I’ll talk about some things I’d do differently if playing again. Hopefully it will help other players that are thinking of trying the game have a more unambiguously jovial first session.

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