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Heroic Fantasy [Cortex Prime]

Example Characters

Prime Core

The Cortex Prime Game Handbook has recently been released after a long kickstarter cycle and as an early backer I can honestly say it was worth the wait. I strongly recommend interested parties to check it out; I think you'll like what you find.

Cortex Prime is a toolkit type of game, which offers a foundation of basic rules and various mods that build on or alter those basic rules; it is also intended for GM's to apply their own home brewed mods; this is often fondly referred to as a "hack" within the community. This document provides information on which of the elements of the Cortex Prime game handbook rules should be used, including various mods described in the Cortex Prime game handbook and plus a few custom mods, with the intent of running one offs or campaigns in a generic high fantasy setting of your choosing.

It may also be useful to open one of the sample characters linked to above in a separate browser tab or window and periodically refer to the character sheet while perusing this document to see how it all fits together.

Character Types

Instead of the various types of characters described in the Cortex Prime game handbook, this hack recognizes major, minor, and minion characters, while mobs and extras are treated as a kind of asset. Player characters and significant GMPCs are considered to be major characters, which are created and progressed using the rules provided in the Prime Characters section below. This is discussed in more detail in the Characters document.


This hack uses the dice rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook. A summary of how dice pools are formed and used with all the various mods this hack uses is provided in the Dice and Dice Pools document.

Action Order Conflict Resolution

This hack uses the Action Order mod described in the Core Prime game handbook, which means that action and reaction based resolution is used instead of tests and contests.


This hack uses the traits rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook. Details about specific kinds of traits is provided in the Defining Characters section

Plot Points

This hack uses the Plot Points rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification. A summary of how Plot Points are gained and spent when using this hack is provided in the Plot Points document.

Starting Plot Points

Major characters start each session with a number of Plot Points equal to the character's Starting Plot Point Rating. This is one (1) Plot Point by default, but characters can increase their Starting Plot Point Rating via progression. This is described in more detail in the Defining Characters section.

Use Them Or Lose Them

Using this hack, any unspent Plot Points are lost at the end of the session.

Doom Pool

This hack uses the doom pool mod as described in the Core Prime game handbook.

Crisis Pools

This hack allows a GM to form crisis pools from dice in the doom pool.

Assets and Complications

This hack uses the assets and complications rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification.


This hack uses the Stress mod described in the Core Prime game handbook, but slightly altered. Major and minor characters have a Body Stress track and an Ego Stress track. Each track has a d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 slot on it. Minions do not have Stress tracks.


This hack uses the Trauma mod described in the Core Prime game handbook, but slightly altered. Major characters have a Body Trauma track and an Ego Trauma track. Each track has a d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 slot on it. Minor characters and minions do not have Trauma tracks.

Stressed Out

Characters can be taken out of a Scene by suffering too much Stress or Trauma (referred to as being Stressed Out in Core Prime). However, major characters are more resilient than minor characters who are in turn more resilient than minions.

Taking Out Major Characters

If a major character already has d12 Stress and would suffer more Stress of that kind, they instead suffer d4 Trauma of the same kind. In other words, if a major character with d12 Body Stress would suffer any amount of additional Body Stress they instead suffer d4 Body Trauma, and if a major character with d12 Ego Stress would suffer any amount of additional Ego Stress they instead suffer d4 Ego Trauma.

A major character with d12 Stress and some amount of the same kind of Trauma remains in a Scene but cannot take actions, and generally can't take reactions either though the GM might allow a character to spend one (1) Plot Point to take a passive defensive reaction, depending upon the circumstances and the justification. Characters in such a state are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated as befits the narrative.

If a major character's Trauma is cleared or their Stress is stepped down to less than d12, they become able to take actions again. In other words, a major character with d12 Ego Stress and any amount of Ego Trauma can't take actions until their Ego Stress becomes a d10 or less, or until their Ego Trauma is cleared, and ditto for Body Stress and Body Trauma.

If a major character already has d12 Trauma and suffers more Trauma of that kind they are defeated and removed from play. They might be dead or they might just be horribly maimed, reduced to gibbering insanity, rendered souless, or otherwise drastically impaired as befits the narrative. In the case of a player character, even if there is some remote glimmer of hope that the character might recover from their traumatic experience eventually, the player should make a new character to play in the meantime.

Taking Out Minor Characters and Minions

If (after relevant defenses are applied) a minor character suffers any amount of Trauma or already has d12 Stress and would suffer more Stress of that kind, they are taken out.

Minions do not have Stress tracks. If (after relevant defenses are applied) a minion would suffer any negative effect (Stress, Trauma, or Complication) at a die step higher than their Tier, they are taken out.

In either case, if a minor character or minion is taken out it is left to the GM's determination what form this takes as best fits the narrative. The character might be dead or incapcitated, or they might run away or cower behind cover, or they might simply exit the Scene under some pretext. Regardless, they cannot participate further in the Scene unless something occurs that would allow them to regroup or recover.

Prime Characters

High level details on how to create a player character are provided below, with an explanation of Advances and a summary of each kind of character attribute; additionally links are provided to detailed documents on the more complex subjects for those who prefer the in depth treatment.


This hack uses the distinction rules as described in the Core Prime game handbook, with modification.

No Distinction SFX

This mod removes the ability for SFX to be applied to distinctions described in the Core Prime game handbook and the behavior of the default Hinder SFX as described in the game handbook is instead simply implicit: though a distinction is normally added to a dice pool as a d8 if a player can explain why one of their character's distinctions creates dramatic tension or complicates the emerging situation they can instead add a d4 to their dice pool; the character gains one (1) Plot Point for doing so after the action or reaction has been fully resolved.


NOTE: for those familiar with Fate Core this mod can be assumed to work in the same way as compelling character Aspects does in that game, with Plot Points being equivalent to Fate Points.

Using this mod players (including the GM) can request another player's character to take action or get involved with the story by offering a Plot Point and compelling one of that character's distinctions. To do this the person doing the compelling must explain why they think the compelled character's distinction is relevant to the situation and generally how they think the compelled character should behave or respond in a way that has an effect on the emerging narrative. Play pauses while the details of the compel are worked out.

Zero-sum or anemic compels that don't really change the narrative and just amount to one player trying to micromanage another player's portrayal of their own character should be shot down. Similarly if the rest of the players at the table think a compel is inappropriate or doesn't make sense to the character or the situation, they can collectively veto it. In either case the Plot Point spent by the compelling player is returned to the Plot Point Reserve; this discourages players from wasting time with frivilous or overreaching compels.

Some negotiation is allowed between the compelling player and the compelled player (and can be suggested by other players at the table) to dial back compels that go too far, are too specific, or otherwise rob the controlling player of too much agency over their character to find a compromise that both parties can agree to.

If table consensus is that a compel is valid, and the player whose character is being compelled simply does not want to agree to the compel they can spend one (1) Plot Point to reject the compel; both the Plot Point spent to compel them and the Plot Point spent to reject the compel return to the Plot Point Reserve.

Play then resumes, and if a compel has been accepted the compelled character's player describes what their character does to satisfy the compel; after that is resolved the character gains the Plot Point spent by the compelling player.

Creating Characters

The most significant mod used by this hack is a point buy character generation mechanic referred to as Advances. Player characters and significant GMPC's start with a certain number of Advances that are spent to buy their starting abilities; more unspent Advances are gained as play proceeds which are spent to upgrade existing abilities and to buy new ones. The Advances mod is intertwined with several other mods such as the Tiers mod and the Milestones mod to offer a coherent unified model for character creation and progression.


This custom mod defines a mechanic called Advances which is used for the creation and progression of all major characters, which includes both player characters and significant GM controlled characters.

Advances are tracked as a number ranging from 0 to 100+, and almost all attributes and dice steps cost some number of Advances ranging from 1 to 3 Advances per increment (the advancement costs of Aptitudes, Vocations, and Abitilty Sets are given within this document in the relevant sections).

The number of Advances that are available to a character that have been applied and those that have not yet been spent should be kept track of. For instance a character that started play with 25 Advances, has earned 10 more Advances over several sessions, and has spent 5 of those Advances on character progression has 30 Advances applied and 5 unspent Advances available for future use.


This custom mod defines a prime set with one trait in it called Tier, which relates to the general power level of a character. All player characters and non-player characters have a Tier trait ranked from a d4 to a d12. A major character's Tier is derived from the total number of Advances applied to the character. Tier is a very important attribute because...

A character must always include their Tier trait in their dice pools.

Tiers and Advances

Advances Threshold
Advances Range

Tier does not cost a character Advances, instead it is determined by how many Advances have been applied to the character, as indicated by the Advances Range column of the Tiers and Advances chart. For instance a character with between 25 and 49 Advances applied to them is Competent: d6 and a character with between 50 and 74 Advances applied to them is a Veteran: d8.

Staring Characters

When beginning a new campaign the GM decides the starting Tier and all of the player characters begin character creation with Advances determined by their Tier to buy abilities with. For instance if the GM decided to start a campaign at the Competent Tier, each player would have 25 Advances to spend when making their starting character. Unspent Advances are retained and can be spent later.

A player does not have to apply all of the Advances available to their starting character if they don't want to. For instance a player making a character for a campaign starting at Competent Tier could choose to leave some of their Advances unspent and have their character start the game at Novice Tier, and apply their unspent Advances later on in the campaign to allow their character to undergo a significant escalation in capabilities after play has started. This allows a player to defer making decisions until they have a better understanding of the game, the setting, their character, and their role within the group. It also allows a player the opportunity to deliberately craft a satisfying arc for their character, such as a bildungsroman zero-to-hero portrayal.

Defining Characters

Once the starting Tier has been chosen it is very simple to make a new character; Advances can be spent to increase how many Plot Points a character starts play with each session, to increase the die steps of a set of five Aptitudes, to skill up in one or more Vocations, or to develop one or more Ability Sets by adding a new Ability trait, stepping up an existing Ability trait, or adding one or more SFX.

Starting Plot Points

Each major character has a Starting Plot Points attribute, which indicates how many Plot Points the character starts each play session with. Note that this is not a cap or a maximum; a character may gain any number of additional Plot Points during actual game play.

Each new player character begins with a Rating of one (1) in this attribute for free, which indicates that the character starts each session with one Plot Point available to them. Advances can be spent to increase this Rating, allowing a character to enter each session more prepared and ready to engage with the action.

Starting Plot Points


This Rating can be increased by applying Advances; each Rating step costs three (3) Advances.

It is important to note that the costs are not cumulative; thus if a player wanted their character to start each session with four (4) Plot Points it would cost them nine (9) total Advances not 3+6+9. When upgrading a character's Starting Plot Points from one Rating to the next, a character pays the difference in Advances between the Rating they have and the Rating they are upgrading to.


Using this hack, every major character has a prime set with five attributes referred to collectively as Aptitudes. All Aptitudes start at a d4 at no cost, but can be raised to higher dice steps individually by applying Advances as indicated in the adjoining chart.

Characters can almost always add one of their Aptitudes to a dice pool, by justifying how a particular Aptitude applies to their situation. However, the GM has the prerogative to veto a weak or nonexistent justification if they don't agree that a particular Aptitude is appropriate to a given situation or doesn't match up with what's currently happening in-game.

Aptitude Trait Costs

Trait: d4
Trait: d6
Trait: d8
Trait: d10
Trait: d12

It is important to note that the costs are not cumulative; thus if a player wanted to define their character as having Violence: d10 it would cost them six (6) Advances in total not 2+4+6. When upgrading an Aptitude from one step to the next, a character pays the difference between the step they have and the step they are upgrading to.

Aptitude Descriptions

Violence: The ability to achieve one's goals with force, confrontation, inficting or avoiding harm, or brutality. This is applicable to physical conflict more or less by default, but also applies in other situations such as threats, intimidation, verbal abuse, or savage mental attacks.

Finesse: The ability to achieve one's goals with skill, subtlety, diplomacy, dexterity, or expertise. This is applicable whenever dealing with a situation using precision, panache, technique, or dexterity.

Smarts: The ability to achieve one's goals with intelligence, knowledge, or cleverness. This is applicable in any situation where special knowledge applies, as well as any situation where a character's cognitive abilities are relevant such as resisting trickery, figuring things out, understanding implications, navigating complexity, assimilating information, or outsmarting the opposition.

Psyche: The ability to achieve one's goals with willpower, charisma, or strength of personality. This is applicable in social situations more or less by default, but also situations where a character's ego, grit, persona, or charm can change the outcome.

Awareness: The ability to achieve one's goals with vision, perceptiveness, empathy, alertness, or intuition. This is applicable in any situation where noticing things is helpful, but beyond that understanding the context in which the things perceived are relevant to each other, or forming instinctive conclusions without the need for conscious reasoning.

For instance, when attacking or defending against a Melee attack, a player can easily justify including their character's Violence Aptitude trait die in their dice pool as Violence is obviously relevant to the situation. On the other had, a player could also give a more elaborate explanation of how their character was using any of their other Aptitudes instead of Violence; as long as the explanation makes sense to the GM and the other players at the table it is fair game...and probably helps make the Scene more interesting as well.


Using this hack every major character may have a prime set of Vocations, which describe specific professions, backgrounds, fields of study, or specialized training that a character has learned, developed, or been trained in.

A character has no Vocations by default and does not have to choose any, but can have up to a maximum of five (5) Vocations. Each Vocation has four Ranks and each Rank costs some number of Advances as indicated on the Vocations Costs table.

It is important to note that the costs are not cumulative; thus if a player wanted to define their character as a Grand Master in a Vocation it would cost them six (6) Advances in total to buy that Vocation at max Rank not 1+2+4+6. When upgrading a Vocation from one Rank to the next, a character pays the difference between the Rank they have and the Rank they are upgrading to.

Vocation Costs

Indicates that a character is able to exercise a Vocation at a basic level, as would be appropriate to an apprentice or a recent graduate of an academic or trade school. This entry-level expertise primarily provides justification to know general information relevant to the Vocation, and the ability to attempt fundamental or routine tasks appropriate to the Vocation (though with a greater chance of an unintended outcome than a more senior practitioner). More advanced knowledge and tasks require a higher rank to justify.
Indicates greater ability with a Vocation, as would be appropriate to a pro, a journeyman, someone with some experience or some time on the job, an expert. In addition, a character at this Rank can invoke their Vocation once per session to give themselves or their allies an advantage if a player can explain how their Vocation applies to the situation.
Indicates mastery of a Vocation, appropriate to a person with long experience, or to a gifted prodigy. Additionally, a second free invoke of the Vocation per session is gained.
Grand Master
Indicates grand mastery of a Vocation, appropriate to the very best practitioners of that Vocation in the world. Additionally, a third and final per session invoke of the Vocation is gained. This is the highest Vocation Rank available; further depths of competence with a Vocation can be represented through Signature Exploits, Distinctions, and / or within Ability Sets if desired.

Ability Sets and Ability Traits

In this hack Power Sets are called Ability Sets and Powers aka Power traits are called Abilities aka Ability traits. Other than this name change both concepts are basically the same as defined in the Cortex Prime game handbook.

Ability Sets are containers for Ability traits, SFX, and Limits. This is where most of the crunch of the system resides, and is the primary focus for most characters.

Ability Set Costs

Trait: d4
Trait: d6
Trait: d8
Trait: d10
Trait: d12
Additional Ability Set
cumulative +1

Each Ability trait die costs a number of Advances depending upon its step. Each SFX in an Ability Set costs two (2) Advances. Each Limit in an Ability Set reduces the cost of the Ability Set by one (1) Advance, but not to less than zero (0). Trait die costs are not cumulative; for instance a d8 trait costs four (4) total Advances, and to upgrade it to a d10 costs two (2) more Adances not six (6) more Advances.

Every player character starts with one empty Ability Set at no cost which they can then spend Advances to add Ability traits, SFX, or Limits to. Each additional Ability Set costs a cumulative +1 Advance to open. For instance a character's second Ability Set costs one (1) Advance to open, their third Ability Set costs two (2) additional Advances to open, and their fourth Ability Set costs three additional (3) Advances to open, and so on. Most characters have between one and three Ability Sets.

A player character can opt to not put anything into the default empty Ability Set they start with and thus effectively have no Ability Sets if they wish, relying entirely upon their Distinctions, Tier, Aptitudes, Vocations, and Assets. This can be viable at Novice and Competent levels of play. However, such a character would likely struggle to remain relevant in higher Tiers of play.

No Mandatory SFX and Limit

This mod removes the requirement for an Ability Set to have an SFX and a Limit; the choice of whether or not to include SFX and / or Limits in an Ability Set is a matter of character concept. Thus it is permitted to have an Ability Set that has no SFX and / or has no Limits defined within it.

Custom Ability Traits

Sometimes a player or GM might end up taking one or more existing Ability traits and applying various SFX and / or Limits in an effort to model some very specific ability concept. While that approach is fine for many things, if it becomes too awkward, verbose, or inconvenient this mod allows the player or GM to instead define a new Ability trait.

One way to do this is to simply look at the provided Ability traits and write one from scratch in a similar style. Another approach is to copy the original description of the Ability trait that is most similar to the desired effect as a starting point, give the copy a new name, and then alter the copied description to suit the desired outcome by swapping or substituing facets of the ability, specializing behavior, and so on. A GM may also provide one or more custom Ability traits for use within a specific setting to codify one or more notions particular to that setting. The GM has final approval on custom Ability traits to ensure fairness and balance.

Templated Milestones

Using this hack each major character (including player characters) should have at least one (1) and up to two (2) Milestone Sets that define specific Goals the character may pursue or accomplish during the course of play to gain various Rewards.

However rather than the 1XP, 3XP, 10XP model of Cortex Prime, this hack uses a templated model that allows each player to build their own Milestone Sets by defining three Goals and picking from a list of difficulty based Rewards that their character will gain if they succeed at those Goals.

Growing Characters

More Advances are awarded after character creation as rewards for playing, for surviving risks, and for pursuing and accomplishing character specific Milestone Goals during play. Unspent Advances can be used to buy new abilities and upgrades for a character whenever a GM allows them to be spent. Dependening on the GM's preferences this might be done at any time (even during an Action Scene), or only during Transition Scenes, or only between sessions, or perhaps more seldomly.

Participation Reward

This hack awards each character one (1) Advance at the end of every full length session, unless a GM decides not to for some reason (such as if a session is cut short and will be resumed at a later date).

Doom Reward

Whenever the GM spends 2d12 from the Doom Pool to end a Scene, every player character in that Scene gains one (1) Advance.

Milestone Reward

Some Milestone Sets have Rewards that include one or more Advances.


Some particularly harsh Limits allow the GM to spend a d12 from the doom pool under certain circumstances to do things like temporarily take over or incapacitate a character, and in return grant an Advance to the affected character and possibly also other player characters who share the Scene with them.

GM Reward

A GM may at their discretion award one or more Advances as they see fit.

Prime Scenes

This hack organizes play as a Story told across one or more Acts across one or more Sessions, with each Session being comprised of some number of Action Scenes and Transition Scenes, which are themselves comprised of some number of Panels.

Multiple stories with a shared continuity featuring some or all of the same characters can be linked together as part of Story Arcs or a broader Campaign. However players other than the GM don't need to concern themselves with larger narrative structures.


A Session of play might take anywhere from a couple hours to half a day, based upon the preferences and free time of a group of players, but for sake of discussion are assumed to be about four hours of playtime on average. A given Scene within a Session might take anywhere from a handful of minutes to over an hour to resolve; for instance a Transition Scene that skips the plot ahead might simply be narrated as the equivalent of "...and time passes...", while an epic boss fight might take some time to unfold. Thus an average Session will have at least a few Scenes and might have many, as required to advance the narrative.

Action and Transition Scenes will alternate within a Session in a rythym that should feel intuitive to most people based upon shared life experience of the cadence of television shows, movies, graphic novels, comic books, and similar fiction.

Action Scenes

An Action Scene is a period of time centered on a single conflict or situation, nearly always with one or more of the player characters present and participating in it. Action Scenes generally focus on answering a question, resolving a problem, settling a dispute, or settling a contested narrative direction in a definitive way. As a rule of thumb, if there are actively opposed action and reaction dice rolls or a series of dice rolls involved, it is probably an Action Scene.

While the term Action Scene might suggest fighting, investigatory and social activities can also be the focus of an Action Scene. Any time there are two or more opposed individuals or groups directly vying with each other over the outcome of a situation, it is an Action Scene. An Action Scene ends when the central conflict or situation it focuses on is resolved.

Action Order

Action Scenes are resolved in Action Order, as described in the Cortex Prime Game Handbook.

Purposeful Action Scenes

Action Scenes that just maintain status quo or waste time should be avoided. A good habit for GM's to get into before staging an Action Scene is to ask themselves the question, "what is the purpose of this conflict? what are the stakes? what can it change about the narrative?". If there isn't a solid reason to play out the Action Scene, then it should either be represented as a Transition Scene or skipped entirely. Action Scenes should further the plot in some meaningful and definitive way.

In Media Res

Action Scenes sometimes start "in medias res", which means in the middle of things, particularly at the start of a Session; the players join the narrative while something dramatic is already underway, skipping past exposition and setup. This technique can be overused, but is a fun and efficient way to get things moving quickly and when done well grabs attention and elicits rapid engagement.

Transition Scenes

Transition Scenes can take many forms, ranging from opening exposition, travel between focus locations, exploration, flashbacks, dialectic, training, montage, and so on. Basically, if the narrative is being advanced without active opposition it is a Transition Scene.

In addition to forwarding the narrative and linking up Action Scenes, Transition Scenes also allow characters to recover, regroup, and refocus themselves before heading into their next conflict.

Narrative Order

Transition Scenes are resolved in Narrative Order, which is to say in whichever order makes sense to forwarding the plot of the narrative. If one or more players (including the GM) want to assert a particular sequence of events within a Transition Scene and one or more other players want it to play out differently, it usually makes sense to cut to an Action Scene.

Resisted By The Doom Pool

Sometimes a player character attempts something during a Transition Scene that is not directly opposed but has some chance of failure and / or needs to determine a level of success, which prompts the GM to call for the player to form and roll a dice pool opposed by the doom pool. Simple, quick resolutions such as this can be handled without cutting to an Action Scene. However, if several rolls by one or more characters are necessary it might be better to cut to an Action Scene.

Roleplaying / Character Development Scenes

Some play groups prefer to roleplay "in character" at least part of the time, with players actively taking on the role of their characters and acting out interactions with each other and NPC's. In this style of play, some portion of a Session will consist of dialogue between players speaking as their characters without any dice rolling or mechanical resolutions getting in the way. These interludes are considered to be Transition Scenes which further the narrative by establishing and developing the characters.

Even if nothing else occurs in such a Transition Scene, the personalities of the focus characters and their relationships or motivations become clearer, add dramatic heft to the Session, and provide stakes for caring about their ongoing tale.

Time Passing Between Sessions

If play continues across multiple Sessions, it is possible that some in game time has elapsed between ending the last Session and rejoining the narrative in the current Session. In these cases, the GM should either assume a Transition Scene has occured "off screen" in the interim or start the current session with a Transition Scene to advance the story from the end of the last Session and set the stage for the current Session.

Recovery During Transition Scenes

As characters progress through conflicts and challenges during Action Scenes, they might accrue Stress and Trauma. Transition Scenes offer an opportunity to recuperate.

Stamina and Willpower

The Stamina and Willpower Ability traits are strongly associated with recovering from Stress and Trauma. As these Ability traits are Innate even characters who do not have them listed on their character sheet are assumed to have Stamina: d4 and Willpower: d4 which at least allows eventual recovery from non-fatal Stress and Trauma. However characters with higher steps of Stamina and Willpower can recover from Stress and Trauma considerably faster, or even automatically.


During a Transition Scene all characters automatically discard any Body Stress they started the Scene with that is equal to or less than their Stamina trait and automatically discard any Ego Stress they started the Scene with that is equal to or less than their Willpower trait. Higher steps of either kind of Stress step down once. A stepped down d4 Stress is discarded.

For instance a character with Stamina: d8 suffering d8 Body Stress clears their Body Stress automatically, while a character with Stamina: d4 or Stamina: d6 who was suffering from d8 Body Stress would step their Body Stress down to d6.


During a Transition Scene all characters step down any Body Trauma or Ego Trauma they started the Scene with once. Then, a character with Body Trauma at a lower step than their Stamina trait steps down their Body Trauma once more, and a character with Ego Trauma at a lower step than their Willpower trait steps their Ego Trauma down once more. A stepped down d4 Trauma is discarded.

Recovery Roll

All major characters can attempt to beat the odds and recover faster than normal by making a Recovery roll, however they risk making their Trauma worse if they fail. Minor characters and minions do not have this option.

A major character may make an active attempt to step down a Trauma by making a Recovery roll with a dice pool comprised of their Tier and Psyche, a Distinction and / or Vocation (if relevant), either Stamina for Body Trauma or Willpower for Ego Trauma, and potentially other Ability traits if relevant. Another character with a relevant Ability may also attempt to assist a character making a Recovery roll.

The Recovery roll is opposed by a dice pool comprised of the character's Trauma die and three additional dice of the same step. For instance, if a character has d8 Trauma their Recovery roll is opposed by a dice pool comprised of four d8's. If the Recovery roll fails the character's Trauma die is stepped up; if it was already a d12 the character is either dead or maimed (Body Trauma) or rendered insane or severely disturbed (Ego Trauma). Either way, the character is no longer playable.

If the Recovery roll succeeds but the effect die is less than the Trauma die nothing happens, and the character's condition remains stable. If the Recovery roll succeeds and the effect die is equal to or greater than the Trauma die the character's Trauma die is stepped down. A stepped down d6 Trauma is discarded, and the character has fully recovered.

Extraordinary Recovery

Trauma is intentionally difficult to fully recover from, requiring narrative justification and the passage of sufficient time in most circumstances. As already described, characters with high Stamina or Willpower recover noticeably quicker than normal, but beyond that some SFX, Vocation Exploits, or Milestone Rewards allow Trauma to be stepped down, discarded, or even moved to the doom pool or to another character under various circumstances. A player that wants their character to be exceptionally robust should consider taking one or more such options.


Both Action and Transition Scenes are broken down into Panels, like a comic book or graphic novel. For those with a more cinematic outlook this is equivalent to a shot in movie lingo.

A Panel is a moment in a Scene, either framing the current situation or focusing on something interesting or dynamic...often a character taking an action. There are as many Panels in a Scene as necessary to reach a resolution, starting with an opening frame which usually sets the initial state of the Scene and ending with a final frame that represents some kind of closure for the Scene.

The GM usually describes the opening frame to establish what is going on and get everyone at the table aligned, and also describe the final frame to provide a clean exit and ensure that there is common agreement as to where the Scene ended up. However a GM can choose to allow a player to provide either the opening or final frame, or forgo either if there is a collective understanding of what is about to happen or has just happened already and thus there is no need to belabor the obvious.

To start a Panel focusing on a character, the player of the character (including the GM in the case of GMNPC's) first announces the intent of what they want to happen in their character's Panel, ideally explaining it as if it were being depicted in a comic book layout (or a story board for a movie or television show).

The action being attempted must be something that is actually possible for the focus character to do, and must make sense to the narrative. For instance, declaring that your character takes flight when they don't actually have a way to do so is invalid. Generally speaking the GM or other players will indicate when they think a player is declaring something that doesn't make sense to the character or the narrative, or else is simply attempting to squeeze too much into a single Panel and should be dialed back a bit.

If there is no opposition to the declared action, failure would be uninteresting, and a level of effect is not necessary or can be assumed to be equal to a relevant trait, then no dice rolling is necessary and the Panel plays out as described.

If there is opposition to the declared action, a chance of interesting failure, or if a level of effect needs to be determined, dice pools are formed. If another character is opposing the described action the reaction dice pool is formed by that character, while the doom pool is used to form a reaction dice pool for more generalized opposition. The action and reaction dice pools are rolled and the outcome is resolved and then the Panel is redescribed, incorporating the outcome of the dice rolling into the narrative.

Note that a single action dice pool is formed for the acting character per Panel, but with certain SFX or by spending Plot Points multiple effect dice can potentially be selected as part of the outcome resolution and in this way more than one thing can be accomplished with a single action.

After the Panel ends focus moves to another character who starts a new Panel, or the Scene ends.

Addendum: Species / Race / Culture

This hack supports making a character's species, race, or culture a significant part of their write up, but also supports not caring about such things, on a character by character basis. If one player wants to emphasize their character's species or race mechanically, they can do that. If a different player wants to focus on other things for their character, they can do that as well.

At a high level, there are three choices available to a character to model a species or race.

  • Descriptive Only: a character's species or race can just be a descriptive, cosmetic detail about the character with no mechanical representation.
  • Distinction: a character's species or race can be incorporated into one or more Distinctions, such as "Dwarf" or more narratively as something like "Dwarven Axe-master". Whenever it seems appropriate that a species or race related Distinction is relevant, add a Distinction die to the dice pool as normal. As simple as that, the character's species or race has a mechanical benefit.
  • Ability Set: a character's species or race could be defined with a species or race specific Ability Set with one or more Ability Traits and / or SFX and / or Limits. This requires an investment of Advances, but elevates species or race to be a significant facet of the character for those who prefer this approach.

Addendum: Profession / Class / Career

The idea of a character class or profession is not a first level concern in this hack. Obviously characters can spend their Advances to model a given role such as "Fighter" or "Wizard" through a combination of Aptitudes, Vocations, and Distinctions.

However, it is also ok to define Ability Sets around archetypal concepts for those who prefer that approach; thus a character could take an Ability Set such as "Cleric" or "Ranger" modeling classes made popular by standard class and level based games, or an Ability Set such as "Ratcatcher" or "Trollkiller" to model careers from various editions of a game based upon a popular IP owned by a litigious UK based company, and so on.

Addendum: Magic Systems / Spellcasters

Generally speaking spellcasting is abstracted into Ability Sets by taking traits such as Hex, Sorcery, and so on. This can be further expanded upon by setting specific Vocations that define particular magic systems, restrictions, advantages, and so forth.

Addendum: Magic / Special Items

Special items, such as magic or masterwork gear can be represented in a variety of ways, depending on how significant an item is supposed to be to the emerging story and a given character's capabilities.

  • Asset: a magic item can be represented in simple terms as a Asset. This sort of special item doesn't stick around very long, but that can be entirely appropriate for things such as scrolls, potions, and the like.
  • SFX: sometimes it is sufficient for a character to model a lesser special item as a SFX within one of their existing Ability Sets, if its thematically appropriate and the purpose of the special item is to augment something the character is already oriented towards. For instance an Elf might take a SFX: Cloak of Elvenkind ability in their existing Elf Ability Set.
  • Ability Set: special items that stick around, particularly if they are complicated or have a lot of functions, can be represented as an Ability Set. The main downside of this approach is that if characters find a special item as loot that they would like to keep, a given character may not have enough Advances to add the Ability Set to their sheet.
  • Narrative: a GM might allow a "special item" to enter play narratively and not worry about Advances or exact stats yet, and just see where the story goes. If the item takes root into the story, mechanical considerations can follow on as seems best. That sword found in the lich's trove? Maybe it is magical; maybe it does unusual things...if the players are interested they'll pursue the matter and the nature of the thing will emerge as the story evolves.

Addendum: NPC's