Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cortex, Part 3 - Cortex Plus

So everything I have told you is wrong. Or rather, everything I have told so far about Cortex is fine, but it does not cover what is going on in the newest Cortex game, Smallville.

Now a few things to get out of the way first and foremost. I have never watched Smallville really. I saw an episode way back when because it had some witches in it and it was when Clark learned he was vulnerable to magic, and I tried to catch the Zatanna episode, but my DVR took a nap and it didn't happen. So I can't judge this game on the merits of how well or not it emulates its source. What I can so though is judge it on how well it emulates young adult drama, with a supernatural/paranormal/super twist. In that case we could be talking about almost any show on WB/UPN/CW, and many of the ones on Fox too.

So what is the deal with Smallville anyway?

Well the biggest thing is the character development which according to the book will take your first session. Now let me pause here a bit. I loves me some character creation. I have pages of character notes on D&D characters and that is not counting what I have on characters for other systems. So I can dig this sort of interactive character development, but will everyone else? This feels rather indie for a mainstream license. I am going to roll with it all the same and see what it does for me. Granted my doing it will be a tad artificial since it will be just me at the moment.

Now this new interactive character development does pose one issue; you need to have a really good idea of what you want your series to do and who is going to be in it. This is the same issue that Cartoon Action Hour has; it might make a pick-up game a bit harder to do.

So how is it different? Well. There are no abilities or skills. How much stronger is Clark than Chloe? Don't know. Is Lex smarter than Brainiac? No idea. But it doesn't matter either. Clark and Chloe are not going to be arm wrestling and Lex and Brainiac are not going to be playing Trivial Pursuit against each other. But what we do have is how do Clark's actions affect Chloe, or Lois, or Lex. How can he do what he feels is right. So instead of Attribute + Skill +/- Assets we have Drives (Values + Relationships) + Assets. You are still using the Step Die methods from the previous version of Cortex, just in a new way.

So what are these? Well Drives are what motivate you or your character. The first set are called Values. Thes are Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power and Truth. Each of these gets a die and a defining statement. If we go with the idea of setting a game in a theoretical "Season 5" (the default power level) then we can provide some examples. So I could look at my witches in a theoretical show called "Sunnydale" and it's Season 5. Willow would have Power at d12 with the text, "I need to be able to control the chaos around me." Tara would have Power say at d6 or d8 with the text "Power is a responsibility and one that can't be ignored." It's kind of a neat way of looking at your characters really. These Values then tell you why you are motivated to do what you do. So Willow would seek out a dangerous occult text, but Tara would caution against it.

We have Drives in Values and they affect your Relationships. The player characters are called Leads and the NPCs are "features" (though I like Guest Stars better) and how they relate to each other, friend, enemy and lover alike, are called Relationships. These are mutable obviously. These are also ranked with a die and description. So between Willow and Tara we can write "in love with". So on Willow's sheet I write under Relationships "d12 TARA is my soulmate." and similarly on Tara's "D12 WILLOW is my soulmate". Since it is Season 5 I could even write on Willow's sheet, "d8 XANDER is my best friend" or "d4 I don't like ANYA". It is bit freeform at this point since it is just me. Relationships work out best when discussed with the other players. It looks like the die value's don't have to be equal, so Clark has a d10 listed for Chloe in the book, but Chloe has a d12 for Clark. This matches reality really; not all relationships are equal.

Relationships can be with other Leads or Features (PCs and NPCs). You also can have Resources, people or things you can call on to do things.

Assets are the closest to what you could describe as "Powers" or "Qualities". In my quick read over of the rules these seemed to be the most similar to Classic Cortex. Clark has things like Super-Strength and the like. But these again are more descriptive and are not a measure of his strength per se but rather a measurement of what using his Super-Strength means to the show and to the characters around him. If an asset is not here then adding one is not too difficult really. I could see an asset like Megan Maclay's Spellbook (Magical Artifact), with the text "add d8 to Trouble to use a new spell" or bit of occult knowledge as the case may be.

All of this though is designed around the interpersonal relationships the character have with each other. It is an interesting focus for a game to be honest, and one that leads itself to certain level of tinkering. Think about it for a bit, you could take any group of characters and provide a "Cortex Plus" sheet for them as well. They would have their powers, skills and other details in Assets and then you focus on the interpersonal dynamics.

I think I should try this out. Plus a game like this needs to be tried in order to get the proper feel.


Cam_Banks said...

A note on the use of Feature for major NPCs: All of these terms are deliberately newspaper-themed. Leads, Features, Extras. That's why we didn't use "Guest Star." :)

Havard: said...

Thanks for bringing up Smallville, Tim. I am looking out for this one. It sounds a bit experimental for my tastes, but I also find myself attracted to modelling a campaign in the spirit of this show.