February’s RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted over at Arcane Shield and this month the topic is to simply pimp that game you love, the system you come back to time after time.
For me the choice is simple. Cortex. The system has already received some love from The Chindividual where he shares his love of Cortex Plus (which powers Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic). But that’s not the version I want to focus on, no the system I want to focus on is standard Cortex, which was used for Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Demon Hunters, Supernatural and the generic Cortex System.
But why do I love it so? Well first off it is simple yet highly versatile. The core mechanic sees both attributes and skills defined as a particular sized die (with bigger being better) with rolls constructed by rolling the required attribute + skill then adding up the total. So it’s extremely simple to learn the basic system, but what about the versatility I mentioned? That arises from the fact that skills are not linked to a single attribute and can instead be matched up as required.
As an example lets imagine an investigator PC who has just arrived at a crime scene and is looking for clues. If they’re just having a simple look around then they might be asked to roll Alertness (Attribute) + Perception (Skill). In doing so they observe that the room appears to extremely secure, so they’re wondering how the criminal might have gotten into the room. The GM, therefore, asks for an Alertness (Attribute) + Covert (Skill) to see if the PC can spot that the window has been rigged to allow it to be opened from the outside. Now knowing how the burglar got in the investigator is wondering what was the reason for the break in, so they make a final roll of Intelligence (Attribute) + Perception (Skill) to see if they can deduce why the room was targeted based on its contents. The same concept goes for any roll that is called for, adapting to suit the situation as it evolves.
The simplicity and versatility aren’t the only reasons I love the Cortex System. The variable size of the dice means that its difficult to play the curve and predict your chances of success while the inclusion of these dice to roll defence scores means that even a low level character has a chance if their opponent rolls badly. Absent is the issue of low level NPCs who can’t harm the party or PCs who can’t get a lucky shot on the big bad evil guy. At it’s base characters are not the great hero’s of D&D or Pathfinder, this is a system where PCs are as fragile and as fallible as everybody else in the world without falling over the moment they take a single wound. As a GM more interested in near future and Sci-Fi settings than heroic fantasy this balance is ideal for the stories and settings I prefer to employ. This isn’t to say that mechanisms to pull off spectacular successes are absent. The advantage system provides quick bonuses that, depending on your genre, can either boost skills (providing relatively small bonuses) or add additional dice (allowing for extraordinary feats) while plot points (akin to bennies in Savage Worlds) allow for the boosting of rolls in tense situations (and unlike Savage Worlds are provided in sufficient quantities during a session that you don’t need to save them just in case you need to soak damage). Again, simple yet versatile.
I’m not going to lie and pretend the system is perfect, the Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural variants for example were little more than reskins of Serenity with little work done to adapt the rules to the genres (something Cortex Plus does superbly). I hope however that this little blog post will have tempted you to give it a try, the generic rules set (and a few of the other variants) can be found on DriveThruRPG and at $4.99 (at present) it’s an absolute bargain.
Jimmy Davis is very much a product of the times. He was excluded from the failing city school system at an early age, partially due to frequent bouts of truancy but also due to his regular habit of climbing to the roof of the school building in order to shout abuse at the harsh (in his opinion) teachers. His education has, therefore, been dominated by that of the street where he has made a name for himself locally as a capable errand boy. This has included work for the local gangsters (The Black Hand), though Jimmy’s illiteracy and small stature have scuppered his chances of becoming a bona fida member of the organisation. Continue reading “Deadlands Noir Character Concept: Jimmy Davis”
As I’ve been putting together the characters for my upcoming Nationals game I’ve also been thinking about how to present the information to the players, especially given I expect most (if not all) of them to be new to Demon Hunters. In doing so I’ve tried to break down the sheets into segments, grouping together information based on their importance. The first page is a full scale image of the character, which will be attached to the front of the folder presented to the players. Second is the main character stats – Attributes and skills, separated by a smaller version of the character portrait. This page is the one I expect players to need to reference the most, while inclusion of the portrait allows them to keep that mental image in their head.
Third, the bio. This page is designed to provide the personality of the character, through use of a short bio in addition to their advantages and disadvantages. For Doyl and Blayze an additional sheet details their primary spells (5 each). Finally is the equipment and notes sheet, for you never know what extra equipment the players may wish to acquire during the course of the adventure. While they still need some work I’m fairly happy with the basic layout at the moment, the main aspect that still needs to be added is the wound / stun track and a system cheat sheet. The current draft template for Doyl can be access through the below link:
Character Sheet: Doyl Levett
One of the posts over at the Happy Jacks RPG Forum linked to a rather amazing website recently, the Pulp-O-Mizer, a web based generator of custom covers for pulp style magazines. I gave it a quick spin and am definitely impressed with it, if I was running a pulp style game (probably in Savage Worlds) then I’d be sorely tempted to use it on a regular basis. I could see it being particularly useful to tempt players with at the start of an adventure, or even to try and sell a campaign to a group of players. Either way it’s well worth a look, below is what I slung together in a few minutes for my Demon Hunters game though I doubt I’ll actually use it when it comes to the Nationals.
One of the components of my Nationals planning this year has been to commission a series of character portraits of the characters for my Demon Hunters game. While this has an obvious cost attached to it I felt that the characters for the game were unusual and wacky enough that the players would greatly benefit from the visuals. One of the PCs is, after all, a mystically animated plastic Christmas tree that also happens to be a ninja.
Today I received the draft image for the first character, Doyl the coffee mage. Being honest it was the character I was most worried about, not because he’s a difficult character to draw but because he is my PC on the few occasions I get to play Demon Hunters. Luckily for me the sketch has come out brilliantly, capturing the concept of Doyl perfectly. I’ll probably post up the rest of the characters once I get them but for now here’s Doyl:
This is my initial character concept for my first L5R character, Doji Okimoto, a Crane bushi who has lived his life as a political hostage of the Lion clan. While he was still an infant Doji Nanako, Okimoto’s paternal grandmother and a Doji courtier was involved in negotiations between the Crane and Lion clans when she misjudged the temperament of the Lion representative. The resulting fallout led to a series of skirmishes between the clans, which ended with Nanako committing seppuku and her family being held by the Lion clan as living collateral. While the Doji family are typically a social / political family being raised within Lion territory has impacted significantly upon Okimoto’s world view, leaving him conflicted as to the nature of bushido and possessing many Lion values which conflict with his Crane heritage.
Air ring: 3, Awareness: 3, Reflexes: 3
Earth ring: 2, Willpower: 2,Stamina: 2
Fire ring: 2, Intelligence: 2, Agility: 3
Water ring: 2,Perception: 2, Strength: 3
Void ring: 2
Family: Doji (+1 awareness)
School: Matsu Berserker School (Lion)
School Benefit: +1 strength
School Skills: Battle, Jiujutsu, Kenjutsu (Katana), Kyujutsu, Lore: History, Polearms, Defence
Honor: 6.5 though I want to reduce this to 4.5 to fit with the hostage situation
Outfit: Light armour, sturdy clothing, daisho, naginata, travelling pack, 5 koku
Rank 1 technique: The Lion’s Roar. Add your honour rank to all damage rolls. when in full attack stance you may move an additional 5ft in addition to the bonus from the stance
Different school 5
Bad Fortune: Lingering misfortune 3
Doubt: Iaijutsu 4
Kenjutsu (Katana) 1
Polearms (Naginata) 3*
Lore: History 1
Artisan (drawing) 1
Tea ceremony 1
Points left: 2
I’ve a handful of games at conventions in the last few years and during that time I’ve slowly built up a set of guidelines that I attempt to follow when designing the player characters. What I’ve never done though is sit down and formalise that list, so I thought I’d do it here to aid in prepping for Nationals 2013.
- Character gender should be optional: I’ve been lucky during my gaming career to have avoided the stereotyped all male groups so having a mix of male and female characters is something I’ve come to expect. A lot of convention games achieve this by having a simple mix of male and female characters. The problem I have with this approach is that it still limits player choice, as the gender is then automatically associated with that particular skill set. Getting around this is simple, each character sheet has two names, one male and one female from which the player can then choose.
- Each character should have a unique specialisation: This is the guideline most commonly followed by GMs. Simply put each character should have a unique specialisation around which their abilities and skills are centred and which should come up during the game. This provides the opportunity for every character to shine, keeping the player involved and interested.
- Characters should have personality and background: During a convention game players are coming in blind so having a written background for each PC provides an immediate jumping point as to how to play that character. This is particularly important in games such as Cortex and Savage Worlds where playing to the background / personality defined through their advantages and disadvantages can have mechanical effects (such as earning plot points / bennies).
- The group should have a clear reason to be working together: Whether they’ve worked together in the past or are all breaking out of the same prison the PCs should have a clear reason as to why they’re together and more importantly why they would stay together for the duration of the adventure.
- Characters should be balanced: This is partially a personal ‘how I run’ aspect but is also an important factor to take into consideration when choosing advantages / disadvantages, feats, spells etc. Essentially this boils down to each character having an equal role to play within the adventure, with no one character being able to mechanically dominate the game. This is particularly important when considering abilities designed for campaign play. The Vampire advantage in Demon Hunters is a prime example of this. This advantage provides significant bonuses to strength, agility and toughness which are balanced out by the high chance of the character loosing control of their hunger and turning evil. In a campaign this ends up working out as the GM can frequently tempt the PC by placing them in situations where their willpower is challenged. A convention game, however, is a different story. Either the hunger is ignored during the game, leaving the vampire overpowered compared to the rest of the party or the temptation is introduced, risking the PC turning on the rest of the group part way through the session (likely ending in multiple PC deaths).
- Everybody should have combat options: This is going to be dependent upon the system but as a general rule every PC should have something they can be effective at during combat. A player with nothing to do during combat is likely to become disengaged and bored, each time this happens it will be harder to get them back on board once you drop out of combat. An important note here is that I don’t necessarily mean attack options, just an ability or skill that allows them to act and affect the flow of the action.
I’ll probably add to this list at a later date and as I become more experienced with convention games but I think the above is a good starting point to work from.