Turning over a new leaf: A villainous Cortex Prime playtest

It’s 2018, hurrah! A new year means a new year for roleplaying, and I’m looking forward to a few upcoming changes in my roleplaying calendar. First, all three regular campaigns that I’m in are reaching their climactic finales, which will be an exciting if bittersweet farewell to some characters. Second, I’m hoping to play some more one-shots, particularly in systems I’ve never tried before. Third, I’m putting my hand to game design a bit more—unusually, I’ve been inspired to dip my toe into OSR gaming, so we’ll see where that goes.

Most immediately, though, there are two things that are dominating my early 2018 roleplaying thoughts: GMing my first new campaigns after a relatively lackluster 2017 in that area, and the Cortex Prime playtest draft rules.

These two things go together pretty well, it turns out.

Mick Rory (Heatwave) in Legends of Tomorrow season 3 episode 2,
The gif that inspired it all.

Right now, I’m running a Cortex Prime game of supervillains, whisked out of the toxic environments that enabled their iniquity to fight a greater threat, given a chance to do something good for a change. Something like Legends of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad, or Guardians of the Galaxy (only the last of which I’ve actually watched, admittedly). Can they reform and become better people? Do they want to? Can they save the world? This is Set a Villain.

Since I last blogged about Cortex Prime, its Kickstarter was fully funded with all of its stretch goals reached, and several drafts of an SRD have been released for playtesting. I initially used v2.1 of the SRD (released on 19 September 2017), but I plan to update this to the latest versions as they come out. Currently, that’s v3.1, dated 1 January 2018. Happy New Year!

In this blog I’m giving a rundown of my new campaign, including the Cortex Prime variant rules we’re using. Note that while I’ve been writing detailed feedback on the game so far and sending it to the developers, I’m not going to copy it out here. Cortex Prime is still a work in progress, and (I hope) any feedback I’d write now would be irrelevant by the time the game is finalised and published. The most you’ll get here (for now) are some general opinions. Onward!

Continue reading

Advertisements

32: A Step into RPGs Retrospective

Turtles, vanish... by Fatboy73 on DeviantArt
The piece of TMNT fanart I liked most but didn’t use in my TMNT RPG blog series.

This month is the 32nd since I started this blog. It is also, by a weird coincidence, the month of my 32nd birthday. I realised this too late to turn RPGaDay into “31 posts in month 31 while 31”, but nevertheless I’m feeling a bit reflective.

Here is a look back at some of my most popular blog posts, the top 11 posts on the blog based on average views per month (vpm) since publication.

There are a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in this list. You’ve been warned.

Continue reading

RPGaDay 2017, Day 22: Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

RPGaDay 2017 infographic

RPGaDay is an annual celebration of tabletop roleplaying. This is the first year I’ve tried to do it.

Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

The RPGs that are easiest for me to run are the ones in which the players do all the hard work, particularly in being proactive and developing conflicts between each other instead of waiting for me to provide a problem for them to solve. For example, Smallville is a dramatically driven game in which, during a session, I could often sit back and just watch things unfold. The problem with Smallville, however, is that there was so much preparation needed at the start of the campaign (preparing NPCs and so on), and so much bookkeeping needed between sessions. That’s a significant barrier to me running it again.

Psi*Run is a game that also takes a lot of player input throughout and, being designed mostly for one-off sessions, has no prep work or bookkeeping to speak of. On balance, I think Psi*Run is the easiest RPG to run, although I wouldn’t be comfortable using it for a campaign.

RPGaDay 2017, Day 7: What was your most impactful RPG session?

RPGaDay 2017 infographic

RPGaDay is an annual celebration of tabletop roleplaying. This is the first year I’ve tried to do it.

What was your most impactful RPG session?

That’s a tough question. I’m really not sure. I’ve had a few campaign sessions that were meaningful to me, or to the group, or had long-term influence over the campaign. I could name a dozen incidents just from my various Unknown Armies campaigns, for instance, but I talked about them on Day 4.

Instead I’m going to go with one of the most cathartic sessions of the X-Men-themed Smallville campaign that I ran, the one set in a Hogwarts-style British boarding school where the students and teachers are all based on reinterpretations of canon X-Men characters.

Jason (PC, student, based on Mastermind) has just been freed of some empathic mind control that stopped him from feeling anger. Rather than lash out, the release in tension makes him super relaxed. His illusion powers go out of control, and he turns the entire school into a tropical beach at night. What’s more, the illusion has a mental component, so that everyone feels a-ok with being on a beach and stops worrying about anything.

Rogue (PC, student, based on Rogue), who is troubled for several reasons that I won’t go into, is finally able to reconnect with both her mother Erin (NPC, headmistress, based on Magneto) and her childhood friend/crush Piotr (PC, student, based on Colossus). Piotr’s sister Illyana (PC, student, based on Magik) was able to be around other students in a non-confrontational atmosphere for the first time since she disappeared into a dream dimension, aged 5 years in a day, and became part demonic. Alas, Illyana’s newfound peace did not last, as an accident made her display her demonic features and terrify the other students, making her teleport away all the way to Russia.

That’s just giving an impression of the main character arcs in the session. I’m honestly not even scratching the surface of what happened, or the context behind it. Smallville is a weird, cool game.

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?

Continue reading

Good RPGs encourage good experiences—it doesn’t matter how!

Declaring that a game is “good” (or, worse, “bad”) is almost always a controversial prospect. In general, I prefer to say that I have liked or disliked a game rather than claim that it has an absolute or objective quality. “Good” is a subjective distinction, and opinion will vary from player to player.

That said, I feel pretty confident in defining what a good game is, as long as the definition itself leaves room for subjectivity.

Continue reading

What I want in a new edition of Cortex Plus Dramatic

cortex-plus-hackers-guide-coverLast week, it was announced that Cam Banks has licensed Cortex Plus from Margaret Weis Productions. Cam co-created the Cortex Plus system, and he was co- or lead designer on three out of the four main games published using that system, not to mention the driving force behind the excellent Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. He knows Cortex Plus inside out and he can do wonderful things with it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what his new design studio Magic Vacuum comes out with! I’ve no doubt that soon there will be new versions of Cortex Plus Action (used for Leverage and Firefly) and Cortex Plus Heroic (used for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying), which will make many fans of the system happy.

But my favourite is Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying, which was spun out of the Smallville Roleplaying Game. It’s the only one of the three that gives me something I can’t currently get from any other RPG. I love it, but it has flaws. It could use a new edition.

Here’s what I would want to be updated, changed, clarified or kept in a new edition of Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying.

Continue reading