The Roleplayer’s Guide To Heists – Review

Author’s Note: The copy reviewed was preview material, and thus will not reflect the final product.

To start with, what is the Roleplayer’s Guide to Heists? Well, at its heart, it’s really a Gamemaster’s Guide to Heists, though that rolls off the tongue less so I don’t fault them the name choice. It’s a collection of the core elements a good heist session or narrative arc should lean on, and gives some predesigned outlines for such endeavours at the end. At first glance, I figured this was something I’d seen similar attempts at before for systems like Pathfinder. It makes a lot of sense in a landscape where player made content is commonplace and with the Open Game Licence behind it, people have built structured campaigns that run every beat for you, taking a lot of the pain out of constructing a world yourself.

That is not what the Guide to Heists is, and here’s where it caught me by surprise. It’s an asystemic module, you can run this with wildly different systems but still find great value in the knowledge within. The first section of the book details the beats you want to hit in a heist session, like a valuable macguffin or the importance of danger and spectacle, and even outside the bounds of heists these are incredibly important things for not only novice GMs but veteran ones too to read and refresh themselves upon. I don’t often run heists in my personal campaigns, but even if I never run one again, the information here is going to stick with me for quite some time, as I’ve plenty of cause to use it in other areas.

One thing that jumped out at me in this first section was the style of the writing. It’s on your level, this isn’t the sages of WotC or White Wolf, it reads like it’s written by the guy who runs your local Adventurer’s League. It’s real advice, given in a way that’s not condescending, and feels like it’s coming from a person directly. Shockingly, it reads a bit how I write, ideas come and tangents form and it’s all very conversational, though still professionally presented and well intended. I can’t pretend not to be a little biased when I feel a kinship to the writing I’m reading. It speaks to me.

The second part of this book details three potential heists in different styles, but still absent of direct leaning. This is where my review was centred. I ran two of the three heists presented in the material, The Shuttle Game in a Cthulhutech Dark Passions cultist team, and A Wizard Did It in Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. As stated above, really we could have swapped the two systems and ran the same heist in any number of different ways, as this isn’t giving you monster stat blocks and skill checks to surmount. What these give you is the building blocks of a session, a chunk of world building you need in order to create an experience. Both contain information on the Building, Score, Security, Getaway and Influences. These kinds of subheadings will be familiar to veteran GMs, they’re the basic tools you need for world building, and they’re provided with great detail and are incredibly well designed. I started with The Shuttle Game, and adapting a few pieces here and there to reference scary Chthonic monstrosities and alien invaders was incredibly easy. Simply swapping some of the names, tweaking some of the security measures and dropping a few hints to the players helps create a unique experience off the same core material that adapts to your group’s desires.

So, how did the session go? The group failed. This was no fault of the Guide to Heists, and everyone had so much fun. With the book’s direction, we had a launch centre owned by a large multinational company with a page and a half of very, VERY well detailed security. This information was largely given to the players to read over, fluffed out as their esoteric masters passing the information on to facilitate their attempts to steal a new space capable mecha. Adapting a few of the references to suit the world of Cthulhutech took me about an hour, and building the session took another hour after that. I’ve built similar single session experiences that take four to five hours to write, so immediately I cannot fault the burden this takes off the GM if they’re looking to use these. It makes a huge difference if you’re short on time especially.

So we played, I stuck as close to the material provided as I could, and the team got all the way to the end, they were so proud. They got in the mecha, started it up, and yeah they were a little cramped as it was a two person robot and there was four of them, but they pushed on and took off into space. There’s a little offhanded remark at the end of the Getaway section about orbital ballistic missiles, and how they might be a thing and countermeasures might be important. The team did not think to create countermeasures, they assumed a battle mecha they were utterly unskilled in piloting and in heinously cramped conditions was more than a match for a simple missile in space.

They were wrong.

I let them look over the source material and what I’d changed at the end, and overall everyone was happy with what they’d read and experienced, so they were happy to come to the next session, the Wizard Did It. The experience was much the same. Creating the session takes a lot less work and your main goal is to fill in how your chosen system suits the information at hand, add mechanics to the challenges and then see how the players do. My players didn’t trust me this time, and read incredibly carefully over what they had been given. They were not making any fatal mistakes this time. Herein lies one of the valuable notes the book mentions in its first section, the ‘loot’ isn’t really about what you steal, it’s about the journey there and what comes away from it. They took experience, they took notes, they were better thieves this time and surely nothing could go wrong with the power of friendship behind them.

So there’s a big golden golem, immobile, but it controls all the lesser golems and for magical reasons hates its creator, who has enthralled it. The group knew what to do, they stole the missing animation core and brought the mega-golem back to life, intent to win it over to their side. They all died again. There was much rejoicing.

That’s the key thing I took away from all this, my players aren’t master thieves, but they had a damn good time failing either way. Because again, it’s the friends and memories you make, not the magical crown or space faring mecha that are the value. That translates as readily to the players at the table as it does to their characters.

My final verdict on this product is that, as someone who is frequently a Gamemaster, the information herein is incredibly valuable. The philosophy behind this product is one that applies well outside of the scope the book intends, but heists themselves are hard to run too! This gives you the tools to build with greater confidence sessions or campaigns with heists at their hearts and make them fun and engaging. How often does your party walk into two consecutive TPK’s and walk out with a smile? Their pre-written sources are great fun and can fit easily into existing campaigns or be the basis for starting a new system. Veteran GMs will find a lot of useful ideas and new ways of looking at design in future, but it is the new GMs who are going to get the most out of this. If you’re looking to start running games, or if you’re new at it, I 100% recommend you grab this and learn the design theory behind what makes not just heists but any engaging endeavour work in your systems. If you are one of those veteran runners, honestly it gets the same level of recommendation. It’s full of ideas that I kind of thought I knew, but never could I have described it like this, and moreover there’s other elements that never popped into my head before, but will be a part of me in every session I write from here on out.

The Roleplayers Guide to Heists enjoyed huge success on Kickstarter! You can hopefully find it on DriveThruRPG in the near future along with San Jenaro Co-Op’s other work here – https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/15006/San-Jenaro-CoOp

Keep an eye on the San Jenaro Co-Op Twitter account for more information – https://twitter.com/sanjenarocoop

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