Don Bisdorf

Publish or Perish: A Playtest Story

Categories: [blog]

I'm working on a solo-play urban fantasy RPG using Cortex Prime. The idea is that you represent the opposition with a single drama pool that represents the tension and obstacles for your entire story. Your objective is to remove all the drama pool dice, and cope with all the complications that appear as you roll hitches.

I decided to give it a whirl, and this is how it came out.

A red-tinted nighttime city skyline.

My character is Jules Gabriel, high-tech chemistry researcher by day, monster hunter by night. He might have never strayed from the quiet halls of academia if one of the battles of the War of Wolves hadn't overrun his old lab, destroying it and nearly killing him. Now he uses his chemical expertise to design weapons for his battle against the monsters that prey on humanity. His strongest allies are his friend Carmen, the sorcerer, who he's starting to fall for, and the Athanor, a secretive group of alchemists that he hopes to formally join.

Jules Gabriel





For inspiration, I roll on a set of tables for a random story premise, and I get "How did you endanger a relationship?" I decide that Carmen sometimes shares magical knowledge with Jules, but cautions him to keep it secret. However, he couldn't restrain himself, and he used some magical principles to design a low-cost self-charging battery, publishing the process publicly. Carmen is furious with him, and Jules realizes he's screwed up, and he needs to make it right somehow.

Scene 1: Jules decides to meet a tech journalist at a coffee shop and falsely confess that his results were faked. He's hoping to discredit my own work and thus suppress the magical knowledge he made public. I give the journalist a name--Emilia Jardine--and I roll to see how well the interview goes. The roll is a failure, with two hitches on my side. Emilia doesn't believe a word Jules tells her and walks out of the cafe in disgust. And while Jules was at the cafe, a powerful magician known as the Sun King spotted him. The Sun King knows that Jules revealed magical secrets publicly, and decides to follow Jules and put an end to him. This is a new complication created by my hitches: D10 Hunted by the Sun King.

Scene 2: I decide to address the complication immediately. The Sun King follows Jules home, puts on his enchanted golden mask, and attacks with fire and fury. Jules knows he's outmatched. He stalls the Sun King with some improvised chemical weapons and texts Carmen for help. Will Carmen come to the rescue? I roll against the complication and succeed, and spend a PP to step up my effect die to D12. Carmen shows up in the nick of time and drives off the Sun King with her own wizardry, and I remove the complication. She's still furious, though, and tells Jules that this is exactly what happens when you can't keep a secret. She storms off, leaving Jules in his wrecked home.

Scene 3: Jules realizes that he can't fix this on his own. He has to talk to Carmen and convince her that he's learned his lesson, and that he genuinely wants to make this right. I succeed, step up my effect die, and use the effect die to remove a die from the drama pool. Carmen tentatively accepts Jules's apology and agrees to try to help.

Scene 4: Carmen decides to try a complicated ritual to hex the work of anyone who tries to duplicate Jules's results. If no one can duplicate his work, his results will go into the trash bin of history. Jules's responsibility is to suggest some ways that the self-charging battery chemistry might go wrong without anyone getting hurt. I roll, and succeed, but with only a D4 effect die, and worse yet--three hitches. Carmen's ritual had some effect, and I step down one one of the drama pool dice, but I also give Jules a D12 Dying of Poison complication. While he was trying to figure out how to cause the batteries to fail harmlessly, he found a way to make them fail with the maximum possible harm. It's off to the hospital with Jules.

Scene 5: Jules decides to make this work in his favor. He contacts Emilia Jardine from his hospital bed and asks to speak to her again. He intends to convince her that his critical medical condition is the result of a flaw in his battery design. This lets me use the D12 complication in my pool. I get a heroic success, stepping up my effect die to D10. Also, I get a hitch, and so does the drama pool roll. I spend a PP to activate the opportunity to step down the complicaton to D10 Recovering from Poison. I get a PP back for my hitch, which I turn into a new complicaton: D8 Emily Jardine is Suspicious. She buys the story about the battery and publishes it, and I use my effect die to remove one of the drama pool dice. But Jules is not a great liar, and Emilia is starting to wonder what Jules is really hiding.

Scene 6: Carmen has spoken to her contacts in the magical community and has convinced them to give Jules a pass. The price is that neither she nor any other magician may help Jules recover from his self-poisoning. He'll have to suffer through it on his own. She demands, again, that Jules take her more seriously when she tells him to keep a secret, and he promises. I roll for it, and succeed, with a double heroic success, giving me a big enough effect die to remove the last drama pool die. Also, the drama pool rolls a hitch, and I spend a PP to activate the opportunity, reducing the poison complication to D8 Lingering Effects of Poison. With the double heroic success, Carmen realizes not only that Jules has learned his lesson, but that he has deep feelings for her. She leaves him with a single kiss, suggesting a possible shift of their relationship. And I spend my effect die to remove the last drama pool die.

Now that the story is over, I have the chance to rename and re-balance my relationship dice. I step up the relationship to Carmen and rename it to D10 I Would Do Anything For Carmen. I balance this by stepping down my relationship with the Athanor, renaming it as D6 Will I Ever Be Good Enough For The Athanor?

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