Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Tip for Masterminds

I only managed to run one game of Leverage at PAX, and despite my degraded health, I think it went decently well. I've found I like paying a lot of attention to what the group takes as their secondary role, since it often tells you a lot about what the group is really like. In this case, we had a lot of Hitter, with the non-violent Thief in the leadership role. The mastermind was the political guy, a former lawyer, and he did a great job with it, and at the same time underscored something that I've been doing to help out Masterminds.

See, a generic Mastermind is a little bit rough to really engage in play. It's so open ended that unless you have a player who likes to scheme purely for the sake of scheming, the Mastermind can be left at something of a loose end. He can do things, certainly, but they're not necessarily things that will distinguish him from the rest of the crew. Worse, the fact that he could do almost anything introduces a degree of option-induced paralysis.

To this end, I've started treating the Mastermind as something of a specialist - the Mastermind picks some arena of expertise, and within that, I just treat his knowledge as absolute. Nate Ford, for example, knows insurance in and out, which extends to things being insured. Other Masterminds might know taxes, high finance, the law or some other professional pursuits. Specialties might also be more abstract, like "being the guy who knows everyone" or the like - so long as the idea is very clear, then its probably workable.

This ends up making very little mechanical difference. Leverage characters are already awesome, and putting a a bit of spin on the awesome doesn't actually shake up the table much. But what it does do is give the table a much stronger sense of what the Mastermind's role is and how he contributes to the team. For the Mastermind's player, it imposes fruitful limitations. Because the Mastermind has a clear strength, when in doubt, he knows he can play to it. It gives a lens to look at problems through, and that can be utterly invaluable. For the GM, it also makes it a lot clearer when Mastermind is the right thing to be rolled. Lastly, it has the thematic effect of giving the Mastermind a stronger connection to "the real world", and given the source material, I think that's pretty cool.

It's a small thing, and like most good Leverage tricks it's a bit of a con, but I put it out there for others who might find themselves in a similar situation.


  1. Good stuff. Interesting note -- I played note one game of D&D and two Leverage-eque games at PAX.

    I was thinking about the mastermind, and what if the Mastermind spent a plot point to generate a plan asset?

    This lets the player be a guy with a plan without necessarily being the boss. If players want to follow the plan, they get a bonus to the roll, but they can move on their own easily enough.

    Now that I'm thinking about it, what if the plan asset didn't cost you a point but instead earned everyone a point when resolved?

    Just some thoughts. It was a great game by the way! It was fun to see how you run it.

  2. @Gamefiend So far as I'm concerned, that doesn't even need a special rule - that's totally in bounds for asset rules as they stand. That said, that points to a good seed for Mastermind abilities.

  3. A common question I am asked is, "what do I roll the Mastermind die for?" I think this is probably because while everybody can imagine what the Hacker, Hitter, Thief, and Grifter dice are used for (these are, after all, common RPG skillsets) they hit a brick wall when thinking what any application of Mastermind would be.

    I think having each Mastermind grab a Specialty and playing to a knowledge base is an excellent idea. Above and beyond that, of course, the Mastermind uses his die when rolling for planning (or the execution of a section of a plan), for research, for assessing an existing plan or organization, for understanding flaws or weaknesses in organization, and for communicating ideas and strategy.

    Perhaps the downside is that often, the Fixer just won't call for an action that uses those areas of expertise. It's much more interesting to make the Crew roll dice for jumping, hitting, breaking in, hacking, etc. Physical, direct, fun, right?

    My suggestion is for Fixers and players alike to think outside the box and approach actions as opportunities for complications to arise and for a Crewmember to knock another obstacle out of the way. So, framing a scene with a Mastermind rolling off dice against a frustrating bureaucrat (Mastermind + Willpower) as a Contested Action should be just as viable as the Hitter trading blows with the goon in the warehouse (Hitter + Strength).

  4. Im my leverage game, I chat about next week's heist with the Mastermind player ahead of time. Leverage is built as a game where the fun come in from the rolls of the dice, so bouncing plot elements off the Mastermind is a win-win. He gets to look like a genius because he already has a plan in mind when it gets revealed to everyone else.

    The write-ups, for anyone interested, are at conolympics.blogspot.com We're about halfway through our first season.

  5. @RLW Anyone who is _not_ reading the conolympics posts is depriving themselves of great fun.

  6. Thanks, Rob! Can I use that as a pull quote at the top of the blog?


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