Legacy 2e
Vertical On-Ramps

We took a crack at starting up Legacy last night. We’re using the second edition rules. It’s gonna be a lot harder to decode this thing than I thought!

First, storytime.

We went with two Ruins (standard gritty-apocalypse flavor) and one Echoes (advanced tech/sci-fi) families. The way setup works, the family books you pick set the tone(s) you’ll play in the game. So if you went all gritty then there would be only gritty playbooks, or all Echoes it’d be all sci-fi. The third tone is called Mirrors, which is gonzo shit like crashed starfarers and kaiju hunters. As I read it, you can play with any or all of the tones at once. Our game just has Ruins and Echoes. The tones chosen at family creation constrains the playbooks you pick at character creation. This is fucking awesome.

Camelot (Tyrant Kings Queens) are the de facto political power of the homeland, with scattered villages swearing fealty to the Queen at the center. The Seneschal, the Queen’s advisor, is an Elder (Agent) who goes out into their lands to get shit done. They have a surplus of weapons and land, and they need spies (not enough communication with their own villages), transportation (they have a few horses), and recruits (there are literally less than 10 “knights” prepared to defend a really big area). It’s all ren-faire chivalry dress-up, super weird and fun and primitive, so primitive.

Dawnbreak (Lawgivers) live embedded amongst Camelot’s scattered villages. They’re descended from the last of the US military’s old divisions, with families and identities drawn from that. Old-school defend-the-weak-from-mosters folks in an uneasy alliance with the Camelot folks. Eltee Naomi Delta is a Hunter (Agent) who represents the basic monster-hunting mode of Dawnbreak. They’ve got working trucks and individually can defend themselves well, but need weapons (everything’s patched together), leadership (there are no leaders, just individual badasses) and recruits (there’s like 8 of them left).

Enoch (Enclave) is the sci-fi twist, a tiny, shrinking colony of clones hoping to pull the world up and out of the darkness. There are five clone strains, decanted to always maintain three generations in each of five academic fields. So there’s always an Elder, Ascendant and Child Medic, Historian, Engineer, etc. So that’s a total 15 people in that “family.” Engineer Afriel Child is a Scavenger (Rebel) who thinks the Enochians are hoarding their knowledge to the detriment of the homeland, and has headed out to help Camelot’s population with basic stuff like hygiene and plumbing. Enoch has a surplus of engineering and progress (ie impractical nerd shit) and needs defense, leadership and morale (ie they can’t protect themselves and are one bad raid away from disappearing or collapsing in despair).

So, pretty great setup! Oh and did I mention that the world ended when genetically engineered super-soldiers, which had all developed into approximate models of ancient gothic monsters (vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.) had brought the world down? The whole setting is crawling with these things, Grim Dawn or The Witcher style, along with a dose of killer robots and the occasional dragon. Because their ancestors seemed to think they could domesticate and weaponize dragons.

The other bit of setup, and I think it’s one of Legacy’s many killer apps, is the A Quiet Year style shared-map creation game. Each family book comes with three sets of three Landmarks. Players take turns adding landmarks to an actual drawn map and tying it into the growing fiction. You also add other implied setting stuff, like where your Family is based (your Lifestyle choice on the Family playbook, so like the secret underground lab the Enochians live in) or villages (implied by the Tyrant King book) and so on. We ended up with plenty of very cool interlocking map bits and lots of implied threats, both internal and external.

Actually playing the game was rough sledding. We didn’t have a lot of time, about 90ish minutes, but I wanted to carry out their first session advice, which is to have all the focus characters working together to help each other out. I assumed that meant character play, not family play. Okay, no problem: Enoch’s rebel grrrl, Afriel, is at the outskirts of Camelot with another young clone patching up the sick and injured, Camelot’s agent, the Seneschal, is in the same village dragging unwilling soldiers into The Queen’s ranks, and Dawnbreak’s agent Eltee is following a lead about mysterious monsters that have been predating the village.

It took us a little bit to find our character footing and figure out how to start making rolls. Legacy leans far less on rolls driving the action the way Apocalypse World does, so we started with a lot of talky-talky play where they’re just doing things. But they want to get shit done and they want to roll dice and make moves and they want firm outcomes rather than just, you know, talking about shit. Happily a Friendly Face roll (Afriel goes looking for an old friend in the village) finally coughed up a 7-9, so I had the old friend turn out to be in the throes of turning into a vampire, with the rest of the family either dead or, in the case of their 12 year old daughter, already turned. Some action, some defending, we got to make some rolls and finally felt out what character moves, at least, feel like.

The Character Move list feels short, and covers very few things. Like, the game likes it when there are “devices.” That’s cool but there’s also a thing where if you Fiercely Assault one of your successful-roll outcomes is “you scavenge something valuable, gain a device.” So the GM should expect that, if folks want to play with the Unleash Power move and use a device, they may very well go to Fiercely Assault to make that happen. Or Wasteland Survival, which can also cough up devices. The game’s various reward cycles are still obscure to me but we’ll learn them.

My big takeaway is that the fact that Legacy looks like PbtA makes me go looking for all the conventional affordances I find in many other PbtAs. But Legacy is a funhouse version of that model, with moves that aren’t organized where I expect to find them (as Christian Griffen pointed out in another thread, the “please tell me things” move is in the family moves sheet, with a different tell-me-things move listed as “peripheral” for reasons I cannot fathom), broken up across two different modes of play, and not really strongly colored with genre flavor. Sometimes they’re skills-y, sometimes they’re fiction-trigger-y, sometimes they’re the first move in an economic cycle you need to fire off (gain a device, earn a Surplus, etc.). That last bit, firing reward cycles, feels like most gameplay-important to me.

Moves in Legacy feel big. As in, they have really broad triggers and really broad outcomes. Mostly it’s self-evident: getting out of trouble is Defuse and starting trouble is Fiercely Assault and talking to folks is Find Common Ground. So I guess it’s more accurate to say the game does bring genre flavor but it’s not the adventure-in-the-wasteland genre so much as the community-organizers-in-the-wasteland genre. Which isn’t a genre we really understand or can fall back on outside experience to model. But the moves all aim at that vibe, and that’s neat: you Find Common Ground and Defuse and Call for Aid. If Apocalypse World is a meditation on the application and consequences of violence, Legacy treats violence as one of many tools in the toolbox of building and defending your community.

Unfortunately we did not get a chance to get through any of the Family moves. Another killer app of Legacy if you don’t know: there are two moves sheets and two modes of play, and when you’re in one of them (Character or Family) you have access only to your character’s moves and the Character Moves sheet. And that feels weird as fuck, to be honest, as my brain goes scrabbling around for Apocalypse World affordances. If I want to roll a “please tell me something” move, that’s at the Family level, as a council of your faction’s leaders hash out what they know at a very 40,000-feet abstract level. If you want families to work together toward some cause, well, that’s Conduct Diplomacy and that’s not something an individual character does. I suppose you could set up that roll in the fiction via the character-level Find Common Ground move, but the scales are intentionally separate.

If I had a specific bit where I feel most unsure, it’s how and when to move from character play to family play. But maybe more than that, it’s how much of either I should expect to engage in. Is Legacy 50/50? Is it mostly families and the little character vignettes? Or is it mostly characters, with family moves basically serving as downtime type activities you’d find in Blades in the Dark or Mutant: Year Zero? The book doesn’t really address that and I assume it’s up to the players to feel that out for themselves.

One neat trick the game has is that there are moves called Zoom In and Zoom Out, which procedurally transitions folks from one focus to the other. That’s neat. There’s also a catchall move that stirs the pot called In Want. I kind of wish we’d started play with one of those rolls.

Because Legacy is such an odd duck compared to games more firmly in the Apocalypse World family, there are things in the book I felt were missing or under-explained, particularly for people coming from the parallel reality of PbtA. I think they’ll mostly work themselves out, but learning how to play this game is gonna take unlearning how we’ve played other games that look similar but are by no means comparable.

Your first Age is supposed to be short, so I’m thinking we’ll just make some Family moves and then move the clock ahead to the next Age. I feel like a lot of the game will reveal itself when we do those two things, and then we can start thinking more about how to get the moves and the play levels to start interacting. I’m reminded a lot of the earliest games of Sagas of the Icelanders I played, where I had no idea what to do with the game’s Fate economy or how to really leverage the man/woman moves split. Honestly Legacy feels a whole lot like that, with Resources instead of Fate and character/family moves being the place to look for fruitful tension.

21 thoughts on “Legacy 2e

  1. Great write-up. Can you potentially tie Family moves to the fiction and just make them when fictionally appropriate? Or do you really have to segue into another mode that’s more like “let’s see how folks react to all the stuff that happened in Character mode”?

  2. You specifically fire the moves only when you’re in that mode of play. It’s super specific that way.

    I’m not sure if family play will react to character moments or if character play is there to carry out family goals. Probably it’s supposed to be both, right? Like, you could probably just do one or the other. I could see using family play as a campaign generator type thing, like using Mighty Empires to set up Warhammer battles. That seems obvious. But maybe if you really wanted the game to be more character-driven, then family play becomes downtime play in support of what the characters are up to.

    My gut tells me, mostly based on the existence of the Quick Character rules (little half-sheet playbooks you toss together if there’s no reason for focus characters to be together), that Jay Iles doesn’t really want the game to be super character-driven. It’s a small-ish worry I have, tbh, because pretty much all my players heavily prefer character-driven play. So it might feel weird or unsatisfying to them to play the worldbuilding game at the expense of the character experience.

    I also feel like the paucity of character moves points at deprioritizing character play. The game feels quite purposeful in its design decisions. So far I trust that they’re there for good reasons.

  3. Oh! My favorite moment of emergent play in the session:

    Afriel goes to the Gashouse, an old abandoned gas station from the World Before that’s been updated, you know, with thatched roof and adobe walls and just generally repurposed. She’s going to find her old friend Aden, the result of the Familiar Face roll. Afriel hears muffled groans and yelps inside, hears what sounds like a struggle.

    She opens the door and can see Aden writhing around on the floor, gasping and choking. As the sunlight from the open door touches him, he howls “close the dooooor!” and starts smoking and writhing.

    Then Jonathan Perrine, thank god he’s watching the moves sheet looking for triggers (everyone is because nothing triggers when or how you think it will) says “…hey, is this Unearthing Forgotten Lore?

    I look at the description: when you uncover a landmark or custom from the past and we’re all OH HELL YES THIS IS A CUSTOM FROM THE PAST. So they rolled and learned about vampires.

    This is why I say it’s super-weird that Unearth Forgotten Lore is considered a “peripheral move.” It seems like a pretty fundamental tool, and kind of a guideline for the GM to position a lot of what they perceive in terms of “customs from the past.” Or maybe it’s better than I don’t, actually, and leave it to the players to be constantly evaluating what they see in those terms. Dunno. I can see the merit of both.

  4. Listening!
    And, yeah, it’s a bit of an odd duck and no mistake. To answer a few questions so far:
    1. The core/peripheral split for characters is intended to be a matter of how often they’re used – the Defuse/Assault/Unleash/Find Common Ground/Lend Aid set are usable in most situations, whereas Forge a Path, Unearth Forgotten Lore and Familiar Face are more intended as useful tools to add spice to play. If you really want to delve into the truth behind a particular piece of weird Tech, you use Unearth Forgotten Lore (and I accept the trigger for that one, in particular, is pretty hinky).
    2. The intended dynamic with Family play is that you move to it when you want to advance the overall state of the world, and use Family moves to set up problems or opportunities in the world for the characters to solve.
    3. For ‘tell me more’ moves, bad experiences with Discern Realities made me want to try out not giving players one and handling it through the Gumshoe route – if you look, the GM will tell you what you find (see p. 52). These days I’ve cooled on that a little, and realise that they serve as ‘tell me how this situation is going to get interesting‘ levers. As for having multiple of them at the Family level – we wanted a distinction between finding information from someone else (diplomacy) and cashing in Data to come to a realisation yourself and proactively adding things to the map (Uncover Secrets).

    Thanks so much for this insightful writeup – I’ve lived Legacy for a half-dozen years now so it’s sometimes hard to see its idiosyncracies. Do tag me into future ones, as it’s always useful to see what jumps out as a stumbling block or an awesome feature to people coming at the game with fresh eyes!

  5. Jay Iles oh I will, and thanks for stopping in.

    Yeah, I think there are bad and good “tell me” moves. The ones that force interesting or unwanted new details are my favorite! The Legacy versions are fine, just very different. Habits are hard to break — Legacy is kind of in the uncanny valley of PbtA games.

  6. I agree with your assessment that it’s not nearly as character driven as other PbtA. That’s the main habit we had to break. Basically, we now go in and out of character focus a lot more. Rather than looking for that level to push things, we are at the family level until there’s a scene where character action is either very interesting and/or resolves something. Getting into character scenes is easy with all that’s going on from a thousand prompts; the trick is to pull back to family level right after.

    It feels a bit like a chronological Microscope game. Set up an age. Create big events at the family level. Think about whether a character scene would be crucial or cool for that event. If yes, do it and return to the higher level. If no, go to next big event. When enough events have occurred, turn to the next age.

  7. Aha, the Microscope comparison really makes sense to me. Also, that sounds a lot like the Game of Thrones TV show, where you only show the punchy scenes and let everything else just happen in the background, off camera. Or like the way Undying has you play out these very specific nights in the long history of being vampires.

  8. I think it’s cool that even if you Find A Bunch Of Common Ground with everyone in another family that you come across, that you actually still can’t get their family to work together with yours. That’s pretty hot.

  9. Jason Corley oh yeah that’s an interesting wrinkle of the game, the fact that family and character moves don’t mechanically interlock at all except to position the fiction in one direction or the other. I sort of expected to see Advantage as a benefit of Common Ground for example. I need to explore that more.

  10. So this was very interesting, given I’m about to start a Legacy game soon. I couldn’t work out where you’d got the bit about “have all the focus characters working together to help each other out” in the first session. Is that in the book somewhere? It feels like not particularly good advice for what (I think) the game is meant to do, and reading this I wondered if that was why you had such trouble triggering moves.

  11. Joshua Fox it’s page 18 –
    “STEP 5: BEGIN
    Once all the characters are made, it’s time to start the game. The character’s role moves should give each of them a driving mission to work on, and each Family’s needs tell you what things they’re trying to find in the wasteland.
    For your first age, start with the characters helping each other out to pursue their role missions, taking occasional breaks to show the family level and work out what sort of things they’re working on. I’d recommend being explicit about the level you’re playing at – Family or Character – to minimise the amount of moves and rules players have to worry about at any given time. The GM should bear in mind the threats created as you built the homeland when they think of ways to complicate a character’s pursuit of their desires.
    Your first age should be a short one – the threats shouldn’t contain many hidden surprises, and as a group focus on exploring the world over fighting each other for supplies and resources.
    Flesh out each family through their interactions with the characters, get used to the game’s moves and the setting you’ve built, and then trigger The Turning of Ages to enter your second era. Now all bets are off – threats will be many and varied, the political situation can be as thorny as you like, and this is a great time to start working on one of the wonders described in Chapter 10.”

    Though I’d definitely also recommend considering the sidebar on that page to maybe flatten these off-ramps a bit!

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