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Cortex Prime is a dice-based tabletop RPG you customize yourself from toolkit elements to capture your favorite gaming genres.
Cortex Prime is a dice-based tabletop RPG you customize yourself from toolkit elements to capture your favorite gaming genres.
2,756 backers pledged $84,430 to help bring this project to life.

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$84,430

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Cortex is an award-winning tabletop roleplaying game system that traces its origins back to the Sovereign Stone System in 1999, and the Serenity RPG in 2005, from which it takes its name. Over the next five years it appeared as the engine powering a series of other licensed RPGs, at which point it was rewritten from the ground up as Cortex Plus. Various iterations of this newer system were used in RPGs based on Leverage, Smallville, Firefly, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

Cortex Prime is the newest version of this much-loved set of game rules, refined and redesigned by Cam Banks under license from Margaret Weis Productions. It embraces its roots as a means of adapting your favorite movies, television shows, and comic books, while emerging finally as a truly multi-genre modular roleplaying game in its own right.

Orc revolutionaries! Giant mecha! Swashbucklers of the far future! Hard-boiled police detectives! Whether you're a fan of genres and genre mash-ups, any of the older Cortex-powered games, or you're just looking for a tabletop game system you can customize to your own specifications, Cortex Prime is primed for you.

At its heart, Cortex Prime is a system that starts with engaging characters

  • Rank your character's core traits with varying sizes of dice.
  • Choose which traits are appropriate for the actions your character takes in the game, pick up their dice, and roll 'em.
  • Choose two of the dice that you rolled and add them together, comparing that result to an opposing result or difficulty number.
  • Did you beat the opposition? Fantastic, you succeed! If not, you don't get what you want and now you've got to deal with the consequences.
  • Want to increase your chances of pulling off those cinematic actions? You've got a pool of plot points you can spend to make that happen, or to activate special abilities.
  • Want more? Earn those plot points by having your character express their worst tendencies or making their lives more difficult.

Because the game is modular and customizable, your character traits in one game might be different from the next. You could play a high-octane science fiction game that focuses on the raw abilities and expertise of your heroes against impossible odds, or you could play an intrigue-laden courtly romance drama that concerns itself more with your character's desires and motives than skills.

  • Want to get started quickly? Cortex Prime offers easy-to-use archetypes to make choosing a character as painless as possible.
  • Want more depth? The pathways character creation system not only establishes your character's background and personality, it can even build the setting around them.
  • Want to sweat the details? Pick and choose your character's traits and distinctive qualities from a huge array of options.

Regardless of the genre or the tropes, Cortex Prime provides the means to capture those qualities and provide authenticity to your character and the game itself. And now, with this new edition of the game rules, the tools to play the game any way you want are baked into the system, even the Classic Cortex style.

Cortex Prime promises backward compatibility with an eye toward an exciting future!

We're offering Cortex Prime as a set of two closely-related products, the Cortex Prime Game Handbook and the Cortex Prime System Reference

The Game Handbook is a traditional RPG rulebook, fully illustrated and packed with advice, examples, and all the bells and whistles.

  • Published in three formats: a PDF, a 6 x 9 softcover rulebook (intended for distribution later into hobby stores and retailers), and a limited edition hardcover rulebook (only available through this Kickstarter).
  • B&W, 152+ pages, MSRP $25 (softcover) /$35 (hardcover)
  • Includes ready-to-play settings Hammerheads (global rescue & recovery agents), Eidolon Alpha (neoclassical fantasy supers), and Trace (grim law & order drama in Cortez City, a classic Cortex setting updated)

The System Reference is just the rules, and all of the various dials, switches, and options, organized for easy consultation of the rules

  • Serves as the reference document for designers looking to create Cortex Prime products of their own through the Cortex Creator Studio
  • It's available as a PDF and a limited softcover print run.

Each pledge level offers a different assortment of print or PDF versions of each of these products.

  • If you just want everything in PDF, go for the $10 Prime Digital level. This gets you both the Handbook and the Reference in PDF plus all digital stretch goals as they're unlocked.
  • If you want the Handbook in softcover, go for the $25 Prime Softcover level. This is the same as the Prime Digital level but adds the softcover Game Handbook.
  • If you want the Handbook in hardcover, move up to the $35 Prime Hardcover level.
  • If you want a print copy of the System Reference as well, you want the $40 Prime Softcover Plus or the $50 Prime Hardcover Plus. This includes a softcover or limited edition hardcover Game Handbook, a limited edition softcover System Reference, all the digital books, and unlocked stretch goals.
  • If you want the Handbook in hardcover, the System Reference in softcover, and softcover copies of each of the unlocked Prime Spotlight volumes from the stretch goals, you want the $80 Prime Spotlight Hardcover level. This level includes ALL unlocked Prime Spotlights in print format.
  • Retailers can pick up the $100 Prime Retailer level which comes with five copies of the limited edition Game Handbook in hardcover, a copy of the System Reference in softcover, and access to digital files for customers.

We're offering a limited number of higher pledge levels, too, which are each the same as the Prime Hardcover Plus, but provide something special: a character of your own choosing included in the Handbook, art direction assistance and a copy of the illustration you help to create, and possibly others.

SHIPPING THE REWARDS

Shipping is not included in the pledge levels. That's because for this Kickstarter campaign, we're going to send out surveys and collect shipping fees through BackerKit once we're ready to ship out all physical rewards. This not only means all funds raised in the Kickstarter are going towards covering the costs of production (writing, design, art, layout, and printing) but it gives us plenty of time to source the best and least expensive international shipping options through fulfillment agents in Europe and Asia.

At this time, we estimate domestic shipping throughout the United States to be around $5 for most pledge levels. International shipping could be as much as $50, but based on previous Kickstarter experience we should be able to bring that down considerably to around $20 to Europe and other international destinations.

Thanks for being understanding! We know that for some it's much easier just to take care of the total costs all at once upon pledging, but we hope you'll see that this approach is not only better for the project but affords you the lowest shipping costs when the time comes.

For us, the most exciting part of this project is what happens once this project meets its initial funding goal. We've invited a group of enthusiastic and creative talents with a broad range of ideas for taking Cortex Prime to even greater heights to design our stretch goal content.

We're grouping this bonus digital content, which includes exciting game worlds, genre sourcebooks, and expanded rules, into distinct volumes under the Prime Spotlight banner. Your support of this Kickstarter goes towards paying each designer a respectable word rate and adds their content to the Cortex Creator Studio, where they can continue to earn royalties from the future sales of their digital offerings!

Here's what we have lined up for the first two volumes. If unlocked, every one of these additional supplements is included at pledges $10 and above.

UNLOCKED! $35,000: Prime Spotlight Volume One

  • Josh Roby's Citizen Swords against the Ogre King: A fantasy setting of resistance and revolution
  • TK Nyarlathotep's Titans vs Leviathans—All Out War for Earth: A near-future setting that features giant robots versus monstrous kaiju
  • Kira Magrann's Stranger Towns: A setting & sourcebook for creating weird towns with quirky residents, dangerous secrets, and curious mysteries
  • Tara Zuber's Retired No More: Golden Age adventurers come out of retirement to face one last threat to all of humanity

UNLOCKED! $45,000: Prime Spotlight Volume Two

  • Maggie Carroll's Terraverse: Agents cross back and forth between multiple worlds ranging from the slightly similar to the radically different
  • Leonard Balsera's To the PainGrim and Gritty Cortex: From his personal collection of deep cuts and DIY hacks comes Lenny's expanded rules for horror and perilous adventure at the bleeding edge of sanity
  • Jacob DC Ross' Bone Raiders: A sword and planet setting featuring extraordinary mecha and weird and wonderful aliens
  • Brie Sheldon's Solarpunk: A post-scarcity setting where powerful corporate interests seek to destabilize the fruits of progress and the heroes try to stop them

UNLOCKED! $55,000: Prime Spotlight Volume Three

  • Richard August's Necromancer: Modern-day London faces the machinations of a cruel embodiment of Death, with only desperate wizards and sorcerers to stop it.
  • Monte Lin's Alien, Us: 1950's picket fence paranoia where the players are aliens hiding among a suspicious humanity.
  • Filamena Young's Earth is the Nest: Social science fiction featuring a crew of discovery to the stars, challenged not only by the unknown but by their own conflicting goals.
  • Jahmal "Mad Jay" Brown's PRIME Supers: Government-created super heroes are Earth's last stand against a wave of alien invaders.

UNLOCKED! $65,000: Prime Spotlight Volume Four

  • June Shores' Heroic World Creation Kit: Collaboratively build the super hero setting you want to play in as you play.
  • Joseph Blomquist's Cosa Nostra: The Italian immigrant experience of prohibition era New York: Crime, guns, family, and food.
  • Nicolas Hornyak's Snowfall Initiative: A science fantasy setting where the PCs are elite special forces teams trying to repair rifts that open between our world and an icy, war-torn fantasy realm.
  • Jack Norris' Inheritors: A neo-pulp setting featuring multiple generations of adventurers, heroes, and villains.
  • Shawn C. Harris' Monsters Among Us: Modern horror with monstrous protagonists struggling to survive in a world that hates and fears them!

$75,000: Prime Spotlight Volume Five

  • Rob Justice's Safe Zone: A post-apocalyptic setting featuring community and settlement-building. Establish and defend your haven from the encroaching rot outside the walls, while you can.
  • Vivian Paul's Camp Bewilderwood: Play as young heirs to mythic bloodlines and power while forging radical friendships against cosmic evil.
  • Dacar Arunsone's Shards: In the near future, Earth has been conquered by body-snatching aliens. You play as near-invulnerable ex-cons, beneficiaries of unlicensed medical experiments and, unfortunately, humanity's last hope.
  • Rev. Becky N. Elfprincess' Bleed: A many-worlds sandbox setting where a select few heroic individuals exhibit extraordinary gifts as a result of the bleeding over of other realms, including the ability to slide between them.
  • Christopher Stone-Bush's Spellcaught: When you're a young witch in love, high school is the last thing on your mind. But despite evil magicians, rogue creatures, and double-crossing teachers, you still have to graduate.... and survive prom.

UNLOCKED! Backer Goal #1: Prime Spotlight Print Availability

  • If we reach 1750 backers, we'll make new pledge levels available to give backers the option to get print copies of the Prime Spotlights!

We've got lots more in the pipeline, too, which we'll reveal if we're fortunate enough to reach beyond these funding goals!

It's possible to add more books to your pledge by adjusting your pledge amount equal to the additional cost of the books. Here are the books you can add to your pledge and the amount you should increase your pledge by to account for them. Once the Kickstarter is over and the campaign migrates to BackerKit, your added pledge dollars are migrated also, and you can then "spend" them to add the books to your order.

  • Add a softcover Game Handbook: +$25
  • Add a hardcover Game Handbook: +$35
  • Add a softcover System Reference: +$15
  • Add a softcover Prime Spotlight Volume: +$10/volume
  • Add a retailer package (5 hardcovers, retailers only): +$90

Central to the future of the Cortex Prime project is the Cortex Creator Studio hosted by OneBookShelf and DriveThruRPG. The Creator Studio provides fans and aspiring designers an exclusive agreement to publish their own Cortex content and earn 50% of all sales. Following the success of the Kickstarter, the Cortex Prime System Reference becomes the central foundation for the Creator Studio, moving beyond its existing Cortex Plus framework.

All Prime Spotlight creators will be automatically added to the Creator Studio. Cam Banks and Magic Vacuum Design Studio pledge to continue to provide development advice and consultation not only to the Spotlight creators but future community members as part of a drive to make the Creator Studio and Cortex fandom more welcoming and inclusive to all.

So who is behind the Cortex Prime project?

After coming to an agreement with Margaret Weis Productions to license the rights to all Cortex-related publishing and distribution, Cam Banks started Magic Vacuum Design Studio to serve as the publishing house for future Cortex-based games and supplements.

As the lead developer and designer of Cortex and Cortex Plus for Margaret Weis Productions from 2010 to 2014, and managing editor before that, Cam knows the system inside and out. He has co-designed the Leverage, Smallville, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Dragon Brigade, and Firefly roleplaying games as well as written and developed extensively on earlier product lines such as Serenity, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica, and the Cortex System RPG "blue book."

As part of his regular duties as RPG Director at Atlas Games, Cam has been involved in two highly successful Kickstarter projects: Feng Shui 2 and Unknown Armies 3. He was also part of the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide Kickstarter project as a developer and designer.

Cortex Prime is a dream project for Cam. Over the years he's invested a lot in Cortex, collaborating with some amazing designers, editors, and artists to bring licensed properties to life. Now, he's going to bring everything he's learned about roleplaying game design and production to make Cortex Prime the best possible edition of these rules he can—but he can only do it with your generous support.

Thank You!

  • Magic Vacuum Design Studio can be reached at their website, on Facebook, and Twitter.
  • You can also follow Cam on Twitter.
  • Key art for this Kickstarter was provided by Brett Barkley.
  • The video was produced and edited by Jeremy Keller.
  • Special thanks to Jeff Tidball, Josh Roby, Jeremy Keller, Jess Banks, Stras Acimovic, Brie Sheldon, Tracy Barnett, Fred Hicks, Tim Rodriguez, and Cam's patrons at his Patreon for their tremendous advice and consultation.
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Risks and challenges

As with any roleplaying game project on Kickstarter, the greatest challenge is time. For Cortex Prime, we are confident that not only will we meet our various milestones and creative goals, we'll do it on time and in regular contact with all backers.

Cam's recent experience running the Unknown Armies Kickstarter for Atlas Games has provided ample experience in dealing with a large project with many moving parts, and while the Cortex Prime Game Handbook and System Reference are entirely within his wheelhouse, the added management of many potential Prime Spotlight creators draws upon a decade of experience managing RPG project teams.

In the event that we become aware of any delays in production of Cortex Prime, we'll keep backers apprised of the roadblocks and work to get around them swiftly. The same is true for the development, production, and release of all unlocked Prime Spotlight volumes and their content.

Backers can expect monthly updates following the campaign, and responses to questions or concerns within no more than 48 hours (and usually much sooner).

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    Prime Digital

    You get PDF copies of both the Cortex Prime Game Handbook and the Cortex Prime System Reference, as well as all unlocked digital stretch goals.

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    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
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    Prime Softcover

    You get the softcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook and the PDF of the Cortex Prime System Reference, as well as all unlocked digital stretch goals.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
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    Prime Hardcover

    You get the hardcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook and the PDF of the Cortex Prime System Reference, as well as all unlocked digital stretch goals.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
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    Prime Softcover Plus

    You get the softcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook, the softcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime System Reference, and all unlocked digital stretch goals.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

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    Prime Hardcover Plus

    You get the hardcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook, the softcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime System Reference, and all unlocked digital stretch goals.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • Cortex Prime System Reference Softcover
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
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    Prime Hardcover Spotlight

    You get the hardcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook, the softcover and PDF versions of the Cortex Prime System Reference, softcover versions of all unlocked Prime Spotlight volumes, and all unlocked digital stretch goals.

    This pledge level increases in value as more Prime Spotlight volumes are unlocked.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference Softcover
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
    • Prime Spotlight Vol. 1
    • Prime Spotlight Vol. 2
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    Prime Character Creator

    You get everything from the Prime Hardcover Plus level, and I work with you to write and create stats for an original character of your choice to be included in the Game Handbook.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • Cortex Prime System Reference Softcover
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
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    Prime Retailer

    For bricks and mortar retailers only! You get five copies of the Cortex Prime Game Handbook hardcover for your store, as well as a softcover copy of the Cortex Prime System Reference for your store's gaming event coordinator. In addition, anyone who purchases a copy of the Game Handbook from your store qualifies for a free PDF copy of the book. You get access to all retailer support files and handouts as they come available.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • Cortex Prime System Reference Softcover
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    Prime Spotlight Character Creator

    You get everything from the Prime Hardcover Spotlight level, and I work with you and a Prime Spotlight author to write and create stats for an original character in a Prime Spotlight setting of your choice.

    This pledge level increases in value and opportunity as more Prime Spotlight volumes are unlocked.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference Softcover
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
    • Prime Spotlight Vol. 1
    • Prime Spotlight Vol. 2
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    Prime Art Director

    You get everything from the Prime Hardcover Plus level, and I work with you to art direct an original illustration of your favorite genre mash-up, to be featured in the Game Handbook. You also get a printed 11 x 17 copy of the illustration suitable for framing.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

    Includes:
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook PDF
    • Cortex Prime System Reference PDF
    • Cortex Prime Game Handbook Hardcover
    • Cortex Prime System Reference Softcover
    • All Unlocked Digital Goals
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    Prime Creative Package

    You get everything from the $80 Prime Hardcover Spotlight level, plus you get:
    * Access to two one-hour-long one-to-one creative consultation sessions via Skype, phone, or hangout (TBD) with Cam, and
    * Access to the invite-only Spotlight community to design and develop your own Cortex Prime project.

    This pledge level increases in value as more Prime Spotlight volumes are unlocked.

    NOTE: Shipping will be collected later via BackerKit.

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Funding period

- (31 days)