Finishing off the games I played this year are a couple games in a playtest phase: The Dungeon Job, and Spark.
The Dungeon Job
Prior to sitting down I’d never heard of Leverage. I had absolutely no expectations. And sometimes that creates some of the best gaming! Just go in willing to have a good time.
The underlying system both games used are Cortex. Bear with me as I do most of this from memory from a game that I played 6 days ago. Luckily my brain tends to absorb game rules, so I should have the big picture stuff pretty accurate.
The setup for The Dungeon Job is we were all adventurers of one sort or another. We’d been around the block many times. In other words, the thief character I made wasn’t just some up-start street urchin. I was a crime boss. It’s assumed all the characters have a lot of experience. Maybe they’re even retired — I’m too old for this shit!
Characters had two primary columns of stats. The first column was your standard strength/dex/intelligence sort of thing. The other column was a bit more like classes — wizard, scoundrel, man-at-arms, etc. They each had a die size associated with them. So the basic idea is you would grab a die for each column. An easy example might be hacking someone down, which might be STR+Man-At-Arms. But you could get more creative. Say you’re a wizard in the middle of a melee, you’re dodging around trying to not get hit while getting a spell off, so maybe you roll dex+wizard.
There’s ways to earn some more dice to throw, you can have some specialties. I was a bit unoriginal here and based my character on Vlad Taltos from the Jhereg series of books. So I decided my two specialties were fencing & witchcraft. You also get a list of traits that are a little more character oriented. Some people had their race, for example. You could have other defining traits like Impulsive or Coward. The fun part being you can use those to assist you or work against you.
Character creation was quick and straight-forward. Once everyone had characters made up, we each got a little intro vignette sort of thing. We’d play out a quick scene from our past. Based on how that turned out the other characters would vote on one final trait to put on your character sheet. I belief my character got “Lucky”.
Figuring out the results of the roll is as simple as totaling to the two highest single dice. There are ways to augment that, but that’s the basic gist. If you (as a player) roll any ones, it leaves the door open for the GM to make things a bit more difficult. If the GM rolls ones, it’s chance working in your favor. In the demo this generally meant finding some loot. So, going back to your traits, if you use a trait to assist you get an extra d8. However, if you’re letting it work against you then you roll a d4 instead — much greater chance of rolling a 1 and creating a complication. This sort of reminded me of Dogs in the Vineyard actually.
The last thing worth noting is how stuff works. Like everything else stuff you have is just assigned dice. Sword of ass-kicking? Plus d8. Gloves of spider-climb? Plus d8. As long as you can narrate it in, fantastic! Like I mentioned above it’s possible to get loot from conflicts. It’s nothing specific, though. You just get some gold tokens. Then when you’re doing something you can turn in a token and say “Oh, yeah, this thing was found in that last stash we went through, I think I’ll use it now.”
I definitely had great fun playing it. And while the setting for Leverage doesn’t interest me quite as much I would absolutely play The Dungeon Job again.
Spark is currently being designed by Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing.
I had a good time trying this out. Unfortunately the setting used in the demo was set in isn’t really my cup of tea. Luckily the system is setting-free, so you can do whatever you want with it. Also, I still found the situation engaging so it wasn’t a big problem. It’s just worth mentioning so I can take care to be wary of any thoughts of the setting creeping into my thoughts on the system.
Like I said, I had a good time. I think there’s definitely a lot of promise here. Some good solid concepts and like any game at this point in development can use some tightening up. As of the demo at GenCon the characters have a few stats: Head, Heart, Body, Spark. I think that’s it. There may have been a fifth. Characters have some level in each stat corresponding to a die size — d4, d6, d8, etc. Then you have a few traits, these add directly to a die roll, so maybe +1, +2, or +3. This might be things like “scientist” or something. Characters also had… “boons” I think they were called? I forget what the flip-side to that was. Basically if it came into play it would either increase or decrease your die-size. My character had the “commanding peasants” boon. My mind was d10, so if I was using my mind in a test where I’m commanding peasants, now I’m rolling d12. Likewise, the opposite could go from d10 to d8.
Lastly characters (as well as the situation) had 3 beliefs. Touching on those and bringing them into play would earn characters a point of fate. An interesting aspect here was you could only get rewarded once per belief, so you want to try and touch on all 3. Once you hit all 3 everyone at the table gets another Fate. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to play to their beliefs (you can reaffirm or negate your belief, both are valid character choices) as well as help put other characters in situations to play on theirs. I actually think it would be kind of cool if these were called “Sparks” instead. I think that could still make sense thematically and set them apart.
Gameplay goes in scenes. Three players at the table collaborate (to an extent) to set up the scene. Everyone rolls their spark attribute and the 3 highest rollers get to define one piece of the scene. One person gets the platform (basically the who/where/when), a second player gets the tilt — what happens that the characters have to interact with the scene, and finally the question, what needs to be answered based on what’s going on in the scene, influenced heavily by the tilt.
Open play/narration begins as the characters navigate the scene. Once two people (characters or the GM advocating for the scene) come to a head dice come out. You choose your base die based on what’s going on (body for fighting, etc), figure out whatever bonuses you have and roll. If there are multiple players on a side, the highest roll stands. Based on the difference between the values of the opposing sides, you consult a little table and see what sort of effect you have. If the rolls are only a few apart, then each side gets something from the other side. There’s a list of things you can get out of the conflict, you might get the other side to answer a question or make an agreement. You can even change beliefs and add boons (although these cost Fate). I love that when the rolls are close like that each side gets something. As the difference widens one side is the clear winner and gets more of an effect.
There are rules for what the fate points can be used for, but those are the basics. There’s definitely a solid foundation there. After the game we gave Jason some feedback that I hope he found helpful. I’ve forgotten most of our suggestions at this point. I think we were all in agreement that the dice rolling seemed a little too fiddly. Having a die size for an attribute then bonuses for traits and a possible die-size change based on boons. Not that it’s complex, but tightening that up would help keep the system feeling more streamlined, which I suspect is what he’s going for.
I’m definitely interested in seeing how the game evolves. I really love how conflict resolution happens as you spend your victory points (they’re called something else, but the exact name escapes me) to get things out of the other side. This is especially fun when there are multiple people on the winning side and they get to take turns using those points up.