Cycle Maps

Relationship maps are probably one of the well know features of Cortex games (specifically Smallville). They’ve been carried over into Cortex Prime as a character creation mod, as part of what’s called Pathways. Pathways overall is an awesome process for stepping through the character creation process, generating relationships, locations, and supporting GMCs. It’s very flexible and extensible, especially when it comes to integrating it with a predefined setting (such as Vimary).

In the same conceptual space as Pathways are Ryan Macklin’s Backstory Cards. These decks of cards have prompts on them that when answered help create relationships between characters, and connections to locations, groups, and events. The cards, while system agnostic, mesh particularly well with Cortex (and many other games such, as Fate, Blades in the Dark, etc.). In addition to the character prompts, Backstory Cards also have the “setting grid”. This is a table of different setting elements that are established either from card draws (one of the expansion decks includes 40 setting element cards for this purpose) or from existing details within the game’s setting. The grid can even be mostly or completely pre populated – there are setting grids like that for various games. Seeing these grids and looking over the Backstory cards themselves sparked ideas for how they can be modified for a Pathways-like system.

My basic idea is instead of going through the typical Pathways method – basically, each player choosing which element is placed on the map – that there’s a set number of each type of element (most likely three, to align with Backstory Cards). The players and GM would then take turns writing in the details and establishing connections between the elements and their characters. In the case of a prepared Cycle, some or all of the setting elements would be prewritten – all that would need to be done is connect the PCs to them and each other. That way there’s the best of both worlds – the table can make the setting their own, and yet benefit from having well-defined setting and lore. It might even be that each Cycle would have its own map, since as the game progresses so will the focus of the things that are important.

Most likely this would also dovetail into my plans for shared Resources. In stock Pathways this is accomplished by the Pathways choices the player makes. In a Cycle map, making the connections would set the Resource rating. Players could choose to reinforce an existing connection in order to add dice, instead of making a new one. Milestones will probably factor into this process somehow. Once it’s all put together, it be an excellent method of juxtaposing a strongly defined setting like Vimary and more collaborative methods.

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