Legend

By on 28 November 2011
Legend

This isn’t a full review, but just a quick overview and first impression of Mongoose’s new Legend. For those who don’t know, though, it’s mentioning that I am a Runequest (RQ) fan (the last version, MRQII, from which Legend is derived) and was also involved in Openquest (OQ).

With the license going elsewhere, Legend is NOT Runequest and has no real reference to Glorantha-like beasts or structures. The background is a generic high fantasy background. However, given its heritage, it can’t be discussed without reference to RQ.

First off, brownie points. The new format (approx, but not exactly, A5) is excellent, handy and highly convenient, reducing the lug-around load. Font size is smaller than in other books, especially in Monsters…, but is still readable. In the core book, Mongoose have put in far less illustrations than is customary for many RPG products and it really helps keep the size down as well as keep the text relevant.

An automatic extra star should be added to any rating for the whole core rulebook being Open Gamining License-d (OGL). No SRD; no block on chargen; no odd rule being dropped out. This is an excellent step forward.

Additional brownie points should also be considered for any “… of Legend” book also being OGL. For example, “Monsters of Legend”, the basic “monsters” book is OGL. This should be a very welcome aspect of the rules to third party supplement writers.

Legend – Core Rulebook
The book opens with a Welcome chapter in which the rules are described as “intuitive”, “subtle” and “simple”. Advice is also given to “Forge your own Legend” – something I’ll come back to.

“Character Creation” has what you’d expect from a RQ- derived ruleset plus the Mongoose additions. STR, CON, DEX, SIZ, INT, POW, CHA as characteristics plus derived attributes including base Strike Rank and Hero Points (get-out-of-jail-free or buy-a-hint points as well as being able to buy Heroic Abilities). It looks as if an attempt has been made to stop CHA being a dump stat by having it modify the number of improvement rolls a character gains from each adventurer. Reading ahead, INT is also key in improving skills, rather than the stats on which the skill is based – a very negative approach that illustrates the bias within the rules: from personal experience I know that my own (frankly, objectively high) INT does almost nothing in improving my physical skills. I am concerned about these points as (a) it is counter-intuitive and counter-reasonable-realtiy-even-in-a-fantasy-setting and (b) it automatically means certain character type are unreasonably disadvantaged. This is something I will certainly “Forge my own”.

Chargen includes not only a background, profession, advanced adventurer guidance and some Common Magic spells and free skill points, but also family ties and reputations plus some background events. Whilst these can be fun and can also be used as suggestions, I think one has to be a bit careful about generating characters through pure dice rolls, here – something that is suggested in the text, however.

Like OQ, skills are all based on the sum of two stats (or a doubling of a single stat). Legend could also have taken a leaf out of OQ’s book and clearly identified those skills which are key, defensive skills (Evade, Reslience, Persistance). I’m a bit concerned about the number of basic skills (20 plus combat skills) plus advanced skills (27, including magical skills), which is way too many, especially as some are very specialised (Seduction, Teaching). Skill test go on comparative levels of success, the highest success on d100 winning if equal in level. Simple and straightforward and there are also sensible rules on group tests to avoid the classic forced-failures (GM asking EVERYONE to make a Stealth check, for example) and forced-successes (EVERY player attempting the same Perception check).

Some skills, though, are probably best left to characteristic checks or opposed tests. It bothers me to see “Brawn” as a skill – sure, some apparently strength-based checks (e.g. blocking in American Football) seem to use skills that can be developed, but those are highly specific, combat-like skills. The culture skill can also explode unless handled carefully and three skills cover perception in some form or another. In other places, assisted or cascaded skill tests only gain from a character’s critical success rate (10% of the skill), something that doesn’t quite ring true and can add problems given there is an automatic 2% chance of a fumble (unless you’re over 100% with the skill). This is especially acute in the “Healing” skill, where disease resistance gains minimally and whilst poison fighting is given an additional resistance test, the bonus is also minimal. These are definitely other areas that need “Forging”.

The “Game System” chapter seems to be generally straightforward, with rules on improvement, travel, poisons, diseases, ageing and training/learning. However, there seem to be some glitches: whilst an adventure results in a number of Improvement Rolls (modified by CHA), three adventures worth need to be saved up for single-point Characteristic increases leaving a big hole in a characters development. A trainer’s Teaching advanced skill can be vital, here, as his critical range adds to the skill improvement. As mentioned, though, the base for skill improvement should be the characteristics for the skill divided by 10, not INT/5, and unless each adventure is very short, I’d recommend a higher Improvement roll rate – GMs should make plentiful use of the provided advice allowing them to grant Improvement Rolls as rewards. Training is still overly costly, however, a problem that RQ, even in its early implementations, has constantly struggled with.

The rules on handling diseases and poisons result in bulky stat blocks for each. Onset times, duration and resistance times are specified for each rather than defaulting or being simplified, and it is not clear whether a disease/poison can be spotted during the onset time. A number of different Conditions are provided, that helps, but the sample diseases are lethal – rabies potentially killing in 2 days. Similarly, the rules on Falling and Movement are detailed but therefore messy to implement, but in contrast the Cold/Fire rules are straightforward as the Overloading/Natural Healing rules. However, some of the incomes do not match with the later rules on cost of living.

The “Equipment” chapter contains a fairly comprehensive set of gear, weapons and armour, as well as costs for lodgings, food, etc. Unfortunately, the first set – Armour – is not as clear as it could be; for example, are the ENC rules given per item of armour (hauberk, leggings, etc) or per hit location? Armour use has a range of effects throughout the rules on Movement, Fatigue and Strike Rank, requiring totalling and dividing for each. I find I yearn for the days of RQ2 or for the simpler OQ approach.

The two pages dedicated to clothing and the 10 to other equipment and riding accessories are quite interesting if you are looking for such detail. The costs for basic mounts are astronomical, however, a cart horse and a cow costing 150-250SP – much more than a 18 months wages for a farmhand, for example. And the cost of a pig for example seems out of proportion to the cost of meals, especially once care and husbandry is taken into account.

The range of weapons is good – and it’s nice to see a correction in the super-power of longbows (though is it too much?) and the bulkiness of arbalests, though the lack of simpler weapons may be an issue (fire-hardened spears, for example). What I found dismaying, though, comes from my preference for more simplified rules: every weapon has a reach and a bulk/size and a number of combat manoeuvres. Very detailed, and it may well be ideal for those who like such detail, but if you prefer a simpler approach this doesn’t bode well.

Finally, we arrive at “Combat”. It starts off well – the idea of a Combat Style is a development of RQ generic classes of weapons such as One-Handed Sword, but includes the use of shields or off-hand weapons being trained at the same time. As an example, you might train in two-handed swords, or spear and shield, or sword and dagger. This is great and helps with the potential over-extension of combat skills. The rules also point out that combat is cinematic, allowing for a wide range of interesting options.

Each round is 5 seconds, but you have a number of Combat Actions each round depending on DEX and the number of weapons wielded. These are spent on attacks and parries – not seperately. This means that each action is equivalent to a single blow, like MRQ1, not multiple blows and ripostes. Winning attacks or parries allow the successful combatant to choose from a wide range of offensive or defensive Combat Maneouvres, from Bypass Armour to Choose Hit Location to attacking the opponents weapon or stun a location as well as those pertinent to the weapon. Parrying is dependent on comparative weapon/shield sizes as to what blocks what, and by how much, and there are fairly detailed rules on reach and closing ranges. Combat can still be deadly and Evade is less useful than might be thought. A pleasant inclusion are basic mook rules.

It is highly detailed, is undoubtedly accurate and will be a delight to those who love loads of controlled details and intricacies in their combats. But I can see it being cumbersome and lengthy to run, with players and GMs working out options and constantly referring to the rulebook. Despite what afficcionados of MRQII have said about it, it IS complex and, worse, it turns roleplay into rollplay, formulating actions rather than encouraging description. I’d previously considered Mick Red’s disparaging comments as being, well, MickReddishness, but I’ve now come round to his point of view. This IS an area that I will be “Forging”, again, with OQ, before I use the rules in anger.

The three types of Magic are now discussed – Common Magic (MRQs Rune Magic and RQs Battle Magic), Divine Magic and Sorcery. One of the things that RQ-derived rulesets always delighted me with was the prevelance of lesser magic, and I’m pleased that this hasn’t changed. Common Magic is still easy – use the (single, thank goodness) skill to cast the spell you know, take the appropriate defensive-biased time, and finally enact its effects. Learning it could be a problem, though, it taking two adventures-worth of Improvement Rolls to learn some of the critical 6-point spells (require 6 Magic Points to cast) and there are limits on the magnitude of spells you can learn: you now need an INT of 16 or more to learn Magnitude 6 spells – the rule of thumb is INT/5, rounded up. However, there are no special rules for the Heal spell: unlike the old Healing 2 and 6, more powerful magic is now required to reattach a severed limb. Some of the spells are different but useful, too, such as Abacus (count anything instantly), Lucky (reroll the next failed skill check) and Entertainers Smile (more useful than Glamour’s pathetic +2 CHA, but only applies to entertainment checks). I also quite like the inclusion of detection blocking in Countermagic Shield. Interestingly, some fo the Detect examples still reference Duck and Trollkin.

Divine Magic is split across two skills: Pact and Lore(Theology). The former is used to gain and regain spells and to set an inherent magnitude (10% of the skill); the latter is used to cast them as the spells come direct from a character’s god. The pool of dedicated POW is an improvement on the old RQ1/2 approach as it doesn’t demand extremely high POW in the first place. What is interesting is that each Divine spell takes only a single point of dedicated POW to ‘store’, but they are restricted to specific ranks in the cult (see below) and some effects vary by rank as well. The power of the spells can vary, some being apparently potent, others less so but, as always, they are situation-dependent. It’s worth noting the Regenerate Limb is often referred to as Regrow Limb elsewhere, so don’t bother looking for the latter spell.

Sorcery is based on several skills: Manipulation and Sorcery(specific Grimoire), each Grimoire being a battery of spells which a sorcerer can choose to learn. The number of spells is limited by INT, and each costs one Magic Point to cast; Manipulation/10 is used to effect what can be changed about each (duration, range, etc), though to alter an aspect of a spell takes a Magic Point per aspect changed. The caster must also have his/her hands free and not be preoccupied – he cannot take any other Combat Actions other than walking. The spells are powerful, however, especially the potentially lethal Tap and Diminish (operating against Characteristics) and Shapechange, though this is limited by its specialities and focus of its Grimoire.

What is disappointing, though, is that no sample list of Grimoires are given other than the limited spells in the example Sorcerous Order (see below). This leaves it up to the GM/players until a “Sorcerous Orders” book comes out.

The chapter on “Guilds, Factions and Cults” has an interesting, integrated approach covering cult, guilds, military orders and Sorcerous Orders. The old Rune Lord/Priest terminology has gone, leaving 5 levels (0-4) in each with different terminology matching each Faction. The core terminology for membership at each level in a Faction is Common, Initiated, Fervent (ugh), Master and Grand Master – fine except for “Fervent”, I guess, but dissimilar to older forms of RQ. There is an example Thunderer Cult, Sorcerous Order and Assassins Guild provided, but further development and detail is left loose – perhaps for GMs development or subsequent supplements.

“Heroic Abilities” contains the descriptions and Hero Points costs for each. Each costs a Magic Point to invoke, so can be used multiple time a combat. Some of these are useful, others less so and it seems others just replicate the spending of Hero Points or combat manoeuvres. It also seems some of the costs are a bit too high for the benefit, but I haven’t had enough time to play with these to find out.

The last chapter contains GM advice and tables for random encounters, travel expenses and weather. The GM advice includes a section on how to limit magic use depending on genre, which could be useful for the unsure. The travel expenses unfortunately contradict the Equipment sections rules, but are probably more reasonable.

A character sheet is provided and there is also a larger version online. I just wish there was an index or detailed table of contents, however, as it is REALLY frustrating trying to find out where a certain rule is referenced. Some formatting mistakes and contradictions are evident and a more simplified approach would be extremely beneficial in many areas.

Overall, the book could have been excellent and contains some nifty ideas. All the main rules are in a single rulebook, making it useful, though no monsters are included. However, I was a little disappointed and found a number of areas that needed “Forging” – I could not use it as it stands but it may be a delightful set for those who like lots of detail, especially in their combat. Despite this, it rates a 7 out of 10 due to the OGL nature of the rules and the format, otherwise it would be an average 5 or 6. It will, however, rise to 9 after I’ve forged my own amendments or replaced rules with those from Openquest.

Or maybe I’ll just switch to Openquest permanently. Hmm…

Monsters of Legend
This contains a basic set of monsters and non-human races, such as Halflings, Elves, dwarves, goblins, orcs, undead, giant insects, natural beast, reptiles/dinosaurs and mythical (Legendary) monsters such as dragons, wyverns, lamia and the like. Illustrations are provided for the legendary and fantasy monsters and races, but are ignored for normal creatures – something I, for one, am happy to see as it cuts down on bloat. Spirit combat and rules for possesion are included, but disappointingly there is no index and no ameliorating detailed table of contents – despite the fact that index-building tools are readily available in major publishing packages. Each creature has a description and a page of stats. Unfortunately, seeing them in this format can make one take a sharp breath as the actual stats for each are over half a page long, but there is plenty of detail on stats and skills.

I won’t go over each individual monster, but I was disappointed to see that some of teh proof-reading wasn’t quite as good as it could be. Comparative stats, for example, don’t match up: Goblins are said to be slightly larger than dwarves, but their stats make them on average smaller – even allowing for stocky dwarves, the height should make up for the mass; allosaurus’ are said to be more intelligent than most other dinosaurs, but have exactly the same fixed INT as others.

Overall, a useful basic set of creatures, but the book needs attention and mods and, once again, it is frustrating to have to constantly flick through to find the creature stats you need. As a supporting book it deserves an 8/10 (partly due to the OGL-ness of it) but a better and shorter way to present the stats should have been looked for and the lack of an index in such a reference book is a severe loss.

More comments are welcome!

About Tim Bancroft

Tim's been a roleplayer since the mid 70's and now just enjoys running or playing tabletop RPGs as long as they are not too complicated. He's written for a variety of RPGs over the years and has even helped develop one or two. He occasionally releases products through Sceaptune Games, but is happy to write for anyone providing he doesn't have to do too much production work (not laziness, just physical constraints). He's playtested a variety of RPG and wargame rulesets, though he prefers board games to the latter. In addition to a little knowledge of computers, history and theology, he also studies choral music, voice and spirituality in Winchester. If you want to be nice, buy him a curry, a bottle of good mead or port, or even invite him along to, or offer to come round to his place for, a RPG session.

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