Catching up with Day 2 of #RPGaDay2015.
Kickstarted game most pleased you backed
Kickstarter has been a revolutionary development for the RPG industry. It’s allowed neiche products to be produced with a degree of surety that wasn’t previously possible, and it’s allowing small companies or individual writers to get the money they need to actually get a product off the ground. It’s not a single magic bullet to cure all of the RPG industry’s ills (as a few high profile failed or misjudged projects have shown), but it’s allowed for a lot of innovation that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
I’ve backed quite a few RPGs over the last few years, and I’m pleased with all of them. Fate Core featured heavily in last year’s RPGaDay, and the assorted new World of Darkness lines that are coming out have all been pretty excellent. (Although I still haven’t run Mummy or Demon as yet…)
But of all of the RPG products I’ve backed, there’s one that I keep coming back to more than any other. It might be a bit of a stretch to call it a game in its own right, although it more than just one game in fact.
The Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide Of all of the systems currently out there, the various iterations of Cortex Plus are my favourite. They’re each designed to emulate a particular genre, and do that genre better than any other game I’ve seen. Leverage (Cortex Action) covers heists, Smallville (Cortex Drama) covers teen TV shows, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Cortex Heroic) does comic book superheroes better than any other game I’ve seen.
While the underlying system remains broadly similar between the lines (roll a pool of dice based on various characteristics, add two of them together to see if you succeed), the specifics change in notable ways to reflect the assumptions of the genre it’s emulating. The Leverage RPG rates your character on how well they do in various roles in a crew of con artists (Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, Thief and Mastermind), and includes a “flashback” mechanic where you can establish facts about a scene to reflect the preparation work and long cons that you’ve done without having had to play through them all in advance. Smallville’s character traits are based on the values they hold to and their relationships with major characters (PCs or NPCs). Marvel Heroic has an XP mechanic that rewards you for playing like your chosen hero, and power set rules that lets the Hulk and Hawkeye both feel 100% like the characters from the comics and also be on a team together without one feeling overshadowed by the other. (There’s also a Firefly RPG they’ve recently released, but I’m not as familiar with that iteration of the rules.)
So, there’s a lot to like about the system already. The Cortex Hacker’s Guide takes the three core sets of mechanics (Action, Drama, and Heroic), presents them in their most basic form, and then gives you a massive toolbox of options to use with them. Want to run a fantasy RPG using Cortex Plus? Then it’s got you covered with both the Old School Job for Cortex Action presenting the classic dungeon crawl as a badly planned heist, and Fantasy Heroic Roleplaying for worlds of sword and sorcery comic book adventure. The Breed hack for Cortex Action covers anything involving human/animal hybrids ranging from Dark Angel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Backstabbing BFFs for Drama is Mean Girls (or any other high school film or TV show) the RPG.
There’s no shortage of other setting hacks, but there’s a number of neat additions to the system for any game including alternate Stress types to make sure the stakes match the genre, implementing time pressures for anything from disarming a bomb to catching a criminal before they make their escape, and advice on how to structure one-shot games for both setting and mechanics.
It’s generally a fascinating look into the depths of three closely related game systems, and a fascinating read if you’re interested in game design and genre emulation. Of all the Kickstarted RPGs I’ve got, it’s probably been read more than the rest of them combined, and that’s in no way playing down how much I’ve enjoyed the others.
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at new RPGs of the last 12 months.