Legacies, Part I

Posted on July 21, 2012 by


I’ve always wanted to run a game where the players all begin as level 0 commoners, faced with a challenge of slightly heroic proportions.  Maybe they learn of an assassination plot against a member of the royal family, or find themselves defenseless as goblins come to attack their home village, something where normal people have to rise to the occasion and do something incredible.

Based on the decisions made by the players, I would end the game by choosing a class and skills for each character.  They would evolve organically from game to game based on how they were played, one feat or power at a time.

While I’ve never been able to run my “evolution” style game, it will perpetually remain on the back burner of my mind.  What I have done, however, is put into practice the next best thing; something that I call the Legacy system.

Most of the time I’m going to be recommending ways for a DM to cut down on the amount of time they spend preparing for game, but the Legacy system is different.  It requires a truly stupid amount of extra work.

In my first item post I discussed designing weapons for your players to give their heroes a unique playstyle, and Legacies are an extension of that.  A Legacy is a unique set of abilities that a character gains access to as they achieve certain goals based on that Legacy.  Perhaps an example is in order.

In previous posts I’ve talked about my current game High Seas and some of its characters.  One of them, the blade dancer Aziman, has what might be my favorite Legacy.  Having died in a shipwreck, Aziman was given the sap of the locals’ legendary Blood Tree, which brought him back to life.  Because there character is highly blood themed, I started giving him weapons that allowed him to deal more damage while bloodied, and then created a Legacy for him that encouraged a high-risk-high-reward playstyle.

Legacy of Blood

The sap of the Blood Tree runs strong within Aziman’s veins, a testament to his unbridled power. As he trains in the secret hemomancy of the Altoss family, these powerful new abilities become even stronger.

Advancement: Repeated use of Legacy abilities (each time that Aziman uses one of his legacy abilities, he gains a single point of legacy experience).

Base Tier – Blood Arrow
At-Will (when bloodied): Take 5 unpreventable damage to make an attack at range 10, which deals 1d12 + strength damage and uses your weapon’s to-hit modifier. When raging. you can use this ability without being bloodied, and if the life loss causes you to become bloodied, the attack deals 3d6 + strength instead.

Tier I – Sanguine Scatter
Encounter: When you or an adjacent enemy becomes bloodied, you fire four blasts of blood which deal 1d8 damage.  These bolts randomly target creatures within 3 squares of the bloodied creature, and may ht the same target more than once.

Tier II – Keenblood Stance
Daily (minor): Until this stance ends, you may deal an additional 2 damage with each attack. Every time you do this, you also take 2 damage. This damage cannot be prevented in any way.

Tier III – Armor of Blood
Daily (minor): You deal damage to yourself equal to your bloodied value, then gain temporary hit points equal to your bloodied value.

Tier IV – Reckless Counter
Encounter (reaction): When you would be hit by an attack, you may choose for that attack to deal double its normal damage. You then make a basic attack against the foe that hit you.

Final Tier – True Blood Dance
Encounter (standard)
: You shift your speed +2, and may move through enemy spaces for this movement.  Make a melee basic attack against each enemy that you pass through or adjacent to during this movement.  If you spend an action point, you also regain the use of this ability.

As you can see, Legacy abilities are extremely powerful, giving the character access to new daily, encounter, and even at-will abilities.  Some of my characters have Legacy abilities that are passive like feats, while others like Aziman have almost exclusively active abilities.  You may wonder how these abilities could possibly be balanced against each other and against the game, and the big secret is that they aren’t.

First of all, a character’s inability to choose their own Legacies severely limits their capability for abuse.  Secondly, characters are supposed to feel awesome, math balance in pen and paper games tends to be a bit wonky, and any other excuse that I can come up with to give characters fun new abilities.

And that’s what Legacies are all about, giving players a unique experience, and a unique character.  And as for the final tier ability, that’s just supposed to be broken, I’ll explain later.

In a later post I’ll discuss what it takes to put together a Legacy, and give you some more examples from High Seas.

Posted in: Gamecraft, High Seas