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PSA: Cortex Prime Kickstarter

May 11, 2017

I post a fair amount about Marvel Heroic Roleplaying here, which probably seems weird since the system has been out of print for years now. In my defense, it’s the best supers RPG that I’ve played that brings actual comics to life, captures the “anything goes” nature of the supers genre, and all without getting bogged down in lots of number-crunching or complexity. It was also my first “narrative” RPG which opened my eyes to what I’d often wanted, and rarely got, from RPGs in the past (which is to say, genre emulation rather than physics simulators).

Anyway, MHR and other games in the same Cortex+ family – Firefly, Smallville, Leverage – are gone, but the rights to the underlying systems have gone to Cam Banks, the game designer who oversaw the creation of most of those RPGs. Cam has a Kickstarter right now for Cortex Prime, the next iteration of the system, which takes all the elements of previous games and combines them into one RPG. Also included are various example settings, with more settings as stretch goals.

The $10 “digital” pledge is a very good deal, in my opinion, if one is interested in the system at all. I went for the softcover pledge, as I like having physical books – I’ve found that I rarely read RPG PDFs that I own – and I live in the US so the shipping won’t be crazy, and that’s a pretty good deal as well, I think. The Kickstarter is already funded, so it’s all just stretch goals at this point. I don’t know how much use I would get out of any of the individual settings, but I assume they’ll serve as good examples of how the system can work for different genres… and of course they could be mined for ideas.

The Kickstarter can be found here.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter was a success! I’m happy to see that all of the stretch goals were reached. Congratulations to Cam Banks, Magic Vacuum, and all the game designers who will get to bring their settings to life!

  1. 1) I assume you’re familiar with GNS theory at least in passing? You seem to suggest you want games that are more narrative, whereas I’m told Pathfinder is very gamist.

    2) As far as I know, Cam Banks currently works for Atlas Games. Are they involved in the Cortex Prime thing?

    • I’ve read countless debates over GNS’ terminology and usefulness. Flaws aside, I think it does provide some useful labels that previously did not exist in RPG discussions… even though no one can seem to agree on precisely what those labels mean or how to apply them. 🙂

      I would say that I am interested in all three axes of GNS, but narrativism was not really present in RPGs until relatively recently (IMO), so I find most “traditional” games lacking in that respect. My main interest is in games that can recreate the kinds of stories that one finds in books, movies, TV, comics, etc., and I think that requires both narrativism and simulationism (as defined by Ron Edwards, i.e. genre emulation, rather than what most gamers think when they hear that word), along with gamist elements (or else it’s not a game!).

      But see, I don’t know how you can separate the characters’ narrative from genre simulation, because the characters and the kinds of stories they live in and how they react to their circumstances is already a huge part of any genre. To me, those elements are all intertwined.

      Cam Banks for Atlas but he also has his own company, Magic Vacuum, which is what Cortex Prime will be released under. He also has a Patreon site.

  2. I agree that the main usefulness of GNS theory is to provide a vucabulary, rather than in itself. But it does provide tools have a discussion, even if the labels are sometimes odd.

    But ‘narrativism’ not being present in in RPGs until recently? I’m not sure I agree. Obviously it’s less obvious in some older games, but the elements are there, surely?

    And if you read some older games, there are pretty strong narrativist elements I think. I’ve only read it, but Ars Magica (the 2nd edtion anyway) seemed very focused on ‘stories’ over mechanics. That’s like 1991 I think. And it’s hardly the only one.

    • There are some outliers, sure. TORG was trying to emulate various genres (and all at the same time!) and encourage PCs to act like actual characters back in the late 80’s, early 90’s. We played a lot of that in high school, although we pretty much ignored all the character-focused mechanics. But there’s a difference between spending a lot pages talking about the “story” and “characters,” and having actual mechanical support for those concepts. 2nd edition D&D & Vampire talked a lot about that sort of thing, but failed to back it up in the rules in any way… mostly that attitude just resulted in published scenarios that were terrible railroads.

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