Star Trek-style gaming with Cortex Plus

United Worlds Starship Polaris

The urge to run space opera game in the vein of the original Star Trek has bitten me again. I’m aiming for something you might call Forbidden Planet: The Series. Or Starship Polaris, if you’ve been following United Worlds’ indie sci-fi project. Big ships, responsibility to your crew, and adventure around every corner.

This time, I’m looking at Cortex+, Cam Banks and Margaret Weis Productions’ excellent family of cinematic and television-styled roleplaying games.

Specifically, I’m looking at Action Roleplaying, the engine behind Leverage. Action Roleplaying provides a key element for this genre: characters with distinct specialties who are, nonetheless, capable in a wide variety of fields.

The Hacker’s Guide (released to KS backers) is an invaluable resource here, providing lots of tools for customizing the various families of Cortex+ games.

Let’s look at the decisions we have to make.


The core of humanistic space opera are Values. I’m picking Ambition, Compassion, Curiousity, and Duty. (One might find alien crews with different Values, but these make a good core.) These will get customized Value statements for each character, as in Smallville and its broader version Dramatic Roleplaying.

Then we need action traits. The first category are Attributes. I’m stressing mental and social traits: Bravado, Ingenuity, Fellowship, and Perception.

Second, we need the areas our crew are trained in. I’m using the various departments of starship operations: Medicine, Science, Security, and Operations. With a range of attached Specialties, these can cover the needs of a crew far from home and all alone in the night.

Finally, there are Distinctions — those traits that can cut both ways.

Character Creation

Character creation is done using a lifepath — a vastly simplified version of Cortex’s Pathways system. I’ll publish that in more detail later. Essentially, you pick an Origin and move through three stages of your career, creating an action-ready crewmember.

Here’s a sample lifepath chart, with most of the instructions.

Next: Tuning the Action and Conflict systems

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