RPG Reviews – Legendlore (Manuscript Preview)

I’ve never played myself in a roleplaying game. Sure, I’ve inserted elements of my personality, consciously or unconsciously, as we all do, but playing Me as a character is a step I’ve never taken. Perhaps in part I’m self-conscious about accuracy or don’t feel I would best represent myself in the situations in which an RPG protagonist would find themselves. Over the years I’ve seen that kind of individual game mentioned – “we’re playing ourselves in D&D” or “What if we were all turned into vampires?” but there aren’t many published games with that as the premise – Legendlore is one of them and is currently mid-Kickstarter! What’s cool is that anyone can access the manuscript at this time of writing in order to check it out for themselves. You will need a copy of the D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook to make full use of the game.

Based on the Legendlore and The Realm comics, the premise of the game is people from our world find a way to cross over to a fantasy world and find themselves changed into denizens of The Realm. With memories and personality intact, they become wizards, warriors, elves, and orcs and engage in great adventure, becoming Legends in their own right. Entry relies on a “Crossing” – which can be an object or location or anything really, that allows entry (one- or two-way) into the Realm. The 80s setting has been updated to reflect a more modern audience.

Characters

Who you are in the Realm is very interesting and very well-executed. This is an inclusive world and any changes you undergo are only to best match your identity. For example, regardless of whether you were assigned female or male at birth, in the Realm you are who You are. This feature covers all facets of a person from our world – they will be represented by the elements they consider to be part of their essential self. If you wear glasses you will only have them if they are integral to your sense of self, otherwise your vision is 20/20. If you use technological assistance like wheelchairs or pacemakers, they will function normally. You” can even be a You from a different point in your life or who took a different path. As the emphasis is on presenting You in this world, you might not want to send over the You who has kids and a family that you can’t live without, so the freshman college You crosses. The possibilities are completely open and presented very respectfully.

Everyone who crosses also gains a Legend. This is a noteworthy element to them which provides character creation elements and mechanical benefits when acting out the Legend. An Avatar of Peace will have advantages when brokering a ceasefire, for example. There are a few initial examples and new ones are easy to create.

While a newcomer may remain Human in the Realm, there are rules for a variety of other “Realmborn” peoples. Elves, Dwarves, and Hairfoots (halflings) are joined by Trolls, Orcs, and Pixies, all of whom are presented three-dimensionally and without a sense of biological determinism in their Ability Scores. Ability Score bonuses are linked to culture, rather than inherent, and you may decide they are not applicable and choose a class-based bonus instead. It’s simple and easy and removes some of the unpleasant implications of classic F20 roleplaying. Also, if you do choose the cultural bonus for a Troll or Orc, among your bonuses include Charisma, or Intelligence/Wisdom, which is a nice change from the usual presentation of those peoples.

All core rules Classes are present with new Archetypes available. They’re all closely tied to the setting but could likely be brought into other games. I particularly like the Fighter Archetypes: the guardian/warlord all-woman “White Unicorns” and the Fighter-not-Ranger “O’koth Rangers”, and the Warlock Patrons: “Demon of the Shadowlands” and “The Last Unicorn”, which remind me of the fairyland nature of old fantasy novels and movies. Two new classes are added, both showing how Visitors have changed the Realm: Alchemist and Gunslinger. Rudimentary scientists, Alchemists will provide enhancement and assistance to their allies through the use of Spell Potions, bombs, mutagens, poisons, or homunculi. Gunslingers are pretty self-explanatory, and are very efficient ranged combatants.

New Backgrounds are offered for both Visitors and Realmborn. They’re expansive and present great roleplaying opportunities. Activists would be very interesting in a fantasy world, as would those “Born into Wealth”, those who trained as “Medical Professionals”, or of course, the “Roleplaying Aficianados” who are able to use their metaknowledge of fantasy roleplaying to their advantage. The Realmborn backgrounds are focused on the geopolitical area from which the character hails and less on vocations and upbringings, though the core rulebook can provide those, or the Visitor backgrounds could also be applied. There are some very nice new Feats, applicable in and out of combat or when casting spells, none of which strike me as being unbalanced (if that’s something you care about).

Magic gets some nice flavor and rules applied to it. Magic users are able to enhance their spells by drawing deeper on the Source, but at risk of fatigue, injury, or death. The rules are very simple, so easily made use of. Due to the nature of the Realm, some spells function differently or not at all, mainly those that involve summoning or interacting with other Planes. There are a variety of new spells and invocations and a list of Rituals that look like they would be delightfully entertaining set pieces for scenes like “Prison of the Ages” or “Open Crossing.” Most interdimensional effects will be found as Rituals in Legendlore. Magic items specific to the game naturally include fantasy artifacts, but also a number of technological items like mechanical limbs and pocketwatches.

Setting

The Realm is positioned as a crossroads of worlds, though most Visitors come from Earth. It’s made up of one perfect “Fantasy” continent surrounded by water and divided by the Black Mountains. It’s culturally diverse and sexuality/gender-inclusive, and institutional bigotry is nonexistent. There may be individuals who hold bigoted opinions, but they are admonished or socially excluded.

The history of East Azoth is concise and clear. Jerkass humans (who may have been introduced from our world) started wars with the indigenous peoples and only made peace after committing acts so heinous they utterly horrified themselves. Following that peace there was a centuries-long war with a warlock, then the Orcs – in a war that showcases deeper motivation for Orcs than stereotypical “rampaging hordes.” While the land is now at peace, old enemies wait for the time to strike.

One of the particularly cool parts of the setting is similar to what one might encounter in a post-apocalyptic “future-Earth” game – elements of our world that have been established in the Realm. Architecture, belief systems, technology (clockwork and blackpowder are in various stages of development), and other aspects all appear here and can make for very flavorful features. It also shows the Realm can change and therefore You can change it. Languages are predominantly derived from or exactly similar to a variety of Earth languages.

The various lands of the Realm receive a good amount of detail – plenty to get a clear picture of the people, geography, and culture, and the entries present significant NPCs and plot seeds (that work for a variety of character levels). Bits and pieces of Earth are scattered among them, in names, religions, trappings, and (no spoilers) sometimes literally. There are intrigues to be involved in, ancient ruins to explore, wilderness to travel, and enemies to best.

The bestiary/antagonists chapter includes a number of Realm versions of classic creatures and some new ones rooted to the setting. It’s highlighted that XP is gained if the obstacle is overcome and the game encourages avoiding combat. Interestingly enough, a few of the combat-related Feats involve the increase of damage, so I wonder if those weren’t introduced to increase the lethality of the setting and discourage fighting as a solution. In fact, the GM’s section mentions stressing consequences for actions and how marauding isn’t remotely acceptable in the Realm.

On that note, the Gamemaster’s section is very good. It contains universal advice on story creation and pacing, group management, and three-dimensional characters. Most importantly it discusses elements of gamemastering critical to a game where the player characters are direct representations of the players themselves, like the importance of Session Zero, setting expectations, and safety tools.

Though I’ve enjoyed “Otherworld Fantasy” fiction like “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “Guardians of the Flame” or “The Fionavar Tapestry” (admittedly those are all dated and have some elements I’m not so fond of in retrospect), I’ve never seriously considered running a game using a similar premise.

However, the way Legendlore is presented – the richness of the setting, the metaphysics of Crossing, the presentation and respect for Identity, and the demolishing of a number of problematic fantasy tropes make me want to play it. I can see it as a great way to introduce new players to RPGs without overwhelming them with setting lore and assumed fantasy roleplaying conventions. The setting is bursting with cool secrets that would be great revelations during plotlines, the character options are great, and it promises epic adventure!

The Kickstarter for Legendlore is currently running and can be pledged to here:

Legendlore Kickstarter

The manuscript is available at the link below:

DriveThruRPG

One thought on “RPG Reviews – Legendlore (Manuscript Preview)

  1. Pingback: Legendlore Victorious! [Monday Meeting Notes] – Onyx Path Publishing

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