I'm the GM in a game of Cortex Plus Dramatic loosely based on the core rules of Smallville RPG. A question posed by one of my players has me wondering how NPCs (Features or Extras) resolve passive resistance:

How do NPCs act against passive resistance?

The specific question involves a Lead building a pit-trap that an NPC would fall into later. I can have the Lead roll against the Trouble pool to create the trap, but once built, how do I have the NPCs roll to avoid or notice it? I can make it a Contest between the Extra (using the Trouble pool) or the Feature (using their stats) and the Lead who created it, but I'm not sure if it makes sense for a Lead who is not present to roll in a Contest, and I'm not sure if it makes sense to roll separately each time someone encounters the trap.

Possibly a Feature could roll against the Trouble pool, but this has two problems:

  1. It violates the nature of the Trouble pool, which is mounting tension for the Leads.
  2. It does not account for the actual quality of the pit-trap.

The way I understand it, an Extra could never roll versus the pit-trap, because Extras roll the Trouble pool. This would put me in the position of rolling the Trouble pool against the Trouble pool (the ultimate evolution of playing with yourself). But they could roll against a Lead with the Trouble pool.

The related question When a villain grandstands, what is he rolling against? pertains to the same core issue (GM rolling against himself) but is different in that it pertains to Cortex Plus Heroic rather than Dramatic, and in that it does not address NPCs avoiding hazards in the environment.

Please, when answering this question, avoid advice to ignore or fudge rules in favor of the story. I'm looking for a rules-as-written answer here. I prefer Cortex Plus Dramatic solutions, but I recognize that other flavors, such as Heroic or Action might have a solution to that would work for Dramatic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind the Cortex Plus is more of a roleplay system versus a 'hard rules' system. \$\endgroup\$
    – juskom95
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 18:24

1 Answer 1


I worked on Marvel Heroic and Firefly and was the rules editor for a couple of the Firefly supplements (just to establish my credentials).

When it comes to interpreting rules, I use a version of Occam's Razor: "Thou shalt not add additional unneccesary rules."

I just checked the Smallville RPG Corebook and Cortex Hacker's Guide. The only requirement for a Contest is that it involve a Lead vs. another Lead or a Lead vs. a Feature who are working at cross purposes.

That's it.

There's no requirement that they be present. There's no requirement that this action take place at the same time. So saying that Contests require either of those would be adding a rule that isn't there.

So the situation you describe above is a Contest, unless the opposition is an Extra, in which you would roll against the Trouble pool.

Just to add another example:

Say a Feature was conducting a smear TV campaign against a Lead politician, and you were checking to see whether or not the electorate was buying into it.

In that case, neither the Feature, nor the Lead are present and the 'target' is a group of Extras. But still it's a Feature vs. a Lead. Therefore, Contest.


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