We finally played a full, not-set-up session of Legacy last night. It was interesting and fun! And I can already feel the edges of what will end up ending the game for us.
Due to various family scheduling things, we only had 3ish hours to play. But you know, I feel like we cover so much ground so fast in Legacy that 3ish hours is fine. That’s the big take-away for me from this session, if this ends up tl;dr for you: the move sets and the zoomed-out action at the Family level makes the whole thing feel a bit abstract. I do find myself missing the tighter character focus of my favorite PbtAs, but I’m also intrigued by the speed at which events spool out.
I started the session recapping (it’s been two weeks, we’re mostly old and forgetful these days) our first session. Not a lot had happened that first time around, so I kind of pitched it as a vignette of life in our world: here’s the knights on horseback, here’s the weird superscience clones handing out aid, oh and also underground vampire lairs. We could either call it good and jump an Age, or dive back in. Since nobody had had more than, like, an hour with their characters, they wanted to stick around.
Lots of the evening was spent experimenting with the Family moves and learning how to push the economies around. There are basically three interlocking economies, and some loose ways to manipulate them. The big one is gaining and losing Resources, of which there are lots but they all get manipulated in the same way: you can snag ‘em via treaty from other players’ Families, or you can go out in the world and get them. Curing Needs is math-identical to gaining Surplus, at least until you’ve addressed all your Needs. So it’s kind of whatever the players find interesting.
EDIT: the other two economies are Tech and Data. I’ll talk about them in a different post.
The affordance to grab a resource either comes from the Family-level Uncover Secrets move, or diegetically, EDIT or by cashing in Treaty on another family to take their stuff. Nobody has had the guts, yet, to pull this last one. That second one is tricksy and I feel like the players really need to telegraph their intent/expectation that something they’ve spotted inside the fiction at the character level is, in fact, a big enough deal to warrant counting as a resource. I don’t know that anyone’s comfortable with that yet, so they’re all sticking with Uncover Secrets and letting me, as facilitator, specifically tell them “this is how to get your Surplus” or “this is how to deal with your Need.” It’s fine and a little mother-may-I. We will probably evolve past this.
We had two zoom-ins last night, both featuring the Quick Character rules. I really do dig the Quick Character concept, and I’m calling it out as an IGRC-trademarked Killer App of Legacy. The first bit got shaped up via Dawnbreak’s (they’re the Lawgiver family) Conduct Diplomacy move, in which they scored a meeting with Camelot’s (they’re the Tyrant King family) Queen. This whole sequence really highlighted for me some good ways to put the Family move set to use: there are times where you’re just better off dealing with things at the character level. Like, mechanically. In the case of Dawnbreak, their focus character has a move, Hunter for Hire, that lets her swap in Force for Sway when they make the Find Common Ground move and use their combat skills as leverage. You can’t model any of that at the Family level, so this is a very slick combo.
The resulting meet between Dawnbreak’s focus character and Camelot’s Queen was terrific. The Tyrant King’s focus character was super well suited to the meet, and had lots of good scheming to do. We made a Quick Character of Earl Michael, a badass noble of one of Camelot’s farflung towns and a good pretender to the throne. It didn’t really take long to get up to speed, although it was our very first Quick Character and it’s not so quick the first time! You need to assign stats and pick a couple moves. Because those characters go into binders for future use, you also kind of don’t want to design them super specifically for right-now stuff. Well maybe you do! But in our case they decided to go with the big picture of what they were thinking the Earl was about.
Lots of good talk, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on playing the Queen, and we wrapped the whole thing up with, I think, just one roll of Find Common Ground. Yeah. I think it really was just the one final “how did this shake out?” roll. Then they zoomed back out, did a big assault on an NPC, and that was that. The whole sequence felt very on-brand for what Legacy offers.
The other slick combo came with the Ark (the Enclave family) looking to secure a big weird computer that’s been dragged deep into some spooky ruins as an object of worship by these vampire things straight out of I Am Legend. Right so the Ark nerds are terribad at kicking ass, and they should be, right? Claim By Force is the Family move, and it’s based on Grasp, and the Ark’s grasp is not how they get shit done. So we kind of fumbled through some maneuvering of the moves, this time focused on risk-amelioration: Calling in Debts and Lending Aid, mostly, to nail down important Family moves. I think there’s a bit of patience needed to really optimize the Family level of play, both to get what you want but also to identify the right moments to Zoom In on.
The second zoom-in featured two Quick Characters, with an expedition into the vampire-infested ruins led by the Arc’s focus character, a Scavenger. Once the players saw the good goodies you get when you Zoom Out after playing a QC, they were quite a lot more enthusiastic about it. I feel like everyone still got to make moves and play hard and be involved, but also their eyes were always on their Families’ various prizes. We also spent some time nailing down what is outside “safe areas,” mostly to facilitate the Scavenger’s good move powers that only fire off when they’re in “wasteland areas.”
At the end of the session I felt like I could see just how our game will end. I don’t know how many more sessions we have in this Age, I hope not many, but there’s kind of a hiccup here. On the one hand, the trigger to end an Age is “when you feel you’ve dealt with the threats and opportunities of the current Age.” That’s a gut check. There’s nothing mechanical about this, and that’s good and necessary. But! At the same time the The Age Turns move is a +Mood roll, and the players of course are gonna want to make that roll with their Mood on the plus side. Well…Mood is rendered as Surplus minus Need. And they have all kinds of tools – specifically the Uncover Secrets Family move – to address both of those things. I fear we’re gonna get stalled out in that: they’re going to want Mood +3, and will keep Uncovering Secrets until they’ve made it happen. And I’m not sure that facilitating the game actually gives me the authority to say “nope, you’ve dealt with the threats and opportunities, you’re done, just roll.” I’m gonna have to rely on the good will of the players to get us through that, I think.
Some of that tension, I think, comes from the abstractedness of all of Legacy. Like, character action is very much grounded in getting shit done rather than following their lives around. I mean I did my level best to introduce hot character drama when I could! Like Camelot’s focus character is now faced with the very real possibility of overthrowing his own Queen and placing Earl Michael at the “head” of the family to gain a Leadership surplus. That was all generated via Family moves, and I’m proud of that outcome, but that’s definitely on the GM’s shoulders to make happen. The Ark’s stuff is all very practical and impersonal, because their problems are practical (defense of the Ark) and impersonal (fix the big dam that supplies their power). That’s on me! But it’s definitely the big load I’ve recognized I must take on, because without that personal investment, the game can very quickly become a boardgame-type abstraction. And nearly everything about the game tugs everyone in that direction.