Universal systems: Differences and Weaknesses

E-Rocker

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The current edition is, afaik, only available as a $40 hardback in physical form, but the pdf is still ten bucks, just like the old physical book was.

I actually wasn't going to get the new edition, partly because I was a bit put out by the book costing 4x as much, but I bought the pdf to see the changes & liked it enough that I ended up buying the new physical book.
 

Brock Savage

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So with that, my assumption is that playing the same module under multiple systems would result in very different play.
I've ran a good number of old school and OSR adventures in 5e. Long story short it works out really well if you use gold = xp. I translate monsters 1:1, if there are ten orcs in a room I put ten orcs in there. Traps and the like have to be adjusted for 5e, mostly to account for hit point inflation. I also adjusted treasure because the old adventures handed out +1 weapons and gold like joints at a house party. I will warn you these old school adventures are quite deadly when without inflicting a level of exhaustion when players go down (common house rule). There is an expectation in 5e that characters can just throw dice at every encounter until they win and that absolutely will not work. Around 5th level or so characters get a big power bump which will carry them on easy street for a bit until the 7+ level adventures which can be absolutely brutal. I tell my players most adventurers lucky enough to retire do so by levels 3-6 and buy a small business.
 

Moonglum

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I use TFT as my de-facto universal system for all pre-modern settings (basically, early gunpowder tech and below), and frequently use it play modules that were written for some edition or another of D&D. When I started doing this I would carefully consider how possible encounters should be adapted to make sure they were not overwhelming for the generally more deadly game system we were using. But after a bit of experience I figured out that it is much simpler and in some ways more interesting to just present the settings as-written and let the players figure out how they are going to accomplish their goals (or not) in the face of a range of gooey, often numerous monsters. I obviously have to translate details like spells or how much damage is done by a falling rock or what you are supposed to do when a trap says you save vs. wands (or whatever random nonsense is asked for!). But an experienced DM can do this stuff without a second thought.
 

xanther

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I use TFT as my de-facto universal system for all pre-modern settings (basically, early gunpowder tech and below), and frequently use it play modules that were written for some edition or another of D&D. When I started doing this I would carefully consider how possible encounters should be adapted to make sure they were not overwhelming for the generally more deadly game system we were using. But after a bit of experience I figured out that it is much simpler and in some ways more interesting to just present the settings as-written and let the players figure out how they are going to accomplish their goals (or not) in the face of a range of gooey, often numerous monsters. I obviously have to translate details like spells or how much damage is done by a falling rock or what you are supposed to do when a trap says you save vs. wands (or whatever random nonsense is asked for!). But an experienced DM can do this stuff without a second thought.
IIRC TFT also has a section on how to convert monsters from D&D to it. Or that may be an old Dragon or some such article; which I have here somewhere...:smile:
 

Baulderstone

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IIRC TFT also has a section on how to convert monsters from D&D to it. Or that may be an old Dragon or some such article; which I have here somewhere...:smile:
I'm always skeptical of methods for converting between systems. They are usually wonky. I find it better just to take the idea from one system and build it from scratch using the new system. If I'm not comfortable making things in a system, it's probably not going to work well me for anyway.
 
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xanther

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I'm always skeptical of methods for converting between systems. They are usually wonky. I find it better just to take the idea from one system and build it from scratch using the new system. If I'm not comfortable making things in a system, it's probably not going to work well me for anyway.
Fair enough but if recall correctly it was pretty high level and easy and after all this was back (I want to say 1983) and a lot of people were just starting RPGs and needed some help to go from one to the other. I myself just ran the math for a a couple base AC and defense in TFT, at a couple test points, but not everyone is comfortable doing statistics.

I really like how Thieves World had the same characters written up in like 6 different systems, that gave some good insight into conversion.
 

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There is no official set of rules for converting other systems to TFT (at least, not from the core books), but there is a magazine article somewhere that deals with that and the old Theives World boxed set gives an opportunity to compare NPC's statted out for TFT and for other game systems.

That said, I don't use any kind of system to convert stats. Instead I just use typical (or atypical, depending on the situation and my mood) stats from TFT for equivalent creatures, or something generally similar. There are a lot of nuances to TFT in play, but stat blocks for most anything are always simple. Basically, you assign a ST that reflects how big and tough it is, a DX score that reflects how adroit it is at skilled physical actions, an IQ that reflects its brains and/or skillfulness, and then you are either done or you paste on one or more spells, spell-like natural abilities or talents to model whatever special qualities the being has. The lists of spells and talents is short enough that anyone who knows the game can quickly pick the right one (or two or three) to model any D+D monster or NPC. Perhaps someone could stump me but I feel like I could do a good job statting up most anything in TFT, probably in less than 30 seconds.
 

ffilz

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I'm always skeptical of methods for converting between systems. They are usually wonky. I find it better just to take the idea from one system and build it from scratch using the new system. If I'm not comfortable making things in a system, it's probably not going to work well me for anyway.
Yea, I don't use any conversion rules when using material for RuneQuest or Cold Iron. I may not even necessarily use anything like the same monster (which goes to the point that sometimes I'm just using the map, and maybe some of the background as inspiration).
 

Moonglum

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Yea, I don't use any conversion rules when using material for RuneQuest or Cold Iron. I may not even necessarily use anything like the same monster (which goes to the point that sometimes I'm just using the map, and maybe some of the background as inspiration).
Agreed. I don't really have the stats and other details on my mind when I am running a session; I'm thinking about what I need to present/describe to the players so that I'm really reacting to their decisions. So, it is always possible that they will decide to do something that steers the session away from a prepared encounter, NPC, monster, trap, whatever, and I need to just roll with that without trying to push them back 'on track'. With that mindset, figuring out the perfect DX score for some spiky demon is just not very important - I'll set a value off the top of my head and then that's it.
 

Raleel

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like 20 posts on mythras and I didn't even participate!

I like generic systems. I have hero and gurps on my shelves. I think the primary issue with gurps and supers is the relatively linear and finely detailed scale.

my two big ones are cortex and mythras, both of which make fine generic systems. I'm still not convinced on Destined and Mythras Supers, but I think the right idea is there - no POW points, just raw powers you get to do. I like that cortex codifies some of the "you just can" or "you just can't" in the die rating on powers, and requires you to have X level to compete with X level. Like @Mankcam I do a division of labor here.
 

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I like to calculate the min, max, 25th/50th/75th percentiles for the bestiary/monster listing of the game and the game I'm converting to and then use that as the basis for statting something up.
 

Baulderstone

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like 20 posts on mythras and I didn't even participate!

I like generic systems. I have hero and gurps on my shelves. I think the primary issue with gurps and supers is the relatively linear and finely detailed scale.

my two big ones are cortex and mythras, both of which make fine generic systems. I'm still not convinced on Destined and Mythras Supers, but I think the right idea is there - no POW points, just raw powers you get to do. I like that cortex codifies some of the "you just can" or "you just can't" in the die rating on powers, and requires you to have X level to compete with X level. Like @Mankcam I do a division of labor here.
I just got a copy of Cortex Prime today. I'm looking forward to reading it, although that probably won't happen until next week.
 

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I'm always skeptical of methods for converting between systems. They are usually wonky. I find it better just to take the idea from one system and build it from scratch using the new system. If I'm not comfortable making things in a system, it's probably not going to work well me for anyway.
I've tried a lot of game conversions and agree they are rarely good for more than a very rough baseline. Just too many variables and game assumptions for "multiply STR by 1.273, divide HP by 0.87" etc to work.
 

robertsconley

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I'm always skeptical of methods for converting between systems. They are usually wonky. I find it better just to take the idea from one system and build it from scratch using the new system. If I'm not comfortable making things in a system, it's probably not going to work well me for anyway.
That pretty much what I do.

I look for commonalities in the broad sense. For example what is an apprentice, a rookie? What is a professional or a veteran? What is a grandmaster or champion? And so on. One I establish then I fill in the rest with new system's equivalent.

One reason I chose OD&D in the form of Swords & Wizardry as the foundation that it power curve is similar to what I dealt with GURPS. In generally peg it roughly at 30 GURPS points per D&D level.

For creature unless it way out of whack, I just drop in whatever the system does. In D&D it takes 4 1st level fighters to take down a 4 HD Ogre. In GURPS it may take 6 rookie characters (30 pts) to take down an ogre. That OK. But it if more ridiculous then I will figure out how to rework the creature.

One appeal of 5e for me is that it's power curve is similar to that of OD&D. My experiences dragging the Majestic Wilderlands from system is part of why I define RPG the way I do. Why I consider the system just to be a tool to make a campaign. Sure it better if you enjoy using the tool but what defines what the campaign is about are the details of the setting. If the system and the details of the setting don't match then either the system will be altered or the setting will morph to match the system.
 

xanther

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There is no official set of rules for converting other systems to TFT (at least, not from the core books), but there is a magazine article somewhere that deals with that and the old Theives World boxed set gives an opportunity to compare NPC's statted out for TFT and for other game systems.
...
Yep it was in The Space Gamer #56 way back, I've an article by Steve Jackson called "Metamorphosing Monsters: Adapting D&D Creatures to TFT"
it is also online here...which aligns with what I have minus the pithy comments
 

Moonglum

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Yep it was in The Space Gamer #56 way back, I've an article by Steve Jackson called "Metamorphosing Monsters: Adapting D&D Creatures to TFT"
it is also online here...which aligns with what I have minus the pithy comments
Cool; good find! In a few weeks we'll get the details on this issue straight from the Beholder's mouth; one of the things about to come out as part of SJGames winter Kickstarter is a book of classic D&D monsters statted up from TFT.
 

AsenRG

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I made Cortex Prime what it is because I wasn't really happy with any of the generic RPG toolkits out there and really love adapting things to TTRPGs, so I figured why not create the platform to do that.
That's the best reason to write a system in my book:thumbsup:!
 

EmperorNorton

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I made Cortex Prime what it is because I wasn't really happy with any of the generic RPG toolkits out there and really love adapting things to TTRPGs, so I figured why not create the platform to do that.
To me, what makes Cortex Prime special is that it isn't really a universal system. Not really. Not in the way a lot of systems are.

I see toolkit as different than universal.

The whole thing to me about Cortex Prime is that it's a "build your own rpg" set. So the set you put together is specialized to the experience/setting you wanted to use.

Like overall Cortex Prime has a specific feeling, but the options you turn on and off and the sets you choose matter so much.

So instead of being "use this for everything" it is "use this to build the specialized system you want".
 

Armchair Gamer

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No. I think that was a one-time loss leader.
They were able to make special arrangements with the printer for a time, but it didn't last for one reason or another. All things considered, I'm surprised they were able to sustain it through two versions (Explorer's and Deluxe Explorer's).
 

Toadmaster

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To me, what makes Cortex Prime special is that it isn't really a universal system. Not really. Not in the way a lot of systems are.

I see toolkit as different than universal.

The whole thing to me about Cortex Prime is that it's a "build your own rpg" set. So the set you put together is specialized to the experience/setting you wanted to use.

Like overall Cortex Prime has a specific feeling, but the options you turn on and off and the sets you choose matter so much.

So instead of being "use this for everything" it is "use this to build the specialized system you want".
I think that is true for most "universal" games.

The use it for anything claim is where most get into problems, and there are some genres that really are best served with tailor made systems. Supers is definitely one of those genres. I'd say Supers is a great test for the universal claim. You can fake it with low powered supers but once you start getting into stops bullets, throws trains, redirects comets all bets are off.

Hero beginning as a Supers game does better here than most, but even it has issues. Champions is good for playing its own brand of Supers, but doesn't really replicate comics that closely.
 

EmperorNorton

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I think that is true for most "universal" games.
No it really isn't.

Most universal games are just "this is the game, use it for anything".

Very rarely are they built to enable you to make your own game for the specialized thing you want.
 

Baulderstone

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No it really isn't.

Most universal games are just "this is the game, use it for anything".

Very rarely are they built to enable you to make your own game for the specialized thing you want.
I'm reading Cortex Prime at the moment, and it is definitely more of a toolkit than most universal systems. With GURPS and Savage Worlds, there is a baseline game in there that you can just run while ignoring all the options and add-ons. Cortex Prime requires you to make decisions about very fundamental things about dice rolls and what stats mean. It's very interesting so far.

It's the kind of game that is unique enough that I won't be sure what I think until I try it, but I feel I am going to get something out of learning the system either way. I'm leaning towards liking it.
 

Voros

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I've long heard about Cortex and have a few games built on it I believe (Smallville and Leverage) but this thread discussion made me check out the site and I've scooped the digital edition, I like how there is a SRD built right into the site too.

 

EmperorNorton

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Cortex Prime requires you to make decisions about very fundamental things about dice rolls and what stats mean. It's very interesting so far.
This, like, very fundamental parts of the system can change. Really the only parts that are "core" are like, distinctions, and the very basics of the dice rolling mechanic.

You could see two different Cortex Prime games and the character sheets wouldn't even look like the same game. Like here are two blank character files from two of the example configurations in the core book:

CF2.jpg CF1.jpg

(And even here, some of the similarities are just similar choices being made. Like putting stress on Attributes isn't necessary, they just happened to choose the same way of doing damage in both of these set ups. (Hell even having ATTRIBUTES as a set isn't necessary))
 
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Toadmaster

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No it really isn't.

Most universal games are just "this is the game, use it for anything".

Very rarely are they built to enable you to make your own game for the specialized thing you want.
Your description does not sound any different from GURPS or HERO, where you have lots of optional rules to choose from.

I am not remotely familiar with Cortex Prime but I see from Balderstone's comments what you were getting at and that does sound like they take "optional" further than most.
 

EmperorNorton

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Yeah Cortex Prime you can't even really run the game out of the box. Like you can using one of the 3 premade settings in the book, but it would be completely impossible to just run it "default" because it doesn't have a default.
 

Toadmaster

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Two that haven't been mentioned are CORPS and EABA by BTRC. I've got CORPS but have never played it, I only know EABA by reputation. I did find CORPS interesting, it is a very techy game like GURPS (as are most of BTRCs games) but overall it is not as complex and GURPS or HERO. My general impression was that it could probably handle a wider range of genres, but was still probably rooted fairly solidly to real world physics.


Yeah Cortex Prime you can't even really run the game out of the box. Like you can using one of the 3 premade settings in the book, but it would be completely impossible to just run it "default" because it doesn't have a default.
That is probably a better way to do a truly universal game and is kind of how the old house systems worked. The main difference between Cortex and a house system being the GM decides what is in and out, instead of the author only including the applicable parts.
 

EmperorNorton

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That is probably a better way to do a truly universal game and is kind of how the old house systems worked. The main difference between Cortex and a house system being the GM decides what is in and out, instead of the author only including the applicable parts.
???? I'm confused at how you are wording this. Cortex Prime includes all the options and you just pick and choose the parts you want to use and what you don't want to use. There are 3 example setups, but you don't have to use any of them, some people may play them but the main purpose is to kind of show you what a setup would look like. You can just put together your own from the options in the book. The GM decides what is in and out and how they want each one to work based on their game.
 

Toadmaster

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???? I'm confused at how you are wording this. Cortex Prime includes all the options and you just pick and choose the parts you want to use and what you don't want to use. There are 3 example setups, but you don't have to use any of them, some people may play them but the main purpose is to kind of show you what a setup would look like. You can just put together your own from the options in the book. The GM decides what is in and out and how they want each one to work based on their game.
Right vs the old house rules type where you got a game and only had the rules that the author chose to include. If you look at something like Espionage vs Champions (2nd ed), there was a lot of commonality but the two games were not truly compatible, as stuff worked differently, you couldn't just grab something from Espionage and use it in Champions. There were rules that applied in one that didn't apply to the other. Similar deal with Ringworld vs Runequest. D20 is a much later example of the house system concept. D20 Modern is similar to but not really compatible with D20 Judge Dredd.

In a house system a player in one game could pick up the rules fairly quickly as they used similar concepts, but they were actually different and fully independent games. When the house systems gave way to "universal" systems these differences were minimized or eliminated entirely.


What you describe with Cortex sounds similar to how house systems worked except that unlike a house system where you just got the rules in a specific game, the GM is making the decisions of what gets used. It is kind of like getting a complete house system "kit" which is a step beyond what you find with most universal games.
 

EmperorNorton

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What you describe with Cortex sounds similar to how house systems worked except that unlike a house system where you just got the rules in a specific game, the GM is making the decisions of what gets used. It is kind of like getting a complete house system "kit" which is a step beyond what you find with most universal games.
Ah I read it backwards! My bad. I was reading it as you were saying house systems gm picked and in Cortex the author picked. Not sure if it was the way you wrote it or I just read wrong but it led to some confusion.

But yeah. Basically Cortex did start as a "House System". The last iteration before Cortex Prime, Cortex Plus, was Smallville/Leverage/Marvel Heroic were all written to be very specific versions using the same base mechanics, but heavily adapted to their specific settings. Cortex Plus had the "hackers guide" which was about how to make your own, but it wasn't that great and left a lot to be desired personally.

Cortex Prime on the other hand, was like someone took the House System, and then kind of just opened the locks on all the doors and was like "here you go, here are all the toys, here is how they all fit together, make it your own!"

I honestly think it is a genius design. @Cam Banks should be proud of what he made. For my tastes, it is probably the best designed "universal" system of all time, and probably the best designed game period for the last ten years (Again, for my tastes personally).
 
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AsenRG

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No it really isn't.

Most universal games are just "this is the game, use it for anything".
That's pretty much how the granddaddy of all universal games, GURPS, is built. For a time, AFAICT, it was imitated by others as well...:thumbsup:

Then people started complaining that "it's not a ready-made game, they want from the GM to build his own system from spare parts" on forums:shade:.
And then many other universal games ended up as "this is the game, use it for anything":devil:!
 

Toadmaster

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Ah I read it backwards! My bad. I was reading it as you were saying house systems gm picked and in Cortex the author picked. Not sure if it was the way you wrote it or I just read wrong but it led to some confusion.

But yeah. Basically Cortex did start as a "House System". The last iteration before Cortex Prime, Cortex Plus, was Smallville/Leverage/Marvel Heroic were all written to be very specific versions using the same base mechanics, but heavily adapted to their specific settings. Cortex Plus had the "hackers guide" which was about how to make your own, but it wasn't that great and left a lot to be desired personally.

Cortex Prime on the other hand, was like someone took the House System, and then kind of just opened the locks on all the doors and was like "here you go, here are all the toys, here is how they all fit together, make it your own!"

I honestly think it is a genius design. @Cam Banks should be proud of what he made. For my tastes, it is probably the best designed "universal" system of all time, and probably the best designed game period for the last ten years (Again, for my tastes personally).
A lot of the popular universal systems started as house systems. Personally I think this approach is better than the uniformity of rules across all genres that most universal systems have now adopted. Outside of a genre jumping campaign how often do you really need to run Conan alongside Luke Skywalker and Clint's The man with no name? In that rare case just keep your rules selection consistent. The trend with Universals has tended to focus on compatibility across genres.
 

Tom B

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Two that haven't been mentioned are CORPS and EABA by BTRC. I've got CORPS but have never played it, I only know EABA by reputation. I did find CORPS interesting, it is a very techy game like GURPS (as are most of BTRCs games) but overall it is not as complex and GURPS or HERO. My general impression was that it could probably handle a wider range of genres, but was still probably rooted fairly solidly to real world physics.
I'm still a big fan of CORPS. I appreciate what Greg Porter did with EABA, but it lost the basic simplicity of the core rules that CORPS had. (CORPS can get pretty complex in combat if you incorporate all the optional rules, but it builds on a simple base.) I especially like the mechanic where, if the modified difficulty is equal to or less than your still, you don't need to roll. Success is automatic. Combined with a simple skill progression and option for open-ended rolls, and it's still my favorite universal system.
 

AsenRG

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I'm still a big fan of CORPS. I appreciate what Greg Porter did with EABA, but it lost the basic simplicity of the core rules that CORPS had. (CORPS can get pretty complex in combat if you incorporate all the optional rules, but it builds on a simple base.) I especially like the mechanic where, if the modified difficulty is equal to or less than your still, you don't need to roll. Success is automatic. Combined with a simple skill progression and option for open-ended rolls, and it's still my favorite universal system.
I must point out that the rule still exists in EABAv2 - if you would succeed when you roll 2 on all your dice, you don't need to roll:thumbsup:.
 

CRKrueger

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No it really isn't.

Most universal games are just "this is the game, use it for anything".

Very rarely are they built to enable you to make your own game for the specialized thing you want.
Uh, GURPS pretty much proves that wrong. GURPS is exactly a "build your own GURPS" type of system, as is HERO. Name a Universal System that doesn't expect you to use the rules to custom-tailor the system for the desired type of game.
 

TristramEvans

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Uh, GURPS pretty much proves that wrong. GURPS is exactly a "build your own GURPS" type of system, as is HERO. Name a Universal System that doesn't expect you to use the rules to custom-tailor the system for the desired type of game.

I mean, I can - microlite systems like Risus or The Window, but you're absolutely correct, there's nothing new whatsoever about a toolkit-approach Universal RPG.
 

robertsconley

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Uh, GURPS pretty much proves that wrong. GURPS is exactly a "build your own GURPS" type of system, as is HERO. Name a Universal System that doesn't expect you to use the rules to custom-tailor the system for the desired type of game.
I can't, Fate, Fudge, GURPS, Hero System, all are toolkit from which you have to assemble the specifics for your campaign.

The closest to a universal but not a tool kit RPG would be something like Pacesetter Timemaster. An RPG deliberately meant to handle multiple time period with different technologies and possibly genres.

1614113066655.png
 

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I really think that you guys are commenting on stuff you aren't actually that familiar with. Cortex Prime is not the same as HERO in what it does. I'm not as familiar with GURPS, so I can't comment on that.

I used HERO for years. If you think it is the same, then you don't understand the way Cortex Prime is designed.

Cortex doesn't expect you to custom-tailor the system. It expects you to BUILD the system. It doesn't give you a baseline. It just gives you the parts and you put it together.

There is a reason that a HERO character sheet pretty much has a set form. For the most part the baseline of HERO is set. You can run HERO straight out of the book without doing any alterations. It is literally impossible to do that with Cortex Prime. There is no baseline. There isn't even a base set of stats. There aren't even a base set of SETS of stats.

Yes, every universal system expects you to customize. They still have a baseline from which you are customizing.

The baseline of Cortex Prime is just the very basics of the dice rolling mechanic and distinctions. Everything else you have to put together from the options presented to you. That isn't the same as "here is the baseline, how do you want to modify it/diverge from it".
 
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