Showin’ some love for Cortex

One of the rules I try to live by is “practice what you preach”. If I tell someone to act in a specific way, I should be able to lead by example. If I tell someone to go play game X, I should have played said game myself. In most cases, I can hold up this rule, but today, dear readers, I am breaking a habit. I will tell you how damn awesome the Cortex (Plus) rules are, while not having used them myself.

That’s right, once I’m done showering in shame in the corner, you can click past the cut and read more about why you should give the Smallville, Leverage or Marvel RPG powered by Cortex a spin.

Alright, so what is Cortex? Cortex (or Cortex Plus, but let’s keep it short here) is the in-house system of Margaret Weis Productions. It’s a dice-pool system, using all the dice (except d20, ’cause those are so 2001) from your collection. It’s also a universal system, ready to be implemented in any setting. It’s available in its raw form, but RPG bestsellers like the recent Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game are powered by it as well.

That gives me the opening to share with you the first reason why Cortex is great: the authors prove its flexibility. Really, after powering three different games, Cortex has proven that it is useable in any kind of game. The Marvel RPG shows how it can be used to run a game focused on superheroic feats and out-of-this-world dramatic action. The same engine is used in Leverage, but there it enables a group to play stories of well-planned heist. Both games are not your cup of tea? What, you’re more into young adult drama, with a dash of supernatural powers? Here, have my copy of Smallville, and witness how the Cortex system handles personal drama and believable character development in the world of Superman’s youth.

Well, if you’re more of a rules junkie and don’t care much about setting, what does Cortex offer you then? How about a really wonky and unpredictable success curve due to the use of different die types? In many games that use just one kind of die, success and failure are really predictable. Not so in Cortex: when you have to roll a d4, d8 and d10 together, adding the highest two rolls, it’s really hard to apply your chance calculations. This unpredictable, chaotic nature gives the rules a certain allure, like that girl everyone tells you is crazy, but that you hang with because you just never know where you will end up when you’re with her.

Finally, Cortex is simple. Really, I can explain the basic mechanic to even the greatest newbie in just a few minutes. The character sheets of the games powered by it are short, and don’t confuse newcomers with fancy calculations. In a way, Cortex is a really great way to get people into the hobby of tabletop RPG’s.

So, if this bit has convinced you to check out Cortex, follow the links in this post, and try for yourself. In order to clear my troubled mind, I will put a Cortex-powered game at the top of my gaming list. Practice what you preach, Chin, practice what you preach!


  1. Cortex is a great system and I think it’s a pity that it never caught on as much as it did. Adding dice from multiple sources was a great mechanic, but sadly it did result in wonky probability curves that turned off a lot of players.

    1. Well, it’s a shame though. The wonky curves make rolling in the Cortex system actually interesting. For example, when playing the d10 dicepool system that is the World of Darkness, you can be really sure of success once your dice pool hits a certain number. Makes things a wee bit too predictable…

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