Cortex Plus is an imminently hackable system. From the relationships of Smallville, the action of Leverage, and the powersets of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying I often hack Cortex Plus and apply it to a variety of genres, settings, and intellectual property. Having played in a game that began as Pathfinder and switched to MHRP and kept the same setting, I have experience in crafting MHRP to fit unusual circumstances. I have used MHRP as a basis for changing and epic level Pathfinder game into a more story-telling emphasized hack of MHRP. What follows are some of the more interesting applications that developed in my own game. (For those of you tuning in to read erotic bondage set in the Marvel Universe, you’ll have to read to imagine your own steamy interludes.)
Although some characters (such as when I designed Multiple Man) lent themselves to having a Mob powerset, our game world kept the idiosyncratic D&Dish practice of casting summoning spells. What my GM hit upon was letting spellcasters create an asset, spending 1 PP, and then breaking down the die as if it were a specialty (IE d10/2d8/3d6) to form mob dice. The size of those dice is dictated by a character’s SFX. Those mob dice then get slapped as a rider onto your team affiliation for a scene and can be targeted like a normal mob. I like that it’s a simple action, and costs 1 PP. However, I am concerned that players may try to abuse this by summoning minions, bringing another asset to bear, and using a resource to inflate their die pool for some scenes. Ultimately, it’s a fiddly but straightforward solution that works at our table, but I’m not sold on it as a universal mechanic suitable to everyone.
Stunts and Assets work quite well as “hand offs” from one character to another, however, to deal with a whole team working in concert against an epic-level threat my GM built a mechanics that packed even more punch. The SFX requires the hero to spend his action and to ‘pass’ his team die to another Hero. Any other hero can support the designated hero by passing off his team die, or rolling against the doom pool to create an asset (which could also be handed off). When it was used it played with amazing cinema and drama. It was however somewhat clunky keeping track of the massive number of varying dice that were being stacked up. Further, as you might expect, this kind of SFX along with liberal use of plot points pushed our results into the astronomically high range. I found that having this option built in for huge battles where you want to see 50+ results be common is fun, but having it on the table every scene could prove counterproductive by discouraging Heroes from performing their own actions.
This is an SFX designed specifically for my Mimic Master Bard. It allowed my hero as a reaction against to spend a PP to roll a dice pool of equal size to the dice that had been used against him. The catch was that it cost me my turn to do so. This SFX was really fun when dealing with the deity level threats that constituted our epic challenges, but it runs into a few problems. First, in some situations against tough foes, it’s powerful enough that it compelled me to (willingly) lock myself out of my own turns.
Secondly, as has been discussed elsewhere, it often led to things becoming a battle of counterattacks. If I were to apply it for general play, I think I would ban counterattack from a replicated die pool, not allow any PP to be earned for any negative distinctions in a replicated die pool and not require it to take up a turn to use.
Permanent Base Resources
One of the ingrained parts of MHRP that works very well is turning plot items into tangible dice for use. I took this one step further and let heroes design permanent resources based on their developing strongholds. These are narrowly defined beyond their specialties, and perhaps more importantly, tied to the specific location of their base of operations. This frees transition scenes from resource creation to problem solving. In my settlement management/exploration setting this change the plot moving along briskly, but does infringe on the traditional roles for resources in some instances.
One of the hallmarks of our game world is two opposing sources of power: magic and technology. Using the mutant limit as a model, the vast majority of powersets have a limit that deals with the source of their power being a liability. Stepping up and down dice in high mana/tech zones really aids in lending a mechanical oomph to the notion of places of power. It also builds in tension between characters with differing power sources as some characters thrive while others are weakened in certain areas. This is a nice parallel to the solo/buddy/team tension MHRP has built into it. This may be the simplest, and most effective, way that MHRP rules were implemented to bring the flavor of our game’s setting to life.
A hallmark of the nimble D&D/Pathfinder classes, this new SFX allows heroes to spend 1 PP to ignore physical stress from any attack done with an area of effect. It provides a nice contrast to invulnerability and is an elegant way to give players some familiar D&D tropes neatly. I would not recommend giving a hero evasion and invulnerability, as it tends to remove the drama from a combat without resorting to near-constant use of complications, which in turn would frustrate a player that’s suppose to be a tank.
Those are some of my hacks and SFX- feel free to steal them for your own hack!
DISCLAIMER: I am a paid freelancer for Margaret Weis Press.