Old School Cortex!

Using Cortex Prime RPG to build a West Marches game

I had a dream sometime last week. I was playing at a fantastically large table of gamers, in the dream, this was normal in that dreamy way. I looked down at my character sheet, it was my turn to do a thing. I assume since my sheet had affiliations and distinctions I must be playing Cortex Prime. Then I saw Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha… and AC!

SO I’m running with that from my dream, play a few sessions, make changes, iterate.

If you missed part one of my Mad Lands redesign post.

Into the Mad Lands 2.0

The character sheet

Distinctions - you get three at D8/D4. This is Cortex RAW.


I’ve got lists of possible affiliations and suggestions from some of you! Thanks! At the time of this post, here’s my current favorite.

Mundane is the natural world, the humdrum, the material world, and matters.

Arcane is the world of creativity, fire, Magicks, eldritch forces, the esoteric matters.

Profane is the realm of the sacred become not sacred. Of light and darkness and the non-human entities that dwell there. The unnatural manifestations in the mundane world.

You assign D10, D8, D6 among these.


These are tried and true and a good solid place to start. I’m going with it, but I will leave off intelligence. I don’t have a use for it yet, I believe we can infer a great deal about what your character knows through specialties chosen, affiliations, and distinctions. YMMV.

You are already familiar with these: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Charisma.

Assign a D10, D8, and 3D6. You can step-up a die by stepping-back another. D10 is Max.


I’ll need to put a list of specialties together. These are ranked D8, D10, or D12 IIRC. This is also a way or a flag to infer what a character understands about the world. I can readily say yes to questions based on specialties a person may have.


The resource pool. There are a myriad of resource and gear systems out there for OSR. I plan to pick one I dig and bring it on over. But another very cool thing is to be able to expend a resource die from your ‘pack’ giving some equipment mechanical weight. Initially, I’m thinking these dice don’t refresh, they are consumed and gone. There’s an exchange of treasures found to resource pool dice that could happen. I don’t need to solve this right now. I can cook on it. Resource management is a thing I like to include but in a Cortex way.


These are the most exciting for me in thinking about a Cortex Prime based west marches game. Suppose you’ve bought in. You made your character, looked at the map, schedules some play…but what do I do?

You get two milestones. One might be a session or group milestone.


Milestone: Mad Lands Newbie

  • 1 XP: Every new hex visited.

  • 3 XP: Explore your first site.

  • 10 XP: Use each affiliation at least once on an expedition

Milestone: Kaltro Wagons Bounty

The merchant Kaltro has wagons missing out in the wild and wants them back.

  • 3 XP: Discover where the wagons are and what happened

  • 10 XP: Bring back Kaltro’s wagons

Session Milestone: The lost city of Mu

  • 1 XP: lead/join an expedition to the blue rock caves

  • 3 XP: Explore the blue rock caves

  • 10 XP: recover a Mu artifact from the blue rock caves, or quit the quest and never return to the caves!


Ideally, you pick an archetype. Archetypes might model classes at first, Elf, Dwarf, mage, exorcist, specialists. I also see archetypes like Warden, Marshel, Exile, Noble…

In the archetype set up, I can add talents or abilities that are specific to say, an Elf, a Dwarf. The Noble may have relationships, Signature assets specific to being a Warden.

Into the Mad Lands 2.0

On my first pass of what a Cortex character might be in my Mad Lands season two, this feels very close to BX D&D —that’s a good start. Through some actual play with this, I expect changes and through those changes differences.

Got any resource or equipment systems you dig? Or travel mechanics you’re excited about? Share them with me!

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