One of the more interesting games I got to play in when D&D3E was still a young thing was run by a (at the time) local DM named Scott. He had house-rules. I know I’ve often mentioned around here that I’m a RAW guy for the most part, but Scott’s house-rules were always interesting. I want to mention one specific thing he brought to the table that I really enjoyed and that plays a nice synergy with an idea I had for my own games, that he influenced by his own rules. He added an attribute to the standard six called, “Legacy.”
Legacy was a kind of meta-trait in some ways, in that, it didn’t directly impact character rolls, didn’t interact with any derived stats (like how Dex interacts with AC), and didn’t actually impact “rolling” in any way, really. Legacy was what I might call a “marker” trait, or a “pointer” trait, in that it signaled to the DM, “my investment in Legacy directly reflects how much I want to be central to the storylines, how much I want to be “picked on” by the DM, and how much I want to give up some of my own agency in exchange for a little bit of destiny.” And Legacy had a cost. This was a game where we rolled our stats, so getting something high and then placing it into Legacy was really a decision. If you rolled one 18, was it worth it to put that in Legacy vs. having that 18 in your prime class stat? It was a real question that a player had to weigh for themselves.
And the return on Legacy was nebulous. I won’t say it was a gamble because that would imply that having a high Legacy score in some way offered a “prize” that you might get for your risky investment. It didn’t. Legacy offered more of a chance to have the DM perceive your PC a little differently and to perhaps reap some longer-term, more subtle rewards for your decision during character creation.
I ran a bard in that game. I also put my only 18 into Legacy.
Why? Because it was fascinating for one. I wanted to be “special.” And not just like, b-list special, I wanted to be Lady Gaga Special. Also, I don’t care so much about my PC’s agency in games like this. I like a little bit of destiny to show up and pop me one in the mouth. Finally, by that point I had already been kicking around the prototype for what eventually turned into Legends of Ryllia and I had a stat in that game I called “Mystery” which performed a very similar mechanical role to DM Scott’s Legacy attribute. And what did I get for my efforts? Well, I found out in the first session that I was a wanted man in a dangerous empire because I’d slept with the Empress… I didn’t remember doing that, but apparently I did. And it led to all kinds of awesomeness. I started a rebellion, had followers, multi-classed into fighter, got a little grimmer, lost friends, and overall, just had a Destiny that was practically noticeable when you smelled me downwind… (ew.)
So why does this matter to you?
First, it’s an example of how a small change to a very rigid system can change the tone and expectation for a given campaign. The idea that we, as players, got to have a direct hand in telling the DM how much “Destiny” we wanted him to spill on us really set a certain mood right up front. And it’s important to note, some players embraced Legacy, some weren’t so sure, and some didn’t like it at all — but it was a clue right away to where the DM wanted to go.
Second, as an example of how small changes can work for the DM as well — to emphasize certain things as well as perhaps get some perspective on your players’ expectations and desires without the need for long-winded back-stories and a bunch of clunky narrative tools.
Third, I guess it helps me understand further my design decisions when it comes to Mystery in my games. I want players to give me those clues, to set their own expectations right away — but I also want the freedom to let a player change that expectation mid-stream if they find themselves desiring it.
Overall, I just wanted to say, “thanks” to Scott for a great little mechanical twist that has stayed a part of my thinking about games for long years afterward.
Thanks for reading as well.