Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cortex Meta

Here's an idea that's been simmering in the Kitchen for a little while: a roleplaying game that's built for one-shots. The idea is that the player, not that player's character, progresses over the course of the game. A "campaign" is a collection of one-shot adventures that can cover any genre, but the players who are in the game get progressively cooler tools to use in each adventure. Since I first experimented with some ideas of meta-game play in my Firefly campaign, I find myself drawn to using that for this idea. Let's call it Cortex Meta.

Here's how I see it working. This is all raw, off the top of my head shit, so I want feedback, people!

-There's a GM with a set adventure and players who make characters. There is a procedural system for how stuff happens and what the characters are capable of. This ain't Fiasco. 

-Every character, regardless of the nature of the one-shot, has four Primary Traits: Body, Spirit, Social, and Mind. These are all pretty self-explanatory, but Spirit can swing a bit depending on the game (in a normal, contemporary world, it may reflect simple grit and determination; in a fantasy world, it could actually be magic power, or something).

-Every character also has about twelve Secondary Traits, which can vary widely per game. The number has to stay around 12, though; too few and the game is too bland, too many and the game is awkward. It's okay for Secondary Traits to toe-step on Primary Traits: You could have a game where there is an Athletics trait, even though functionally it would be the same as the Body Primary Trait.

And then, the meta stuff:

-Even though every adventure is a one-shot, each player has a collection of meta traits that carry over from one character to the next. The nature and scope of these meta-traits can vary in scope, but I personally would have them probably revolve around certain motifs: for example, a D8 Something's Always Blowing Up trait that can be added to any rolls when an explosion is involved. Or a D10 Bathroom Brawl trait, whenever that player's character ends up in a fight that takes place in a bathroom. Stuff like that.

-There would also be Meta Distinctions, that carry over from one-shot to one-shot. These work like Distinctions in Firefly: each Distinction has a die assigned to it, and two or three special abilities that can triggered in various ways throughout play. These Meta Distinctions would of course be meta-flavored, so they'd be things like The Best Friend, or The Bumbling Hero, or The Wise-ass Sidekick. 

-Plot Points carry over from one-shot to one-shot, so a player who spent them all to be the Big Damn Hero last week may suddenly find himself largely in a supporting role next session.

-Every Meta Distinction would also have at least one "Plot Request Ability," where the player can spend a Plot Point to assure something happens during the next one-shot. For example, a player with The Bumbling Hero Meta Distinction may have an ability called "Bull in a China Shop" that reads something like "Spend a Plot Point to guarantee that there is at least one action scene in the next adventure that takes place in an area where there can (and will) be lots of collateral damage." 

-Every Meta Distinction will also have at least one "Narrative Ability" that does nothing mechanically but can inform the story or shape the narrative a certain way. This differs from the plot request ability in that it can be used during the session, rather than in advance of the next session. A player with the Wise-ass Sidekick Distinction, for example, could have an ability called "Just for Pun" where they can spend a Plot Point and the GM has to set the player up for an obvious pun. (That one may have to have a once per session limit on it).

So what do you think? It looks a little messy right now, in brain-dump form, but if I clean it up a little and get a group together, I think it could be fun!

John Malkovich, the patron saint of all things meta...


  1. A great idea, Cortex is suited to this kind of idea simply because it can be background/genre agnostic if you so wish, it positively demands a level of meta gaming or Firefly does at least. You could flit from genre to genre only needing to work out specific skills, distinctions would be harder to sort out I suppose. But you could have players in a Eternal Champion type game, or in a comic like 2000AD moving from story to story.

    Brilliant idea, thanks for sharing it.

  2. It sounds awesome...I'm game! though it reminds me of SOMETHING....*goes into the archives with a miners lantern*

  3. I would love to play the hell out of that game. I love Cortex so much, and that would be perfect for it.


My Own Loser Path

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