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D&D Ideas — Cortex Prime RPG

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is Cortex Prime RPG, which we discussed in our live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST and talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of Cortex Prime RPG, in Enemy at the Gate a mysterious enemy whose consciousness is shielded from detection causes terrible woe to befall adventurers. See what I did there? This and 54 other dynamic encounters ready to drop right into your game come straight Out of the Box here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates, info on how to game with Nerdarchy and ways to save money on RPG stuff by signing up here.

5E D&D ring of mind shielding out of the box enemy at the gate nerdarchy
The titular enemy in Enemy at the Gate conceals what’s going on in their cortex with a magic ring. It’s a stretch, I know. [Art by Kim Van Deun]

Nerdy News

Get a taste of what’s going on in our brains from the week that was. Play your next D&D game as a friendly octopod, explore what lies beyond death and more plus live chats with creative pros and live game plays highlight this week’s Nerdy News. Check it out here.

Delving Dave’s Dungeon

We are about to do the unthinkable — talk about other RPGs. There are two reasons for this as D&D creators. As most of you know we make videos on YouTube about D&D, but we also create products for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

First, we just like playing other games and it’s possible to burn out on D&D like anything else. By taking a break from D&D or mixing in different roleplaying games it helps recharge the creative juices.

Second, once you’ve begun creating products for a game you’ve moved into the space of being a game designer. Even if you don’t have any designs of becoming a game designer on a professional level what I’m about to talk about is still useful if you are a Dungeon Master.

Part of being a DM, especially if you create homebrew content, is essentially being a game designer. As a game designer I think it’s a good idea to expose yourself to new rules and mechanics. This can offer up a new perspective for things to add or to be augmented in a game. Some games are more narratively driven than mechanically. Perhaps this inspires you to try to work that into the D&D games you play. For instance one of the things we’ll do from time to time is allow players agency to add narratively to the story beyond their characters. In D&D this is usually solely the realm of the DM. We’ve decided in our own games to make this change.

Go forth and explore other RPGs!

One of the games on our radar is the Cortex Prime RPG. I’ll talk about the game briefly and then throw out some ideas to cherry pick for D&D. Cortex Prime RPG is a narrative based game. It is capable of great complexity but can also be played in its simplest form. The main mechanic operates off of dice pools consisting of all your standard polyhedral dice minus a d20 and the percentile dice.

At its simplest form you could design a character by simply describing them with a sentence or two.

Character Concept. I’m a Noble Knight from a Wealthy Family. Any time you want to do something you roll a dice pool of 2d6 and add them together. Does your character concept make you better at the thing you are attempting? When the answer is yes, add a third d6 and keep the highest two results. The Game Moderator rolls one or more six sided dice to set the target number you are trying to beat. If either of you roll a 1 that is called a hitch and the die doesn’t count. The GM then gives a plot point for the hitch (you only get one no matter how many 1’s you roll.) You can later use this plot point to add another die to your pool. There are a lot of mods and more advanced rules to the game.

A part of the game is stepping that d6 up or down. There are a lot of things that do this. I think this could be a fun mechanic to tinker with in D&D.

Magic Weapons. When you hit with and attack you can spend your inspiration to step up the damage die for the weapon. A dagger goes from a d4 to a d6. A longsword wielded in one hand goes from a d8 to a d10. The same longsword wielded in two hands goes from a d10 to a d12. Weapons dealing d12 or 2d6 damage are a little trickier. Maybe 2d6 goes to 2d8 and a d12 goes to 3d6.

What about boons, curses, magical places, magic items and other effects that change your hit dice for recovering hit points during a short rest? They could step the dice up or down. A curse can cause all healing dice rolled on a character to be one size smaller regardless of how the healing happens — short rest, potion, spell or class feature. If you are rolling dice then the die will go down by one size. Charms that could do the opposite might be fun as well.

Importing one mechanic for a game I am just starting to delve into has already inspired ideas. This is why I am a fan of branching out into other RPG systems.

From Ted’s Head

The Cortex Prime RPG system offers a number of great things to incentivize checking it out. I am sure Dave and Doug have already filled this newsletter with their thoughts. So rather than rehash some of their thoughts I figured why not give you what you want — something D&D related.

In order to do this I am going to have to stretch out the concept a bit. Let’s start at the beginning. What does cortex mean?

Cortex. The outer layer of the cerebrum (the cerebral cortex), composed of folded gray matter and playing an important role in consciousness.

With Eberron: Rising from the Last War and other settings adding technology into our typical fantasy setting is there a way to use the term cortex in a way that makes sense? Illithids, powerful telepaths, harness psychic energy and though the elder brain are able to communicate across great distances. In a slave uprising a duergar arcanist of some skill who had spent decades under the mind flayers’ rule was inspired by the creature’s ability to communicate like they do. Using the remains of the slain elder brain this dwarf made something amazing.

The Cortex is a power but uniquely designed magic item. Anyone with access can attune to the item like any other taking up an attunement slot, but it bestows upon them the ability of telepathy with anyone else also attuned to the Cortex.

Initially created by the dark dwarves to use as a weapon against their hated enemies, the illithid, it is possible more were created to be sold and distributed to races on the surface. Rumor has it there are multiple options created offering resistance to psychic damage to those attuned while weaker versions have a delay on how fast the thoughts travel to the connected minds.

The Cortex is styled after the elder brain. Typically a heavy contraption that looks like a brain made of copper or brass with a dark red liquid moving inside. Some believe the duergar have another agenda with the Cortex and others take them at their word and just want the mind flayers eliminated.

From the Nerditor’s desk

There’s a lot of roleplaying games on my shelves and I’ve been excited for every one but if I’m honest Cortex Prime RPG really smacks of something extra special. Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and all of D&D, will forever remain enshrined in my heart and whenever I feel the call to solve puzzles, talk with other characters, battle fantastic monsters and discover fabulous magic items and other treasure it’ll be my No. 1 choice.

I’ve got to say though, Cortex Prime RPG has the chops to satisfy all my other funny shaped dice rolling needs. Learning new RPG systems is not listed under special skills on my CV so this truly adaptable game and the incredibly accessible baseline version Dave mentioned won me over right away.

One of my favorite RPG activities is playing a game with someone for their first tabletop experience. D&D runs so deeply in my gamer blood it’s easy for me to introduce someone to the game but at the same time it can be a lot to absorb even pared down to the barest minimum.

In contrast I feel like someone with zero RPG experience could play or even run Cortex RPG with just a few minutes going over a single page of rules from the upcoming release of the book.

It probably sounds like I’m hyping the new hotness. In a way I suppose this is true — I’m excited and I hope others share the feeling for a cool new RPG experience. I know how much y’all love that D&D (me too!) and the bosses are watching but I don’t have an insightful takeaway from Cortex RPG to apply in 5E D&D. Instead I’d encourage you to visit the Cortex site and get acquainted. I’ve get a strong suspicion this game’s impact on the tabletop RPG scene will be big. Take a look and see what you think here.

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