You are a wanderer on a life-long journey. Seek what you will, but as time passes, know the end draws closer. Each opportunity becomes more important, missteps more costly, victories sweeter. Will you find glory when the path is at its end? Welcome to the World. Good luck, Adventurer.
(from the Life & Legend 1st Edition rulebook)
Life & Legend was an adventure card game released in 2017 to a number of kind and enthusiastic Kickstarter backers by an extremely hopeful creator. It was a thematically deep game, focusing on the inner-person of those who were becoming legends in their time. While not a bad game (I’m a tad biased, naturally), it suffered from a few things common to first time creators then and even now.
I won’t list each of these points. The game successfully funded, was delivered on time, created a cadre of supportive fans and well-wishers for the fledgling Lost Age Games, and launched my career in both game and graphic design. What more could one hope for from a first time crowdfunding project? If any of you supporters are reading this, know that you have my eternal thanks.
As things were coming together for Seven Day Games, there was a lot of discussion about which project to tackle first. Life & Legend kept climbing to the top of the list. Being someone who not only likes fresh starts, but who also tends to burn all the ships in the bay so there is zero chance of returning, I was skeptical. However, a few things made me see how a 2nd edition of Life & Legend would mesh perfectly with the direction of Seven Day Games, and how this five year old game could be remade into something fresh and better than ever before.
A Journaling RPG from the Beginning
Life & Legend has a feel that I haven’t found in many other games. I’d like to say that this was intentional, but it wasn’t a conscious decision at first. I knew the game should feel a certain way thematically, something like “reading the Lord of the Rings in the early 1970s”, but I had no idea how to pull this off.
As I poured over the game, I became aware of something that put me on the right road: Life & Legend is a serious game. Kind of an oxymoron, but as I thought about it, I decided to keep it serious, and one part of that was removing cheesy pop culture references and subtle jokes that many games make at their own expense. I’ll just call them easter eggs for lack of a better term.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal, or that it would have had much of an effect, but it was striking how focused, even familiar it made the world feel. These references, these easter eggs, when we find them, are cute, usually fun, and perfect for some games. For others, especially in the case of Life & Legend, it is best not to include them.
I’ll even put forth that these kind of things work against their desired effect. In trying to add familiarity and relatability to a world, they often only succeed at making it feel less real and pulling people out of it.
This isn’t to say that lightheartedness has no place in serious games, it’s just the immersion breaking lightheartedness that I’m talking about.
I believe Life & Legend has a strong sense of reality due to this easter egg removal and at least one other element: Abstractness. I may talk about that more another time, but for now, just think of the game as being “setting neutral”.
Anyway, my point.
The overt seriousness and general neutrality of the setting makes Life & Legend a perfect vehicle for a journaling rpg.
I wasn’t prepared to talk much about this yet, so I’ll just say that LifeWord is a narrative rpg engine that’s been in development for a long time. I’d salvaged a good portion of the “Life Word” system from Life & Legend as the underpinning of this engine (back when the engine was called by a different name). So LifeWord and Life & Legend were made for each other.
I also believe the card game element is a unique thing in journaling rpgs, so I’m interested to see how everything plays out in the end.
Speaking of the Card Game Element
In the Life & Legend rpg, the player is presented with options for their character as they draw cards and progress through a pared-down version of the standard card game. They write journal entries describing what is happening to and around them, and will have written out a unique and interesting tale by the end.
Now, all of that journaling rpg stuff is great, but Life & Legend is still a card game. The journaling element is one mode of play, but the game can still be played as a standard fantasy card game. Things had been in development there for a while before the rpg idea came along.
Probably the biggest changes to the game mechanically are the Action Selection system and the inclusion of characters with unique abilities.
In part 2 I’ll talk about these specific changes and the challenges they presented. I’ll also show the various game modes. And yes, there’s even a multiplayer journaling mode!
Adam Glass is head of Operations at Seven Day Games. He moonlights as a game designer for Lowen Games and has done graphic design for a wide range of projects.