This isn’t my first rodeo adapting Tribe 8 to other systems. I’m betting I have posts on it elsewhere, but in short I’ve moved from The Shadows of Yesterday (which I never actually ran) to largely Fate-oriented games: Spirit of the Century, Strands of Fate, and of course Fate Core. The intent from the beginning has been to bring something more to playing and telling stories in Vimary – deeper character interactions, more emphasis on themes, more player agency and narrative control.
When I originally got the bug to investigate rebooting Tribe 8 in some official capacity, I didn’t want to use Fate again. Not that there’s anything wrong with it – I love Fate – I just wanted to do something different. my first instinct was to use Forged in the Dark. It hits a lot of the right notes, and of course it has an SRD and is free to use. Then I remembered Josh Roby’s Vimaryville game that he ran one year when I went to a Strategicon convention. I started to look into Cortex more, talked to some folk, and then started on the current Cortex Prime adaptation.
The implementation I hammered out worked well in playtests, including sessions at Big Bad Con. But just like my Fate implementations, there was something that wasn’t sitting quite right. It was very heavy on making choices from big lists, and then those choices narrowing down other choices. The lists were largely distinctions (at least 40) and SFX (100+). It captured a lot of the technical elements that make up Tribe 8, but I started to realize that it was lacking the spirit that I wanted it to have. It needed to be less rigid, less complex.
Fewer Lists, More Questions
Roleplaying games are largely asking questions, and more importantly, answering them. Quite a number of games use a design pattern I like to call “guided questions”. When making a choice about your character, you answer a few tailored question prompts first. So I started refactoring thigns by coming up with a simple set of questions that players could answer to help them write their distinctions.
There’s still some things to pick from – such as Tribe, Outlook, or Eminences – because those are important to Tribe 8. There’s just no long pick lists like I had in my previous implementation. You maybe make a choice from a handful of options, answer some questions that help you define the distinction, write it down, and that’s that. Each distinction has three general predefined SFX, and a narrow choice of highlight traits.
One of the biggest changes, both in Cortex terms and in setting terms, is the inclusion of Eminences as a universal trait regardless of the character’s origin. In Tribe 8 Eminences are framed as something only Tribals, or former Tribals, have. Those characters have, at most, two and everyone else doesn’t have them. However, there’s support in the setting for others – such as Outlanders (my less derogatory name for Squats) – to have them as well. In the interest of simplicity and aligning more with where I want Cortex Tribe 8 games to focus, I decided to replace attributes with Eminences as a prime trait set. They are basically Values, complete with a trait statement. Since only having two Eminences is a pretty poor set, I increased the number to four (inspired by how Vimaryvile was set up). Two Eminences still come from character background choice (I introduced a couple new ones to reflect Keeper or Outlander values) with a higher rating, while the other two the player chooses from the entire list.
The die-hard Tribe 8 fans are likely wondering at this point…Don’t the Eminences represent the fact that the Tribals are the only ones with connection to the River of Dream? What about Tribal passive Eminence use (which in Silhouette meant rerolling once per session, and only Tribals and Fallen could do it), does that mean anyone can do that? Or Synthesis? The answers to those questions are: it depends, yes, and no. The assumption is that the River of Dream is all pervasive, and Eminences are universal. That means that all characters can use their Eminence, and I’ve written very broad SFX that all distinctions have that let them use their Eminence in specific ways. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some SFX that only a Tribal will have (say, Synthesis, Aspects, etc.) – just like there are SFX that are more appropriate for Keepers or Outlanders. None of that prevents Eminence from being a universal trait.
Coming Full Circle
Which means I’ve come full circle back to that Vimaryville game. Yeah, there are some differences obviously – Josh’s game was based on Smallville and I think at the time neither the Cortex Hacker’s Guide was out nor was there a definition of “Cortex Drama”. But using the Eminences as value traits basically shares the same bones, and I can’t wait to be able to test it out and see if it works as well as I hope.