Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tommy's Take on Leverage: Hitters, Hackers & Thieves

And now to complete the Leverage trifecta with Hitters, Hackers & Thieves, the second Leverage expansion book.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: A companion book to Grifters & Masterminds, Hitters, Hackers & Thieves expands on the other three roles of a Leverage crew, and the cover indicates this by showing Hardison (Hacker) on the cover with Parker (Thief) and Eliot (Hitter) reflected in his sunglasses. This is a review of the 128 page PDF version, available on RPGNow for $12.99. Full color, all the bells and whistles, that sort of thing...the aesthetics are up to the usual Margaret Weis Productions standards. The book leads off with an amusing, in character note from Wil Wheaton as "Cha0s", not unlike Mark Sheppard's note as Sterling in Grifters & Masterminds.

This book is organized a lot like the last, with an extra role section and minus a GM section. Hackers are up first, and while I never really got a particular "voice" from the Grifters & Masterminds sections, the Hacker 101 definitely has a "Hardison" vibe to it. We get a history of hacking (all the way back to 1822) and notable milestones in Hacking, like Operation Sundevil in the 90s and the rise of Anonymous. New Hacker Talents include The Cake is a Lie (giving you a bonus die for creating fake media), Do, or Do Not, There Is No Try (which lets you frontload an attempt at success, but run a greater risk of Complications) and I Read About That Once on the Internet (allowing you to use your Hacker die for something not Hacker related). Uses for Hacker with each Attribute is included, like Agility (executing something at a precise time) and even Strength (Hacking when restrained). A dozen Hackers are included, from a street thug to an ex-nun to an MMA fighter and a beefcake guy that steals people's identities to pay for his exploits! The Master Class section delves into using Hacker in gameplay, introducing things like Exploits (a wager with the Fixer - if you win, you get a free Asset, if you lose, they hit you with a Complication). Other mechanics are included, like Covering Your Tracks. The book even describes how Hackers can use things like car tires treads and Legos! Social Engineering details how Hacker can be used alongside Grifter (or in place of it, in an emergency).

The Hitter section is all about beating the crap out of people...not killing them, mind you...but beating them to a pulp. This turns into an awesome code of honor/set of rules about not killing, not using guns, divide and conquer, etc. Just a really enjoyable piece of writing.  Again, we get a sidebar on using Hacker with the various Attributes, like Intelligence for a Martial Arts Instructor, Alertness to find a weak spot and Willpower to keep going when you want to collapse. New Hitter Talents include Fighting Styles (Barroom Brawling, Fencing, and even Pro Wrestling, as well as a catch-all "I'm really badass" style), Weapon Training (Swinging Weapons, Thrusting Weapons, Frightening Weapon, etc), and other Talents like Ke-mo Sah-bee (in which your awesomeness attracts a follower), Location, Location, Location (scoring a free Asset from your surroundings), or Walking Arsenal (allowing you to pick up Weapon Training talents out of the blue for the remainder of the Job). A Dozen Hitters includes the obvious (cops, commandos, pro wrestlers and MMA fighters) as well as the less obvious (abuse survivors and wrongly incarcerated accountants). The Master Class opens up new possibilities, like using guns (complete with new Talents, including crowd control stuff), a system for winning fights without ever throwing a punch, and even mass combat (or Mob Fights).

Last, we get the Thief section. This follows the pattern of the other sections, with a look at the psychology of a thief before touching on some famous thieves. New Talents include Consolation Prize (in which you lose a fight but swipe something from the guy that beat you), Losing a Tail (ditching the folks trying to follow you) and Takes One To Know One (helps you spot another Thief). We also get a sidebar for using Attributes with Thief, like Strength (forcing open locks), Agility (...most things you'll be doing) and Willpower (working your way through a meticulous security system without slipping up). A Dozen Thieves includes a car thief, an ex secret agent, a magician's assistant and a forensics expert. The Master Class starts off covering thieves' tools, like telescopes, hand drills, lock picks and even beef jerky (for guard dogs, duh). Another section covers designing security systems for locations, hitting a checklist of common features before encouraging the use of Distinctions to give each one personality. Four sample locations are included in detail, from a survivalist compound to The Steranko from the Leverage episode The Inside Job. The Thief section ends with a list of cool things to steal, with both the "Why" and the "Why Not", from Nazi paintings to nuclear codes.

Finally, the book ends with The Tech Job, which is actually three hi-tech job outlines that can easily be used in play (since Leverage Jobs should probably never be anything more than an outline anyway).

WHAT WORKS: The Hitter section may be my favorite section written for the Leverage RPG, possibly my favorite section ever appearing in an MWP book and just a great read. Your mileage may vary, but I loved it. I also love the addition of the ready made compounds and the security system mechanics, a very useful set of additions to the game mechanics.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I wasn't feeling the whole "psychology of a thief" thing, which is weird, because Parker's not my least favorite Leverage Crew member (that would be Sophie...and I still like her). In fact, from a Role standpoint Hacker and Thief would probably be most least favorite of the five.

CONCLUSION: I was reaching for complaints. I applaud the work the MWP crew has done with Leverage, starting with a strong core book and then two supplemental books that are not essential but dramatically expand the five roles in the game. As with Grifters & Masterminds, if you like the Leverage RPG, there is no real reason not to buy the supplemental books, at least in PDF. A great RPG treatment for one of my favorite shows.