Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Getting Legendary: The Legend RPG System

Over the last few days I’ve spent a surprisingly lengthy amount of time creating a chap called Karl Grosz Weiner Von Ringloch IV. Considering he stands a fair chance of expiring within a matter of a few gaming hours it’s possibly time I could’ve spent more productively doing something else.

But giving birth to Karl has allowed me to get a tentative grip on the Legend RPG system, the rulebook for which I purchased last week at the excellent Rules of Play here in Cardiff. This will replace WFRP in our regular RPG sessions and I for one am very happy that this is the case. As the publishers say: "Using the core rules from RuneQuest II, Legend is a new fantasy roleplaying game that serves as the basis for a multitude of settings and worlds". If you’d like to read a full set of the Legend rules then you can get a pdf for the amazing price of $1 at RPG Now. Seriously! Go get it now!

WFRP is fine so long as you really want to play in the Warhammer world with all its interesting possibilities and necessary limitations. In the recent (and aborted) campaign I was GMing I created far too much of a linear narrative - this was a consequence of previous experiences working with and playing WRFP modules and of trying to create a thrilling, enticing narrative. As Dr Bargle has rightly pointed out, a pre-defined narrative won’t make for a good RPG adventure (I’ll not rehearse his arguments here, but highly recommend having a read of his blog). Players in my campaign wanted to get creative with their backgrounds, motivations, membership of organizations, and much more, but I found I had to tie this back (slash it on occasion) so that it fitted the WFRP world.

Who wants to play a game like that? I’m not really in favour of a total sandbox where anything goes - actually I’m totally against this. What I do like the idea of is a world that has good mechanics, reasonable pre-defined limitations, provides the GM with the opportunity to sketch out adventuring possibilities in a fantasy society, and then allows players to work collaborative with the GM to add colour, texture, life and adventure through play. Legend should allow for this to happen and I’m going to report on my reflections of this process, beginning with character creation…

My initial roles provided me with an average human, based on the following characteristics and attributes: Strength 11, Constitution 11, Size 13, Intelligence 10, Power 15, Dexterity 10, Charisma 11. I wasn’t set up to win many fights easily as these stats only give me two combat actions, so I decided to develop myself as a magic user on the basis of my good Power characteristic (an abstract representation of life force, soul and innate magical potential).

Magic comes in three basic forms in Legend - Common, Divine, and Sorcery - all players have access to some limited Common magic, which provides some basic augment, evasion and healing abilities, that sort of thing. Divine magic requires membership of a cult, while Sorcery - which I chose - is dark and deliberate bending of the powers of the universe.

All common skills in Legend - from athletics to perception, from brawn to first aid - are percentages worked out from the combined score of characteristics and attributes: so my skill evade (rather important in a fight) is worked out as Dexterity x 2, which equals 20%. This is not an amazing result, but luckily each character has 250 free points to spend boosting their skills in the final stages of creation (phew!).

Advanced skills come from cultural background, which can be civilized, barbaric, nomadic, or primitive. Certain styles of combat and professions then become available for selection - I selected civilized because I wanted to be a Sorcerer and one’s background also determines the amount of starting cash available (and I need some good armour, that’s for sure!).

Next up came the selection of spells. For Common magic I chose some defensive spells to detect and redirect magic, and spent half my available points on the protection spell (magical armour). For Sorcery, one must compile a ‘Grimoire’ of available spells learned the membership of some established Order. This is where the dice rolling and flow chart phase of creation begins to really give way to the narrative construction of the character. As this is an open system without pre-established schools or colleges of magic, it was up to me to put together a Grimoire of four spells and justify them as some kind of coherent body of learning within an Order of sorcerers.

After several hours of contemplation (ok, I did actually fall asleep for a while!) I plumped for the following:

Form/Set (Flesh and Bone) - drastically changes the physical appearance of the target to casters will, without causing harm
Shapechange (Humans to Canines) - target is turned into any kind of dog
Palsy - target loses the use of an area of their body
Wrack (Boiling of the Tumours, as I’ve named it) - an offensive magical blast

From this selection I created a Grimoire from The Sorcerous Order Ululatus Corpus (the howling body). I now need to ‘flesh out’ (ha ha) more details of the Order, to see what I might learn as I progress from the Initiate stage.

Although magic is the main profession of my character he will certainly find himself in a physical fight at some point. All characters in Legend need to choose a cultural fighting style that determines how they fight and the weapons they can use. Again, narrative is vital here. I thought my character could be a disgraced noble, who had been thrown out of his expensive and prestigious finishing school (he is currently only 20 years old) and taken to sorcery as a way of regaining some footing in the social hierarchy. His fighting style could therefore be formal - fencing and the like - while not necessarily being too effective, thus reflecting his mediocre stats.   

Fortunately, the random rolls for character background provides some excellent opportunities to build more narrative around the man I’m now calling Karl Grosz Weiner Von Ringloch IV. His father is a widower and extremely disappointed in his young son, although Karl has three aunts on his mother’s side who still adore him. His family is of high social standing and consequently Karl has several allies and contacts that can come out of the woodwork and be defined during gameplay. Karl also - rather brilliantly - has a sidekick due to a lucky background roll (83, as it goes). At first I thought it could be a fellow disgraced (and perhaps mentally challenged) student, but through discussion it was agreed that Karl should be accompanied by an aging butler, who refused to give up on the fallen posh boy due to a blind adherence to class/caste hierarchy. I’ve called him Borgnine.

It’s tempting to go much further with developing Karl, but two things are holding me back. Obviously, he might be dead in a couple of weeks. Also, there’s something really exciting about the idea that his life (past, present and future) will all fall into place as part of the game and through enjoying numerous evenings drinking tea and rolling dice with friends.

And what could be better than that?

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