Advice on Hacking the Game
Custom moves help the GM give a particular texture to a situation, ensuring that the conversation is meaningfully different when it’s in play. For that reason, they’re best used to represent story beats that will come up repeatedly, or will be a dramatic centrepiece for a session. Most of the time these custom moves function like Basic Moves – they’re not owned by a particular character, and nobody wastes an opportunity to get a playbook move picking them up.
Once you’re set on writing a new move, you have four broad options: direct moves, fortune moves, list moves and hold moves.
Direct moves are very simple – they don’t involve a roll, and they may not even involve choices. Their basic skeleton is:
When [trigger occurs], [outcome occurs].
Here are some examples:
When you enter the flux room, every metal object you carry is pulled to the floor.
When you speak to someone who’s bonded to a thoughtworm, choose one: answer their questions honestly, or obviously avoid eye contact.
When you use Rashida’s maps, roll with advantage on Wasteland Survival.
Their main function is to codify the outcome of certain situations without taking much time at the table.
A dice roll gives fortune moves an increase in complexity over direct moves. Their basic skeleton is:
When [trigger occurs], roll +Stat. On a 10+ [best result], on a 7-9 [OK result], optionally on a 6- [specific awful result].
An alternative skeleton for the result uses:
On a 7+ [positive result], on a 10+ [extra bonus].
Sometimes you’ll want to specify what happens on a miss, but most of the time the standard GM moves can cover what happens then.
There are two main classes of fortune moves: active moves, where the Character/Family is attempting something and the roll tells them how well they do it, and reactive moves where something bad is happening to the active party and the roll tells them how badly it goes. Here are two examples:
When you read the future with the sidereal engine, roll +Lore. On a hit, name a particular faction. The GM will tell you what they will do next if you don’t interfere. On a 10+ you also see a difficulty your Family will face soon, and they roll with advantage against it.
When you wade through the writhing marsh, roll +Steel. On a 10+ you avoid infestation. On a 7-9 you see a worm boring into you, with time to remove it. On a 6- take 1 Harm now and every day until the worm is removed.
The first is active, and the second is reactive. Reactive moves generally are written with a specific use case in mind, so should usually specify a 6- result.
List and Hold Moves
These move types give you a bit more nuance. A list move gives you a number of options to choose at the point of rolling and can vary the number of options based on the dice roll, while a hold move gives you a pool of points and things to spend them on over a certain time period.
The general skeleton for a list move is either:
When [trigger occurs], choose X:
When [trigger occurs], roll +Stat. On a 7-9 choose X, on a 10+ choose Y:
and then a list of options:
Optionally, a list move with a roll can still allow some choices on a 6-, but this will normally come with a downside.
List moves should be used when the choices are made by the player at the point that the move is triggered. For reactive moves, it’s good practice to write the options so they emphasise what happens if they’re not taken. Feel free to mix and match Fortune and List moves by providing a list of bonuses to choose from on a 10+, having a 7-9 present the player with a tough choice that the 10+ avoids, or some other variant.
Hold moves provide the player with a pool of points that they can spend on a list of options within a certain time frame. The player can pick the same option multiple times if they have enough hold; if you want something to only happen once, or only at the point of the roll, try a different move format.
Here’s their general skeleton:
When [trigger occurs], [gain X hold]
When [trigger occurs], [roll +Stat; on a 10+ gain X hold, on a 7-9 gain Y hold].
Spend hold 1-for-1 within [time period] to:
Again, it can be written so that a 6- result still gives you hold at a cost.
Spending hold generally allows you to interrupt other’s actions, and won’t involve a roll to activate the option.
Playbooks are a lot more work than a move, but here’s the framework we’ve followed in creating the playbooks in Legacy. The most important piece of advice is to start with a strong concept. It should be broad enough that players can take it in multiple different directions, but narrow enough that all those variants are still recognisably drawing from a common source.
Each playbook offers three options for stats. Each array sums to 1, with no stat going above +2 or below -1. Each stat option also makes a statement about the world, drawing on the themes of the playbook.
In general, options which favour Reach imply that social structures survived the fall mostly intact, or that diplomacy can flourish in the homeland.
Options with high Grasp suggest that this Family has a particular advantage in this new world – either due to being especially well adapted to the post-Fall landscape, or thanks to holding onto some advantage from the Before.
Options with high Sleight suggest the Family’s had to deal with adversity, persecution or rivalry for a long time they’ve learnt how to keep their heads down or hide their true motions.
Mood always starts at -1, Tech and Data start at 0.
The three categories – the Before, the Fall, and Threats – give players of this playbook an opportunity to make their mark on the world. In general, Before options should place resources in the world for players to exploit, Fall options can create lingering hazards and sources of information on the world, and Threats should give open-ended challenges that this family is particularly well-suited to deal with.
The player should always get some points of Treaty on others and give some Treaty away. The amount is variable based on the playbook’s theme: those that are likely to help others and trade should have a positive balance, while those that are self-interested or step on other’s toes might be better suited with a negative balance. Don’t worry about keeping these balanced: an uneven diplomatic landscape encourages action as soon as the game starts. It shouldn’t be possible to end up with more than 2 Treaty on another family, or give another family more than 2 Treaty on you, unless they were chosen for multiple options.
Three options that should represent different ways of approaching the playbook’s theme. The move that comes with them should be a direct move without a roll. I prefer these to have purely fictional consequences, but if you want to give them mechanical effects I’d limit them to giving the Family advantage on a roll, giving them a Surplus, or giving them points of Tech or Data.
Three options (Nomadic, Dispersed and Settled), again with a direct move attached.
- Nomadic moves should be about what happens when you leave a place, what happens when you arrive at a place, or give some advantage to the Family’s caravan.
- Dispersed moves should emphasise a wide reach, or a covert advantage in unfamiliar settlements.
- Settled moves should represent social dominance, or access to local resources.
Your list of five Surpluses should encapsulate the core concerns of the Family; these are the resources that will most effectively boost their actions, or whose lack they will most keenly feel.
For Assets, think of three items for each category that represent different ways the Family could express their core concept. Unless you have a strong reason not to, each gear option should come with two gear tags.
List some ways that the Family might be related to each other, might appear, and might be organised. This is a good place to show the breadth you imagine for the Family and spark a player’s imagination – the player is free to make up their own populace, style or governance, but the ones you present tell a player what sort of family you had in mind when writing.
The Alliance Move is the Family’s main way of gaining Treaty on other factions. It should be something that would earn the gratitude of other factions, however grudging. If someone could brush off the Family’s actions without social fallout, it probably doesn’t work as an Alliance Move.
This is the real meat of the playbook. You should present five moves, of which two are chosen at character generation. If one is particularly central to the playbook you should make that move mandatory and give them the choice of one other. If you have a mandatory move, it’s perfectly fine to have other moves that key off it in some way, adding extra capabilities or changing its uses. 2-3 of the moves should be new capabilities for the family, with rolls only if needed, while the remaining ones can augment the basic moves.
Pick two stats to give a +1 bonus to. For Inheritance moves, imagine a generic member of the family in a crowd scene. What sort of things might they be good at? What special talents might they draw on? How might the main characters benefit from having this person along?
Remember that quick characters are there to entertain their player and support the main characters without overshadowing them. Inheritance moves are a great place to put moves that help other characters, provide interesting information about the world, or supplement a family’s assets with peculiar creations.
Four options for gender presentation (feel free to change the ones on my playbooks if you can think of ways to improve their representation of the many beautiful facets of humanity), four options for what your face looks like, four options for what your eyes communicate, and four options for your body.
Present three arrays, each totalling +2 with no stat going above +2 or below -1. If your playbook is focused on a single stat each array should place +2 or +1 stat, while if it’s based on two stats neither should be lower than +1 in all arrays.
Provide three options, each an interaction the characters have had in the past that will inform their relationship with each other in play. They shouldn’t be so negative that the characters wouldn’t want to work together afterwards.
Five options, of which the player chooses two. I find it works best to have 2-3 complex moves using a roll and/or choices. The rest of the options should augment basic moves by adding new options or switching the stat it uses in a specific situation, or give a reliable ability they don’t need to roll for.
Four boxes, plus Dead. Two of the boxes should come with stat penalties unless the playbook is especially tough, in which case only one should have a penalty. Each box should represent how the playbook reacts to adversity – a frail character might get terrified or have broken limbs, while a battle-hardened character could get angry or exhausted.
Pick a particular type of gear the character gets better use out of. Your options are:
- Add a tag to their weapon/outfit.
- Add a tag to their vehicle, or gain a vehicle if the family has none (with land, air, water or space).
- Improve the Quality of their followers by 1, or gain followers of 1 Quality.
- Get a Device (that can’t be traded in for Tech).
Feel free to move outside these guidelines if it helps communicate the playbook’s story.
Something impressive that will provide a fitting coda for the character. It should have a lingering impact on the world or on the surviving characters’ lives, and should ensure that once someone’s Dead box is checked the scene is then all about their character’s last moments.
Each role should make a dramatic change in the character’s relationship with their family, give them a clear mission to work on, and either let the player declare something about the world or provide a tool to help them carry out the mission. Here’s some ideas for each role:
When a character becomes a leader, the larger group is looking to them to provide guidance, protection and leadership. This leadership often has a specific end condition, whether that’s once you’ve fulfilled your obligation to the family or once you stop performing your responsibilities.
An agent is defined by their mission. Work out what sort of task they’ve been sent on, maybe let the player declare some details about the task, and have the GM give some obstacle they’ll need to overcome.
Rebels go against the family’s orthodoxy, but are still invested in changing it and guiding it to success. They can be a self-appointed leader, trying to reform the family even as it pushes against them. Alternatively, they might be going on a mission like an agent, but the mission is one the family hasn’t signed off on and may very well disapprove of.
Finally, an outsider has thoroughly rejected, or been rejected by the family. Maybe they reveal a greater obligation to another group, maybe they want to turn the family into something completely opposite to its current state, or maybe they’ve rejected all social ties to go and lurk in the wasteland. Either way, make sure this has a built-in end state so that the character has the option of returning to the fold later on.
As with all other rules in this book, Wonders stem from the fiction, to serve and fuel it. They are tools of narrative control designed to bring profound change to the scenario and history. So, if you want a Wonder of your own, observe your current fiction and consider possible story arcs that could rush by in broad strokes as the Ages turn. Our job is to find tools in the rules to describe these and create the proper fictional impact. With all that said, let’s make it clear that these are not firm rules, and more like advice from experience.
To understand the needs and scope of your Wonder, look for historical examples and extrapolate. Every Wonder published so far was based in at least two historical occasions: Total War obviously drinks from the Second World War, but also from the Great War and even a little from the Crusades. The Great Network may look like the Internet reborn, but there is much of the Islamic Golden Age and the Elizabethan Era in its framework. This ensures the Wonder has the flexibility needed to fit into Legacy’s wide range of potential settings, and that there’s plenty of variety in its outcomes.
Believe me when I tell you that Wonders are no frill or accessory to the game, but a necessity! Some works and deeds are simply too complex to fit in a single Family, or a single move. Their consequences too wide and deep for a mere roll. When you write your own Wonder, embrace change boldly.
Ask yourself what would be essential – not simply good or convenient, essential! – to start such change. These are your Wonder’s requirements.
The Family that seems perfectly fit to build the Wonder can provide you good clues, though make sure not to tailor it completely towards them. It’s important that other Families are able to join the race for completion of the Wonder. It should also be clear how others can detect and sabotage the project. Wonders deliver a lot of narrative control to the Owner, often at the expense of others, so it stirs competition and drama. Choosing the Requirements well is essential to keep things balanced and fair.
We’ve mainly opted for Surpluses as the main source of investment, but caches of Treaties, Data and Tech are also great choices. Conditional actions work well too, as they provide some room for chance and adventure in the wonder’s conclusion. As such, we recommend they be tied to Character actions. The stakes for these should be clear, and failure sharply felt.
Keep to the limit of five Requirements, unless you want a somewhat simpler Wonder. If you want to make it harder, just tweak Requirements to be Surpluses not listed in the Families’ starting Resources. No more simply spending Treaties to get it! Another way to build difficulty is to set a time limit (e.g. must be completed within one Age of starting), or set a specific order Requirements must be invested in.
Trials and Fortunes
First of all, determine the nature of the Wonder. Is it a quest for a Family, a joint venture, or a common good project?
If it’s a single Family effort, know that Trials will somehow benefit the Owner, even if only with narrative, not mechanical, benefits. Fortunes in this case benefit both the affected Families and the Owner. Also, consider making the Permanent Bonus something that can be Claimed by Force, as the Owner will already reap more than enough benefits to justify the investment. Total War is definitely a good example.
A common good Wonder falls in the other end of the competition spectrum – everyone wants it to succeed. Its construction can be debated, and Families & Factions can be convinced to exchange Treaties and hunt down or share Requirement Surpluses so that everyone does well on the Wonder Fortunes and Trials roll. Fortunes tend to create permanent elements that everyone can benefit from and Trials tend to harm everyone, juggling resources around or simply bringing troubles for the Homeland at large. The baseline here is that no one wants anyone to fail their Wonder roll. Meanwhile the Permanent Bonus should have a minor but ongoing impact, reminding everyone who they have to thank for their shared fortune. The Energy Revolution is a good example of this type of Wonder.
A joint-venture Wonder lies somewhere in between, granting large but ephemeral benefits for everyone who achieve Fortunes. On Trials it should penalize only the failing Family and reward only the Owner. These Wonders should be the ones that rely on Characters’ actions, to encourage party involvement. Age of Exploration was built very much in those lines. And as seen there, the Permanent Bonus should benefit everyone involved and, if possible, make life harder for those who opposed or ignored the Wonder.
As for the individual Trials and Fortunes, try to aim for 6 to 7 of each so that there’s plenty of variety between Families’ results. Next, think of the scope of your actions. Large impact over a short period of time? Or a massive change that slowly sinks in? Extra Surpluses come and go, as do Treaties. New Family and Character moves should last only one Age or at least be somehow costly simply because they increase the game complexity, and you might want to control their pace. On the other hand, changes in the Homeland, new Factions and structures might last until the endgame. Either way, Wonders mark the brightest and darkest moments of your timeline.
Legacy’s default mode of play is to spend several sessions (2-8) in one time period, then advance time by a few generations and create new characters. If you want to do things a bit differently, here are some easy hacks:
- A shorter timeskip: Move ahead by only a few years or decades – enough to bring change to the setting, but not enough that things are radically different. This may need you to alter results from The Ages Turn to make sure things make sense.
- Unaging Characters: While your families grow and change over the Ages, some mechanism (a relic of the World Before, or something intrinsic to your characters) ensures that they survive from Age to Age. This is easy to justify with a Remnant, Machine or Promethean, making them a good choice if one player in the group doesn’t want to treat characters as disposable.
- No Timeskip: While there’s a lot of subsystems that won’t kick in if your entire game stays focused on one time period, it’s still possible. If you want to do this, I’d recommend that a different method of Family advancement is used potentially using the entries of The Ages Turn as individual moves to gain advances by fulfilling certain conditions.
- Vignette: The opposite style to the above, in Vignette play each Age only takes one session. If you’re trying this method, make sure to frame each age as you create it such that it has an obvious conflict with aspects that interest every family, so that you can dive straight into the game.
If you’re changing the pace of the game, you may also wish to change how character advancement works. Especially if you’re spending dozens of sessions with the same group of characters, cycling through roles will quickly leave you with no advancements left to take. If you find yourself in this situation, here’s some suggestions:
- Slow down advancement: When you change a role, you gain 1 XP instead of advancing a stat or gaining a move. Once you hit a set number of XP, you gain an advance.
- Move between playbooks: When a timeskip happens, take this opportunity to move your character from one playbook to another – a young Hunter becomes an adult Envoy, and then a grizzled Sentinel. When you transition you still gain a relic from the old playbook, giving you a degree of access to your younger self’s moves.
- Add more advancements: Instead of retiring after you’ve marked all roles, maybe clear them out and let the player go round again. I’d advise against letting anyone have a stat higher than +3, as the dice mechanics break down once someone’s guaranteed to roll 7 or higher. If a player runs out of moves to pick, maybe let them pick moves from other character’s playbooks or gain an extra benefit – fancy devices, a gang of specialist followers, narrative authority over a particular part of the setting, or something similar.