Heist! Notes

Heist_titleSometime around December of 2009, I jotted down some notes for a roleplaying game about heists and con games. It was called Heist!, and I sat on it, waiting for some time to flesh it out.

Recently I picked up the Leverage role-playing game, and it was… very familiar. I certainly can’t say that I “stole” the ideas from Leverage or vice-versa, but I suspect that since I know many of the people on the team that it was more a case of us thinking about similar things around a similar time.

So I decided to post my raw notes (warts and all) so show this interesting case of parallel development. Enjoy.

The Three Questions

What is your game about?

Heist! is about a group of professional thieves who decide to work together for one big score. The idea is to replicate the ups and downs of heist movies, as well as the tension that occurs within such teams of criminals.

What Heist! is not about is pitting the Gamemaster’s criminal designs against the intelligence of the players, nor is it about elaborate planning beforehand by the players. While the thief characters have already worked out a detailed plan, what that plan actually is comes from the organic play of the players and Gamemaster during the course of the game.

How is your game about that?

The focus of the game is on five different styles of crime – most everything else is either a modifier to those styles, or subsumed into those styles. Every thief will have a style they’re very good at, some things they’re okay at, and one style they’re bad at, to reinforce the idea that all of the thieves are specialists.

What behaviors does it reward or encourage?

Tactically, players will be given a bigger advantage (a chance to roll more dice) for trying to move a particular obstacle into their thief’s strongest style. Also, players will gain benefits for intentionally making certain obstacles more difficult for themselves and others. The balance between tactics (playing to the character’s strengths and making obstacles more difficult) reflects the rapid shifts in fortune that you find in heist movies.

Making a Thief


Each thief in Heist! has access to five Styles of crime – some of which the thief is better at than others. All meaningful actions in Heist! fall into one of these Styles.

The Brain: The Brain approaches theft by thinking tactically and pitting his mind against others. He is best at making plans, outsmarting people, and other mental Conflicts.

The Burglar: The Burglar is best at the physical act of theft. He is best at stealing, athletics, and other dexterous Conflicts.

The Con Artist: The Con Artist specializes in swindling people. He is best at lying, manipulation, and other social Conflicts.

The Hacker: The Hacker focuses on computers and other technical devices. He is best at breaking into computer systems, bypassing electronic locks, and other technical Conflicts.

The Heavy: The Heavy gets things done by shedding blood and physical intimidation. He is best at fighting, shrugging off damage, and other physical Conflicts.

Each player starts off with five numbers to allocate to the Styles – one 5, one 4, one 3, one 2, and one 1. A 5 means that the thief is best in that Style – it’s what he’s known for. A 1 means that the thief is terrible in that Style.


Each thief also has two Assets, some benefit that doesn’t relate to stealing or crime. An Asset can be a job, a trait, or some other specialty. Examples include “PhD in History,” “Expert Driver,” and “Good with Numbers.”

An Asset allows one free reroll of any dice use in a Conflict that the Asset is relevant in.


Nobody’s perfect. Along with Assets, each thief has one noteworthy Flaw – something that they will never be good at. Like Assets, the Flaw doesn’t relate to stealing or crime directly, but it should have the potential to come up during a heist. Examples include “Notorious Coward,” “Bad With Money,” and “Alcoholic.”

Any Conflict that relates to the Flaw automatically fails, but the player gains a point of The Plan if the failure is significant.

The Plan

No team of thieves goes after the big score without an elaborate plan. Creating the plan and going over and over it gives the team an edge during the heist. Every thief on the team starts with 1 point in The Plan. They can gain more points during the course of the heist, or they can spend them for various effects, after a brief description of how the effect is part of the overall plan.

Why I’m on the Team: The thief can refresh a Style back to full once per Conflict.

Just What I Needed: Some aspect of the heist turns out to be in the thief’s favor. The player can insert a minor detail into the heist (subject to Gamemaster override).

It’s All About Me: Sometimes the thief makes their own plans, which can screw another member of the team as a result. The player describes how their own plan screws another member of the team. The thief gets a free reroll in the Conflict for each point the target loses from their highest Style. In exchange, the target gets the point of The Plan spent by the thief.


A heist is comprised of various Scenes. A Scene can be comprised of one or more Conflicts. Conflicts are comprised of one or more Exchanges.


1) Determine who is involved.

2) Determine intent of each party.

3) Resolve an Exchange (see below).

4) Compare Style points. If any are zero, character no longer able to participate.

5) Determine if unresolved intentions. If so, back to 3.


1) Pick a relevant Style.

2) Roll one d6 per point in Style.

a. Each 4, 5, or 6 rolled is a success.

b. Reroll any non-success dice using reroll ability (asset, weapon, etc.)

3) If both fail, nothing happen. If one character succeeds and another fails, loser loses a point in Style he used. If both succeed, more 6s wins. If still tied, both lost a point from their Style.

4) Reassess the conflict.

Exchange Permutations

1) Asset allows one free reroll per Conflict.

2) Weapon and specialized equipment allows one free reroll per Conflict. (Powerful weapons do +1 Style damage)

Multiple Participants

All roll as normal, but defender only rolls once. If one character wins against defender, lose 1 Style as normal. If multiple characters win against defender, lose 2 Style. Does not stack.


Protects first loss from a particular Style (phantom box).

Exchange with environment

Style is Difficulty.

1 = Easy. 2 = Normal. 3 = Hard. 4 = Very Hard. 5 = Damn Near Impossible.

Zero Style

When character is driven to zero Style in an Exchange, due to anything but an injury, he is Bested and out of the conflict. Any injury moves to Fallen.

If character is driven to zero Style in an Exchange due to injury, he is Fallen. Any injury after that is Dead.

All characters return all zero Styles to 1 at the end of Conflict.

All Styles are replenished after a night’s sleep.

Caper Pacing

First phase contains easy obstacles where each specialist can shine – designed to wear them down a bit.

Second phase contains moderate obstacles that aren’t necessarily tied to specialties – the thief has to con, the hacker has to fight, and so on.

Each job has a number of Big Obstacles that equal the number of specialists. Its Style is related to the specialist and is ranked at 5 – this is the reason he/she was hired. Players can decide that a certain obstacle is now his Big Obstacle – it was always part of the plan. If he does, it now becomes a BO, and works appropriately.

Once all Big Obstacles have been overcome, they’ve got the Big Score. The rest of the game is now Getting Away With It.


· Get In (low-to-moderate obstacles)

· Overcome The Big Obstacles

· Get Out (moderate-to-high obstacles)

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