Off-Topic—Cortex: Prime Iron

TL;DR: Cancer is a bitch, and getting over it long-term is not easy, even when you know what you should do for it. In this post, I pay back (and hopefully, forward) my role-playing friends for their help with that.

It’s been a while since my last post, for a bunch of reasons, but the short of it is: cancer is a bitch, even years after you beat it. Cutting short the sob story, I developed a case of I-give-zero-fucks-about-my-fitness that metastasized (cancer humor, check) into I-give-zero-fucks-about-anything, because that’s how I-give-zero-fucks syndrome works.

There was an upside though. Half of it was realizing which things I shouldn’t give two fucks about anymore for good reasons. But I’m not ready to overshare about that. The other half was realizing that I was being a selfish jerk, bailing out of my role-playing and training friends, who (crucially) were not bailing out on me.

So, after digging myself into a hole (that would account for the first 3 months of silence), I did my best to climb out of it. This was a full-time job (or three), and involved day-job stuff, training stuff, and game stuff, and took about 3 months (during which I was too busy to post here).

I’ll keep the first three months out of this post, but as a tribute to the friends that never bailed out on me, I’ll present a Cortex Build for the training program that got me back on track over the past three months. And don’t worry, I’ll wrap up with a few serious reasons for why I did it.

My Training Cortex Build

I’ll call my build Cortex: Prime Iron because “The Iron Game” is a common shorthand for “lifting weight.” Also, in tribute to Henry Rollins’ The Iron and the Soul. The build does not model anything than physical fitness training and the thinking going into it, so it’s really really niche.

For Prime Traits, I used Distinctions, with SFXs (Hinder, and a free-form one for each); Attributes, because of how my training system works (or rather, my take on a very old one, more on that later); and Roles, for training-relevant skill sets (again; it’s a narrow build).

Other mods included are Milestones for simple Growth (Goals would have burdened the build with too many details of the training system), Shaken & Stricken stress (renamed) over Attributes, as it fits the theory behind the training system perfectly, Challenges for training bouts and a Doom Pool for everything else (in particular, opposition for recovery scenes).

The character file of Fig. 1—made with the best Cortex Prime character file utility at the time of writing—should be reasonably self-explanatory, but here’s a short breakdown in the next section.

Fig. 1–The Polverine, for Cortex: Prime Iron

Trait Breakdown (and Some Theory)

Details of the training system would be for the other blog, but Cortex: Prime Iron does not make much sense without some training theory, so I’ll go briefly through what’s necessary.

  • Distinctions. My go-to triad: High Concept, Trouble (here: what does me in is a bone marrow transplant, see Complications), and Wild Card (and if this one seems odd, check here).
  • Attributes. Based on a training system with more than a decade of applications and refinement (with one world-record holder to prove that it works). Worth noting: Stability is mechanical stability, not to be confused with balance (see the other blog), other qualities are self-explanatory.
  • Roles. Lifter for lifting things up and putting them down, Runner for cardiovascular endurance thingamajigs (Walker would work too but is less evocative), and Thinker for the “analytic” in “analytic fitness.”
  • Stress: Shaken & Stricken by another name: when fatigue sets in, things become harder (Tired=Shaken), and too much fatigue prevents further training (Washed Out=Stricken) until recovered.
  • Milestones. Progressive Overload is the very foundation of training. Fatigue/Fitness alludes to the training model (brief summary here, TMI here); Adaptation is a training-centric notion (here), and Personal Best is the go-to motivation of strength trainees, customized for yours truly.
  • Complications. A custom mod, because most serious trainees suffer from training-related chronic injuries. I don’t, because I’m (mostly) a serious trainer who trains injuries out, not in. Still, two bone marrow transplants left me with the hemoglobin levels of a normal, untrained person, so I still have use for that spot.

Below are sample SFXs for the third distinction, for real strength sports (that’s what the training system works best for). Similar to Tales of Xadia, spending a Plot Point to include a second die from the same Trait set is not a default option, hence the phrasing of the first and third.

Olympic Weightlifter. Spend a Plot Point to include both your Speed and Strength with Lifter for a test, contest or challenge that includes Olympic Lifts (Snatch and Clean & Jerk).

Powerlifter. Step up or Double your Strength die with Lifter for a test, contest, or challenge that includes powerlifts (Squat, Bench Press, or Deadlift).

Strong(wo)man. Spend a Plot Point to include both your Stamina and Strength with Runner for a test, contest, or challenge that involves loaded carries (Yoke Walk, Farmer’s Walk, etc.).


The real-world training system is called tetrad, a greek word meaning (roughly) “4-uple” or “group of four” and originates with Greek wrestlers (like Plato). It works on a 4-day rotation, and the Roman army adopted it as a training method for 900 years (give-or-take).

But this not being a fitness blog, I’ll just say that a training cycle is a sequence of challenges, with a period as follows.

  • Normal Day. If you trained every day the same, that’d be it. Greek wrestlers would throw each other around, do push-ups, etc. Legions would march in full kit and practice weapon drills. I lift heavy weights, not too many times, keeping it hard, but doable: a 2-3d10 challenge of Strength (moving heavy weights) and Stability (controlling heavy weights). No Speed, little Stamina.
  • Easy Day. Active recovery. Greek wrestlers would practice locks and mobility drills, legionnaires, weapon drills—then would clean the weapons, and do camp chores. I flip tires, pull stuff at a rope’s end, fun stuff, a 2-3D8 challenge, mostly Speed (negating the need for Stability), and a bit of Strength. No Stamina, so I’m fit for the next day, but not fatigued.
  • Exhaustion Day. All out. Greek wrestlers would fight in tournaments, legionnaires, in all-day mock battles. I lift up, carry around, and put down heavy-ish stuff, then lift fast light-ish stuff the mix, a 4-5d8 challenge of Stamina, with some Strength and Stability and Speed, at least early on—but when fatigue sets, it becomes a slog.
  • Recovery Day. The Greek wrestlers did rest, but they were lazy aristocrats (like Plato). Roman legions stuck to camp chores. I jump, throw light stuff around, lift light stuff. Fast, fun, no challenge, Speed only, training to recover (it’s a thing) from any Stress (aka, cumulative Fatigue) against the Doom Pool.

Playing with the Build (and Why)

Fig. 2 is an example (in Foundry VTT) of an exhaustion day challenge, from last week: jogging with a yoke for three laps of decreasing length, with light Olympic lifts between laps. Repeat five times (a 5d8 Stamina challenge) with support from a training partner (a Scene Distinction), riding the training effect of the previous Easy Day (a d12 Asset, more on that soon).

Fig. 2. Exhaustion Day Challenge

Being a Stamina challenge, my Low Hemoglobin complication would add 1d10 to the challenge pool. Partially offsetting that, is the Fitness 1-Fatigue 0 asset—technically test-created, but automatically so (it’s a consequence of the training system). Since it’s backed by theory, Analytic Fitness (SFX) applies: the largest die in the pool (if I had to roll) would be d10 Thinker, so I get d12 Fitness 1-Fatigue 0.

Still, this challenge is nothing to scoff at. My Stamina is pretty average despite my training (it would be much lower without it) so I usually power through with Strength early on, but I’m resilient —and thanks to Mulus Marianus, I can use both Lifter and Runner—and later on, I rely on Stability (going slower, so Lifter only) and control, but I’m quite adept at that. Some consequences are as below.

  • Packing the dice pool in early rounds tends to cause hitches. They go to the Doom Pool, as the complications typically occur when the fitness effect abates and fatigue becomes dominant, so—typically during the Active Recovery day.
  • The Challenge, on its turn, can attack—me preferably, as my training partner uses the same weights but does not have the same limitations, and thus has it easier—or strengthen itself, for instance by luring us into “one more set of laps,” if we fall for it.

With a simulationist approach, each participant should roll for each round of their own challenge, in parallel, a challenge-contest hybrid, if you will. Now, regular Cortex would let the team as a whole take up the challenge, and I’m not going to sweat too much on the simulation, anyway, because Cortex: Prime Iron is a Wittgenstein Ladder.

Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote a book (the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) concluding that only statements of observable facts, and statements of logical-mathematical relations, make real, good sense. But that conclusion is neither: it’s a sweeping abstract generality. So, by Wittgenstein’s own light, it does not make real good sense. Self-own?

Nope. It’s a ladder you can climb the wall of philosophical discourse, see the wall for what it is (gatekeeping word salad), and then push away because you don’t need it anymore, now that you’re passed it. Thank you, Mister Wittgenstein!

Wrapping Up: Cutting Throught the Bullshit

Nobody can get in shape playing Cortex: Prime Iron, and it’s a goddam shame, but it’s still a Wittgenstein ladder to learn about training theory and cut through fitness “influencers” bullshit (in the technical sense). Once you get how training works, you know a few minutes a day of exercise won’t really work long-term (“it’s better to have high fitness with moderate fatigue than moderate fitness with low fatigue”).

I’m partial about that topic because, if my fitness drops too much, I suffer from increased side effects of my bone marrow transplant. This is no small thing: statistically, my baseline chances of surviving that transplant for more than 5 years are just about 7/10. And that’s without factoring increased risks of death associated with long sitting hours (which are already bad enough).

So, for me, training (as often as possible) is literally a matter of life and death. But it is, also, for most of my TTRPG friends, as most of them have sedentary jobs with long sitting hours.

Now, without them, I wouldn’t have found the motivation to raise my fitness above the threshold where my risk of dying goes down. And I hope this will inspire just one or two of them to increase their fitness and lower their risk of death.

If that works, I’ll have paid back what I owe to the friends I’ve made, and maybe pay forward all those I’ll keep making, playing amazing games, like Cortex Prime, for years to come.

And that will be all for today, folks.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. ydbxmhc says:

    My friend, you continue to amaze and amuse, educate and inspire. Kudos, thanks, and bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Polverine says:

    You are most welcome, and it is a privilege to be called your friend.

    Like

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