Monday, November 22, 2010

The Dog in the Microwave Job: Chargen

Fred held the Dresden Files dice packing party on Saturday, and it was a great opportunity to see people, new and old. I also got roped into running a game of Leverage for some of the attendees which did not, I admit, take much arm twisting. It did demand some rapid reading of the parts of the game that I didn’t write and some of those I did, but that worked out fine because I got to be really impressed by the game several times. There’s some really good stuff in there

I’ll talk about the game in detail in a minute, but I don’t want to bury the lead, so here’s the thing that really impressed me: including caper design and character generation, the whole game was done in just about two and a half hours, and it was a complete (if not overly intricate) caper. I was utterly gobsmacked by this - it was a lot of well structured, fast moving play in a small window. This suggests some pretty fantastic things for weekday nights and convention games.[1]

Anyway, rather than do a recruitment job (a fantastic chargen method) I opted for fast chargen because I wanted to take the caper generation system for a spin. Chargen was, I admit, made easier by the fact that everyone at the table was familiar with Fate, so explaining distinctions was very easy. I also listened to their descriptions and just picked two talents for everybody (like stunts in SOTC, Talents are the element most likely to slow down chargen because there are the most choices and interesting options). The crew ended up being:

Hitter - Hare (properly, Peter Rabbit, which might or might not have been his real name) a Badass with a penchant for improvised weapons.

- Max, a seriously antisocial woman who spent much of her time snarking at all her teammates except sledge, because he was the boss. Max’s player gave me one of my favorite moments of the game upon realization that I was cheerfully taking the throwaway snarky comments and folding them into the game fiction, which is where the eponymous “Dog in the Microwave d8” came in.

- Benny, who just wanted to help. And if helping required a doctor, well, he could slap on a lab coat and step in, right?

- Sam, and older black gentleman in a bowler cap, modeled after the Fables character of the same name. I am pretty sure Same generated more complications than the rest off the crew put together.

- Sledge, scion of a an extended (and connected) Jewish family whose bagel shop served as the team’s base of operations. His mastermind schtick was less about having complex plans so much as knowing a lot of people. He was also the team’s leader, though only tenuously, since everyone else but the hacker had taken Mastermind as their secondary role.

Thoughts on Chargen:
  • I needed a better summary of what Mastermind does, or more concretely, when you might roll it. The other roles are very clear in their application, but Mastermind is a bit fuzzier. Having chewed on it a bit, I’m pondering summarizing it as the thing you roll when your action is really asking the GM a question, but that may not quite be right.
  • The talents were very well received for their clarity and color. I’m pretty sure those came from the ever-talented Clark Valentine, and I think they ended up being a big selling point for the game.
  • I definitely could have used a cheatsheet during chargen, since the material is a little spread out. This was mostly made a problem by the fact that I was running it out of a PDF copy on my ipad, and much like my experience with Icons, a PDF copy tends to fall short at the table when you need to reference it a lot (as is the case in chargen). The inability to flip or mark pages is pretty telling.
  • I ended up pulling a few framing questions out of the air (Where’s your home city? How long has the team been together? Is the Mastermind the boss? Where’s your base of operations?) and they were useful enough that I need to see about building a fixed list of them (or see if such a list exists in the book)
  • It was not instantly obvious to the players where to write specialties on the character sheet because the line under each role looks like a divider. Small thing, but something I’ll bear in mind if I do a character sheet redesign.
  • Specialties, as it turns out, are almost as much fun as distinctions as a way to flesh out the characters. Really happy with their final form.
  • One of the players (Ben’s I think) noted that a structurally pleasing element of the game is that the talents can be easily modified to add other genre elements (like magic and such) without touching the bones of the system. He’s right, and that’s a pretty big plus, though I think a lot of genres also end up needing a bit of redefining of what “Hacker” means.

Tomorrow: Caper Design!

1 - I’ve obviously run short games before, but usually they’re the result of me freeforming a bit, so the throttle is entirely in my hands. Leverage has more rules structure than that yet still plays very fast. Like, Fiasco fast.


  1. I was, in fact, inordinately pleased that the throwaway line became the job title. ;)

    The quick ability to generate everything, as you've pointed out, and get playing is likely the biggest sell for me, as well as the character archetypes which everyone (whether they've seen the show or not) can latch onto and run with.

    I had a blast playing it, and you ran it superbly. Great GM, great players, great game.

  2. A cheat sheet, for play and for chargen, would be a super bonus. I'd like to have those available for free online, so if you've a mind to throw those together (or anybody else, for that matter) it would A) be excellent and B) not distract me from the whirlwind of production that we're presently in. :)

    Index is also in the works, too. Also will be available for free.

    Grifters and Masterminds sourcebook should expand and clarify the Mastermind's role sufficiently, though I do think a few more examples wouldn't hurt. It's a key Role (obviously) and I have been asked my numerous people for more info on when you'd roll the die.

  3. I wasn't sold on the system from what I'd heard previously, but listening to everyone stumble upstairs and talk about their experiences, as well as some of the commentary that floated up, it has made it onto my wish list for the holiday season.

    Stupid no buying moratorium.

  4. Yeah, that description for Mastermind falls short because it suggests that the other roles don't get to ask questions, therefore no thief or hacker for knowledge rolls, etc.

    I don't think it's about asking the GM questions at all, actually. I think it's what you roll when you want to actively engage the GM as a co-conspirator in achieving your goals.

  5. I got to watch part of the game, and it was pretty awsome. TomC told me I ought to get a chair and hang around, but I felt the need to get back home to family. As it turns out, upon reflection, I should have grabbed that chair, or better yet grabbed the last spot at the table to play (although, that would have changed the way things went and it looked like the player chemistry at the table was going really well). I have already recommended the game to a close friend. I hope it does well. Thanks also for the autographs in the SOTC and DFRPG books. It was nice to meet you in person again.

  6. I can't take credit for the "magic etc as Talents" idea - at best I saw it on RPG.Net days ago FROM CAM I THINK - but I do have the satisfaction of being the first known Grifter in a Leverage game to con an angry dog by intercom.

    Which brings up: thanks again for running the game, and for letting me play in it.


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