Role-playing in Legends
Every role-playing game is, in some sense, the game that its authors wanted to play. Legends is no exception. In that spirit, then, please accept that in some cases the mechanics of Legends 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 role-playing games generally, and then a few preferences that, while inherently subjective, have deeply shaped Legends.
If you don’t particularly care about the theory of game design and just want to find out how to play Legends, you should probably skip the next few paragraphs and go to “Game-play Fundamentals”. 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 glamor 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 narrator; it’s perfectly acceptable that the narrator 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 role-playing, you may be familiar with the terms “level”, “essence”, or perhaps simply “XP”. In Legends, we use “level” to describe a creature’s weight class, and “Tier” to describe the relative power of the creature’s abilities. Whatever a game’s specific terminology, these metrics are the tools for narrators 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.
Legends has been designed from the ground up using a metric we call X = X’. What this means is that if two characters, X and X’, are the same level, they should be able to contribute equally if they ally themselves, or be evenly matched if they face off. Legends 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 narrator 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 narrator, 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. Narrators 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, X = X means fewer headaches for all players and narrators, means less fiddly balancing work for the narrator, and more time to focus on the important parts of role-playing: the storyline, the characters, and the awesome. X = X’ is just one of the ways in which Legends endeavors to keep out of way of telling a fantastic story: by taking the guesswork out of balancing encounters, Legends allows narrators 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 Legends specifically.
First, we’ll discuss the design principle of supporting narrative space. When we talk about narrative space, we refer to the possible story-lines, 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 battle-mage” 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, Legends is built to be understandable, to be learn-able, 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 game-play and not a reasoned argument for one side or another. Some groups may enjoy a relationship between the players and the narrator that, on some level, is antagonistic. Some groups may also actually enjoy a game where the narrator 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, Legends is not designed primarily to support these dynamics. In our preferred group dynamic, the “narrator” is an interactive storyteller which is necessary to model a world’s responses to the player characters’ decisions. Similarly, we don’t see “storytelling” as exclusively or even primarily the narrator’s job – player characters are heroes who change the world around them, and the narrator provides antagonists and allies. Fundamentally, we see creating a fun game as everybody’s responsibility.
Speed of Play
We recognize that some people see role-playing 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 game-play. One of the most important elements of enjoyable game-play, in our minds, is keeping game-play 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 definition in Chapter IX, or else are tags (such as [Death] or [Combat]) by which a subtype of abilities and feats can be clearly identified .