Written by Jeremy Morgan, tabletop games editor, gamer, and software developer.
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Planscape 4E - The Planes, Fate, and Cortex+

8 December 2011

It finally happened. I screwed up. I mistakenly talked about Aspects in Cortex+. The problem with that is Aspects are a thing in FATE, not Cortex+. Color me embarassed.

The concept stands though. I got a good bit of feedback from some amazing people that I’ll list at the end. Credit where credit is due. First, let me give you some insight into my thought process. There were two blog posts that led me to this recent series of blog posts.

The Planes Are Characters

The first was one from Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions found here, in which he talks about Gumshoe (which I almost nothing about). The part that struck me was actually in relation to Fate, and I’ve replicated it below.

Designer’s note: Folks familiar with my blather about how — in Fate — “everything is a character” might notice a similar principle at work in both of these long term themes. Each takes the notion that Gumshoe is a mystery game and decides to locate some of that mystery in the characters themselves, directly or indirectly.

Everything is a character? Light bulb! The planes are a character! They have “motivations” (really there is a dominant philosophy at work while there). Let’s run with that.

The Planes Impose Stresses

Next was a post from Ryan Macklin about hacking stress in Cortex+. I took that general concept and added to my “the planes are characters”. Light bulb! The planes have motivations/philosophies that they impose on visitors (our brave adventurers).

Characters Have the Power

Both Adam Minnie (on Twitter and Google+) , Cam Banks (on Twitter and Google+), et. al. weighed in on Google+ to ask questions and help me clarify my thoughts on it. Big thanks to them and Fred and Ryan for the inspirations.

Cam in particular led me to the following mechanic which I will steal shamelessly for use. The quote is below:

In general, I prefer situations where the player gets to choose whether or not they do something bad for their character without the GM pushing that button mechanically. Distinctions for example earn you a d8 for your roll OR you get a d4 (still technically a bonus, but more likely to roll a 1) AND a Plot Point. Because the game revolves around the PP economy, this is an interesting choice to make and not only affects the narrative, it puts it all in the player’s hands.

For now, I’ll put the power in the character’s hands by allowing them to add a d4 + Action Point or d8 for any roll in which they let me “push the stress button.” That may not give me the incentive I want, but we’ll use it for now.

This presupposes that I’ve made the characters use motivations instead of alignments, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I think the motivations (which I might call a worldview) have a better feel than the old alignment system. It will also help take care of Lawful stupid and Chaotic stupid hopefully.


So I’ve think we’ve made some progress and given you insight into my thought process. I’ve been accused of making weird connections before, but I think this is all pretty reasonable. Leave a comment or ask me a question below. Think I’m on to something here? Something you might use in your own game? You can fire off a tweet to me on Twitter or a post on Google+.


Simon T. Vesper said:

I’ve started a similar project: I’m including a link to this site as a reference point. Thanks for the ideas.

Adam said:

It’s a good thought process. I’m fascinated when I see how other people’s inner workings play out. I like your determination to make the planes characters that can impose motivations on the characters. In 4e I’ve tried using a few houserules that gives players incentives to inconvenience themselves, or risk getting themselves into trouble, which, strictly speaking, is what Cortex Plus Distinctions do. As a GM I don’t like forcing characters’ weaknesses to the spotlight, but if players are rewarded for it, they’ll want to themselves, which ultimately makes for a better tale.

I wonder if different planes should impose different conditions/stress types based on power source. So Divine folks will fare differently in Limbo than Psionics, while Martial folks have a rough time in the the grey wastes, but Arcane just feel a tickle.

No worries about the confusion, they’re similar concepts with different executions.


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