Thursday, August 10, 2017

Five or So Questions with James Iles on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins

Today I've got an interview with James Iles on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd Edition. It's currently on Kickstarter and I'm pretty amped about it! James had a lot of cool stuff to say about it and oh, my god, this art! There's a quickstart here, btw. Check the responses out below!


Tell me a little about Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. What excites you about it?

Legacy's about how people keep going after the world ends. It's about the new communities and ways of living that spring up in a comprehensively changed land, and how people and societies evolve to adapt to the new environment. It's a post-apocalyptic game that lets each group of players create an amazing world and then ruin it in a unique way. Then you dive into gameplay, with each player's family of survivors dealing with the trials of surviving among the old world's ruins while sending agents out into the wasteland to explore, make friends, and find the resources their family need to prosper. Your game zooms in to the drama of a few explorers scavenging for exotic technology in a flooded city, and zooms out to explore how a family seizes control of a town over the course of a few weeks. 

The game's also episodic: the group can decide to draw a line under the current point in history, and move the clock forward some significant chunk of time - a year, a decade, or even a century according to the group's taste. Then you tell the story of how the world changed over that time, how each player's family has changed, and start exploring this new age. This gets at what really excites me about Legacy - the family is your fixed point as you travel further and further into the future, and you get to explore how they change over the generations, how they change the world around them, and explore how this new culture takes form in the post-apocalypse.

What inspired you to make a game about families, especially a post-apocalyptic story? 

Legacy started with the idea of taking a group far into the future over generations and seeing how they changed and grew over time. I was inspired by the Civilization series of games but thought that a tabletop RPG wanted to focus on a finer scale than nations and countries. At the same time, Quinn Murphy was talking a lot about the importance of community and how games often ignore it. These came together into the idea of families - dynasties that'd be your constant across the ages. I could have called them factions, or guilds, but I thought family was the best term for the ties between them. I wanted that feeling of belonging, of bonds that went beyond friendship and fealty. 

The post-apocalyptic theme came partly from wanting groups to start with a blank slate and expand outwards in whatever direction they liked, and partly because the post-apocalyptic games I'd been playing at the time - Tribe8 and Fallout - had a pretty big emphasis on forming new communities to face the wasteland together.

Tell me about the setting and themes of Legacy. What will we recognize? What do you think will feel new or unusual for players?

Legacy's a game about exploration, adaptation and evolution. My day job's an ecologist and disease biologist, and some of that has definitely bled in! The gist is that the world's been changed by some kind of reality-warping event, and nothing works the same way anymore. You've survived because you've found or held onto some source of strength - the tech of the old world, a driving passion for justice, a new religion from the apocalypse's fires. But that won't be enough to go beyond survival and start thriving. To do that, you'll need to explore and understand the new world, find things you can use to make your family stronger or deal with their frailties, and become something that can prosper here.

So there's a lot of your standard post-apocalyptic tropes: the playbooks are based on common archetypes in post-apoc fiction, and your group can pretty easily make their own version of anything from Planet of the Apes to Mad Max. What Legacy does differently is let you move past the ruins, and ask how the society that people build in this new world has moved beyond their ancestors to create something new. One of the things that really got to me in the most recent Fallout game was that it's more than 200 years after the bombs fell and it feels like it's only been a few generations - there are still skeletons and trash lying everywhere, even in the settlements where people live, and it seems like there was a real lack of imagination about people's ability to rebuild. I'm hoping with Legacy to avoid that trap, and give every group the tools to make a society that's weird, wonderful, and evolved to fit the new world.

How does the time advancement work in game? Is there mechanical impact, or impact on the environment?

As Legacy's powered by Apocalypse World, it's all done by moves! The simplest one is triggered when everyone feels like they're done with the current time period. If someone raises the possibility of moving forward, everyone else either agrees or says one final thing they want to do. Once these are done, the group decides how far they want to go forward. This is completely according to the group's taste - you might want to hop forward only a few years or go a century into the future to give yourselves license to really mix things up. 

Each player then rolls to see how their families prosper over that time, with the roll based on the balance between the family's assets and weaknesses (more on that later). If they roll well, they get to pick a couple of good events that happen to them - maybe they go through a golden age and learn new tricks, or maybe they create a trading hub and gain some wealth. If they roll badly, they pick some bad events - maybe their family is absorbed by another, and they only break away and regain their own culture a few years before play resumes. Either way, these events change up the family in big ways, adding stat points, new moves, ties to other families and resources they can draw on. They also can change where each family lives, what guiding principles define them, and what resources, opportunities and dangers are lying out there in the wasteland. Finally, you alter the map, adding new features and expanding the safe portion of the wasteland according to the events picked.

There's a special way to advance time - building a Wonder. These were directly inspired by Civilisation again: they're grand projects that require you to invest lots of resources, but when they're complete they permanently change the world. As soon as one's complete, you zoom out to outline all the ways it's changed the world. Each wonder has a custom table of good and bad effects that the other families go through, while the Wonder's owner sits back and takes in the benefits. The Wonders in the book are a pretty eclectic bunch - there are things you physically build like The Capital or The Great Network, social efforts like Revolution and Total War, and even finding a new place to live with The Age of Discovery. Each one leaves its own mark on the world, giving a permanent benefit to whichever Family controls them.

How do resources work in Legacy, and do they translate over the episodes moving forward in time?

Legacy has a pretty simple resource system. Your family will have Surpluses of certain resources (e.g. Land or Morale) and a Need for others (e.g. Medicine or Trade), with the balance between those setting your family's overall Mood. As your character takes action in the fiction you might gain surpluses from finding a cache of resources, lose a need by addressing its root problem, or trade surpluses with other families to deal with your needs. Each surplus helps define your family's strengths and gives your character better gear; each need tells you what the family needs you to focus on, and gives your GM a stick to poke you with. Other than that they don't take an active role, only kicking in when the balance between surpluses and needs goes past a certain extreme. Too many needs and your family falls into crisis; more surpluses than you know what to do with and you're flush with resources and get some bonus for the rest of this age.

There are also consumable resources - Tech is the weird devices left over from the old world, and can be spent to boost your family's chance of success or give characters a unique ability with limited uses. Data is your knowledge about the new world, and can be spent to boost your character's actions or add new elements to the map. These flow more quickly in and out of your stock as your characters discover things out there in the world and use them to your advantage.

Finally, there are the treaties you have with other families and factions. These work a lot like Monsterhearts' strings - you'll have a stock of them for each other group, and can spend a point of Treaty to get a faction to do something for you or take their resources for yourself. You can freely give other people Treaty on you as a bargaining chip, but each Family playbook also has their own thing they can do to take treaty on others - the Enclave of Fallen Lore gets it when they show others how to use their technology properly, while the Servants of the One True Faith forgive others of their sins. That way you're incentivised to keep getting out there and meddling in other people's affairs so that you can call on their help when you need it.

All of these stay with you as you move forwards in time, although they can change their context - Surplus: Transport means something different when a horse and cart is state of the art compared to a few centuries down the line when everyone's riding jet bikes.


Thanks so much to James for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed learning about Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and that you'll share around the interview when you check out the Kickstarter today! 

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