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! :)