Friday, April 18, 2014

Hackable Lector

What I'm loving about Cortex Plus these days is how easy it is to hack. In fact, I'd call it the most hackable system I've ever seen. I guess that makes sense; afterall, it did recently publish a book entirely about hacking it. There are a number of factors that make the game so damn hackable.

First is the player's dice pool. When hacking other systems, you're often dealing with static bonuses: +1 here, -2 there, and so on. But with Cortex Plus, you're adding dice, not solid numbers. This, combined with the story-focused approach the game takes, allows you to create whatever you want without fearing you've accidentially made something too strong or too weak. And though Cortex Plus isn't the first game to use dice pools, it's one of the few to use dice pools utilizing almost the entire range of polyhedral dice. Most dice pool games stick with dice that are fairly easy to grasp mathmatically, like d6's or d10's. By incorporating d4's, d8's, and d12's, Cortex Plus blurs the lines over the exact benefits of a bonus. This, combined with the fact that you ordinarily only keep two of them for your total, makes odds almost completely impossible to reliably evaluate. This impossibility allows players and GM alike to focus on the game and the story,not just the numbers.

But there are more tools Cortex Plus can use, too, to assure that no hack can get too far out of hand. There's also the "trouble pool." Just like players can adjust their dice pool, so can GM's adjust their own. There are no static difficulty numbers in Cortex Plus. Everything a player does is either opposed by an NPC, or must beat a GM dice roll based on whatever dice are in the trouble pool (or doom pool, or whatever you've renamed it for your hack). Dice can get added to or taken out of the trouble pool at almost any time, for any reason that makes sense in the fiction. So, while you're hacking, another tool you have to balance out the dice a player gets to roll is to simply alter the dice a GM gets to roll, as well. For example (and this is mentioned in Marvel Heroic), the Trouble Pool for a game in a "normal" world is 2D6. If your PC's are superheroes who can crush ordinary tasks with ease, then the Trouble Pool could be bumped up to 3D6, or 2D8, or 2D10, to represent that those heroes will only ever be rolling for things that would be almost impossible to a normal person. 

Yet another tool Cortex Plus has are Plot Points. Plot Points in Cortex Plus are extremely useful, but unlike many other games, they are not super-powerful game changers. In Cortex Plus, plot points flow enough to be used as a mechanical currency, whether it's mana for powering magic spells or simply health for staying alive. Because Plot Points are designed to ebb and flow wildly throughout a game, Plot Points become yet another mechanism a hacker can use to assure a fun balance to his or her hack.

The last tool Cortex Plus has to assure safe hacking is, of course, the narrative itself. Much like Dungeon World and Apocalypse World before it, in Cortex Plus games, the story is a real thing. If you're blind but not suffering any kind of penalty because you don't particularly need to use your eyes right now, you're still blind. And anything that would require seeing, like the color of a painting, would not be visible by your blind character, no matter how many or few dice are in your pool, or Plot Points you have to spend. The narrative carries real power, here; it's not just the "skin" of the RPG, it's one of the vital organs as well (indeed, skin is actually an organ itself, but I digress).

So, for the first time I've worked on a hack since I made my zombie apocalypse hack for Apocalypse World, I have had a genuinely fun time screwing around with Cortex Plus and seeing where I can go with the system. 

1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to check into the system some more. So this is based on the Hacker's guide exclusively or are you starting with another game that uses the system?