What happens when a group of internet people get together, decide D&D 3.5 sucked and 4th Edition isn't for them, and make their own game? Normally, a good guess would be "fantasy heartbreaker", as inexperienced designers tried to make their own D&D and stuck too close to the source, making something similar, but worse. But this isn't a normal D&D clone. Without further ado, let us step into the world of...
Say what you will about simplicity, that is some nice cover art. Let's take it from the top, and start with...
Chapter One: Talking face to face
Like in most other RPGs, Chapter One is all about explaining the concepts of roleplaying. In the interest of not boring everybody to tears and wasting page space mentioning something unremarkable, I'm skipping that. However, the introduction does not *only* contain a meaningless blurb about what a RPG is and an intro to the standard gameworld (whose name is Hallow, in case you're curious; It doesn't come up in the book again, IIRC). It also contains some interesting talk from the designers about the core tenets of Legend. Let's see what they think is important for a RPG:
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.
“It’s magic, stop asking for an explanation” shouldn’t be the only valid response to player inquiries that a game offers a GM. [...] Experimentation and induction are valid approaches to in-character knowledge, and game mechanics should allow characters to gain knowledge in that way.
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.
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 specialities that they excel in, no character can be said to be “ best” or “worst” overall.
Speaking of which...
Legend, Chapters Two and Three, Part One: The seasons change, but we're all still the same.
We return to Legend and are greeted by Chapter Two, Character Creation and Advancement. Things start to get good here.
The chapter opens with a quick-start guide on making a character. You pick a race, class, skills, feats, yadda yadda yadda...two things to note about this, though: you also begin play with one magic item (yay!), and your ability scores are set.
Yeah, you heard that right. They're set. All characters start the same waym, 16 14 14 14 12 10 (assign to taste). Full stop. This is the first thing that I would say is 'wrong' with the game. To put this in perspective, 4th Edition wants you to start with an 18 or 20 in your attack stat, but even then you have leeway in how you'll distribute your points. Gamma World and its variants lock in your ability scores for you, but you can still pick what values two of the four abilities receive (three, in some cases). Not so in vanilla Legend. Characters are uniform in their stat distribution. But enough dwelling on this. Let's call this a warning sign and move on. What follows is the advanced CharGen explanation, which covers the same, but more...with one exception. Enter class tracks. Class tracks are ability packages belonging to your class, which grant you new tricks once every few levels. You have three of them, each embodying a set of traits, like a barbarian's rage, a spellcaster's magic spells, and so on. If you don't like one, and think it doesn't suit your character, you can swap it with another class' for free, or a racial/template/guild track. If you don't like TWO tracks, you can also use a feat to exchange a track. This is something you should never, ever do, by the way. More on this several chapters down the line. Lastly, if you don't like having magic items, you can exchange them for an extra track. This is called doing a Full Buy-In (you still get some items this way, just not very many).
Moving on from tracks, alternative CharGen methods! The good old Pointbuy returns here, substantially more powerful than usual because it lets you boost stats on a 1:1 basis up to 18, and you start with 26 points (and all stats at 8). Honestly speaking, I don't think there's any particular reason to take the balanced array unless you're teaching a newbie the ropes - pointbuy is far less restrictive and allows you to make the character *exactly* as good or bad at various things as you want to make him. The system punishes you for this customization severely (you lose out on six points for picking pointbuy over the standard array - that's almost a fourth of the points you get!), but it honestly doesn't matter. A properly pointbuy'd character will show up the standard characters at the table, so long as you play your cards right. Such is the power of +1 boosts and proper charbuilding. The playing field *should* be more level (28 or 30 points seems about right to me), but even six points are a small price to pay for customization.
There's also dice-based generation, of course. Let us take a moment to laugh at this outdated system with the developers and move on:
This method is best reserved for one-shot games or games that aren’t meant to be taken seriously, so that characters with truly awful scores can be killed off in an entertaining fashion.
After a long, long, long hiatus, it's once again time to review...
Legend RPG: The autopilot RPG
Last we left off, we were about to delve into the classes of the book. First, the mechanics of them are introduced: As mentioned before, classes have their abilities divided into Tracks. Each Track has seven levels of abilities to it, called Circles, and you have three Tracks, one offensive in nature, one defensive, and one for utility, mixing offensive, defensive, and miscellaneous abilities. Each Class has one track each that goes at a different speed: Fast Tracks gain an ability at level 1, 3, then multiples of 3, Medium Tracks gain an ability at level 1, 4, then every three levels thereafter, and Slow tracks gain an ability at level 2, then 5, then every three levels from then on. If you dislike one of your Class Tracks, you can trade it away by Multiclassing, which advances the new track at its listed speed - you can't trade a Fast Track away for a Slow Track and have it gain abilities with its Fast progression! The book then lists the four types of abilities, Extraordinary, Spells, Spell-Like, and Supernatural, and thus concludes the introduction to classes. Next up are the classes themselves...
...And here's where one of Legend's main problems rears its ugly head. You see, in spite of Tracks being easily swappable, their abilities are fixed. The choices you make at level 1 are, unless you take a feat to swap a track away, utterly binding. You will have the exact same Tracks at level 20 that you did at Level 1. This wouldn't be such a problem, if only the tracks gave options, but surprise surprise, they do not. The advancement is almost completely on rails, which is incredibly restrictive. Imagine if you were forced to take 20 levels of Fighter if you took a single level in 3.5, or if you were forced to take the Contagion line of Warlock powers (Contagion, Ring of Pain, Dark Lady's Gift, Explosive Contagion, Ring of Torment, and Eyes of the Victim) with forced retrains in Fourth Edition because you picked the first one. It's more or less like that. What really, really gets me is that there's a system that is directly comparable to Legend in this attempt: Star Wars SAGA Edition boasts talent trees much like Legend, but where Legend locks you into a set of choices from the get-go, SAGA lets you mix and match talent without penalty, and in fact it even has a very fluid class structure because you can multiclass in and out of a class at any time, without penalties. In SAGA, if you take the Armored Defense talent as your first Soldier ability, you don't *have* to take Improved Armored Talent down the line. You probably want to do it, but you're not forced to. In Legend, if you saw an Armored Talent, Lesser ability within your Defensive Track, you can bet your booties that at some point in time you'll be taking Armored Talent, Greater. There's little choice to be made, you just pick your poison instead.
Additionally, in spite of the previously quoted phrase that A = A', Legend fails to deliver on that...by, of all things sticking to the 3.5 BAB model . You know, the one where some people advanced their attack bonus by 1 per level and others advanced it three times every four levels? Yeah, that one. Thankfully, the damage is somewhat controlled by making all iterative attacks take a single hit of -5 to their Attack Bonus, instead of stacking ones, but the damage is still done: without overpowered sources of stacking attack bonus, balancing a system where somebody has a +10 (or 50% increased hitchance) attack bonus over somebody else (taken by comparing the first attack of a full BAB class and the iterative attacks of a 3/4 BAB class if you're curious) is all but impossible. Either somebody is underpowered because they're not hitting anything, or somebody is overpowered because the d20 is practically irrelevant. Either way, this is Not A Good Thing as balance is concerned.
Concerns about railroaded choices and broken balances aside, I am convinced that the Barbarian was absolutely, positively the worst class to start off the list with. It's a class with three preset paths, and furthermore, three paths that provide you with very, very little to do in battle beyond 'I hit it with my sword!'. It suffers from the old Fighter Syndrome of lack of choices from base 3.5, but aggravated because he doesn't even have bonus feats to buy interesting options with. Instead, you're stuck with mostly passive boosts. Let's check the tracks out:
Path of Rage: The Barbarian's signature track, no doubt...and far and away the most boring, to boot. The first level circle grants the ability to enter a berserker rage, gaining stacking bonuses to attack and damage rolls, as well as some light defensive tweaks and some temporary hitpoints. You get tired after 3 + CON mod rounds of fighting, but since CON is your secondary stat, this isn't as much of an issue as it seems - most likely, you'll have won the battle at that point, so there really isn't any reason not to Hulk Out at the start of all fights. Medium Track. The abilities are as follows:
-Rage: See above.
-Powerful Rage: You gain an increase to your reach, a bonus to your strength, and a penalty to dexterity as your Hulking Out really does make you bigger and clumsier (but presumably not greener). The first passive boost in a line of many.
-Intimidating Rage: Free intimidation attempt as you Hulk Out. Would be interesting as an option, but as-is just a gimme you will do because hey, free bonus.
-Greater Rage: You Hulk Out harder. Yawn. You also make a choice between being able to throw a single object/make a single ranged attack for free on a charge, or bullrush for free at the end of it for a little extra damage. Good to see the Lion Totem Barbarian is alive and well! 1
-Stubborn Rage: Immunity to mind affecting abilities. Snore.
-Mighty Rage: Super Hulking Out. No choices to make this time.
-Heart of Fury: You get one shot at Intimidating Rage's intimidation per fight. Hey, an ability that involves actually choosing what to do!
So to sum up, out of the first seven abilities presented by the book, a grand total of *2* give you actual choices, and of those, only 1 actually affects your actions in battle instead of being a choice between one passive boost or another. Thinking Choice Tally: 1 (And a half)
Path of Destruction: The Barbarian's offensive track. A bit of a mishmash of abilities, mostly focused on dealing splash and area of effect damage, and dispatching mooks by the dozen. Slow Track. Its abilities are as follows:
-Cleave: As a swift action, hit a second target if you hit a first. Nice idea in theory, but in practice this means that until level 5, you're hammering at your Swift action to trigger Cleave again and again with little else to do.
-Whirlwind: 3.5's Whirlwind attack as a class feature. You can't combine it with Cleave to hit somebody twice, sadly. Solid, and an actual choice to make, at least for some time.
-Disrupting Presence: Automatically deal damage to everybody who isn't Batman (that is, who uses non-extraordinary abilities) and who fights in melee. The return of passive abilities.
-Terrifying Presence: Anyone who goes into Melee against you has to make fear saves every round. Another passive ability. More actions to take, please? Pretty please?
-Path of Blades: Here we go, a real choice-maker. If you charge, you make attacks against everybody in your way, dealing thrice your Key Offensive Modifer (so your STR) to those you hit, which should be, roughly speaking, equivalent to an attack minus some static modifiers and critical hits. You of course only make a single attack at the end, so this is an interesting question: Do you go for the mobility and splash damage of a charge or hack at a single target repeatedly until he drops?
-Greater Cleave: So, about that choice-making for Cleave...yeah, forget it. Just make extra shots all day with each hit. Incidentally, once you have this ability, it's amusingly more efficient to target a lesser enemy instead of the main threat, because you can *stack it* with Cleave to make five attacks against the main threat instead of the usual four.
-Deadly Presence: Automatic damage to ALL enemies in melee equal to your level. The capstone to the Barbarian's final level is...yet another passive boost.
So, one automatic choice barring a multiclass in Cleave, two real choices in the form of Whirlwind and Path of Blades, and a bunch of extra passive boosts. With fourteen abilities reviewed, the number of abilities that require you to think about when to us them stands at an impressive four, counting Cleave as a half-choice due to being automatic in most turns. Thinking Choice Tally: 3 (and two halves) .
Path of the Ancestors: The defensive path. Defensive abilities tend to be, by and large, passive in nature in all games. It's just the nature of the beast, as active defenses tend to come down to countermoves and limited use effect-negators. We shall see how things work out in Legend. Fast Track. The abilities are:
-Lesser Resilience: You heal more from healing effects. That's it.
-Hard to Break: Pick Will or Fortitude. When you would save for half, you instead save for no effect. Nifty, though it doesn't really affect your tactics much.
-Readiness: You tend to win initiative due to adding half your level to your init checks. Not much to say here.
-Resilience: You gain Fast Healing equal to your CON. Be Wolverine today!
-Ancestral Blessing: Whoa there, an active defense! Once per encounter you can reroll a failed save. Nifty stuff.
-Greater Readiness: Always act on a surprise round. Zzzzzzzzz...
-Strength Unbroken: The second active ability of this path, and a much, much more interesting one. Once per encounter, you can make yourself practically invulnerable for a round. You can't be hurt, restrained, or stopped. Now this is something you can really sink your teeth into, and a proper capstone.
The defensive path is surprisingly more active than expected, boasting two abilities that do more than simple make you Extra Barbaric. The grand total of abilities that have to be carefully considered in the Barbarian class is...six. Yes, really. Out of twenty-one abilities, you can't even scrape enough together to get a full Track of them. If you want to be really, really kind, you can say that it's actually seven abilities by counting Cleave and Greater Rage separately, but I think that is being too kind. This is a pretty bad start...
Thinking Choice Tally: 5 (And two halves)
I'm stopping here at the moment, as this review has grown far too long already. With the general rant and mechanics cleared, analyzing the classes should proceed far more smoothly from now on. Tune in next time on Legend RPG: The Discipline of the Railroaded Player.
1 : For those who didn't play D&D Third Edition much, a certain sourcebook option was the Lion Totem Barbarian. This option gave up some inconsequential abilities obtained at level 1 for the power to Pounce at no penalty on a charge. Pounce is an ability that lets you make a full attack when charging. When combined with the very powerful charging package open to anyone (centered around the tactical feat Shock Trooper) the end result was an unholy murder blender who could kill anything it could charge...and do very little else. While locked in its MO, it's one of the very few ways to play a melee character that vaguely matters in 3.5, which is why people often saw strange characters who had a smattering of PrCs and classes, including an early level of Barbarian.