Opening The Gates With Open Legend

When I first heard of Open Legend, I didn’t really give it a second thought. It just seemed like another OGL title that was making the rounds with some major influences from the d20 system.

By the time it came out, I was already officially done with the entire d20 system and didn’t bother with it at all.

Jump to 2017, and a fellow gamer I respect mentioned Open Legend’s Kickstarter, and how Matt Mercer (yes, the Matt Mercer) was part of a writing team for an official setting for the game.

I decided to take the risk, dropped some of the money I was putting to the side specifically to purchase items to review here, and backed the project on Kickstarter to at least purchase the core rulebook and get the PDF for the first setting, Amurea’s Dawn.

Now that I’ve finally had the time to read the PDF and get some of my other review backlog caught up, I thought it was time to give you all the review of the Open Legend core rulebook.

Note: This is the early release of the rulebook. There may be some changes to the finished product. Some content, such as the Table of Contents and Index, are currently not available and may skew some numbers, but the core content (i.e. the rules) are not expected to change.

==The Pitch==

Open Legend is a open-source, community-driven RPG designed to be compatible with any genre.

It started as a website in 2012, and had a successful Kickstarter in 2017 to fund physical copies of the books as well as other products/materials.

==What You Get==

While you can access Open Legend in HTML format (think SRD) for free, you can purchase the core rulebook by pledging on the Open Legend Kickstarter page, with a physical book (and additional bonuses in the form of PDFs) running at $40 via a pledge (and a flat $40 for the pre-order). There’s also the option of purchasing just the PDFs for $35. (Note, this is all as of the time of this writing; prices at retail locations may be different and include different things).

The PDF I have access to is 142 pages (including cover and table of contents placeholders), with 137 of them being numbered pages of the rulebook.

But nothing looks this barren unless it’s artwork done on purpose.

The book and related artwork are in full color, with the artwork spanning multiple genres and sizes. In addition to the rules and artwork, there is a section of the book with sample player characters that, again, span across genres including fantasy (with Eastern and Western flavors), science fiction, and even wild west.

==How It Works==

Mechanically speaking, the game feels like an amalgamation of the d20 system and Savage Worlds. A player rolls a d20 and adds their attribute dice (a pool of d4, d6, d8, or d10s) to the roll against an assigned difficulty, and any die that rolls it’s maximum number will “explode” (meaning another die is rolled and added in). Bonuses and penalties are handled by either adding dice before the roll or removing dice after the roll. Like most RPGs, there are results based on success or failure (including success at a cost and a “moving the story forward” mechanic).

Nerf this!

Characters are built with Attributes (assigned, purchased and derived), Feats (from Feat Points), Perks, and Flaws. Progression is very much like Savage Worlds, Victoriana, and other psuedo-level based games: you gain XP (and therefore Attribute/Feat points to improve), but there are maximums to Attributes until you gain a specific “level ups,” with each of these occurring with every 3 XP.  It also uses a Wealth Score mechanic instead of dealing with math for currency, which also rises with levels.

The game also uses Banes/Boons as a means of performing spells and other similar powerful actions, but they are tied to an Attribute; everything else is narration. For example, if you want to Deafen a target, you can use Agility to perform an ear clap, Energy to create a burst of thunder, or Entropy to use the dark powers to cloud their sense of hearing. These are an interesting cross between special actions (like Fate’s Create an Advantage action, or actions that require special Feats to take in d20 games) and spells/powers (as they require specific attribute levels while often being available for multiple approaches).

Which makes characters like this totally feasible and totally AWESOME.

Combat is also straightforward: you roll your attack roll against your target’s defense (flat), with damage being your margin of success. Weapons only add general bonuses (such as damage types, range, or Banes) and do not add to damage. It’s also a basic it Point system, making it familiar to most.

==The Good==

The game itself is relatively straightforward and, as advertised, is “open.” That alone is a selling point.

One part I love about this game is the emphasis on the “Every Roll Matters” element of the game. I’ve had many games, even in more narrative games, in which a player would fail and someone else would just step up. Star Wars (FFG) had the Advantage/Threat mechanic to help add story elements, but it was all tied to the roll. Fate Core/Accelerated gives a “Success at a Cost” option. 7th Sea includes Opportunities and Complications that can be activated with a good (or poor) roll, allowing for failure but something fun being thrown in.  Open Legend, on the other hand, throws a “Failure, but the Story Progresses” mechanic on top of “Failure at Cost.”

“Failure at Cost” is something that’s been making the rounds, and it’s rather self explanatory: if the roll fails, the player can still succeed if something goes wrong. If they are picking a lock, they might lose their lockpicks, set off a poison trap, or wake up the guards with the loud creak.

Or, ya know, “Summon a Golem To Kill Us All Instead of Opening That Cave Door.”

This “Failure, but the Story Progresses” mechanic is a bit different. If you fail at picking the lock, instead of stalling the story (or having to make another player step up), the GM introduces an element that moves the story forward that may be related to the party’s actions. The in-book example, when a rogue failed to pick a lock, was to have a jailer do their patrol and the party hears the keys they are carrying (an “opportunity for success” option). Other examples include danger increasing for success (in this example, you get the door open but guards are on the other side), “wrong information” (in this example, the door opens but you realize you’ve gone the wrong way or the person you are breaking out isn’t there). This is a type of mechanic I love to see in games and would really love to see used more often (and need to start using it in other games).

There’s even a note on this in the Combat section. That’s a plus.

I’m keen on weapons being more narrative instead of being “The Best Weapon.” In fact, even the weapon known as the Plasmablade (that is clearly not a ripoff of a lightsaber) basically offers rules to sever limbs and offers Banes such as Disarmed. Other weapons have similar qualities by activating Banes on good attacks, and I rather like that as it can make combat more evocative on a good roll beyond “I deal 15 damage!”

I feel like I have a literal armory here.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the artwork here. Most of the artwork is top notch, similar to what I would expect from artists that Wizards of the Coast hires for their card games. Seriously, some of the art I had to do a double take on because it felt as though it should have been on a Magic: The Gathering card.

Seriously, this one made me think of some M:tG cards in my old collection.

==The Bad==

One of my biggest concerns with the game, on paper, is the number game. While the game gives a number of useful charts (a GM screen, homemade or otherwise, is going to be mandatory here), the range of numbers here is a bit of a worry.

For example, there’s a chart that gives you the note of what dice you roll with your d20 (with attributes of 1 rolling a single d4, while attributes of 10, the max, rolling 4d8). The “Everyday” difficulty is 10, while “Legendary” is 30 (explained on another chart). There’s another chart that gives you “Suggested” difficulties based on the Attribute, which starts at 10 (Attribute 0) and rises to 30 via increments of 2. This means that, a character with an Attribute of 10 (d20+4d8) has a “Average” difficulty of 30, but note that an “average” roll of these dice tend to be a 26 (and your character is at their peak). I don’t expect instant successes, but the number game feels a bit odd, as the suggested “averages” are above what an “average” roll is for that level, while at the same time the exploding mechanic makes the game that much harder to prepare a scale for (and can make some Damage Rolls exceedingly deadly; a starting character rolls d20+2d6, meaning a 32 before explosions, while their defenses are around half that).

In the end, it’s just hard to get a feel for the scale. The suggested numbers are a bit wonky and the explosions can make it rather difficult to set your own difficulties (especially since a d6 has a higher chance of exploding than a d8).

Did somebody say “Scale”?

I have a love/hate with the Banes/Boons section, honestly. While I love that they are a mechanical representation of what other games would either make as set powers (that cost points) or as narrative actions, there is a bit of crunch here regarding the required Attribute level to use the power in set ways which can stagnate the game. For example, some effects increase duration, distance, or in some cases, raw results, while others have strict “You cannot do X until you hit this level.”

I’ve been on an anime and superhero kick, so let’s talk about two heroes that I’ve been helping friends stat in other games: Archer from Fate/Stay Night (and Unlimited Blade Works) and the various members of the Green Lantern Corps. Each of these characters create things from energy, whether swords, armor, jets, or even hammers that are larger than life, so we need a power that can replicate this. Thankfully we have the Genesis Boon, which allows you to create things that are non-sentient, so it should be the perfect match for this, right? Not really, as the lower levels just let you create matter, and you can’t create crafted objects (weapons) until your have the Creation Attribute at Rank 9 (which won’t happen anytime soon). Oh, and it takes 8 hours to make it at that level (and 10 minutes at the lowest level), so combat applications are out.

But at least you can LOOK GOOD DOING IT!

The alternative is the Absorb Object talent, which requires only 4 Alteration or Movement, but technically requires the character to already own the object in question and can have it on or “within” them, and this doesn’t include the note that, should the effect be nullified, the objects are “removed.” Not exactly fitting, there.

This sort of scenario leads me to wonder if changing the Boons around to fit would unbalance the game in some places or not, as so much of the game is set on leveling things on a level-based system.

The final concern I have is, quite frankly, the cost. It’s a $40 book for under 150 pages. Part of it may be the art: 25 full page sheets starting at numbered page 1 through 139; that’s almost 1/5 the book as full-page art. This doesn’t include the smaller figures or the 1/2-3/4 page artwords). While lovely, it does get packed in tightly at certain parts (some parts it’s every 2-3 pages) and does cut down on the number of pages available for game information. I guess I just find it odd that a book that’s over twice the size with a license is only $20 more, other licensed materials are even cheaper or in the same range (looked at Dresden Files Accelerated here at $35 at even the original Dresden Files corebook at $40), and that other “original” rulebooks are often WAY cheaper. Honestly, I would have dealt with less art if it meant a lower pricing or more content.

Even if the art is smug like this.

==The Verdict==

I think Open Legend is worthy of 3.5 Buns.

While I have some concerns, they aren’t nearly as bad as some of the other more problematic games I’ve run into. I do feel that things are a bit loose in some areas and over-emphasized in others, but the game has PLENTY of fiddly bits to make it what you want with enough work (i.e. you’ll need a rather high level game for some anime-inspired and certain superhero games, but the narrative elements are interesting). It’s surely not an “out of the box” game without talking to your group (as it lacks a setting and the other story bits), but it’s solid and worth the read if only for a few ideas and the stellar artwork.

And who doesn’t want to play something badassed like this?

Open Legend is available in HTML format and, as of this writing, can be purchased as a PDF and as a physical book (release of the print copied TBD) via the Backerkit page for the project.

==What’s Next?==

As always, I have quite the backlog of stuff I’ve been working on as well as a nice collection of even more things scheduled to arrive. I’ve also been working on getting events scheduled and work done on the shop (new roof and wiring for the shop slated to be done by September!), so there are more than just normal reviews on the horizon.

For the moment,here’s what’s sitting in the oven for you all, in no particular order:

  • A talk on playtesting experience
  • A review of Blades in the Dark: Special Edition (I’m still working on this)
  • “Reviewing” CharCon 2017
  • A review of Star Trek Adventures (PDF for pre-orders just went live; ordering soon)
  • A comparison of real vs bootleg Figma figures
  • Psuedo-Review of Fate/Grand Order
  • Revisiting “Dresden Files Accelerated”
  • Revisiting RPG Hacks. I’ve been working on the Nasuverse, Tokusatsu, and Legend of Zelda hacks this past month and might talk about how those have been panning out.
  • A review of “The Crescent Empire,” the newest book and first non-Theah sourcebook for 7th Sea 2nd Edition, slated for a July PDF release (at least to us backers).
  • Possibly, a review of the newest English-edition of the German RPG, The Dark Eye.
  • Still on the docket/waiting for new materials for Dialect, Cortex Prime, and Scion 2nd Edition.

That about sums up the current backlog. Stay tuned to see what I’ll be delivering next!

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