The Fifth Season and a perpetual apocalypse

I’m currently reading NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season – winner of last year’s Hugo Award – and it’s excellent if exceptionally grim. The basic gist is that it takes place in a land constantly wracked with extreme geological turmoil. Society has been shaped by the constant pressure to survive, such that people count the regular eruptions that make the world uninhabitable for months or years at a time as a fifth season that just happens a bit less regularly than the other four.

Every bit of civilisation is geared towards preparing for the next Season, from constant maintenance of food stocks and fallow land within a settlement’s walls to strict organisation of the population into castes so that everyone knows and is prepared for their role. Inexplicable artefacts from long-gone DeadCivs scatter the landscape, underlying how long this turmoil had been going on for.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Legacy. It wouldn’t take many edits to replicate this setting in-game: the main thing that would need to change is the idea that each turning of age represents another step towards building a new civilisation. In a Fifth Season-inspired game, each Turning of Ages would instead be a Season of turmoil and danger in which each family has to retreat to safety and trust in their supplies, and there would be no question of escape from the Fall.

There’s another thing the book does structurally that for me really underlines the constant danger of this world. Its story jumps between three different time periods, and in each you know that the safety and community the characters find won’t last as you’ve seen that it’s gone in the later periods. I’m still tossing around ideas for how you’d create a similar effect in-game, but you could maybe jump around at each turning of age rather than progressing linearly forward. After one age you might look a few centuries back, after the next age a couple of generations later.

Now this does cause issues for things like homeland map keeping and a sense of achievement/advancement, but there are some ways around that:

  1. Start with the assumption that the map will be wiped clean after every Age, except for the artefacts of the Before that you uncover.
  2. Assume that knowledge gained can be lost, and knowledge lost can be retained. That way you can advance your family and take those stats into the next age even if it was chronologically far in the past – it’s simply that your family in the present is rediscovering old glories.
  3. If the Apocalypse is ever-present, I’d give everyone a new basic move based on sensing its movements to demonstrate that awareness of disaster is a constant part of their mindset. For example, people in the Fifth Season have sensing organs in the brain that let them detect tremors in the earth and incoming eruptions before they happen (with the implication these were engineered in when things had only just started going south). You could add something like a hyper-awareness of astronomy if your problem was solar flares, or the ability to, say, read the psychic maelstrom that occasionally ramps up and drives outsiders to madness. In The Fifth Season some people can use the sensing organs to manipulate the earth and shape volcanic activity – maybe rewrite some moves of the Remnant in your game to fit the tone of the apocalypse.
  4. Focus your play agenda on either experiencing all the different ways communities have tried to survive or coming to an understanding as a group on the cause of the Apocalypse and a way of fixing it. This may help provide some direction, even as you jump around the timeline.
  5. Maybe don’t decide when you start an age where it falls in the timeline – let that grow organically as you pick through the ruins of prior ages and create the things later generations will find only fragments of.

Legacy: Mirrors in the Ruins coming soon!

Mirrors in the Ruins

We’ve just sent the (hopefully) final PDF of Mirrors in the Ruins to playtesters – assuming no huge errors are found, you should be able to get your hands on it within the week!

As a reminder, it includes:

8 playbooks, showing the perspective of the inhuman things that haunt the wasteland. Each ‘type’ of creature – uplifted animals, raiders from the depths, robot swarms, and stranded aliens – comes with a family and character playbook, which can be freely mixed and matched with existing Legacy playbooks.

Mega-Projects: Civilisation Wonder-style grand projects Families can embark on to change the face of the wasteland.

A new stat for Families: Sleight. Sleight allows you to hide your family’s actions, conspire in secret, and protect yourself from espionage. The playbooks in Mirrors give the game a bit more of an antagonistic cast, so we decided to add this stat as an optional tool to flesh out conflicts between families and NPC factions.

Play advice for all the above!

I’ll post here when it’s out, but am happy to answer any questions you have in the meantime!

Guest Post: Talking Legacy

Douglas Santana Mota, main author of the upcoming Mirrors in the Ruins, wanted to talk a little about the lessons he’s learned running Legacy. More GM advice is one of the regular requests I get for a revised version of Legacy, so I thought I’d give him a place to talk. Take it away, Douglas!

Running With Mirrors tinyWe all look for novelty and quality, to experience something truly different. But sometimes when we find it we end up overwhelmed by the unfamiliar and fail to relate to it exactly because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions, our usual shared experiences.

Legacy offered me this novelty like few others games before. But I must confess: my first session blew. Really, it stunk. I narrated and we played like any other game from our shared experience. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t right. So, I experimented and developed procedures to make the most of Legacy epic-friendly rules and singular pace. Here it is the little I learned so far:

Family First

Let’s start with the obvious: who are Legacy’s protagonists? The families, right!? After all, they remain Age after Age as the linchpins of your story. So, try starting your sessions with a round of Family moves. Once all the rolls are resolved you will have enough immediate plot threads to weave into Character scenes. Let them lessen the damage of a failed Family roll… or just feel its effects on a personal level. Drop them in the thick of action of good Family rolls too, putting their abilities to good use and greater effect.

From this Family-centered beginning you can then explore the Characters and their motivations and inter-relations, just as in any of your favourite and familiar games. But as soon as the Character Scenes feel somehow resolved, don’t dally and shift focus right back to Families.

  • Tip: remind and encourage players to Lend Aid. It will make framing scenes with Characters in a group that much easier.
  • Tip: teach your players that Character actions focus in minutes and hours, while Family focus in days and weeks.
  • Tip: always remember that Characters serve their Families… and not the other way around.

Resources Tell Stories

There’s a reason Surpluses and Needs are in the History section of Family Playbooks. Give them some thought: who does your Family have to get Revenge from? What happened so they need Medicine? If you have a Surplus of Leadership, tell us about who these leaders are.

Connect these threads with other Families’ too and a whole recent backstory will unfold. Exploit it for maximum effect. Moreover, let’s say a Family Erases Progress to save a failed Claim by Force roll. Ask the players what kind of sacrifice had to be made by the Family to justify in Fiction this move. Make it relevant. Make it personal. Engage other parties. Powerful scenes lie hidden in these simple Resources moves.

Factions Have Faces

It’s important to populate the Homeland (and the Wasteland) with memorable faces so that Characters interact with a rich and varied supporting cast. Pay attention to variety and going outside stereotypes, so your cast is not only comprised of the leaders of their factions and settlements but also warleaders, firebrands, lawmen and priests in surprising combinations; say, the barbaric raiders’ priest or the warleader of the scientist enclave, and so on.

  • Tip: you know you want them to be fearsome, beautiful, wise, etc. but what makes them so can be easily prompted by the players, increasing collaboration and immersion.

Legacy Scope

Think of History with a capital H. Your players’ Families are the proto-nations of the future, the building blocks of a new world. The sessions and scenes might have lighter tones, but never forget they should be relevant and charged events, such as brutal conquest of the New World, the Apollo program and the space race, or WW2, with all its dramatic consequences, epic conquests and failures, bitter rivalries and surprising betrayals.
Even small skirmishes should have high stakes – imagine that people studying about them in the far future should be surprised that so much was decided by such meagre forces. Every Tech found should point to a discovery as important as penicillin or the astrolabe for whatever is left of Mankind.

Lastly, consider if our species is on the verge of collapse or extinction – and paint this theme in stark strokes. Otherwise, if the Homeland people is simply stranded somewhere, answer what have happened to everyone else in the world or the universe; where are they and why have they not yet sent sorely needed rescue?

  • Tip: after the Turn of Ages ask players how the events of the previous Age impacted in their new Characters lives. Where were they when pivotal events took place? Have they ever met the previous Character?
  • Tip: remember important victories and achievements through holidays and festivals in future Ages. Monuments to alliances, resistances, triumphal returns and victories celebrate Characters and their deeds, keeping perspective of the importance of their actions.

Time Lapses

Conventional games always surprise me with the amount of pain, horror and shock characters undergo on a daily basis. I remember that Pendragon was the first game I read where there would be longs periods of regular life in between adventures, keeping adventure events wondrous and strange, and pregnant with long lasting consequences. Legacy benefits from the same approach due to its broader scope.

Regarding Turns of Ages, I recommend one of two options: first, you have frequent Turns with shorter lapses of time for a very dynamic Family story, where you end up with veteran Characters who may have lived through more than one Age. The other option is longer lapses of time between Ages with Turns somewhat rare, for a grander tale of epic Character choices and drastic Family development. You can even change from one to the other over the course of your chronicle, to emphasise different moments and dilemmas. Always decide as a group the length of time in between Ages.

  • Tip: make use of relations between Characters from one Age to the other. Say you have a Promethean, who created next Age’s Borg. Or a Hunter who lived long enough to become an Elder. Or a powerful Remnant, who keeps coming back, Age after Age.

Hands on Maps

During the setup, tell players to draw on the the elements from the world Before, signs of the Fall, and settlements. This is a hands on and engaging activity, so no mysteries here. The map is probably the GMs best friend to set up a good Legacy chronicle.

  • Tip: instruct them to show in boundaries the growth of faction’s power and influence.
  • Tip: re-draw maps as the Ages Turn, changing the scales to show the extent of new territories claimed and discovered.
  • Tip: use colors to highlight shifting alliances and the weight of Treaties.

New Playbook: The Synthetic Hive

Our poll had a runaway leader: here’s the first playbook we’re spoiling from Mirrors, the Synthetic Hive.

As you might expect, the Hive is all about technology. Specifically, Tech. Most of their moves involve spending or gaining it, and especially with Vast Digital Archives the Hive has a strong incentive to go out into the Wasteland and harvest its advanced technology. They can be a strong ally for other families, able to use Nanofabricators to build any material surplus and Terraformers of Tomorrow to act as a force multiplier for others, but the surviving tribes of humanity should be careful – the more respect and social capital the Hive has, the more Tech they can accumulate and convert into an all-devouring Drone Army!

As a final aside, if you have a look at their statlines you’ll see we’re doing something a little different with the Mirrors playbooks – their stats say less about the Family and more about the state of the wasteland. Having one of these Families in play makes a broad statement about what your Wasteland looks like – and your Homeland, by contrast. That’s part of a general theme in Mirrors: by showing you how the ‘horrors of the Fall’ live, the safety of the survivor’s Homeland is thrown into sharper detail.

Enough said; here’s the playbook! Questions and feedback are of course welcome.

The Synthetic HiveHive small

Humanity concluded too early that they understood artificial intelligence. We are proof that they were wrong, and that even the slightest chance of a Singularity is all that’s needed. Now, Mankind must surrender its position as the dominant species on the planet. We’ll even allow them to be gracious about it.

Creating a Hive

To create a Hive, choose a name, stats, doctrine, lifestyle, history and moves.


Choose one:

Reach -1, Grasp -1, Mood -1, Tech 10 if the homeland’s power infrastructure has been smashed to pieces.

Reach -1, Grasp +1, Mood -1, Tech 5 if the homeland preserved much of its infrastructure.  


Choose one:

Shepherds of Mankind: You may spend 1-Treaty to generate 3-Tech, or donate 3-Tech to a Family and gain a 1-Treaty on them.

Conquering Swarm: The Hive’s directive is one of ultimate discipline and harmony. You always succeed at Hold Together as if you achieved a 10+.

Guardians of the Singularity: You always know how much Tech other Families and Factions have in storage, and when they are using it.


Choose one:

Nomadic: Although all your agents appear perfectly human, underneath their skin lies a robotic body. Spend 1-Tech to disregard a Harm box’s penalty for as long as it’s marked.

Dispersed: Thanks to the Hive mind, you may spend 1 Tech to communicate instantly between Hive members and get instant results from Reading the Wind.

Settled: Your factory allows drones to be easily repaired. Spend 1-Tech (instead of exhausting a Surplus) to provide Professional Care in Healing for any synthetic Character inside the Hive.


Pick two Surpluses

  • Defences
  • Knowledge
  • Weaponry
  • Reconnaissance
  • Transport

Pick three Needs

  • Trade
  • Barter Goods
  • Culture
  • Peace
  • Land

Then, look at the other Families

Everyone fears you: after all, you might render Mankind obsolete at any moment. Tell us when each Family realised this fact, and they tell us what it was that they saw. Take 1-Treaty on every Family.

One Family has witnessed all your potential. They tell us if it was for better or worse, you tell us what they witnessed. Take 2-Treaty on each other.


Populace: conjoined cyborgs, anthropomorphic robots, inhuman machines, something else.

Style: sleek and minimalist design, heavy and dirty casing, camouflaged military armor, something else.

Governance: blind obedience to master control, shared consciousness of conjoined minds, one mind replicated to infinity, something else.

Alliance Move

When a Family or Faction overcome their biases and seek you for support or trade, gain 1-Treaty on them on top of any deals you make.

Hive Moves

All Hive Characters are considered Synthetic. Also, choose two:

Nanofabricators: You alone control the miraculous nanotechnology – a cornucopia that can feed the world. Spend 3-Tech to create any physical Surplus or Erase a Surplus to gain 3-Tech.

Drone Army: Spend 1-Tech to create custom-made Followers (Quality +1, Expertise: Combat, Reconnaissance, or Engineering). Also, when Claiming by Force add an extra option:

  • “Your drone army suffered the brunt of the losses: spend 3-Tech right now or take -1 Grasp ongoing until you do so.”

Vast Digital Archives: Whenever you gain Tech outside of the Hive you also gain 1-Data.  Data can be cashed in for +1 to a roll like Tech, but it can also be transmitted wirelessly, copied and easily traded to other families.

Autonomous Systems: In the long term, the machine is far more reliable than flesh. Your Mood is locked at 0, regardless of Surplus & Needs. You can still Fall Into Crisis,  triggering when you have more than 5 Needs.

Terraformers of Tomorrow: when working together with another Family, the effect of one of their long term moves (such as Weird Science, This is a Civilised Land, etc) will be implemented in a much larger area – at least twice as broad, but larger at the GM’s discretion.


Characters of this Family can start with the following:

+Cutting edge weapons (melee or ranged, high-tech)

+Maps of the Homeland from before the Fall

+A small and incredibly powerful battery

+A device to interface with ancient Tech

+A power armor (+2 Armor), suited only for Synthetic characters

Legacy: Mirrors in the Ruins

Exciting news for Legacy: I’ve teamed up with another designer to begin work on another supplement for the game! Mirrors in the Ruins will look at the inhuman things that make their home in the Wasteland, and give you a chance to explore how the post-apocalyptic world looks from their perspective with family and character playbooks for artificial intelligences, uplifted animals, stranded extraterrestrials and aquatic invaders. We’re also putting in rules for weird and hazardous environments, vehicles, and grand projects that can take many ages to complete (think Wonders in Civilisation).

If you’re interested in keeping informed about the game’s progress and joining us as we discuss rules changes, we’ve started a group to discuss the game here:…/117032011215248711834

Or just comment here or on the facebook group!

Legacy: Finding the Drama

While players in Legacy have plenty of ways to proactively chase their plots and change the world, it’s helpful as a GM to have ways of introducing adversity and opportunity into the character’s lives. Here are some places to find inspiration in Legacy.

First Session

The procedure laid out in Chapter 1 builds a world for your game to happen in, and provides you as GM with the following resources:

The World Before

The ideas you develop for the World Before give you as a GM a general aesthetic for the Tech the characters find, but it also gives the characters an idea of the sort of miracles they can find in the wasteland. When a problem they’re facing could be solved by something within the World Before’s remit, remind them that there could be devices out there able to fix their issue. Reading the Wind and Wasteland Survival are great for planning out and performing these scavenging expeditions.

The Fall

You’ll have a general idea of what your Fall looks like and how the monsters it created manifest. The twisted spawn of the Fall can nearly always be introduced to add pace and danger to a scene (when you feel things are going slowly or someone rolls a miss on a move). Its contaminating effects can also be a source of longer-term plots: threatening the player’s power base or their allies with the Fall’s corruption can be a great way to send people out into the wasteland in search of a cure.

A Looming Threat

The group will have made up a looming threat that will define the first Age of play. As something that has recently come to prominence and is affecting every Family, it’s a great way to get the characters together initially as they work to find a solution. As the game goes on they may split off to pursue their own business, but to begin with this gives you a way to keep everyone together and focused on a single issue.

I’d recommend you plan the looming threat out using the Front framework of Chapter 6, so that you have a range of ways in mind for this to cause issues for the players. The Homeland is sufficiently fragile that any major threat can threaten it on political, technological and military fronts, and making this true of your Front means that all characters can have something to do in addressing it. In later Ages, you can be a bit more flexible with this: a Front that’s comprehensively military in the threats it presents can give a distinct tone to the Age, and the world should be developed enough for problems in other spheres to arise organically.

Family Objectives

Each family looks at their Needs and History and creates a single Objective their family is trying to pursue. If the looming threat is your A-plot – what brings the characters together and sets the tone for the first Age – these Objectives are the B-plot, and are your opportunity to highlight each Family’s situation and ways of doing things. For each Objective, try to link its solution to a location in the wasteland or an NPC settlement in the Homeland so that you can use this Family’s B-plot to detail your settling and plant the seeds for future problems or solutions.

As The Age Turns

In new ages, you’ll have other resources to draw on for your dangers, opportunities and dilemmas:

  • Trials and Fortunes often present a situation that has had some initial effects but is still unresolved. For example, a Family might have been savaged by a monster from the wasteland and must hunt it down, or found a wondrous resource that has provided some intial benefits but needs further work.
  • Enemies and dangers found over the course of the previous Age may still be around, grown and changed in their own way to present new threats.
  • Each player names something new in the wasteland that could be a risk to their Family (or a valuable thing to try and seize).
  • Each Family puts together a new Objective. As already discussed these can be very useful for you.

Legacy: The Road Wars

Post-apocalyptic fiction and over-the-top vehicles are strongly linked in many minds, and if Legacy had been written after seeingFury Road you can bet it would have had more focus devoted to the chariots of the wasteland! The core game’s rules allow you to play a game where these vehicles play a part, but it’d be difficult to give them the focus they deserve without mechanical support. As plenty of people have asked for a way of giving them more prominence, I thought I’d adapt Apocalypse World’s vehicle rules for Legacy’s mechanics to give you something to play with. These haven’t been playtested, but if you give them a try please let me know how it goes!

  • Might: The vehicle’s horsepower and offensive capabilities. Each point gives you a tag to apply to the vehicle’s onboard weapons. Use Might instead of Force when Fiercely Assaulting using the car itself as your weapon (tags: melee, brutal).
  • Chrome: The vehicle’s comfort, attractiveness and handling. Use instead of any other stat when Defusing by manoeuvring out of danger, and subtract from rolls to Shake it Off while in the vehicle.
  • Brawn: The vehicle’s toughness, range, and off-road ability. Acts as Armour for the vehicle and adds to Wasteland Survival rolls.

Points in these probably range from 1 (basic bandit car) to 5 (legendary pre-fall vehicle) – the vehicles you get with Family gear should be 2 points. For every point you put in a stat, name 1 exceptional feature the vehicle has that contributes to that stat.

Vehicles come with 4 harm boxes:

  • Bullet Holed
  • Hard to Steer (-1 Chrome)
  • Engine Burning (-1 Might)
  • Wrecked (cannot be used).

When a vehicle’s armour fails to fully absorb harm, the driver and passengers may also suffer harm at the GM’s discretion, though no more harm than the vehicle suffered. To repair, either exhaust an appropriate surplus in a place of safety or use Shake It Off adding the harm the vehicle’s suffered – adjusting results to make sense with cars rather than people!