Review: Open Legend RPG

Open Legend RPG Review:
A Shot Down the Middle

Brian Feister’s indie tabletop RPG Open Legend tries to do a lot of things, and, so far, it fires on all cylinders. Now in the final stages of development, this free rpg system provides a rule-set flexible enough to span an impressive variety of genres and play styles. Unlike some indie games out there, Brian’s passion for his project is matched with a keen eye for mechanical detail and a serious commitment to play-testing revision – Open Legend has been available online nearly since its inception, and Brian has continually made tweaks to his game in response to player feedback. It’s pretty clear that Open Legend isn’t your standard one-off fan experiment. This is the real deal.

Dice Mechanics: Unpredictability, the Stuff of Legend
Open Legend’s dice mechanics are designed to keep players excited about rolling even their most mundane actions. It uses two core mechanics to help keep every roll potentially wild. First, ability scores don’t provide a static modifier bonus to rolls but instead add whole dice to that roll’s dice pool – a Might score of 5, for instance, adds 2d6 to the d20 instead of a static +6. These dice modifiers immediately make all rolls less predictable and more intense for players. For their characters, this randomness helps enrich the world and story around them: given the myriad of circumstantial modifiers that make each encounter unique, it makes sense that your mighty barbarian won’t ALWAYS swing with exactly the same WOOMPH. He/She will pack some kind of positive punch, but you’ll never have to worry about actions devolving into a repetitive exchange of Rock’em Sock’em Robots.

By increasing the number of dice in play, this modifier system also works in tandem with Open Legend’s exciting “exploding dice” rule. This second mechanic allows players to continually reroll any dice that lands on its maximum value. This cumulative rerolling, coupled with larger dice pools, means that every rolled action has the chance to literally become the stuff of legend. While you won’t land a 52 on your 1d20+2d6 often, the potential to reshape the story with such a legendary success at any moment keeps players on the edge of their seats, whether they’re fighting a final campaign boss or just trying to hack into a computer terminal. The potential for legendary success at any point in a session means that your PCs are always carrying the power to reshape a whole campaign with a single roll. I’d say this definitely makes rolls more exciting!

Classless Characters: Opening the Doors
For character creation, Open Legend takes the classless route and utilizes a point-buy system. Instead of choosing a templated character type with short-lists of customization options, players freely purchase every point upgrade for each of their ability scores. This list of ability scores, however, is significantly expanded from your standard D&D bracket of six to include all forms of physical, mental, and social attributes, as well as various “schools” of magic. While this core list of abilities does slant Open Legend to favour fantasy genre games, it seems like it could be easily tweaked by removing or adding other abilities to suit your setting – ex. a sci-fi game could replace the traditional schools of magic with a custom-flavoured psionic or astral ability score. In Open Legend, players aren’t restricted to primary “roles” resulting from a chosen class. They can have any combination of strengths and weaknesses they like – ex. a beefy caster, a quick-witted barbarian, a brilliant performer, etc. Like all point-buy systems, Open Legend provides more variety and flexibility for players without the worry about “some online home-brew” levels of imbalance.

Moreso than in most rpgs, these ability scores are the heart of your character’s roleplaying in Open Legend. In addition to determining which additional dice get to be rolled for every task, abilities are also not accompanied by a discrete list of actions, skills or spells associated with them. When players want to attempt an action, they simply make their case to the GM as to which ability it utilizes, and “shape” or flavour their effect as they like. While this narrative freedom seems pretty intuitive for physical abilities – swinging an axe overhand at an ogre or backhanded to break down a door will both rely on Might – it really shines when magic is involved. For example, a “plague-druid” can use their same entropy magic roll to blast an enemy for damage, rot a rope-bridge, or poison a glass of wine without needing to rely on a set list of powers. While this narrative flexibility encourages player creativity, it of course needs to be reeled in for the overly ambitious PC. That’s where Banes and Boons come in.

 Banes and Boons: The Marriage of Narrative and Numbers
One of the most creative elements in Open Legend is its Bane/Boon system. This expansive list of positive and negative “conditions” provides a balancing mechanical counterweight to the openness of the game’s ability rolls. Banes/Boons provide quantified effects for players who wish to use an ability roll for something other than straight damage or a success/fail. Importantly, many of these Banes/Boons are available for PCs early on. These effects are also always described in general or categorical terms and so they allow for variable description or flavouring by the PC – for example, the Forced Movement bane can be used with Might, Movement, or Energy actions, in whatever descriptive manner the player would like.

In addition to customizing and upgrading ability scores, characters in Open Legend also have access to a list of feats. While feats in Open Legend aren’t quite as involved as those in 3.5 or PFRPG, a decent web of prerequisites allow for creativity and optimization without needing to delve several layers deep. Rather than providing standalone abilities or effects in and of themselves, many of these feats improve or otherwise modify a character’s use of a given Bane/Boon. This opens up the variable uses of a given “effect,” allowing for further customization in a PC’s arsenal. Together, the combination of Feats and Banes/Boons in Open Legend provide some quantified parameters within which players can exercise the narrative freedom given to them by the open ability actions model.

Whether you’re a creative number-cruncher or a story-focused voice actor – or, like most of us, if you fall somewhere in between – Open Legend is definitely worth checking out. While the current build of the game provides more content and guidance for fantasy games, as an entirely free game-system it’s damn high quality. Far crunchier than your standard rules-light system, but still simple and flexible enough to entice those wacky and experimental players, this indie rpg seems to strike a harmonious chord right down the middle of this hobby’s “Story vs. War-gaming” divide. Brian has started something really great, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this game goes in the future!

Check out Open Legend Here!

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