roleplaying games, Writing

A project with a fork in the road

I’ve talked about my idea for “Burning Cyberpunk” before. Taking principles and rules systems from Burning Wheel, setting flavor and mechanics from Cyberpunk games, and building a game that would incorporate the character-driven drama of Burning Wheel games with the heavily thematic storylines of literary and aesthetic Cyberpunk, all while making the crunch fun and easier. I started to outline an attempt at this system in Genesys, as I thought there were some interesting ways to port Burning Wheel Advancement into the Narrative Dice System. Then, today, my project slammed on the brakes.

The backer surveys for Cortex Prime went out.

It was a couple steps, actually. The backer surveys went out and I went “huh, maybe I could write Neon Dice (the working title for the project) in Cortex”. Then, I found my notes for porting Burning Wheel to Cortex Prime as I was cleaning out my Google Drive. Then I went “oh shit”. Cortex Prime is likely a better platform for this project for a few reasons: first, the meta-currency rules mean that porting Artha (the part of Burning Wheel that was most vexing me) is much easier. Second, because advancement in Cortex Prime need not hinge on earning traits in-game (Genesys absolutely does, the mere existence of trait trees in Star Wars implies that), porting Traits and Trait voting into Cortex is way easier. Third, all the things that are unique and interesting about Genesys are things I can port myself, save maybe the dice system.

And that brings us to point four, a somewhat self-serving and premature point. I want to make games so people can play them. The Cortex Creator Studio would offer me a good way to distribute this port if I ever finish it, maybe make a little pocket money. Even though I’m adopting a lot of rules ideas from Burning Wheel, I’m not copying anything from the system wholesale, and I’m not going to use trademark-able terms like “artha” in the text. However, if I were to use Genesys, for which FFG has no creator support, the game could never be salable. Use of the dice system would be the basis for a lawsuit, since the dice are either trademarked or protected under a design patent.

I’m eagerly awaiting the final version of Cortex Prime to be in my hands, but I already have the SRD. The one section I’ve done a lot of work with (Contacts) could likely be 80% salvaged; though it uses some concepts from one of the FFG games it doesn’t depend on the dice and could be easily slotted into a Cortex rules schema. The rest of the stuff I’ve done has been more about pulling Burning Wheel Concepts out that I want to use, which is necessary pre-work no matter what system I end up writing this in.

Genesys is a neat system, and wins over Cortex Prime from a subsystem and mechanical depth perspective given the larger amount of detail given to weapons, vehicles, and other equipment. However, writing for it is currently a dead-end. There is a subset of the RPG fandom willing to write conversions, hacks, and other material and release them for free on the internet. There are way more people that, even if they are not writing for compensation per se, are going to be more enthusiastic about distributing new material if they get some recognition and access to an audience. The Genesys ecosystem is going to flounder until they have something akin to the Cortex Creator Studio…something developed for a game that hasn’t even been released yet. And beyond that, I simply don’t feel like putting effort into a project that could get me sued, and many people feel the same way.

I am eagerly looking forward to Cortex Prime. Not only is it a highly modular system (the SRD makes that clear), but it has a publisher that understands the importance of fan support.

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