Stealing SEVEN is a BLACK SEVEN genre pack for emulating the fast-paced fiction of heist shows and movies. While I’m a big fan of both the Leverage TV show and the Leverage RPG, I’m aware that it’s a close-enough design space to BLACK SEVEN to make for an interesting genre hack.

In this series of blog posts, I’m going to break down my development process. While you could probably run Stealing SEVEN with these notes when I’m done, the full version will use these posts as an outline to make a full BLACK SEVEN genre pack. I actively want feedback, and while I can’t guarantee that I’ll agree with any given idea, I will read and consider each one.

The first thing to work out when hacking any game on a structural level is what does what. That requires a top-down, holistic approach. Once I’ve got this worked out, I can look at how to systematise the necessary changes.

BLACK SEVEN breaks down the stealth-action genre into a number of rounds of “break in to facility, neutralise guards, steal shit”, with the final round being a make-or-break affair. The con/heist type of story would instead be “identify weak point, work to exploit weak point, steal shit”, with the stolen shit informing how the denouement actually plays out.

Some initial theories:

  • Facilities become Scenes. Individual stages of a con.
  • Areas become Objectives. Unlike in normal BLACK SEVEN, the crew divide themselves between the Objectives in each Scene.
  • Guards become Resistance. Could be actual guards, could be complicated locks, could be the mark’s suspicious nature.
  • Threat becomes Suspicion. Raise it high enough and the mark pulls out.

Agents in BLACK SEVEN can do three types of thing: Mob, Force, and Infiltrate. They do those things using one of: Body, Speed, Mind, Communication.

  • Body maps on to Hitter, the use of force and tactics.
  • Speed maps on to Thief, the use of precision body control
  • Mind maps on to Fixer1, the use of preparation
  • Communication maps on to Grifter, the use of social cues and communication.

After some thinking, the best way to represent the Mastermind is by renaming Control. After all, it’s the Mastermind who comes up with the plans and reacts to the changes (both jobs that fall to Control in BLACK SEVEN). And while Control does describe the action and roll dice for guards et al, that’s just implementing and describing actions that happen based on a simple deterministic set of rules.

The Mastermind plans the job (comes up with the con using the mission creation system), deals with success and failure, and generally runs the con from behind the scenes. Unlike in normal BLACK SEVEN, the Mastermind also plays a member of the Crew, but we’ll get to that when we get to Masterminding in general.

So. We’ve redefined what skills our con-artists will use, but not what ends they’re trying to achieve with them.

  • Force remains the same. If you’re Forcing a problem, you’re going all out to break through the resistance, but doing so will ratchet Suspicion right up.
  • Mob becomes Deceit. If you’re using Deceit on a problem, you’re chipping away at its resistance subtly, in order to not raise Suspicion.
  • Infiltrate, like Force, remains the same. Positioning actions are now Prep-work, and reflect work put in to bolster an alibi, steal a plausible ID, or slip a forged magazine into the mark’s reading pile.

Skill intersections!

Force Traits

Brawl (Hitter)
You apply physical force to resolve the situation, beating the shit out of guards or taking an angle-grinder to a safe.

Ransack (Thief)
You ransack the area, taking what you need but leaving nobody in any doubt that it’s gone.

Gadgets (Fixer)
You get past a situation by using a device or forgery of your own devising.

Presence (Grifter)
You control people around you by raw force of personality, never mind how suspicious it looks.

Deceit Traits

Mug (Hitter)
You apply a calculated amount of physical force to overcome the obstacle.

Sleight of Hand (Thief)
Whether picking a lock or lifting an ID from someone’s pocket, you’re able to get items without being caught.

Hack (Fixer)
You use your smarts to hack a computer, put together a fake ID, or otherwise come up with just what the crew needs.

Confidence (Grifter)
You achieve your goals by inspiring confidence in the mark so that he wants to agree with everything you say.

Infiltration Traits

Sneak (Hitter)
Going somewhere by remaining quiet about it.

Wirework (Thief)
Climbing, tumbling, and dancing through laser grids.

Disguise (Fixer)
Changing how you look so nobody remembers who you are.

Charm (Grifter)
Changing how people think about you by pouring on the charm.

Next Time

I’ve a few things that still need working out. Obviously, the Mastermind rules need a lot of fleshing out, but first we need to consider actions and conditions in a world where people aren’t (usually) looking to kill our Crew.


  1. “Fixer” is from the BBC programme Hustle, and covers all of what a good Leverage hacker does and more. It’s the fixer’s job to get whatever the con needs to work, whether that’s building a website with fake identities or forging a 500-year-old bottle of wine.

4 Responses to Open Dev: Stealing SEVEN part 1

  1. Amaury says:

    Yes ! That’s what I was thinking, Mastermind didn’t need to be a PC’s role.

    Obviously I’ll be following these journals, heh.

    Oh, and I wanted to know because it’s bugging me : what’s the reason behind using the term “retrieve” and not “hack” in the vanilla game ? Because I’m under the impression that the great majority of actions mentioned in the rules are “hacking” actions, not “retrieval” (disrupt camera feed, add RFID tag to the facility database…)

    • Stew says:

      “Retrieve” rather than “Hack” is purely a stylistic choice because “Hack” and “Crack sound too much alike, and I’d rather each trait have a nice distinct-sounding name. That’s it.

      If you’d prefer it to be “Hack”, go for it!

  2. Amaury says:

    I see, cool !

    I just wanted to share with you that we just completed our first Black Seven adventure.
    I always put a personal spin on games I GM, even if only in minor details, so my organisation is called Equinox (a nod to the paranormal agency called Solstice from another personal setting of mine). Director Diana Doyle (who looks suspiciously like Claudia Black) sent Agent Star and Agent Baron to proceed with OPERATION:LEPRECHAUN. It was a giant blast, Black Seven is a marvelous game. The players did exceedingly well, never ever raising above Threat 3 during the whole game. And about that, I have questions, the answers to which could be of interest to other readers, that’s why I’m not writing an email.

    First, when a player fails at a milestone, it’s not forever lost, right ? He can try it again ? And does he have to re-do the two positioning actions before trying again ? That would make sense, and that’s what I did, but…

    Second, the Threat rules say that during Threat 3, whenever an agent would become noticed, they can make an Infiltration roll to avoid notice. Does it work for Mob rolls too ? Because I found that this rule made getting noticed impossible.
    If you fail a mob roll, you take out the guard anyway, AND you get a free infiltration roll not to get noticed ? AND you can use a piece of equipment if that last roll failed ?
    The game lasted for like 6 hours, and NONE of my players got noticed across the 2 facilities (5 areas) of the Operation. Because whenever they would have been Noticed, they had either the right equipment, or did a successful Infiltration roll to avoid Notice. They had a lot of lucky rolls, yes… But at times it felt like the system was going out of its way to keep them from getting noticed (and to keep me from having my fun… Just kidding.)
    That’s also why they decided it was too easy to take out the guard whether you won the roll or not, and asked me to treat it as a “normal” action, where if you fail, you lose your turn and have to try again after a new positioning action. Maybe I read something wrong, and you can’t avoid getting Noticed on a failed Mob roll : in that case, taking out the guard on a failure would be acceptable, at the price of a raise in Threat level.

    And finally, a question about Milestone/Goal Targets : can the players use a piece of equipment to automatically succeed at the final static target ? Even my players refused the possibility, saying that it would be like using a cheat code. Maybe the right piece of equipment could remove the -2, for example… or I can simply declare that the final goal can’t be bypassed that way, as we did tonight in unanimous agreement. I don’t know.

    It could sound like I have only bad things to say but It’s not true at all. The player who had a character with Manipulation 6 took great pleasure in wearing the Enemy Uniform, fast-talking the cops, then the soldiers, and conning them… distracting them and walking about the barrages and the whole compound. While the other player, my girlfriend, was a sneaky shadow-woman with a taste for expensive shoes (a mixture of Leverage’s Parker and Sophie, actually.)
    The “abstract map” was very elegant and we got accustomed to it right from the start. I kept being worried that they would grow bored by the abscence of threat rising, but they assured me they had a wonderful time, always fearing the next dice roll, always being kept on their toes.
    Even I as the GM did feel excitment during the last area, with half the guards that had to imperatively be taken out, the 3 Static Targets to overcome…
    It was good, very good, and I thank you for the game. Maybe I’ll even do a write-up of the session. I haven’t been that excited about GMing and talking about a new/short/indie game since Shotgun Diaries by John Wicks.

    P.S : It didn’t happen in this game, but how would you manage a cable-car mountain chase, where it’s simply the opening area and the characters are getting shot at by baddies in other cable-cars, while proceeding to the final secret base ? Just a narrative scene without rolls ? If they were noticed in the previous facility, they’re shot at, if not, it’s just a uneventful ride ?

  3. Amaury says:

    Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to ask : should they be able to change their equipment between two Facilities ? At the time, it didn’t make sense to prevent them to do it, so I agreed. They’d gaining the right to a third piece of equipment, so telling them that they couldn’t change the other two didn’t sound right.

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