Legacy (an Attribute)

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.


14 responses

  1. Any interesting way to develop a game. As an argument I would say that all the PC’s should have high Legacy, they are the people to whom things happen. That is why the Players have taken the time to play their characters, otherwise they’d be an NPCs and the Players should have designed a different character. Dare I ask what is the point of making a character this is not the centre of attention as a Player? Maybe I’m just too much of a megalomaniac moth for the limelight!. But as a directional guide to the DM I could see how this could help in terms of interaction or self will. Such as do they need to be prodded or will they be more proactive on their own. Does Destiny need to open a can of whupass to goad the character into action, or do they just fall into it. To use a common frame of reference to help me understand your post, would you agree with the below?
    Victor Chevalier Legacy 18
    Montague Forte Legacy 3

    1. PS — I know it’s not vogue to admit ignorance, but I don’t actually know the reference you are making there, re: Victor Chevalier and Montague Forte. I tried some quick research and I’ve still got nothing. Clarify?

      1. This post of mine and the comments might clarify to whom Victor is referring, a little. Secrets of the Templars

        In that example, Victor was a focal point for great personal and tangential changes inspired by the course of events taken in the campaign – many of which were sparked by his leadership decisions. By comparison, Montague was more a means to our ends, and while experiencing the same events, was often in the background of them shaping, rather than forefront taking the brunt of them. When given a choice to accept an unknown personal change for an unknown result, he stepped away from the brink and chose to remain tied to the life he knew – resisting the call of destiny for a time.

        Incidentally, I like Emmett’s proposal of allowing the players to secretly and freely choose the amount of Legacy they wish to have. If explained well, it could be a very clear signal of player comfort with and enjoyment of “meddling” with character background, relatives, and destiny.

  2. An interesting concept. I know that some of my players like to hang out in the background, the question becomes, is that how they like it? Are they just unsure of themselves? This would be one way to test that out.

    Maybe as a test, give legacy no cost at all. Let the players write down any number (in a range) that they want and see what they pick. The effect would be very different than what you describe. I like that it cost something, I just wonder what players would write down if they could do so freely.

    Another point, mechanically if you added a seventh roll to your character creation, statistically you have an interesting effect. The players that opt for low legacy should have a larger pool of dice to pick from and therefore may have slightly higher stats. That’s not a bad thing, just an interesting effect.

  3. @Victor
    Well, you are certainly correct, the PCs are those whose lives are full of “things happening.” I think the element of separation here, though, is that the Legacy Attribute (and my own Mystery trait) trend toward allowing the PC to exchange a little of their own control (and potentially their initial potency) for an insurance policy that they would reap a reward later in terms of being intimately and inextricable tied to the DMs plans for the part of the game under his control.

    My own games are about Give and Take and tend to seesaw between times of proactive and reactive GMing. I like to set stages and toss out ideas but ultimately leave the action to the players and adjust accordingly as the game grows. With a character who takes a chance on having a large Mystery score, I tend to draw that player aside and discuss what the implications might be in the long run.

    Usually, a player who chooses a high score in a trait like Legacy or Mystery has their own powerful motivation for doing so and is intrinsically motivated by the “idea” of the trait already. This makes it worthwhile for me — and gives me, in my GM role — tacit permission to screw around with that PC in ways I might not with someone who took a low Mystery score or didn’t invest in it at all.

    Does that help?

    Yes, having it cost vs not cost does make it a different idea. The idea of allowing players to simply have it for free is a good one too — in that you can use it to get a sense of what a player might want to happen “to his character” instead of just “normal game stuff that always happens” and that distinction is important.

    And you are right. Setting up the system to give an additional stat roll — especially for a stat that could be seen as the “ULTIMATE Dump Stat” by someone not invested in “story aspects” or just who wants to get by in the background — does raise the chance for another really high or really low roll. Overall, I don’t think it impacted the power level of the game much and I feel it was well accounted for by our DM at the time… he definitely knew what he was getting into.

  4. This reminds me of certain major characters from the _Wheel of Time_ series. I forget what they were called, but they were characters with such inherent destinies that they warped the world around them. Things just *happened* around them.

    I wish I could remember the particulars in more detail, it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at those books.

  5. I think that it sounds very similar. That’s basically the effect I’m shooting for with my Mystery trait — along with the, “Wait, you’re my sister?!?” effect.

    But… I never finished more than the first WoT book. They just weren’t my thing.

  6. @Morrisonn, I thought maybe that was where it was going and useful as a reminder to both PC and GM.
    @Runeslinger, thanks for filling in the gap.
    @Emmett, interesting points, well worth considering if the mechanic was introduced.
    Sorry about the non-sequitor, I had originally thought the link was one of Runeslinger’s posts, heh, better pay attention to the source as well as the content!
    Cheers all

  7. I consider it a compliment that you confused one of my posts for one of his. Thanks.

  8. I appreciate making the list.

  9. […] Legacy (an Attribute) from The Rhetorical Gamer (morrisonmp.wordpress.com) […]

  10. I was thinking of the Wheel of Time “Ta’veren” effect as well. It’s kind of like a fate magnet, because the strings of nearby folk become entangled with the Ta’veren, and if it’s even remotely possible, it becomes probable if that is what the Pattern requires to continue forward. Things like Kings and Queens suddenly bending the knee in fealty to a suddenly famous and powerful commoner, or the dangerous but otherwise mild scheming of nobles erupting into a fever pitch and boiling over into civil war. Thus the world is broken and remade so that it can be united in the Last Battle at Armageddon.

    Another example I was thinking of was the idea of a Catalist, particularly from Robin Hobb’s “Assassin’s Trilogy.” The central character has a similar effect on Destiny, because his actions end up making such a huge variety of things possible that it gives the Kingdom a chance to find a better outcome. The interesting thing is that his vocation (as dealer of death) and his destiny (as catalist for hopeful change) are in such contrast. But this effect is not really a “force” so much as being a Ta’veren is from WoT.

    Thanks Mike for reminding me about this ultra cool mechanic. I had forgotten how useful it could be as a tool for players and GM to communicate about how central they’d like to be.

  11. […] some articles over at The Rhetorical Gamer, specifically his discussion about an attribute called Legacy, and how it applies to the tangential issues surrounding the post about the implications of having […]

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