System:Cortex Plus

Whenever you take an action, first state what you’re trying to do in general terms: Get past the guard, distract the target from your ally, escape from the thugs, etc. Pick appropriate dice from each of your Traits – Attributes, Drives, Distinctions, Specialties, Abilities, Assets, and Resources – to form your Action Pool; you can only add one die from each Trait. You can also add Complications that affect your target to your pool, if they’d help you accomplish your goal. You can spend a Plot Point to step up or double a die, one per die; dice cannot be doubled more than once.

Roll the dice, pick two, and total them up; this is your Action Total. You can spend a Plot Point to add another die to your total, one per die. Dice that come up 1 can never be added, though.

Whoever rolls first, usually the opposition, sets the stakes. The target (usually a player), then rolls. If his Action Total is higher, he has raised the stakes. If you raise the stakes, you succeed; if you don’t, you fail. In either case, you describe in detail how you succeeded or failed. Own your failures! Adventures are made from hardship, not easy victory.

Wherever possible, the Gamemaster should use a Supporting Character's Traits to create the Action Pool. If there's no Supporting Character involved, though, just roll the Doom Pool.


When you set the stakes by building a dice pool and rolling, you’re determining an outcome. A roll that might result in being Taken Out is a high stakes roll. If you’re Taken Out, you can’t act in the scene any more – normally. You might be knocked out by a punch, rendered speechless by an opponent’s argument, or marching off in a huff from a well-placed insult.

A roll can be high stakes for only one side, but in the case of minor or major supporting characters it is usually high stakes for both, if either; attack invites counter-attack. These are frequently Contested Actions.


Whenever a player rolls a 1 on any of his dice, the Gamemaster adds a d6 to Doom or steps up an existing Doom die. Whether or not the action succeeds or fails, things have gotten a little tougher for the players.

When the Gamemaster uses an Opportunity, the player who rolled the 1 gets a Plot Point. The Doom die starts as a d6; for each additional 1 in the same die roll, it is stepped up by one degree.

Gamemaster Opportunities

When the Gamemaster rolls a 1 on his dice, it presents an Opportunity for the player characters. Any player can spend a Plot Point to activate the opportunity.

Players can activate an Opportunity to step back a Complication. In this case, step back the Complication up by one for each 1 rolled. Complications stepped back below d6 are removed.

Gamemaster Opportunities may also be used to activate Limits for Supporting Characters, or for some SFX.

Success and Failure

When you raise the stakes, you got what you wanted; if you don’t, something goes wrong. If you raise the stakes by 5 or more, you have an Extraordinary Success. Extraordinary successes have some special benefits.

Creating Complications

If the roll is not high stakes, your failure may subject you to a complication; if you succeed, you may inflict a complication on your opponent. The complication starts as the same die as highest rolling die in the winner’s pool. If you roll an Extraordinary Success, your Complication may be Stress.

Taken Out

When you lose a high stakes roll, you’re Taken Out; you’re also Taken Out if one of your Complications is stepped up above d12. You can no longer act normally in the scene. You may be unconscious, embarrassed, sobbing, or forced to leave, but one way or the other it’s over for you.

Mostly. In an emergency, you can still take a Limited Action, but it will cost a Plot Point for each Limited Action, and you only get to keep one die for your total after you roll. Plot Points can be spent to keep extra dice, as usual.

If you’re Taken Out by a high stakes conflict, you can return to the action as soon as the conflict that caused you to be Taken Out is resolved, usually in the next scene. But if you were Taken Out by a Complication, you have to recover the Complication before you can act again.

Variations on Actions

Beyond the Basic Actions described above, there are a few other kinds of Actions for special circumstances.

Ability Actions

When you roll an action using an Ability, you have the option to spend a Plot Point and automatically succeed, unless your opponent opposed you with an Ability of his own. You can do this even after you have rolled the dice. The GM must agree that the action is appropriate to your Ability.

Specialty Actions

Like a Basic Action, a Specialty Action is a single roll of the dice. In this case, the player character is setting the stakes, as opposed to trying to beat the stakes the Gamemaster sets. The opposition is a Supporting Character. Specialty Actions set up the situation in such a way as to make further actions more successful. As the name implies, a Specialty Action must include one of your Specialties.

If the Gamemaster doesn’t raise the stakes set by the player, the Specialty Action succeeds. If he does raise the stakes, it just means you didn’t set up a favorable situation initially.

If you succeed at a Specialty Action, you can spend a Plot Point to create an Asset. You can, if you wish, bank the Asset for use in a later scene rather than using it immediately. So you might use your Diplomat d8 Specialty to create a Good First Impression, and then call on that in a later scene with that Supporting Character. If you roll an Extraordinary Success, step up the Asset.

Notice Actions

Any time a player character wants to get a read on someone, case a location, spot something out of the ordinary, or generally use his senses, he’s rolling a Notice Action. The Gamemaster usually calls for a Notice Action, but a player can ask for one if he as some idea of what he’s looking for. The stakes for Notice Actions are usually set by rolling the Doom Pool, though if a Supporting Character is actively trying to conceal information his Traits may be used instead.

With a successful Notice Action (the player rolls higher than the Gamemaster), the player gains some useful piece of information. If you spend a Plot Point, you can convert that into an Asset to be used in a later scene, just as with a Specialty Action; on an Extraordinary Success, step up the Asset.


A sweep targets more than one foe; the GM determines how many can be targeted with a particular sweep. Performing a sweep costs a Plot Point. A sweep can never be a high stakes or a contested action.

For a sweep, the attacker sets the stakes; each defender then attempts to raise the stakes against him.

Telegraphing Intent

Fights aren’t usually about the fight. Most fights start over something – trying to capture someone, or keep them out of a place, or establish who’s the boss. It’s important to know this, so both sides can decide whether to Give In, and know how to act when they lose.

Contested Actions

Sometimes your opponent rolls and raises the stakes, but you aren’t willing to give up; this is especially common in fights. You’ll risk embarrassment or injury to succeed. Then things become a Contested Action. Your opponent’s total becomes the new stakes; you must raise the stakes against him in order to succeed. He can then do the same against you, going back and forth until someone fails.

Either side can set the stakes for a Contested Action; they’re set by whoever starts the contest – in a fight, whoever makes the first aggressive move.

Winning & Losing

When your opponent fails to raise the stakes, you’ve won the Contested Action. You win immediately if get an Extraordinary Success.

When you lose, you still have two options. You can accept your opponent’s victory and give him what he was after – this may mean you’re knocked unconscious, your security’s penetrated, or you give up secrets to an interrogation. Alternately, you can spend a Plot Point and take your opponent’s highest rolling die as a Stress Complication of his choice.

Contests with Mobs

When fighting a mob, remove one die from the mob each time you raise the stakes, until only one die remains; this represents gradually whittling them down. If you do not ultimately win the Contested Action, the mob returns to full strength at the end of the Contest.

The Next Contest

When one Contest ends, it’s common to want to start up another one right away. After all, if the Contest ended with somebody getting Stressed, nobody actually got what they wanted. It’s a natural response to try again, and this is entirely within the scope and intention of the game rules.

Try to hold back on the next Contest for just a bit. Don’t put it off for very long — just a couple lines of dialogue back and forth. Let the characters breathe. Let them explore the consequences of the last Contest and let them build up the significance of the next Contest. You might also change the form of the contest; if someone just won a fist fight and gave you Physical Stress, you might try to psych them out rather than going straight back into battle. Or you might decide to run for it instead, and make them chase you if they want to interrogate you.


Sometimes a character will want to interfere with a contest. This costs a Plot Point and comes with some risk.

If you want to interfere, gather up your Action Pool and roll vs. the current stakes. If you raise the stakes, you step into the middle and stop the contest. Nobody gives in, and nobody takes Stress – yet.

If both sides are committed to continuing, they each give you a Plot Point. Everybody rolls. Whichever of the two participants in the Contested Action rolls higher inflicts Stress on the other (if they tie, no one takes Stress). In addition, if either or both of them roll higher than you, they also inflict Stress on you!

At that point, that Contested Action is over, but another one’s probably going to start...


Other characters can lend you a Trait if they can describe how their Trait will help you accomplish your task. Each character can lend only one Trait. By doing so, they put themselves at risk; if you don’t raise the stakes or roll an Opportunity, they suffer the same consequences you do, including being Taken Out by a high stakes failure.

Recovery from Stress and Complications

Most Complications go away at the end of a scene. Stress is a special kind of Complication – it lingers until you can remove it with time or a Recovery action. You can also step back Complications by activating an Opportunity rolled by the Gamemaster.

Stress dice are stepped back at the start of each Transition Scene. Stress stepped below d6 is removed. To recover faster, take a Recovery action.

Recovery Actions

You can only attempt to recover from Stress during a Transition Scene. Pick a single Stress die you want to recover. The Gamemaster rolls the Doom Pool plus all your current Stress dice to set the stakes. If you raise the stakes, you step back one stress die (in addition to the step back at the start of a Transition Scene). On an Extraordinary Success, you completely eliminate the stress die.

You can also help an ally recover from Stress or any Complication, whether or not you’re in a Transition Scene. The Gamemaster sets the stakes with the Doom Pool and the Complication you’re trying to help your ally Recover. If the Complication is not Stress, any success removes it an even a failure steps it back by 1. For Stress, a success steps it back, and an extraordinary success removes it.

In either case, a failed attempt at Recovery steps up the Stress – sometimes, it’s better to leave it alone!

Each Complication can only be Recovered once per Transition scene.

The Doom Pool

Whenever a player rolls an Opportunity, he receives a Plot Point and the GM either adds a d6 to the Doom Pool, or steps up an existing die by one. Add an additional step for each additional 1 rolled on the same action. Likewise, when a supporting character has a Limit activated that would give a lead a Plot Point, add a die to the Doom Pool or step up an existing die. When a supporting character uses a Distinction as a d4, add or step up a Doom Die.

The Gamemaster can use dice from the Doom Pool in the same way players use Plot Points:

  1. Dice from the Doom Pool can be added to any pool before it’s rolled; they are then gone from the Doom Pool. Alternately, use a Doom Die to step up an equal or smaller die in the pool.
  2. A Doom Die can be used to add the result of an equal or smaller die to the total rolled for an action.
  3. A Doom Die can be converted into an Asset for a supporting character, and is stepped up in a Specialty Action or Stunt.
  4. Any size Doom Die can be used to perform a Sweep or Ability Action, or to interfere with a contest.
  5. If a supporting character loses a Contested Action, a Doom Die can be used to take Stress instead.
  6. A supporting character can use a Doom Die to perform a Limited Action, but the die he keeps must be equal to or smaller than the Doom Die.
  7. The Gamemaster can also convert a d8 or larger Doom Die into a Scene Distinction.
  8. The Gamemaster can just end the scene by spending 2d12 from the Doom Pool.

The Doom Pool itself can be rolled as a dice pool when a lead attempts an action and no supporting character is involved to oppose it.

Scene Distinctions

The Gamemaster may assign Distinctions to a scene, qualities that define it and could help or hinder characters in it. Some examples would be Cluttered, Dark, Crowded, or Stacks and Stacks of Crates. Anyone can include a scene Distinction in a die pool instead of a character’s Distinction. To do both costs a Plot Point. You can also choose to use a scene Distinction as a d4 in your die pool, and earn a Plot Point, just as with a character’s Distinction.

Attempts to remove a Scene Distinction are handled like a Recovery Action – set the stakes with the Doom Pool plus the Distinction die, stepping it back on success, and eliminating it if it drops below d6 or on an extraordinary success.

Cort-X Action (last edited 2019-07-26 23:53:10 by JackOfSpades)