Musings on Legend

Written By: Stephen Dove - Nov• 14•13

The world of Legend for me, is one of the most enduring FRP settings of all time, and I know I am not alone in holding that view. On the surface, this is a surprising statement, since as Dave Morris himself confesses, Legend was only ever meant to be a reflection of our own world, albeit seen ‘through a glass darkly’. We can only accept Dave’s word that Legend started out in this modest fashion, but I would suggest that along the way it somehow became suffused with an indefinable, yet distinct flavour; a curious mixture of horror and Fey eeriness that is quite different to even ostensibly similar (and perhaps even derivative) settings, like Ars Magica’s ‘Mythic Europe’.

Yet for all of its charm, Legend also has problems. As an arena to tell a certain kind of story in, it is unparalleled; but the fact remains that there is a lack of ‘sub-structure’ to build these stories upon. Indeed the only guide we have for creating new adventures is to look at the old ones we liked, and try to analyze why they worked. This is like having a legal system where there are no principals of law and everything is decided by the outcomes of past cases; things become messy, incoherent and contradictory very fast.

Indeed it is no accident that many GMs feel inadequate to the task of creating new adventures set in Legend. No less a luminary than Ian Sturrock of Serpent King Games has recently confessed to feeling exactly like this after finishing all the adventures in the books. In his defense, he was at school at the time, and at that stage I can remember feeling exactly the same. It is almost as if the very ‘Legend flavour’ that makes the world so distinct, is also a barrier to creating new stories set within its compass; perhaps because we instinctively understand that many kinds of stories ‘don’t fit’, but we can’t quite explain why and so cannot tweak them until they do feel right. This is because we lack a yardstick or set of landmarks or principals to guide us.

I have my own theory as to why this might be true, and that is simply that Legend lacks any sort of mechanism to explain how the world came to be. That, many would argue, is one of the setting’s strengths; because then ‘anything goes’. Yet as we have already explored above, that isn’t true! Try running an ‘orc bash’ in the middle of a classic Dragon Warriors adventure and you’ll quickly discover how dissonant the resulting tone of such an adventure will be. Having said that, one of Legend’s appeals is certainly that there aren’t great swathes of canon history or lore nailed down and if one can ‘decode’ the key to ‘Legend flavour’ then this lack of canon can indeed free a canny GM to create many different types of adventure.

However, I’ve found that Legend is a particularly difficult setting to run a long series of linked scenarios in; possibly because the lack of an overall ‘internal logic’ means that it’s easy to create adventures that, whilst ticking the ‘Legend flavour’ box are somehow dissonant with each other and so are ultimately unsatisfying. Indeed, I will confess that I find this is even true of some of the canon adventures; that they contain the essence of Legend and yet don’t sit easily with one another.

The ‘internal logic’ problems¬† of Legend extend to the conceits of the world. What do I mean by ‘conceits’? Well, whilst the ‘history’ of Legend is very loose, the following assumptions are hard-wired into the setting;

1) That the ‘old gods’ (and by this I mean many of the Fey and other ‘monsters’ as well as the Old Gods themselves) seemingly predate the the True Faith and the One God.

2) That these ‘monsters’ are not merely very powerful animals that fit into the ‘normal’ ecosystem of the world, as they do in many FRP settings. In Legend, there is something dream-like, eerie and otherworldly about even the oh so humble goblin. So we are left with the question, where did they come from?

3) That magic exists and further, that only certain people (bloodlines?) can wield this power; i.e. Sorcerors, Elementalists etc. Yet the source of magic is nowhere explained.

4) That many monsters are bound by arbitrary and seemingly convenient ‘covenants’ that prevent them ‘taking over the world’; such as the fact that some creatures seem bound to a certain place or must follow certain rules.

5) That despite coming after the Old Gods, the One God is in fact, the True Creator. And that he and those who worship him have some kind of ‘true power’ that is not magic but which sometimes changes reality via ‘miracles’ and is also manifest in the various ‘holy relics’ that exist.

6) That much of the world of Legend goes on without being much affected by magic or monsters, and often largely resembles medieval Europe around the 10-13th century AD.

These conceits as they are written are both blessings and curses; they are blessings, because they leave the GM free to put his own stamp on the world and to come up with his own answers. This makes the setting flexible and some would say, mystical. They are curses though, because unless the GM bothers to answer these questions for him/herself, then they’re likely to end up telling dissonant stories. Players will unconsciously try and piece together all of the mythology and if it doesn’t fit then it will bother some of them (I am one of those it would REALLY bother) even if they don’t know quite what’s wrong. It will happen like this because most of us unconsciously look for the ‘rules’ of any story we are told, because we have been taught to expect consistency in tone from stories from movies and books. So unless you answer the questions raised by the above conceits, then you may end up giving your players dissonant answers to these questions; much as I feel some of the existing canon adventures do. Of course it won’t kill the game, but it will lessen it’s impact.

It was musings like this, that provoked us to put a clear and up front creation myth behind our own world of Mundus. That one story answers all such questions for our new setting at a stroke and was originally inspired by decades of Gaming in half a dozen home-brew worlds that all resembled Legend in one way or another. With such a creation myth, we have a much clearer idea of what fits and what does not, because we know how the world came to be. This makes the GM’s task much easier when it comes time to fashioning adventures and I would recommend that all GMs using Legend go through the same process of world-building themselves, to make sense of these conceits and give themselves a framework to build upon. It doesn’t matter if you come up with completely different answers to us; sometimes, asking the questions is enough to provoke and inspire some truly epic world-building. Anyway, have fun in the Cobwebbed Forests!

 

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