Star Wars With Cortex Prime, Episode II

Last year I talked about using Cortex Prime with Star Wars. I’ve run a few more times and while there are no major changes in my philosophy, I’ve learned enough to warrant sharing some ideas.

The Doom Pool Doesn’t Mess Around

I started using the Doom Pool mod, which is a GM dice pool that waxes and wanes throughout the session. I have been running espionage/heist-centric games, and the rising tension the Doom Pool naturally creates is really nice. It reduces the cognitive load of setting manual difficulties. It doesn’t do all the work for you – you’ll still need traits for important NPCs, but the Doom Pool works in concert with them.

If you’re using the Doom Pool (or the Dark Side Pool maybe), it’s worth mentioning to your players that they really want to find opportunities to load up on Plot Points (or Force Points, heyoo) early on, because as the Doom Pool grows they’ll need those abilities to conquer the increased difficulty. Additionally, the GM should be looking for ways to burn off Doom Pool dice as well, introducing NPCs at inopportune moments or creating sudden complications.

One Shots

The bulk of my Cortex Prime has been in the form of one-shots. With that in mind, I can say that putting in the effort to make your players’ chargen jobs easier pays dividends. Archetypes, picklists, pre-defined SFX and distinctions, and simple trait sets get you into the game faster and I honestly don’t think we’ve ever missed more character complexity in those sessions. I go over different options in last year’s post, but to sum up:

  • Roles: Ace, Cowpoke, Robot, Spy, Warrior, Wizard.
  • Attributes: Physical, Mental Social – they’re boring but very easy to use.
  • Distinctions: I have one freeform “archetype” distinction and prep picklists of other thematic options along with SFX for the remaining two.
  • Relationships: Relationship dice make it easy for PCs to assist each other, and coming to the game with picklists jumpstart the players into coming up with good backstories between their characters. The additional effort has definitely been worth it.

Steal These Lists

Here’s the juicy stuff.

Drives

I use “Drive” as one of my distinctions, because “why you are fighting the Empire” is a great fallback. I like to pair this distinction with the SFX “Spend a PP to reroll any number of dice in your pool when you act in accordance with your drive”. It’s a powerful ability and models the kind of “get up, Spider-Man” moments of willpower I like to see.

  • I’m in it for the money
  • I need out from under their thumb
  • This job clears my debt
  • I want to fight the bastards for real
  • This is my chance for revenge
  • I’m willing to sacrifice everything for the rebellion
  • This is a path towards true power
  • This was never about the money
  • I trust my instincts
  • I dream of a quiet farm out on the Rim
  • It’s this or the spice mines
  • I’ve got nothing left to lose

Relationships

Finding the right vibe for party cohesion (or the lack thereof) is important for one-shots. Fine-tuning what you give your players to spark their imaginations will help maintain the tone you’re looking for even if they’re inspired to freeform some traits or workshop their backstories with the other PCs.

Another character…

  • …owes me big
  • …is family, by blood or not
  • …isn’t cut out for this line of work
  • …taught me everything I know
  • …got me back into the game
  • …doesn’t trust me, and for good reason
  • …doesn’t understand how the galaxy really works
  • …deserves to make it out of this alive
  • …saved my life
  • …is going to get us all killed
  • …has my back no matter what
  • …is my moral compass
  • …fights with me like a sibling
  • …is the only reason I’m here
  • …is my ride or die

A Fistful of SFX

Finally, here are a handful of SFX that have worked well in play. The previous post had a longer list but these are battle-tested.

  • I’ve Made Some Special Modifications Myself: Step up a signature asset. It’s also broadly applicable, like “Multi-tool Arms” or “Walking Arsenal”.
  • I Shot First: Step up or double Cowpoke if you start the fight.
  • I Rebel: Step up any die when you reroll to stay in a contest.
  • First One’s Free: Spend a FP, kill a minion.

From a Certain Point Of View

Admittedly these specific examples tend towards a more Rogue One/Andor/Solo view of Star Wars, where most characters are expected to be a little less heroic and a little more desperate. The great thing about Cortex Prime is that you can mod it a ton of ways. That’s also its greatest weakness, because there are so many options and there’s not always specific guidance for the combinations you might want to use. Put in the prep time, however, and you can use Cortex Prime to do a very good Star Wars that matches your own personal view of that venerable setting.

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