HEIST

Note: This document is a work in progress. As I make changes to the game, they’ll be reflected here (literally every time I save!). There will be disorganized and scattered notes and half-finished thoughts. Also, if you want to read more about Heist, you can find all my blog posts about it here.

INTRODUCTION

Heist is a roleplaying game about a crew of heisters,’ hardened criminals who rob banks, armored cars, museums, or any other place where large cash deposits, or easily fenceable goods are stored or transported.

In Heist, you’ll work with other Player Characters (PCs) and Non-Player Characters (NPCs) to plan and execute the perfect robbery, before attempting to make a clean getaway, and get back to your normal life. However, your crimes leave a trail, and by acquiring HEAT you may lead the cops right to your doorstep.

Most play takes place during the actual committing of the crime and its aftermath. Slightly less attention is paid to the planning phase, and all that downtime spent laying low between heists is handled in a mostly abstract way.

CHARACTER CREATION

Before you start playing the game, first you’ll need to create a character and fill out a character sheet like the one below.

The Heist Character Sheet - feel free to print it out and copy it as neededThe Heist Character Sheet - feel free to print it out and copy it as needed

Heisters have ATTRIBUTES and SKILLS. Attributes are your innate abilities, what you are born with, whereas skills are your trade, what you’ve learned on the job. Each skill is under the umbrella of an attribute.

PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES

You have six PRIMARY ATTRIBUTES, which everything else in the game is based on. For the most part, these attributes do not change.

Roll 1d6 for each of your ATTRIBUTES in order and write down the number rolled on your CHARACTER SHEET under each listed attribute.

SECONDARY ATTRIBUTES

Alongside your six primary attributes are a few secondary attributes: WOUNDS, CONTACTS, ACQUIRE, HEAT. Most of these attributes change pretty regularly during sessions, so the primary attribute is only used to calculate their starting value.

WOUNDS

How much damage you can take before you die.

Toughness Wounds
1 2
2 3
3 3
4 4
5 4
6 5

CONTACTS

How big your underworld network is and how quickly you can call in favors from that network.

Appeal Contacts
1 1
2 2
3 2
4 3
5 3
6 4

In addition to the contacts roll, each PC gets a starting contact for free. Roll on the table below to see who they are in contact with.

Appeal Roll Starting Contacts
1 1 Junkie
1 2 Bartender
1 3 Drug Mule
1 4 Pimp
1 5 Prostitute
1 6 Stripper
2 1 Bookie
2 2 Chop-Shop Mechanic
2 3 Fence
2 4 Slumlord
2 5 Dock Worker
2 6 Cheap Thug
3 1 Ex-soldier
3 2 Getaway Driver
3 3 Heavy Muscle
3 4 Hacker
3 5 Drug Dealer
3 6 Dirty Cop
4 1 Hitman
4 2 Drug Trafficker
4 3 Smuggler
4 4 Weapons Dealer
4 5 Forger
4 6 Corrupt Detective
5 1 Lawyer
5 2 Bureaucrat
5 3 Nightclub Owner
5 4 Money Launderer
5 5 Pilot
5 6 Veterinarian
6 1 Banker
6 2 Doctor
6 3 Reporter
6 4 Celebrity
6 5 Mobster
6 6 Politician

ACQUIRE

How easily you can scrounge and find weapons, vehicles, and any other gear you might need to do a job.

Perception Acquire
1 2
2 3
3 3
4 4
5 4
6 5

HEAT

How much attention you draw to yourself from the law or any other interested parties.

Stealth Starting Heat
1 4
2 3
3 3
4 2
5 2
6 1

Look up all of your SECONDARY ATTRIBUTES in their corresponding tables, and then write down their values on your character sheet.

SKILLS

Skills show what your character has spent their time learning on the job. Each skill is rated either +0 (Layman) +1 (Capable), +2 (Skilled), or +3 (Master).

You start the game with 3 skills at +1 (Capable).

Individual skills are explained in more detail later, but for the most part what you need to know is:

When you make an attribute check you roll a number of dice equal to the attribute score (1D6, 2D6, etc.) and then add your skill bonus (+1, +2, etc.) to each individual die if relevant.

This means that skills make it more likely that any individual die roll will succeed, whereas having a high attribute increases the number of chances that you’ll get a successful roll.

EXPERTISE skills are a special case, because they also work together with any of your other rolls if they’re relevant.

If you have an EXPERTISE skill that is relevant to your check you can add a number of dice equal to your expertise skill’s rank to your roll.1

has the Expertise Skill, Architecture, at +1

We’ll go into this in more detail in the How to Play section.

TOUGHNESS SKILLS

REFLEX SKILLS

STEALTH SKILLS

EXPERTISE SKILLS

APPEAL SKILLS

PERCEPTION SKILLS

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Heisters gain one special ability every time they level up, starting at level 1.

BRUSIER: Your unarmed attacks now deal 2 damage instead of 1.
QUICK RELOAD: You can reload weapons as a free action.
DOUBLE-TAP: If you kill someone with a gun you may immediately make another shooting attack.
NEVER SURPRISED: You are never have to roll for surprise and can always act during surprise rounds.
ONE OF THOSE FACES: You don’t gain heat from being caught on camera and witnesses who see your face can only recall distinguishing features on a roll of 5+.
HARD HEADED: When not wearing body armor, your armor save is a 5+.
DIE HARD: When making a death save roll you are alive on a 4+ and you wake up in d6-1 hours (on a roll of 1 you wake up in 10 minutes).
CALL MY GUY: You don’t have to make heat checks when laying low if your heat is 9 or less.
GONE IN 60: You gain no heat from stealing cars and can always find one to steal within half an hour.
COVER IDENTITY: Your heat reduces by 2 every six months instead of 1.
RETIREMENT: The next PC you roll gets 2 points to spend on attributes and 1 extra point to spend on skills at character creation.
FRUGAL: Your lifestyle is 1 less than your level.
EL CHEAPO: Your lifestyle is 2 less than your level.
TOUGH AS NAILS: You ignore damage dice up to your level.
FAST LEARNER: Gain 2 skill points to spend.
GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD: One time use.
HIDDEN STASH: When you roll on the bankruptcy table, don’t add the amount you’re short by.
SIDE BUSINESS: You gain 1 stash every six months.
SHELL COMPANY: You can ignore 1 bankruptcy roll.
HIDDEN SAVINGS: Whenever you gain stash points. Track this number separately. You may withdraw all the stash from this account once, after which you no longer gain extra stash points.
REPUTATION: When making a reaction roll for new contacts, you succeed on a 4+.
EXPERT SCROUNGER: You may re-roll one acquire roll per job. Also, re-trying to get the same item doesn’t degrade its quality.

LIFEPATH SYSTEM

The above system is the quick and dirty character creation system. But if you want to make a small mini-game out of character creation, you can use the lifepath system below to create your character. You’ll basically take your character from age 18 onwards until they make their first big score as a heister. Through circumstance, they may become criminals, convicts, or even be killed, so be careful. Every turn adds two years onto your life and improves some of your stats and skills, but as you get older, some of your stats may also decline. It’s up to you to decide when you eventually decide to take up life as a heister and then roll to see what your rewards are from your first real job.

Your attributes will improve or decay, but remember that they can never go lower than 1 or higher than 6. Skills will improve, but remember that no one skill can ever have higher than a +3 (Master).

1. Determine Starting Path (Roll 1d6)

This roll will determine whether you start your 14th birthday as a regular citizen, a criminal, or already incarcerated. Depending on your roll, your starting stats are as below.

Roll Path Toughness Reflex Stealth Expertise Appeal Perception Heat
1-3 Citizen 1 1 1 2 2 1 0
4-5 Criminal 1 1 2 1 1 2 1
6 Convict 2 2 1 1 1 1 0

After you take this step, go immediately to Step 3 - Hard Knocks.

2. Major Life Changes (Roll 2d6 twice)

Skip this roll on the very first turn.

Things change, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. In this step, you’ll make two rolls, the first is to see whether circumstances in your life caused a major change in your path. If you roll equal to or over the indicated number, then your situation in life has changed. If you were a citizen, you are now a criminal. If you were a criminal, you’re now a convict. If you were a convict, you’ve served your time, and you’re now a citizen again. Add your heat to this roll.

After you make your Change Path roll, roll 2d6 again to see if you survived. If you roll equal to or higher than the number on the chart on 2d6, then you survived and can move on to step 3 - Hard Knocks. If you roll lower than that number, however, your character made an unfortunate turn and has died. You’ll need to start over with a new character.

Lifepath Change Path? Survive?
Citizen 9+ 4+
Criminal 8+ 6+
Convict 7+ 5+

3. Hard Knocks (Roll 2d6)

Now it’s time to find out what you learned during this phase of your life. Roll 2d6 and then consult the chart below. If you roll equal to or greater than the roll required, you then roll on the benefits table to see what you’ve learned. No matter what, you automatically gain the benefit (or hindrance) in the Lessons Learned column.

Lifepath Roll Required Benefits Lessons Learned
Citizen 7+ 1-2: +1 Appeal 3-4: +1 Perception 5-6: +1 Expertise +1 Random Attribute -1 Heat
Criminal 8+ 1-2: +1 Reflex 3-4: +1 Stealth 5-6: +1 Toughness +1 Heat +1 Random Skill
Convict 9+ 1-4: +1 Random Skill 5-6: +1 to Random Attribute +1 Toughness

4. Aging (Roll 2d6)

Starting at age 40 your characters starts to see the effects of aging, some good, some bad. Roll 2d6 and consult the table below. If you roll equal to or higher than the number indicated, then you increase and or decrease the attributes indicated.

Age Roll Required Change
40-50 8+ -1 Toughness +1 Expertise
52-60 7+ -1 Toughness -1 Reflex +1 Expertise -1 Survival Rolls
62-70 6+ -1 Toughness -1 Reflex -1 Perception -2 Survival Rolls
82 6+ *

*You must roll a 6 or higher to survive, you have no further loss of stats, but you must immediately make your first heist.

5. Rob (Roll 2d6) or Return

The final step is to either quit creating your character, and make your first job, or return to step 2 and start the process over again. If you decide to rob, then roll on the table below to see what you start Heist with, if you decide to return, then add 2 years onto your age and return to step 2 and work through the steps as you just did. Repeat this process until you’re ready to start the game, or die.

You gain a single roll on the table below for every time your lifepath changed, and 1 roll for making it past age 43.

Roll Benefit
2 Botched job: +2 Heat
3 +1 Random Attribute
4 Random Skill +1
5 Random Weapon
6 +1 Contact
7 +1 Stash
8 +1 Acquire
9 Random Expertise Skill +1
10 Random Vehicle
11 +1 Random Attribute
12 Special Ability

After rolling on this chart, be sure to consult the tables in the character creation section to find out your starting HEAT (plus any additional you have accrued), WOUNDS, ACQUIRE, and CONTACTS.

HOW TO PLAY

In Heist every roll should count, so don’t ask your PCs to roll for every little thing that comes up. Instead, ask them to roll the dice when failure would be interesting, or when someone else in the game wants to stop that thing from happening.

THE SYSTEM

When rolling, the GM asks the PC to make a SKILL CHECK. Checks are rolls based on a primary attribute score.

TO PERFORM AN ATTRIBUTE CHECK roll a number of dice equal to the primary attribute you want to check. A roll of a 5 or 6 is considered a success. Total up the number of successes. If they are greater than or equal to the TARGET NUMBER, then the task succeeds, if not, then it fails and something bad happens.

A TARGET NUMBER (TN) is a number of successes that the PC needs to make in order to pass their check.

Checks that automatically succeed can be thought of as being TN-0. In general, TN-3 should be the hardest check available, but it’s possible the GM may need to go up to a TN-4 for truly absurd challenges.

BONUS & PENALTY DICE

To keep things simple, if the GM thinks that the PCs have an advantage in a given situation above and beyond their skills and equipment they may award them an extra die to roll when making a skill check, called a BONUS DIE.

Additionally, if the situation seems particularly difficult, as opposed to raising the TN, the GM could assign them a PENALTY DIE, which operates exactly like a damage die, except it is only used on one check (or multiple checks if the situation doesn’t change).

Things like firing a gun during a chase scene, or jumping from rooftop to rooftop in the rain might affect the roll this way. A penalty die is a good way to bridge the gap between a TN-1 and a TN-2, or between a TN-2 and a TN-3. They represent particular disadvantages, not the base difficulty of a given task.

ADDING SKILLS IN

If a PC has a skill that is relevant to the check, then they get to add their skill bonus to each roll of the dice.

Meaning that if a PC wants to slap a hostage to keep them in a line, that would be a Toughness check. If they have a +1 in Hand to Hand though, they’d get to add that to each of their rolls. So now a roll of 4, 5, or 6 counts as a success. Expertise skills work a little differently though.

If you have an EXPERTISE SKILL that is relevant to your check you can add a number of dice equal to your expertise skill’s rank to your roll.

This means that if a PC is driving away from a job in a high-speed chase, their knowledge of cars would absolutely help with their driving check.

Only one expertise skill can assist a skill check at a time. We would also suggest that only the most relevant expertise be used (cars have computers in them, but you shouldn’t get your computer expertise bonus to a driving check.)

COMBAT

There are two kinds of combat in Heist, Shooting and Battery. They are each handled a little differently. In general, shooting someone requires a shooting skill roll against a TN based on the target’s range, whereas hand-to-hand combat requires an opposed skill roll of each character’s Battery skill.

SHOOTING

When you want to shoot someone, you roll your shooting skill against a TN based on the range of your target.

Generally the TN will be like the table below, but each weapon has a separate table (For example: Sniper Rifles are a TN-1 at a long range, but a TN-3 at short range).

Range TN
SHORT 1
MEDIUM 2
LONG 3

Shooting a target at point blank range, or one who is restrained and has not ability to defend themselves is always a TN-0 and automatically succeeds.

If your target is in COVER of any kind (behind a car door, firing from behind a desk) you add 1 penalty die to your roll.

You roll your shooting skill against your TN, adding in any bonuses you may have from Expertise skills (for example Guns +1 would give you an extra die to roll).

If you score equal to or greater than the number of required successes, you’ve hit your target and they must make an ARMOR SAVE.

Body Armor Armor Save
NONE 6+
TYPE-II 4+
TYPE-IIIA 3+
TYPE-III 2+

Armor saves are based on what kind, if any, of body armor the character is wearing.

If the character rolls equal to or higher than their armor save then they take no damage. If they fail their armor save, they take damage equal to the weapon’s damage rating (see below).

HAND-TO-HAND

When you’re fighting against someone in hand-to-hand combat you make an OPPOSED ROLL.

In an OPPOSED ROLL both you and your opponent make a skill roll and whoever scores more successes wins the check. Ties go to the attacker.

The winner of the opposed roll can deal damage, restrain the loser, or break free from the combat and run away. This means that you can take damage when you attack someone. Be careful.

DAMAGE

If you fail and armor save after being shot, or lose a hand-to-hand combat, you’ll take damage based on the weapon’s damage rating.

Mark DAMAGE on your character sheet in the checkbox next to your total wounds. For every point of damage you take you add a red DAMAGE DIE to your die pool when making skill checks. Whenever you make a skill check you also roll all your damage dice. A roll of a 5-6 on a damage die cancels out 1 success from your roll.

DYING

If you have more damage than wounds, you pass out and the GM makes a death save in secret.

To make a DEATH SAVE roll a d6. On a 1-5 the PC has died. On a roll of 5-6 they wake up in d6 hours with 1 wound remaining. They may wake up in prison, a hospital, or in their safe house depending on how the situation plays out.

In general, I recommend that the GM make all rolls in public, but in the case of the death save, I think it creates a better game for the heisters not to know whether their accomplice is dead unless they check their pulse, which would require an action and in a life or death situation they may not have time for.

Enemy NPCs should also get a death save. Victims and witnesses left alive, may rat the PCs out to the cops, or eventually want revenge for having been left for dead.

HEAT

HEAT is one of the key mechanics in Heist. It’s basically a gauge of how much attention from the law and unwanted persons you’re drawing at any given point in time. Your heat determines how often you run into guards and what kind of trouble is likely to follow you home after a heist.

GAINING HEAT

You can gain heat in a myriad of ways, but almost all of them have to do with being irresponsible or unprofessional on the job.

Here are some of the common ways heisters pick up heat:

Your GM may assign heat for any number of things, like ramming a truck into a building, or setting off explosives. In general, they should let you know if a particular action will give you heat or not (much like they would let you know if taking a particular action might cause you to take damage).

LOSING HEAT

Once heat is gained, it’s hard to lose it. One of the surest ways to lose heat is just to wait.

If a PC chooses not to spend their time on anything else, they lose 1 heat every six months (see Leveling up).

Heist isn’t like other games where it’s important to keep track of what you’re doing on a day to day basis all the time. Most of the time you’ll do a job and then walk away for six months or a year before taking another job.

A few other things you can do to reduce your heat:

There are some situations that keep your heat from lowering beyond a certain number:

In general, the idea should be that heat is really easy to get and a little harder, but not impossible, to lose. Players should think when they act and only take on heat as a calculated risk.

CONTACTS

The contacts attribute is used to determine whether you know someone who can help you out with a problem and how quickly you’re able to contact them on a given basis.

To see if you have a CONTACT roll 1d6. If you roll lower than your contact attribute, you know a person that can help you with your problem. Write the contact down on your character sheet and what their specialty is (fencing goods, acquiring weapons, crushing cars, etc.) and then reduce your contact attribute by -1.

Once you’ve established that you have a contact you can now visit them and ask them for favors or to do jobs for you. Successfully establishing a contact does not mean that they will do you a favor or do work for you for free, it just means that you know the person who has the ability to do the work. To find out how that contact responds to you, you’ll need to make a reaction roll.

ACQUIRE

ACQUIRE covers many of the situations in game where the PCs would need to scrounge for supplies for a job. We use this mostly because it is boring to just shop through a rulebook for the items you want, and because criminals don’t always have the ability to get everything they need to do a job in a timely manner.

For every job, a PC gets a number of Acquire rolls equal to their level. They can name an item they’d like to find for the job. If they roll greater than or equal to the TN, they are able to get the item in time to do the job.

The TN for the roll is loosely based on how difficult it would be to get the items in the real world.

Anything that sounds higher than a TN-3 (like say, an airplane) should just be role-played out as its own scenario, or preliminary heist towards the main job.

If a PC has a contact that can get them the required items then they can add +1 to their roll (as if they had a suitable skill). Alternatively, they can roleplay the scenario out with their contact.

Failure on a roll means that the PC cannot get the desired item in time. They lose one acquire roll for this job. They can keep trying to get the same item if they want, but every time they try the item they get is of worse quality or comes with baggage that makes it less useful.

For example: A PC wants a cargo van that looks like a specific company’s catering van, so they can sneak into an event undetected. They fail their first acquire check, so they roll again. This time they succeed, but instead of getting a catering van that looks like the same company, it’s just a cargo van with a generic catering logo slapped on the side.

TNs for acquire rolls can go up as high as needed (for example, if the PCs want an airplane, I wouldn’t say no. But it probably requires a little more gameplay than just a simple acquire roll. Unless that’s the way you want to play).

WHAT TO PREP

As a GM it is important to think of the game as having basically four stages that you’ll move back and forth between. You’ll need to prep differently for each stage.

  1. CASING THE JOB
    This is when the PCs have received an offer for a job and have decided to investigate whether it would be worth their time to pull off the score. PCs may, and should, turn down jobs that are likely to fail. This section can be handled closer to a normal roleplaying game, with scenes spent observing or talking out the heisters’ plans, though rarely with the need for a moment by moment accounting of every character’s actions.
  2. MAKING THE SCORE
    This is where the action is. The PCs are now committed to the job and are engaged in trying to get the cash back safely to their respective hideouts. This is handled closer to combat in most games, with strict accounting of time and actions. Combat is likely to happen here and every moment should count.
  3. THE GETAWAY
    Whether the job works or goes sideways, the PCs will have to make a getaway, clean or otherwise. This may involve combat, or may just a few rolls before the PCs disappear into the night, it all depends on how well they pulled off the score. Usually sometime during this stage, the PCs will make the split,” that is, divide up their earnings from the job and attempt, sometimes, to fence stolen goods.
  4. LAYING LOW
    This is when the PCs aren’t actively engaged in planning or committing a crime. This is handled pretty abstractly, with turns taking about six months in game time,” with a few rolls for what situations may change in a heisters life between jobs. Levelling up, healing wounds, improving skills all happens during this stage. Once they’re ready, or more likely out of funds, it’ll be time to case another job.

That’s the basic cycle of gameplay in Heist. To run a good session, you’ll want to prep each of these stages to be fun and exciting. Here’s some basic advice for prepping each stage.

1. CASING THE JOB

One of the most fun parts of putting a job together is the planning stage. PCs let their imaginations run wild coming up with schemes to separate cash from their victims.

This can balloon up to an infinite amount of time if the GM allows it, but here are some suggestions for keeping the planning stage moving and interesting.

SETTING DEADLINES

Set a hard deadline on when the opportunity will pass if the PCs dawdle too long. Let them know that the cash will be moved from bank to bank via armored car in two weeks exactly. Or that the jewels will be on display for only a certain amount of time. Be clear about this and let them know exactly how many days they have to plan the heist.

Deadlines allow the PCs to make decisions about whether they want to move on a job early, accepting less than the maximum amount of potential cash, but as a tradeoff for perhaps less security. They also promote a good plan today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow” mindset, where the PCs often have to make do with what they have, or can acquire, in a short amount of time.

Calling on a contact or trying to acquire the perfect disguise should take time. Let the PCs know that their character will be taking care of that problem for a day or two. This keeps things moving along towards the deadline. Travel to the destination may be a problem, the job is in Chicago, but the vehicle the PCs need to pick up is in Des Moines. You don’t have to account for every hour, but in general it’s a good idea to think of every action as taking a day.

GM: Alright, it’s T-Minus 5 days until the diamonds are moved. What’s everyone doing today? Frank?
FRANK: I still haven’t found the right uniforms for us to impersonate the armored guards.
GM: You want to try an acquire roll for it?
FRANK: I’ve already burned up two rolls on it. What condition would the uniforms be in if I got them now?
GM: Pretty shabby. You’re looking at modified Halloween cop costumes at this point.
FRANK: No, that’s no good. Does anyone have a contact that can help us out?
JENKINS: I’ve got a weapons dealer, Aimes is his name I think, he used to work in security. I could go talk to him.
GM: Aimes is in North Dakota, it’ll take you about a day to get there, have the meet and get back if you leave now.
FRANK: Okay, yeah Jenkins, if you could handle that, that would be great. Take Hudson with you, that last job I did with Aimes went sour, and he might still be mad…

HEAT CHECKS WHILE CASING JOBS

Create a random encounter table for the planning stage and roll for heat checks once per day or once per week, depending on how long PCs actions are taking. The stakes could be pretty low here, maybe other criminals get word of the score and want to get a piece of the action. Maybe the inside man is getting squirrely and his wife has found out about the job and wants him out. Heat checks here should serve to give the PCs more problems to deal with if they want to move forward, but they shouldn’t necessarily stop the score from happening.

SAYING YES

Try your best to tell the PCs how they can go about accomplishing a task, even if it seems strange. Remember that they are professional criminals with a network and a history of pulling jobs2. If they want to get a job at the security company that’s handling security for an illustrious event, that may only take a scene with a hacker contact and a successful Appeal (Lie) check.

If they have a plan you don’t think will work, or that isn’t taking something into account, remind them. You are there to have fun. Also, give them alternatives to get what they want.

FRANK: How’d things go with Aimes?
JENKINS: You were right, he’s still mad. No dice on the equipment. And worse, we need a new weapons guy.
FRANK: We’ve got no weapons and no disguises. How are we gonna hit this armored car without those?
GM: Frank, you’ve got an Expertise point in Explosives, right? And don’t you have a contact who’s in the mob?
FRANK: Oh yeah, we haven’t used him yet.
GM: Maybe you could talk to those guys.
FRANK: You think they’d help?
GM: They might. For a percentage.

Having the perfect plan is no guarantee of success in the execution stage. So let them make the perfect plan. Give them everything they need to succeed at the job… and then watch it turn sideways on them.

2. MAKING THE SCORE

Once the PCs start robbing a place, it’s time to switch lenses, to zoom in a little bit. This stage involves a little more planning.

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS

When the PCs are actually on the job, you should make a heat check once every 3 or 4 turns per group of PCs using whoever has the highest heat in that group. Meaning if one group of PCs is in the basement drilling through a vault, another one is upstairs collecting cash and valuables, and a third is standing guard over some rent-a-cops you’ve captured, each of those groups would get a heat check once every 3 or 4 turns.

Heat checks throw wrenches into the PCs’ plans, but they don’t all have to be combat related. A security guard or cop shouldn’t always show up. Maybe the lights to a dark warehouse suddenly turn on, or an employee shows up randomly to pick up something they forgot, maybe someone fell asleep in one of the bathrooms earlier and is just now waking up, or a camera that wasn’t on any of the PCs’ plans appears above the next door they enter. The heat checks should show that any scheme, no matter how perfectly its planned, has blind spots.

SKILL CHECKS & ACTIONS

PCs should declare what they’re doing on a turn by turn basis. One may be intimidating a security guard into opening a locked door, while another guards hostages. A separate group of PCs may be drilling into a safe, and still a third might be pickpocketing guests at a gala above group. Every action counts.

They shouldn’t, however, all require rolls. It’s more about keeping track of what everyone is doing on a moment by moment basis, because time counts when you’re making a heat check every 3-4 rounds.

SPLIT THEM UP

If the crew doesn’t have communications, like walkie-talkies, then have some of them leave the room while others take on part of the job. This can be a good way to give people some screen time” if they want to check their phones, or to go get some snacks. Spend maybe 10-15 minutes on each group, cycling them in regularly until they’re in regular communication again.

SET TIME LIMITS

Tell the PCs they have 20 turns until the cops arrive. Or that they have 30 turns until the home owner returns home. 60 turns until a business opens. Let the PCs know that taking another action here will eat up their time.

CREATE A HEAT INDEX

This won’t be necessary for every job, but on some it can be helpful. Set aside some events that will happen if the crews’ collective heat ever gets too high. The table below is an example of a Heat Index where the PCs are holding up a bank.

HEAT ENCOUNTER
10 One of the hostages’ phones goes off.
15 One of the hostages stands up and starts loudly complaining.
20 A customer comes up to the front door of the bank and tries to get in.
25 A group of hostages are gathering together and look like they might try something.
30 Someone with a concealed handgun starts firing.
35 You’ve been surrounded!” blares loudly from a megaphone outside. The police have set up a perimeter around the building.

Heat indexes can be helpful in really intense situations, or in heists that take a long time to execute.

HEAT CHECKS

How often you roll for heat checks is largely a matter of personal preference, but the major points where you should roll are based on what stage the crew is in:

To make a HEAT CHECK roll 2d6. If the number rolled is lower than the target’s heat, then a RANDOM ENCOUNTER occurs.

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS

Whenever the PCs fail a heat check, they’re going to have to deal with a random encounter. This is one of the most important things you can prep in a game. The heat checks and random encounter tables abstractly deal with all manner of patrols, guard searches, and wandering NPCs that could reasonably pop up in a job, without having to spend a lot of time prepping patrol routes and patterns of behavior for countless NPCs.

I recommend having one RANDOM ENCOUNTER TABLE per stage. If a particular stage has a ton of variable locations that would reasonably have a bunch of different kinds of encounters, then feel free to add more in.

A good random encounter table should be scaled with some harmless stuff, some inconvenient stuff, and some truly awful things. The kind of things that make a whole job go sideways.

This table would be an okay representation for a Making the Score stage. In a getaway stage you may have a helicopter showing up or the SWAT team being called in. While Laying Low, the tables should reflect the kinds of situations a criminal is likely to deal with in their normal day-to-day life, detectives may shake them down. Former associates may need money. They might develop a drug habit. When they are simply Casing the Job PCs may run into other interested third parties who want a cut of the job. How will they handle that?

Roll Encounter
2 Sirens.
3-4 Security guard.
5-7 Lights start turning on, someone is searching the location.
8-9 A citizen wanders in.
10-11 An asleep/distracted citizen/security guard.
12 The nearest door or obstacle is unlocked or unguarded apparently.

SURPRISE

Whenever the PCs run into an encounter that they were not expecting, whether that’s a planned one or a random one, it’s important to roll for surprise.

To make a SURPRISE ROLL PCs should each try to roll under their Reflex attribute on a 1d6. Those who succeed are not surprised and can act as normal, those who fail cannot act for a round. Enemies who can roll their level or under on a 1d6 are not surprised.

Surprise rolls should only happen when there is a reasonable chance that the NPC or the players would be surprised. Most random encounter rolls should require a surprise roll. However, high level security may not be surprised to find a bunch of lowlifes lurking in their parking lot, or may treat every noise with the highest degree of safety, not taking any chances with being surprised.

Enemies who are surprised do not act for one round, giving non-surprised PCs a chance to act first, and vice versa. If both groups are surprised, neither moves for a full round.

REACTION ROLLS

Reaction rolls are made whenever a PC meets and NPC and there’s a question as to where they stand with each other.

To find out an NPCs REACTION, roll your appeal and total up the number of successes.

RESULT NPC REACTION
0 Suspicious.
1 Takes the PC at face value.
2 Helpful, friendly. Works with the PC.
3 Incredibly helpful. Willing to do favors for the PC.
4 Enthusiastically helpful to the PC.

There are certain bonuses or penalties that could apply to the reaction roll:

The results of these rolls don’t have to be immediate. An NPC may bide their time to backstab a PC, or may truly want to help a PC, but be tied up by circumstances beyond their control.

DEALING WITH HEAT

In most cases I recommend that GMs let PCs know that a specific action could result in them gaining heat. I’d even going so far as to let your PCs know that a door has an alarm on it (not ahead of time in the planning stage, but when they get down to it and approach that specific door).

Why? Letting the PCs know what the consequences of their actions might be results in better play. If you want your game to be endlessly checking each door or each hallway for cameras, that’s fine. But we think scenarios like this plays better:

GM: Okay, you approach the hallway, it looks like the door has an alarm on it. Worse, there’s a camera at the end of the hallway.
FRANK: Damn it. Jenkins, I thought you said there weren’t any cameras in the building.
JENKINS: The records I got from City Hall are a few years old. They must’ve added them in. What about the alarms? I thought our inside guy said they hadn’t installed the alarms yet. What was his name again?
GM: Davies. He, uh, he looks a little shifty and says he doesn’t know why the alarms are here.
FRANK: He’s setting us up. Jenkins?
JENKINS: On it. I want to intimidate this guy.
GM: Intimidate him how?
JENKINS: Grab him by his collar pull him up on his tip-toes and mutter real quiet under my breath What the fuck else didn’t you tell us?”
GM: Okay, Davies isn’t a hardened criminal, so I would say under normal circumstances he’d fold quickly, but since you guys are exposed and time is ticking, I’m gonna rule that you need to beat a TN-1. I’m also going to make a heat check, you still want to go through with it?
JENKINS: Yeah, we need to know if we should walk away now or keep going.
GM: Alright, roll for it.

In this particular hypothetical, if the PCs hard just walked through the door, they’ll definitely have interesting consequences to deal with: they’ll set off an alarm and be caught on camera, resulting in +3 heat for everyone in the crew. Maybe the alarm keys the security guys to come down and check it out. Maybe they just decide to walk away right then and there. Those are definitely interesting situations.

But by letting the PCs know what they are up against, you give them a chance to creatively solve a series of problems, rather than just respond to every fire that pops up. In Heist, I think this leads to the kind of gameplay that is more in keeping with the desired tone of the game.

3. THE GETAWAY

At some point, the job will probably turn sideways, maybe not if the PCs are extremely careful, thoughtful, and lucky, but probably things will turn to shit. PCs will overreach or run up a huge amount of heat debt and something terrible will happen as a result. A minor combat will go completely wrong and the PCs will now have to deal with an injured ally. Now the sirens are blaring and the PCs have to hustle if they’re going to make it out alive. Here’s what you need to prepare.

FOOT CHASES

When running away from someone, first establish the two characters’ starting distance. This is the same as your range for shooting, so it’ll be either short, medium, or long.

Every round, in initiative order, make a Reflex (Running) check. If the fleeing person has more successes than the pursuer, they increase their distance one step (from short, to medium, from medium to long), if the pursuer has more successes, than they close the gap by one step (from medium to short). In a tie, they stay the same. If the fleeing person ever moves past long distance, then they get away.

If both runners are ever both in short range, then the pursuer can make an opposed Toughness (Athletics) check to tackle the fleeing person.

Every round, new obstacles should appear which alter the situation. The chase may run into a crowd, where a Stealth (Disguise) roll would be more appropriate, or they may have to make a Toughness (Athletics) check to jump a fence. Failure in any of these could allow the pursuer to close the distance a gap. Success might mean a clean getaway.

Shooting at each other while chasing should also be allowed, but incur a penalty die.

CAR CHASES

Car chases work very similarly to foot chases with regards to starting range and closing the distances.

However in car chases, the skill tested is the individual driver’s Reflex (Drive) skill. They also get to add additional dice based on the speed of the car.

Cars that are in the same range can attempt to ram the other car which requires beating it in a an opposed Reflex (Drive) check.

Additionally, passengers can fire weapons at the other vehicle, its passengers, or even its driver (who all generally count as having cover).

Cars who lose all their wounds break down and must roll on the chart below to see what happens.

Roll Effect on Vehicle
1 Car crashes and explodes. All PC passengers make death saves.
2 Car crashes. All PC passengers make armor saves or are reduced down to 1 wound. Driver can make a drive check to reduce everyone to half damage.
3 Car crashes. PC passengers all take 2 damage. Driver can make a drive check to reduce everyone to half damage.
4 Car crashes. PC passengers all take 1 wound. Driver can make a drive check to reduce everyone to no damage.
5 Car breaks down immediately where it is. Can be repaired with an Expertise (Cars) roll. TN-2.
6 Driver is able to navigate car to a safe halt.

Cars that breakdown on a road with traffic may get hit by other cars. The GM should make drive checks for other drivers to see if they can successfully avoid the broken down vehicle. A multi-car pileup may easily kill an entire crew.

4. LAYING LOW

The Laying Low part of the game is more like an upkeep phase in a boardgame. There’s plenty of opportunity here to roleplay slice of life stuff if you’re interested, but if what you want to do is string a bunch of scores together, then it’s better to take a zoomed out view of things where PCs can level up, deal with their stash, lifestyle, and make bankruptcy and heat checks.

LEVELING UP

Whenever PC gain cash from a job and then launder it successfully, they get EXPERIENCE POINTS (XP).

PCs get 1 XP for every dollar they successfully launder.

Meaning, it’s not enough to get away with the cash, they need to be able to use it. Sometimes, it’ll even be important to stash their score away for a while until the heat dies down before they can launder it.

XP Level
0 0
10,000 1
20,000 2
40,000 3
80,000 4
160,000 5
320,000 6
640,000 7
1,250,000 8
2,500,000 9
5,000,000 10

PCs can increase their level more than once from any one job, but they have to pay the amount of experience for every level they pass (it costs 70,000 XP total to go from Level 0 to Level 3).

When a PC levels up, they gain 1 special ability.

STASH

Whenever a PC launders cash, they get back XP and then their cash gets turned into STASH points, which are an abstract way to deal with money at a higher level, so you don’t spend a lot of time accounting for every dollar spent in game.

For every $10,000 laundered, PCs add 1 point to their STASH.

A PCs stash is used to buy various things when they’re laying low, or casing a job. It’s also spent on their lifestyle, basically it’s what they’re living on. If their stash gets too low, they have to roll on the BANKRUPTCY TABLE and bad things will happen to them.

If they have a fat stash, they can spend their extra points on improving their characters. Spending stash takes time, usually 1 turn (6 months) and they can only do one thing at a time, basically to represent that while they may be working on improving a skill, they also have a normal life to deal with.

STASH ITEM TIME
1 Skill: 0 » +1 6 months
10 Skill: +1 » +2 6 months
100 Skill: +2 » +3 6 months
1 Attribute: 1 » 2 1 year
3 Attribute: 2 » 3 1 year
9 Attribute: 3 » 4 1 year
27 Attribute: 4 » 5 1 year
81 Attribute: 5 » 6 1 year
5 Reduce Heat -1 6 months
10 Reduce Heat -2 6 months
15 Reduce Heat -3 6 months
20 Reduce Heat -4 6 months
25 Reduce Heat -5 6 months
30 Reduce Heat -6 6 months
2 Improve a Contact 6 months
2 Improve an Associate 6 months
X Acquire roll (X = ACQ.) Various
1 Roll on the rumor table 1 month
X Waste your cash and get XP 3 months

LIFESTYLE

PCs also have to spend money on their LIFESTYLE. Lifestyle is essentially their cost of living for one year. At the end of every six months, the GM asks players if they want to spend their stash on anything, and players will have a chance to do so. They can only do one of the things on the above list at a time.

A player’s LIFESTYLE is equal to their level and must be paid at the end of every year. If a player cannot pay in full, they must roll on the bankruptcy table.

BANKRUPTCY

When a player can’t afford their lifestyle anymore, they must roll on the bankruptcy table.

To roll for bankruptcy, roll 1d6 and add the amount of stash you are short.

ROLL BANKRUPTCY
2 Scraping by. +1 heat.
3 In debt. Gain -1 stash for the next 3 years.
4 Drug addiction.
5 -1 Acquire.
6 Lose a contact.
7 Lose 1 level.
8 Bad reputation. When laying low you make 2x the amount of heat checks you normally would.
9 Lose levels equal to the amount you owe.
10 They broke your legs. -1 Wound, permanently. (Minimum 1).
11 Lose all associates.
12 The mob is after you. Price on your head.
13 Go to jail for 1d6 years.
14 Homeless.
15 They had to make an example of you. Dead.

When a PC loses a level due to bankruptcy, they don’t lose any of the special abilities or skills they’ve earned. They will however, have to level up again to their current level to keep progressing and gaining new special abilities.

GM: Okay, you guys have all gotten back to your respective homes and hideouts. Six months goes by. What’s everyone been doing?
JENKINS: I went to my doctor contact to get my wounds looked at.
GM: Okay, you guys have a good relationship. He’ll fix everything up for 1 stash.
JENKINS: Done.
GM: Frank? What about you? You took a lot of heat on that last run. FRANK: Yeah, I’m just going to lay low this season.
GM: You want to spend any extra on lowering your heat even more?
FRANK: No, I don’t want to go bankrupt.
GM: Okay no problem. Another six months passes. Everyone deduct your lifestyle from your stash.
FRANK: That takes me low. I need to do another job. Jenkins, you in? I’ve got a contact that say she knows about some diamonds getting moved.
JENKINS: No, my guy is going to sit out this one and recover.
GM: Okay, you want to send one of your other guys on the job then?
JENKINS: Yeah, Hudson just got out of jail and needs cash pretty bad. He’s in.
GM: Alright, Hudson and Frank, you guys meet up in this seedy motel in Albuquerque. Frank, your contact Crissa said she’d be here by now, but it’s been two hours and she’s still not here…

NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS

The majority of NPCs the PCs deal with won’t need stats. For the most part you can use the below examples as a template for most people with minor adjustments.

CITIZEN

Wounds: 1 ARMOR: 6+
HTH: 2 Shooting: 1
Cool: 6+

Citizens are the majority of people heisters will come across. Athletic people or anyone trained in fighting may have +2 in HTH, or maybe someone with a concealed handgun license will have a +2 in shooting.

SECURITY GUARD

Wounds: 2 ARMOR: 5+
HTH: 3 Shooting: 2
Cool: 5+

Security guards are usually bored, dopey, and ineffective against master criminals, but they have some basic training, and every now and then one will surprise you.

POLICE OFFICER

Wounds: 3 ARMOR: 4+
HTH: 3 Shooting: 4
Cool: 3+

Cops generally aren’t weak against any type of influence and will generally follow procedure, calling for backup, running IDs to check for warrants, or calling in air support. May be in plainclothes, or be undercover, posing as a citizen.

CRIMINAL

Wounds: 3 ARMOR: 5+
HTH: 4 Shooting: 4
Cool: 4+

Criminals are dangerous mainly because they are willing to kill with little to no provocation. On the plus side, they typically don’t wait for backup to arrive before moving in.

TACTICAL OFFICER

Wounds: 4 ARMOR: 3+
HTH: 5 Shooting: 6
Cool: 2+

A tactical officer (like a SWAT team member) has been called primarily to put down an armed combatant. Most heisters won’t even have the chance to converse with one, except under extreme circumstances. They’ll work in a group and have access to riot shields and flash bangs and a whole municipal arsenal.

PC CONTACTS

Contacts belong to a specific PC and if that PC is not going on a particular job, then the contact cannot be used. If other PCs want to make use of that contact with or without their accomplice, they can gain the contact, after an introduction by their mutual friend, by reducing their contact attribute by -1.

CREATING NPCS ON THE FLY

Most of the time just picking one of the base templates should be fine. In Heist you rarely have a boss” character with special abilities, though perhaps a unique bad guy, like a mob boss who really has it in for the NPCs might call for special rules, or a vengeful former associate might have some unique abilities. But for the most part all of the PCs are weak and even combat with an unarmed civilian can turn into a deadly confrontation if the PCs aren’t careful. The NPCs in this game that pose a danger to the PCs do so because they come in groups and there is a never ending supply of them. One police officer is generally not a problem for the PCs to handle if they’re smart. But killing a cop brings out a huge motivated and pissed off set of reinforcements, potentially locking a city down for weeks.

Time, money, personnel, none of them are on the PCs’ side. So don’t be worried about using these basic templates.

Also, not every NPC will bring their A-game against the heisters, and that’s okay too. Security guards should be asleep, cops should be lazy or afraid of a confrontation, citizens should stand up and work together against a common foe. Anything should be able to happen.

When the PCs try to lie, charm, intimidate or con one of your NPCs, roll on the table below to see what the NPC is made of. Sometimes it turns out a hardened criminal is the perfect mark, and the little old grandma is a Human Bullshit Detector. When a PC tries to use one of the skills below against the NPC, they make an opposed roll. If the PC rolls higher, then they’re successful. Otherwise, the NPC has figured out their scheme.

ROLL NPC SOCIAL ABILITIES
1 Perfect Mark: Charm 1, Con 1, Lie 1, Intimidate 1
2 Gullible Fool: Charm 2, Con 1, Lie 1, Intimidate 2
3 Optimist: Charm 1, Con 2, Lie 2, Intimidate 1
4 Honest Citizen: Charm 2, Con 3, Lie 2, Intimidate 2
5 Hardened Skeptic: Charm 1, Con 3, Lie 3, Intimidate 1
6 Human Bullshit Detector: Charm 4, Con 4, Lie 4, Intimidate 4

ASSOCIATES

Part of playing Heist is making do with what you’ve got. The PCs won’t always have access to a driver or a heavy when they need one, and when that’s the case, they’ll need to call in an ASSOCIATE.

An associate can be called on with a regular contact roll. For the most part they act like NPC helpers to the PC who brought them in, save for one thing, that only the GM knows: LOYALTY.

LOYALTY

When an Associate is first rolled up, the GM makes a secret LOYALTY roll for them. This number is important for determining what the associate will do in times of stress. Will they betray the PCs and try to take all the money? Will they agree to an even split? Are they wearing a wire? What happens if they get caught? Will they name names to reduce their sentence? This is what a loyalty roll is important for.

The GM should make a loyalty check for associates in these situations:

ROLL LOYALTY
2 Rat. Wearing a wire.
3-4 Shaky. They’re owe someone, maybe a cop, maybe a rival criminal.
5-7 Acts within their own self interest.
8-9 Acts like a professional.
10-11 Willing to do time for you.
12 Would rather die than be a rat.

ASSETS

Assets are just weapons, vehicles, or other items that you may need at a moment’s notice without wanting to come up with something off the top of your head.

WEAPONS

What weapon your heisters use will largely depend on availability and what they’ll need to be used for. They each have special rules concerning them listed below.

HAND-TO-HAND WEAPONS

UNARMED

Damage: 1

Unarmed attacks only deal damage on a successful hand-to-hand combat roll.

BRASS KNUCKLES

Damage: 2

Illegal to carry.

BASEBALL BAT

Damage: 3

Pipes, batons, billy clubs, etc.

KNIFE

Damage: 3

Broken bottles, any kind of bladed weapons.

SHOOTING WEAPONS

RUGER

9mm Semiautomatic Pistol

Damage: 1 Clip: 12

Short Medium Long
TN-1 TN-2 TN-3

The Ruger 9mm semi-auto pistol is the least expensive prosumer grade 9mm on the market.

SMITH & WESSON

.38 Revolver

Damage: 1 Clip: 6

Short Medium Long
TN-1 TN-2 TN-3

Revolvers won’t jam on a critical miss.

SMITH & WESSON 686

.356 Magnum Revolver

Damage: 2 Clip: 6

Short Medium Long
TN-1 TN-2 -

MOSSBERG

12-Gauge Shotgun

Damage: 3 Clip: 2

Short Medium Long
TN-0 TN-2 -

Shotguns can fire ahead of them in a cone essentially, and can hit more than one person caught in the spread.

AR-15

Semiautomatic Rifle

Damage: 2 Clip: 36

Short Medium Long
TN-1 TN-1 TN-2

The AR-15 can be converted to be fully automatic. It can fire up to three times in a single round, but add a disadvantage die for each shot fired.

VEHICLES

In Heist the difference between having the right vehicle and the wrong vehicle for a particular job could be the difference between life and death, or at least life behind bars.

All vehicles have their own basic stats, which for the most part mirror NPCs stats. They have, for example, WOUNDS, which is the amount of damage they can withstand before being destroyed, and they also have a DAMAGE score, which is how much damage they do to people or vehicles, and an ARMOR SAVE, which is essentially their vehicle’s ability to withstand damage. Damage is calculated a little differently, as vehicles have two values, like 3/1. The first number is how much damage they do to other cars when ramming or sideswiping them. The second number is how much damage they themselves take when they ram or sideswipe another vehicle.

Additionally, vehicles have a SPEED rating which is the number of dice added to the driver’s driving check whenever they roll for special driving maneuvers.

COMPACT CAR

Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3

Wounds: 5 Armor: 5+
Speed: 1 Damage: 3/2

MID-SIZE CAR

VW Passat, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu

Wounds: 6 Armor: 5+
Speed: 2 Damage: 4/1

FULL-SIZE CAR

Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon

Wounds: 7 Armor: 5+
Speed: 3 Damage: 5/2

Luxury models of cars all have Speed +1.

ROADSTER

Porsche Boxter, Meredes-Benz SLK, BMW Z4

Wounds: 5 Armor: 5+
Speed: 4 Damage: 2/2

CONVERTIBLE

Chevy Camaro, BMW 6, Volva C70

Wounds: 4 Armor: 5+
Speed: 3 Damage: 2/2

MINI-VAN

Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna

Wounds: 8 Armor: 4+
Speed: 1 Damage: 5/1

CARGO VAN

Chevy Express, Ford Transit

Wounds: 10 Armor: 3+
Speed: 1 Damage: 6/1

FULL-SIZE SUV

Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade

Wounds: 7 Armor: 4+
Speed: 3 Damage: 5/1

ARMORED CAR

Brinks, Garda, Loomis

Wounds: 30 Armor: 2+
Speed: 4 Damage: 8/1

FULL-SIZE PICKUP TRUCK

Dodge Ram, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra

Wounds: 6 Armor: 4+
Speed: 4 Damage: 6/1

Pickup trucks and SUVs do a good job at carrying a heavy load and several passengers.

SPORT BIKE

Kawasaki Ninja, Yamaha YZF-R1

Wounds: 2 Armor: 6+
Speed: 6 Damage: 1/1

Sport bikes and other motorcycles are fast and easily hidden, however they can’t take or dish out much damage, and can carry very little.

INSPIRATION

Heist is about creating that feeling you get reading crime fiction or watching caper flicks where a team sets up the perfect plan and then struggles as it all falls apart. These range from hilarious to downright nihilistic and your game of Heist should fall anywhere in between.

FILM

FICTION

NON-FICTION


  1. For example: Crissa is disguised as a city inspector, and is trying to convince a bank manager to give her a tour of the vault. She has a +1 in Expertise:Architecture, which means she can add 1 die to her Appeal:Lie roll.

  2. This isn’t so much about letting the players be super-powerful as it is about making sure there are interesting stakes when you roll the dice. But if you want to play a more fumbly/farcical game where players are tripping over their shoelaces, then feel free to roll as often as you want.





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