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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Paper Empires: the Revival!

Here it is, folks! Like I mentioned last week, I've had a bit of an RPG-tinkering idea. This time, I'm revisiting the game Paper Empires, a sort of "Civilization meets RPGs" combo that, while an interesting concept, had some real problems. I'd sort of left it by the wayside, but now I think I've stumbled across the perfect way to reboot it. It's a system that's flexible, has a lot of moving parts to tinker with, and it's a system with a strong narrative focus...

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Cortex+, the game powering the Smallville, Leverage, and (most recently) Marvel Heroic roleplaying games.

Why Cortex+?
With the release of the Marvel game, all eyes are on this system. In a nutshell, it manages to do a lot of the narrative-focused things that games like FATE accomplish, but in a framework that's a lot more palatable and easy to understand for a more traditional gamer.

The idea of tying down Assets, Complications, and character traits (such as Distinctions and Specializations) to dice is genius. When there's a Pit of Lava d10 in the scene, you can actually visualize adding a d10 to your pool when you dodge around an ice monster, tiring it out. Whenever you suffer a setback, that translates to an extra die that enemies roll against you. It's very, very concrete.

When it comes down to my reasons for choosing this system, I think that's the big one. In the original Paper Empires, there were a lot of cool "story hooks" in the rules: armies, resources, technologies, culture, empire traits, and so on. At the same time, most of them wound up tied into logistics, and roleplaying was tacked on. With Cortex+, leveraging (no pun intended, not exactly) these aspects of your empire into the story becomes a much simpler matter.

Oh, and it's easier to balance.

What to Look For
There'll be a good bit of familiar ground, for those who followed the game in its previous incarnation. You'll have a Dynasty as your "character", managing a number of provinces. Culture will make a very strong showing in this game, and so will military might. Production and resources will also have their place...and technology will undergo a massive leap. Don't look now, but I'm making the tech tree somewhat freeform. Oh yeah.

Assets and Complications will find their way into the game in various guises. Let's just say'll be springing on opportunities to stir up rebellion in your enemies' provinces, dealing with food shortages and massive strikes in your own lands, and finding unexpected breakthroughs in your own homeland. This game just got a whole lot more interesting.

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