First some backstory: Last year at PAX East I had my first chance to play The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game by Margaret Weis Productions and I had a great time doing so. I got my second chance to play it at Connecticon, and still found myself drawn in by the amazing underlying mechanics.
I had the opportunity to sit in on a panel last summer about media properties that we would like see as an RPG and the task of finding the appropriate rule system to go with them. Lots of people have their particular game mechanic that they favor, be it FATE, d20, Savage Worlds, GURPS or any one of the many others, but finding the right system that fits the feel of the setting is very challenging. It was a lot of fun and it really got me thinking. The desire to push forward with this has stuck with me for months, I wanted to do something but I didn't know what. I quickly became "lost in the weeds" of possible settings and rule set options. I was beginning to seriously think about giving up even before beginning. Then December came around and I was thinking about what I was going to do for my wife's birthday and decided that I would run a game that I knew she would enjoy, Wonderland No More.
Wonderland No More is a setting guide for Savage Worlds published by Triple Ace Games, set in a future version of Wonderland based on the events of Lewis Carol's famous novels. The game was a success, my wife and our friends all enjoyed their romp through Wonderland and I put the book on the shelf to maybe be played again sometime in the future. Not even a month passed by before I found myself reaching for the Wonderland setting guide again to be used as a filler due to other plans falling through, as they so often seem to do. This time I began to notice some issues with the setting and the Savage Worlds rules.
It started with Lori, my fellow blogger, trying to accomplish something that didn't exactly fit in the rule system. I'm not the kind of GM that likes to tell his players no and so I did my best to make it work. It was an acceptable work-around, but I wasn't thrilled with how it played out, I wanted it to be more organic, and it failed to meet that expectation. The other issue that presented itself was that two of the characters are pacifists, and although the players did fantastic jobs playing those roles, they found themselves having very little to do during combat. They had things they could do, but overall it had very little game effect.
These two issues got me thinking about alternative rules that might work with this setting. I immediately thought of the Marvel Heroic RPG. After doing some digging, and asking questions on the Google+ community I began to get a better feel for the Cortex+ System, which is at the heart of the Marvel Heroic RPG, Smallville RPG and Leverage RPG. I quickly found that I could, with some work, make Cortex+ fit Wonderland. My first attempt was to just make the Marvel rules fit. I hand jammed all the info into some awkward worded power sets and changed the affiliations to attack types and tried to make the specialties listed in the Marvel Operation Manual fit. It didn't work. I mean it worked ok-ish, but it didn't feel right. And I have discovered that the key element to any Cortex+ game is the feel. So it was back to the drawing board.
After working through many of the characters, I started to look to other Cotex+ games, not just Marvel. I purchased copies of the Smallville RPG and the Leverage RPG to get a better understanding of how they worked, and how they were different from Marvel. I also downloaded the quick-start rules to Margaret Weis Productions upcoming Dragon Brigade RPG. It was in the Dragon Brigade rules that I found the inspiration, and guidelines to make the conversion work. At least I think it will work. I currently have 9 characters created, I showed them to most of the players recently, not in game, but just to review, and got some positive feedback. I have a few more things to work out before I playtest it, but I am really looking forward to giving it a go, and sharing the results here.