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As a huge fan of the show, I originally bought this thinking only to plunder it for setting info and
adventure ideas to use with a different system. Since then, I've become intrigued by the Cortex
Plus system, and have been plotting to run it out of the book. In preparing to do so, I've come to
find that the core rules, while solid, are often unclear, and perhaps not as complete as I would
like, even as a fan of rules-light games. I eventually bought the Firefly RPG, which also runs on
the Cortex Plus Action system, but a more, shall we say, evolved version of it, and plundered it
for a few things, and now feel as though I have a solid set of rules under which to run Leverage.
Rules aside, the rest of the content of the book is fantastic. The random Job (i.e., adventure)
generator is a thing of beauty, and all the Fixer (i.e., GM) advice is worth the price of the book
alone. Even if you aren't interested in the Cortex Plus system, the vast majority of the book could
still be of great use to you as you develop your own Leverage games using your favorite system (I
could see it working very well with Savage Worlds, for example). I've seen some complaints that
the episode guides at the end of the book are filler, but I prefer to think of them as adventure
seeds and inspiration.
The whole book really comes off as a labor of love. If you're a fan of the show, you'll instantly
recognize all the detail and references by writers who are clearly fellow fans. The PDF is fairly
cheap too, so you're really getting your money's worth.

How does one GM the "Leverage" RPG?

Watching the show is great fun, but things worked a bit too smoothly sometimes. But a show can
do that, because everything that happens is integrated into a scripted plot.

In an RPG, conflict resolution is not determined by plot structure. If a player wants to con
someone into thinking that a forged piece of art is real, or that they really can be president,
there's a chance of failure, and if you've structured your plot, failure can bring it crumbling

So how do you account for unpredictability and Murphy's Law while still making it feel like

>I remember looking at the books for the official Leverage game, and it operates with the idea
that everyone is going to succeed, but the roles & actions determine how much they succeed.
This is kind of exemplified in the show when things basically never go according to plan and
occasionally one of the members will botch things pretty bad, but there is always a back-up plan
that appears out of nowhere and makes it all work. I think there was something in the book
about the "reveal" at the end, where players get to retro-actively say how they planned &
prepared for the way things turned out, which is really weird to me, but also another aspect that
helps it to feel a lot more like the show. Personally, whenever I plan a campaign in any game, I
look at every instance and ask myself "how can this go completely wrong, and how can I pull it
together if that happens?" It does require a little different mindset than your typical RPG.

>>Have you read the rules? They take care of all that, mainly through the use of a flashback

>>>The thing about leverage is that there is no chance for failure, in their area of expertise.
Hardison will never fail a computer based challenge. Sophie will never fail a con. This is
Leverage at the very core. The team does outrageous, fantastical things that no one else can.
They are the BEST.

So you need to introduce challenge a different way. For example, I said they can't fail, not that
they always succeed. Not doing something and failing can be two very different things. If you are
hacking a building's security system, success is unlocking the doors for your teammate, not
succeeding is not getting anything done but not tripping the alarm, and failing is tripping the
alarm. That middle option can happen, but it's neutral to the cause. remember, not getting
something done, to the players, is just as bad.

Failure can happen, however, when people switch out roles. Eliot had to do IT work in one
episode and almost failed utterly because he didn't know what he was doing. If people step out of
their expertise, terrible things can happen. Parker when she needs to assume an identity is
another one. She's terrible at it.

Another theme of the show for conflict are unforeseen events. They aren't failures on part of the
team, but things that they didn't know were going to happen. Someone that knew Nate in the
past once showed up during a con, that created a hurdle. Perhaps someone they ripped off in the
past appears, and everyone is using a different identity than before. If their current mark and
their old mark are in teh same room, they can't interact with each other.

At the very heart of Leverage it is not that the party can fail at what they do, it's if they are
creative enough to overcome a challenge they weren't prepared for. That is were your failure can
come in. your murphy's Law is the unpredictibility of the environment, not the player's skill set.
Focus on that.

One of the things to note is that the Leverage characters are shown to be extremely competent (if
sometimes goofy). Sophie can act any role flawlessly, Eliot can take on any odds (1 unarmed vs N
armed, and he wins in seconds), Nate has incredible knowledge of the task and multiple plans
and fallbacks (usually revealed as 'it was his plan all along', when something seems to fail before
the advert break). As such, characters need to be competent (not 1st level d&d peasants), you
need to give the characters/players a lot of background info, and you need to get into a "yes"

As a GM, it's easy to fall into the 'no, this only works that one totally obvious way I imagined it';
forgetting that the solution might not be obvious to playets, and having no backup for when a
conflict resolution fails. Go along with player plans, reward them for good intricate ones, and
punish them for lazy planning and on the fly solutions: as an example, the identity of a character
Nate plays is often backed up by Alecs hacking, or having been provided a crucial prop by Parker
- stuff like that can make persuasion rolls easier, or get rid of the need for a roll all together, as
no one will question the presence of a uniformed guard (stolen by parker) with a working ID
badge (Alec), who's currently being cussed out by his overly jealous girlfriend (Sophie) - would
you get in there? I'd leave the poor sap be, he's just trying to do his job... And suddenly Nate has
his presence validated inside a guarded office building, even greeting people inside, who vaguely
remember him as that poor security guard with the annoying gf from earlier today and
uncomfortably greet him back, further cementing his cover.. It takes a trained professional to
question stuff like that (which is why social engineering is so effective).

>>>>>>I totally disagree with this: planning is boring. The TV show does not show you the
hours and hours the team spend planning their heists, because it's dull and destroys the

What you should do instead is provide a mechanic in the game that supports flashbacks. Player:
Oh yeah, I pull a gun out of a flowerpot! GM: How did the gun get there? You've got ten minutes
to do a flashback to explain it. (And limit players to n flashbacks each per session, like even 1 is
probably enough.)

>>>>>>>cgaWolf: Ohhh, that’s much better!

>>>>>>>That’s how the actual rpg works!

Review: “Leverage” RPG

11-14 minutes

Long time readers will remember the 4th Power Project, my attempt to merge d20 Modern with
D&D 4e. While researching powers for PC, I took notes from a number of sources, and one that
bubbled to the top was the TV show Leverage. For those who don’t know, Leverage is a show
about five highly skilled con-artists and thieves who have decided to help those who have been
wronged and have no place left to go. Each episode is one complete heist- like watching Ocean’s
Eleven in an hour (and with only five people.)

It turns out I wasn’t the only one watching Leverage for RPG research- the Leverage RPG has
just been released from Margaret Weis Productions to bring the same sort of stories to your RPG
table. You assemble your crew of a grifter, hacker, hitter, mastermind, and thief and pull off one
job in an evening to help the helpless and provide… leverage.

Now, it would have been easy to put together a game where there’s a bunch of useful skills, you
roll some dice, add the number to the skill, and go on. Instead, the designers went several layers
beyond what was needed to put together a licensed RPG, and instead created an extremely well
put together system that not only captures the show perfectly but also gives a ton of tools for
players and GMs to create your heists.
Putting Your Crew Together

In case you don’t want to play the crew from the TV show (all of whose character sheets are
provided), you can create your crew by running through the section called The Recruitment Job.
After working out who is playing which of the five primary roles in a crew, and filling out some
secondary stats, you play in a quick, improvised session where essentially each player gets a
chance in the spotlight to show what they can do. Depending on how those scenes go, other stats
are filled out, and by the end of it, the other players will help you fill out your “distinctions” that
reflect your personality and how everyone else sees you. The GM’s role in this is primarily to
facilitate and assist, so no planning is necessary on his part. After that, you have your character
and your crew, and you’re ready to dive into your first job.

Characters are broken down into the following traits:

Ability scores like Strength and Willpower, rated from d4 to d12.

The five core roles (Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Mastermind, Thief), from d4 to d12. Your highest
one is your primary role, so if you Hitter is d10, you are the group’s Hitter.
Specialties that help when you use one of your roles for a specific thing, like “close quarters
fighting – hitter” gives you an extra die when being a Hitter in close quarters.
Distinctions, which are statements about your character. If you’ve played FATE, these are the
closest to Aspects, where they are parts of your character that can potentially help you in some
situations and make your life more complicated in others. A good example of this is Nate Ford’s
“Drunk” distinction, where it can be used to make his life more complicated if he’s been drinking
too much (a player can invoke it to add a d4 to a roll but gain a plot point in the process) or help
him (if he were Grifting and pretending to be drunk.)
Assets, which are both signature items or anything else working in your favor. Often, these
will stick around for either a scene or an entire job, and can be something like “length of lead
pipe” or “helpful janitor” that you can consistently call on.
Talents, which are like feats in D&D that let you break the rules in different ways.
Your rap sheet, which lists your past adventures, explained below.
Plot points, which are given throughout the game to help add to rolls, add assets, and more.

How do these things help you pull off a job? The basic mechanic is that you roll an appropriate
Ability and Role. If you’re beating up someone, you’re probably rolling Strength and Hitter.
Hacking into a secure system? Intelligence and Hacker. And so on.

Then you see if there’s anything you can add in the form of more dice. Your specialty might
apply, getting you an extra die. Your asset might come in handy, there’s an extra die too. Your
distinction might either help directly or make the situation more complicated- both give you
more dice. Then you can spend plot points to help out. You roll all the dice, and take your top
two and add them together for your result (or top three if you spent a plot point.) You compare
to the DM’s roll (which is built similarly, but with plot elements) and highest wins.

But that’s not all! Every die showing a “1” generates complications, which the DM can use to add
more plot elements, make the existing plot elements more nasty, and more. So basically, the
more you involve other factors (like the helpful janitor and your drinking problem), the more
likely something will come back to bite you. It’s also why adding a d4 to your die pool is
dangerous. Sure, it’s an extra die to try to get a higher number, but it’s also the most likely to
cause a complication.

That’s the basic mechanic how most of the game operates. The only other crucial part of play is
in the plot points, which are the equivalent to action points/fate points/bennies/etc. that are all
the rage. Moreso than the other parts of the game, these allow players to grab narrative control.
In addition to the mechanical benefits like adding more dice, keeping more dice, and activating
talents, you can also spend them to make up an asset like listed above, or engage in a
“flashback.” Fans of the series might recognize this idea immediately, as they are a key
component in turning what was apparently a failure, and revising it to actually be for the best.
Maybe when being beaten up by the bad guys, your Hacker managed to slip a tracer onto one of
them. At the time of the scene, that didn’t happen. But by spending a plot point, the Hacker
could reveal in a flashback that it happened, so now the bad guys can be tracked.

All that can seem a bit overwhelming- and you might feel weird those first few times trying to
scrape out every part of your character to get the best roll. One of my few complaints about the
game is that the lines between distinctions, assets, etc. can be a bit fuzzy at times. However, it all
starts to feel natural after only a few challenges. Leverage has been described as a “competence
porn” show, where you know, even moreso than other shows, that the main characters will
ultimately succeed, and the joy is watching them overcome interesting obstacles on the way to
victory. The dice-rolling reinforces this, and as you get more used to the system, you see just
how many options you have at your disposal to get the job done.

Finishing off the characters is the equivalent of the experience point system. On the back of the
character sheet is a list of all the jobs you’ve completed (each one named like the jobs in the
show, such as The Two Live Crew Job, The Top Hat Job, etc.) You can make a callback to one of
those jobs to add to a roll, literally using the experience to help you. Or you can “spend” those
jobs to permanently improve some of your statistics.

The Fix Is In

That all is how your crew of con artists gets together and gets the job done. The opposition- the
GM, or The Fixer, as it’s called in Leverage– is trying to make the crew’s life difficult. At its
heart, there are just a couple pieces you need to start the job going: a Client who comes to the
PCs and asks for help, a Problem, and a Mark (the villain.) Like characters, these are expressed
in dice, with the Mark getting some big and nasty dice whenever the PCs try to go up against
him/her/it directly, and reasons why you can’t just take out the Mark to fix the Problem.

One great part of the book gives you tables to generate everything you need to generate a job on
the fly, from who the client is to the Mark to a major complication. These can be rolled and
interpreted in secret, or in the open to work collaboratively with the group (which is what Rob
did in the adventure he ran that I played in.) Just by including these tables, which are really the
only elements you need to plan a session, the game becomes a great pick-up game.

On top of that, once the adventure is in motion, you don’t even have to keep trying to stay one
step ahead of the PCs- the dice will do that for you and it’s up to you how to interpret it and use
it as the situation warrants. If the player rolled a 1 while using the Helpful Janitor for a roll,
maybe you turn that into a complication where the Helpful Janitor is working for the enemy, or
maybe he has enemies of his own. Or you can just save those complications and use later for
introducing an entirely new complication. It’s entirely up to you.

The book contains a few other tools to help The Fixer out as well. There’s a lengthy chapter on
“The Crime World,” the setting guide to the world of Leverage, though more centered on the life
and operation of a con artist than an almanac-type approach. This lays out some of the ground
rules of the fictional universe that Leverage resides in that looks like our own, but explains why
the PCs are discouraged to use guns. There’s also stats for some of the major antagonists in the
series, and an episode guide to the first two seasons of Leverage that lays out each one with all
the elements you’d use in a session. That’s another source of adventure ideas right there: if your
players have never seen the show, you could run the jobs right out of the book.
The Big Score

As you might be able to tell by now, I’m blown away with the Leverage RPG, and I wasn’t
expecting to be. There’s always a worry with RPG adaptations (just like video game adaptations)
that it’ll just be a lazy conversion, where there are some skills and blah blah blah. Leverage does
it right: it takes the source material and gives you all the tools to tell the same kind of story. It
builds the game into the source material, instead of forcing the source material into a game. I’m
a big fan of modern games in the first place, and I really enjoy the show, so this one hits all the
right notes for me, on top of having some downright genius game design behind it. Not only
that, but it screams out to be hacked into other times, and even further out (I could see it
powering a Mage: The Ascension game, for instance.)

That all said, this game might not be for you. Even if you’re onboard with everything else, make
sure you’re aware of these things:

The game heavily steers towards the core conceit of Leverage, that you’re a group of con artists
that is trying to do good, mainly for its own sake. If you’re looking for deep character drama full
of angst in what these characters do, you probably want to look elsewhere.
Along with that, there are a few conceits of the genre that can be hard to get into, especially for
other fans of the modern genre. If you need stats provided for 50 different types of assault rifles,
you will be disappointed.
Players have a fair amount of narrative control at their disposal. If you’re more used to a
traditional model where the GM is the sole source of story, this may not make sense for you.
(Though I recommend trying it first- you might be surprised.)
The target number of players is exactly five. Players get secondary roles to cover any gaps, but
clearly, five is the ideal group size for the game. Furthermore, it’s optimized for the same 5
players, though (as it happened in the show) you can drop someone of the same role in as a

If you are undeterred, perhaps it’s time to get your crew together, and steal from the rich and
powerful. Maybe it’s time to provide… leverage.
Works (16)

Titles Order
Leverage: The Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks MWP 1025 - Leverage RPG C
Leverage: The Quickstart Job by Rob Donoghue MWP 1026 - Leverage RPG Q
Leverage: Grifters and Masterminds by Ryan Macklin MWP 1027 - Leverage RPG S
Leverage: Hitters, Hackers, and Thieves by Margaret Weis
MWP 1028 - Leverage RPG S
Too Many Chefs by David A. Hill, Jr. MWP LC01 - Leverage RPG C
Leverage Companion 02: Leverage Noir by H.M. "Dain" Lybarger MWP LC02 - Leverage RPG C
The Foil by David A. Hill, Jr. MWP LC03 - Leverage RPG C
Hollywood Hacking vs The Real World by Craig Payne MWP LC04 - Leverage RPG C
Tropes vs Leverage by David A. Hill, Jr. MWP LC05 - Leverage RPG C
KRYPTOS by H.M. "Dain" Lybarger MWP LC06 - Leverage RPG C
Foil Folio by David A. Hill, Jr. MWP LC07 - Leverage RPG C
Node Based Capers by Craig Payne MWP LC08 - Leverage RPG C
One-on-one Leverage by David A. Hill, Jr. MWP LC09 - Leverage RPG C
The Rich And Powerful by H.M. "Dain" Lybarger MWP LC10 - Leverage RPG C
MWP LC11 - Grifters and Mas
Leverage Companion Vol. 1 by Cam Banks
Leverage Companion Vol. 2 by Sally Christensen MWP LC13 - Bundle of the te