Games working on the Apocalypse Engine are incredibly rewarding to GM: you can flow from scene to scene, from moment to moment as the story demands. You’ll spend most of your time in free conversation, unimpeded by restrictive rules, but at key points in the narrative the game’s moves narrow down your focus to drive the story towards drama and interesting choices.
Getting the most of this structure needs a certain mindset: you’re not writing a script for the players to experience, but gripping the reins of the story your group’s telling as it rampages about and shifts direction, and guiding it towards entertaining outcomes.
This chapter contains procedures to help you run this game, as well as advice on how best to use them. There’s a hierarchy to the guidelines Legacy gives you as a GM. Here they are from most to least crucial:
- Your Agenda is the core philosophy of running Legacy. Everything you do should serve your Agenda – it’s why you’re playing.
- Legacy is a conversation. That’s why you should bear in mind What To Say.
- Your Principles are how you pursue your Agenda. They’re guidelines to keep in the back of your head as you play.
- Reactions are the precise tools you use according to your Principles to pursue your Agenda. When players miss a roll, or everyone’s looking to you to see what happens next, make a reaction.
Make the World Seem Real
If the world’s not believable, you’re going to have problems. Make sure to stay grounded and human even in the most fantastical situations.
Make Their Lives Historic
Everyone’s here to make interesting stories. If characters are spinning their wheels, give them choices to sink their teeth into. The character’s successes should be momentous and their failures should be infamous – give them every chance to avoid mediocre or petty outcomes.
Play to Find Out What Happens
This is your reward and your goal in running Legacy. There’s no pre-planned story, and no assumed future. Just the logical consequences of the players’ actions in the world, and the story they create. Avoid getting bogged down in planning – feel free to imagine possible situations and interesting conflicts to bring out, but stay ready to ditch everything in response to the player’s choices.
What to Say
- What the principles demand.
- What the rules demand.
- What your prep demands.
- What honesty demands.
A key part of running a game well is being fair. You should never attempt to negate a player’s unexpected victory by inventing new threats or rewriting old ones, but neither should you change things about to make things easy for them. The characters should live interesting lives, but not effortless ones.
Between sessions you might decide things about how settlements function, what dangers might lurk out there in the wasteland, and how factions will try to act against the player’s families. If you’ve set up a conflict based on this prep, don’t pull your punches and reverse it half way through – or add extra challenge to undercut the player’s unexpected victory.
Also remember that your prep isn’t everything; players will always come up with left-field solutions to the problems they face, and it’s important to keep an open mind. When they try something unexpected, consider the situation in the fiction, the rules, and the Principles, and say what makes sense to you.
Create pressures that force evolution
The Fall changed everything, and the survivors are only partially adapted to the world’s new state. Show how adaptation has changed them, and attack them with pressures that force them to evolve or perish.
Evoke the past, think to the future
Always look for an opportunity to ground current events in the established past, and consider the impact their actions may have in years to come.
Fill the world with ruins
As you describe the world, fill it with mystery and history. One Family lives in a giant crater; what carved it out, and what was there before? Are those mountains, or ruined skyscrapers?
Begin and end with the fiction
Remember that moves and their effects exist only within the fiction unfolding at the table. When your players make a move, its trigger should colour its results, and its results should be concretely contextualised in the fiction.
Nothing is eternal
The easiest way to make the game dynamic and the events historic is to always be ready to destroy, uproot and mutate the people, factions and settlements in the world. Don’t trivialise the player’s achievements, but make sure they have to work for their security.
Draw maps, leave blanks
Legacy is grounded in the landscape. Families fight over natural resources and political borders, characters explore mysterious structures, and natural disasters sweep through the wasteland.
A map helps you track all of these and keep everyone on the same page – but remember to leave room for players to add to it through Data spending.
Write histories, and reference them
Legacy is also grounded in history. Keep a record of the significant events of each Age. When you’re looking for ideas, consider how past events might cause new troubles.
Name people, know who backs them
Everyone has the potential to be important, and having a name keeps them memorable. As everyone’s a member of a family, clan or cult (however estranged) consider where they could get help once characters start making trouble.
Be a fan of the characters
Like an audience member, you’re here to celebrate their victories and mourn for their losses. Put them into interesting situations, but never force them in a particular direction.
Apply consequences elsewhere
Sometimes it’s better not to show the players the immediate consequences. Make a note and bring them to light later. Make sure their source is clear when they’re revealed, so that it’s clear you’re not just inventing extra adversity as a power trip.
Ask questions and use the answers
Use questions to focus the group’s imagination on specific elements of the world. When you want to highlight someone’s day to day life, their motivations, or their history, just ask them. Answers build ties to the world, and give you foundations to build your own ideas on. Try to avoid completely open questions, though: giving a player the authority to declare too much in one sweep might make them feel crushed by the responsibility, or force you to step on their toes if something they suggest is harmful to the tone you all want from the game.
Be flexible with your responsibilities
Sometimes it’s more interesting to put decision-making power in someone else’s hands. This can be one of the players, giving them the choice of how a situation resolves, or letting them say what’s happening when the spotlight moves to them. It can even be one of your characters, letting you make the choice that makes sense according to the characters and world as established.
Make your reactions look natural
When you use a reaction, consider the current story and what you’d like to see the players deal with. Don’t give away any kind of meta-textual concern, though: channel your reactions through established parts of the fiction and maintain the illusion that they’re a natural consequence of a living, breathing world.
Inform characters, not players
When you give the players information, relay it through their character’s senses and inferences. For example: “Jane, Kate sees a cloud of dust on the horizon. You know it’s not a sandstorm – looks like at least a dozen vehicles”. Doing this instead of just saying “Jane, a convoy of vehicles is coming” adds an opportunity to say something about the character’s insight and competence, and makes sure the focus stays on the character’s feelings and experiences.
A family is a group of individuals
Even when actions are happening at the family level, you can put actions and reactions within the context of a family member learning information and making choices – either their main character or an incidental character invented for this moment. “Lex, you’re the first to see the scouts return. As they unpack they shout up a report – Morrow’s Sons are on the move southwards”.
As the GM you’re here to manage the pacing of the game, push the players into interesting decisions, and portray the world and its inhabitants. As such you don’t make proactive moves so much as reactions. You make reactions in three situations:
- When a player rolls a 6 or lower on a move.
- When everyone’s looking to you to find out what happens next.
- When the players offer you up a golden opportunity.
To explain that third point, it’s when the fiction so far has established that one thing will follow on as a direct consequence from another. If it’s been previously established that stepping on a pressure plate will trigger a bomb, and a player describes their character stepping on the plate, that’s a golden opportunity. Less dramatically, it’s what happens when a PC makes a faux pas in a foreign court, when they consciously take the last supplies an expedition had, when they do something you want to immediately respond to.
The difference between this and the first two categories is that the GM can actively interrupt a player’s narration to give an immediate reaction. The GM should only do this when the trigger has been previously established.
The Strength of a Reaction
When you make a reaction, it can be hard or soft.
A soft reaction is one that leaves room for the players to react – for example, describing a cache the characters spot on the other side of a chasm (Offer an Opportunity) or saying that a mutant raises her spear and charges the Sentinel (Put Someone in a Spot). Once you’ve described the reaction, you ask the players what they do and work through the actions they describe.
A hard reaction is one that cuts straight to the consequences. They tread on a weak roof section and fall a few stories (Deal Harm as Established), or they get home and find that their brother’s lost their food stocks on a bet (Erase a Surplus). Often enough, a threat introduced by a soft reaction can lead to hard reactions down the line if the players overlook it or decide to focus their efforts on other dangers.
Reactions in Detail
Reveal an unwelcome truth
Something about the world is more dangerous than the players thought, or one of their strengths is revealed to be less potent (or reliable) than they were expecting. Use this to add tension to the scene, but not necessarily in a way that demands immediate action.
Put someone in a spot
Force someone into a situation where they must make a decision. You can describe the situation and give them their options, or you can show that their current situation is untenable and let the player decide what decision they make. Use this to bring the scene’s tension to boiling point.
Tell them the consequences and ask
If the thing a character’s doing may cost them, you can say what the consequences will be and ask if they still want to go through with it. This way you can complicate their life while giving them the power to choose how much they suffer.
Stop the players from working together. At the character level, a collapsing ruin might leave two players stranded away from the others; at the family level, a river in flood could divide the homeland and stop families from trading. In regular tabletop games splitting the party can bring the game grinding to a halt, but the Apocalypse Engine powering Legacy helps you keep the game’s spotlight flexible and highlight a character or family’s strengths and weaknesses when isolated from the others.
Take away their stuff
The players have interesting gear, helpful followers, useful assets and strategic territory. Don’t be afraid to take some of that away through sabotage, thievery or flaws. Make them want to get it back.
Put the characters in a situation where their options are severely limited. This could be literal (bound and locked in a cell) or more fleeting (pinned down by gunfire). On the family level you can restrict a caravan’s ability to escape an ambush, have an important operative go missing, or trap them in a web of obligations.
Deal harm (as established)
If the fiction says someone should get hurt, hurt them. If someone drives off a cliff, you can harm their vehicle; if a player gets an armoured bug to walk over a mine, you can narrate the bug’s death without the player having to roll Fiercely Assault. When a player’s getting hurt, make sure the Harm’s appropriate to the fiction.
Erase a Surplus
Erasing a Surplus is pretty dramatic, and represents great changes in the fiction: losing a mine, a spy network, or your granary. It’ll take great effort to rebuild them. If the peril assaulting a family would reduce their capabilities but not cause ongoing issues, it makes sense to remove one of their Surpluses.
Add a Need
In contrast, a Need is something new that’s afflicting a family. If a plague starts spreading through their ranks, if they’re forced out into the Wasteland, or if they go through a schism, it makes sense to add a Need. A Need lingers and can cause repeated trouble with In Want, so they’re best used for ongoing problems in the family.
Turn their move on them
If they were trying to make someone do something, they instead end up promising a service; if they were trying to capture someone, they end up at their mercy; if they’re trying to get information, they end up revealing something of themselves.
Give them recourse, solace or comfort
Even the wasteland has moments of beauty, peace and grace. When your characters have gone through the wringer, it can be remarkably effective to take the pressure off and let them relax a little. Even on a 6- you can choose not to inflict misfortune – or even provide unearned rewards.
Offer an opportunity, with or without cost
Show them something they want, and say what they need to do to get it. Sometimes you’ll want to put a huge cost on this to force a dilemma on the player; other times you’ll make it easy because it’s more interesting to see what the player does with it.
Show a remnant of the past, used in new ways
Every part of the world is built on the Before and twisted by the Fall. Even the parts that remained intact may have been made irrelevant by the new world, but they’re still potent. Put settlements in the body of a battlemech, peddle mutagens as a recreational drug, show cults who worship data outputs as messages from god.
Show the consequences of past decisions
When you revisit somewhere the players have been before, show how it’s changed since we were last there. Demonstrate how their previous actions – both this age and in past ages – have had an impact on this place in expected and unexpected ways.
Show a downside to their playbook
Each playbook has strengths with sometimes inconvenient costs, and weaknesses they’d prefer to ignore. Bring those costs and weaknesses to the forefront – see what an Elder will do without their staff, or show how little the Firebrand has to offer once the regime has been toppled.
Introduce a new locale
If characters stumble onto an interesting new location, or you dramatically shake up the homeland, put it on the map to cement it in player’s imaginations.
Highlight a weakness of their family
Think about the weaknesses of their approach: Tyrants rely on their neighbours being weaker than they are, and the Servants need others to recognise their moral authority. By forcing them out of their comfort zone you give them opportunities to find new solutions, grow, and adapt.
Use a reaction from a Faction or Threat
You may have Factions or Threats prepared. Each of those will have their own reactions to activate when the time is right.
After every reaction: “What do you do?”
Make it clear after every reaction that the ball’s now in the player’s court. Answer any questions they have, but it’s their turn now to act.
The Fall smashed the old world into a thousand pieces, and the shattered landscape is full of terrors. If you can overcome them, though, the future awaits.
Dangers are the most direct tools you can use to provide adversity for the characters. They come in four broad categories:
- Factions are political forces within the Homeland. Like the player families, they have surpluses, needs and objectives. They could be controlling forces for the players to revolt against, or rebellious insurgents disrupting the homeland’s stability.
- Hazards are the intrinsic dangers of the Wasteland. From the mundane issues of thirst and disease to strange reality-warping anomalies, they provide flavour to particular regions of the wasteland but are otherwise a passive force.
- Threats are individual active dangers – beasts, looters, monsters and more.
- Fronts are a set of threats with a common source. As the threats continue to manifest, they increase in power and scope, until the front causes lasting change to the world – unless the players stop it from coming to pass.
Each danger has custom moves that define the ways it makes an impact on the fiction. You use these moves the same way you use your other GM reactions – when someone rolls a 6-, when everyone looks to you to say what happens, and when the players offer you a golden opportunity.
Example Threat: Remnant Beasts
“The Light gave us all two arms, two legs, two eyes, one head. Once, every creature was as pure as we are. No longer. Now, the Light gives us fire to purge the many-headed, the skinless and the ravening.”
Stories say that during the Fall the night was filled with screams as potent energies lashed the landscape, fusing beasts together or imbuing them with cancerous regeneration. These Remnant beasts and their children still roam the landscape, driven half-mad with pain but holding a cold hunter’s instinct within their protean, rippling bodies.
- Stalk their target from afar.
- Lunge forward and drag them back.
- Twist into a new adaptation.
The Harm Scale
Dangers often pose a physical risk to characters. Here’s how much Harm they might deal out:
- 1 Harm: Punches, kicks, a savage beating, a swarm of rats.
- 2 Harm: Improvised weapons, claws and teeth, a pack of mutated dogs.
- 3 Harm: The best weapons modern artisans can make, a blow from one of the monsters of the Fall.
- 4 Harm: Artefact weapons from the World Before, having your arm twisted off by a reality warp.
- 5 Harm: Ground zero at a detonating reactor, being disintegrated, a building falling on you.
The Homeland teems with life settlements, cults and organisations outside of the control of the players. To spotlight particular groups, write them up as a Faction.
To build a Faction, you first need an overall concept. Unused Family playbooks are a good place to look for ideas, as well as the other settlements and organised threats you defined when you built the world together. Each Faction should have something it’s actively pursuing in the world, to ensure they come into contact (and conflict) with the players.
The second step is to create the faction’s Face. This NPC is a pivotal person in the story of the Faction whether they’re its leader, its emissary, or an agitator causing the Faction’s current turmoil. Flesh them out and try to make sure they’re someone the PCs would be interested in talking to.
Each Faction should have 2-3 Surpluses and 2-3 Needs, assigned to fit the fiction. Each Surplus represents one of the faction’s key strengths. For each Surplus, write an ability the faction has gained from that resource that you can use as a GM reaction. Their Needs, on the other hand, represent the things the Faction is lacking and will be actively searching for. For each Need, say what will happen if the Faction gets it. Finally, Factions have Alliance Moves that give them Treaty points on other Families. You can spend these Treaty points in the same ways player families can: take one of their Surpluses, or get them to back you up, fall into indecision or protect something important.
You should write an Alliance move specific to the ways the Faction can win obligation, prestige or fear from other groups. Here are some examples:
- The Faction controls a desirable resource or luxury. When they give a gift of it to a player Family, they gain 1-Treaty on them.
- The Faction controls territory. When they give a player Family safe passage through it, they gain 1-Treaty on them.
- The Faction has cultural power. When they publicly praise a player Family, they gain 1-Treaty on them.
Example Faction: The Cult of Weathertop
Concept: A cult formed around the constant stream of data received in the ruins of an astronomical facility. The Reverend came from the wastes bearing the cypher for the messages, and to this day he reveals their full content only to the initiated.
Face: The Green Reverend is only partially human. He can be extremely convincing, but his ascension from fringe cult leader to master of the Homeland’s most advanced settlement has left a swath of mangled bodies behind.
Surpluses (their sources of strength):
- Leadership: The Reverend’s acolytes shun or aggressively push away anyone trying to get them to break ranks or gossip.
- Defences: Experimental rifles make the area miles around the observatory lethal.
- Knowledge: Reveal a prepared countermeasure to the player’s actions.
Needs (their agenda and threats):
- Trade: The Chapter needs resources and raw materials for their mysterious project. Every time they meet this need, the weather of the Homeland changes in one specific way.
- Medicine: The project has dangerous side effects, and their population is declining rapidly. If they meet this need and deal with the deleterious side effects, the remaining effects twist and mutate their people.
- Recruits: A constant need. Whenever they achieve it, they build a new Surplus and start another scheme for more Recruits or Slaves.
The Cult broadcasts forecasts of the next season’s weather free of charge. When this forecast helps a Family avoid misfortune, the Cult gains 1-Treaty on them.
The Fall has twisted some parts of the world, ruined others, and birthed strange energies that still linger on. These hazards make the wasteland dangerous and unpredictable, and emphasise the value of the security carved out in the Homeland. By defining them you turn the abstract danger of the wasteland into specific areas of concern, and provide an opportunity for players to neutralise a hazard and reclaim some territory from the wasteland.
To make a hazard, start with a concept for it. Is it…
- An insidiously spreading toxic, infectious or psychoactive agent?
- Terrain that shifts and changes unpredictably?
- Non-hostile but erratic vegetable, insectile or artificial life?
- A Hostile Ground unsuitable for human habitation?
- Something else?
Work out if the threat causes direct damage to characters – if so, give it a harm rating. Also give it two or three special GM Reactions to represent the effects it has on the players and the environment.
Hazards are largely passive, so their reactions should trigger on character actions and represent ways characters can mitigate or exploit the hazard.
Example Hazard: The Nest
A nest of hundreds of small emerald spiders. They will devour anything living that comes near, but not for food; the victim is reconstituted in another nest elsewhere in the wasteland, still alive if somewhat traumatised.
When you offer yourself up to the spiders, roll +Steel. On a hit you reform in another nest much closer to your destination. On a 7–9 choose two:
- The nest you reform at is safe;
- You’re physically unchanged;
- There’s no lingering hallucinations or arachnophobia.
- Form a new nest in an unexpected location.
- Vomit up something from elsewhere in the Wasteland.
A Front is a group of dangers, whether political, martial, or natural, with a common origin or theme. This could be:
- An organised army sending forth soldiers, raiders, and spies.
- An ecological shift causing knock-on catastrophes in the region’s food supply and sending animals rampaging.
- A religious movement undermining the players’ Families with taboos on their products and slave revolts.
- Any other grouping of multiple threats with a common theme.
A Front comes with ideas of what it could do absent the player’s actions, its potential end result, and characters the players might meet as they deal with it. They’re broad threats, designed to help you organise your thoughts on how to challenge the players, and as a reference of what to do when you’re short on ideas when you’re running the game.
Like Factions, you first need an overall concept of its origins. The world of Legacy is dangerous and impoverished, so dangers might arise from the treacherous new status quo created by the Fall, the emergence of something unexpected that causes upheaval, or someone resorting to desperate measures to get what they need. It may also help to have a face: as with Factions, they give a focus for the PC’s interactions with the threat. As the story of the front develops, feel free to swap in one face for another – a herald of the oncoming horde might be replaced by their warlord, for example.
The next step is to develop the individual Dangers that may be created by the Front; each Front should have 2-3. Think through which outcomes of that root cause would have an impact on the player’s Families and be interesting to play through, and focus on those.
A Front is a big enough deal that every player should be able to interact with it. To aid this you should present variation in the problems the Dangers pose: politicians, scientists, warriors and explorers should all have something to do. Where the Danger will be confronted directly by the players, you should give its representatives moves and Harm if applicable. It is through dealing with these Dangers that the players will understand the root cause of the Front, and build a plan to deal with it before the worst comes to pass.
The fourth step is to determine the Front’s Fallout – what exactly you see happening if the players cannot stop the front. Once this comes to pass, the Front is over. This should be disastrous, but not game-ending; if a Front comes to pass, it should define the Age and reshape the player’s Families without wiping them out entirely or bringing them so low it wouldn’t be fun to continue playing them. While a given Front is unlikely to get to the point of inflicting Fallout on the world, having it written down gives you an idea of the stakes that are in play.
The Stellar Ambitions of Magister Arikhiv
Magister Arikhiv leads the Order of the Stars, a cult of technologists seeking to escape this world into space. They have found in a crumbling tower a pre-Fall device able to communicate with the satellites floating in high orbit, and are trying to commandeer one and use it as transport. As the satellites were never meant to return to the planet’s surface, this will not end well.
Face: Magister Ilsa Arikhiv, an elderly scholar whose greying hair and weathered ebony skin is normally hidden under a patched environment suit. Her years have seen friends, family members and lovers snatched away by the wasteland, and now she seeks security for her clan in the peace of space. She’s a genius with technology, but her grasp of pre-Fall space exploration is shaky at best and her ego will prevent her seeing her mistake until it’s too late.
- Crops start failing, tides shift and thunderstorms batter the Homeland as Magister Arkhiv tampers with weather control satellites.
- The Order of the Stars starts raiding surrounding families for the supplies and tech they believe they’ll need in space.
- The stars start moving in unprecedented ways, causing panic in the astrologers and mystics of surrounding clans.
Fallout: A satellite crashes to earth in a great conflagration, annihilating the Order of the Stars and the surrounding land.
The Winter Stampede
Every year the megafauna that stomped the pre-Fall cities flat complete a tour of the Homeland, destroying everything in their path but leaving behind unearthed treasure and fertile land. This year a quake has toppled a mountain in their path and diverted their migration. Even as the first snow falls and your family shelters from the cold, hundreds of tonnes of lumbering beast are thundering towards their settlements.
Face: Nym Carrera. Nym is an outrider of the Engine Hearts, a group of nomads that follow the megafauna on patchwork vehicles to harvest the choicest leavings. Nym was the first to realise the beasts had changed direction, and now they’re riding as quick as possible to warn others of the stampede.
- Packs of predators are pushed by the oncoming stampede into the players’ lands.
- Earthquakes shake the ground, threatening homes and food stores. Refugees warned by Nym arrive asking for shelter and warmth.
Fallout: The stampede carves through the Homeland, leaving hundreds homeless in the bitter winter.