Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Review: Gary Gygax's Lejend Master's Lore and Beasts of Lejend (2000)

Gary Gygax's Lejend Master's Lore (2000)
Today, I will cover the last two books of the Lejendary Adventure core, Gary Gygax's Lejend Master's Lore and Beasts of Lejend, both out in 2000, the same year as D&D 3rd Edition.

These reviews will go rather fast.

Gary Gygax's Lejend Master's Lore (2000)

Gary Gygax. 204 pages. Color covers. Black & white interior art.

Published by Hekaforge Productions.

This was the next book in the Lejendary Adventure line. Often considered to be one of the greatest books ever produced for any RPG in any edition is Gary Gygax's Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) for AD&D 1st Edition, published in 1979. It is a massive tome with all sorts of details for handling an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.  This book only shares two things in common with that other tome. 1. Gary's name is on the cover. and 2. there is an organization to the material that can best be described eclectic. 

Like the DMG, the Lejend Master's Lore book seems to be an information dump. 

We start with Avatar Knacks and Quirks, which should have been in the Player's book. While there are some neat ideas here, simple things the characters can do and personality quirks both on d100 tables, not all will work well for all players. I mean, what if I don't want my character to have Wylfphobia and hate "elves"? 

There is a section on setting the various prices for goods for items and an attempt to get it to work with modern ideas of how much gold is worth. Nice idea, but I think that in practice, it is a bad idea. Not to say you should not work out your economy, but trying to tie it to the real world is difficult.  

A lot, 70 pages, is given over to Extraordinary (Magic) Items. There are some neat ideas here for this game. In terms of adapting to other games? Well, I think there are analogues in many games for these, so not a lot to mine here. 

Halfway through the book, we actually get to the sections of Lejend Master's Reference. This covers a lot of situations that the Game Master will likely run into and how to deal with them. And there are a LOT of tables. Lots.

Ok. Comparing this book, or any Game Master book, to the DMG is not fair. The 1979 DMG set the watermark for all other GM books to follow and many do not meet that mark. The DMG is also a good guide for a lot of different sorts of games. It is dense, information-packed, and assumes a level of intellectual competency that you typically do not see in many books.  But it is fair to compare the Lejend Master's Lore to the DMG. Same author, 20+ years apart. This book doesn't even come close. There is no evidence of 20 years of evolution of thought here and anything that is good, we have read before.

If anything, this book is just very disappointing.

Gary Gygax's Beasts of Lejend (2000)
Gary Gygax's Beasts of Lejend (2000)

Gary Gygax. 204 pages. Color covers. Black & white interior art.

Published by Hekaforge Productions.

A quick note. I am confused by the differences in layout between all three of these books. LML and BoL both look similar until you dive into them and both are different enough from the Player's book to make me think different teams or different people did the layout. Again, it is not fair of me to do this, but compare to the D&D 3e books out at the same time. The three cores are obviously related and have a similar look and feel.

This is our book of monsters. The back cover says over 500 creatures, and yeah, that seems right. The stat blocks are small, with descriptions and some art of varying quality.

Now in general, I like monster books. This one is not bad. It might even be a good monster book for this game.

The creatures are divided into sections, which is not a bad way to do things. We have Animals, Creatures of Lore, Dragonkin, Living Dead, and Unquiet Spirits (including demons and devils), and Human-like creatures. No. I am not using Gary's weird ass spellings anymore.

Pretty much any monster you think should be here is here. There are a few interesting variations on monsters, but nothing worth hunting down a copy for. 


So in the end of all of this, what do we have? In truth, a rather lack-luster Fantasy Heartbreaker that doesn't bring anything new to the table may be made even sadder due to the author's pedigree. 

Is it a fun game? Maybe, I am sure others could find joy here and I won't rain on their parade. But I have scores, if not hundreds of other games that far, far better and at least dozens that do exactly what this one is trying to do.


Nathan Irving said...

I realize this is heretical to say, but I've never held with Mr Gygax being some kind of RPG design genius. He had a good idea; he did a good job building it up and developing it (with a lot of other people!); and he certainly had a style - but I think it was all an extended house game to him, with a very definite view of how things should be and not a lot of interest in organized (DMG) development and growth. Unearthed Arcana is a mishmash of stuff he wanted to add in. Most of his monster write-ups are combat combat combat and a line or two about everything else. Absolutely tons of credit to him, but I doubt he ever really moved past 1e AD&D in a game design sense. Which is FINE.

PT Dilloway said...

I guess it's hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice as many artists of varying mediums have found out.

The economy thing might work better today since you could just ask your smartphone what the price of gold or silver or whatever is and do the conversions.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Nathan Irving, Yeah. Honestly, if he had stuck with AD&D 1st ed (and OD&D), then that would have been fantastic. AD&D is great and he did a fantastic job.

@PT Dilloway, Yes, lightning in the bottle is a great way to describe it. The economy thing would work, if the rules had been written a bit better.

Dick McGee said...

Yeah, if you take away the TSR era, Gygax's career as a game designer is objectively pretty terrible. Cyborg Commando was a huge flop that more than offset strong novel sales from Gord, Mythus sold poorly and started a legal battle that may have mortally wounded both TSR and GDW (and didn't help his own personal finances either), and Lejendary Journeys here was just sad on every level when compared to D&D 3.0. It's not as though Gygax needs any successes past his TSR days to be a massively important part of gaming history, but it's still sad to see his later efforts go so far awry.

I'd be interested in seeing Troll Lord Games' sales figures on the LJ stuff they did publish. Must not have hurt them too badly, but it's hard to imagine it making much of a real profit in the era when d20 OGL was the new hotness - not that TLG didn't jump on that bandwagon as well, of course. The turn of the century was an interesting time to be in the RPG or retail sections of the industry for sure.

I will say this much for these two books - unlike the players' guide yesterday, my old employer managed to sell (or maybe lose/have shoplifted) all her copies before she shut down. Something to be said for slightly better cover art, I guess. :)