Featured image of post An Open Letter Regarding Cortex Prime

An Open Letter Regarding Cortex Prime

Thoughts on the current state of Cortex

Marketing and supporting a roleplaying game is tricky. Unlike a board game or video game, which aren’t really used when they’re not being played, roleplaying games are also books. They can be read as a book without being played. Moreso, those who play them like to have additional material to spur their creativity, get ideas, and help them play the game. They like to feel like a game is “supported” and worth their continued investment of time and money—both of which can be significant. A lot of RPGs are comparable to the most complex board games—if not more so—and require time and effort to learn, master, and play them.

Among roleplaying games, Cortex Prime occupies a particular niche. This niche is also populated by games such as GURPS, the HERO system, Fate, and the Cypher System. These “generic” or “universal” RPGs don’t have a predefined setting or genre in which the game takes place. It’s up to the players—or, most often, the person who purchased the game—to come up with those things. Each of these games is supported by a variety of sourcebooks to help gamemasters fill out the options they want and provide them with a foundation to make their own adjustments and changes to the game.

Moreover, Cortex Prime is in a much narrower niche. It’s a modular system and has been described as a Lego set. There are myriad ways of putting the pieces together, and more than a game using GURPS, HERO, or Fate, two Cortex Prime games can be very different from one another.

But the Cortex system as a whole, over its 15+ or so year history, has been plagued by implementations of the game going out of print or no longer being supported. The various games weren’t 100% compatible with one another in the way that GURPS or Fate games are. When Cortex Prime was first announced, it represented a break from that. It is a game independent of licensing where all of the various bits and pieces that its fans wanted to see were collected into one place and streamlined. It was something that many community members who enjoyed Cortex were excited about, and it attracted many new converts (myself included).

But while Cortex Prime has a thriving fan community who are more than willing to help out people wanting to learn to play Cortex, there is only so much the community can do. Especially in the face of a lack of official support for the game. One of the quirks of the tabletop roleplaying hobby is when a game doesn’t have published books—whether they be sourcebooks, adventures, whatever—the game is often considered “dead”. This doesn’t mean that those who already own it won’t play it, but others might pass on it because they may not feel the investment of time and energy is worthwhile. In turn, it makes it more difficult to attract players for a Cortex game or find people willing to run it. It means Cortex Prime is considered by some to be “dead”, and it’s hard to argue otherwise given the radio silence of the past couple of years.

There was a lot of hope when Direwolf Digital first took the reins of Cortex. I wanted to see Cortex succeed for a variety of reasons. I would willingly throw money at new Cortex products. But it seems like Cortex is just languishing. You were handed two awesome roleplaying games in Cortex Prime and Tales of Xadia, gift-wrapped with a bow. And nothing has happened with them. Sure, the Tales of Xadia digital tools got upgrades, but someone would have to know they were there and, moreover, be willing to use those over their favorite VTT (believe it or not, people choose what games to run based on whether they can do so in a VTT they are comfortable with). The Cortex Prime Spotlights were released, but only to those who backed the original crowdfunding campaign. I don’t know the business decision to purchase the Cortex Prime property, what the plans are with it, or what is currently being worked on. But it seems like the plan is to let it languish, and that makes me a little sad.

But I’m not writing this to complain. My intention was to give some context and impart some of the things I’d like to see:

Cortex Prime products. The Spotlights being published publicly is a great place to start. Again, they were handed to you, gift-wrapped with a bow. I will buy them if they are published, especially at the level of quality of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook.

Tales of Xadia products. Again, I will buy these. Get the Sunfire Chronicles out. Publish more Tales and Fables.

Convention support. I would have bought tickets for official Cortex events at GenCon. I have run events at local conventions and will gladly do it again, so it would be nice to have official support for them.

VTT support. Make it easier to play Cortex digitally (because, honestly, it’s one of the more difficult ones). The digital tools are neat, but there are already VTTs out there. You don’t have to boil the ocean. Partner with some of the more popular platforms.

Community supportand not just Discord. Social media, actual plays, streaming. Role and Keep was awesome, and I’d love to see it resurrected. But again, you don’t have to do it all yourself. Partner with others in the role-playing community.

Reestablish formal licensing, both community and commercial. Better yet, create an open license. Cortex is a game that asks people to put on a game designer’s hat. They want to share their creations, to know what the boundaries are, and that they are sanctioned to do so.

Otherwise, I’d suggest looking at what other TTRPG publishers are doing to support products within a similar vertical—primarily Monte Cook Games and Evil Hat Games. It’ll be easy to spot the differences in how they are supporting their products. Seek out other designers and publishers, particularly at conventions such as GenCon or Origins. And finally, you have a roleplaying game industry veteran ostensibly at the helm of Cortex. One who has shepherded it through multiple successful iterations. Listen to him if you aren’t already.

In closing, I’m sharing this feedback with the best intentions. Please take it as you will. I want to see Cortex succeed, and it won’t if some effort isn’t put into it.

comments powered by Disqus
Built with Hugo
Theme Stack designed by Jimmy