Legend Points are not real!

One of my pet peeves when it comes to the Earthdawn system is the idea that Legend Points (Earthdawn’s equivalent of Experience Points) are real within the context of the game setting. This is, I believe, largely the result of so many other abstract concepts from other RPGs (like levels, classes, and so forth) given in-game reality (Circles, Disciplines, etc), as well as a system called “Legendary Status” that uses a character’s Legend Point total as a measure of how famous (or infamous) they are.

Here is an example from RPGnet:

And all of this ties (sorry for the pun) directly to how fame and XP are interconnected. A famous weapon (like Nioku’s Bow) is powerful because it’s famous. And it’s famous because Nioku was famous, and did legendary things with her bow. You tieing your personal pattern (via threads) to the pattern of a famous weapon make both of you more potent via the fact that both of you have fame. As you make legends with an item both you and it become more potent.

Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite things about Earthdawn is how it gives in-game reasons for a lot of the common fantasy RPG tropes. But the idea that a character’s power is the result of his fame is putting the cart before the horse.

If you think about the idea of Legend Points as an in-game thing, it leads to some interesting (and problematic) places. If you can earn ‘experience’ by telling stories, does that mean an individual can become a great swordsman by telling stories about being a great swordsman?  If an adept kills a horror in the forest, and he doesn’t tell anybody, does he earn the Legend Points? Neither of these really make any sense.

Take a look at the Awarding Legend Points section of the Earthdawn Gamemaster’s Guide (it starts on page 97). There are several elements that result in Legend Awards for characters:

  • Completing goals (session and adventure)
  • Conflicts
  • Gathering Magical Treasure
  • Individual Deeds
  • Roleplaying

In other words, a character earns a Legend Award for doing stuff. Telling tales (aka ‘building your legend’) certainly qualifies as doing something, but it doesn’t have its own category (depending on your play style, it could be counted as either an individual deed or roleplaying).

Legend Points are a character advancement mechanic. They are a way to model a character’s experience, placing that in a mechanical framework. They are not “real” in the setting of Earthdawn. A character may talk about their ‘legend’ but there is no in-game quantification of this — unlike “Third Circle” or “Warrior Discipline” which do have an in-game reality.

If an adept kills a horror in the forest, he has an experience that teaches him something that allows him to advance in the practice of his Discipline. It doesn’t matter if he tells anybody or not he still has the experience and would, in game mechanical terms, earn Legend Points.

Legend has a thematic importance to Earthdawn because of the post-apocalyptic nature of the setting, highlighting the importance of discovering that which was lost, it is a real thing — the history and oral traditions of the setting. Legend Points are not a quantifiable thing to the people of Barsaive, and these two things should not be conflated.

Nioku’s bow is famous because it has a lot of magical power. It doesn’t have a lot of magical power because it is famous. The last line in the post I quoted is true — as you make legends with an item both you and the item become more potent but that power is because you are doing things and those things you have done lead to legends.


3 thoughts on “Legend Points are not real!

  1. Joshua Fontany

    I think the ‘cart before the horse’ comment is accurate. In my games, I explain that Legend Points represent an abstract potential of “how complex your character’s Pattern can become”.

    The in-game description would be: Your character’s Pattern meaningfully interacts with other magical Patterns and thus grows in complexity.

    Out of character descriptions would be: You do stuff. We assign you a LP currency for that stuff you did. You spend LP currency to change/advance your character’s stats, which represents his or her Pattern changing.

  2. arma

    “what if I do something under an assumed name”
    “what if no one knows, or what if I tell more people”
    is usually the point where things (and the game) break down even for the most stubborn advocate for giving mechanics a voice inside the game’s fictional context. And there’s been too many discussions about connecting name to deed, or not connecting them, and how that gels with your legend connected to hypothetical abilities you might buy for that.
    For anyone who wants to keep things connected, I usually advise to interpret your LP and Legend not as a reflection of what other people know of your deeds, but as a measure of your impact on the world and a representation of your place in and importance for it.
    It’s more deeply ingrained in the game too (IMO). It’s how pattern and legendary threaded items develop. You do something of note, bang, there’s your pattern item. Nobody saw it, but it’s still there. Legend points can be legendary just the same way.

  3. Joshua Fontany

    That’s exactly how I run it. LP is an abstraction of how your pattern can meaningfully change (current LP) & how it has meaningfully changed the world (total LP).

    The Stories/Legends reflect or grow out of that basic metaphysic.

    As such, I’ve run “masked avenger” type games where the player even tried to pretend he was of a different Discipline when acting as his “character” (he teamed up with Maloniel from the Grim Legion in Infected and went from a eastern-themed Elf Warrior, to an eastern themed Elf Warrior-Scout pretending to be a Thief half the time…. mostly so their exploits wouldn’t blow back onto the elf community in the Throal Mts he had started. Wow, they made a good duo.)

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