Oh, me? I'm just some guy, you know?
Alternatively: I'm a 26-year-old student at the University of Memphis, majoring in Japanese, minoring in Weeaboo, with a certificate in being ridiculously nerdy. Inexplicably, everyone I meet in real life seems surprised that I am a nerd at all. I play just about every genre of games out there, with an especial focus on stultifyingly intricate RPGs and soul-shatteringly hard action games. I listen to a vast array of bands that bring me glee when I hear their sounds, and have a slim chance of overjoying me again when I meet someone else who's heard of them. I take and enjoy philosophy courses. I read obscure English poems. As my handle may indicate, I'm obsessed with Voltaire. I watch a whole lot of anime. I'm developing a penchant for beer snobbery. I'm writing short stories whenever I have time. I am prone to bouts of self-criticism and navel-gazing. I am painfully self-aware. I am, in short, nerdiness personified.
I don't hang around IRC much anymore, but I'll keep this ancient cockboard down there as a memorial to some truly rad people I don't see these days.
Have you ever wanted to play a game where you are Kamen Rider fighting alongside a robot encyclopedia, a demonic moneylender, and an impressively-muscled lunatic? You probably have, so you should probably read this, then.
Okay, so yes. This is not a video game. But I know for a fact that there are a not-insignificant number of Dtoid people who have an interest in various nerderies that do not necessarily involve LCD displays or controllers. Board games and pen and paper games alike have a place in many of our hearts. Iím here to talk about a d20 game Iíve recently been enamored with. But I do not speak of old hatreds, nor shall I recount the torturous history of the Great Edition Schisms. No, Iím here to talk about Legend.
This is your UI
First, some background. Legend is a game that is currently in open beta, with its core handbook as well as all other currently available content available for free at Rule of Coolís site. The name of the game or the developer may be familiar to people who keep an eye on Childís Play or Kickstarter. Last year, they released their core document as a pay-what-you-want drive with proceeds benefiting the charity, followed by a Kickstarter campaign to spruce up their handbook with more art. Both drives had their incentive goals repeatedly blown out of the water, so not only is there quite a lot of bonus content available for the game prior to its full 1.0 release (such as the John Woo-esque Japanese folklore gangland fantasy adventure module, Osaka Street Stories), but the team is committed to provide a whole lot more (like another module, Sherlock Holmes: Demon Slayer (!!!)) , which means that in the unlikely event that thereís something youíd like to make with this game that isnít possible, you may only need to wait. The Rule of Cool team, I should take the time to note, are a bunch of super-helpful folks who are very communicative and always looking for feedback.
Well then, thatís probably quite enough history. The whole point of this game is to provide the whole ďparty of adventurers go on a roleplaying adventure and kick rich amounts of ass, wacky hijinks are very likely to ensueĒ experience of d20. It takes inspiration from games like D&D, of course, but itís morphed into an entirely different beast. It was fun when everyone and their dog became an immortal god-beast at high levels in D&D 4E, so thatís here, but not the dreaded WoWification that launched ten thousand angry forum posts, nor is it necessary for GMs to get a Total Party Kill before level five. A lot of D&D 3.5 is here as well, but with a lot of healthy trimming of unnecessary complication, and a very sharp eye toward balance (sorry, wizards, everyone gets to be quadratic now).
The whole game in general tries to provide a robust set of rules for dealing with things, with the caveat that the rules should be straightforward, always be clear about what happens mechanically when youíre using your abilities, and then get out of your way. In fact, despite it being very rule-heavy, it succeeds particularly well at that last part. Through most of my hands-on-time with this game so far, I donít believe weíve needed to consult anything beyond our character sheets more than a couple times a session (well, okay, there were a few times where one or several people clearly hadnít read the manual), which beats the living hell out of spending ten minutes figuring out how a single action taken in a grapple is supposed to go off, and consulting seven sub-charts (did I mention that the entire rules for the infamous grapple and all related actions fit on a single page, in this game?). Thereís never been doubt over what Iím allowed to do at any given moment, provided that I read the rulebook once before and read my characterís abilities once or twice. And the rulebook itself? Those of you familiar with the Pathfinder (the other D&D 3.5 with the serial numbers filed off) may recall that its core rulebook had the heft of War and Peace plus Gravity's Rainbow, and that it was handy as a bludgeon should you be mugged leaving your friend's basement. Legend's core book is just 183 pages. Less handy as a self-defense weapon (and much lighter on fluff) but considering the emphasis on robust and consistent rules that deal with any possible situation, a short rulebook speaks well of how much they've managed to reduce needless complexity.
Yeah, you can totally make this.
And the characters? Character building is great in this game, and not just because they make it very straightforward and pretty hard to build a crappy character. No, characters are great in this game because you can (and are expected to) make anything. Whatís that, you say? You only see eight classes there, and surely Barbarian, Paladin, Rogue, Ranger, Monk, Sage, Tactician, and Shaman couldnít cover all your bases? I heard you, thatís totally what you thought even though youíre still reading this and not actually looking at the handbook. Well, thatíd be the case, if multiclassing wasnít easy as sin and expected of most characters. The biggest components of characters are three sets of abilities, called tracks, that gain abilities as you level up. Your base class will generally set out what three tracks are the default (usually including one offensive and one defensive track). And then, if you want to multiclass (and you should, if you have higher ambitions than Generic Shoots McBowguy), all you have to do is pick out one of your tracks you donít want anymore, at character creation. And then you pick out a track from almost anywhere else, and that is now the track you have instead. Not only is there no penalty for doing this, it is explicitly encouraged by the devs. And youíve got 52 tracks to choose from (with more coming), so someone who cares more than me is free to calculate the ludicrous number of possible builds (suffice to say itís a large number).
To help me illustrate my point (that you can make anything), let me list some of the characters (all of whom have been completely viable) that have been built with this system so far in my games alone:
-A pugilistic madman with Batmanís utility belt, whose primary defense is sheer luck
-A robot wizard who aids his allies in combat with his vast databases of knowledge concerning his enemies
-A whirling dervish who happens to also be a dragon
-A demon machinist who protects his allies with energy shielding
-A pyromaniac healer that can prep battlefields to be deathtraps
-A sniper whose massive head trauma has given him the bizzare ability to understand and manipulate the true names of the people and objects around him
-A nobleman fencer who physically and emotionally injures people with the force of his insults
-A prettyboy angel jedi
-An 800 lb. perpetually drunken gorilla
-Kamen Goddamned Rider
And I left out the aspects of those characters that arenít supported mechanically, like the Kamen Rider guy being a washed-up profit-obsessed jerk. That list is the way these characters actually play. There is literally a track that gives you a ridiculously rad suit of armor, a motorcycle, and the ability to do a flying jumpkick. The crazy-but-lucky boxer with a suite of tools that rival Batman is all mechanics, I left out the part of him being Tizoc but with a Macaw mask.
Yes, that Tizoc.
Other favorite highlights of the system include weapons being completely abstracted. Meaning that you can build knife that deals damage like a greatsword, pistols used in melee, or a greatsword designed to be thrown that can be easily hidden on your person. Weapons, like so much else in Legend, are what you want them to be, while doing what you need them to do. Also, power progression is handled nicely. Not only are characters and individual tracks fairly well-balanced against each other, but it also manages to remain balanced with your encounters, despite pretty obscene levels of power coming into play late-game. Thatís because monsters are characters. Thatís right, you (the GM) build your monsters with the same tracks, feats, etc as your own players, with fewer restrictions.
Unfortunately, that does lead into my sole gripe with the game. You see, character creation is pretty fast in Legend, but itís still more of a time investment on the GMís part than monsters are in most other d20 games. A monster manual would mitigate the living shit out of this, but, well... the monster manual isnít out yet. Theyíre committed to releasing one, but it wonít be here until after the 1.0 version of the core rulebook (which is, I understand, on track for release sometime around August). In the meantime, fast-creation mooks, myriads, and minibosses are available to lessen the sting somewhat. I will, say, though, that the encounters pay off enough that the extra effort to make them is worth it.
Oh, right. I should probably mention the encounters. Since players are frigging superheroes, and enemies are built the same as players, Legendís combat is pretty fast-paced, with a lot of damage flying around, people taunting, insulting, doing acrobatic maneuvers, turning invisible, and flying all over the damn place, while warriors charge 60mph and casters set the entire battlefield on fire. Itís cinematic, over-the-top, and very satisfying.
Thatís about the long and short of it, except to say that I have enjoyed the living hell out of this game. So much so that (and here we go from review to completely shameless plug) I and a few folks you may know from around Dtoid are going to be doing a new thing over on Streamtoid Thursday nights (6pm PST, 9pm EST) where we play Legend on a virtual tabletop, for your viewing and listening pleasure. So yeah, that might make this review a pretty significant conflict of interest, but rest assured that I wouldnít commit to playing it all evening once a week with people watching unless I thought the game was fun.
So this Thursday, why not stop on by? If itís possible to be entertained by anything in this world, you can probably get a little enjoyment from watching a moronic dragon, a pyromaniac, a raving brain-damaged elf, a bishounen angel, and a demon doing the most pointlessly stupid things they can think of in combat while drawing cartoon dicks with googly eyes on the map.
I give this game twenty-seven apples out of nine possible oranges.
P.S.: Many thanks to king3vbo for the wonderful header image