'Leverage' Makes Exciting Role Playing Game Debut
Since tonight means the first of three all-new episodes of TNT's Leverage, I thought I'd pull out the Leverage Role Playing Game for you this afternoon.
If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I playtested the quickstart version of this game a few months ago and enjoyed it. Needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on the full version. As I mentioned then, Leverage is a unique choice for a roleplaying game line given that most of the RPGs we see in mainstream retail (not necessarily in hobby shops but in places like your local bookstore) tend to be science fiction or fantasy properties. I've played quite a few of those games over the years; in fact, the last RPG I played before revisiting Leverage was Battlestar Galactica. Needless to say, I was intrigued to see if a non-sci-fi/fantasy property would translate as well as a BSG or an AD&D (yes, I played that for most of my childhood).
It translates better than you might think. Very well, actually. As John Rogers points out in the foreword, whether you're playing a grifter or a paladin, you're still aspiring toward the same goal: to save the day and, as he so tongue in cheekly puts it, "screw the bad guy." The only difference is that in Leverage you won't be wielding any magic spells or running into a gelatinous cube. (You may be better off; those cubes can get really messy.)
If you've never seen or haven't seen a lot of the show, don't worry; the RPG has you covered, too. The first part of the book gives a simple explanation of the show and the main characters, while the rear provides breakdowns of every episode from the first two seasons (so it's not yet canon-current; remember, this was in development for awhile). Be warned, however, that obviously, the back section of the book contains major spoilers, so if you've only seen certain episodes, I'd advise you to steer clear of the pages pertaining to ones you've not yet watched. You'll ruin all the fun. But you shouldn't avoid this game just because you're not a Leverage expert. I played it with friends who are only mildly familiar with the show, and aside from my having to self-censor in a few cases to avoid accidentally spoiling them (because of me, not the book), a good time was had by all.
This brings me to the gameplay. As the corebook says, Leverage runs on the Cortex system used by most of Margaret Weis Productions' games (here they call it Cortex Plus), and while there are dice involved (which are not included; more on dice in a second), you don't need to go out and buy a separate Cortex book to figure out what you're doing. Here, the Dungeon Master or Game Master is referred to as the Fixer. Everyone else falls into one of the Leverage categories: Mastermind, Grifter, Hitter, Hacker or Thief. In the case of my group, I cheated and played both Fixer and Mastermind; there were only five people in our group, and the last time we played, I developed a horrible impression of Timothy Hutton that my friends insisted make an appearance. You don't need six people to play just because there are six titles, though it is definitely easier if you don't double-dip like me.
Let's go back to the dice. One of the things that drives me up the wall about tabletop gaming is the use of dice; I'm bad at math, and would rather focus on telling a good story than trying to keep up with numbers. Leverage employs dice, but there's only two you really need - a d8 and d10. The emphasis is on character, which is a nice alternative, and keeps the less patient of us from going mental. (Remember when I said I'd come back to the dice? I was playing this with certain people known for throwing them should previous game annoy them enough.) There are some quirks, however; there are situations where if something works against a player, they actually gain a die. It may take you awhile to grasp some of the subleties of the game's rules; we spent awhile going back to the corebook to make sure we were doing it right, but at least we weren't looking for eight dice and a calculator. If you're willing to put in the concentration, you'll get back a rewarding gaming experience.
Technical specs aside, the Leverage RPG does a really good job of capturing the spirit and quirks of the TV show. Just because you fail at a task doesn't mean game over like it would in some other games. The flashbacks we're occasionally treated to? Those are in here, too. I had more than one of my friends express interest in borrowing my DVDs after the game session.
The corebook itself is also beautiful and easy to use; there are plenty of color photos throughout the book that add to the aesthetics, as well as examples that elucidate rules and scenes you might not grasp at first read. Refreshingly, the book is not ridden with typographical errors, unlike the Battlestar Galactica corebook.
You can order the Leverage RPG directly through MWP for $39.99 (hardcover) or $19.99 (PDF). They're also already planning two expansion books - "Grifters and Masterminds" and "Hitters, Hackers and Thieves" - for the coming year. Those, you can pre-order at a discount from Amazon ($19.79 hardcover) by visiting the Geek Closet section of the Digital Airwaves Store. (Amazon does not currently carry the corebook.)
Happy gaming, and don't forget to watch the first of three all-new Leverage episodes tonight on TNT!
Need to catch up with Leverage? Full show coverage is available in the Leverage category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.