Ok, I’ve given a few examples on what you CAN do in Cosmothea. I barely scratched the surface, but hopefully it will give you some idea! But in all fairness, what CAN’T it do? That’s important to know too, and will reveal more about why I decided not to make Cosmothea a generic setting and system. Not familiar with generic system?
Basically generic RPG’s are designed to let you do anything and are not tied to any particular setting and are intended to work in any genre. That sounds great theoretically, but it is always provided at a cost, and I’m not willing to pay it. And not every generic game offers the same kinds of experiences. I have nothing against them, per say. But perhaps I’ll devote a blog post to discussing generic games and compare Cosmothea in that context later. Now then, what CAN’T you do in Cosmothea?
Frankly, it’s more a matter of omission. I omitted from the rules examples of things I didn’t want to represent (like Transformers, Warp Drive, Vancian magic and wands, just to name a few) – things that aren’t what Cosmothea is about. So, it’s not so much that you can’t do them, but that they don’t fit the personality as well, so they aren’t directly supported. Using the rules, you can make almost anything happen, but I don’t go out of my way to make special mechanics to ensure you can do so. Space in rulebooks is precious, so I’m loading them up with mechanics that focus primarily on doing what the setting is meant to do.
Cosmothea has a particular flavor and layers of storylines and as I developed the mechanics and setting, I made sure that they are well supported. You can do more with Cosmothea if you want to, but it would conflict somewhat thematically, unless you put in some elbow grease, which you actually have to do with a generic game too, since they tend to provide sets of mechanics, give some examples, then expect you to build the rest or buy another book where someone else built the rest. Here are some examples where Cosmothea limits its focus.
There is one power/magic system in Cosmothea. I’m not interested in offering 3 systems and saying, “Pick how magic works in your universe.” Memorizing spells is silly, IMO. Crafting spells from scratch is fine if you’ve nothing to do and your friends are late for the game, but Cosmothea doesn’t offer a way to build a spell during combat. You can create your own spells outside of combat, however, and you can quickly tweak any power to your heart’s content without significantly slowing down the game, but no, I don’t offer the kind of magic system where you add this plus that and that and together they make some other third thing. I’m looking for faster combat than that.
In Cosmothea, you can make fast tweaks, usually prior to combat, and even assign talents that further tweak your effect, but whether you are running a superhero with powers like Spiderman, an arcane shaper casting spells, a holy adept using miracles or some other power user, the power/spell/miracle will all feel quite different (sometimes way different), and mechanically might have some curve balls thrown in, but under the hood, they are all using the same engine. Me, I see that as a feature, not a flaw. It means that you don’t have to learn extra rules and bloat the rulebook with separate systems.
Cosmothea’s magic system was designed to mesh tightly with the very fabric of what Cosmothea is, and is therefore laced with story upon story, personality and mechanics to help support that. D&D has used the Vancian magic system and also a feat-like magic system (4E) and if you like those sorts of things a lot, you might not like Cosmothea’s, because ours is wildly different. For example, spell books, wands and spell scrolls don’t exist in Cosmothea.
You could still approximate a mage looking up information (their floating arcane templates do display runes for you to browse and you can even etch notes in your template, but it doesn’t feel quite the same). Magic feels a bit more like you are using a magical computer visually appropriate to your theme, personality and culture.
While there are no wands, there are racassas (which I’ve talked about before, and still need to show you guys some pics of all this stuff – personally I think racassas are about 50x cooler than wands, but if you are all about reproducing that classic Harry Potter look, you can’t do it in Cosmothea very well). Oh, a GM or player could make something and call it a wand – the rules cover for it, but it’s not built in. We’re going for a different look and feel – more gritty and tough looking. Wands aren’t very tough looking. You can only put so much personality into a wand. But that could be a snag for some players wanting wands and the classic mage feel.
While non magic-using superheroes don’t go around with templates, essentially the mechanics are the same. That said, games designed specifically for superheroes generally allow you to have way over the top power, even at Character Creation. In Comothea, superheroes us a power scale to determine their starting toughness. So, the default is low power, but the scale enables GM’s to set the mood. Me, I’d rather play a Batman or Daredevil-toughness character than a nigh invulnerable superman. Cosmothea reflects that, but allows you to go all out if you want.
While I’m still polishing the rules, I’m not sure Cosmothea would be able to support the toughest superman has gotten using the existing rules. That guy has done some crazy stunts that I personally feel break a campaign, push the boundaries of what’s reasonable farther than I’m comfortable, and can make a game less fun and less challenging. It’s also harder on the GM to make a high-powered game fun, compared to lower power level games. As much fun as I’ve had reading about and running Silver Surfer and Hulk power level characters, among my friends at least, all of our most exciting and memorable adventures have always been at the lower power levels. But as I said, the upper end hasn’t been finalized, but unlike superhero games, Cosmothea is intentionally grittier and less four-color.
So as you can see, there are some things Cosmothea can’t do. Next up? I dunno. Maybe I’ll answer a few more questions like I started awhile back, or dip into the upcoming anthology some! I’ll figure it out when I get there. I just know it will be Cosmothea related, as promised! Till then, have a great week!