Rediscovering Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying

I’ve played a lot of games over the years. A LOT. As a podcaster and game designer, I felt it was my duty to play as many games as I could, and experiment with as many rules as I could in order to present the best content on the show and create the most unique mechanics for my games.

I’ve been gaming since 2007, when I decided to learn more about the 3.0 Dungeons & Dragons rules behind my favorite video game at the time, Neverwinter Nights. I didn’t know anything about it and went in search of the books and grabbed up the 3.5 Player’s Handbook. I read the book, tried to play some play-by-post games and failed miserably. It wasn’t until I moved to Las Vegas for work that I found a group and began the journey that changed me as a person. That is not hyperbole. My time and efforts as a player, GM and podcaster have made me an entirely different person than I would have been, otherwise. I am less shy, more outgoing and more sure of myself that I ever would have been without it.

One of the games that resonated with me and became a quick favorite was the Smallville RPG. At the time it came out, I was part of the reviewer program for DriveThruRPG. The Smallville RPG came across my email and, after hearing some good things about it, I grabbed it up and got to reading it. Its approach to gaming was completely different to anything else I had so far encountered and I LOVED it! It’s been several years so I can’t remember the exact journey I took to falling in love with the Smallville RPG and Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying, but suffice it to say that my affair with the game started hard and was full of passion for a long time.

As can happen, my enthusiasm for the game flagged after a time and I set it aside. I ran the game for my home gaming group and most of them were less than enthusiastic about it after a few sessions. I believe that was a big contributor to me setting the game aside. I carried the lessons the game taught me forward in my GMing career, but I didn’t pick it up again for a long time.

Some weeks ago, a random player on Gamersplane posted about having enjoyed the game in the past and wishing they could play it again. I joined in, sharing my past love of the game and after several people chimed in about how much they loved the game or how interesting it looked and shared their wish to try it, I somewhat reluctantly said that I’d run it.

It may have been one of the best gaming decisions I’ve made this year.

We just wrapped up our first episode and it was a blast. I set up the game in a city in an alternate reality to the world Smallville occurs in. Several weeks before, a disaster happened at a laboratory in the city which shattered the barriers between dimensions. This caused energy, as well as people, to bleed through, back and forth. Some people immediately gained super powers, while others lost them. Some people died and some alternate versions of deceased people were pulled into that world. It was a chaotic time.

We started the story some weeks after that event, just as things were mostly getting put back to normal. I decided that I would take an NPC all the Leads connected to, who was a young, powered person, and have them go missing. Through the investigation, they found that another person who recently gained powers, had mind-controlled their friendly NPC and was using them for ill. The Leads’ use of their Value and Relationship statements to drive their actions through the investigation was marvelous!

We blew through the episode very quickly because I wanted to make sure we got the chance to finish a complete story. Everyone had a blast. Some of the players are just getting a handle on the rules and the others are loving getting back into the game. It’s amazing.

As I’ve been running this game, I’ve been going back through the Smallville rule book and the Dramatic Roleplaying section of the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. The rules are resonating with me hard, again. I see so much potential in the game. There are so many stories that can be told and told in the way that I love to tell them.

I love NPCs. I love dramatic situations. I love feelings and relationship pressures being a reason for a character’s actions. Dramatic Roleplaying has all of this, in spades.

I’m glad I took this opportunity to run Smallville. It has rekindled my love for drama and made me realize that a lot of my games could use more relationship drama in them. It’s one of the things I absolutely love about gaming. When I think back on my favorite experiences in gaming, there’s almost always relationship drama at their heart. D.P. Dave and his forbidden love with another werewolf. My machete-wielding Hunter and the rough times he had with his wife. My White Court vampire and how he seduced a Titan to try and save the world. I tend to forget characters that don’t have and experience those kinds of personal connections.

I have a lot of stories left to tell and lots of games left to run. Not all of them will be with Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying, but I’ll be thinking about injecting relationship drama into all of them, now. Even when it’s not the focus of the story, it personalizes the PCs experiences and makes the stakes more real.

I’ve also caught the game design bug again, but with Cortex Plus being in a bit of a limbo state, with Cortex Prime being Kickstarted and worked on, but not out yet, I don’t know what to do with my Dramatic Roleplaying game ideas.

I’ll figure it out, I’m sure. Until then, it’s time to get back to my Smallville game and figure out which relationship buttons I’m going to push for the next episode!

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