As I mentioned in part one, my first attempt to convert Wonderland No More from Savage Worlds to Cortex+ was to try to make the Marvel Heroic RPG model fit. I was moderately successful, but there were a lot of issues; things that just didn’t feel right. About this time I was just getting involved in the Google Plus Cortex+ community. I asked the following question, mere hours before the Cortex+ Hackers Guide kickstarter was announced:
I have been a fan of the Marvel Heroic RPG since I first played it last year at PAX East. Is there a Core Rulebook for the Cortex Plus System, or are the RPGs that use it the only source? I have the Cortex System book, and I have played the Serenity RPG (the systems namesake I'm guessing), but I am curious if there are any plans on making a Cortex Plus System book?
In response I got many helpful insights, including:
The general consensus from [Margaret Weis Productions] and Cam [Banks, lead designer on all Cortex+ games to date] has been that, because the system is overhauled so much between the different games that use it, you can't really put out a Core Rulebook, and I'd have to agree. The games are completely different approaches to capture the source materials through their rules, and a Cortex Plus Core system would probably be little more than "Create a dice pool, roll and add two; 1s create opportunities for the opposition; use plot points to [buy] extras"; almost anything beyond that is unique to the system in a way to capture the required feel (emphasis mine).
This idea of customizing the rules to “capture the required feel” appeals to me, I have never been a fan of taking an existing rule set and just jamming a setting in and making it fit. I believe this is why converting Wonderland No More to a Marvel RPG clone didn’t “feel” right. Thus began my quest to find the right “feel.” I looked at the Smallville RPG with its relationship focused rule set, and knew that wouldn’t fit. The Leverage RPG with its action focus was closer, but still not quite right. I then found the quick start rules for Dragon Brigade, and knew I was on to something, but it still needed some tweaking in order to fit.
The first change I made to get the feel of Wonderland was taking Dragon Brigade’s 5 Action Traits and making one of them a constant; Muchness. Instead of following Dragon Brigade’s lead of rolling 2 appropriate Action Traits, Wonderland characters will roll Muchness and 1 appropriate Action Trait. The Action Traits I decided to go with are: Belief, Brains, Brawn and Burglary. I know Burglary is a bit a of a stretch, but “alliteration is always awesome.” Muchness represents the character’s willpower, strength of spirit, their overall presence, as well as indicates the character’s “level". Belief represents how much faith they have, whether that faith is in a religion, a code, or their trusty revolver makes no difference. Brains is the character’s intelligence, common sense, wit, quick thinking, etc.. Brawn is their physical strength, toughness, and vitality. Burglary covers all things sneaky, agile, acrobatic; all the things that a burglar relies on, whether the character is a burglar or not is irrelevant.
Both Savage Worlds and Cortex+ use dice ranging from d4 to d12, whether to represent how well a character knows a skill/specialty or their ability regarding traits. So I decided for playtest purposes to keep them as close to the original as possible. There were some areas that I had to make some changes, but I want to see if it works. For example, Savage Worlds regards a d4 as the first step in a skill and the starting point of all traits. I kept the traits starting at d4, but a skill at d4 would be considered a hindrance, so there are some d4s that are made d6s in the conversion.
I want there to be a standard for creating characters, to keep things balanced. I also want there to be a way to indicate a character’s “level” so I have decided that Muchness will be the indicator. A character’s Muchness would increase as the characters gain confidence in themselves represented as follows: d6= “level” 1, d8= “level” 2 etc.. A Muchness of d6 would be a starting character and would have 17 points to spend in Action Traits, Specialties and Talents.
As I mentioned earlier, Action Traits all start at d4 and 1 point will increase the trait one step, each step is a die type. For the playtest, points spent on Action Traits are limited to 4 and no die can exceed a d8 for starting characters, which translates, in most cases, as 1 d4, 2 d6 and 1 d8. The Tweedles are the exception because they aren’t known for being sneaky, smart or having an abundance of faith in anything, but they are strong. As they are really 2 characters played by 1 player from 1 character sheet they get to double their Brawn die. In most cases a Tweedle’s Action Traits would look like this: Belief d4, Brains d4, Brawn 2d8, and Burglary d4. It still costs 4 points as you have to pay for each d8 separately. There are always exceptions and the above should only be looked at as a guide. It is just an effort to “capture the required feel” while maintaining a degree of structure.
In most cases the number of points spent on Specialties will be 11, this is based on each character having 2 Talents that require a Plot Point. 1 point buys a d6, 2 points buys a d8, etc. No specialty should be taken at a d4, unless there is some distinctive character quality to justify it, as a d4 is considered a hindrance. A character can have as many Specialties at d4, except the “magic” specialties, for free but with no added benefit (ie. you don’t get more points to spend by taking a d4). In regard to the “magic” users, each step in their relevant specialty (Cooking, Haberdashery, Miracles) will grant them 1 Signature “Spell.” So for example, the Maniac Haberdasher has Haberdashery d8 and therefore has 2 Signature Hat Tricks, whereas Chef Ala Carte Blanche has Cooking d10 and therefore has 3 Signature Recipes. A specialty above a d8 in a starting character should be rare and should only be used when the character concept supports it.
Each Talent that requires the player to spend a Plot Point costs 1 point, and most characters will have 2. Just to recap, 4 points in Action Traits, 11 points in Specialties, and 2 points in Talents equals 17 points. If the character concept can justify it, a player may spend 2 points on a Talent that costs no Plot Points. This should be rare, and used only to get the “feel” of the character across. The Tweedles, for example, have 2 Talents that require no Plot Point. These are attacks that represent the 2 character 1 player feel (see the Tweedle character sheet for details).
I really wanted to avoid anything having to do with races, I was hoping to just get the concept of the character across without having to specify a race, but it wasn’t working so we have Racial Traits. In Wonderland there are 6 Races: Animals, Chessmen, Cards, Humans, Plants, and Tweedles. Using the Edges and Hindrances listed in the Wonderland No More setting guide, I came up with workable Racial Traits. Some of them need work, and I hope to get some feedback from the players after the playtest, while others are, in my opinion, pretty good. Each race has distinct traits that you can see on the character sheets. As of now I have not come up with any generic Human Traits, as in Savage Worlds Humans begin the game with a free Edge, and am still working on that.
The last thing I need to mention about character creation are distinctions; characteristics that set your character apart from other individuals of the same race/class combinations. For the conversion I just went through the Wonderland No More character sheets and picked out any edges or hindrances that were not covered by Specialties, Talents, or Racial Traits and made them Distinctions. It was kind of a catch all for the conversion. That wouldn’t be the case in the creation of a new character. Each character gets 3 free distinctions that will either help you by adding a d8, or hinder you by adding a d4 and giving you a plot point.
Next time I will cover damage, complications and the other significant “feel” change; Madness!
Chef Ala Carte Blanche
Jack o' Kent
The Cheshire Kit
The Maniac Haberdasher
**Disclaimer: I want to give credit where credit is due: Marvel Heroic RPG, Smallville RPG, Leverage RPG, Dragon Brigade Quick Start Rules, and Cortex+ are all the property of Margaet Weis Productions, any and all ideas that I got from them for this belongs to them.
Wonderland No More setting guide and all the character names and descriptions are all the property of Triple Ace Games
Savage Worlds and all the Skills, Edges and Hindrances that I used to come up with various parts of my character sheets belong to Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
There are some things in here that are from my brain, but most of it is respectfully copied from the aforementioned organizations.