Leverage is for Elves Too.

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“It’s not about the money. I want to bring that corrupt wizard down so he can’t ruin anybody else’s life like he did ours.”
“I see. Men like him are dangerous to be sure. They think they can do whatever they want with impunity. His subtle tyranny is above the law and an unbearable weight on good elves like you.  Now, we are here to provide a little… Leverage.”

Last time I looked at dice pools and Arcane Heroes, this time I’m exploring Leverage, an innovative, highly portable game.

I’ve been very excited lately by Cortex Plus, the rule system behind the role-playing games Leverage and Smallville. Cortex Plus excites me by encouraging most of the parts my group likes best about 4e DnD without the extra weight of the parts we don’t care for.  This is my exploration of what minimal modifications are needed to use Leverage to tell heroic, epic fantasy stories rather than modern, episodic, caper stories. Certainly, to tell fantasy-themed capers, you’d just want to add race as a Distinction, but I’m specifically looking to capture the feeling of heroic epic fantasy as richly and gracefully as Leverage captures the caper genre, or Smallville captures the supers drama genre.

If you haven’t checked out Leverage yet, then I highly recommend it. The mechanics in Leverage are refreshingly innovative, yet simple, and expertly designed to capture the subtle nuances of the genre.

The designers of Leverage acknowledge that it is highly suitable for genre-translation, and I’d say much of that is due to the use of roles as abilities much like Michael Wolf’s Warrior, Rogue & Mage (which has inspired soon-to-be-released modern spycraft and scifi alternatives).

I plan to try running Leverage this weekend in our semi-Eberron DnD world in a vignette featuring thieves and grifters pulling capers and cons on behalf of Justice in a metropolis controlled by corrupt eladrin Imperials (police) and a rampant Vampire-mafia. We will use the Leverage rules straight up with the addition of Racial Distinctions. I’ll let you know how it goes. Ultimately, though, I’d like to see an incarnation of Cortex Plus that works for paladins, wizards, and clerics as well as it does for grifters, arcane hackers, and thieves.

My initial thoughts regarding changes necessary are as follows:

  • Genre and flavor: especially the role titles, talents, and addition of races
  • Feeling and Tone: Leverage is very suited to capers and highly competent agents vs white collar criminals rather than epic stories with armies and goblin hordes – assumed the good guys will succeed, just with interesting complications
    • Job-emphasis: Leverage is inherently episodic with time between jobs, and what I’m looking for would be more open-ended, epic plots with major and minor arcs tying scenes together without interruption.
  • Simplified Combat – The game assumes fighting is a last resort and that nobody on either side will die: There are no HP, combat is very 1-on-1 (or often 1-on-many), and there’s not much room for teamwork.
  • Advancement – Leverage is more about breadth of ability for agents who begin play highly competent (everyone can try their hand at mostly anything) while DnD’s 1-30 level system promotes rags to riches, farmhands to universal saviors style of character growth.  In Leverage, everybody’s human and generally balanced in intrinsic power; True power comes from Assets and Influence more than innate powerfulness, (ie not really designed with super-liches or ancient dragons in mind)

Find my ideas for tweaking these areas in Part 2.

What haven’t I considered, or where am I missing something? Please share with me your comments, questions, and critiques.

About Adam

I'm a husband, father, explorer of the inexhaustible, and synergy cultivator. Starting with D&D, my explorations into role-playing and game design have brought me to savor mining diverse systems, initially Cortex Plus, then PbtA, ORE, Forged in the Dark, and now anything I can get my hands on.