Legends Walk! — Truth & Justice Edition

(Cross-posted to RPG.net.)

Legend Walks! – T&J Edition makes a great supplement for Truth & Justice , whether as a resource for players characters imbued by the gods or as a campaign setting sourcebook.

Disclaimer: I participated in the playtest of this edition of Legends Walk! and received a complimentary copy of the PDF version.

The Book

Silver Branch Games first published Legends Walk! in 2002, running on the LODE system which was especially designed for the game; and a second edition was published in 2006. In the mean time, author Tim Gray became interested in the Truth & Justice/PDQ system published by Atomic Sock Monkey Press, and wrote another game based on the PDQ engine, Questers of the Middle Realms. In 2007, he decided to make Legends Walk! available to T&J fans, taking advantage of the system to impart a new spin on his mythic supers concept that would be closer to a “comic book feel.”

Form

Legends Walk! T&J Edition is a sober but attractive tome, about the same size as T&J (136 pages plus a couple of pages of ads). The front and back cover illustrations are by Storn Cook, and the inside illustrations are from clipart of decent quality. The layout is clean and legible as well as pleasant to the eye. Overall, the book is more attractive, visually, than the T&J core rulebook.

The book is well organized and information is easy to locate. As this is a supplement that requires the Truth & Justice core book, the rules section proper occupies relatively little space. There is a comprehensive table of contents that compensates for the lack of an index, and the PDF version is bookmarked. Although chapters and sections are not numbered, they are easily identified. Although the book requires the use of the core T&J book, handy cheat sheets summarize the character creation elements from both books for easy reference.

The quality of the writing is very good, as is the editing. The text is clear and concise, easy to follow. Numerous illustrative examples are provided.

Substance

There are eight main chapters: three dedicated to the genre and the use of the book, four to system elements, and one for the default setting, Legendary Earth.

The Mythic Supers Genre

Introduction. This section opens by explaining the background of the game and its previous editions. Next, it offers ways to use this book in a campaign, either to run a game focusing on mythic supers, or to create individual characters imbued with mythological powers (e.g., in the style of Thor or Wonder Woman). The rest of the chapter presents an overview of the book, outlines key concepts, and discusses the most suitable style (cinematic) from the options presented in the core rules of Truth & Justice.

Mythic Supers. The second chapter examines the themes, setting, and opponents and challenges inherent to mythic supers. This is rounded with discussions of the role of mythic supers; the issue of clashing religions; the feuds inherent to enemy gods; an overview of super-attributes and what it’s like to be a godling; playing the Source (i.e., the Gods, Heroes and Monsters imbuing the characters; and how the more structured approach to character creation in Legends Walk! fits with the Do It Yourself aesthetic of T&J.

Setting Seeds. This is a brilliant section that can generate a lot of fun ideas for GMs. It presents a list of alternate settings in which a mythic supers game can be set: Legendary Earth (the default setting, discussed in more detail later), Here and Now (nothing has changed except there are Metas), Dark Age Legends (feudal Europe plus supers plus ancient gods = the original “flame war”!), Pulp Legends (1920s-30s), Secret Legends (your PCs are among the very first Metas imbued and no one knows of their existence), Supernatural Warriors (monster hunters, somewhat Hellboy-like), Legends Black (as in black ops, fairly gritty style), Superworld (far future when Metas rule, think Miracleman after achieving Utopia), Legends Ooze! (mythic supers plus Elder Gods).

New System Material

Character Creation. After presenting the concept of the Source (gods, heroes and monters that can imbue Metas with powers), this section presents an overview of power programme components: the Aegis, which is basically the domain of a deity (e.g., the sea, weather, war, etc.); required powers; optional qualities and powers; imbued items; and vulnerabilities. Sidebars highlights issues that are tricky or differ from the basic T&J rules: super-scale, super-attributes, and targeted damage. The chapter wraps up with a discussion other (non-Imbued) character types — Alterants, who are given powers through technological augmentation, Gadget-based characters, who use technology but are unmodified, and Training-based characters, who push their Qualities to the peak of normal ability; and a character creation example and walk-through.

Rules Additions. This section discusses in detail the changes or expansions made to the basic T&J rules. Key differences are size levels, overlap between the normal and super scales, collisions, lethality, and the rules for divine Favour (gaining it, using it, losing it.)

Key Powers. Some 56 powers are defined or refined to fit with the mythical genre.

Power Programmes. This long but straightforward chapter opens with construction guidelines for creating additional Sources and Pantheons, then gives a list of Sources and their power programmes from the Greek, Norse, and Aztec/Mayan pantheons.

Setting

Legendary Earth. This substantial section details the Earth in 2020, twenty years after the first Metas have openly manifested themselves. A brief summary is followed by a two-page timeline, an overview of some key factions, a quick gazetteer highlighting a few countries around the world (unfortunately, some of the areas I was most interested in received little or no attention), a tour of the cosmology, and a neat “collection of possible truths” that can serve as campaign hooks or even frameworks.

Even if a GM decides to opt for one of the alternate settings rather than for Legendary Earth, it is worth browsing and pillaging for ideas.

Bonus Features

The appendices contain a handy adventure seed generator, the inspirography (a list of comics, movies, and music that inspired the game), and useful cheat sheets detailing the character creation steps, how to use some of the new rules, and the lists of powers and Sources.

Playtest Notes

If you’re familiar with the Top 10 comic book written by Alan Moore and drawn by Gene Ha, you know that one of the parallel Earths in it is Nova Roma, a contemporary world where the Roman Empire never fell and the superhero niche is filled with “heroes, chimerae and godlings.” One of the characters in my Top 10 campaign hails from Nova Roma, so we played a flashback into his past, which we treated as our “Annual.”

This means that we did not use the default Legendary Earth setting. On the other hand, we were in fact able to give the book and the Greco-Roman pantheon a good test drive. Moreover, we had a few known characters that could be used as benchmarks of how well the system was performing. The roster ended up looking thus:

  • Officer Therius (“Tall T”), Nubian centaur imbued by Selene through a magical amulet, described as Denzel Washington’s character in “Training Day”, except not crooked (existing character). Because we did not have a power programme for Selene, we figured that her Aegis would be either night or the moon. Since in our regular game it’s a day/night variation, we went with + at night, – in daytime. (In any case I had unthinkingly picked the Ides for the game’s date, which means it was the full moon anyway.) For required power we used Sorcery.Qualities: Good [+2] Nubian centaur (big, tough, intimidating, galloping, etc.), Expert [+4] “Super-cop” (in a Jackie Chan sense), Expert [+4] Mean Mutha, Poor [-2] Nubian centaur (prejudice, size, four legs, etc.) Powers: Average [0] Aegis: Night, Good [+2] Sorcery, Expert [+4] Amulet of Selene. Stunts: Moonblast, Toughness.
  • Homemaker Aggrippina Flavia, Therius’ soon-to-be-ex-wife, a priestess of Vesta described as the centaur version of Martha Stewart (existing character). Easily created using Hestia’s power programme.Qualities: Master [+6] Homemaker, Good [+2] Perfectionist, Good [+2] Etiquette, Expert [+4] Interior Decoration, Poor [-2] Social Status (Obsessed with improving and comparing her social status; marrying a Nubian was not a good move in that respect). Powers: Good [+2] Aegis: The Hearth, Expert [+4] Transformation: Inanimate objects. Stunts: Garnishes, Centrepieces.
  • Officer Mina (“Hot Wings”), Therius’ partner, a devotee of Minerva. Easily designed using Athena’s power programme.Qualities: Expert [+4] Endurance, Expert [+4] Ingenuity, Good [+2] Presence, Poor [-2] Doesn’t Suffer Fools Gladly. Powers: Expert [+4] Super-Wisdom, Good [+2] Shapeshifter (Owl), Average [0] Aegis: Guardianship. Stunts: Fair Judgement, Owl Sight.
  • Street Contact Brutus Aurelius (“DJ Celebritas”), a follower of Bacchus and street DJ, organizer of flash parties. Easily designed using the Dionysus power programme.Qualities: Master [+6] Presence, Expert [+4] Ingenuity, Poor [-2] Needs a Drink. Powers: Average [0] Aegis: Ecstasy, Expert [+4] Pleasure, Good [+2] Liberation. Stunts: Music, Winning Smile.
  • In addition, there was the main antagonist: Senator Deodatus Titus Valerius, secretly The Caligulator, a serial killer in the tradition of Jack the Ripper who believes himself to be the reincarnation of Emperor Caligula. NPC and major villain (existing character). Again, I had no Caligula so I had to make up some things. Was Caligula a monster, a “hero”, a god? I decided that since he had had himself deified, I would take him at his word!Using Loki as a template, I gave him the Aegis “Chaos” (Average), and the required power “Super-Ingenuity” (Expert). I also gave him Master [+6] Master of the Knife and a Good [+2] mask imbued with Luck Control. Qualities were Expert [+4] Insane Cruelty, Good [+2] Subterfuge, Good [+2] Awareness, Expert [4] Socializing, Poor [-2] Wants attention. Stunt: Flick of the Knife.

As free equipment, I gave the two cop characters an amulet that served as badge, radio equivalent/communication device, flashlight, first aid kit (minor healing), road flare, etc., plus a beat-up “patrol chariot” in the style of the one shown in Top 10 #9, but much older. DJ Celebritas took a boombox as his equipment, and Aggrippina Flavia reigned over the appartment she shared with Therius.

For a detailed write-up of the game, see this summary on the campaign Website. I will merely sum up my main observations.

  • Character creation was done in about an hour, even with some players who weren’t familiar with the rules.
  • We were kind of lax on using some rules. For example, we tended to forget to use Aegis. We play fast-and-loose with some of the basic T&J rules in our group; in particular, we allow stacking of qualities and powers as long as there is at least one power in the mix simply because it is more entertaining and spiffy.
  • Although I encouraged the players several times to try to use their flaws for Hero Points, we had fewer instances than I wish, perhaps because of time constraints.
  • People tended to use a lot more the free-form Qualities they had invented (e.g., Mean Mutha, Interior Decoration(!), as well as various stunts) than pre-defined Qualities (e.g., Presence, Ingenuity, etc.) There was a lot of hesitation about what the pre-defined ones actually covered, even though as GM I was willing to go with any good ideas (and probably with a number of ideas that weren’t kosher.)
  • Here is an example of creative use of abilities. When Aggrippina Flavia was trying to get some information from Cornelia Massala, an ex-colleague who was now working in Senator Valerius’ household as his secretary, she used a social contest to position herself favourably. She stacked the qualities Good [+2] Etiquette, Good [+2] Perfectionist, Master [+6] Homemaker, and a +2 bonus for great role-playing, for a total of +12 added to the die roll, to play oneup(wo)manship in the “Who’s the best Vestal” social game, and win. She then leveraged her success to get Cornelia Massala about the Senator’s schedule and habits.
  • We had several examples where players spent Hero Points to introduce minor or major details of their invention. For example, DJ Celebritas’ player decided to spend 4 HPs for a major detail and announced he’d like to find a waiter who thought he had recognized their suspect, the senator, when he was having with the victim at a local restaurant. Players were not stingy in using HPs, which made things exciting.
  • Having power programmes meant that when I had to stat someone on the fly, I could focus rapidly be deciding which deity they were imbued by, then pick elements from the programme.
  • People came up with many suggestions of setting jazz — how about playing a group made of Metas imbued by different thunder gods? what happens when two avatars of the same god meet? etc.

The game was quick and fun, and displayed the characteristic strengths of Truth & Justice. As intended, the system add-ons did make it straightforward to create coherent supers imbued by deities. And as GM, it made it easy for me to handle the setting, which I had found more daunting in other systems. It was pretty easy to get the character to do what you pictured (both PCs and NPCs), even for characters imported from a different system.

Pros and Cons

It’s hard not to make references to White Wolf’s newly published Scion, since both are based on essentially the same premise though Legends Walk! predates Scion by a good five years..

Weaknesses

Limited pantheons. The book offers only three pantheons to chose from. Moreover, some of the pantheons that are very important to key locations in the Legendary Earth setting (the Celtic, Pacific Islander and Hindu pantheons) are not included in the book. By comparison, Scion offers six pantheons. However, LW-T&J allows a GM to easily create their own power programmes as long as they know a bit (say, the equivalent of a Wikipedia article) about the deity.

Strengths

Light and flexible. Since it relies on the Truth & Justice system, the book benefits from all of T&J’s strengths: it’s fast, allows quick character creation, stimulates player creativity, and truly gives a comic book feel to adventures.

Easy to learn. Simple to learn and to teach, the system does not discourage new players like many supers games do. In my game, even the three players who had never tried T&J or any PDQ-based game (and two of which are self-described casual gamers with no interest in learning new rules) had no trouble at all picking up

Novice-friendly. As in the basic T&J game, this book largely levels the difference between “effectively” and “ineffectively” designed characters. For example, in our game Aggrippina Flavia held her own quite well, despite her domestic bent. This is an excellent book, combined with the main rulebook, to introduce newcomers to superhero roleplaying without hopelessly confusing them.

Structured. For players who are used to the very structured approach familiar in a majority of of RPGs, from D&D to Shadowrun to RIFTS to GURPS to Vampire, the complete freedom of the Truth & Justice basic system can be confusing or intimidating. Just as he did for the fantasy genre with Questers of the Middle Realms, Tim Gray introduces some structure, with a Chinese take-out menu style (pick one from Column A, two from Column B, etc.) It’s light-handed structure, but it greatly helps newcomers in making coherent characters.

No supplement treadmill. If all the pantheons that were published in the LW 2nd ed. rulebook and its two supplements are converted and re-published for the T&J edition, we can expect four more power programmes: Chinese, Mesopotamian, Celtic, and Angelic. In the past, Silver Branch Games’ mini-supplements, whether those for Legends Walk! pantheons or for their other games (NUGGETS, Questers of the Middle Realms) have sold in PDF only, for $2 to $5 each. Even if the additional pantheons are released in print, you can reasonably expect that the cost for the entire collection will be less than the cost of the main Scion rulebook.

Toolkit. The book (in conjunction with the main Truth & Justice rule book) gives GMs and players the basic tools to make any character or setting they want. You won’t be stuck because your favourite pantheon or location is not planned for publication. You may object that sure, one can always create additional material anyway; the difference here is that LW-T&J purposefully makes it easy.

Who will like this book?

Legend Walks! makes a good sourcebook at large for T&J fans, whether a player who wants to play a divinely imbued super, or a GM who wants to run a legendary campaign or take the game to an interesting parallel Earth for a story arc.

If you have never played T&J or if you prefer a system where the mechanical effects of powers are strongly pre-defined, this book may appear less interesting at first glance.

However, if you like a system that is light, simple and dynamic without sacrificing quality of play, a Mythic Supers setting that you can customize and transform at will thanks to the Do It Yourself toolbox, and an approach where you need never be limited by the lack or presence of sourcebooks, then I recommend you give Legend Walks! – Truth & Justice Edition a try.

Follow the discussion on RPG.net.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Truth & Justice system from Atomic Sock Monkey Press.  Here are some reviews I have written of Legends Walk!: TJ edition and of Truth & Justice.  The premise is precisely that the characters’ powers are […]

  2. […] (Cross-posted to RPG.net and Emerald City Gamefest.) […]

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