Playing Leverage with Just the FAQs

lNate, Parker, and Sophie looking at a computer monitor

Some of the Leverage crew get Analytical.

Leverage: the Roleplaying Game does so many things right. It’s quick, collaborative, easy to prep, iconic, and tethered to a great back-and-forth mechanic and play style. But still, every plan has room for improvement.

The first two times I played Leverage, and the first time I ran it, I noticed the same thing: Attributes were difficult to apply consistently, and there was frequent confusion between the Fixer and the players about what attributes should be called for on each check. This isn’t to say there was argument (everybody was too polite), but an experienced gamer knows the look of “Oh, I thought this type of check would use a different attribute, so that’s my high one.”

When I played with Dave the Game running, he called for Willpower checks pretty often. When Rob Donoghue ran, he asked us to roll Strength, sometimes for the same type of roll Dave would have wanted Willpower for. All the attributes are meant to be used sometimes for mental checks and sometimes for physical checks. In theory, this is a way to make sure all the stats matter for all situations. In practice, it’s more confusing than helpful.

FAQ section of the custome character sheet

So What’s the Hack?

It didn’t take me long to figure out how I wanted to hack the rules. (To paraphrase Will Hindmarch, you “hack” games that are cool, and you “fix” games you think should have been cool. In a Hindmarchian milieu, I definitely hacked Leverage.) Instead of using typical RPG attributes, derived from your physical and mental qualities, I phrased them as “approaches.” These are adjectives that describe the action you’re undertaking, the attitude you’re assuming as you make your move. I boiled it down to three: Forceful, Analytical, or Quick (FAQ for short). At the right, you can see their short descriptions.

I avoided passive approaches. There’s no tough, for example. Leverage is a game about competent professionals. If they’re backed into a corner, they aren’t simply going to endure. They’re going to counter. They’re going to improvise. They’re going to escalate.

Selecting your approaches is pretty simple: Assign a d10, d8, and d6. A forceful hacker, an analytical hacker, and a quick hacker all take a different approach to hacking.

Some problems can be solved with an Analytical approach, but there's no reason not to have a Forceful backup.

Did it Work?

I found the system did what I wanted it to do, making it more intuitive to determine what to call for when someone was making a check. And it’s fast. It’s very fast. I find when running Leverage, I call for very few checks. This makes it so when I do, it flows more smoothly into the rest of the game.

It’s also easier for a player to apply a strategy to a situation and add in a little more of a flourish to the action. Instead of trying to find a way to make a high Attribute come up in the checks within a scene, the player can decide how to approach a person or problem. Personality can drive the scene. Your high stat provides a handy hook when you’re in doubt about how to approach an obstacle. If you have a high Forceful die, you might be driving through that locked gate. With a high Analytical die, you could figure out the password. With a high Quick die, you might just scale the fence before the camera turns back your way.

Machete

Intimidation? Yeah, that's usually a Forceful approach.

Can I Give it a Shot?

Sure!

I pestered John Harper for a copy of his excellent character sheet. (You can find the original here.) I modified it for the approaches hack, and added in numbers and instructions to help in character creation. You’ll want to look over the sheets before you use them. I made some other small tweaks, like removing specialties and changing the role dice to replace one of the d4 roles with a d6 (because I find it works better for the one-shots I usually run).

By all means, take it for a spin, kick the tires, and let me know what you think!

Download the Approach sheet PDF!

This includes a sheet for each class, along with a rap sheet page that also describes open talents.

Comments

  1. deadlytoque says:

    I think Donoghue has said in a few places that if he’d had his druthers he would have completely re-written the Cortex+ system to work that way, but he wanted to maintain fidelity to the core engine.

    I really like this hack, and having run Leverage a couple of times now, I’ve encountered a bit of the same fuzziness of purpose that you have, so I’m happy to use it (doubly-happy that you provided a character sheet for it!).

  2. Heather says:

    I bought Leverage, and love the show. I have not read too far into the book, but can it be played with less than 4 people? My concern is my group tends to be rather fluid in coming in and out of games, and I have between 2-4. How would that work with Leverage?

  3. I am so there. Hoping to start running Leverage for one of my groups soon, and this is basically the change I thought it needed. Thanks!

  4. That’s a great distillation of the system. Without making it explicit, I’ve been trying to apply something similar to my 4e skill challenges; setting up particular chunks of skills which can be rolled toward roughly the same effect. I just never thought to communicate their linkage in a way similar to what you’ve described here.

  5. What are you doing for Notice checks?

  6. Logan Bonner says:

    I don’t usually think of things in terms of Notice checks or Face actions or whatever. I imagine most Notice checks would be Analytical, though.

  7. Heather: It works fine with fewer people, just try to make the secondary roles cover most things… or don’t throw a lot of the kind of challenge they’re weak in at them 🙂

  8. Ever heard of Echo Bazaar (browser-based RPG)? Essentially, they do something similar. Your primary stats are Dangerous, Watchful, Persuasive, and Shadowy, each of which is a different sort of approach, encompassing a lot of situations.

  9. I loved this idea Rob Donoghue mentioned it over on his blog, and I’ve been planning on using it in my upcoming Leverage game. Is there a way for me to get the design file for your mod of Harper’s character sheets? I’d really like to use them but without the additional changes you made.

  10. Logan Bonner says:

    Lukas: Send me an e-mail.

  11. Quick editorial note: “I Can Kill You With My Mind” on the Hitter sheet still refers to Intelligence; presumably, that should be changed to Analytical?

  12. Logan Bonner says:

    Good catch, Kit. File’s fixed now!

  13. Cool ideas. What about a Subtly approach for the manipulation and tact?

  14. UggeBugg says:

    Cool Idea, I’ve been fiddling with similar concepts with my homebrew game, but the Approaches divided into FAQ really nailed it at what I was searching for.

    Like Craig Payne suggested, I’ve also added a “Subtle” approach.

  15. Leverage reminds me of the television show. But I realize it was a cool game since I’ve read the leverage sheets. I wish I could be able to play this game in the near future. Battlebabe and Angel seem nice characters.

  16. How about assigning d8, 2d6 and d10+d4 to the three approaches?
    That mitigates the problem of having one approach always be best, and generates more delicious complications to boot.

Trackbacks

  1. […] the Leverage RPG has been one I’d like to give a shot at some point. So I was interested by Logan Bonner’s article on Critical Hits about playing a slightly slimmed down version of the rules using “Approaches” instead […]

  2. […] Earlier this year, Margaret Weis Production put a call out for submissions of  hacks of the rules appearing in the Smallville and Leverage RPG. Called The Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide, it brings together many game designers contributing to the sheer fun of hacking a game engine that just begs for being tweaked with. […]

  3. […] wrote a blog post about problems he sees with “use-whenever” stats in RPGs, using my FAQ hack for Leverage as an example. There are somegood ideas in there, and I encourage reading it. When it comes to the […]

  4. […] Bonner wrote an “active stats” hack for Leverage. Ryan Macklin wrote a critique of the idea, which cashes out, I think, as, in a system […]

  5. […] gnawing at me for a bit, which crystalized when I starting thinking about Logan Bonner’s FAQ setup with Leverage. In his rebuild of the Attributes, he just has three: Forceful, Analytical, Quick. At first blush, […]