Gaming Thursday: Cortex Clocks and Complication Mods

Two quick Cortex Prime mods tonight that we’ve used in our game and liked for what they bring to the table.  Enjoy!

Complication Mod: Cortex Clocks

A Clock is a mechanic employed in a number of recent RPGs (most notably in Forged in the Dark-based games). It is simply a method to track either progress towards overcoming an obstacle or, more importantly here, the approach and/or fruition of impending trouble.

This Cortex Mod is a new way to generate a Complication. Rather than being something that affects the characters right now (by being included in opposition pools when appropriate), it is instead a countdown to something occurring on the level of the narrative. A classic example is a clock that represents “The guards have been discovered an intruder” during an infiltration-type scenario. Every little snag along the way, represented by a Complication, further alerts the guards that something is amiss. This could be marks on the door from a lockpicking session, noise made while darting down a hallway, a piece of equipment that fell out of a pouch, and so on.

Clocks in Cortex forgo the typical drawing of the clock and instead use dice in a similar manner to Complications. When the Clock is created, place the die (the larger in stature, the better!) in the centre of the table. As the Clock ticks upward (as described below), replace the die with the newer size. Once the Clock is stepped up beyond d12 the peril comes home to roost for the characters. The situation has changed, and the characters now have to deal with it. To follow the example above, the facility might go on lockdown, providing bonus dice to opposition pools, and/or increasing the number of tests required, and/or having to deal with guards looking for them, and/or shutting down certain options to the characters, and/or could also prevent a clean getaway and thus lead to further challenges (and RP opportunity!) in the coming days.

There are two main ways to handle ticking up the Clock:

Method 1 – Complication Escalation. This follows the standard Cortex method for increasing a Complication, based on the test’s effect die. If the die size is less than or equal to the current Clock level, the clock increments by one; if the die size is greater higher then the Clock level is set to that die size. As such, this Clock can shift from manageable to a crisis in a single test.

Method 2 – Incremental Escalation. This replicates the behaviour of traditional clock mechanics. Under this style, when a Clock is first activated, it begins at a particular die value and incrementally steps up one die at a time for every additional Complication (irrespective of the Effect Die). In this way, the total “length” of the Clock is known, and the peril ratchets up in a more predictable manner.

Choose the starting die based on how many ‘ticks’ needed to fill the Clock:

d4      –     6

d6      –     5

d8      –     4

d10    –    3

d12    –    2

(An 8-tick Clock could be created by putting down two d8s; both must be stepped up beyond d12 for the Clock to be complete.)

Two additional options to this style of Clock:

When the Clock is ticked up, if the test was a Botch then step up the die twice.

On a Heroic Success, a character may spend 1 PP to step down the Clock die.

Complication Mod: Stepping Down an Asset

Rather than adding or stepping up a traditional Complication, this Mod allows the option to instead step down an Asset or Personal Asset. This could represent the opponent negating a scene-created Asset (whether Test or PP created), damage to a physical signature asset, the weakening of bonds, character doubt, depleted powers, overuse of a resource, and the like.

Step down the Asset based on the Effect Die:

d4     –      1 Step

d6     –      1 Step

d8      –     2 Steps

d10    –    3 Steps

d12    –    4 Steps

If an Asset is stepped down below a d6, it is removed from play. (The GM may determine if it can be recreated, and if so, whether it becomes more difficult to do so.)

If a Signature Asset is stepped down below a d6, it is temporarily shut down. The character loses access to it until it is recovered.

As with standard Complications, how a stepped down Asset or Signature Asset recovers depends on the narrative and situation at hand. Some may recover automatically in increments over time, others may require characters to perform certain actions and/or may require a Test. For example, a damaged piece of equipment may be able to be repaired with a Test, or be automatically restored to full if the character can return to their lab (with any corresponding narrative implications for doing so).

[[Sidebar: Whether this is more or less harsh than a regular complication I’m not sure of yet. My initial thought is that it might be less harsh (rolling a d6 instead of a d8 rather than having test difficulties gain an entire additional d6, for example), but at the same time I don’t think that’s a problem. It can be very appropriate in the narrative and flavourful for the character, is easier to administer than adding another die to an opposition pool, and per my musings on Complications a few months ago given that Hitches are plentiful another option that feels different could well be welcomed, even if its drawbacks are technically mechanically less.]]