About this project
Legend of the Elements is a tabletop roleplaying game. This means that it is a game played by a small group of interested people where everyone sits down for a few hours and pretend to be characters in a fictional world, using the rules in this book to aid in telling a certain type of story. No experience with roleplaying games is necessary to play this game, though at least one person in the group must read the whole book. Tabletop roleplaying games leave a lot of the specifics up to the imaginations of the players, instead providing structure to guide the creation of those specifics.
Legend of the Elements is a standalone hack of Apocalypse World. Apocalypse World is another tabletop roleplaying game that was written by D. Vincent Baker. If you are already familiar with that game, much of this game’s structure will be familiar. If not, don’t worry, this book contains all the information you need to play the game. The hallmarks of the system are a lot of self-contained sheets that make starting play easy, a main resolution system that creates an inseparable link between fiction and mechanics, and set of clear instructions for how the facilitator runs the game (rather than the vague guidelines and advice of many systems).
Legend of the Elements emulates supernatural martial arts action. The rules of this game will help you to play a game specifically within that genre of fiction, which is characterized by a world where the supernatural is, if not common, at least heard of and where both martial arts skill and control of the supernatural are normal for heroes. This genre, known as wuxia, is associated with Chinese literature, but the setting of Legend of the Elements is not a real world place. The assumed setting for the game is a fictional world with a pan-Asian culture, but there is no reason this must be the case at your table. The largest inspirations for this game are the Nickelodeon cartoons Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. This game is not associated with those shows, but they are an excellent guideline for tone, style, and pacing in Legend of the Elements. In addition to Avatar, Legend of the Elements draws on other cartoons and shows both from the west (like Samurai Jack) and the east (like Fullmetal Alchemist). Other inspirations include the Codex Alera novel series by Jim Butcher, wuxia films and literature, anime, and the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.
I'm a big fan of the wuxia genre, and of the Avatar cartoons in particular. For years, I've watched as roleplayers across the internet asked "How do I play that type of story?" and I've never been completely satisfied with the answers. Then I saw Apocalypse World! Apocalypse World was not only fun and easy to understand; the system's specific trappings made it an exceptionally good engine for modeling genre conventions. On top of all that, other hacks of the system (such as Dungeon World and Monsterhearts) showed how flexible and adjustable that basic framework was. My goal was clear: adapt the Apocalypse World engine to run stories of elemental magic kung-fu action. I never thought that 3 years later I'd be where I am now.
It's been a long road. I didn't have game design experience, so I looked for help with game design. With a little help (okay, a lot of help) from online communities like Story Games and the local communities in Olympia and Seattle, I designed the very best game I could. I didn't have any experience creating an actual product, so I taught myself a little layout and design. I needed art for the game, so I made some. It's been a labor of love, and I've met a lot of great people and learned a heck of a lot about making things. But now I'm ready to present it to the world, so I hope you all enjoy the game!
As stated above, the game is a hack of Apocalypse World, so there are some core game elements that are recognizable in it. The game has an MC (or Master of Ceremonies) taking on a "game master" role where they take control of the world and the characters the players encounter, while the players each have individual characters. Each of these characters is created from a Playbook, a sort of character sheet containing lists of options all aimed at creating a character of a specific archetype iconic to the genre (examples include the Fireshaper, the Scholar, and the Aristocrat). There are 11 such core playbooks in the game. In addition, there are a whole array of smaller Sub-playbooks which provide advanced or subordinate archetypes. Once your character meets the entry condition of a sub-playbook, they can easily take moves from it, but the character always belongs to a core playbook first. There are around a dozen subplaybooks (including the Bloodshaper, the Masterless Wanderer, and the Spy).
Normally, play is a conversation, with players saying what their characters do and the MC reacting to that. Sometimes though, what the characters do in the fiction lines up with the trigger for one of the Moves. When this occurs, the player rolls two six-sided dice (the only dice the game needs) and adds an indicated stat value between -1 and +3. On a result of 10 or greater, the action is a full success and the move will say what that means. On a 7, 8, or 9, the move is a partial success or a success with complications, and the move will say what that means. On a 6 or less, the move is a miss, and the MC gets to make one of their moves. The MC never rolls dice - when given these opportunities, they simply make things happen in the fiction. However, the MC is restrained by a list of Principles and possible Moves. In this way, the MC is not as omnipotent as in many tabletop RPGs - they're simply playing by a different set of rules.
The largest way that Legend of the Elements differs from the Powered By The Apocalypse formula is in its handling of damage and experience. Affecting anything (be it players, NPCs, or even the environment) places Tags, short little statements that describe a thing's condition in the fiction. Many moves can place Tags (such as noticing an Overhanging Archway while Observing Carefully or causing Grievous Wounds while Commiting Open Violence), and for the most part these Tags are simply narratively binding and do not provide any numerical support. Foes are taken out when you inflict a Tag that would really reasonably take them out, even if it's their first Tag. However, Tags have one mechanical use when combined with Chi.
Chi is a multi-use resource in Legend of the Elements. You can gain it in one of two ways: by failing rolls, or by roleplaying your Chakras (pairs of adjectives describing your personality that are chosen when you first fill out your playbook) in a way that gets you or your companions in trouble. There are two ways to spend it as well: spending five Chi lets you permanently upgrade your character, or you can spend it after making a Move that took advantage of a Tag in its narration in order to upgrade the result of the roll from a 6 or less to a 7, 8, or 9 result, or from a 7, 8, or 9 to a 10 or greater result. However, when you upgrade a roll this way, that Chi moves to the MC, who can use it to advance their Plots and NPC schemes.
All of the Move results feed right back into the narrative, so it's a smooth and seamless transition from an uncertain moment in the fiction to the move and then back to decisive action in the fiction. The result always moves the game forward, and never sits at a boring standstill.
The book will be digest-sized (5.5x8.5 inches) with just under 200 pages. It will have full-bleed black-and-white interior vector art, about 80 pieces in all, and a full-cover cover I painted.
Backing at any level gets you Draft access! The Draft is a PDF of the almost-final version of the game with the art stripped out and a bunch of the moves redacted. It is completely playable and fun, and can accessed for just a $1 pledge. Its main function is just as a sample of what the game is really like if you're on the fence. Once you've backed, just check out the first Backer's Only project update!
This campaign has a pretty narrow purpose: I'm funding a print run of the game. It's an opportunity for me to gauge the interest in the game so I can have the right number printed, and it's an opportunity for you, the backer, to get a nice printed copy of the game (perhaps along with some extras). My exact number of printed copies depends on how the campaign goes, but the minimum goal is based around printing 100 copies. Here is a breakdown of the costs for the campaign and what makes up the $1600 funding goal.
And here is an explanation of the tier rewards! I'm keeping it simple to start with, but I might have some more interesting stuff show up as I work out deals during the campaign.
$1 - Peasant: I sincerely thank you for your contribution and your name will be listed in the book. Support of folks like you have let me make this project happen, even without much money. You also get immediate access to the Draft copy.
$10 - Scholar: At this tier, you receive a PDF copy of the game! You also get your name in the book, of course. You also get immediate access to the Draft copy.
$25 - Shaper: The main tier for a physical copy of the game, you receive a single softcover book. You also get the PDF, and your name in the book. If you desire more than one copy, add an additional $25 per book (maximum four). You also get immediate access to the Draft copy.
$30 - Shaper +: A signed copy of the book, the PDF, and your name in the book. If you desire more than one copy, add an additional $25 per book (maximum four, all of them are signed). You also get immediate access to the Draft copy.
$65 - Merchant: Four copies of the book (unsigned), one copy of the PDF, and the backer's name and store's name in the book! Please, only actual retail stores please. I can't afford this if individuals use this tier. Thanks for understanding.
$65 - Spirit: A signed hardcover copy of the book, complete with special cover and all the stretch goals printed inside! This Kickstarter is the only opportunity to get one of these gorgeous copies of the book. You also get the PDF, your name in the book, and Draft access. Add an additional $65 per book (maximum four).
For any tier with physical rewards, please add $20 if you don't live in the continental United States. Sorry. Only one shipping charge per pledge though, even if you order multiple books.
Regarding the estimated delivery date, I'm mostly guessing for November. I don't want to commit to any stretch goals being done too fast, and I'd rather estimate a little on the long side than on the short side. It's entirely reasonable to expect your copies of the game in October or November though, and I'm making a commitment to getting everything out by the holidays.
This campaign has stretch goals! They're a mixture of new game content I'm writing, new content created by my fellow designers, and potential new rewards. I have such names as Jackson Tegu (of Monsterhearts: Second Skins fame, as well as his own myriad games), Orion Canning, Michael Wight, and Henry Branscombe (who already did much of the design for the Hunter and Peasant playbooks) doing little things if we get to that point!
You want a sneak peak of what's in store? Well, here's the first few goals just to whet your appetite.
BROKEN! The First Expansion: At $2000, I will be writing a new Playbook and a new Subplaybook! The Creature is a playbook that puts you into the body of a non-human animal or other entity that bears its own special powers. Wuxia and cartoons are rife with core characters who, despite not being human, are still major contributors to plots and action. And they needn't just be animals - The Creature also allows you to play a mystical Spirit from the world beyond. Examples include Monkey from Journey to the West and a certain flying bison. The Forecaster is a subplaybook that grants you control over the weather! The power of the skies will be available to any playbook, provided the entry condition is met.
BROKEN! Written Gold: At $2500, we'll get a few pieces of writing by Kristine Hassell and Jackson Tegu. We'll also be getting a new scenario by Andy Munich!
Andy Munich, The 8-Hour Gamer, Gaming Events Coordinator for GeekGirlCon and resident game master laureate, has play-tested Legend of the Elements extensively at both GeekGirlCon and GoPlay NorthWest. He's agreed to do what he does best and create a brand-new quick start scenario for the game. Titled The Last Dowery, this open ended adventure can serve as a one-off to familiarize a group with the game or as the seed for an ongoing series. If funded, expect this scenario to make its debut on the gaming floor of GeekGirlCon 2015!
Kristine Hassell, the Social Media Manager for GGC and president of their board of directors, will be writing a piece on age and gender in Avatar, cartoons, and wuxia! Wuxia is one of those few genres in which the elderly can be featured just as heavily as action stars as wise old mentor figures (their standard trope in action media). And cartoons are one of the few environments where children are awesome heroes! Old, young, boys, girls, everyone is relevant and exciting in a Legend of the Elements story.
Jackson Tegu, famed developer of the Monsterhearts: Second Skins, Superhero, Kaleidoscope, Glitch Iteration, Launch Day Part 1, and many, many more games, has agreed to write Channeling The World Beyond, a section of text about narrating and playing in the Spirit World. Whenever I play with Jackson I'm blown away by how interesting his little glimpses into the Spirit World are (such as a titanic bakery, it's owner just out of sight, or the Rustling Green, a wind spirit who lives in the shadow side of every leaf), and I'm excited for him to write about how he makes it work and give some sample spirits and locations in the spirit world.
BROKEN! The Spirit Tier: At $3000 is where things really start to get interesting, because I'll be introducing a new tier, Spirit, for the Limited Edition version of the book! The Limited Edition version of the game is special in a few ways. ~ The book will be hardcover! Same size, but in a nice solid binding, printed at a high quality. ~ The hardcover will have a unique cover. ~ All copies of the Limited Edition are signed. ~ All Stretch Goal materials, including the already-unlocked Creature, Forecaster, and writing sections, will be included inside the book in their own chapter at the back. ~ There's no other way to get the Limited Edition! After I send them out, I'll be selling the remainder of the order exclusively at conventions I attend (so the Pacific Northwest of the US) and when they're gone, they're gone! ~ The Limited Edition copy will be available for $65.
BROKEN! The Material World: At $3500, we unlock two new sub-playbooks! One by Drew Henderson, The Wielder (name pending), and the other by Henry Branscombe, The Merchant!
At $3500 we unlock Drew Henderson (aka Gray Pawn)'s Wielder sub-playbook. One common genre element that isn't represented in the base game is a character who's schtick is defined by something they own or carry. Drew is a huge fan of Samurai Jack, and Jack and his sword are an excellent example of this trope. It's not always a weapon though - sometimes it's a sacred article of clothing, or a magical ring, or the like. I'm very excited to see what Drew is cooking up. Drew is known for all sorts of project, but has done some really amazing work with the Anima Prime system.
Also at $3500, Henry Branscombe will be writing The Merchant sub-playbook! Whether a rooted merchant with a stable shop or a traveling salesman peddling wares, the Merchant is a pretty common background trope for characters - it's rarely the entirety of their character but still makes up an important part of their identity, and that's just what sub-playbooks are for! Henry doesn't have any published games, but you can see his work in The Peasant and Hunter playbooks and The Artist sub-playbook!
Perfect Lines: At $5000, game designer and layout expert Michael Wight (aka Gremlin Legions) will be redesigning the playbook layout! Their current state looks pretty good, but as the main point of contact between the players and the game, I want to provide the best possible playsheets. For that purpose, I'm turning to Michael, whose stuff always looks gorgeous. I really really want to reach this one.
Love In The Air: At $6000, Henry Branscombe and Orion Canning are bringing romance to Legend of the Elements! Henry will be writing another sub-playbook, the Romantic, a lovestruck character. Orion is writing a whole sub-system for the game, relationship (or "shipping") moves, giving everyone a chance to add just a touch of affection to their characters' arcs, whether the characters know it or the players are just enjoying seeing them unconsciously circle each other. Customized to each playbook, Orion's moves are looking to be a great addition to the game if you're interested in a romantic subplot, and characters who aren't interested in that sort of thing can just sit it out. The Romantic is also optimized to work really well with or without the context of the shipping moves.
There's even more content just waiting to be seen, but you'll have to start unlocking them to see what they are! You're gonna want to see them, there's some great stuff in there...
As far as "who gets them," every Stretch Goal is unlocked for everyone, even non-backers (though backers get them first!). They'll go up on my download page on the Legend of the Elements website for free and stay there. Unlocking these stretch goals not only benefits you, but is a benefit for every player!
I'm Max Hervieux, and this is my first full game I've published. I've been designing content for about four years, I run a blog called The Logbook Project, I'm a recent university graduate. Earlier this year I published a book called Learning Pixel Art aiming to teach total beginners in that style of art, which is another of my passions. I've been making art for over ten years, and been doing vector art for over four.
Risks and challenges
This is my first Kickstarter! This is a new experience for me, but thankfully the hardest part is done: the actual game. Everything is written, and simply in need of one more layout pass from me. The writing is finishing being edited and refined, and the art is all made (apart from anything I'll need to make for any potential Stretch Goals). I've also got a really good support system in my friends and communities here in the Pacific Northwest - I have an abundance of people I can lean on for support and advice if any surprises pop up.
The largest risks come from outside my gaming situation. I'm currently finding a new place to live, and am starting a new job soon, so if life comes around and bites me I'll have to deal with that. Still, that's a delay at worst - come metaphorical rain or storm, this game is ready.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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