Into the Mad Lands 2.0

Using Cortex Prime RPG to build a West Marches game

Intothemadlands.com is over a year old. It is a West Marches game service I Kickstarted in Oct 2019 during the Break Kickstarter promotion. It’s in my books as a win. I used Fria Ligan’s Forbidden Lands RPG and Old School Essentials (BX D&D) to provide two flavors of campaigns. Folks bought tickets to go on ‘expeditions’ in the Mad Lands. When the last tickets are used the campaign is done. The story is told.

I learned a great deal about managing games, communications, and schedules with 40+ players. I’m ready for Mad Lands 2.0.

Ideally, I’d like one RPG system to run the campaign in. I found Forbidden Lands to be fun, action-packed, and easy for new players to hop into. OSE/BX games were a hardcore group of folks, it was about mastery, challenges, very gamey, more fluid mechanics, very lethal. I enjoyed both.

Cortex Prime RPG

Disclaimer, I am a spotlight author on Cortex Prime RPG. I wrote PRIME Supers setting as a stretch goal for the Cortex Kickstarter. Marvel Heroic is the game that won me over to the Cortex toolkit. Leverage, Smallville, Firefly and I’m sure I’m missing others are all part of the Cortex strain —and they all play very differently. Now that the new Cortex Prime RPG is in print, I want to use it, push it.

This series will cover my thoughts, tests, and failures in rebuilding my Mad Lands game using Cortex Prime. Hopefully, you’ll join the conversations and we’ll get to playtest stuff.

My fuzzy metric for success is if the final product can run west marches games in both a casual and hardcore mode with fast, intuitive mechanics and as streamlined as I feel BX is.

Cortex Prime options

If you don’t know, Cortex uses dice pools. You’ll pull dice from different trait categories for tests. Maybe one from your distinction set, a specialty that applies, maybe you have an asset you can use, etc until your dice pool is built for the test at hand. Cortex setting will have different options enabled or disabled. My easy, no brainer list of Cortex options for the Mad Lands looks like this:

  • The Doom Pool. Because I love it, I’ll elaborate on this in a future post.

  • I think Distinctions are important, these are the One Unique Thing about your character —except you get three!

  • Specialties for sure, nice broad skill categories.

  • I like Milestones as advancement. These will easily tie into the game fiction and can provide answers to “what to do?” in sessions.

Now the harder stuff.

I think it would be easy to go Abilities and Roles or Skills - we can always fall back on that. I never really liked Affiliations, I feel they are too broad but I made myself play around with them, brainstorming instead of just abandoning it.

  • Ruins, Wilderness, Town

  • Arms, Lore, Arcane, (wilderness?)

  • Fire, Light, Earth??

I like the idea of Values, with statements especially coming from years of Burning Wheel. Cortex also has ways of challenging and growing these. I’d have to figure out about five values or values and relationships.

So far all the trait options (distinctions, specialties, values) are conditional and that’s tricky! Not as consistent as Ability + Skill. So values will need to be broad, or I’ll need to consider using affiliations or some other trait pool to ensure 3 dice per test.

My gut says Talents or Abilities can easily handle races like Elf, Dwarf, etc, and wizardly spells and invocations.

Complications will handle injuries and combat wounds, though I might look at the rules for stress tracks —that could be a casual or hard mode option.

I’ll spend the week roughing up something for a review then some playtesting.

Have you played with Cortex Prime yet? What’s working for you?