#RPGaDay2015: 6 – Smallville

These days, I have a weekly game group, but other than the occasional convention, that’s about all the gaming I do. So the “most recently played game” is pretty much whatever I did this past Tuesday—and it’s probably the only thing I’ve played for the last several months, unless we just switched games.

This week was week 2 of our “Smallville” game. That’s in quotes because we ended up deviating significantly from the core rules. See, I love supers as a genre, but one other player likes it, and the other three actively dislike it, at least for roleplaying. So I got voted down on anything supers when we were picking our next game, but people were intrigued by a lot of the mechanics of Smallville. And since several of us love Lost Girl, we decided to take Smallville and tweak it slightly to do modern fantasy, focusing on a highschool for the magically inclined.

The basic concept is a world where magic used to be common, and everyone knows it—there are dragon skeletons and unicorn horns in the museums, ancient handwritten spellbooks are as common as illuminated bibles, the wizards and spells that decided Agincourt and the American Revolution are well-documented, and the descendants of the last few wizards talk about them the way that a descendant of Ben Franklin might talk about him. But everyone knows that magic was used up or faded away long ago, and nobody alive ever saw a spell cast or captured a leprechaun.

As is obvious with this set-up, everyone is wrong. Magic is much rarer than it used to be, but it still exists, mostly hidden. And our PCs are all highschool students at a prep school in Vancouver which teaches magic alongside the usual subjects.

So we tweaked the rules to reflect this: Abilities are justified as magical abilities or a touch of fae blood or a dragon’s curse on your bloodline; we changed the Values and Stresses to better fit the world; and we added some magical skills as an additional category of Asset. And, obviously, the setting is very different (though High School Yearbook is still very applicable). But we’re still calling it “Smallville”.

So far, it’s pretty awesome. Smallville has a really useful structure for creating story hooks, by tying them into the interpersonal conflicts of the PCs. I love that it’s making me think about how to set up for the next session in a very different way than anything else I’ve run before.

It’s really too bad the game is no longer for sale, and Margaret Weis Productions had to destroy the copies they still had, because I think it is just about the best version of Cortex, and I don’t think there’s another Dramatic Cortex game with the same level of sophistication and clever details. It’s also a really great balance between “traditional” RPG structures (like Savage Worlds or D&D) and “indie” or “storygame” structures (like Blowback or With Great Power…). If you can find it somewhere, give it a read.

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