Legend: A New Take on the D20 Rules

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Credit: Rule of Cool Games

Rule of Cool Games is in the process of playtesting a new RPG called Legend, which offers some fresh ideas on how to use the tried and true D20 rules for fantasy gaming. More than just the work of a couple of guys trying to sell another RPG, the game is built around a community of writers, artists, playtesters, and fans who are all dedicated to producing a quality game.

In addition, the company has been using its efforts to raise money for Child’s Play by asking those interested to “pay what they want” in the form of a donation to the charity — to date they have raised more than $11,000. While the idea of “paying for a beta” might raise a red flag with some readers, rest assured that Rule of Cool is guaranteeing that anyone buying the beta version of the PDF will get a copy of the updated PDF once the final version is published. In other words, at the moment buyers are essentially getting the full game just for the price of a donation to a worthy cause (the offer is valid through January 24, 2012). They also have a long list of incentives that they are releasing as bonus content for every $1,000 they raise.

The Review

Rule of Cool Games was nice enough to send me a PDF copy of the rules so I could provide a review and in short, I have to say I’m impressed. At its heart, Legend is built upon the D20 engine, using the same ability ranges and modifiers, and with the same resolution mechanics (i.e., roll a d20 and match or beat a target number, whether it’s an AC or a DC). Characters are built using races, classes, skills, and feats as well.

However, where Legend begins to diverge is in the class names and design: you can choose from a Barbarian, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sage, Shaman, or Tactician. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with D&D will notice that some notable iconic classes are missing from that list, most notably the fighter, wizard, and cleric. Bards and sorcerers, two staples of D&D 3.x, are also missing. What Legend has done is blended those into other classes as tracks, which is a novel idea and, though it is a bit unusual (you can build your stereotypical “fighter” using a couple of different classes, e.g.), offers a lot of flexibility.

How this works is that each class has three “tracks” which determined what a character can do – the abilities on the tracks are gained every couple levels and fall into three broad categories: offensive, defensive, and utility, although there is quite a bit of overlap between the three. It’s within these tracks that most of what makes each class unique is contained.

The trick with this approach is that it allows for an interesting form of multiclassing in which a character swaps a track from their class with another class, creating a hybrid class that shares the features of both classes without all the complications and oddities associated with multiclassing in the third edition. The inclusion of additional, non-class-specific tracks offer up a tremendous amount of variability to the whole system. Legend takes the same approach with defining a character’s race, using racial tracks to create a unique mix of racial abilities. While the game allows for the familiar races like elves and halflings, it also allows players to build custom races very easily.

The end result is a game where a high degree of customization is possible, allowing a group to build whatever world and setting suits their tastes, whether it be your standard fantasy fare or a steampunk fantasy world populated by clockwork automatons.

Legend takes a similar departure from the standard OGL rules with class progression, encounter building, and combat rules. The end result is an interesting, though in places uneven, adaptation of the SRD material. Perhaps my biggest criticism of the entire approach is simply that in places it doesn’t go far enough in abandoning the OGL rules: after reading the character creation rules I expected a similar degree of innovation to be applied to the rest of the rule set. That’s a fairly minor complaint though considering the game is still in development and I expect future iterations are likely to continue to introduce innovativee tweaks to the rules.

Verdict
Taken as a whole, I think there’s a lot of good things in Legend. It’s got a cool character building approach and a fresh look on how to use the OGL for fantasy gaming. If anything though it doesn’t go far enough. The same level of innovation that went into the character creation rules isn’t evident in the combat rules, and in many places (the aforementioned monsters, e.g.), it’s notably lacking. In the end I think Legend is worth checking out for those who like D&D 3.5 – it has an interesting new approach to character building and it might just be the fix they’ve wanted. At the very least it may give them something they can incorporate into their own game. Best yet you can help out some needy children in the process. That’s a game where everyone wins.

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