Systems Review: Leverage

One of the best aspects of modern tabletop RPGs is the wealth of games to play. It’s also a challenge, because it’s easy to buy a bunch of games and never play them. To help cut into the surplus, we’ve been playing some of the games we’ve purchased over the years. I’ve started things off by playing one of the games I’ve been most eager to try: Leverage by Margaret Weis Productions.

Leverage is an RPG based off of the show of the same name that ran on the American TV Network TNT. The elevator pitch would be ‘a weekly show of Ocean’s 11.' It stars a group of semi-reformed criminals who are recruited by people who have been wronged by the powerful and greedy. They use their skills to take down these evil people and right wrongs… and make some money off it too.

The RPG intrigued me ever since I heard it played on the Drunk and Ugly, who did a four session mini campaign. As system devoted to heist movies and shows, it’s radically different from other systems I’d played or heard before. I was eager to try and purchased a pdf off of DriveThru RPG, which also sells physical versions of the book. There’s also a group of splat books that have been combined into a couple of physical releases.

The book is divided in three. The first section explains how the players create PCs, the second if for GM on how to run a game. The third section shows how the screenwriters of the show created the first two seasons. The book is a clean and easy read, with plenty of art. The art is screencaps of the TV show, but this means the book has art almost every 1-2 pages versus the typical 4-6. The fonts are not simple and laid out well.

The game uses the Cortex System. It uses all dice except d20s, and has you roll a skill plus a job type (e.g., Willpower + Mastermind) to beat a target number rolled by the GM. It has a Moxie-like system with ‘Plot Points’ which you get for rolling 1s. In exchange for making complications for your character, these plot points let you add dice to later rolls or create items to use.

The book, for all that it does have, does not have a premade scenario. There is one available, called “The Quickstart Job”, which I was able to grab for $1.99 on DriveThru. The Quickstart Job teaches you and the players every aspect of the game. Almost too well. Most premade scenarios that are introductions to the game are very railroady. The Quickstart Job is a bullet train, with very little leeway and a likely run time of 1.5-2.5 hours. Even mixing it up for the podcast, we still managed 2.5 hours. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad scenario, it did help us get a grasp of how the system works. It’s just too linear, especially for experienced players.

For having only read the book and run one session, I am glad I picked up Leverage. The system is simple to run, and with proper planning and allowances for improvisation can make great games. In doing something no other game was focusing on, Margaret Weis Productions put out a great game. I’m hoping to have us run a campaign someday, or at least more scenarios. Preferably something without a railroad.