Cortex Plus – “Should I add a new Role?”

I am very pleased to introduce the first post by a new contributor Craggle. He has a keen mind for hacking design and ideas that excite me, so I hope you benefit from his musings as much as I do. ~ Adam

Over on the forums, a thread was started asking whether the Roles in Leverage were encompassing enough and should something like Driver be added to the list due to the common element of a wheelman in much heist fiction.  As I somewhat delight in mucking about with the Cortex Plus engine almost as much as I do playing and running it, it got me to thinking on what makes something a Role in Cortex Plus Action?

You see, in the default rules, “Driver” is a Specialty that comes under another Role such as Hacker or Hitter, depending on if you’re the sort to know the complete workings and spec of your vehicle, or an aggressive driver.  This is largely because Roles for the game are already defined by the show it emulates and the show’s crew isn’t shown driving too particularly often; this led me to consider two key questions to ask yourself when considering which Roles to include in your own hacking of the system.

The Two Questions

1. Does the area cover something that at least one of the players will be doing nearly every session?
2. Will the area be something attempted by one or two other players on at least a handful of occasions, or by every other player at least once, in a campaign?

Unless the answer to both of the above questions is an unquestionable “Yes”, what you’re looking at is almost certainly either a Distinction or a Specialty; an answer of “Maybe” and certainly an answer of “No” for either clearly indicates that what you are considering adding doesn’t have enough of a focus in your game to merit being a Role.

Examples from TV and Film…


Let’s consider the TV show Leverage as if we did not have the preset Roles laid out for us and we were trying to work out a nice combination to portray through the rules. Near enough every episode has someone for Elliott to punch, someone for Sophie to charm, something for Hardison to hack or forge, and something that needs stealing or somewhere that needs infiltrating for Parker.  Not to mention there’s always a mark for Nate to outsmart.

Now think across all the seasons. There have been many occasions requiring everyone to Grift; even Sophie wound up in a Hitter situation on at least one occasion (Reunion Job); and many of the crew have needed to pick pockets–if not locks–with Thief.  Most of the crew have partially run or planned at least one con. thus employing Mastermind, and everyone seems to have used a gadget or computer training from Hardison at some point.  This means that our Roles of Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Thief, Mastermind are a superb match for a “Leverage campaign.”


Compare to the British show, Hustle: Most episodes go by without a single punch thrown and while you may get the impression that a few of the crew can at least handle themselves in a tussle, it comes up so rarely that we definitely want to throw out the Role of Hitter from this campaign.  Similarly, Hacking as it applies to breaking electronic security hardly ever raises its head in any of the episodes; in this case, it’s better replaced with Forger as a Role, as they do falsify credentials, articles, and websites with regularity.  In fact, Hustle focuses almost solely on the human interaction of the con artist crew; “breaking and entering” rarely features prominently, so Thief is better relegated to a few Distinctions like Pickpocket.  Meanwhile, there is a fair distinction made of Albert’s role as Roper compared to the general Grifting of the others, and there are plenty of times when characters call in favours for some extra bodies or equipment.  Therefore, for a “Hustle campaign” a suggestion for Roles would be Roper, Grifter, Forger, Fixer, Mastermind.

Fly Boys and Boy Racers


Now let’s consider a different genre with Firefly and ask the question: Is Pilot a Role?  Well, there’s no question that Wash flies the Serenity in pretty much every episode, but there are only a few cases where it features dramatically enough to warrant rolling dice.  In addition, the only time we ever get an indication that anyone else has any real talent at flying the rickety old boat is in the closing of the movie.

So no, for a “Firefly campaign”, Pilot is almost certainly best handled by Wash having the Distinction of Specialty “Possibly the best gorram pilot in the ‘Verse” on his sheet instead.  Similarly, we probably won’t have Doctor, Companion, Shepherd, or Mechanic as Roles; although all these have a common theme in that they largely “repair” things, either mechanically, medically, spiritually, or emotionally. As such, we probably want to have one Role encompassing the restorative concept as a whole, and let players further refine their own fields with Specialties.

Gone in 60 Seconds/The Fast and the Furious

How about if we were running a Gone In 60 Seconds campaign, where the Job each game revolved around stealing a vehicle or group of cars?  (Doesn’t seem like a hook for a long running campaign, but lets stick with it for the moment.)  Do we include a Driver Role now?  Well, if every Job involves stealing something that drivable, driving will come up a lot.  In all likelihood, a strong focus of the campaign will be car chases.  And it’s easy enough to envision cases where more than one player will need to drive simply by having a group of cars to steal under pressure of time.  In this campaign, we’re probably substituting car chases for fight scenes as far as action sequences go, so it makes the most sense to switch out Hitter for Driver, and keep the remaining Roles as they are.

Looking Forward

So there we are: some thoughts to take on board when considering which Roles to include in your own adaptations of Cortex Plus.  Adam has very kindly invited me to collaborate on some postings here on his blog, and I hope to write up some notes, thoughts, and play reports as I and my gaming group adapt a combination of the Smallville and Leverage rules to a new Firefly game. So expect to see more posts from me coming down the line in future.  Afterall, you can’t stop the signal…

About craggle

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.
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1 Response to Cortex Plus – “Should I add a new Role?”

  1. Pingback: United We Stand – Teaming Up in Cortex Plus, Part 1 | Exploring Infinity

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