Open Legend RPG – First Thoughts

So, Leigh kickstarted the Open Legend RPG, and the Core Rulebook arrived this Wednesday. Open Legend is “a game of storytelling and adventure” that seeks to provide a set of rules that enable groups to tell stories from any genre in a manner that combines freeform storytelling with strategic fun. It’s similar to Iron Crown’s Champions system, which, though I haven’t played that system since the 1990s, I recall as being a lot of fun but, looking back through the fairly massive rule tome, pretty complex and, sometimes, complicated. Open Legend appears to be more streamlined and straightforward, which are good things. I haven’t had a chance to actually run or play a game in the system yet, but, as someone who has GMed for a host of different systems, I thought giving the rulebook a first look/review would be a good way to help get the word out to the community. Shall we?

Premise. Open Legend’s premise is simple: provide a general set of rules, abilities, and powers so that gamers can create and tell legendary adventure stories in any genre. This is one of those great ideas, because, let’s face it, tabletop RPG sourcebooks are expensive! If you buy the three books separately (PHB, MM, DMG) you’re looking at spending close to $100 on just the core rules for Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition. Admittedly, the cover price for the Open Legend core rulebook is $40, but that covers all aspects of game creation. As someone who’s purchased and played numerous editions of Dungeons & Dragons (don’t even ask me how much I spent on Ravenloft materials, please Wizards, republish all the Ravenloft!!!!), RoleMaster, Middle Earth Roleplaying, Champions, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mage: The Apocolypse, Star Wars RPG, Star Wars Saga RPG, PathfinderExalted, etc., let’s just say that I’ve probably spent enough on rulebooks alone to equal a down payment on a car. So, I’ll be honest, the promise of one system to cover all genres appeals to me and to my wallet.

Book/System Overview. The book is organized in a manner familiar to all single-book RPG rulesets: an explanation of what tabletop RPGs are, several chapters on character creation, one on starting equipment, one on combat, one on how to GM the game, and one on special/magical/extraordinary items. For experienced gamers, this organization is both familiar and easy to follow. The language is mostly clear, with only a few instances where I believe something was omitted that could have helped clarify a few concepts for novice players. I’ll say a bit more on that later.

One of the neat features of Open Legend is the exploding dice mechanic. When rolling dice, anytime any of the dice rolled shows its maximum number (example: a 20 on a d20, a 4 on a d4), you get to roll that die again and add it to your total. If you roll another maximum number, you roll again and add to the total. This allows for some pretty amazing successes, which, I think makes storytelling interesting.

Character Creation. Being a generic set of rules that can apply to any genre, Open Legend does not provide a set of “character classes” or races/species. The system is based on a point-buy model, which I think ensures that all characters have a roughly equal power level (a good thing!). When creating your character at Level 1, you have 40 attribute points to spend among the ten basic attributes (Agility, Fortitude, Might, Learning, Logic, Perception, Will, Deception, Persuasion, and Presence) and the eight extraordinary attributes (Alteration, Creation, Energy, Entropy, Influence, Movement, Prescience, and Protection). Instead of fairly rigid class concepts, you get to decide what your character is good at by how you allocate your attribute points among these eighteen choices. Your attribute score gives you extra dice that you add to the basic d20 roll when using that attribute as well as allowing you to access more powerful Banes and Boons associated with those attributes. Characters then purchase Feats (6 points at start), gain starting equipment, and choose perks/flaws (optional). For those looking for quick builds, the system does provide a few archetypes from various genres to get the dice rolling.

Overall, this is a great way to create characters who are outside of the box. Its possible to play a powerful wizard who can weild a greatsword like Gandalf or a “totally average person of any walk of life” turned Jedi/Sith as we see throughout Star Wars and the Expanded Universe. In many ways, a character is only limited by one’s imagination and ideas. Other systems have done this like RoleMaster, but that system was super complex, and while I do love that system, I have to admit that its complexity turns a lot of players away. Open Legend streamlines all of this in a manner that is understandable and digestible, encouraging players to really think about who this character is as a person and not what this character’s class makes them able to do.

Minor Quibbles. There are a few things about character creation that I find slightly problematic and none of them are deal-breaking/game-breaking, but I think that addressing them would have made the rules clearer for those new to the system.

  1. Basic Attacks. The Open Legend system allows for “basic” attacks with any attribute, but it doesn’t explain that clearly. For basic weapon attacks, we understand how this works – to attack with a war hammer, use the Might Attribute.  However, what about basic spell/energy attacks? Sure, the description of the Extraordinary Attributes describe what types of effects thos attributes cover, new players may ask, “Well, how do I cast a fire ball?” or “How do I use Force Lightning?” or something similar. As there is no clear statement about that in the rules. Players are left to infer how to decide on their characters magical/mystical/extraordinary attacks work.  Perhaps a few sentences (2-3) on the “Favored Attack” that gets mentioned in the archetypes but never explained in the rules.
  2. Perks/Flaws. I like the idea of this pairing. I like that players have the option to give their characters perks (which provide small, situational mechanical bonuses) and flaws (which can impact roleplaying and storytelling). My one quibble is that this optional ruleset allows for players to take perks without requiring them to take flaws. I’ve already recorded a house rule for my table where perks and flaws must occur as a pair. If you take a perk, you must take a flaw as well.

Boons and Banes are, what some might say, the bulk of the character creation section’s weight. These are, simply put, the effects that your character can manifest in the world around them based upon their attributes. These effects are described in broad, generic terms so that they can be made applicable to any genre. This requires that both players and GMs work together to describe how the effect comes about.  For example the Blinded bane could be the result of a spy/assassin/ninja’s special formula of blinding powder blown into the eyes of an enemy, a necromancer’s spell that clouds the eyes with the darkness of the grave, or with a flash of bright light from a strobe that temporarily disorients someone. I love things like this, because such generalized descriptions encourage storytelling and narration from all parties.

Combat is far simpler than most systems I’ve run. A combat attack is 1d20+Attribute Dice – Target’s Defence. If the number is greater than 0, the attack hits. Any number higher than 0 equals the damage dealt. Simple, straightforward, easy to follow.

Combat Qiubble. To encourage the telling of legendary adventures, Open Legend does not include a resource management aspect to banes/boons/powers/etc. That means that all abilities are always usable. This is both good and bad. As someone who routinely plays healers, I love not worrying about running out of healing abilities. However, I can see this being abused by both players and GMs. Think about it. What’s to stop the wizard from using their most powerful spell each round, ending combat in seconds? What’s to stop the lich from using a deth spell every attack, potentially wiping the floor with the party in under one minute? Resource management systems have beenn complex and frustrating in numerous systems, but they kind of help ensure that TPKs don’t happen if the GM throws a lich or a dragon or Emperor Palpatine at a group of characters who don’t know what these beings are capable of doing (like Luke didn’t know squat about the Emperor in Return of the Jedi). House ruling will be made.

GM Section. The GM section is pretty simple straightforward and simple. It does assume that the GM has GMed before or has at least played a ttrpg before. I like that it encourages milestone experience because that’s easier to manage. The one section I think needs a bit more work is the combat adversary creation section – just a few examples would be nice so that it’s easy to judge the power of ones we create. I would also have liked them to include a sample adventure, the way FantasyAGE does in their core book, but they do have a free one available through their website, so that’s not a big deal.

Final Thoughts. Overall, I’m excited to see the release of Open Legend, and I look forward to exploring it from both sides of the GM Screen. I think it offers a lot of possibilities for players who don’t want to spend thousands on the books of different systems and genres. I think it offers a nice, flexible way to create characters that can be whatever the players envision them to be. I like that the game mechanics are designed to encourage player and GM narration in all aspects of storytelling. That said, I do have a few minor quibbles with clarity and potential system-generosity abuse. All in all, I think it’s a great system that should get more publicity and play. I may see if I can get a group together and stream a few games in the near future to help with that.

So, famous last words:  Give the Open Legend system a go. It won’t replace the existing properties, but it isn’t trying to do so. We don’t need a “Dungeons & Dragons Killer” system. We need systems that provide options for gamers who want different things, and, as much as I love D&D, at its core, it is a strategy game, with far less attention paid to storytelling and roleplay than to combat and mechanics. Open Legend streamlines the mechanics so that the focus can be on the storytelling. And, honestly, isn’t that why we play these games? To tell awesome stories of legendaries heroes?

Game on!