#RPG Thursday – Kickstarting my thinking about #CORTEX (@sethMVDS, 2019?)

Long ago, that is, in May 2017, I pledged on Kickstarter my support to Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game. The estimated delivery date was April…2018. In the past year I have mostly forgotten about my pledge. In fact, I have mostly forgotten about RPGs in general as my hobby gaming has focused mostly on wargames and then family boardgames. However, the most recent update (March 2019) has stirred my imagination.

I readily admit I am not the usual RPG player. I tend to focus almost exclusively on science-fiction roleplaying and avoid fantasy like plague. I have dabbled a bit in modern RPGs and steampunk or similar settings but true sci-fi is where my heart is.

Over the years, I have also come to pay much more attention to game mechanics; in some ways mechanics wins out over settings for me. Thus, as I skimmed through the draft CORTEX PRIME GAME HANDBOOK I was reminded why I like the core mechanic used in CORTEX PRIME. For every test or contest, you assemble your dice pool and roll against the opposition pool. You choose which two dice will be your total while a third die is the effect die. Rolling a 1 is a spoiler; too many spoilers become a botch!

Like Genesys or Star Wars Roleplaying Game, winning a test or contest allows you to narrate the outcome. This narrative control is very important to me; I don’t want the GM to be the only one talking.

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Courtesy RPGGeek

I have several played and studied several implementations of the Cortex System. I have seen it evolve from Cortex Classic in Serenity (2005) to Battlestar Galactica (2007) to Cortex Plus used by Smallville (2010) to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (2012) to Firefly (2014). I have a love for each version (yes, even the soap operatic Smallville can teach aspiring GMs something). But I am ready for the next generation of CORTEX PRIME.

Deep inside, I am asking myself why I am anxious. After all, I have the very similar (and heavily narrative) Genesys, right? It was a bit of a disappointment, yes? At heart, I really enjoy the (somewhat unnarrative) Cepheus Engine RPG and especially The Clement Sector setting. Do I really expect CORTEX PRIME to be different?

Maybe. Hopefully I will find out for sure. This year.


Feature image CORTEX logo courtesy RPGGeek.com

#RPGThursday – Generic Genesys (@FFGames,2017)

LET IT BE SAID that I absolutely love the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook (Fantasy Flight Games, 2013). It is by far the best implementation of the Narrative Dice System, although I may be biased because I also love Star Wars (not “A New Hope”) in the original trilogy. I own all three FFG Star Wars core rulebooks but want to explore the system sans the Star Wars setting. In 2017, FFG released Genesys: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings. I didn’t pick it up until sometime in 2018. I immediately read through it from cover to cover.

It has sat on my shelf – untouched – since.

You see, I really wanted to use the Narrative Dice System and make my own setting. I like the whole idea of using the dice to tell a story where there is triumph or despair and shades of success, or failure, in between. Or maybe use it to create a conversion of a setting. Genesys seems perfect for those needs; and that’s the problem.

Genesys is a wonderful toolbox. Everything one needs is in the book to make a setting of your own. At least a generic version. Want to create a character? The rules for creating a character are here; the bare bones so to speak, but none of the flesh. That you have to provide yourself. The same goes for Skills and Talents. Using generic skills is perfectly acceptable but to really make a setting your own one needs to invest a great deal of effort into creating evocative Talents. Again, the generic is here, but more is needed.

Part II of the Genesys core rulebook is Settings. Note the plural, for in the book you get ideas for fantasy, steampunk, modern day, science fiction, and space opera. These ideas are more like advertisements for settings that FFG might eventually release. It’s all fluff with little to actually use.

Part III: Game Master’s Toolkit tries to be more helpful. There is design advice in here for creating a skill or archtype or species or an item or an adversary. Design advice that digs deeper into the Narrative Dice System and how to “pull the levers” of the game engine. That is, if you’re a system engineer.

In the end, I believe Genesys succeeds even as it fails. It definitely is a generic toolkit for making an RPG setting. Problem is, it’s too generic. In the end, I find myself going back to Edge of the Empire and using that because it ends up being what I want in my science fiction RPG. Genesys has shown me just how good that setting is, and how it’s going to be too difficult to make my own that will probably end up being 90% what Edge of the Empire already is. If I want to be an RPG system engineer then Genesys is the basic toolbox. Be warned though, to make it your own will be a much deeper investment.

The Gygax Rule for GMs – All you need is good rules and good books

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Courtesy http://rpglabyrinth.blogspot.com

In my gaming pantheon, I clearly play wargames first, other boardgames second, and role playing games (RPGs) a distant third. Spending-wise, I have bought very few RPG products since April. In the past month I came close to buying two new RPGs but didn’t. Along the way I learned a valuable lesson taught to me by no other than the Godfather of RPGs, Gary Gygax. Gary reminded me that RPGs are inherently a personal creation; if a product is “not quite right” there are tools available to “do it my way.”

The big RPG splash of the month was the Kickstarter launch of The Expanse Roleplaying Game from Green Ronin Publishing. The project currently (as I write) has over 3,330 backers pledging upwards of $239,000 against goal of $30,000 – and 24 days to go.

I initially pledged to support at the Ship’s Boat-level which is $20 for the pdf version. I then downloaded the free Quickstart pdf and took a look. I am no hard-core The Expanse fan but I generally like the universe. I initially missed the books and became acquainted with the setting through the TV series. After looking at the Quickstart I mulled it over for a few days and then cancelled my pledge.

First, the Quickstarter did not appeal to me; indeed, it actually turned me off. My initial negative reaction was to the artwork. I think my expectations are biased from the TV series and the artwork in the Quickstarter just feels too different. More importantly, it is not what I see as evocative of the setting. It almost seems too cartoonish to me whereas I imagine The Expanse though a more hard sci-fi lens.

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Courtesy The Expanse RPG Kickstarter

Secondly, the RPG core mechanic (based on Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine – AGE) just didn’t capture what I think feels like The Expanse to me. I admit I was a bit confused at first because I was expecting to see the Chronicle System used in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game which is my only other exposure to Green Ronin. I really like the Intrigue Mechanic in Chronicle and it perfectly captures (is evocative of) the Game of Thrones setting.

Looking at the Quickstarter pdf, I weighed my pledge and thought about what I was getting. I decided that I actually already have a version of The Expanse RPG. I actually have two of them, both from Zozer Games, and both using a system I am comfortable with (Cepheus Engine):

  • Orbital: 2100 – “Realistic spacecraft, using reaction drives and rotating hab modules for gravity. Orbital is set in our own Solar System and has a real hard-science feel to it.”
  • HOSTILE – “A gritty near future setting inspired by those late-70s and early 80’s movies like Alien, Bladerunner and Outland.”

I seriously weighed getting The Expanse RPG if not for the system then for the setting material. Then I (fortuitously?) came across this article by Gary Gygax himself and published in 2001 where he talks about author Jack Vance and the Dying Earth books. In particular, Mr. Gygax writes:

There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand, the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot fail but to rise to the occasion. (Emphasis mine)

 

In my mind, I already own The Expanse RPG. My version uses a core mechanic that I feel is evocative of the setting (Cepheus Engine). I have the sourcebooks in the form of several TV seasons and multiple books and short stories. I don’t need somebody else’s vision that doesn’t strike me as evocative of the stories or setting.

The second RPG I nearly bought was another Kickstarter campaign. Tachyon Squadron from Evil Hat Productions is basically Battlestar Galactica with the serial numbers filed off rendered using the Fate Core system:

Tachyon Squadron is a Fate Core supplement that blends space opera and military sci-fi. It’s Evil Hat’s take on popular stories about interstellar battles, like the ones that have ships with wings named after letters and the one where robots chase the human race through space. If you’re interested in deep space dogfights, friendly—well, usually—rivalries with fellow pilots, and playing scrappy underdogs with the deck stacked against you, this game is for you.

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Courtesy Evil Hat

The project funded with 1,401 backers pledging $25,295 against a $7,500 goal. Like The Expanse RPG Kickstarter, Evil Hat was very generous and offers a free download Quickstarter version. It is pretty much as I expected as Evil Hat has previously sold a smaller, similar setting found in Fate Worlds Volume One: Worlds on Fire. In Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie the PCs are pilots aboard a giant War Zeppelin taking on “a horde of WWI mechanical monstrosities.” For Tachyon Squadron I actually was more interested in Stretch Goal 7:

STRETCH GOAL 7 (UNLOCKS AT $26,000): The Battle of Britain: At $26,000, we’ll start work on The Battle of Britain, a 5,000 word electronic supplement that applies Tachyon Squadron’s dogfighting rules to a WWII squadron of Spitfire pilots defending Britain. This supplement will include plane stats and mechanics to help you take to the skies with the Allied forces.

Alas, this stretch goal didn’t unlock. My potential Pilot-in-Training pledge of $12 would not have made a big difference.

What really turned me off about Tachyon Squadron was the over-the-top SJW proselytizing. It is so in-your-face I think it overwhelms the game setting. Even if I am able to put the SJW part aside I see the the game offering me little new. The major rule of difference, dogfighting, is likely not far from that found in Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie which I already own. Much like The Expanse, I have a Battlestar Galactica RPG in the form of the officially licensed Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007). This game uses the CORTEX Classic system which I generally like (indeed, I am still awaiting my CORTEX Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game Kickstarter to deliver – only 3 months overdue…so far). If I want to do Battlestar Galactica using Fate Core I already own all the setting and rules material; why should I invest more money into a near-version that alleges to be ruleset but comes across more like a SJW propaganda tract?

Passing on The Expanse RPG (Green Ronin’s AGE System) and Tachyon Squadron (Evil Hat’s Fate Core System) got me thinking about the games and systems I do have. Last June I listed Star Wars The Edge of the Empire RPG (Fantasy Flight Games) as one of my Top 3 RPGs. I like the Narrative Dice System and want to play more with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Thinking about expanding beyond Star Wars I picked up GENESYS: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings.

Genesys is a role playing system designed for flexibility and adaptability, specifically tooled to work with any setting imaginable. The Genesys Core Rulebook not only contains an overview of the rules and how the innovative narrative dice system works, but everything a GM and players need to run adventures in five completely different settings. Everything from equipment to adversaries, character abilities to an overview of narrative tropes, all is provided in the core rulebook for Genesys. With a system so adaptable and expansive you can explore every popular roleplaying genre, from classic fantasy style campaigns, to modern day detective thrillers, and even to a far off sci-fi future, Genesys doesn’t fit into any one genre of roleplaying, and instead invites players to craft their own stories with unparalleled freedom.

Taking GENESYS and combining it with Gary Gygax’s Dying Earth GM approach, I can likely make a version of The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica – or any other setting I chose to explore – for myself.

The most important RPG lesson I learned this month is that I don’t need Kickstarter to make an RPG for me that “isn’t quite right”; I just need good books and a good ruleset.

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

#RPGaDay 2017 – What #RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

#RPGaDay August 15, 2017

Adapting…in what way?

pic1550426_tAs a tool to use in building (or adapting) a campaign it has to be Traveller RPG, either the Classic Traveller, Cepheus Engine, or Traveller 5. I use bits and pieces of all these games and “adapt” them to my campaign. I find that between the three systems (all closely related) there is actually very little I cannot create for my sci-fi RPG settings (and yes, I use it event to create items in the Star Wars Universe).

In terms of rules that I play around with (i.e. “adapt” to whatever game I want to play) these days it is FATE Core and FATE Accelerated and to a lesser degree CORTEX. I am looking forward to Fantasy Flight Games Genesys because I absolutely love their narrative dice system.

#RPGaDay 2017 – What is an RPG you would like to see published?

#RPGaDay August 2, 2017

B5_TitleHands down I have to say Babylon 5. I have two previous versions, the Chameleon Eclectic Babylon Project from the 1990’s and the disastrous Mongoose Traveller translation. I also have several of the d20 sourcebooks (again from Mongoose, yuk) and have recently been rewatching the series online. If there was ever a setting that is rich for adventure this is it.

But what system? I can easily see a FATE Core version but some may find that too challenging. FATE Accelerated? Dresden Files Accelerated may show the way. Magic Vacuum Publishing’s forthcoming CORTEX Prime or even Fantasy Flight Games’ Genesys could work once available. Just keep the license away from Mongoose Publishing (previous owners) and Modiphius (I can’t see their 2d20 mechanic working) as I think Babylon 5 deserves a more narrative and less mechanical game engine.