It’s no secret that I’ve been a bit Leverage RPG crazy for the past few months- in many ways, it’s a system that just flat out “clicked” with me as soon as I played it. One of the outcroppings of that is my desire to hack it into other settings. I’m a huge fan of modern settings, and while Leverage RPG scratches that itch, there’s lots of room for modern games beyond heists and capers. Enter my early ideas about combining it with Mage: The Ascension, to which I (and as I discovered recently, many other gamers) have very fond memories of.
With two sessions under my belt, with completely different players each time, I am convinced that this is a combination that works. In fact, one player of mine who was a big Mage fan described it as “note perfect.” Here now then, is my combination of Mage: The Ascension and the Leverage RPG. You will need both books for this hack to work, and prior understanding of both.
Attributes are the same as Leverage, and are assigned the same way. Mages tend towards high Intelligence, Alertness, and Willpower, but there are some paradigms and traditions that rely heavily on Agility, Strength, and Vitality as well.
Replacing Roles are Spheres. For the purposes of the game, we use a stripped down list of 6 spheres. Each one encompasses skills that go along with those spheres as well, and I’ve given some examples.
- Correspondence. Skills include: Drive, Stealth, Investigation.
- Forces. Skills include: Occult and Science.
- Life. Skills include: Medicine and Brawl.
- Matter. Skills include Technology and Thievery.
- Mind. Skills include: Subterfuge and Leadership.
- Time. Skills include Intuition and Research.
Assign dice to the Spheres like you would Roles in Leverage, with an extra d4 for the sixth. Also assign Specialties as you would in Leverage: note that the skills listed make great Specialties, but magical Specialties work too (like Fire for Forces).
What about the 3 missing spheres? It’s assumed that each Mage in this version has enough Prime with which to create and Entropy to destroy, and the roles of Quintessence (explained below) covers many of these effects. Further use of those spheres, plus Spirit, are primarily covered through Rotes.
Assets are replaced by Foci. Each Mage starts with a Foci of their choice at d8. Further Foci can be made using Quintessence.
Each character has three Distinctions like in Leverage, but three specific kinds of them:
- Paradigm. Possibly the most important aspect of a character, this is the statement that sums up how the character views reality and thus warps it. Like any Distinction, this cuts both ways: some magics work with this world view, and some are actively hindered by it.
- Nature. Like in Mage, this is the core personality of your character. The ones in Mage are mostly appropriate, as are the sample personality distinctions in Leverage.
- Demeanor. This is how the world sees you. In play, I’ve been running the first adventure, then having the rest of the players choose this for the character.
Choose 2 Rotes. These are the equivalent of Talents, but tend to be described as consistently working magical effects. You can reskin Talents from Leverage, or have the players invent their own.
Finally, Mages have Quintessence. These work like Plot Points. They can be used to keep extra dice after a roll (putting some extra prime into an effect), introducing a new Foci (enchanting an item), or having a flashback (subtly affecting reality through will.)
Choose a name, any aliases, and a tradition/convention (if you’re using them.) As might be evident, your choice of tradition has no mechanical effect on making the character and is purely for flavor. For my group that wasn’t as familiar with Mage, I dropped the idea entirely.
Congratulations, you have a Mage.
Complete sample characters from the game I ran for my local group are available on my Obsidian Portal page. Additionally, the second time I ran the game, I had the following characters in the game:
- Chatty DM played a Mind Mage who manifests his anxieties as physical manifestations.
- Tracy played a Matter Mage who was able to reshape matter with his hands whose paradigm was “It’s all negotiable.”
- Logan played a Correspondence Mage surveyor who believed the universe could be better ordered.
- Quinn played a Time Mage demolitions expert with the belief that “Everything falls apart.”
- E played a femme fatale Forces Mage who used her own specially blended cigarettes to affect the world.
Running the Game
In this version, I call the GM/Fixer “The Tapestry.” Because what else is the GM than the sum of the fictional reality, being messed with by the awakened?
When the PCs take an action that requires a test, they roll dice in a similar fashion to Leverage: Attribute + Role + other stuff that can be brought in.
The Tapestry opposes this by rolling one die for difficulty (from d6 easy to d12 really hard) and one die for the type of magic involved (d6 for non-magical, d8 for coincidental, d10 for vulgar without witnesses, and d12 for vulgar with witnesses.) The Tapestry can add other dice as applicable, whether it be the place, a character, Paradox, etc. As usual, add the top two dice together for a result on each side, highest result wins.
Speaking of Paradox, it takes the same role as Complications in Leverage. When a player rolls 1s, the Tapestry can hand him a Quintessence to create Paradox, of a strength depending on the amount of 1s rolled. This will often come up in relation to the magic used, although it can be anything that would happen in response to the magic being worked. Paradox works against a character wherever applicable, and lasts until the end of the session. (This means, by the way, that you can still succeed at a spell and have it generate Paradox, something that works especially well for Mage.)
I’ve run two sessions of it so far, using roughly the same adventure for both, where a casino-owning vampire is using an ally’s blood magic on all the poker chips, siphoning all the gamblers’ luck into the chips themselves, to be used by him to take over and turn the clock back on Vegas, under his Princedom. I stated the big bad as a Mark, as follows:
Nicodemus “Nicky” Bett
- 8th Generation Ventrue d12
- High Roller d12
- Ring-A-Ding-Ding d8
- Nostalgic d4
I also used a location that factored heavily into the adventure:
Grand Destiny Casino
- Brujah Thugs d10
- Auspex Security Inc. d8
- Old School d4
And a supporting character:
- Thaumaturgy d10
- Forward-Thinking d8
- My work is perfect d4
Between those and a loose story, that was pretty much all I needed. Granted, it played out like a heist, but with powerful Mages in the place of powerful characters. And boy, are characters capable in this- even when up against the vampire himself, there’s still a lot of damage they can do. It might not be ideal for those gritty struggles for ascension and control of reality, but it does make a damn fun game set in the same world where that’s happening.
That’s pretty much it. There’s a few ideas that I still need to play with: for example, I was thinking about using three kinds of Stress (Injury, Quiet, and Hubris) but haven’t nailed it down yet, and whether I want to use the Leverage experience system or not. However, it is fully playable, and thus I release it into world for you to try as you like. If you do, I hope you come back and let me know how it goes.
And one final thing: I created a character sheet for the whole thing, with character generation rules, and a brief summary on the page. It uses an old Mage sheet as its base, but no challenge is intended to any of the copyrights within.