Full disclosure, I’m not usually a fan of modular roleplaying game systems. Providing a hacker’s guide for an otherwise complete ruleset is one thing, but a game that requires players to assemble it themselves before they can start play is often hard to distinguish from something unfinished. I was pondering this whilst reviewing the latest Cortex Prime beta recently, and arrived at a conclusion: for Cortex Prime to be a really excellent release for me, it would need to produce a really solid and exciting core un-modified system, or it would need to be modular in a way that roleplaying games have never been before.
This rules menu is my attempt to contribute to the latter.
The design pitch is to allow GMs to put together a comprehensive ruleset for their Cortex game in 30 minutes or less, by going through the menu and ticking whatever they want to use. The menu can then be distributed to players in that game, so they have a full understanding of what the rules are. It also works as a kind of reference sheet, since it lists all the ways that Plot Points can be spent, for example.
This is a first draft, and there’s lots more I’d like to add to it that I don’t have the technical skill to do. I’d like it to look sexier. I’d like every rule to hyperlink to the relevant section of the Cortex Prime rulebook. I’d like the menu to be configured so that ticking one box will “unlock” or “auto-tick” other options (so that if you tick “Stress” as your injury tracker, it automatically ticks “Stress Recovery” as a recovery action). My ideal would be something that interfaces so thoroughly with the rulebook that, by looking at what rules have been ticked, it would automatically generate a rulebook just for you, with all the rules you asked for and no more. I’d be very interested to work with someone who thought they’d be able to pull this off.
Really though, the rules menu is just the first part of what I imagine The First Fully Modular RPG ™ looking like. What would be ideal is a template for every single rule to follow – rule type (Core Rule, Trait, Action Type, Plot Point Spend etc), rules it is a prerequisite for, other rules it works well with, rules it works poorly with, The Actual Rules, and advice for further modification (e.g. different Attributes you could use beside the basic three). THAT would be something spectacular, a game which pitches modularity as its number one selling point, and pitches it like the ball is on fire.
As part of my sinister agenda to warp Prime into the game I want to play, I’ve made some choices when designing this menu that don’t reflect the current iteration of the ruleset. I didn’t ditch anything entirely (though seriously, is ANYONE hankering for life points to come back?), but I did un-tick some rules that were formerly presented as un-moddable, reincorporated some rules from previous Cortex Plus games as options, and left room for some variant rules that currently don’t exist at all (e.g. factions). I’m hoping this isn’t controversial.
Shout out to Stephen Morffew, whose help when creating this rules menu was invaluable, and whose blog www.stepintorpgs.wordpress.com is the best resource for Cortex design commentary and rules variants available on the web right now.
Here’s a link to a PDF version. Let me know your thoughts!
EDIT 13/08/18: Since this is quickly becoming one of my most popular blog posts, I should direct readers to the fact that I have now produced a more up-to-date version of this menu, which accounts for the changes made in successive iterations of beta. Enjoy!