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Fantasy [Cortex Plus Heroic]

Example Characters

This is a Cortex Plus Heroic hack intended to be used to run games in in a generic high fantasy setting of your choosing. This document provides information on the various ways in which this hack differs from Cortex Plus Heroic. Anything not explicitly mentioned as being disallowed or changed from Cortex Plus Heroic is assumed to be in use.

Dice Mechanics

Forming Dice Pools

Here's a list of traits you can normally add to your dice pools using this hack:

  • Tier die
  • Up to one Aptitude die
  • Up to one Distinction die (d8 or d4)
  • Up to one Ability trait die from each of your Ability Sets
  • Up to one of your target's Stress or Complication dice
  • Up to two Asset dice

SFX and Plot Points spending allows a character to situationally include more dice in a given dice pool.

Plot Points

As in Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic, when using this hack Plot Points (PP) are the currency of play. They are earned by investing in the story or taking risks, and spent to enhance the impact of the character on the story, to activate opportunities rolled by the GM, and as a cost to activate some powerful abilities.

The GM has an infinite supply of Plot Points to distribute to player characters when appropriate, while player characters start each session with at least one Plot Point and potentially more.

Character Creation & Advancement

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.


This hack replaces the XP model of Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic with an Advances model; thus chararacters made using this hack are both created and progressed by applying Advances rather than via XP expenditures.

Starting characters begin at character creation with a certain number of Advances determined by their Tier to buy abilities with. More Advances are awarded after character creation as rewards for playing, for surviving risks, and for pursuing and accomplishing character specific goals during play.

The Advancement costs of Aptitudes, Vocations, and Abitilty Sets are given within this document in the relevant sections. To create or upgrade a new character just refer to the applicable sections to determine Advancement costs as you add new capabilities, until you run out of Advances.

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.

Character Growth

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.


All player character and many non-player characters have three (3) Distinctions, which are pithy phrases that sum up what that character is all about or refer to their most interesting qualities.

In addition to providing narrative fodder, when a player can explain why one of their character's Distinctions is relevant to one of their actions or reactions they get to add a d8 to their dice pool.

Similarly, 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. This is one of the primary ways that a character will gain Plot Points during the course of play, so beyond the roleplaying advantages of choosing well there is also a mechanical benefit to interesting Distinctions that provide good story hooks.

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 a Distinction. 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 they may pay a Plot Point to instead refuse the compel.

Distinctions do not cost a character Advances.


Instead of the Affiliations of Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic, this hack uses a concept referred to as Tier. All player characters and non-player characters have a Tier trait ranked from a d4 to a d12. Tier is a very important attribute because...

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

Tiers and Advances

Advances Threshold
Advances Range

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.

Starting Tier

When starting a new campaign, the GM will decide what Tier they want to begin play at. This decision sets the Tier of the player characters and determines how many Advances players have to build their characters with, which is assumed to be equal to the Advances Threshold value indicated in the Tiers and Advances chart for each Tier.

For instance if the GM decides to start the campaign at Veteran Tier, all the player characters start with 50 Advances available to be applied to them before play begins.

Once play starts it is possible for characters to gain and apply Advances at different rates, but starting characters are assumed to all start together at the same Tier.

Next Tier

When a character has applied enough Advances to match the Advances Threshold of the next Tier, that character's Tier trait upgrades immediately and automatically at no additional cost to the character. For instance when a Competent character has their 50th Advance applied to them, they immediately step up to Veteran Tier. This is equivalent to "leveling up" in a level based system and can give players a feeling of significant accomplishment, though it happens at a much slower rate than in a true level based systems.

Low Tier

It is assumed that most campaigns will start at Competent Tier or higher, but a GM wanting to run a low-powered campaign might choose to set the starting Tier at Novice.


Novice is a bit of a special case as the Tier technically starts at 0 Advances. But while some more masochistic groups might enjoy a grinding "zero to hero" type of campaign where the characters start with literally nothing to differentiate them but their Distinctions and some Assets representing basic equipment, that's not really the primary use case for this hack.

Thus while there is nothing preventing a GM from opting to start at 0 Advances, the hack assumes that Novice characters have 15 Advances available to them with which to differentiate themselves, and will progress to the Competent Tier pretty quickly thereafter when they reach 25 Advances.

Starting Plot Points

Each player character has a Plot Points attribute which indicates how many Plot Points they start 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 with effort. But starting a session with one or more ready to be spent right away allows a character to immediately engage with the action.

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.

Starting Plot Points


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.


Using this hack, every player character (and significant non-player characters with full write ups) has five attributes referred to collectively as Aptitudes. All Aptitudes start at a d4 at no cost, but can be raised 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

Trait: d4
Trait: d6
Trait: d8
Trait: d10
Trait: d12

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.


Using this hack every player character (and significant non-player characters with full write ups) may have a kind of attribute referred to collectively as 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 one (1) Advance; thus were a player so inclined to define their character as having the Warrior Vocation at maximum Rank, it would cost them four (4) Advances.

Vocation Costs

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.
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.
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.
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.

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 Plus Heroic.

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

Trait: d4
Trait: d6
Trait: d8
Trait: d10
Trait: d12
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.

Stress and Trauma

The Cortex Plus Heroic Stress and Trauma mechanics are retained but with some tweaks. The most obvious of which is that instead of three different tracks for Physical, Mental, and Emotional Stress, this hack uses two tracks...Body Stress and Ego Stress.

Body Stress keeps track of harm to a character's anatomy and physiology. Ego Stress keeps track of harm to a character's mind and essence.

Stress, Trauma...and Damage?

As in the Cortex Plus Heroic rules, Stress represents short term negative consequences of conflict, but once a character has maxed out their Stress track (are at d12 Stress and would take more Stress) they start taking Trauma instead. Trauma is much harder to get rid of and will often persist across multiple Scenes and often multiple sessions.

Stress and Trauma are abstracted concepts representing the negative effects of conflict, and are open to interpretation as to the precise form they take for a given character in a given situation. However, this being an action oriented game in many cases the narrative justification for Stress and Trauma is one character attempting to inflict damage on another character.

This hack assumes that four types of 'damage' are common enough to be worth dealing with as first class concepts in the rules; Physical, Energy, Mental, and Emotional. Physical damage is rather obviously caused by things like blunt force or edged impact, while Energy damage is caused by things like fire or electricity; both are almost always applied as Body Stress / Trauma. Mental damage ranges from the effects of actual mental powers to more mundane things like psychological pressure or tension, and similarly Emotional damage ranges from the effects of empathic abilities to more mundane things like despair or interpersonal conflict; both are almost always applied as Ego Stress / Trauma.

However under some circumstances Physical and Energy damage can cause Ego Stress while Mental and Emotional damage can cause Body Stress. The most common cause for this is that a character can choose to spend a Plot Point to take Body Stress as Ego Stress and vice versa; this is usually done to avoid taking Trauma. The narrative justification for this is usually simpler than it might seem...perhaps a character who was about to take damage to their Body managed to wrench themselves out of the way at the last second but the thought of so narrowly avoiding harm causes them to existentially grapple with the idea of their own mortality...perhaps a character in the midst of dealing with grief self medicates with drugs or alcohol and suffers a physiological impact. Try to resist the urge to overthink it, and go with the flow.

Stress and Trauma in Dice Pools

Both Stress and Trauma are traits with a die rating like any other trait, and can be included in the dice pools of those who oppose the character. If a character has both Stress and Trauma, the higher stepped die is added to a dice pool not both. For instance if a character had d8 Body Stress and d4 Body Trauma, an opponent taking an action against the character or making a reaction against them could include a d8 in their die pool but not a d8 and a d4.

A character can choose to include their own Stress or Trauma die in one of their own dice pools but if they do, the die is stepped up after the action or reaction is resolved. For instance a character with d6 Ego Stress could include the d6 in their own die pool for an action or reaction, but after it is resolved they would step up to d8 Ego Stress. This option is mostly a desperation tactic, but in conjunction with SFX there may be clever ways to leverage this normally detrimental outcome.


As in Cortex Plus Marvel Heroic, 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 Plus Heroic, this hack uses a templated reward 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.

Etc, etc, etc


This hack uses the Complications concept almost exactly as described in Cortex Plus Heroic.


This hack does not uses Pushes.

Stunts, Resources, and Assets

This hack diverges from Cortex Plus Heroic by folding the concept of Stunts and Resources into Assets, and is also somewhat more flexible around the addition and removal of Assets during game play.

Addendum: NPC's

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: 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.