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Heroic Fantasy [Cortex Prime]


Example Characters


Prime Core

The Cortex Prime Game Handbook has recently been released after a long kickstarter cycle and as an early backer I can honestly say it was worth the wait. I strongly recommend interested parties to check it out; I think you'll like what you find.

Cortex Prime is a toolkit type of game, which offers a foundation of basic rules and various mods that build on or alter those basic rules; it is also intended for GM's to apply their own home brewed mods; this is often fondly referred to as a "hack" within the community. This document provides information on which of the elements of the Cortex Prime game handbook rules should be used, including various mods described in the Cortex Prime game handbook and plus a few custom mods, with the intent of running one offs or campaigns in a generic high fantasy setting of your choosing.

It may also be useful to open one of the sample characters linked to above in a separate browser tab or window and periodically refer to the character sheet while perusing this document to see how it all fits together.

Character Types

Instead of the various types of characters described in the Cortex Prime game handbook, this hack recognizes major, minor, and minion characters, while mobs and extras are treated as a kind of asset. Player characters and significant GMPCs are considered to be major characters, which are created and progressed using the rules provided in the Prime Characters section below. This is discussed in more detail in the Characters document.

Dice

This hack uses the dice rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook. A summary of how dice pools are formed and used with all the various mods this hack uses is provided in the Dice and Dice Pools document.

Tests and Contests

This hack uses the test and contest rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification.

Action-Based Resolution

This hack uses the action-based resolution mod as described in the Core Prime game handbook.

Traits

This hack uses the traits rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook. Details about specific kinds of traits is provided in the Defining Characters section

Plot Points

This hack uses the Plot Points rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification. A summary of how Plot Points are gained and spent when using this hack is provided in the Plot Points document.

Starting Plot Points

Major characters start each session with a number of Plot Points equal to the character's Starting Plot Point Rating. This is one (1) Plot Point by default, but characters can increase their Starting Plot Point Rating via progression. This is described in more detail in the Defining Characters section.

Use Them Or Lose Them

Using this hack, any unspent Plot Points are lost at the end of the session.

Doom Pool

This hack uses the doom pool mod as described in the Core Prime game handbook.

Crisis Pools

This hack allows a GM to form crisis pools from dice in the doom pool.

Assets and Complications

This hack uses the assets and complications rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification.

No d4 Assets or Complications

Using this hack, d4's are never used for assets or complications. If an asset or complication would be stepped down to a d4 it is instead removed from play.

Stress

This hack uses the Stress mod described in the Core Prime game handbook, but slightly altered. Major and minor characters have a Body Stress track and an Ego Stress track. Each track has a d6, d8, d10, and d12 slot on it. If a character would suffer d4 Stress they instead must include a d4 in their next dice pool (the d4 is discarded after the dice roll is resolved). A d4 slot is provided on the Stress / Trauma tracks on the character sheet as a place to keep track of such a d4 until it is applied to the character's next dice pool.

Minions do not have Stress tracks. If after relevant defenses are applied a minion would suffer Stress, Trauma, or a Complication at a die step higher than their Tier, minions are instead taken out and will no longer participate in the Scene (and might be permanently removed from play, at the GM's discretion).

Trauma

This hack uses the Trauma mod described in the Core Prime game handbook, but slightly altered. Major characters have a Body Trauma track and an Ego Trauma track. Each track has a d6, d8, d10, and d12 slot on it. If a character would suffer d4 Trauma they instead suffer d6 Trauma and also must include a d4 in their next dice pool (the d4 is discarded after the dice roll is resolved).

Minor characters and minions do not have Trauma tracks. If they would suffer any amount of Trauma after relevant defenses are applied, such characters are instead taken out.


Prime Characters

High level details on how to create a player character are provided below, with an explanation of Advances and a summary of each kind of character attribute; additionally links are provided to detailed documents on the more complex subjects for those who prefer the in depth treatment.

Distinctions

This hack uses the distinction rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification.

No Distinction SFX

This mod removes the ability for SFX to be applied to distinctions. The behavior of the default Hinder SFX as described in the game handbook is instead simply implicit; though a distinction is normally added to a dice pool as a d8 if a player can explain why one of their character's distinctions creates dramatic tension or complicates the emerging situation they can instead add a d4 to their dice pool and gain a Plot Point for doing so after the action or reaction has been fully resolved.

Compel

NOTE: for those familiar with Fate Core this mod can be assumed to work in the same way as compelling character Aspects does in that game, with Plot Points being equivalent to Fate Points.

Using this mod the GM and other players can also request a character to take action or get involved with the story by offering a Plot Point and compelling one of the character's distinctions. To do this the person doing the compelling must explain why they think the character's distinction is relevant to the situation. Assuming the explanation isn't shot down by table consensus the compelled character's player can either accept the Plot Point and have their character take appropriate action or otherwise engage with the in-game situation, or instead spend a Plot Point to refuse the compel.

Creating Characters

The most significant mod used by this hack is a point buy character generation mechanic referred to as Advances. Player characters and significant GMPC's start with a certain number of Advances that are spent to buy their starting abilities; more unspent Advances are gained as play proceeds which are spent to upgrade existing abilities and to buy new ones. The Advances mod is intertwined with several others such as the Tiers mod and the Milestones mod to offer a coherent unified model for character creation and progression.

Advances

This custom mod defines a mechanic called Advances which is used for the creation and progression of all major characters, which includes both player characters and significant GM controlled player characters.

Advances are tracked as a number ranging from 0 to 125+, and almost all attributes and dice steps cost some number of Advances ranging from 1 to 3 (the advancement costs of Aptitudes, Vocations, and Abitilty Sets are given within this document in the relevant sections).

The number of Advances that are available to a character that have been applied and those that have not yet been spent should be kept track of. For instance a character that started play with 25 Advances, has earned 10 more Advances over several sessions, and has spent 5 of those Advances on character progression has 30 Advances applied and 5 unspent Advances available for future use.

Tiers

This custom mod defines a prime set with one trait in it called Tier, which relates to the general power level of a character. All player characters and non-player characters have a Tier trait ranked from a d4 to a d12. A major character's Tier is derived from the total number of Advances applied to the character. Tier is a very important attribute because...

A character must always include their Tier trait in their dice pools.

Tiers and Advances

Tier
Trait
Advances Threshold
Advances Range
Novice
d4
15
0-24
Competent
d6
25
25-49
Veteran
d8
50
50-74
Champion
d10
75
75-99
Legendary
d12
100
100+

Tier does not cost a character Advances, instead it is determined by how many Advances have been applied to the character, as indicated by the Advances Range column of the Tiers and Advances chart. For instance a character with between 25 and 49 Advances applied to them is Competent: d6 and a character with between 50 and 74 Advances applied to them is a Veteran: d8.

Staring Characters

When begining a new campaign the GM decides the starting Tier and all of the player characters begin character creation with Advances determined by their Tier to buy abilities with. For instance if the GM decided to start a campaign at the Competent Tier, each player would have 25 Advances to spend when making their starting character. Unspent Advances are retained and can be spent later.

Defining Characters

Once the starting Tier has been chosen it is very simple to make a new character; Advances can be spent to increase how many Plot Points a characters starts play with each session, to increase the die steps of a set of five Aptitudes, to skill up in one or more Vocations, or to develop one or more Ability Sets by adding a new Ability trait dice, stepping up an existing one, or adding one or more SFX.

Starting Plot Points

Each major character has a Starting Plot Points attribute, which indicates how many Plot Points the character starts each play session with. Note that this is not a cap or a maximum; a character may gain any number of additional Plot Points during actual game play.

Each new player character begins with a Rating of one (1) in this attribute for free, which indicates that the character starts each session with one Plot Point available to them. Advances can be spent to increase this Rating, allowing a character to enter each session more prepared and ready to engage with the action.

Starting Plot Points

Rating
Advances
1
0
2
3
3
6
4
9
5
12

This Rating can be increased by applying Advances; each Rating step costs three (3) Advances. Thus a character who spent six (6) total Advances to raise this attribute to three (3) would start each session with three (3) Plot Points available to them.

Aptitudes

Using this hack, every major character has a prime set with five attributes referred to collectively as Aptitudes. All Aptitudes start at a d4 at no cost, but can be raised to higher dice steps individually by applying Advances as indicated in the adjoining chart.

Characters can almost always add one of their Aptitudes to a dice pool, by justifying how a particular Aptitude applies to their situation. However, the GM has the prerogative to veto a weak or nonexistent justification if they don't agree that a particular Aptitude is appropriate to a given situation or doesn't match up with what's currently happening in-game.

Aptitude Trait Costs

Upgrade
Advances
Trait: d4
0
Trait: d6
2
Trait: d8
4
Trait: d10
6
Trait: d12
8
Aptitude Descriptions

Violence: The ability to acheive one's goals with force, confrontation, inficting or avoiding harm, or brutality. This is applicable to physical conflict more or less by default, but also applies in other situations such as threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, or savage mental attacks.

Finesse: The ability to acheive one's goals with skill, subtlety, diplomacy, dexterity, or expertise. This is applicable whenever dealing with a situation using precision, panache, technique, or dexterity.

Smarts: The ability to acheive one's goals with intelligence, knowledge, or cleverness. This is applicable in any situation where special knowledge applies, as well as any situation where a character's cognitive abilities are relevant such as trickery, figuring things out, understanding implications, navigating complexity, or assimilating information.

Psyche: The ability to acheive one's goals with willpower, charisma, or strength of personality. This is applicable in social situations more or less by default, but also situations where a character's ego, grit, persona, or charm can change the outcome.

Awareness: The ability to acheive one's goals with vision, perceptiveness, empathy, alertness, or intuition. This is applicable in any situation where noticing things is helpful, but beyond that understanding the context in which the things perceived are relevant to each other, or forming instinctive conclusions without the need for conscious reasoning.

For instance, when attacking or defending against a Melee attack, a player can easily justify including their character's Violence Aptitude trait die in their dice pool as Violence is obviously relevant to the situation. On the other had, a player could also give a more elaborate explanation of how their character was using any of their other Aptitudes to react to the attack instead; as long as the explanation makes sense to the GM and the other players at the table it is fair game...and probably helps make the Scene more interesting as well.

Vocations

Using this hack every major character may have a prime set of Vocations, which describe specific professions, backgrounds, fields of study, or specialized training that a character has learned, developed, or been trained in.

A character has no Vocations by default and does not have to choose any, but can have up to a maximum of five (5) Vocations. Each Vocations has four Ranks and each Rank costs some number of Advances as indicated on the Vocations Costs table.

It is important to note that the costs are not cumulative; thus if a player wanted to define their character as a Grand Master Warrior it would cost them six (6) Advances in total to buy the Warrior Vocation at max Rank not 1+2+4+6. When upgrading a Vocation from one Rank to the next, a character pays the difference between the Rank they have and the Rank they are upgrading to.

Vocation Costs

Rank
Die
Title
Benefit
Invocations
Advances
1
d4
Novice
Indicates that a character is able to exercise a Vocation at a basic level, as would be appropriate to an apprentice or a recent graduate of an academic or trade school.
0
1
2
d6
Expert
Indicates greater ability with a Vocation, as would be appropriate to a pro, a journeyman, someone with some experience or some time on the job, an expert. In addition, a character at this Rank can invoke their Vocation once per session to give themselves or their allies an advantage if a player can explain how their Vocation applies to the situation.
1
2
3
d8
Master
Indicates mastery of a Vocation, appropriate to a person with long experience, or to a gifted prodigy. Additionally, a second free invoke of the Vocation per session is gained.
2
4
4
d10
Grand Master
Indicates grand mastery of a Vocation, appropriate to the very best practitioners of that Vocation in the world. Additionally, a third and final per session invoke of the Vocation is gained. This is the highest Vocation Rank available; further depths of competence with a Vocation can be represented through Distinctions or within Ability Sets if desired.
3
6

Ability Sets and Ability Traits

In this hack Power Sets are called Ability sets and Powers are called Ability traits. Other than this name change both concepts are basically the same as defined in Cortex Prime.

Ability sets are containers for Ability traits, SFX, and Limits. This is where most of the crunch of the system resides, and is the primary focus for most characters.

Ability Set Costs

Upgrade
Advances
Trait: d4
1
Trait: d6
2
Trait: d8
4
Trait: d10
6
Trait: d12
8
SFX
2
Limit
-1
Additional Ability Set
cumulative +1

Each Ability trait die costs a number of Advances depending upon its step. Each SFX in an Ability Set costs two (2) Advances. Each Limit in an Ability Set reduces the cost of the Ability Set by one (1) Advance, but not to less than zero (0). Trait die costs are not cumulative; for instance a d8 trait costs four (4) total Advances, and to upgrade it to a d10 costs two (2) more Adances not six (6) more Advances.

Every player character starts with one empty Ability Set at no cost which they can then spend Advances to add Ability traits, SFX, or Limits to. Each additional Ability Set costs a cumulative +1 Advance to open. For instance a character's second Ability Set costs one (1) Advance to open, their third Ability Set costs two (2) additional Advances to open, and their fourth Ability Set costs three additional (3) Advances to open, and so on. Most characters have between one and three Ability Sets.

No Mandatory SFX and Limit

This mod removes the requirement for an Ability Set to have an SFX and a Limit; the choice to include SFX and / or Limits or not in an Ability Set is a matter of character concept. Thus it is permitted to have an Ability Set that has no SFX and / or has no Limits defined within it.

Custom Ability Traits

Sometimes a player or GM might end up taking one or more existing Ability Traits and applying various SFX and / or Limits in an effort to model some very specific ability concept. While that approach is fine for many things, if it becomes too awkward, verbose, or inconvenient this mod allows the player or GM to instead define a new Ability Trait.

One way to do this is to simply look at the provided Ability Traits and write one from scratch in a similar style. Another approach is to copy the original description of the Ability Trait that is most similar to the desired effect as a starting point, give the copy a new name, and then alter the copied description to suit the desired outcome by swapping or substituing facets of the ability, specializing behavior, and so on. The GM has final approval on custom Ability Traits to ensure fairness and balance.

Milestones

As in Cortex Prime, each player character should have two (2) Milestone Sets that define specific Goals a character may pursue or accomplish during the course of play to gain some Reward.

However rather than the 1XP, 3XP, 10XP model of Cortex Prime, this hack uses a templated model that allows each player to build their own Milestone Sets by defining three Goals and picking from a list of difficulty based Rewards that their character will gain if they succeed at those Goals.

Growing Characters

More Advances are awarded after character creation as rewards for playing, for surviving risks, and for pursuing and accomplishing character specific Milestone Goals during play. Unspent Advances can be used to buy new abilities and upgrades for a character whenever a GM allows them to be spent. Dependening on the GM's preferences this might be done at any time (even during an Action Scene), or only during Transition Scenes, or only between sessions, or perhaps more seldomly.

Participation Reward

This hack awards each character one (1) Advance at the end of every full length session, unless a GM decides not to for some reason.

Doom Reward

Whenever the GM spends 2d12 from the Doom Pool to end a scene, every player character in that scene gains one (1) Advance.

Milestone Reward

Some Milestone Sets have Rewards that include one or more Advances.

GM Reward

A GM may at their discretion award one or more Advances as they see fit.


Addendum: Species / Race / Culture

This hack supports making a character's species, race, or culture a significant part of their write up, but also supports not caring about such things, on a character by character basis. If one player wants to emphasize their character's species or race mechanically, they can do that. If a different player wants to focus on other things for their character, they can do that as well.

At a high level, there are three choices available to a character to model a species or race.

  • Descriptive Only: a character's species or race can just be a descriptive, cosmetic detail about the character with no mechanical representation.
  • Distinction: a character's species or race can be incorporated into one or more Distinctions, such as "Dwarf" or more narratively as something like "Dwarven Axe-master". Whenever it seems appropriate that a species or race related Distinction is relevant, add a Distinction die to the dice pool as normal. As simple as that, the character's species or race has a mechanical benefit.
  • Ability Set: a character's species or race could be defined with a species or race specific Ability Set with one or more Ability Traits and / or SFX and / or Limits. This requires an investment of Advances, but elevates species or race to be a significant facet of the character for those who prefer this approach.

Addendum: Profession / Class / Career

The idea of a character class or profession is not a first level concern in this hack. Obviously characters can spend their Advances to model a given role such as "Fighter" or "Wizard" through a combination of Aptitudes, Vocations, and Distinctions.

However, it is also ok to define Ability Sets around archetypal concepts for those who prefer that approach; thus a character could take an Ability Set such as "Cleric" or "Ranger" modeling classes made popular by standard class and level based games, or an Ability Set such as "Ratcatcher" or "Trollkiller" to model careers from various editions of a game based upon a popular IP owned by a litigious UK based company, and so on.

Addendum: Magic Systems / Spellcasters

Generally speaking spellcasting is abstracted into Ability Sets by taking traits such as Hex, Sorcery, and so on. This can be further expanded upon by setting specific Vocations that define particular magic systems, restrictions, advantages, and so forth.

Addendum: Magic / Special Items

Special items, such as magic or masterwork gear can be represented in a variety of ways, depending on how significant an item is supposed to be to the emerging story and a given character's capabilities.

  • Asset: a magic item can be represented in simple terms as a Asset. This sort of special item doesn't stick around very long, but that can be entirely appropriate for things such as scrolls, potions, and the like.
  • SFX: sometimes it is sufficient for a character to model a lesser special item as a SFX within one of their existing Ability Sets, if its thematically appropriate and the purpose of the special item is to augment something the character is already oriented towards. For instance an Elf might take a SFX: Cloak of Elvenkind ability in their existing Elf Ability Set.
  • Ability Set: special items that stick around, particularly if they are complicated or have a lot of functions, can be represented as an Ability Set. The main downside of this approach is that if characters find a special item as loot that they would like to keep, a given character may not have enough Advances to add the Ability Set to their sheet.
  • Narrative: a GM might allow a "special item" to enter play narratively and not worry about Advances or exact stats yet, and just see where the story goes. If the item takes root into the story, mechanical considerations can follow on as seems best. That sword found in the lich's trove? Maybe it is magical; maybe it does unusual things...if the players are interested they'll pursue the matter and the nature of the thing will emerge as the story evolves.

Addendum: NPC's