Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tommy's Take on Leverage: Grifters & Masterminds



I thought pretty highly of Leverage, as you may recall. After a bit of a wait, now we get the completion of the Leverage line: Grifters & Masterminds and Hitters, Hackers & Thieves. First up...Grifters & Masterminds.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF is $12.99 and a lean 105 pages, full color, photos, all that. What the book essentially IS is a How-To for Grifters and Masterminds (as well as some more options and advice for Fixers, or GMs). For the fans, the book features a Foreword by Marak Sheppard (in character as Jim Sterling).

Up first is Grifting 101, beginning with the three things a con can be based on (Greed, Social Compliance and Distraction & Misdirection), with explanations of each before diving into the psychology of the Grifter. The book then dives into grifting around the world (like how Russia doesn't have a ton of money, and a LOT of it runs through the Russian Mafia). A slew of new Grifter talents is introduced as well, like Cast of Thousands (which lets you draw a crowd that you use as a prop in your con), Faux Expert (essentially BSing people into thinking you know more than you do) and Old Friend (leading a mark into thinking they used to know you). There is even a sidebar on how the Attributes each apply to a given type of action for a Grifter (like Strength for Intimidation).

A dozen Grifters are also provided, for use as characters or NPCs. They include a retired legend, a fraudulent psychic and a "ghost" (an "everyman" whose main feature is just how unremarkable he is - he's even named John Smith. How utterly forgettable).

From there, the book delves deeper into the operations of a Grifter, from setting up short scams to laying out long cons to a step by step guide for seducing a Mark and how it mechanically benefits you to succeed. Finally, a list of identities are provided, each broken down into Who You Are, What You Can Do, What You Need and How You Play It, like playing a cop in order to get stop and search a Mark, or the important keys to passing oneself off as Royalty.

From there, the book moves into Masterminds...the brains behind the operations.

This section gives a broad overview of the Mastermind's job (which is pretty much the planning, the leading and the accounting for everything that will go on) followed by an examination of Masterminds throughout history, from Shaka Zulu to Alexander the Great to Harriet Tubman. New Talents include Brainstorm (which allows anyone you're talking to to add anyone else you're talking to's Intelligence die), Chess Master (allowing you to turn a Complication into an Asset) and Think On Your Feet (a desperation move when crap completely falls apart). As with Grifting, there is a sidebar on how each Attribute applies to the Mastermind die, like using Awareness to pick up a concealed weakness, or Willpower to assert control over a chaotic situation.

A dozen Masterminds are included, from a coach (complete with whistle) to a general, to a reporter.

Next up, the book tackles the actual planning of a Job...including advice on how to utilize your team members to their fullest abilities, how to screw up the Mark's plans and - yes - what to do when everything goes south. This section ends with a cheat sheet on scribbling a plan together quickly and even recommends an option for allowing the Mastermind to witness (and help prepare elements of) the rough sketch of the Job (with the understanding that there will almost always be curve balls). On one hand, this is sure to not sit well with "traditional" players, but on the other, it does make sense in context of the character's role.

Lastly, we get the Fixer's section. This starts off with a bunch of GM advice, some of which you have read before, and some of which is Leverage specific. For instance, it tackles Complications, with a few suggestions to keep in mind (like, say, the Client winds up dead in the middle of the Job, the Mark is connected to MUCH more powerful people than expected or your Hitter has developed a death wish and is recklessly endangering the Job). Additionally, a handful of ready made Plot Twists are provided, like the Mark is actually a mole for the CIA or FBI, or the Client is actually planning to wipe out the Crew as soon as they are done with The Mark.

The chapter then goes into approaching Leverage with a "season" structure (nothing new in RPGs, and pretty common when the source material is a TV show), such as advice on linking elements of the jobs in order to build to a satisfying finale (like taking down a Mark who has been a thorn in the Crew's side throughout the season).

A sidebar covers new roles (like Reporter and Wheelman) while a few paragraphs are devoted to using the Leverage system in completely different settings (including a breakdown of the roles of Robin Hood and his Merry Men and how to tweak the Hacker role in a fantasy setting). Finally, advice is given for playing as ACTUAL bad guys, as well as playing entirely without a Fixer.

WHAT WORKS: The sheer amount of detail on the mindset and process of the Mastermind (especially) and the Grifter is very helpful. The "Dozen Grifters" and "Dozen Masterminds" is also useful for giving some ideas on how to make characters of those roles who aren't just Sophie or Nate renamed. The alternate settings sections was also fun, and basically any ideas on how to NOT just be playing the Leverage crew renamed is always welcome.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: A lot of the GM advice is nothing special that you haven't seen before. I'm also not quite convinced that the Masterminding the Rules section successfully provides that mechanical bridge for Masterminds that some folks feel was missing compared to Hackers, Hitters, Grifters and Thieves.

CONCLUSION: An unessential but incredibly useful book for Leverage. It doesn't dramatically change anything from the core rules, but it does provide some very useful tidbits on Grifters and Masterminds, both as PCs and NPCs. Basically, if you really like the Leverage game and either want some more options or are struggling with the Roles at all, it's well worth it. And don't complain about the extra books: There was a time when each role (including Fixer) would have been padded out into its own book.