Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lejendary Adventure - The "other" Gygax RPG


As the 20th century drew to a close, D&D was being re-worked and "re-imagined" into a whole new beast: 3.0. Unlike the advent of 2E, 3E was introduced into a time when everyone, it seems, was online. A frequent query about 3.0 was whether Gygax was involved with this new edition (he wasn't, though some token "consultations" were touted). On the contrary, Gary was immersed in his newest creation: The Lejendary Adventure RPG.

Which was largely ignored, as best as I can tell.

Debuting in 1999, "The Lejendary Rules for All Players" was released under the auspices of Hekaforge Productions, with later releases coming from Troll Lord Games. Like older editions of D&D, Lejendary Adventure was intended to be "rules lite", though based on a skill system rather than stringent class archetypes. Characters were referred to as "avatars", and some basic class archetypes were presented, more as a template than anything else. You can take a look at the Quick Start rules here, though they don't seem to present more than a very general overview of the system, along with a short, encounter based adventure.

With ENWorld serving as a sort of online hub for 3E, it wasn't long before Gary made an appearance there, and a dedicated Q&A thread was set up for him, in which he very graciously spent a lot of time answering questions and keeping folks updated on what he was doing. He also gave a lot of insight into the design and history of early D&D. Inevitably, as he first appeared on the forums frequently around late 2002, a lot of questions were posed as to his involvement with 3E, was he writing anything for 3E, what did he think of 3E, etc.

To which he often answered something along the lines of "I'm busy working on Lejendary Adventure!". Though he was usually diplomatic about it, he clearly didn't care for the d20 system and its ponderous stat blocks and rules cross-referencing, and when a d20 product did appear with his name attached, it was always "co-developed" by someone else, meaning, he turned in a manuscript, and someone else did all the annoying stat work. Questions on d20 were usually given short shrift: "As far as I am concerned, I much prefer creating in the LA game system than doing so in the D20 one", while his responses to the few and far between questions on LA showed an obviously high level of enthusiasm for the game he ran weekly and was writing for in large volume.

In fact, as you read further into these early Q&A's, you can see a certain level of frustration in Gary's responses to questions on 3E, or queries about the origins of the Drow, etc, and he seemed to be trying to steer the discussion back towards LA. Big plans were afoot for awhile, including a card game (which only saw print very briefly) and an online MMORPG (which got cancelled).

So what happened? On one hand, the power of the Brand Name is evident here: D&D 3E and LA debuted at roughly the same time, and one was obviously a bigger seller than the other. Did Gary's name not have the same draw it did even a decade earlier (or seems to have again today)? Was the Lejendary system just too far removed from D&D's for gamers returning to the hobby after a long break during the 90's to grok? Perhaps it was a simple matter of visibility - Wizards of the Coast was a giant at the time, and what exactly was Hekaforge?

At any rate, the very moment Gary Gygax would suddenly return to the public consciousness of the world (his death, sadly), giving Lejedary Adventure perhaps its greatest opportunity for exposure, also seemed to spell the game's doom. By this time, the game was being handled mostly by Troll Lord Games, and as we know, all things Gygax were swiftly removed from their imprint shortly after his death, resulting in a stunted print run of Gary's perhaps most eagerly-awaited work (the "Zagyg" dungeons) and the reassignment of LA to Gygax Games. Obviously, Gygax Games has done nothing with LA in the year since, and seems to have done what it could to alienate what fan base the game had (whether this misstep was intentional or not I have no idea).

I've never owned or run Lejendary Adventures. The quickstart rules don't do much for me, but I am interested in getting ahold of the full game and giving it a whirl, as the folks who did report playing the game gave it favorable reviews, as well as simply because Gary made it. Unfortunately, the online vendors I frequent no longer have copies of the books, and the current owners of the game aren't making new ones, so it looks like I'll have to hunt the secondary market for a copy.

If you've read or run the game, I'm interested in hearing your opinion of it, and if you were aware of the game but weren't interested, I'm very interesting in hearing your opinion on why not! :)

9 comments:

  1. LA is frustrating- I bought the whole kit & kaboodle of books, a couple adventures, etc. The game is laden with classic Gygax prose, naming conventions, and the "flavor" of the game is fantastic.

    The problem is the game itself- Gary tried SO HARD to distance LA to any other RPG that it's ridiculous. LA is laden with weird terminology for common gaming words, which makes the game a very confusing read at times and more confusing to explain. Were I new to RPGs- LA would likely see me picking up some other game to try, or videogames or whatever. I enjoyed the "light" nature of the rules in theory, but there was some weirdness to the mechanics in places and a wealth of "being different for the sake of being different " that totally turned me off- my gaming group at the time perused my copy the players book and said "no thanks".

    Frankly, all of the above was also the issue with DJ-Mythus-barring the "light" nature of the rules.

    Were the game to be re-written to reflect common gaming terminology, and clean up some of the mechanical elements I suspect it would have done much better. The game as written is archaic- in a bad way- like early 1980s bad rpgs such as Man Myth & magic, or Powers & perils, or Adventures in Fantasy- that kind of bad.

    At any rate-all 3 of the core books are worth a read for the magic items, spells, monsters, etc- some great stuff there as regards to Gygaxian flavor.

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  2. I was aware of it but wasn't interested. Why not? As terrible as it sounds (I feel lousy even saying it), I guess back then I thought to myself: Gary wouldn't be doing this if they hadn't taken D&D away from him, and if they gave it back tomorrow he'd throw LA in the wastebasket. In other words, I thought, well, he can't do D&D for money so now he's doing ... this instead. I was already playing and loving the game he WANTED to make - why bother with the second string?

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  3. I thought Dangerous Dimensions or whatever the hell that game system wound up being called was Gary's 'other' D&D game?

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  4. @Joe - that's Dangerous Journeys aka Mythus, which was originally going to be called, yep, "Dangerous Dimensions". It was anything *but* rules lite; we dallied with the system a little back in college. It had a pretty cool alternate earth type setting, iirc, but otherwise seemed purely to be aimed at taking some market share back from TSR.

    TSR thought so to - they sued and won, getting rights to the game (which they promptly shelved), and an hefty settlement from Mythus publisher GDW, which no doubt contributed to their eventual demise. I believe Necromancer Games' "Necropolis" was a d20 reworking of a flagship module from the Mythus line.

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  5. Owned and played DJ-Mythus for several sessions, and not the Mythus-lite version. Part of the frustration was the terminology adjustment, and part was the complexity of the synergies for all the Knowlege/Skill groups. If no one was a spellcaster, and you like skill heavy, non level games, it was pretty cool.

    It owed more to Cyberpunk2020 than to D&D in my opinion. And like when you add a Netrunner to the group in CP2020, adding a spellcaster in Mythus left the rest of the party snoring for as much as an hour while the spotlight centered around game mechanics nobody else cared about.

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  6. I own all three LA books and even played a game online with one of the "team".

    The system itself wasn't bad in theory, it just was in dire need of a determined and meticulous editor.

    The biggest problems were editing and production value. The layout is horrible and the art is atrocious.

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  7. What nextautumn said...

    It just didn't have the appeal that Dungeons and Dragons had. Although, I will say that about 1/2 way through my journey into 3E I was sorely tempted to try my hand at Lejendary Adventures. Yes, 3E sucked that bad. IMHO of course. ;-)

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  8. LA remains my favorite rpg, but it didn't start out that way. I read Essentials like crazy when I got it. Got confused. Read it again a few months later. It mad more sense, but much of it still confused me. About the third time I read through it, I got it.

    The best way for many folks is to actually play LA. Even just one session shows you what you need to know to play. Afterwords, the rules make more sense.

    LA really isn't that hard, it just took a while for the genius of the system to settle in my mind. It's kinda like one of those songs you're not sure you like the first few times you hear it, but after a while, it grows on you. Next thing you know, it's a classic - as opposed to songs you immediately like and are sick of in no time.

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  9. I own both Legendary Adventures and Dangerous Journeys. Both are good games in their own right.

    As for LA, it is rules light and as long as you've got your head screwed on its easy to play and run. I bought the booms pretty much the day they came out and I've been running this game ever since.

    If anyone needs more details just ask.

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