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Friday, 9 July 2021

A French Science Fantasy Starter

Lore & Legacy is a French science-fantasy role-playing game set on the fantastical world of Empyrea, a vast planet home to numerous species who have come from the stars and settled. In the long years since, they have forgotten their homeworlds, how they go to Empyrea, and how to operate much of the technology. Indeed that technology has come to be regarded as akin to magic and only a few have the skill to use what has become known as arcanotechnology. Empyrea is also a world of many ruins, especially of the grandiose and sinister necropolis left behind by the mysterious Astarite civilization that came before anyone settled on the planet. They are said to contain lost treasures and forgotten technological wonders, but also many dangers—antediluvian biomechanical guardians and creatures corrupted by the poison of the Alteration, a mysterious fungal gangrene that spreads over the regions that once formed the heart of the Astarite kingdoms. In recent years, the Alteration has begun to spread again and dragon seeds have fallen from the sky, giving birth to dragons, creatures of unrivalled destructive power. Where such threats occur, the Free-Lancers’ Guild steps forward to protect and investigate. Found throughout many nations, its members coming from many different species, the Free-Lancers’ Guild sends out those determined to unravel the mysteries of the past and to venture beyond the borders imposed by incomplete maps, to protect the population, lift the veil on ancient lore, and reclaim their lost legacies.

Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide provides this background and more. Published by Empyreal Media Productions, it introduces the setting and the mechanics, plus an adventure designed for four players and their quartet of pre-generated Player Characters. A character in Lore & Legacy is defined by his People (or species), seven Attributes representing his physical and mental prowess, various Abilities in which has either been trained or is gifted, and a number of Traits representing his personality quirks, special talents, obsessions, phobias, and the like. The Attributes are Acumen, Fortune, Mastery, Presence, Robustness, Temper, and Vigour, and all bar Fortune are represented by a single six-sided die plus a modifier. Fortune is a straight value representing the number of Fortune dice can roll each day. Now not all of the remaining six Attributes are not exactly clear as to what they are from their names. So, Acumen is the character’s ability to observe, reflect, and analyse; Mastery is agility, dexterity, and precision, and ability to think and react quickly; Temper is his willpower; and Vigour his raw physical strength. This runs counter to most naming conventions for attributes and may well be confusing for some players.

Abilities include Arcanotech, Charge, Investigation, Melee Combat, Passion (Painting), Wizardry, and more. They are always represented by a single ten-sided die plus a modifier. Traits tend to apply situational modifiers. For example, ‘Beast of Burden’ increases a Player Character’s Luggage Points by three; Healer which grants a Fortune die any non-magical healing action; Agoraphobic, which levies an Adversity die on all actions when the Player Character is in an open space; Ancestral Weapon, which grants the Player Character a weapon with the aetheric, which reduces the Magic Resistance of a successfully struck opponent; and Remarkable, which marks the Player Character out in social interactions with members of other races, levying an Adversity die and adding a Fortune die. A Player Character also has a number of derived secondary characteristics, including Health Points, Magic Points, Physical, Magic and Mental Resistances, and so on.

Mechanically, Lore & Legacy uses the ‘3d’ engine, which uses three sizes of the dice and three types of dice. The three sizes are ten-sided or Ability dice, eight-sided or Damage dice, and six-sided or Attribute dice, and they are always used in specific situations. In general, when an Ability or Attribute is tested, or Damage is rolled, only one die, the Basic die is rolled, any modifier being added to the result to get a total. However, it can be as many as three. It cannot, though, be more than three. The extra dice can either be a Fortune die, an Adversity die, or even both! The result of the Fortune die is added to the result of the Basic die, whilst the result of the Adversity die is subtracted from the result of the Basic die. Adding both a Fortune die and an Adversity die to the dice to be rolled does not mean that they cancel each other out. Instead, their results are added and subtracted respectively.

When a Player Character undertakes an action, his player makes an Action Roll, consisting of the appropriate Basic die—whether a ten-sided die because the Player Character has an appropriate Ability or a six-sided die because he does not and must rely upon an Attribute instead—and applies any modifier. The Difficulty Rating for the Action Roll ranges from six for ‘simple’ to eighteen for ‘superhuman’. The success result can vary. A result equal to, or greater than the Difficulty Rating is a Standard Success and indicates that the Player Character has achieved his intended aim. A result one-and-a-half times or greater than the Difficulty Rating is a Major Success, and indicates that the Player Character has achieved his intended aim with positive benefits. A result less than the Difficulty Rating and less than half of the Difficulty Rating is a Partial Success, and indicates that the Player Character has achieved his intended aim, but with unforeseen complications. A result less than the Difficulty Rating and more than half of the Difficulty Rating is a Failure, and indicates that the Player Character has not achieved his intended aim.

In addition, a Player Character can also roll a Spectacular Success or Disastrous Failure. A Spectacular Success is achieved when a Fortune die is included in the Action Roll and a maximum result is rolled on the Fortune die, when the result of the Action Roll is a Standard or Major Success. Similarly, a Disastrous Failure is achieved when an Adversity die is included in the Action Roll and a maximum result is rolled on the Adversity die, when the result of the Action Roll is a Partial Success or Failure. Although a Disastrous Failure cannot result in the death of a Player-Character, the Game Master is free to be as creative as she wants, whether the result is a Spectacular Success or a Disastrous Failure.

Both combat and magic use the same mechanics. A combatant has a single gesture, move, and action each round, and if he attacks, his player’s Action Roll is against his opponent’s Physical Resistance as the Difficulty Rating or Magic Resistance if the weapon used involves arcanotech. A Fortune die can be added to an Action roll if the opponent is immobilised, paralysed, knocked down, unconscious, and so on, likewise an Adversity die can be added if the attacker is suffering from similar conditions. Damage is rolled on a single eight-sided die, plus the weapon’s damage bonus, and is halved if the outcome of the Action Roll is a Partial Success, but increased by a half if a Major Success. Damage inflicted equal or superior to an opponent’s Injury Threshold and an injury is inflicted. 

The Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide only presents two types of magic, more being available in the core rules. These are Illusory and Material magic. The former deals with changing the perceptions of others about their environment, the latter being the scientific study of making real what was not, or transforming what is. As in combat, the outcome of a Partial or Superior Success on an Action Roll halves the effect of the spell, or increases it by half, respectively. Just a handful of spells are included in the Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide.

The Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide includes four pre-generated Player Characters, which come four of the species available. The Disincarnated are humanoid synthetic life forms left behind by the Astarites, but discovered and reactivated by Free-Lancers, who gather experiences until they reach maturity and individuality; Dakti are short and muscular, good engineers and builders with great physical strength, and nicknamed ‘Dwarves’; Ælfyn, or ‘Elves’ are graceful forest-dwellers deriving most of their energy from photosynthesis; and of course, Humans. Two other species, the reptilian, four-armed Agamids, and the hardy and muscular, felinoid Orcs, who originated from the same world as the Ælfyn, are mentioned, but do not appear. The four pre-generated Player Characters consist of a Disincarnated Healer, Dakti Wizard, Ælfyn Marksman, and a Human Warrior. Theya re of course, members of the Free-Lancers’ Guild, essentially the in-built reason for the Player Characters to explore and adventure on Empyrea. 

The adventure in the Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide is ‘Froglins in the Mist’. Divided into five acts, it is a fairly linear and straightforward affair. It begins in the port of Brasto, a successful trading city-state in the Contested territories. The local branch of the Free-Lancers’ Guild has posted a mission—a celestial barge in distress was spotted over a mangrove swamp two days’ walk south and it wants someone to check for survivors. The adventure provides the players and their Player Characters the chance to test out the mechanics with some shopping and bargaining, followed by travelling, before getting into the meat of the scenario. The Player Characters easily locate the crash of the celestial barge and discover that it was attacked after it crashed, and both crew and passengers are missing. Very quickly, the Player Characters will themselves be under attack, but will ultimately discover what is going on and hopefully rescue both passengers and crew. To be fair, ‘Froglins in the Mist’ is a bit simplistic and too combat orientated, so there is not much in the way of plot to its story. As a one-shot or a starting point for a campaign, it is fine though, providing a reasonable showcase for the mechanics and a little of the world of Empyrea, which can be played through in a session or two.

Physically, the Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide is well presented. Much of the artwork is excellent and much of it reminiscent of FASA’s Earthdawn roleplaying game—which should be no surprise given that artist Jeff Laubenstein worked on both. The writing is also good, and the translation is more than reasonable. It feels a little overwritten in places, the rules, though simple, often feel as if they have more terms than they really need.

If there is a downside to the Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide, it is that both it and the ‘Froglins in the Mist’ adventure could have done with a little more mystery and a little more wonder to really hook both Game Master and her players into setting of the Empyrea. Perhaps the adventure could have been slightly longer and maybe gone into some ruins that might have delivered that needed mystery and wonder? It is a serviceable adventure though and perhaps a separate adventure which would work as a sequel—whether using the quartet of Player Characters included in the Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide or created using the core rules, might deliver that? Nevertheless, the rules themselves are actually fairly simple and easy to understand, being on par in terms of complexity with something like Savage Worlds or Numenera. The setting of Empyrea itself has a post-apocalyptic set-up combined with Science Fantasy and Planetary Romance a la Skyrealms of Jorune or again, Numenera. Overall, the Lore & Legacy – Quick-Start Guide is a decently done little quick-start that can be played and enjoyed as is, but would really benefit from just a little more of its mystery.

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