Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The Cortex Prime Handbook


I really like this book. It is exactly the kind of shoring-up or reinforcement that is useful to someone who already has a Cortex game like, say ... Marvel Heroic Roleplaying! Yet it is also an up-to-date full presentation of the system and the concepts behind it that a new player could use to begin playing. 

I won't break down every part of it because if you've played one of their games before then you have a good idea of how the system works. This is the most comprehensive presentation of that system published to date. The structure:

  • The Core system - tests are the big focus here
  • Characters - Stats, powers - all the different categories that might appear on a character sheet, experience, and yes - character creation, which was a source of complaints in the Marvel version at least. I don't see any gaps here.
  • Scenes - this is a primer on how the game is structured and how conflicts work - combat and other types of conflict as well.
  • Sessions - GM advice and how NPCs work in this system.
  • Settings - this is one area I mainly skimmed because it has some good advice on defining a setting for this system specifically, with examples. I liked that. Then it goes into 3 new settings for the game. They're fine but I wasn't really looking for new settings with this book.
  • Powers, Abilities, sample milestones, vehicles, and some sample characters.- it's the "stuff you can use in play" chapter. 
One refreshing thing is the way options are presented - as "Mods": equally valid choices you might use in any game, not as a Standard with some optional Variant rules. This is nice and it does discuss why one might be a better fit than another depending on the setting or just on what the GM and players want the game to do. The Doom Pool form Marvel is one option. Assets and Complications have some options. Your "Prime Sets", those different categories on your character sheet, are variable depending on the campaign. It looks to me like it takes every option they have ever presented in one of their prior games, refines them, and presents them side by side. It makes me think a lot of the 4th edition Champions BBB where we finally saw all of the options that the Hero System had been building over the prior decade presented in one volume. It's that good. 

I still love these character layouts - everything you need to know is right here!

Like that Hero book I think this one might be a lot to digest for someone totally new to the system. It's great but it's also somewhat generic in presentation and given the abstract approach of the rules it might be hard to picture what is happening with some of the rules interactions. There are examples and they do help but it is quite a bit different than most RPG's, especially if someone is coming from a strictly 5th edition D&D background. I think a totally new player would be better off finding a copy of one of their prior releases that covered a specific setting. Like ...

Yes, I will probably always view Cortex through a Marvel lens - a superhero lens at least as you could easily run DC characters with this as well. I think it's a great setting for playing characters you already know which is probably why they had so many licensed settings and why character creation was not tightly defined when this book was released. I've never been big on playing "known characters" in any other genre, and not many other systems, but for this one it just became the default for me and my kids and friends have had a ton of fun with it over the last 9 years. This book should only add to the fun.

If you want to see the system in play here are some examples of how it can go:

Session 1 from our campaign

Some thoughts after building some new characters in the system

There have been additional sessions beyond these but I never wrote them up. It has been one very drawn-out campaign with players and characters coming and going but it has always been a great game to play, with much laughing and much quoting of old books/shows/movies of course. A lot of that is the setting and characters but the system drives that as well. I am very happy to see a current, in-print book that could allow others to discover the fun we have had with this game. 

1 comment:

WQRobb said...

Loved Marvel Heroic Rolplaying, and probably played it as a campaign option longer than it was intended.