Cortex Prime is a GM’s Toolbox of Awesomeness

Cortex Prime - Atlas Games - $49.95
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Game title: Cortex Prime

Game description: What is Cortex Prime? Imagine a world-building tabletop RPG system where you and your players choose the genre, build the game, and forge the story from a set of modular rules mechanics. Cortex Prime helps you create a one-of-kind experience tailored to the way you and your friends like to play to bring to life an experience you will never forget.

Overall
4.3
  • Play (Mechanics)
  • Presentation (Art/Quality)
  • Plan (Rules)

Summary

The Cortex RPG has been around, in various forms, since 2004. Mostly used as a house-system for various RPGs. Recently the Cortex Prime Game Handbook was released. This newest edition takes the Cortex system core and presents it as a toolbox for GMs to use in whatever settings they desire.

Pros

  • An amazing toolkit for GMs
  • Digital implementation by Fandom
  • The physical version comes with a digital redemption code

Cons

  • The core book is not really for players

The Cortex RPG has been around, in various forms, since 2004. Mostly used as a house-system for various RPGs. Recently the Cortex Prime Game Handbook was released. This newest edition takes the Cortex system core and presents it as a toolbox for GMs to use in whatever settings they desire.

The rights to Cortex Prime currently site with Fandom, the same company that gave us D&D Beyond. Cam Banks, who has long worked on the system, is the lead creative director. The new book just hit the market, with Tales of Xadia: The Dragon Prince Roleplaying Game and Legends of Grayskull: The Masters of the Universe Roleplaying Game arriving soon.

A GM’s One Stop Shop

Cortex Prime

The first thing to know about the Cortex Prime Game Handbook, and what sets it apart from many RPGs, is that the book is not really meant for players. The entire book is aimed at the Game Master and is a collection of modules and rules that can be used or ignored as needed. Other than the absolute basics of the Roll and Keep dice system presented at the very start, the rest of the book is more reference than not.

This may seem odd to many, as most RPGs release a player’s guide or an all-in-one book, but this direction makes the most sense. It means that only the GM needs to own the book and guide the players along the way. This doesn’t stop players from owning the book, but Cortex Prime doesn’t place that responsibility on them.

Cortex Prime Starts Small, Then Builds

characters

You can set up and run a Cortex Prime game, at its most basic, in mere minutes. The system is easy-to-learn, and characters start with a minimal footprint. As you begin to flesh out your game, the Game Book gives you the tools you need to expand upon your ideas, including customizable bits for characters. The biggest take away here is that you only pull from the modules you need to run a game. The rest can pretty much be ignored. Plug and play!

The Prime Core includes basic mechanics like dice, traits, and plot points. There are also sections on making characters, setting scenes, and game settings. Each section is filled with Mods that can be implemented if needed, noted with a special icon. This makes it including the bits and pieces you enjoy a breeze. They’re also incredibly easy to use when needed and remove or replace as you go.

Roll and Keep, Stepping, and Plot Points

One of the parts I really love about Cortex Prime is the Roll and Keep dice system. The game uses a multitude of different sided dice, and at times you may be chucking a nice mixed dice pool. No matter how many dice you roll, you will only keep 2 to use for your checks. Add those numbers up, add any modifiers, and you are good to go.

Buffs and debuffs work by “stepping” dice up or down. A d4 may become a d6, or a d12 downgraded to a d10. Assets and Complications can also add or subtract dice from your pool or even add dice to the GM’s dice pool. Your pool and/or individual dice can also be manipulated using Plot Points passed out by the GM for various things during play.

No matter how much, or how few, dice you roll, things feel balanced. Sure, the more dice you roll mean you have a better chance of rolling a higher number. It also means you have a higher chance of rolling hitches (1s.) Rolling more dice isn’t always necessarily better than rolling a few, higher-sided dice. It’s a very flexible and interesting way to handle things that feels great.

Physical? Digital? Why not both?

Fandom is very well known for their work on D&D Beyond, one of the most incredible digital implementations of an RPG ruleset. They’ve taken that technology and implemented it for Cortex Prime as well. The best part? If you buy the physical book, you also get a code to unlock the digital version, including an old-school PDF if you so wish. There’s always the option of just buying in on the digital as well.

Cortex Prime is Whatever You Want it to Be

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Over the years I’ve never really been a fan of “generic” RPG systems. Bad experiences with G.U.R.P.S. in the 80’s ruined them for me. Cortex Prime has changed all that with a fresh take on what a generic RPG system should be. Reading through the rules and referencing the online system over the past week have gotten me REALLY excited to run through a game with Cortex Prime.

The Cortex Prime Game Book is certainly something you should pick up if you’re even remotely interested in RPGs. It’s a fantastic read, and one that is sure to spark plenty of creative ideas. I highly recommend the digital version, and to be honest that’s a raving review coming from me.

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