24 Mar 2014

The Unruly Girls meet Leverage

I may have mentioned before that my approach to writing is atypical.  Sure, there isn't a One True Path into writing, but my entry was via tabletop role-playing games.  One way of making sure a character was viable was to create that character using an appropriate RPG.  Steven Savage over at Seventh Sanctum discusses character creation as part of his Way with Worlds series, and has suggested several ways to create a character and included the same thing, via an RPG.  The idea is viable.
The key is picking the right game.  Some games, such as Steve Jackson Games' GURPS*, can be applied to a wide range of settings.  Others, such as White Wolf's/Onyx Path's Vampire: The Requiem, are designed for a specific setting and start falling apart when used for something outside their scope.

Looking at The Unruly Girls, the setting and scope were laid out; high school girls in an Ontario small town dealing with each other while avoiding being shut down by authorities.  The original NaNo Prep post mentioned that the idea was based on the RPG Hellcats and Hockeysticks, which covers the setting and scope perfectly.  Yet, there is another game that could work.

Switching gears for a moment, heist movies are popular and have their own niche.  The idea behind them is that a group of specialists work together for the big score.  Ocean's 11, the original and the remake, is a great example, as is The Sting.  The protagonists aren't necessarily heroes; their goal is to steal.  At the same time, they are presented as the better of the two sides in the movie, and are usually the underdog.  People love to root for the underdog.  This is where Leverage comes in.  Leverage followed a group of thieves masterminded by a resentful insurance investigator who, while not going straight, brought their abilities together to help people who were wronged to get, er, leverage.  The main characters weren't necessarily nice people, but they focused their aggression out on people who needed to be toppled.  Leverage lasted five seasons and spawned an RPG published by Margaret Weis Productions.

What does a TV series inspired by heist movies have to do with the Unrulies?  The core idea behind the story is that the girls are using their skills to not only survive the School for Troubled Girls but to gain power and riches and to prevent their rivals from clawing to the top.  While not a heist, the main element is that cast has to learn to work together and be a team, similar to the teams in heist movies.

Instead of making the characters one at a time, I'll create them all at once.  I'll also take liberties with Leverage's character generation to suit my own needs.  I'm not going to go into great details about game mechanics, other than to say that it is based on the Cortex rules.  Any mistakes from this point are entirely on me.

Why all at once?  Character creation in Leverage is done as one session and involves a quick job where the team is recruited.  It is possible to create a character prior on your own, but the idea is that several items on your sheet get filled in by the other players.  I'll note those points as I go.

There are seven steps to character creation.  The first step, get a blank character sheet, isn't needed.  The second, background, was covered in the previous Unruly post.  This brings me and the girls to the third step, choose a role.  There are five, based on the characters in Leverage - Mastermind, Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, and Thief, as seen during the opening credits.  Step four is to choose a secondary role.  I'll merge the two at this point, to save time and typing.


Caitlin:  Caitlin was designated the leader already.  She is the planner, the leader, and the girl who sets things in motion.  Mastermind is ideal for her primary role.  Her secondary role is a little tougher to decide.  Caitlin is the type to have someone else do the dirty work.  However, to reflect her quasi-military bearing, Hitter works for her secondary.

Skye:  Skye is the team's muscle.  She's an athelete.  If the girls were a hockey team, Skye would be an enforcer.  Hitter, the role that deals with applied force, suits her as a primary role.  For her secondary role, Mastermind, to reflect her coordination of the teams she's on, not as team captain, but as the assistant captain.  This also makes her Caitlin's second-in-command.

Autumn:  Autumn's the Hacker.  If it's online, she will access it.  For her secondary, while Mastermind might be interesting, I'm choosing Grifter, to reflect social engineering as a means of hacking into a system.

Laura:  Laura's the mad scientist of the group, which doesn't quite fit into any one role.  However, looking at her background, she managed to turn in her father for a reduced sentence.  Grifter, the role that involves the manipulation of trust, would work for Laura's primary role.  For the secondary, to reflect her mad science, Hacker.
Four characters, four primary roles, and not one Thief.  Could be a problem.  To round out the group, I will pull in Vamsi, the fixer.
Vamsi:  Vamsi's trade is knowing who needs what and providing it.  Three roles suit the concept, but I only need two.  Vamsi's primary role is Thief; her secondary is Grifter.  (The third role was Mastermind, for being able to track the needs of an entire school.)
Step five is assigning attributes.  There are six, Agility, Alertness, Intelligence, Strength, Vitality, and Willpower.  Each has its use in each role.  Some are obvious - Strength and Hitter to smack someone or Intelligence and Hacker to bypass computer security.  But, sometimes an odd match can come up, like Willpower and Mastermind to to outlast a rival or Intelligence and Hitter to set up a field hockey defensive line.  There are two ways to go, focused or versatile.  Focused has two each of ten-, eight-, and 6-sided dice assigned to the attributest.  Versatile only has one ten-sided and one six-sided, with the rest eight-sided dice.

Caitlin:  Caitlin is focused.  She isn't necessarily the smartest or the strongest, but she is the most determined.  She assigns her d10s to Alertness and Willpower, representing her eye for detail and her sheer stubborness.  Physically, she's lacking a little, making up for it by getting others to do heavy lifting for her.  She places the d6s into Agility and Strength.  That leaves the d8s in Intelligence and Vitality.

Skye:  Skye is versatile.  As a team player, she needs to be able to get into the right place at the right time, to either set up a teammate for the goal or to take the shot herself.  She places the d10 in Strength; she is the team's powerhouse.  For the d6, while placing it with Intelligence is tempting, Skye isn't dumb muscle.  Instead, she places the d6 in Alertness, to reflect having blind spots at times.  The rest of the attributes get d8s.

Autumn:  Autumn is focused.  In the areas where she is weak, she doesn't consider the attributes important.  She's a Hacker, not a Hitter; that's why the team has Skye.  For the d10s, Autumn places them with Intelligence and Alertness.  The d6s get placed with Strength and Agility; Autumn doesn't need to get physical.  That leaves Vitality and Willpower with the d8s.

Laura:  Laura is versatile.  As a former alleged drug dealer and manufacturer**, she needed to keep her wits about her while dealing with the sort of people who don't take rejection well.  She places her d10 in Intelligence, mainly because she's a mad scientist at heart.  For the d6, she places it in Vitality; exercise was the furthest from her mind, and she has artificial means of remaining awake if she can just get access to the school's chemistry lab.

Vamsi:  Vamsi is also versatile.  She needs to be many faces to many people.  She places her d10 in Agility, which can represent the ability to fast-talk as well as pick locks.  She places the d6 in Strength; Vamsi isn't threatening and prefers to sweet talk her way out of situations.  The rest of the attributes get d8s.
The sixth step is to choose one Distinction.  The Distinction is a word or a short phrase that describes the character, and should be usable both postively and negatively.  In the show Leverage, Parker would have Crazy as a Distinction.  On the plus side, the Distinction gives Parker an edge on doing something sane people would never do, like rappel down an elevator shaft while the lift car is in motion.  On the down side, it means she doesn't react the same way a normal person would and may wind up using a shrimp fork to stab someone she's trying to seduce.

Caitlin:  Caitlin takes Military Precision has her distinction, reflecting her discipline and planning abilities.  On the down side, if the timing goes awry, Caitlin will be at a loss as her plan cascades into a flaming wreck.

Skye:  Skye simply goes with Athlete, reflecting who she is.  Being an athlete helps her work with her teammates, but could be a social drawback when in more refined settings.

Autumn:  Since Hacker is already a role, Autumn needs to work on her Distinction.  She comes up with Cute, hoping to use the Distinction to devastating heights when dealing with the opposite sex.  The drawback of being cute is being dismissed as fluff.

Laura:  Laura read ahead and saw that the Recruitment Job allows the others to fill in two of the three Distinctions.  Wanting to pre-empt some potentially nasty Distinctions, she chooses Sober; she never touched the drugs she developed and sold, and prefers to stay clean, outside the extra-strength No-Doze.  The downside of being sober is that sometimes, there's a need to at least appear like she's partaking.

Vamsi:  Vamsi decides that her Distinction is Knows a Guy Who Knows a Guy.  Sometimes, though, her network just doesn't have the info or item she needs.
Finally, the last step, the Recruitment Job, where two Talents, the last three roles, the last two Distinctions, and two Specialities are determined.  However, since I want to start The Unruly Girls with Laura's arrival at the school, I need to modify the step.  Normally, each character would get a spotlight scene, where other characters can be invited and try to roll one of their unassigned
roles.  The main character of the scene can declare a Talent, and anyone in the scene can declare a specialty.  Flashbacks can be used to create a Distinction, though the other players make the choice and offer a suggestion, which can be turned down, at the cost of a plot point.

However, there is a Fast Recruitment option that allows players to decide quickly on Talents and roles, but still requires a flashback scene to let the other players choose a Distinction, leaving one still unassigned for later.  For my purposes, this will work.  As for the dice in the remaining roles, a d4 means that the role gets interesting, not that the character is bad at it.  There's a one in four chance of a complication when rolling a d4, meaning that the role can be one where the character has interesting problems.

Remaining Roles:
Caitlin:  While she prefers that others do the dirty work, there will be times when she is called out on the carpet for shenanigans.  At this point, Caitlin has to step up.  She takes Grifter at d6, leaving Hacker and Thief at d4.  She can use a computer and perform a break-and-enter, but when she has to get her hands dirty, it usually means her plan has come off the rails. 

Skye:  Again, while amusing to think that Skye is like the proverbial bull in a china shop, she's more like a real bull in a china shop.  Skye is socially capable and can manipulate others, just not as well as Laura.  She places the d6 in Grifter, leaving the d4s in Hacker and Thief.

Autumn:  With a future storyline in mind that has Autumn running her own job and having issues, she gets one of the d4s in Mastermind.  She places the other in Hitter, letting her fight like a kitten, full of ineffectual slaps.  Thief gets the d6.

Laura:  Laura has some planning skills, otherwise turning in her father would not have worked out as well for her.  Mastermind gets the d6, leaving Hitter and Thief at d4.

Vamsi:  Vamsi prefers the face-to-face, one-on-one approach to wheeling and dealing.  She places the d6 in Mastermind, leaving Hacker and Hitter at d4.  If Vamsi has to use violence, things have already gone bad.
Specialties are narrow skills and can fall under any role.  The role tends to imply how the specialty works.  Bartending, for example, can easily fall under both Grifter and Hitter.  For a Grifter, it's more about lending a sympathetic ear while pouring a shot, while with a Hitter, it's more about navigating a seedy bar that sees nightly brawls without spilling a drop.  Talents provide extra bonuses under certain situations, allowing characters to help others or gain an advantage when needed.

Specialties and Talents:
Caitlin:   Keeping with the theme of Caitlin having a military bearing, she grabs Tactics as a Mastermind specialty.  She then takes Climbing as a Thief specialty; she might not be good at sneaking around or picking a lock, but she can climb well enough to get out of danger.  For her Talents, she takes Master Plan, representing her ability to plan for all contingencies, and Stay On Target, to help the others stay focused on tasks.

Skye:  With Skye's numerous contusions and bruises, having First Aid as a Hitter specialization helps; being able to deal with on-field injuries.  Skye will also take Homework as a Thief specialization; the school cares if the girls pass but not how.  For her specializations, she takes Badass, letting her take on the opposing teams on her own, and Tactical Eye, which lets her help out a teammate in a fight.

Autumn:  Autumn does know how to keep a boy's attention on her, so she picks up Seduction as a Grifter specialty.  She grabs Sneak as a Thief specialty, useful for when she wants to leave on her own without Caitlin asking nosy questions.  For her Talents, she picks up Shut Down All the Garbage Mashers on the Detention Level, letting her take control of facilities through computers, and Are You Going to Log In or Whistle Dixie?, giving her an edge in a hacking duel.

Laura:  Laura starts by taking Chemistry as a Hacker specialty; she was involved in the drug scene as a manufacturer.  She adds Slap Fight as a Hitter specialty; she's not a great fighter, but she has some self defense knowledge.  Her first Talent is Takes One to Know One, letting her spot a lie at a thousand paces.  Her second Talent is I Just Work Here, letting her blend into the background and be ignored.

Vamsi:  Being essentially a fence, Vamsi takes Appraisal as a Thief specialty to help judge the worth of an item passing through her hands.  She takes Google Fu as a Hacker specialty, letting her research despite usually winding up with problems when online.  Vamsi grabs Steady Hands as her first Talent, letting her keep calm when events go wrong.  To further help her as a Thief, she takes Opportunist, taking advantage of other people's mistakes.
Caitlin:  While Caitlin thinks she has Military Precision, the other girls aren't as fond of her.  The give her Bossy as one Distinction.  Normally, Bossy is a negative; Caitlin would exploit the downside as she starts giving orders to an unreceptive audience.  The upside, though, is that she can sweep in and take charge without a problem.  Herding a group of Jennifers into a diversionary plot?  Not a problem.  For the last Distinction, the girls choose Cold.  As Caitlin starts wondering if she has a PR problem, the plus side is that she will keep with her plans no matter what, and forget about bluffing her.  The downside is that she is insensitive to the needs of others.

Skye:  For Skye's first assigned Distinction, the girls give her Smarter Than She Looks.  Not only does she have size, strength, and athletic ability, Skye can think, and will surprise anyone who writes her off as a dumb jock.  The downside, overthinking where her first assessment may be the correct choice.  For the second Distinction, the girls choose Skyescraper, her hated nickname.  It could spur her into action, or keep her from acting properly because someone used it at an inopportune time.

Autumn:  The girls quickly label Autumn as Boy Crazy.  The downside, distractable when a cute boy is around, but the bonus is that she can focus on a guy when he's the target.  The other Distinction the girls create for Autumn is Tablet, referring to her customized tablet computer.  Sometimes it's a bonus in getting by electronic barriers; other times, she's distracted by it.

Laura:  The girls quickly place New Girl as the first Distinction.  Laura is the New Girl at the school, meaning that she's an unknown.  As the New Girl, though, there are subtleties that she isn't aware of that could cause problems for her.  For the second Distinction, the girls wanted to use Drugs until Laura reminded them that her original idea was Sober.  The choice, then, became Mad Scientist, great for being in a lab, not so great when trying to avoid unnecessary explosions when experimenting.

Vamsi:  For Vamsi, the girls choose Fence as her first Distinction.  She knows where to get the goods and how to move items so they become untraceable.  However, people know she's a fence, and if something is missing, she's the first one authorities ask.  The other Distinction the girls choose for her is Furtive; Vamsi is good at skulking, but once seen, can draw attention to herself.
I'm not going to provide full sheets; that would just add to the already long post.  Most of the details of the sheet can be pulled from the above sections.  The exercise gave me a few insights to the cast, though, and I can start working on plots for them.

* The Generic Universal Role Playing System.
** Her last name isn't Ford.


  1. Interesting way of going about it... I suppose one of the benefits is it's impossible to have any sort of "Mary Sue" character. I'd also never really heard of a system where other players label you with items. I won't pretend I was able to follow all of the steps either (in part due to lack of sleep).

    What I did find interesting was how Autumn and Laura seemed to start out as flip sides of the same coin, Hacker/Grifter, but morphed in the end to have one of them a lot more visible than the other. Is there any components for physical appearance is this, or is that still strictly up to whoever's doing the creation? (Cute can mean so many different things...)

    1. The game really does encourage finding a niche while, at the same time, exploring beyond the character's comfort zone. It is unique in having the other player's add a distinction, but the description is based on what your character does in the Recruitment Job; you are allowed to turn down the distinction, though. The Fast Recruitment option allows you to choose your own.

      Laura doesn't quite fit the game; she a mad scientist at heart. Hacker would suit her better, but Grifter works, too, mainly because she has managed to talk herself out of trouble in her past. Autumn was always planned to be the flirtatious girl in the group. Laura would prefer to not get attention due to her past. Physical appearance doesn't really come into play in the mechanics, but a player could take Cute, Drop-dead Gorgeous, or Ugly as Sin as Distinctions, and then use them in play. (Cute does, and can be a compliment, as in, "She's cute," or a drawback, "Oh, she's just cute fluff, pay her no mind.")