Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Dog in the Microwave Job: Play

I don’t want to get into a play by play of every scene that lead us to our finale, partly because I don’t think that would be useful and partly because I’d be hard pressed to recall all the details precisely. Instead, I’m going to talk about _how_ it played and the sort of things that happened at the table.

One of the player’s remarked that if the game does well it might be worth investing in 3M based on the sheer number of post-its used. By the time the game was finished I had pretty well covered the table in front of me with them. Index cards or a whiteboard would probably have worked equally well, but post its definitely hold up. Pro-tip: Use a sharpie if you can, to make them legible all across the table.

The first three notes were the three objectives for the game: Find the dog, sort out Rose and get the client to the hearing on time. The 4th had the time written on it. While the time changed, none of these had any direct mechanical impact on play, but they were useful for providing focus (at least for me).

Next, I put down post-its for the situation. One for the mark (Grifter d10, Evil d12, Psycho d12), one for the client and one for the dog (“Mr. Whuffles, yip dog d4”). It was only after Max’s player’s comment to this effect that I added “In a microwave d8”. Since there was also a guilty conscience in play, I put in Rose’s secretary (Secretary d8, secretly in love with Rose d8, guilty d4). Then I added “The Mob is Interested, d4” and that was pretty much the starting spread.

Thankfully, at that point the system stepped up and helped start bring things to life. After the characters talked to the client (at one point sending her further into hysterics with the kind of tact that makes it clear why Nate doesn’t invite the whole team along on client interviews) and things switched into investigation mode, something that many GMs may recognize as a bit of a bear trap.

Right off the bat, the players threw a curveball at me that I hadn’t planned for, asking if the dog was chipped (that is, had a microchip implanted for tracking purposes). I hadn’t even considered that, and there was an instinct to just say “no” since that would make things too easy, but that was a bad instinct - I just needed it to be playable, so I switched it to a “Yes, but…” - the dog was chipped, but the client didn’t have the code for it, her vet did, but he was out of the country (but presumably had it on file in his office).

I want to flag this one to any would-be Leverage GMs. What followed from this was procedurally very simple (and right out of the Fixer advice in the book) but was great fodder for play. The players had a clear goal (track the chip), a clear obstacle (It’s locked up in the office) and a clear course of action (Break in!) with the added bonus that it was clear _who_ should do this (the thief, of course). All of which is to say, when that little voice that says “no!” pops up, you should listen, but not obey. It I probably a great opportunity to throw up an obstacle rather than an insurmountable barrier.

The break-in ended up illustrating failure and complications very well. The thief utterly botched his original roll to case the joint, not only failing, but also handing me a complication (more on that in a second). Obviously, I didn’t want failure to stop things cold, and it would be silly to not have the thief be able to break in, so I asked the question instead “How can I move success to a different arena?” and determined that the issue was no good external access - to get in you’d want to go in through the adjacent office, which was open for business. The thief was forced to roll some grifter but managed to pass himself off as a patient, and got into the office, which is when the complication came up.

Procedurally, whenever a player rolled a 1 (creating a complication) I would pick up a d8 from the pile and put it on top of my post-it pad. When it came time to use it, I’d either write the new value on a post-it already out there, or I would (as in this case) take a new post it and write down the new complication. In this case it was “Big Dog d8” for the pooch that had busted out of his kennel. The subsequent scene of the grifter attempting to be the dog whisperer over the comms was unbelievable, even more so for it working.

Anyway, I won’t get into the details of the other scenes. The Mastermind talked to people in the mob (mechanically, the mob interest go bigger, then I later introduced “the real Danny Rose d10” into play). The Hitter found the guys who had stolen the dog and beat some information out of them. THe Grifter spoke to Rose’s secretary and as a 7-11 (using That Thing I Gave You) managed to acquire video footage of the Mark. Eventually the Hitter and Mastermind descended on the place the dog was being held. The Mastermind took out the guy at the door (somewhat to his own surprise) while the hitter took out the three upstairs, incorporating the “Dog in the Microwave d8” into his roll (A piece of debris bounced off one thug, opening the microwave, and the tiny dog jumped on another thug’s face). I rolled three 1’s on that fight, and our Hitter was a Badass (He basically takes out a mook every time I roll a 1) so it was about the most decisive victory imaginable. They got the fog back, got the client to the hearing on time, and as the wrapup, arranged for the two Danny Rose’s to meet, leaving that outcome to the viewer’s imagination.

It was a good game, and as noted, finished very quickly, and while I could probably have stretched it out a little, I think fast was just right for the room So with all that in mind, next post I’ll wrap up with lessons learned.


  1. Complications start out as d6s, right? That might be the only thing I noticed that seemed odd about this writeup. They can be stepped up with additional 1s on the dice (so, a roll of 1,1,1,4,6 nets a d10 Complication) but should start out as d6.

  2. re: Dog chips

    I thought those were only useful if you already had the dog and were wondering who it belonged to.

    Is there really implanted dog LoJack? That would be awesome.

  3. @Anonymous: Your understanding is basically correct. However, the chips are just very small RFID chips. While designed to be read from short distances, people are working on being able to read them from longer ranges. I believe there are successful techniques that can give you several meters of reading range. Add in some television writers playing fast and loose with reality and multiply by Hardison/their Hacker being Bad Ass and a dog scanner fits pretty well. If you pay attention, this sort of thing happens all the time on Leverage. (And other caper shows/movies. And the various CSI series. Generally speaking, if a show or movie has Science To The Rescue, you can assume there is some BS going on.)

    This reminds me of the one time Leverage crossed the line for me: The Top Hat Job. "Patents" make absolutely zero sense in context. I'm guessing the writers used it because it sounds more Serious than "trade secrets," which is what they're actually talking about.

  4. Hmm. You know, even a short range dog finder would be enough in many cases where the dog has just jumped the fence as opposed to being kidnapped by evildoers.

    I should check out this television show, clearly!

  5. @cam You're totally right, they should have been d6's, but it still worked out. Thankfully, there's a decent amount of Stuff.

    @Anonymous & Alam Yeah, I have no idea how the chip things actually work, but I _totally_ know how they'd look on TV (big glowing maps! Blinky dots!) so I just rolled with it.

  6. @alan: If you follow John Rogers' blog, he did talk about the whole patents/trade secrets thing. I believe it boiled down to the need to explain the concept to the audience quickly. More people are familiar wi the concept of patents as "intellectual property a company owns", rather than trade secrets, whichnis what they needed to convey in the scene.


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