Review: Leverage RPG

I’ve compiled a bunch of G+ posts that I’ve made over the last week or so that form a review of the Leverage RPG. See what you think.

Leverage has its own nomenclature for things that, by now, have been largely codified by RPGs over the years. The character sheet is a Rap Sheet. Your PC is a Crewmember etc etc. Right now, it’s annoying, but I wonder if it will help me get more into the game as I get used to it?

Leverage: There are six Attributes: Agility, Alertness, Intelligence, Strength, Vitality, and Willpower. Read over the descriptions; you’ll see that every Attribute has a social aspect. That’s important, especially if you’re someone who feels safe ignoring one side or the other. On a Leverage Crew, everyone has to step up and con someone at one time or another. So it’s important to consider how your Attributes affect how you perform that sort of task.

Leverage: it shys away from stat+skill rolls, instead going for stat+role rolls. Imagine using that in D&D (as I find myself doing). You’ d roll Int+Wizard, or Dex+Rogue. That opens up some interesting narrative possibilities. Now, in Leverage, you’re rated against all five roles, not just your primary one, so cool things start to happen when you roll, say, Willpower+grifter. Essentially this is doing away with long skill lists and just bundling a bunch of competencies into your role. Nice.

Leverage: last time I mentioned the base engine of stat+role. Obviously there’s a little more to it than that. Leverage adds in some more variables. First though, here’s the core dice roll.
You roll multiple dice. Each trait has a dice to represent it, from D4 to D12. You pick one from your attribute, one from the salient role, and you may well be picking up others from the variables below. High roll is good. You take the two best and add together. the opposition then rolls against that number (if it’s opposed, and it often will be). If they beat you by 5, you’re stuffed. If they beat you by less than that, you can roll right back at them until there’s a winner. You can give in to lose on your own terms, or be taken out totally. This mechanic applies to the whole game, negotiation, hacking, combat, whatever.

Now then, how does Leverage monkey about with that?
There’s specialities, which narrow the focus on a role. You get an extra D6. Pretty standard to games, so you get the picture.
The next is distinctions. These have a lot in common with Aspects from FATE games (perhaps unsurprisingly give Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue are on the writing team). The player brings these into play, and if it’s in a positive way, you get a D8 in your roll (that’s a solid dice). If you choose to take it in a negative way (that’s not by sulking at your GM) you only get a D4, but you do get a plot point (more on those later, but you can imagine).
The last is talents, which are a lot like feats, but are all situational in that hey all have to be activated by a trigger in the game. Each role has approx six examples to choose from and there’s some generic ones too. They have funky names like ‘Wanna buy a watch?’ or ‘Are you gonna log in or whistle Dixie?’. I prefer these to something like ‘improved initiative’ to be fair, but it can sound a little twee. There’s good solid rules for making your own, and I would.
Last, assets and complications. These are temporary modifiers that effect other traits. These assets can be created in play, by players, with the use of plot points. From this perspective you can see the influence of FATE rearing it’s head again. Things can be ‘on fire D6′ or you can have a ‘big stick D8′. Complications come up in a different way, when the player rolls a 1 on their dice. (when the GM rolls a 1 it’s an opportunity, which can trigger a talent)
So those are the levels in the mechanics. Here’s the thing, it doesn’t look complicated but I had to flick back and forth and reread sections a lot in order to write this post. It takes a few reads to sink in. Some of that is due to the naming conventions, and some of it is due to the formatting. There are examples spotted throughout, but I would have appreciated a big one that pulls it all together.
The system really reminds me of Savage Worlds at times, but with FATE spread all over it. I think I like it as it stands, but does it do anything special to drive heist stories? Remains to be seen.

Leverage: how to run it. The GM in this game is called the Fixer. A good sized chunk of the book is aimed at him, for perhaps obvious reasons. Up until this chapter, the game looked like a set of fairly generic, and quite lightweight rules for conflict resolution. Having read the guidance on character creation and job plotting, I can see how actually the rules support genre emulation. There’s always a danger that these sections simply become a genre essay, with nothing to add to the mechanics than advice. That’s not quite the case here, though it does come close on occasion. There’s actual hard mechanical support for your capers baked in here. Lots of examples, character write ups and best of all tables for rolling up your next game. These last make Leverage a genuine pick up game (assuming you have your crew done already, or can survive with a short job).
I’ve come away from this read with a much better sense of what Leverage can do, and how to enable it at the table. Funnily enough, I don’t even think I’d have to send long explaining it to the table (in fact, there’s a nice little list of ‘expectations’ earlier in the book).
There is a setting of sorts for those who want it. It’s our world, except with crooks and justice at its heart. It’s certainly not a must read, and I guess if you’ve watched any of the shows it’s totally optional. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to take this system to a setting of my choice anyway, so I almost begrudge space given to the titular show, though I know that’s churlish.

Leverage: The Flashbacks.
This is where Leverage becomes a game about something rather than a game about anything. The heist genre uses the flashback device a lot. It allows the audience to be amazed as what looked seemingly impossible, turns out to have been a plant or something involving sleight of hand all along. In game terms, its about using a Plot Point to bring something new into the scene THAT WAS ARRANGED EARLIER IN THE STORY. Anyone can spend a PP to find a handy cellphone, but a flashback can show how it was dropped into a marks pocket earlier that day so the crew can call him up unannounced. This is called the Establishment flashback.
Then there’s the Wrap Up Flashback. This one brings about the denouement, with style. Think about the final scenes in the Usual Suspects, or Oceans 11. In game, it’s a series of individual flashback actions that go round the table describing how each Crewmember had a part to play in the big set up. Successes feed into the final roll from the crews leader (mastermind).
The genius of these is in the way it doesn’t force players to be clever in the moment. You can go ahead and get into crazy situations all you like with no worrying about your safety, or even about dead ending the story. Later, all will be made clear, when the table flashes back to something that happened off camera earlier in the tale.
This all needs creativity, and good improv skills. Its not for very player that’s for sure. When it works, it will be spectacular, and guarantees a great session climax. In some ways it’s a shame that the whole session comes down to a single roll, but there’s no doubting the drama inherent in that.

Leverage: this is an example of a basic supporting character;

Jim Hardy Farmer d8, Tough As Old Tree Roots d8, Suspicious d4 Jim Hardy signed a contract with an energy company to allow “minimal” natural gas exploration on his farm. The next autumn, his harvest consisted of a grand total of nine ears of corn and one cow that burps fire.

It made me smile, and serves as a nice example of how simple, but evocative Leverage NPCs are.

Leverage: Plot Points. You’ve seen the like before I’m sure. These are a narrative currency that players spend to bend the results of the dice, and that GMs (Fixers) use to grease the wheels of the story.
You spend them in three ways: to include more dice (thus keeping more than the usual two you add up), to activate a talent, or to generate an asset (declare something into being)
You get them in two ways; when the fixer wants to spend a plot point on his own guys he has to hand one across to the player, and when he wants to activate a complication.
What I’ve noticed in any game that has such a currency, there’s always an issue with the flow of that currency across the table. There’s hoarders, and spendthrifts. Most fall between the two, simply wondering how often to spend or save. I’m hoping to see plenty of advice on this later in the book, but it’s a shame the players don’t get a heads up this early in the book.

  • Leverage: what it doesn’t have.
    Any concessions to non gamers. 
    Hit points
    Equipment
    Skills
    Magic
    Supernatural
    Powers
    Initiative
    Variation in layout
    Fixed target numbers
    Need to keep the party together

 

If you’ve found my comments on Leverage interesting so far, then for a couple of quid you could do worse than grab this http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?pro​ducts_id=79384

 

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  1. Pingback: News from Around the Net: 02-DEC-2011 | Game Knight Reviews

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