The Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide: The Old School Job

Dungeon Crawl_2As the Cortex Plus Hackers Guide’s Kickstarter  is progressing at a steady pace, I’m holding my breath, hoping it will crash through the next stretch goal, unlocking the expanded version of the Fantasy Heroic Roleplaying.

My original contribution to the campaign is one of the reasons why Dave and I are teaming up to make Fantasy Heroic Roleplaying. Dave told you his story where he created the prototype for the game here. Now let me tell you about my original Cortex Action fantasy hack: The Old School Job.

When Cam sent out a call for submission back in 2010, I was deep into the Leverage RPG. Not so much for the setting and the game itself but for the way that this game successfully portrayed high-tech heists without any of the bulky mechanics I’d come to expect from post-d20 era games.  This made me think it could emulate so much more than heists. As you know, I’m a huge fan of D&D and like all 40 year olds, I have a very wide nostalgic streak about my D&D games of yore. That’s why I’ve long sought a way to recapture what I liked most about the earliest editions without some of the legacy cruft I had no particular taste for.

Cam’s call for submission kicked me into creative mode, which led to this fateful tweet:

A dungeon crawl is nothing more than a badly planned heist

The rest practically wrote itself. I started mapping the character Roles in Leverage (Mastermind, Hacker, Thief, Hitter and Grifter) into fantasy archetypes.  While I initially created five: Warrior, Holy One, Scoundrel, Mage and Monk. I ended up dropping the Monk. I realized you could create one by mixing the Warrior/Holy One and Scoundrel roles to make one so I settled for four roles.*  I playtested the hack with friends and during a few cons, it showed it had great potential.

I had space constraints: the hack was supposed to be less than 2000 words long so I needed to fit a lot of ideas in as little space as possible. I ended up cheating and wrote four parts to the whole thing. The Old School Job (previewed here) describes making new characters and adds special Talents for the new character roles. It also introduces a new game element called “Gold Points”, something that acts like undefined, but potentially useful, treasures (likely my favorite part of the hack).

The other parts: The Dungeon Fixer’s Guide, Old School Combat and The Old School Quest Generator completes the hack into a playable game. So far I found it ideal for one shot games and, given a bit of expansion for character growth (new talents and such) could easily handle short campaigns.

Looking back, what I really like about the hack is its pervasive attitude. There’s a lot of punk in there and it reflects the kind of adventures I like to play most. I love Mages that have no qualms about playing with the rules of reality, I love Rogue-types that can’t help stealing from their allies and I expect Holy types to be quite vocal about NOT being walking band-aid stations.

This attitude has pervaded the many sessions I’ve run. We’ve battled germophobic ogre-mages, explored a necropolis while an efreet posing as a monkey tagged along and faced hordes of undead as they took over a Brothel-Temple!

This game can do that, and more!

Download part one here.

Want more? Please back our Kickstarter, we’re so close to hitting our stretch goals!

*Someone over at the Kickstarter Site suggested adding a Ranger/Survivor role to the mix. I like the idea very much and will likely add it into the final product.