“Leverage” RPG: The Misidentified Dolphin Job

I’ve been talking about Leverage RPG amongst a few of my gamer friends, especially the possibility of hacking it. We’ve come up with quite a few hack ideas already, including:

One thing I was sure about though: before going too far into a hack of the game, I wanted to get some experiencing running Leverage as is to get my head around it. While I had participated as a player, running it is a whole other task, one that I wanted to know before diving into the system too much.

Well, my D&D game wrapped early on Sunday, and I suggested with the time left we bust open some Leverage. Here’s a rough recap of how it went.While the players went out and grabbed lunch, I printed off a few character sheets and the list of talents for character creation. Then I flipped to the Toolbox section and rolled up the job. This included rolling up the Client, the Mark, and more:

  • Client: Full-time Parent and Athlete/Entertainer (rolled twice)
  • Problem: Lost Reputation and Mistaken Identity (rolled twice)
  • Pressure: No one else believes
  • The Mark: Financier
  • Angle: Visionary
  • Power: Connected
  • Weakness: Tyrannical
  • Vulnerability: Family
  • What else is in play: Enforcer
  • Twist: Death/disappearance of the mark (ultimately unused)

Very quickly into rolling, the job took shape. With the client being an athlete and a full-time dad, and the mark being a financier, that suggested to me immediately that it was a disgraced star athlete who had been shamed by the owner of the team to cover up something nasty, and that his kids were threatened to keep him from going to the police. (Part of this may have been due to a football game in the background.)

Job creation could definitely use a reference page, especially with all the suggestions of what die sizes each should get. However, it wasn’t hard to pull from the advice about creating a job to get that info as well and assign it. I ended up with the following cards to start with their die ratings:

  • Mark McNavy, the Client: Former Star Athlete d8, Full time dad d8, My kids d4
  • Larry Preen, the Mark: More money than God d12, Visionary d12, Take me out to the ball game d8, Tyrnnaical d4, Family man d4
  • Derrik McNavy, also in play: Enforcer d10, Looks like the client d8
  • Stadium: Skimped on the expenses d10, Hometown pride d6

Once food had arrived, we gathered around the table to do character creation. The first step was to get everyone to choose a role, which took a little prompting and explanation (no one at the table was a fan of the show.)  With only four players, we had to relegate a role to secondary. I then did a cross between the “abbreviated” character creation of letting them assign their roles, though did do introductory flashbacks later. We went through attributes, specialties, and assets fairly easily. The specialties that immediately jumped out were the grifter’s “Kansas City Shuffle” (which we had to look up on TV Tropes to determine exactly what that was) and the mastermind’s “Xanatos Gambit.”

I passed around the printouts of talents for them to choose from, and explained a few more of the rules and had to look at a few myself to explain them. Distinctions came next, and were some of the hardest things for the group to come up with. Most ended up pretty simple, like “short” and “protective” which is fine. I had them choose 2, and then run a flashback each to decide the 3rd. Flashbacks took a little bit of prompting and guidance from me, but ultimately ran fine, and I ended up creating one complication from the grifter’s failed attempt to cheat at a blackjack game (when his triskaidekaphobia kicked in.) Having the other players decide on a 3rd distinction took some coercing as well but ultimately worked out.

During character creation, I definitely felt like I needed a one page reference to share and pass around. Character creation isn’t tough, but having it all in one place and well-organized is a big plus to jump in easier.

The finished crew consisted of:

  • Huckleberry, the Grifter, a failed gambler with an unhealthy fear of the number 13 and a very helpful puppy dog.
  • Hutz, the Mastermind, a washed up lawyer who moved into scamming because of one of his clients and who thrives on convoluted schemes.
  • Badass, the Hitter, the product of a tough childhood who now protects those who can’t protect themselves, master of the silent takedown.
  • Schlomo “4chan King” Bernstein, a spoiled emo child who likes to pick-pocket from the rich and trendy and enjoys the anonymity of the internet.

While the characters were giving their backstories and flashbacks, I picked up on multiple characters referencing Miami, so we decided that was where the crew operated, above Tobacco Road. Our client was a former linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, and our mark was the (fictional) owner of said team.

The client launched into the story: Mark McNavy had stumbled upon a massive gambling operation seemingly orchestrated by Larry Preen, the owner, to an unknown end. In retaliation, Mark had been disgraced by a YouTube video reportedly showing him gambling on opposing teams and agreeing to throw the game, yet he swore to the crew that he had never done that. Larry also threatened Mark’s kids if he went to the police about any of it, so the crew are his only hope. Several of the crew were incensed by bringing kids into the picture, so they were on the job.

Plans went into motion to first get the kids to a safehouse, where the crew quickly discovers that someone who looks vaguely like Mark is working for Larry, and is later discovered to be Mark’s older brother, thought killed in a jailhouse riot. This explained the fake video (after all, it’s hard to tell anyone apart in a grainy YouTube video), and allowed an easier way to pick up his kids, which Badass discovers while heading to McNavy’s house.

The crew does a good job taking out the elder McNavy, recovering the kids, and figuring out that they need to get Preen to admit what had happened, though they do throw up a few red flags online in the process as well as scaring the kids on multiple occasions. A plan is ultimately hatched to go after Preen and get him to admit to wrongdoing, and broadcast it all on the Jumbotron during the game (conveniently going on that day.) Mark McNavy is brought in to impersonate his brother.

Though there are some complications like the power going out throughout the stadium the ridiculously circuitous nature of a Xanatos Gambit confusing everyone, and the football game’s score coming up 13 to 13, the plan was ultimately successful. Larry Preen, in a bluster, admitted what he had done while broadcasting to millions of Sunday football viewers. In the process, his plan to bankrupt the team and get them sold to Arizona was revealed, along with evidence of orchestrating a jailbreak and uploading the smear video comes out. The crew had accomplished the mission, and Huckleberry’s hound made off with a portion of the gate.

Lessons Learned

  • Xanatos Gambit/Kansas City Shuffle specialties are definitely appropriate and make the game much funnier, but also much more twisty to follow any kind of plan.
  • I need to read through the fixer chapter once again to make sure I’ve got all the GMing rules down. I definitely don’t think I was pulling dice in the right way for the opposition, and I pulled one of the mark’s d12 attributes probably a bit too often. I also wasn’t sure when exactly to pull d4s on my side, since they didn’t help me, though maybe that’s one where I should be on the PC’s side and create more opportunities for them.
  • Along those lines, I did run into some trouble in telling what attribute should be rolled. Straight up grifts did make me miss a charisma stat, and some like vitality never came up. Likewise, distinctions like “tough” were hard to work into a game where the rolls the PCs are making are active instead of reactive.
  • References sheets will be very helpful for this game.
  • It’s very important to keep the spotlight moving, though the fact that each PC is in constant communication with each other makes this much easier, and that each spotlight scene can often be broken down into a single roll is a great way to keep it moving.
  • As advertised, one of the big strengths of the game is how fast it runs. I rolled the job, we made characters, explained rules, and played in 3 hours flat, which is an amazing feat of game design.

To hear me talk about the Leverage RPG and answer some questions about it from the Giant Fire Breathing Robot crew, check out their latest podcast.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.

Comments

  1. What stands out for me is how quickly you were able to put a game together. All RPGs could use a system like that to get ready, get going, and have fun on ultra-short notice. Are there RPGs out there that focus on getting up and running quickly?

  2. TheMainEvent says:

    Having the combination of “Kansas City Shuffle” & “Xanatos Gambit” and the flashback mechanic worked seemlessly. We actually failed lots of dice rolls, but we had two characters that thrived on turning failures into part of the plan.

    After playing through a length near-epic level plot combat, this system’s strengths really stood out. I think the system is great, but the modern setting for non-fans of the show might be a little thin for a campaign. Grafting on a bit of a more traditional RPG setting and storyline and this game could have serious legs.

  3. It’s always gratifying to me to see how easy Leverage is for folks to pick up and play. I completely agree RE: cheat sheets and one-page summaries, and I hope to get some of those out soon.

    Vitality and Mastermind are two Traits people seem to be scratching heads over, as well as the “no Charisma” Trait, but the book does discuss these issues.

    Vitality is endurance and staying power as well as sticking things out; roll it in Timed Actions, for instance, or Contests where it’s all about who has the stones to keep going and who has to fold. Vitality + Hacker is late-night code breaking sessions; Vitality + Grifter is pulling a fake injury or “the car ran me over!” scam successfully.

    Mastermind is rolled in when observing strategies and patterns, making sense of things that are possible connected, assembling the facts, and knowing enough about people to think ahead or second-guess them. It’s also the leadership Trait, and very frequently used to Aid other Crewmembers in doing something by virtue of inspiration via earbud.

    Thanks again for the posts about our game. The more feedback we get, the more we can provide support for players!

  4. Yax: We were just talking about this the other day… that’s definitely a trend in a lot of modern RPGs, and I gotta say it’s a good one. There will always be room for extra planning, but the more tools provided to facilitate gameplay, the happier I am.

    TME: I could almost see those being talents in and of themselves.

    Cam: Thanks for stopping by. Can’t wait for the cheat sheets. For the record, I’m not really complaining about the choice to leave out Charisma, it was just a bit tough for me to figure out on the fly when the Grifter was doing his thing what the best thing was, where my RPG experience wanted to just say “charisma.” It’ll just take some more thought- usually I used intelligence since it was a grift with an eye towards outwitting.

  5. Agreed – I even think all RPGs could make some money by selling a quick-prep system guide, or at least make their customers happy by giving that away as a PDF.

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