By default, Legend games take place in Hallow, the blasted remnants of what once was a world. In Hallow, humans, elves, and other traditional humanoid creatures of high fantasy survive – and often prosper – in small plots of habitable terrain. These plots are maintained only by ancient, supremely intelligent magical constructs that date past the reach of mortal memory to the time before the great cataclysms that obliterated the previous world.
Hallow offers many environments for enterprising adventurers. Some will gravitate towards bleak and barren wastelands with the promise of ancient undiscovered treasures, but hiding dangers that promise a lonely and cruel demise. Others will find their home in fertile and beautiful valleys, often scarred by wars between tribes and peoples who want to secure such homes for themselves. And of course, many adventurers seek out the megacities: centers of learning, high magic, and technological achievement. Some even manage to claw their way up through the underworld to a position of respectability – or at least the wealth and power to guarantee a relatively comfortable life for the time being.
Of course, if your gaming group has a different world in mind, feel free to play in it instead. Legend's mechanics can fit a broad range of fantasy and horror settings, and with some minor adjustments can fit superhero, cyberpunk, and even space opera settings. For all of these settings, and others, Legend offers you the tools to tell the story your specific gaming group wants to create.
Introduction to Roleplaying Games
This section is primarily written for people who are new to tabletop roleplaying games. If you have previous experience playing such games, you're probably familiar with the information in the next few paragraphs, and can skip to the next section without missing too much. If you’re new to the genre, however, or feel like you need a refresher course, read on.
Roleplaying games, in their broadest sense, are simply games in which a player assumes an alternate persona and directs that persona through a series of challenges and opportunities, known to most of us as "adventures." Your attachment to and assumption of this persona may or may not be serious or even particularly well thought out; those of us who have experience in online RPGs have probably run into a dark elf warlock, master of evil and scary energies, who wears a pink bathrobe and answers to "Holden Magroen" – or, at least, a similar character. Still, even joke characters count as alternate personas, albeit usually shallow ones.
Tabletop roleplaying games, such as Legend, have a few more distinctive traits. Computer roleplaying games tend to feature one-size-fits-all quests and storylines that are scripted to allow for relatively low levels of player choice, predicted and programmed in by the games' creators. In contrast, tabletop roleplaying games almost always include a "Game Master" (or GM) – a human referee who describes the world and the responses of people and monsters to the players' choices. Tabletop roleplaying games therefore allow much more space for creativity and player choice. Of course, tabletop RPGs do not necessarily have to take place in person, around a tabletop. Many players participate in play-by-post forum games or via instant messaging, voice chat, or specially-designed virtual tabletop software.
In a tabletop roleplaying game, you are one of at least two (and usually no more than seven or eight) participants. One of them (possibly you) is the GM, and the rest are players. The GM, as mentioned above, gives the players information about the world around them, and the players make decisions about what their characters do with that information. Beyond this, roleplaying games are just as diverse as the groups of people who enjoy them. Some games focus on intense tactical detail in the tradition of the war games from which RPGs developed, while others are essentially improvisational theater in which the actors – the people around the table – attempt to portray their characters based on complex motivations, friendships, and antagonisms. A lot of games just focus on the player characters doing cool stuff.
No particular style of game is inherently superior to another, and we designed Legend to accommodate games that focus on many different thematic elements. That said, we do have some fairly strong opinions about game design, and there are a few behaviors and gaming styles out there that we explicitly don’t support. We’ll cover that in the next section.
Legend's Take on Roleplaying
Every roleplaying game is, in some sense, the game that its authors wanted to play. Legend is no exception. In that spirit, then, please accept that in some cases the mechanics of Legend simply reflect our personal preferences. We do not apologize for these preferences, nor for the fact that we have written mechanics that support our preferences. However, we have tried in good faith to separate opinions, based on fact and reasoning, from simple preferences. So in this section, we offer a few central principles that we believe apply to roleplaying games generally, and then a few preferences that, while inherently subjective, have deeply shaped Legend.
If you don't particularly care about the theory of game design and just want to find out how to play Legend, you should probably skip the next few paragraphs and go to Gameplay Basics. If, however, you wonder why some of our mechanics differ from other similar games, you will likely find an answer to your questions somewhere in this section.
When discussing game design principles, we like to talk about predictability. People – imaginary people, but people nonetheless – live in the game world. They grow up in that world. They learn about the world around them. It follows, then, that the game world must be a place where people can observe their surroundings and make reasonable predictions that they can expect to be fulfilled. Predictability means that if a monster uses a bow in a fight, player characters can expect to find a bow – not a longsword – on the monster's corpse afterwards. Predictability means that if the world contains magical forces, the player characters should generally know that those forces exist and have some idea of what they can do. So if the bow turns out to be a longsword, a character who has studied the arcane arts can probably recognize the runes of a carefully-constructed glamer carved into the sword's hilt.
"It's magic, stop asking for an explanation" shouldn't be the only valid response to player inquiries that a game offers a GM; it's perfectly acceptable that the GM doesn't know how to create magical fireballs, but characters who live in a world where magical illusions exist should be able to find out how to duplicate them. Experimentation and induction are valid approaches to in-character knowledge, and game mechanics should allow characters to gain knowledge in that way.
As Above, So Below
Any game in which some creatures are much more powerful than other creatures needs a metric to figure out which "weight class" a creature best fits into. Depending on your background in roleplaying, you may be familiar with the terms "level," "essence," or perhaps simply "XP." In Legend, we use "level" to describe a creature's weight class, and "circle" to describe the relative power of the creature's abilities. Whatever a game's specific terminology, these metrics are the tools for GMs to create adventures that will be challenging but winnable for the player characters, and for groups to ensure that all of the player characters are able to contribute when faced with challenges.
Legend has been designed from the ground up using a metric we call A = A'. What this means is that, if two characters, A and A’, are the same level, they should be able to contribute equally if they ally themselves, or be evenly matched if they face off. Legend has rules for deeply different characters, allowing real variety, but at all times our paradigm is that despite their differences, despite having specialties that they excel in, no character can be said to be "best" or "worst" overall.
For example, a 5th level monk plays very differently from a 5th level shaman, but both will contribute well should they quest together. And if a 7th level dragon is before them, then the GM can be assured that the duo is in for a tough fight, but not one that is completely impossible.
As a result, you, as player or GM, can field any character you like, that if you see a feat or a class that you think sounds cool or interesting, you can use it without worrying about how well it compares to other feats or classes. Players are free to get creative without risking being useless or breaking the game. GMs are free to field any opponent for which the storyline calls as long as it conforms to a level appropriate for the player characters.
Ultimately, A = A' means fewer headaches for all players and GMs, means less fiddly balancing work for the GM, and more time to focus on the important parts of roleplaying: the storyline, the characters, and the awesome. A = A' is just one of the ways in which Legend endeavors to keep out of way of telling a fantastic story: by taking the guesswork out of balancing encounters, Legend allows GMs and players to move on to the fun part.
This topic combines both discussion of game design and an exploration of our preferences as authors, as we transition to the preferences that shape Legend specifically.
First, we'll discuss the design principle of supporting narrative space. When we talk about narrative space, we refer to the possible storylines, campaign settings, and character concepts that are supported by a given set of game mechanics. In some game systems, the narrative space is relatively narrow. For example, a game system might exclusively model medieval-themed warfare, featuring only human combatants with few or no magical capabilities. Such a narrative space is a matter of preference, and will be discussed below.
When it comes to "right-and-wrong" issues of game design, we present only one principle: all of a game's narrative space should be fully supported. That is, if a game has rules for playing a character, the game should not simultaneously punish you for playing that character.
Don't get us wrong here – it is perfectly acceptable to design, release, and play a game in which wizards rightfully rule over all other creatures, or alternatively a game in which practitioners of magic are wizened alchemists who can accomplish little or nothing on a battlefield. But the authors of that game should be honest enough to admit that the game doesn’t support "honorable knight who prevails through the force of arms" in the first case, or "front-line battlemage" in the second case. And if a game does provide mechanics for players to choose both warriors and wizards, then the mechanics should support both sets of concepts and one should not universally overpower the other.
Now, with these principles in mind, our preferences for narrative space are as follows. We prefer that a game system be written to allow for many different character concepts and campaign worlds, allowing each gaming group to play the game that they want to and to cut specific mechanical subsystems out that don't fit their specific game world. This requires, in turn, that the game system make it obvious what a given ability or theme actually does in the game world. We've tried to make it visible to anyone who might come along what will happen if you have to cut out teleportation and what kind of mechanical implications it has. In other words, Legend is built to be understandable, to be learnable, and finally, to be something you can own and change and use without too much fear of making the game go boom.
This is, again, primarily a preference for gameplay and not a reasoned argument for one side or another. Some groups may enjoy a relationship between the players and the GM that, on some level, is antagonistic. Some groups may also actually enjoy a game where the GM provides a plot line and the players largely experience a scripted course of events that they influence only in limited ways.
We are not condemning groups that honestly prefer these dynamics; however, Legend is not designed primarily to support these dynamics. In our preferred group dynamic, the term "Game Master" does not convey lordship over the game; it's more of an honorific referencing the system mastery that one needs to predict and model a world's responses to the player characters' decisions. Similarly, we don’t see "storytelling" as exclusively or even primarily the GM's job – player characters are heroes who change the world around them, and the GM provides antagonists and allies. Fundamentally, we see creating a fun game as everybody's responsibility.
Speed of Play
We recognize that some people see roleplaying game systems as elaborate simulations of another reality. In our case, we see a game system more as a construct of general laws for how another reality works, with necessary compromises made for enjoyable gameplay. One of the most important elements of enjoyable gameplay, in our minds, is keeping gameplay smooth and relatively quick. This means that if there’s a way to resolve a specific event with a couple of die rolls instead of five or six, we tend to prefer the option with only a couple of die rolls.
This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, as you will see in the rules in this book. We prefer combat lasting several rounds instead of just one, and we allow for several attack rolls if you’re an experienced warrior trying to stab the Big Bad in the face. The bottom line is just this: we're big fans of 8-hour gaming sessions. And if they're hack-and-slash games, we want to get through more than five combat encounters in the process.
In order to avoid confusion when reading this book, we have isolated some words in square brackets. These words, such as [Long] (a range) or [Encounter] (a duration), are reserved game terms that either have a particular definitions or else are tags (such as [Death] or [Style]) by which a subtype of abilities and feats can be clearly identified.