It wasn’t until my third attempt that I made serious effort to understand the game. I run a ton of systems, so I’m pretty good at picking up the highlights and running from those. I’d skimmed Legacy and assumed I could spot differences and patch over gaps with my PbtA knowledge. But Legacy has many moving parts—and they support each other. I’d missed how powerfully some systems shaped the game feel.
So I want to help others with a quick overview of what Legacy is, how it works, and what’s worth picking up. As of this writing, The Bundle of Holding still has a Legacy collection up. I hope to show the value of that.
Your Family and Character
Stand Alone Games
I won’t try to fully define Powered by the Apocalypse games. Legacy shares some basics with those, but also has a unique framework. Typically PbtA plays as a story game, with a conversation that continues until you hit a trigger. That trigger may be a specific action or the need to resolve some key uncertainty. What you do and how that resolves is called a Move—which can be specific to a particular playbook (your class), a basic move everyone can use, or something else.
When a move is triggered, players roll dice, usually 2d6. Results commonly fall into three types. Full success, meaning the character gets what they want or they have the most options. Partial success, meaning that success comes at a cost, lesser effect, or with a complication. Finally a miss means that the character does not succeed or must pay dearly for success.
A move’s impact depends on the system. In some games, a move in a conflict might simply inflict damage. In others, the move roll might determine everything about the fight. Legacy leans towards moves with a broader effect.
The GM does not roll in PbtA games. Instead the GM makes moves, usually when a player rolls a miss. Legacy calls these reactions. Reactions can be hard or soft, depending on the possible consequences. GM reactions might inflict harm, change your relationships, take away resources, or other options.
Legacy assumes a post-apocalyptic world, though the nature of that world is left in the hands of the players. It could be more grounded like Fallout or more fantastical like Numenera. In Legacy each player creates and controls a family and a character within the family. At the start of the game, the scattered communities of the world have begun to build and move forward.
At the family level you decide the course of your whole community. Each family has a playbook which sets out all the choices for family creation. These include questions and features which define the community, the world, and what came before. Each family has several unique moves, special abilities related to their theme. So The Lawgivers of the Wasteland have Round Up the Posse where they can call up a gang of locals to assist in their mission. The Enclave of Bygone Lore’s Deep Knowledge gives them several fields they have an advantage in. The Order of Titan has Kaiju Threat Alert which lets them warn other families about impending dangers and gain treaty via that.
Treaty represents connections and debts between families. Some moves require treaty to function. The family move Call in a Debt lets you spend treaty to gain a bonus in interactions with another family, take a surplus from them, or push them into a particular course of action. Targeted families can spend treaty or make a test to resist.
Other family moves include Hold Together, Conduct Diplomacy, Seize by Force, and Subterfuge. Families have two key currencies: Tech which you use to gain advantage on rolls, and Lore which you spend to reveal secrets about the world. Additionally, each family has surpluses and needs (like morale, food, security, etc). You need surpluses to keep the family going and eventually to make wonders which change the world. You balance surpluses against your needs; if you have more needs than surpluses, you’re more at risk when hit by events and when you jump forward in time.
At the character level you play a single member of that family. They’re important, but their role within the family varies. On the meta-level you the player make choices for your family. Your PC may or may not be the one pushing an agenda forward. You define this via a “role” you choose (Leader, Agent, Rebel, Outsider). Each playbook has different abilities for these roles and different triggers for when you switch between them. Changing your role lets you advance your character, but when you’ve been all four, you retire.
When you change a role, you can add +1 to a Stat or gain a new playbook move. Each playbook has handful of thematic moves. For example The Envoy can know secrets of other families, the Firebrand can blend in with a crowd, the Survivor can work past their own pain. Each character playbook also comes with a unique harm track.
Zooming in and out
In play you move between the family and character levels. Family play works at a grand scale with settlements growing, resources being seized, and alliances forming. To color these moments, you might quickly move in to look at your PCs’ place within those events. But if you move to focus on an important scene or task, you Zoom In. For example you might Zoom In for PCs heading out to meet a new faction, facing a threat, or going on a quest.
When you Zoom In on a PC, the table checks to see if other PCs want to involve themselves. If anyone’s PC doesn’t, they still get to play in the scenes. In this case they make up a Quick Character from the lead PC’s family. Each family has a unique set of moves for these characters. QCs also have a relationship to the PC and their own stats. It only takes a few moments and this mechanic is, to paraphrase Paul Beakley, Legacy’s secret sauce. In play Quick Characters don’t feel like throwaways, they often have their own arc. They also reveal more about that particular family.
When that Zoomed In scene concludes, we Zoom Out. Any PC who wasn’t present chooses from a set of benefits and narrates what happened to them during that time. It’s a great way to handle troupe-style play. The game overall continues—doing multiple passes of family play until something feels like it has the weight for a Zoom In. The rules suggest beginning a campaign with the PCs together working on a task related to several of their agendas from roles.
The core rules have eleven family playbooks. Each feels distinct and unique. But they’re also open enough that you could play the same family twice with very different approaches. The rules break the families into three groups. Ruins types work well in most kinds of campaign. These include The Gilded Company of Merchants, Lawgivers of the Wasteland, and Tyrant Kings. Echoes types assume that the world has lots of technological relics and marvels hanging around. These include The Cultivators of the New Flesh, Enclave of Bygone Lore, and Pioneers of the Depths. Finally Mirrors type family playbooks introduce an odd or world-changing element. These include The Order of the Titan, Servants of the One True Faith, Stranded Starfarers, Synthetic Hive, and Uplifted Children.
Likewise Legacy offers a ton of choices for characters. The thirteen playbooks also break down into the three types mentioned above. Ruins playbooks include The Elder, Envoy, Firebrand, Hunter, Scavenger, Sentinel, Survivor, and Untamed. Echoes include The Reaver and Seeker. Finally the Mirrors types are The Machine, Promethean, and Remnant. If that seems too much, don’t worry. As mentioned above, the rules include a scenario with pregens, a basic history, and an outline for the GM.
Turning Of Ages
At some point your group will feel you’ve dealt with the key threats or elements. You can then choose to move time forward: a few years, a decade, a century, etc. This is called The Age Turns. Each family rolls +Mood (# of surpluses - # of needs) to see how their family fares. This gives a number of trials and/or tribulations chosen from lists. You could choose to give your family new moves or raise a stat. Afterwards you can make changes to your family based on events: settlement patterns, doctrines, culture. You narrate this and add elements to a shared map created at the campaign start.
When the age turns, your character marks a role and advances. At this point you can narrate how their place has changed within the family. Alternately you may decide to retire that character, beginning anew with a different playbook. This flexibility means you can really tell a generational story.
The turning of the age offers a great opportunity to think about what you want from the next age and how you might build a Wonder. These are grand-scale, civilization-impacting projects. If you’ve played Civilization or similar games, you’ll see the connection. Legacy’s core rules offer six choices (Age of Discovery, Energy Revolution, Total War, etc). Creating a wonder requires your family sacrifice five surpluses, not an easy thing. If you succeed, your family gains a benefit as do families who have treaty with you. Wonders offer a great goal for players—if you’ve clawed together some stability and dealt with threats, you can start to plan a way forward.
Obviously this doesn’t cover everything happening in the game, but these elements feel unique and important. Legacy takes some getting used to. Elements can be highly abstracted. A single roll can have a massive impact. Rather than blow by blow, most actions resolve a whole situation and set up the next one. If you’ve played other PbtA games, be aware that family and character creation will almost certainly take a whole session. If you want to get running quickly, consider playing the quick start set up in the core book or one of the additional QS scenarios UFO Press has released.
Legacy Core: The single-volume Legacy core rules has enough to play from. The hardcover is excellent with solid binding and two ribbon bookmarks. It also has multiple indexes. The pdf offers the advantage of hyperlinks and term searches if you’re comfortable working with purely electronic editions. Only the GM needs to purchase the core book, but players will likely find the material useful and relevant. Given that you can choose moves from other playbooks and need to plan for Wonders, it may be useful to have at least two copies at the table. Regardless, you’ll want to download and print out the pdf handout sets for your table. You can find them here. These have all the moves and playbooks as well as GM reference sheets. With a single copy of the core rules and these sheets, you can easily run an extensive Legacy campaign.
UFO Press has released two hard-cover supplements for Legacy with new options and themes. Both show off the richness of the system. They’re a great example of how a PbtA game can expand its material.
The Engine of Life: Subtitled “Hope and Rebirth in a Ruined World.” This volume offers a more positive spin on the post-apocalyptic setting. It keeps an undefined fallen future, but offers advice and tools for games focusing on building and cooperation. EoL includes essays on love; tradition; and culture and revolution. New optional mechanics include the Prophet role, Havens, Festivals, and more. Surprisingly, given the richness of the base game, it adds six new family playbooks and seven new character playbooks.
Three of these new families (The Coalition, Eternal Masquerade, and Syndicate of the Lost) are Ruins-type, working with most campaigns. Two fit with the deep tech settings of Echoes worlds (The Architects of Tomorrow and Timestream Refugees). The latter in particular gives support for players who want to define more of the future or past. Finally the Serene Choir is a Mirrors type, bringing more weirdness. Here you play a family of fallen “angels” or like beings who have fallen into this world.
The character playbooks lean more conventional, with six of the seven fitting with most campaigns. I particularly like The Matchmaker and The Storyteller. Both lean into community and connections. The Prodigy is the odd one here, literally. This character has tremendous powers and a strong sense of the future to come (and how they can shape it).
Finally Engine of Life includes four new wonders. These offer a welcome addition to the palette from the core book. Each speaks to connecting the communities to a central idea or generally offering a form of rebirth. The final chapter gives a quick-start using some of the ideas and elements from these rules. Like other quick starts, it gives a good on-ramp for GMs who want to try out the play without much prep or set up.
End Game: Subtitled “Doom and Entropy at the End of All Things.” This mirrors Engine of Life, presenting a darker, crumbling take on the post-Fall world. If you thought your Legacy game wasn’t grim or PvP enough, this offers a host of tools. The essays here cover The Horror of Isolation; Tragedy; Synergy and Creative Planning; and Strategy. New mechanics include a Traitor role, Doom Clocks, Nightmares, and more. It adds six new family playbooks and six new character playbooks.
All of the family playbooks seriously reshape the tone and feel of the setting. Three are Echoes type (The Bonded Pack, Failed Guardians, and Doomsday Riders). The last of these possesses a massive arsenal of weapons and tech. They’re suited to a game of warring factions. The other four are Mirror-type (Ascendant Afflicted, Deathless Elite, Evolved Survivors, and Eldritch Servants). They’re all high-concept. For example the Afflicted has your family cursed by a contagion that you can use to infect other families. If you wanted to run a zombie horde, this is your chance.
The character playbooks lean equally strange. Two—The Martyr and Road Warrior—would fit in most campaigns. I like the description of the latter as a form of Knight Errant. The other four are Mirrors-type (The Foundling, Hellion, Herald, and Warlock). The Foundling challenges your character’s relationship to your Family. On the other hand, The Herald allows you to switch through a set of heroic archetypes, changing up the role rules from the core game.
End Game’s four new wonders aren’t obviously as dark as you might expect. They do embrace a world that needs defenses or escape from terrible threats. The most interesting of these is the Race for the Stars. This one actually builds on previously created wonders, meaning that it really only comes into its own in a long campaign. Finally like Engine of Life, End Game wraps with a quick start setting with four defined families and characters. (Unfortunately as of this post, End Game appears to be unavailable).
Wasteland Almanac: A pdf-only collection of settlements, devices, and threats. Each has twenty entries with a name, brief description, and some questions to help you shape the ideas. A product for the GM which is interesting and useful but not essential.
UFO Press has released two Quick Starts of Legacy: Titanomachy and Non-Compliant. Both have four pre-generated families and characters. They provide a sketched out setting, rich enough to play from but with enough room for you to fill in spaces. There’s a basic overview of the mechanics and a step by step guide to beginning the game. It’s amazing how much material the designers get into a tight package here. As of the writing, the pdfs of both quick starts are free on DTRPG and you can purchase a relatively low-cost PoD version.
Titanomachy has you playing families on a colony world who have been devastated by the coming of Gigas who smashed down the infrastructure and sent the homeland into darkness. Now your families have begun to rebuild and figure out how to face these foes. There’s an Attack on Titan vibe, mixed with a little Godzilla. Non-Compliant, on the other hand, offers a recognizable fallen Earth. You play families in the free zone of Salt Lake City. Outside lies a world being terraformed and exploited by alien forces.
UFO Press has released four new settings for use with Legacy. These can be purchased as pdfs or softcovers. These four plus the stand-alone Rhapsody of Blood can also be found in a “Worlds of Legacy” slipcase edition.
Generation Ship: You play characters and families in a generation ship still far from its final destination. Has new rules for the starship’s environment itself acting as a challenge. Instead of Wonders, you have Ships Systems. Investing in those can change the world as a whole (and introduce new problems). Hews close to base Legacy, making it an easy alternative.
Godsend: The largest of these setting supplements. Instead of families, you play divinities: gods who need faith to change the world. At the character level, you play an Avatar. However, you play the Avatar of another player’s divinity. Quick Characters are replaced by the Apostles. But the biggest change Godsend makes is that it is diceless. It’s a striking approach, ala Dream Askew, and could be a model to change other Legacy settings. The book offers a broad range of playbooks, but your group’s reaction may rest on if they like diceless approaches. This is the supplement with the most changes from the base rules.
Primal Pathways: A “biopunk” setting of strange evolution. Has an interesting system of traits for focusing characters. You play deliberately inhuman but sentient creatures. Offers interesting tools which you could adapt across Legacy games. It’s well done, but may be a stretch for some groups.
Worldfall: A space colony setting not unlike Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. Has a tight set of seven playbooks each for Cabals (family) and characters. Rather than taking a broad or threat-based approach to colony stories, Worldfall focuses on the politics between factions. The end goal is to shape and control the colony’s philosophy and governance. Excellent and focused setting.
So far UFO Press has released four -ish stand-alone Legacy rpgs.
Rhapsody of Blood: One of the Worlds of Legacy, this can best be described as Castlevania the rpg. I mean that in all the best senses—atmosphere, the meta-story’s cyclical nature, a morphing castle. In RoB you play an Explorer from a Bloodline travelling into the depths of a nightmarish castle to battle an ancient evil. The journey may corrupt you, it may kill you, and it may end with betrayal. When the castle’s vanquished, Rhapsody of Blood rolls forward and you see how the next generation faces the legacy of their past.
RoB offers an amazing and tight distillation of the Legacy mechanics combined with a great system for exploration. It’s well worth picking up. The ever-amazing Maria Rivera has expanded Rhapsody of Blood with her Choir of Souls supplement, which adds seven new Explorer playbooks.
Voidheart Symphony: An in development but available stand-alone sequel to Rhapsody of Blood. If RoB is Castlevania, then VS is Persona, complete with Tarot archetypes and covenants. Here rather than generational play, your characters face a manifestation of the castle and then come back to the real world for days or weeks before the next conflict arises. It’s a dynamite game even at these early stages and a must have if you dig later Persona video games.
Free from the Yoke: This version of Legacy takes its inspiration from Slavic fantasy. In it you play Houses (aka families) who have thrown off the influence of the distant Empire. Now you have to figure out how to manage, negotiate, and move forward. FftY has a striking set up which balances an evocative setting with imaginative space for the players. Legacy veterans will recognize much of the basic system here.
But Free from the Yoke also offers several changes. Some are modest, like the new Pitched Battle House Move. But the biggest change comes in the form of the Arbiter. This is the person who led the Houses out from under the Empire’s thumb. Now all the Houses must serve and assist with the Arbiter’s ambitions and plans. Play is structured around Ages, the time in which the Houses work on and contribute to one of the Arbiter’s projects.
The GM manages the Arbiter and uses one of three playbooks to represent how they came to power, who serves them, their agenda, and what projects they favor. Ages are made up of Seasons, with a move to represent transitions between them. When a Season changes, each house must roll to see their place and influence within the Arbiter’s court. When the Houses complete the Arbiter’s project you resolve the larger Turning of Ages.
It’s a great game, showing how you can use Legacy to explore a more focused story with generational play. The addition of the Arbiter creates new play options for the GM.
In Mysthea you have a House (family) and a Hero (character). Play centers on the city of Montara which has recently been devastated. Players work to further their House’s agenda and gain influence and control within this city. The setup has question prompts tied directly into the pre-gens, a nice touch. Mysthea adds interesting new tech. Covenants are the bonds between Heroes. They power moves like Aid, Evoke a Covenant, Test a Covenant, Declare a Covenant. It adds a treaty-like options at the character level. The rules also have a flexible magic options to change a character’s scale.
House Actions work similarly to family actions from base Legacy. However rather than free-floating play, each House gets a set number of House Actions. Players decide the length of time between character play and that sets how many everyone gets. Most moves feel close to the original, nicely tweaked for the setting. There’s an additional Rituals move which lets your House spend resources to do big magic.
The actual game will include more (seven Houses and eight Heroes). It will have Wonders which fit with the history, rules for longer time jumps, and more magic mechanics. In particularly I’m interested in the city creation mechanics promised in the final version. If you’re interested in fantasy and Legacy. I recommend checking out the Quick start.
UFO Press has also released an Art of Legacy book with illustrations as well as Sounds of the Wastelands, a collection of music.