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.]]

Coaster Wednesday

Well, this happened today:

A photo from underneath of Railblazer's intertwined track

Yep!  Time to indulge in my love of coasters with a trip to California’s Great America.  A park that somehow I hadn’t been to in almost a decade, despite it being just a stone’s throw from my house.  (What is wrong with me?)  But it was an opportune time to visit… not too busy (18 coaster rides total for the day) and with a chance to try out Railblazer (pictured above), a single-rail coaster by RMC.  RMC is on fire right now with their coasters, and their single-rail concept is new enough that only 5 are existence at the moment.

And it certainly shows that RMC know what they are doing (as if their hybrid coaster revamps haven’t been proof enough).  This is one compact footprint of a ride, but it packs a lot of punch in that small area.  Railblazer is gloriously twisty, with a tonne of negative-G moments that’ll pop you out of your seat, plus a very short stall that’s still pretty sweet.  Surprisingly, the experience of the single rail and single-rider cars, and thus a drop off on either side of you, wasn’t as pronounced as I thought it’d be.  It did afford plenty of view on either side, but it didn’t provide all that much extra “feel” as I expected.  But no matter!  It’s still a darn fun coaster.

As did remain their inverted coaster, Flight Deck, mainly for its last element that is worth the price of admission alone:  a barrel roll that drops immediately into a low helix directly over a large pond.  There’s just something about that combo that is amazing, it just flows in a way that satisfies, very fitting for a hard-burning jet fighter.  Doubly so if you take the leftmost seat so you can skim just over the water.  Triply so if you take the front seat, where with the track above you and your feet dangling it’s all view, all the time.  And as the park wasn’t super busy today, I took the front all four times, getting the leftmost seat 3 of those times.  Loved it.

Gold Striker remains a great new-school woodie, and it has quite the bit more airtime than I remembered it having.  I think ensuring there was room to the lap bar helped a bunch so that I could actually pop out of the seat.  It’s a coaster that from the first, curving drop never lets up, lots of twistiness, and the sound walls make for a great visual experience if you lean towards them.  Plus it has a nice bit of woodie roughness.  Good stuff.

Demon was great for its classic Arrow Dynamics feel and for the themeing – a few lit tunnels with manacle laughter, plus the great stone devil maw you dive into before the deliciously classic double corkscrew.  Nostalgia joy!

Grizzly also promised some nostalgia as an old-school woodie, but unfortunately it felt pretty tame overall.  It’s no Wilde Beast, alas…

And the stand-up coaster from my last visit has been converted to a floorless model.  While the old stand-up restraints were head-mashers, as a standard sit-down this failed to excite me much.

Lo, thus was a grand day of coaster riding had.  I got my positive and negative gees, my inversions, my rattles and rumbles, my hang time, and as I crested the loop on the inverted coaster, I got to yell “Kick some sky!”

(Thank you to Robb from Theme Park Review for that one…)

Philosophy Tuesday

Very little in our lives resolves itself perfectly like math.

Including, as it turns out, math instruction or even math itself.

It’s all to easy to get caught in a binary/one-right-answer thinking for many of the things we face in our lives, and fail to recognize that not only is there a gradient but also multiple answers that can be ‘correct’ at the same time.

Being mindful and willing to dance in that space opens up many new possibilities, peace of mind, and, ultimately, paths forward.

Philosophy Tuesday

To riff a bit from last week’s post regarding the “safety to fail” to further encompass the broader thing going on right now of “look at my triumph” articles.

Because we ought to be especially wary of stories about super successful young entrepreneurs, or about those who paid off their mortgage when they were 22, or about other kinds of “glorious success” stories that have this “if I can do it, you can do it to!” backhanded* motivational bent to them.

If the article/story/etc you are reading doesn’t mention the whole of the context around it, then they are likely, in a fashion, lying.  Or at least fibbing through omission/obfuscation.

What’s needed is including the whole context.  Even better is calling direct attention to said context.

As examples, one young entrepreneur story had the individuals proudly proclaim they had built their company from scratch at the end of high school, starting in the basement on weekends and such, and now they were financially very well off.  Look at us!   The article, fortunately, helpfully (and rightfully) pointed out that the first client for their software was their father, who happened to be the CEO of an international corporation.  Definitively a leg up when trying to market your unknown and untested software!  Not to mention the leeway to fix any bugs in the software while being guaranteed a paycheque.

For the mortgage story, it turned out that the one who was chiding others for not being able to pay off their house a) their mother paid for the down payment on their place b) they could live with their grandmother rent free (and perhaps grocery bill free?) during the time and, to top it all off, c) were hired right out of school by their mother at her company.  So, very much a safe place from which to accomplish their “hard work miracle.”

This is nothing to say of the stories where someone decries “if only kids wouldn’t spend their money on lattes these days, they’d be more well off!” only to let slip “Why, when I graduated I got a 2M dollar loan from my uncle and I took that money and got myself going…”  Turns out most people don’t have uncles with 2M to lend or to give. **

I’m never going to be one to diss on anyone who’s willing to be responsible for their success and doing the work to earn a good living (provided, of course, that this doesn’t injure/harm/disempower/create hardship/screw over the environment/etc).  But for those to be acknowledged the whole context needs to be acknowledged.  And if that whole context shows that the work maybe wasn’t so hard or so gifted or even so lucky then let’s apportion the acknowledgement and avoid incorrect lauding and putting on a pedestal while also, especially, avoid crapping on others for not being so fortunate.


* I say backhanded because they often have this tinge of “you must be a doofus for not being able to have done/accomplished what I did” to them.

** This one’s a bit different, but there was a senator recently decrying the push for a $15 minimum wage, stating that when they started out they only made $6 an hour and they were fine.  Of course, adjusting for inflation, they were making well OVER $15 an hour.

Architecture Monday

Perhaps one of the most famous architectural photos of all time.  Certainly it is one of the most famous of modern architecture, and likely introduced many to this new mode of design and its new architectural ways, forms, and materials.  It was built in 1957 as a Case Study House, which themselves are an interesting thing, some 36 home designs sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine as experiments in American residential architecture.  This one, the Case Study House #22, overlooks Los Angeles by dramatically cantilevering the glassed-in and nearly transparent living room over the edge of the cliff, something this photo by Julius Shulman does wonders to highlight.  To the eyes of the day it must have appeared completely otherworldly.

The Stahl House (Case Study House #22) by Pierre Koenig.