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Head Shot! Zombie Apocalypse Action Roleplaying
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/03/2017 04:26:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Hack to depict a Zombie Apocalypse with the Cortex Plus rules clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in question. My review is mostly based on the print copy, though I have the electronic version as well. The review is based on V.2..

We begin with some basic considerations on why zombies walk the lands and then proceed to instructions on how to use this and how to apply components of this book beyond the confines of its frame – particularly nice there. After this, we take a look at terminology-changes in comparison to the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide: Agents become Survivors. Flourish Dice become Head Shot Dice. The book uses the optional rules for flourishes and contested actions. The consequence of losing a contested action is being Taken Out of the rest of the scene – this is pretty scary in a zombie context. Taking a d6 Complication is a way to get out of the conflict and must be declared before the dice are rolled for what looks like the final exchange of a Contested Action. This can, obviously, make things very lethal very quickly – hence, the book spends some time explaining nuances to the GM regarding this mechanic.

Interesting, btw.: Survivors attack zombies in the head. Period. There is no complicating mechanic here. Regular zombies come as either crawlers or shamblers – both of which are pretty self-explanatory.

Character creation has been slightly updated: 2 methods of attribute distribution are presented: Either 2 attributes get a d10, one a d8 and two a d6 or one gets a d10, 3 a d8 and one a d6. The character gains 3 distinctions. They also gain 2 specialties at d10, 2 at d8 and 4 at d6. The rest are d4s. The character gains two signature assets at d6. Characters have 0 mission successes at the start of the game and start with one plot point.

Instead of roles, the characters have attributes, which are pretty self-explanatory: Beguile, Bold (willpower, psychological stamina, etc.), Brains (how smart, not how long it takes a zombie to eat you… ;P), Brawn, Brisk (hand-eye coordination). Particularly fitting distinctions are presented in a concise list. Specialties are NOT tied to a givenrole/attribute, instead having a die rating assigned to them. A significant array of them is discussed, from driving to sneaking or tricking folks. Signature assets can include super backpacks, entrenching tools, dogs, doctor’s bags, etc. Lacking roles, talents are tied to attributes instead, but the original restriction remains in place: You must have a d10 in the attribute to have the talent. There are also talents sans required attributes and those that can be qualified for via multiple attributes. The next couple of pages cover these and show not only an impressively crisp rules-language, but also a generally solid balancing of the talents in question.

From here on out, we have already covered the necessary player-rules and move into “The Guts” – i.e. the anatomy of GMing/running the hack.

Missions are the respective adventures: They are structured by the Objective and the Difficulty Die rating; 8 sample broad objectives are included. The mission’s difficulty die is usually stepped back until the mission proves to be a success…though getting back to safety is an added challenge posed to survivors. The mission die behaves like a complication that only is used against the party when pertaining directly to the given situation, with the conditions, i.e. the steps that can be taken to achieve the objective, can be individually adjusted by the GM. The general notion created by Cortex Plus’s system here does btw. a rather good job at depicting the hindrances and “everything can go wrong” tropes that we all know and love from zombie-based media.

The second mechanic that is crucial to Head Shot!’s gameplay would be the rather hackable viral pool. Usually, that pool starts at a d4 and it is a representation of zombie density. The viral pool’s increase can be handled over time, by action, via moaning zombies etc. – all ridiculously easy, and once it passes a d12, a second die is added and so one. The pool may decreases by keeping quiet, staying hidden etc. When the viral pool steps up, a number of zombies equal to the die roll of the newly stepped up pool show up at Long Range – which may be down the block at the end of a REALLY long corridor in an airport, etc. When the viral pool reaches d12, an Alert occurs, which can result in encounters, the jeopardizing of resources or e.g. ammo running low – and, as the whole mechanic, this component can be scavenged and adapted rather easily. There are also variations on these – like Friendlies doing something stupid, enemy survivors appearing, etc. This chapter, as a whole, provides some really cool modifications and constructs that can prove valuable even beyond the confines of this hack.

In chapter 3, we take a, in-depth look at the basic zombie types: We discuss their general senses, the effects of their moaning, the level of agility, endurance, strength and intelligence exhibited. The effects of decay and possibility of mutation or the possibility of a hive mind are mentioned. The basic zombie range from crawlers (d6) to shamblers (d8), runners (d10) and behemoths (d12) – the latter being particularly large or strong super-zombies. The variants discussed would be Screamers, Infested, Spitters, Fused zombies and Leaders, who retain a semblance of a spark of cunning. The respective variants do come with discussions of their tricks and examples from media. The details of the zombie virus and how it spreads are not codified per se, instead providing a general notion of how everything works out. Horde zombies and elite zombies are an easy way of thinking about these and the pdf makes sure that you can properly use them. Voodoo-zombies are covered, and the Unliving variant of them provides another modification that fans of the genre will appreciate.

As in TWD, the true antagonists, more often than not, will not be the zombies themselves – hence, we take a look at classic foes next: Bandits and Raiders, warped cults, voodoo cults, madmen and psychopaths, protectors, undead harvesters – the big classics all get their due consideration here.

Environment is, unsurprisingly, often represented by location traits – the most fitting have been noted, and the pdf adds quite a few more to the mix: Vehicle graveyards, pitch darkness, untraveled roads – pretty cool. Finally, we take a look at wild (and dangerous) animals and vermin and end with an afterword as well as a character sheet. This sheet, just fyi, has been included in a form-fillable version – big plus there!

Speaking of which: No matter the format of your GM-screen, the pdf ALSO comes with color-inserts that note the respective pages, crucial rules, etc. – once, these come with a two-column layout and once with a three-column layout – big kudos for going the extra mile here!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches herein. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard (with blotches, stylized zombies etc.) and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-artwork within is solid. The softcover is a nice booklet and pretty inexpensive, so kudos there – personally, I prefer it.

Tim Bannock’s passion for the zombie-genre show on pretty much every page: This is a true zombie-enthusiast’s supplement – it is a love-letter to the genre that covers pretty much all the basics we come to expect from zombies as a whole. I enjoyed picking apart Cortex Plus’s peculiarities while testing this and indeed, the book provides value beyond the confines of its rules-system: An experienced GM can scavenge e.g. the Viral Pool and reappropriate it; the design is interesting: Much of the mechanics here simulate something akin to an AI director in contemporary computer games: Alien Isolation, for example, has two AIs operating: One for the Alien and one that is in charge of keeping up the tension, directing the alien roughly in your direction, etc. Similarly, TWD and similar zombie movies seem to operate both on the drives of individuals and a second, impersonal dramaturgy that this system simulates really well.

Mechanics-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. That being said, the focus on the more widely-represented zombie-types does mean that the pdf won’t provide mind-blowing new zombie-types; neither the plant-animated zombie, nor radiation zombies, alien-experiments or the like are covered – this is about the classics, though I couldn’t help but feel that going to the far reaches of the genre would have provided the triumphant finishing flourish for this supplement.

As provided, I enjoyed Head Shot! More than I thought I would; its ideas and design-paradigms have enriched my games, even if the discussion of the classic zombie types didn’t bring that much novelty. Still, rated as a crunch-book and hack, this represents a worthwhile offering. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Head Shot! Zombie Apocalypse Action Roleplaying
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Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/17/2017 21:13:22

Fun and easy for both players and GM. I play and run in Cortex, and it is a blast. It isn't my favorite system, but it is probably my second favorite. My only quibbles are that it is hard as a GM to make use of the vehicle rules without adaptation (a common problem I have with a lot of games), and hard to make really 'special' equipment for players to earn--though both are conquerable problems, with some work.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
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Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide
by Keith D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/06/2015 17:19:25

The Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide is an awesome book for any aspiring game designers or fans of the cortex plus system.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide
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Dragon Brigade: The Affair of the Orb Adventure
by Konrad Z. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/25/2015 02:04:15

A great variant of Cortex Plus Action Roleplaying. 8 Pages of rules, 4 pages of setting background, 16 pages dedicated to a rich character build system, and then a 40 page adventure.

About the only thing missing here are character advancement rules, but these are easy enough to extract from one of the other Cortex Plus action rulesets.

And at $5.00 you are not going to find a cheaper introduction to the Cortex Plus system, which is a lot of fun and makes for fast engaging games.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Brigade: The Affair of the Orb Adventure
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Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Jon L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/17/2015 21:17:19

I am new to the cortex rules but I love them. They are easy to use and easy to learn when creating a game. No complaints from me here. I use a lot of game settings but Cortex I will definitely use at some point.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
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Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide
by Francis D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/06/2015 16:15:21

At the time the Cortex Plus Hackers' Guide had come out there were three major published games using Cortex Plus; Smallville, Leverage, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying - but the license for both Smallville and Marvel Heroic expired at the same time (Firefly has now been added to the ranks). The Cortex Plus Hackers guide presents generic rules for all three games, plus handfuls of hacks for each of them, showing how to adapt each of the three games to various settings.

The system (or more accurately the family of systems) is fast, light and incredibly evocative as long as the GM is good at thinking under pressure and coming up with random complications at a pacing set by the system. The biggest weakness of the system (or rather systems) are that they are incredibly swingy.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide
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Dragon Brigade: The Affair of the Orb Adventure
by Walter H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/14/2015 21:33:47

I acquired the Opening Salvo book a long time ago, back well before I picked up Firefly. I was looking for a system that was different from the games like Pathfinder and Savage Worlds I was playing. I fell in love with the system even though I never managed to get a game going other than a one off. For a long time, I was hoping that MWP would come out with the Dragon Brigade RPG. Hopefully this is the next step.

This uses a similar system to Firefly, Leverage, and Smallville. It is a narrative system so it's not crunchy like Pathfinder and games like that. Instead, it's more like everyone is an actor. Because of the loose restrictions, anything is possible. I will be running a group shortly using these rules. I can tell you that it blends the old Cortex Classic System and FATE.

If you've picked up the Opening Salvo, a bit has changed. Unlike in the Opening Salvo, MWP has explained the Character Creation System very well. It doesn't take long to create a character and you can have your players in the action very quickly.

I don't remember Flourish Dice being in Opening Salvo, but they are a welcome addition to the system. If you are familiar with Firefly, these are the Banked Dice.

This book is enough information to get started. It has a little bit of background but could easily expand on it. I won't go into the adventure so I won't spoil it for someone, but I will say it's pretty good.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Brigade: The Affair of the Orb Adventure
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Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Ian S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/04/2013 12:20:23

A solid and very playable game. It takes a lot of tinkering to get it just how you want for a particular game, but it is worth it. Unfortunately, it does suffer from some balance issues in their advantage/disadvantage system. Even with those problems, it plays very well and was greatly enjoyed by my group.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
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Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Gregory D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/08/2012 13:12:46

So I found cortex on a youtube review, and I thought it sounded intriguing. I got it, and tried it, and was not happy. I hear that many people like it, but I just don't know why, it seems clunky, and unbalanced in all its forms. I does not focus on gameplay, or story, leaving me at a table wondering "What am I supposed to do with it then?" I decided not to try it, it is just a little too crunchy for me. But I worked on a campaign that I gave up on half way. It just wasn't worth it. But if you like very random rolls, realistic combat, and forced character development this can be a potentially good product for you.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Andre M. C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/01/2012 22:59:54

I've had the Cortex core rules for a while now, and on the whole I like it. The basic mechanics are simple and very flexible--so it's easy to improvise in play, and very hackable outside play. Each attribute, skill, and trait is rated as a die size (d4, d8, etc.). When you attempt anything, you take the dice from each attribute, skill, and trait that applies, and roll them; add up the results, and compare the total to a target difficulty number, or to an opposing roll.

The "feel" of Cortex is a well-balanced mix of system light traditional play, and more of a story game approach. In particular, the character complications (disadvantages) and plot points form a powerful mechanic, similar to Aspects in FATE, which rewards both good roleplaying, and creative, player-driven plot input.

The core rules themselves are fairly bare (basically just traits, skills, and combat), although the book features a "Special Effects" section about adding Magic, Psychic powers, Cybernetics, and "Meta Powers" to the game. This is quite helpful for customizing it into the game you want.

If I have any complaints about this book, it's only these two:

1) the combat rules are actually a bit clunkier than I'd like for an otherwise very straight-forward game; for example, four types of physical damage, and a grappling rule I found difficult to decipher.

2) It's not very well supported. They avoided any sort of economy or extended equipment section in this book, and the Special Effects (magic, etc.) rules are really only short sketches of what's possible. To their credit, they are very upfront about this. Still, in a perfect world, I'd have liked to see some published supplements or a few genre books to support the core rules. You can import a few things from other Cortex products, like Serenity or BSG, but that only goes so far, depending on the game you're trying to run.

Case in point, in only a few days I'll be starting a new Cyberpunk genre game, and I've spent most of my free time for the past couple of months just putting together proper Martial Arts rules and an Equipment section--and in fact, I'm wasting precious time writing this review, because I'm not even close to done yet.

So, to sum up, the Cortex core rules aren't so much a great game, as they are a good kernel or framework for a great game. Lots of fun for aspiring system hackers, world-builders, and players who like some story game elements in their games, but not as well supported as some other generic games out there, if all you want to do is jump in and play.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Mike C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/06/2012 14:29:47

A very clear and concise set of rules that my group really enjoyed. The generic nature of the rules are enabling us to come up with our own setting.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Brigade: Opening Salvo
by Stephen Y. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/31/2011 16:04:40

A Margaret Weis Production for free! A swashbuckling theme with Dragons, floating cities, and airships.

The system reminds me of Deadlands and other similar systems, but it does play well. Good artwork, colourful costumes of the characters/NPCs. There are four acts in this one-night adventure, which should last the night/day. It is well organised with the tasks and test presented within the pages.

Well worth a download.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dragon Brigade: Opening Salvo
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Dragon Brigade: Opening Salvo
by Paul E. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/19/2011 16:10:21

This is a Margaret Weis Production, and one always expects high quality from anything she, or those under her tutelage, produce. Though I've only truly been able to scan this gratis introduction, it is well-organized, presents the background, story, tasks, and tests concisely and no excessive work needs be done to prove the story. Being free, I could not hope to expect more than I downloaded; as a one-night adventure, I feel that four acts to this particular play may actually take my group into the wee hours.

The game system is not unique, though it is a well-accepted standard in recent role-playing endeavors, and seems to present well for the world Weis and crew have chosen to place this 'new' venture into. I tend to be a more technically-oriented GameMaster though, likely, I would give this game a try with my current group, if we weren't thus engaged in another game. For those more comfortable with the less-technical, faster paced sort of gaming, and especially for those more in-tune with previous MWP game products and novels, this game would be wonderful for a single-evening of fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by James K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/30/2011 21:16:30

Cortex is one of the best RPG systems on the market. Its die-step system and rules for rolling dice for both characteristic and skill make this RPG stand out among other RPGs. The book is shy on illustration, but illustration is far more useful in a setting book and isn't truly necessary in a generic rules book. If you enjoyed the Serenity RPG, you very likely will want to have the Cortex book on your game shelf also as, due to its generic system nature, it includes a magic system and other information aimed at the usual genres of play. Character Traits add a rewarding element to roleplaying and those offered in Cortex are for the most part reasonable (in many games too many offered Traits border on the absurd); included are valuable guidelines for applying Traits to game play.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
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Cortex Classic System Role Playing Game
by Thomas S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/07/2011 11:56:38

Cortex is a good system if you are looking for something that isn't d20. The way the system handles skills and attributes is good. I especially like the way that the GM decides what Attribute and Skill are linked, based upon the use of the skill. The skill specialty system is good, however, I think there should be a finite subset of specialties, which can be done by the GM -- but I would have like to see a base set in the book.

This is a good tool kit for running almost any type of genre, though it suffers a bit when it comes to fantasy. Though there is a suggestion and a few spells, it leaves a huge gap in the magic department. Also, scaling for creatures doesn't seem to work well.

Over all I would recommend it. Cortex does have a slight getting use to curve, mainly in resolving damage, but one the players get the knack of that its smooth sailing.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
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