Friday, November 19, 2010

A Bit of Leverage

So, there’s a mechanic in Leverage that I’m super pleased with. Ok, there’s actually a lot in Leverage I’m super pleased with, and the prospect that it will end up being an actually working caper game is a prospect that is hugely, hugely exciting to me. I, naturally, already think it is one, but the ultimate test of such a thing is in people playing it, so I need to be patient and wait and see how that goes. I am not very good at that.

But the mechanic I’m thinking of is actually almost entirely tangential to the idea of capers or anything else. To set this up, consider that it’s not hard to make a game, specifically a skill list for a game, that covers 90% of the situations that come up, and that reality allows for the creation of broad, stylized skill lists (such as Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Mastermind, and Thief - the Leverage Roles) which are very playable. There are, however, two flaws in such a list. First, there will be skills - usually specialized ones - that are not covered by the broad skill list, such as piloting a helicopter or performing neurosurgey. Second, it will not always be entirely clear which broad skill a specific skill falls under. Handling explosives, for example, is something that might reasonably fall under the domain of the Hitter, Hacker or Thief.

Now, the good news is that these limitations are not huge drawbacks in play. The exception skills come up less often than you’d expect; partly because they’e usually suited to uncommon circumstances, but also because the existing skills tend to naturally funnel player behavior towards themselves. The unclear skills can be a problem, but every GM comes up with their own ways to handle that such as best skill applies, worst skill applies or determining appropriate skill based on context.

Still, they do come up and they do occasionally create issues; and that’s where the Leverage specializations come into play. Now, on paper, they look like any other specialization in any other game you’ve seen. You take a specialization (say, “Fighting when outnumbered”) and apply it to a Role (like Hitter) and voila, it gives you an extra d6 when appropriate. Mechanically, nothing new or interesting.

But here’s the trick. And extra d6 in Leverage is not that big a deal. It might help in an arena you’re otherwise terrible at, such as when you want your d4 thief to have at least a little bit of a chance of picking a pocket, but once you start moving into a character’s area of strength, a single d6 is nice, but not critical, and it’s usually pretty easy to generate some other d6’s from being awesome anyway. That would seem to suggest that specializations primarily exist to help compensate for a character’s weaknesses, but doing so misses their much more potent role.

In Leverage, the player decides which role the specialization is associated with, and that means that the player can use a specialization to “pin” a skill to a specific role, ideally a role they’re good at. This offers a much bigger bonus to that sort of activity by moving it to an area of strength, and it addresses the weaknesses of the broad skills very tidily. If there’s a skill that falls outside the sphere of things, like helicopter pilot, then a player can attach it to a role they already excel at, and they are now a *good* helicopter pilot.[1] Similarly, it means that if a certain activity (like, say, explosives or medicine) is important to the character but subject to interpretation in terms of which role it uses, the player can choose a specialty to guarantee that when their character rolls it, they use the role the player has chosen.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small rule, and in Leverage it’s even smaller because characters have other ways around these issues as well, but it’s exactly the kind of rule I really like because it’s small and easy to apply while quietly offering a very broad and useful impact.

Anyway, time to go back to waiting for the print edition to come out!

1 - Yes, that skips over the whole issue of characters being obliged to suck at certain skills unless they want to spend heavily just to cover some part of their concept that doesn’t come up that often. What a shame, that.

1 comment:

  1. Worth noting that initially, we weren't going to have Specialties do anything more mechanically than just settle the argument over which Role the narrow field of skill covers. However, I'm big on mechanical representation, and in Cortex Plus the dice are a big feature of play, hence the d6 bonus.

    And I like that this d6 isn't a game-changer but it does give you a reason to assign the Specialty to a d4 Role (since it actually boosts your performance) while providing a nice supporting back-up to those d8 or d10 Roles.


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