Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hacking Cortex Plus for Star Trek

Hacking Marvel Cortex (the Marvel Heroic RPG by Margaret Weis Productions) for use in a Star Trek campaign turned out to be pretty easy. The core mechanic of Marvel Cortex is the dice pool, where dice are derived from different sources such as Powers, Expertise (Skill), Affiliation and so forth. The question was how to make the dice sources appropriate for a Trek campaign?

I kept Distinctions as is. These make great descriptors and role-paying hooks - Klingon Wannabe, HotShot Helmsman, A Girl On Every World, all great ways to help define characters, giving them niches and possible complications.

I replaced Affiliation with Rank. Ensign and down d4, Lieutenant (including JG) d6, Commander (including lieutenant) d8 and so on.

Expertise remained the realm of skills. I included a catch-all Starfleet Training d6 to reflect the broad training characters seem to have in Star Trek. Then I set 3 levels d8 Specialist, d10 Expert and d12 Master. Like in Marvel, the expertise areas were somewhat broad, including Marksman, Hand-to-Hand, Tactical (ship combat), Helm, Engineering, Covert and so on.

I replaced Powers with Traits. These included Exceptional Attributes such as Strength or Intellect at d10, special abilities such as Leadership or Born To Fly, and 1 limitation for each character.

Finally, I have Equipment. It could be a Tricorder d8, a Phaser d8 or other appropriate gear.

Once the characters were put together, I tinkered with the Doom Pool, changing the name to the Complication Pool. Ones on the GM dice remained Opportunities. Instead of using pushes and stunts, players paid 1 plot point to add the Opportunity Die to their pool for their next action or reaction. Whenever a player rolled a 1, I paid them a plot point and added that die to the Complication Pool.

Instead of rolling the whole pool, the GM dice are referred to as the Opposition Dice. There are 2 static dice, 2d6, and the GM can spend dice from the Complication Pool to add to these. If the players are up against active opponents, their foes' appropriate dice are added, such as Klingon Warrior d10 or Hungry Targ d8. If they are up against a named opponent, that foe will have a dice pool in the same manner as the players, which is used in lieu of the static dice (but Complication Dice can still be added in).

I also ran a quick-and-dirty ship battle, assigning dice values to ship gear such as weapons and shields, and giving ships Shield, System and Hull Stress and Trauma.

A big part of the action was players creating Advantages to set themselves and each other up. Covering Fire, Taking Cover and On Their Six (in the ship fight) were examples of advantages they would set up. Overall it worked well, well enough that I'll have to come up with an advancement system. As much as I think Milestones are clever, they are a pain in the butt to come up with and use. Plus I'm not a big fan of players having their characters do something just for the xp as opposed to it being in character or missing out on xp because they decided to help their crew rather than follow an xp agenda.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying - First Thoughts

First a caveat. This is a preliminary review as while I’ve read the rules, I haven’t had a chance to actually play the game. Actual gameplay will likely differ to some degree to my expectations, so I am trying to base my thoughts on what I can infer from a reading.

MHRG is a Cortex Plus game, meaning it uses a variant of the Cortex System, first seen in the Serenity RPG, then later in games such as Leverage and Smallville. Like the various Cortex Plus games the system was designed to work specifically with this genre. In Cortex, various characters scores are represented by dice, such as a d8 or d10. Unlike many traditional RPGs, MHRG doesn’t break down characters into stats like Strength of Dexterity. It takes a very high-level view, one that some gamers will probably hate.

The core mechanic of MHRG is the dice pool. Unlike Serenity, where you take a die for stat and a die for a skill, maybe throw in a die for an asset (a special advantage) and roll them for the result, in MHRG you add dice to your pool from several different sources and roll them. The downside of this is that I foresee players needing more dice, especially with the way the roll is read. If a group plays around the table and don’t mind using each other’s dice it would make things easier. And because of the Doom Pool (the GM’s dice pool which ebbs and grows), the GM will likely need a few more sets of dice.

The dice mechanic will probably have a slightly higher learning curve, as part of it is counter-intuitive (one of the results is determined by the die type, not what is actually rolled on the die). Plot points and Doom Dice will have a steeper learning curve, as it may take a while for GMs and players alike to learn all the ins and outs.

Characters are painted in broad strokes. This means there is little variation in certain aspects of characters. For example, the skill system (called Expertise) has just two tiers of skill, Expert (d8) and Master (d10). This is probably to let a character such as Daredevil play in the same game as Thor. It still strikes me a too little variation and will be one of the first things I’ll house rule, adding d6 and d12 tiers.

There is no character generation system. There are some guidelines for modeling characters from the Marvel universe, but the expectation is that you’ll play actual Marvel characters. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest shortcomings of the game. The advancement system is pretty sparse as well, as XP seems more for building power-ups than improving your character. To play devil’s advocate, many Marvel characters change very little, but it is rewarding for a player to see their character grow and improve.

I’ll probably have more thoughts after actually giving it go, assuming I can talk the players into trying a one-off session.

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