Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Dog in the Microwave Job: Caper

For the caper, I went straight to the tables and rolled it up in front of the players. I note I could have kept some of the elements obscured if I had wanted to surprise the players, but I opted to lay it all out there and trust the players to keep IC and OOC clearly separate. The caper rolled up as follows:

Client: Politician or Public Servant
Problem: Threatened
Pressure: Out of Time and The Courts Can’t Help (rolled twice)
Mark: Grifter
Mark’s Angle: Evil
Mark’s Power: Scary, Sociopath (rolled twice)
Mark’s Weakness: Phony
Mark’s Vulnerability: Time
What Else is in Play: Guilty Conscience, Hostage
The Twist: The Mob Has Their Eye on This

This ended up being a surprisingly tricky spread, even beyond the number of 10’s (which spawned the double rolls) that came up. Certain elements gelled immediately. A threatened politician or bureaucrat is almost certainly an honest one who the mark is trying to stop from doing something. Plus, the mark’s vulnerability to time dovetails well with the Out of Time pressure suggesting that this job was going to be very much on the clock. The problem was the Mark.

That particular combination (Evil, Scary, Sociopath) is a tricky one to use, in part because they’re all secondary elements. They are fantastic for complimenting some other foundation for the mark to stand, but they’re a really, really strange match with Grifter. Not that it’s hard to envision and evil, scary, sociopathic grifter, but that’s only half the challenge. A mark like that would be one that the players would be inclined to go after head first because Scary and Sociopath are the sorts of things that work on other people, but not on heroes (even somewhat tarnished ones). And since the whole point of designing a caper is that you can’t just rush in and kick a guy’s ass, I couldn’t go with any of the obvious options.

The key came in the combining his weakness (Phony) with the Twist (The Mob’s interest) - Our Mark is not actually a scary guy, but he’s trading on the name and reputation of someone who actually _is_ that scary. That worked well because it gave him access to underworld resources (thugs!) but it clearly suggested an endgame where the mobster in question finds out about someone using his name. Awesome. That’s a workable mark. But what the hell was he doing?

Again, the answer came out of the table: the Hostage. I had originally envisioned some undefined person, but then I thought about the mark, who was a very small man pretending to be a much bigger one. He wouldn’t have the moxie to actually kidnap someone, would he? No, probably not, unless it was by accident. But he would be willing to kidnap a pet.

And bam, there it was. The Mark had kidnapped the client’s dog and was threatening it to keep her from doing something in the very near future. With that skeleton it was easy - I picked zoning out of the are because, hey, real estate development is big money. The woman had a damning report to present to the zoning commission before the voted on the site for the new All-Mart, and the commission was meeting today at noon. The Mark had taken her dog and made it clear that the report should not be delivered. To emphasize the time crunch, I had the crew find her (a woman crying on a park bench) and started out with the frame that the vote was at noon and it was now 9:45am. Go.

All in all, I think it was a great illustration of the generator in action. Even with a slightly rough spread, it had all the materials needed to make the game work.

Tomorrow: Actual Play!


  1. "Danny Rose? He wouldn't kidnap no dog." Part of the fun was working to the point where our OOC knowledge that he was a fake would come up in the course of our IC investigations.

  2. I was in the room as Rob and his table of players put this together. It was really impressive and clearly the game presents a lot of elements that can gell quickly into a fun caper. I think, however, what I saw was that you really need a game master who understands the genre and can take the elements from the random table and make them work. Having a great table of player/collaborators who are happy to throw out ideas (snarky and otherwise) also built the play. The design elements of the game clearly were able to spit out elements to someone who had the genre worked out to improvise what the tables gave into a very pleasing piece of RPG jazz. I am less familiar with the genre (seen a couple of episodes, enjoy the occaisional caper flick), and I wonder if in my amateur hands the tables would be an insufficient crutch to get me going? The game clearly works and works well, but I am wondering how the supporting materials help put the GM in the right framework to jam the raw elements (especially on the fly) into a fun evening?

  3. I will say that it's fortunate that there are two chapters devoted to helping you understand the genre and its quirks: The Fixer, and The Crime World. With those at hand, and the caper generator, you're set. I think people who're a little unfamiliar with some of the tropes might find that the tables in the caper generator actually inform as well as add story elements; you can see the sort of bias we're looking for in Leverage stories just from how the tables are presented.

  4. I've always liked random plot generators, starting with the old-school Traveller rumor and patron matrices, up to In a Wicked Age and on.

    The trick is providing enough prompts without providing too much detail. Too much detail makes it hard to hang random elements together.

    Sounds like Leverage has a good balance.


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