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Skip Navigation LinksHack Guidelines>Characters

Characters

Note: sometimes an Asset may be described as being one or more persons (such as "Friendly Cop: d8"); or similarly a Complication (such as "Belligerent Bully: d6"). That kind of "character" is a sort of conceptual handwave, abstracted away as a label for a die that can be included in other characters' dice pools, and is not an actual character as described in this document. However it should be noted that such a "character" who made an impression on the players while an Asset or Complication could later be given a more formal treatment; for instance Patrolman Joe Saturday who started off as a mere "Friendly Cop" Asset only to be reintroduced later as a minion or minor character might be a memorable addition to a campaign.

Cortex Plus Heroic is a very character-driven and oriented game system; the majority of the game rules describe character abilities and their mechanical application to resolving actions and reactions. Consequently, though simpler than in some games, full character write ups of player characters tend to be multipage artifacts.

While this results in well described and mechanically rich characters, the time it takes to prepare characters to that level of detail and the additional adjudication burden imposed upon the GM while running many characters during a game session would be non-trivial if all characters were described in such depth.

Fortunately, the adminstrative burden on the GM and the pacing penalty during actual gameplay that would be incurred by requiring full write ups for all NPC's is avoided with the use of multiple character modes with descending complexity.

Character Modes

There are three character modes, major, minor, and minion. The main differences between them is major characters such as player characters and the most important NPC's have full write up, but minor characters lack certain things major characters have (such as Stress Tracks, Milestones and Vocations), and minions are even more stripped down than that.

However, it should be noted that the same character can be represented as any of the character modes at different points in a campaign arc, depending upon that character's relative importance to the current plot. For instance, consider the iconic character Big T represented as a major character, a minor character, and as a minion. In one arc Big T might be a player character or significant NPC upon whom part of the plot rests (major character), in another he might be an ally for the player characters or someone whom they rescue or aid or even run afoul of (minor character), and in another he might be just a background presence or used as story fodder (minion).

Similarly, perhaps when the player characters encounter a dangerous enemy early in an arc, that antagonist is represented as a major character. Later, as the plot moves and the player characters progress, it is revealed that this enemy is really working for an even more dangerous (and probably higher Tiered) foe! At that time the original enemy might be downgraded to a minor character, and the newly revealed big bad enters play as a major character.

Major Characters

All player characters and the most significant NPC's are represented as major characters. Major characters have Distinctions, a Tier, Assets, Aptitudes, starting Plot Points, Vocations, Body Stress and Ego Stress, Ability Sets, and Milestones as described in the Hack Guidelines.

NPC Major Characters

NPC's represented as major characters are run by the GM using the same rules as apply to player characters. Of particular note, they have Milestones just like a player character. NPC Milestones should be used by the GM to encode the NPC's goals and dominant behaviors and to inform the GM's handling of them during game play. In other words, the character's agenda or plot-pushing elements should be apparent by looking at their Milestones. Why are they important to the story, what's their driving motivations that makes them as relevant as the player characters? If a GM thinks they are sitting down to make a major NPC but can't formulate Milestones for them, that's a good indication that the NPC will be better represented as a minor character.

Major NPC's gain Advances in exactly the same way as a player character. If a major NPC earns one or more Advances during a session (such as from accomplishing a Difficult or Very Difficult Milestone goal), those Advances can be applied to the NPC by the GM during the session. If managed well major NPC's advancing as they accomplish their goals and propel the narrative forward can help to drive escalating stakes and offer natural story beats. For instance if during an Action Scene a major NPC villain is trying to accomplish something nefarious and the player characters fail to stop them, the NPC could gain one or more Advances as the stated rewards for accomplishing their Milestone goal(s) and the GM could apply them immediately, making the NPC instantly more of a threat and upping the dramatic tension and stakes in a cinematically satisfying way.

Major NPC's also start with one or more Plot Points (based upon their Starting Plot Point Rating), and they gain and spend Plot Points in exactly the same way as player characters. Each significant NPC's Plot Points belong to that character; they are not treated as a generalized resources like the doom pool is and cannot be spent by the GM within the context of other NPC's. Additionally the GM can also spend dice from the doom pool to augment major NPC's actions and reactions.

Which NPCs are given the full major character treatment is left the GM's discretion, but generally speaking it should be reserved for very significant characters who have long term objectives to pursue; recurring primary antagonists (a "big boss" and sometimes their most dangerous lieutenant, for instance), and plot propelling NPC's are excellent examples of when making an NPC a major character is appropriate.

Minor Characters

Note: character write ups presented on this site can be switched into minor character mode using a query string variable appended to the url, such as: ?character-mode=minor

Many named NPC's are represented as minor characters, as are generic write ups of a kind of character...such as Goblin Champion or FBI Special Agent. Minor characters have Distinctions, a Tier, Body Stress and Ego Stress, Assets, and Ability Sets.

Unlike major characters, when a minor character's Distiction is relevant to one of their dice pools they may only add the Distinction as a d6 (they do not have a choice between a d8 or d4).

Unlike major characters whose Tier is based on the total number of Advances applied to the character, minor characters have their Tier assigned to them by the GM based upon the level of challenge or competence they want the character to present. As a notational convenience a minor character's Tier is simply appended to the end of their name, in parentheses. For instance, "Bob Smith (d6)" indicates a Competent Tier individual who happens to be named Bob, while "Gremlin (d8)" would indicate a Veteran Tier generic monster write up.

Minor characters do not have Plot Points and cannot earn them. However, their actions and reactions can be augmented from the doom pool by the GM.

Similarly, minor characters do not gain or spend Advances. However, when making minor characters the GM has free reign to name their Distinctions, set their Tier, and grant them whatever Ability Sets or Assets the GM feels is necessary to properly represent the character concept. The GM can also spend a d6 from the doom pool to give a minor character in play an Asset during an Action Scene, as it makes sense to the emerging narrative.

Minor characters do not have defined Vocations. Thus any relevant vocational concept (such as "wizard", "warrior", "thief", etc.) which matters mechanically should be represented in Distinctions and / or Ability Sets and / or Assets.

Which NPCs are given minor character treatment is left the GM's discretion. Some GM's may prefer to predominantly use them, while other might prefer to favor minions.

Minion Characters

Note: character write ups presented on this site can be switched into minion character mode using a query string variable appended to the url, such as: ?character-mode=minion

Many NPC's and generic types of characters (such as Goblin Spearthrower or Gangland Thug)... particularly expendable or unimportant NPC's...are represented as minions. Minions have between one and three Distinctions, a Tier, and potentially one or more Assets. That's it.

Unlike major characters, when a minion's Distiction is relevant to one of their dice pools they may only add the Distinction as a d6 (they do not have a choice between a d8 or d4).

Unlike major characters whose Tier is based on the total number of Advances applied to the character, minions have their Tier assigned to them by the GM based upon the level of challenge or competence they want the minion to present. As a notational convenience a minion character's Tier is simply appended to the end of their name, in parentheses. For instance, "Juan the Janitor (d4)" indicates a Novice Tier janitor write up, while "Ghostspider (d6)" would indicate a Competent Tier generic monster write up.

Unlike major and minor characters who may include up to two different Assets in the same dice pool, minions may only add up to one Asset die to a dice pool.

Minion characters do not have Plot Points and cannot earn them. However, their actions and reactions can be augmented from the doom pool by the GM.

Similarly, minion characters do not gain or spend Advances. However, when making minion characters the GM has free reign to name their Distinctions, set their Tier, and grant them whatever Assets the GM feels is necessary to properly represent the character concept. The GM can also spend a d6 from the doom pool to give a minion in play an Asset during an Action Scene, as it makes sense to the emerging narrative.

As minions do not have Ability Sets (including SFX), Distinctions and Assets are particularly important for defining their capabilities. A GM making a minion character should consider wording the character's Distinctions to suggest capabilities that a major or minor character would represent with an Ability trait. Similarly, it is appropriate for the GM to grant a minion character one or more Assets that describe capabilities that a major or minor character would represent with an Ability trait.

Like minor characters, minions do not have defined Vocations. Thus any relevant vocational concept (such as "wizard", "warrior", "thief", etc.) which matters mechanically for the minion should be represented in their Distinctions and possibly their Assets.

Minion characters do not have Stress or Trauma tracks; if a minion character would suffer Stress or Trauma or a Complication at a higher step than their Tier, the minion character is taken out. Whether the character is dead, seriously wounded, unconscious, ran away, (etc.)...or is simply no longer involved in the current Scene is left entirely to the GM's interpretation given the circumstances.

Which NPCs are given minion character treatment is left to the GM's discretion. Some GM's may prefer to predominantly use them, while other might prefer to favor minor characters. Minions offer less challenge to player characters, and as they lack Ability Sets they have fewer dice to form dice pools with on their own and thus will tend to drain the doom pool faster than minor characters due to the GM augmenting their dice pools from the doom pool more frequently.

Ad hoc Minions

A notable way in which minions are particularly useful as a GM tool is that, lacking Ability Sets and other frills, they can be quickly made up on the fly during a session. A GM can take an index card or sticky note, jot down a name and a Tier, one to three Distinctions, plus any Assets that come to mind, and they have a minion ready to put into play.

The GM can also leave a minion partially filled in or have one emerge naturally from an Asset or Complication already in play...Name and Tier is indistinguishable from a Complication or Asset, but as soon as one Distinction is added a minion has emerged. The GM could then fill in blank Distinctions as play continues as they seem relevant, and exercise their option to spend a d6 from the doom pool to add an Asset to a minion during an Action Scene to further elaborate on the minion's capabilities.

Any such minions that emerged in this way from actual game play and distinguished themselves could later be more fully represented by the GM taking the time to add one or more Ability Sets, upgrading them to minor characters.