United We Stand – Teaming Up in Cortex Plus, Part 1

Inspired by the collaboration taking place between Adam and myself, I am going to take a look at the cooperation mechanics in Cortex Plus.  It’s little surprise that most roleplaying games have some rules covering this area: it is a social hobby and most games focus on a team working together to some goal.  Cortex Plus is no exception, but there a quite distinct differences between the two variants of the system: Cortex Plus Drama and Cortex Plus Action.

Superpower Team Ups

The Cortex Plus Drama rules are those as presented in Smallville. When two Leads work together to achieve a goal, those assisting roll dice and give the highest single result to the player leading the action, which he then adds to the total of his own two highest dice.

Let’s consider the mechanics of this: the players assisting in the task will almost certainly roll a minimum of three dice, as these are the “free” ones everybody gets for each roll (Value + Relationship + Distinction), and the primary character then adds the highest result to his roll as a flat bonus. If we were thinking of this as the leading player getting extra dice without aid from others, this would cost at least four Plot Points: three to roll three extra dice, and one to count an extra die in the result. You effectively have the benefits of four free Plot Points just by having someone back you up. And it’s four per person: if you have a group of five players all pulling togetherin concert, that’s effectively twenty free Plot Points, and they can do this on every roll in which they can feasibly cooperate!

There is a reason teaming up is so powerful in Smallville, and it’s because of the thematic elements that the designers captured so well. In truth, the only time all the players should be pulling together like this is at the climatic ending of the “episode”; before this, the Leads should be bickering and squabbling over other matters, and Watchtower should be pushing conflicting Relationships and Values to ensure this. We see this dynamic all the time in the show on which the game is based: Clark, Chloe, Oliver, Tess, and Lois will often disagree and split their efforts early on, but ultimately come together and win the day much more easily when pulling in the same direction.

A Crack Commando Unit

By contrast, the Cortex Plus Action rules (as per Leverage) are much more subdued in its rules for joint efforts: the person taking the lead gets one extra die for each person assisting, equal to the largest die each assisting player would roll. These dice just become part of the leader’s pool of dice: the leader keeps only two for the result unless spending Plot Points to keep more. Since the rules do not impose an upper limit on the number of applicable dice players can roll, this doesn’t really equate to any “free Plot Points” like it does in C+Drama.

Again, this seems likely the designers were attempting to capture the concept of their licence as much as possible: in Leverage, it is very rare that the crew isn’t working together right from the off, to the point that when they aren’t doing so, it tends to be a central point of the episode. In fact, the show generally demonstrates how working separately, they are much less effective (see The Second David Job and The Rashomon Job). If C+Action had the team up rules from C+Drama, the players would be rolling such high values every time that the challenge (and for most people, the fun) would simply vanish.

In part two, we shall take a look at another option for teaming up mechanics that I am considering for use in my own Firefly hack of Cortex Plus.

About Craig Payne

Despite being born tone deaf in one ear, Craig has risen above his disadvantage to achieve the lofty position of spending most of his free time mucking around on the Internet, tinkering with RPG rules, and failing on at least seven occasions to finish writing a novel.