Lessons From The Classics: Legend

by Matthew Ipock

(The following references the movie Legend, starring Tom Cruise and directed by Ridley Scott)

Legend is the archetypal, if not somewhat cliché, movie dealing with the struggle between good and evil. The young hero strikes out with the help of a small band of misfit fairies to fight the red-skinned, black-horned stand in for the Devil, hoping to rid the world of Darkness and usher in an era of Light and Happiness for all. While this classic offers little in the way of adventure design or monster choice, it can teach one just a bit about story and plot design, and perhaps a little about the choices to offer players and their characters.

1. Innocent Desire Causes a Big Problem
The stories are ancient and numerous: Eve bites of the apple because she wants knowledge; Pandora opens the box to assuage her curiosity; Romeo and Juliet love each other and simply want to be together. Sometimes the innocent desire of a simple heart causes no problems at all. Sometimes, that innocent desire causes such horrible disaster that it threatens to engulf the entire world in eternal darkness.

Legend offers a story no different than any others. Jack, a simple boy who lives in nature, loves Lily and has the innocent desire to show her something special and beautiful. Lily is so overcome with joy at her special surprise and the innocent desire to touch the rare Unicorn is too strong for her to resist. Little did these two lovebirds know that the horrible, evil goblins were waiting nearby, waiting for their chance to take down the Unicorns and remove their horns, thereby removing their power.

The first trick is to decide of what innocent desire you want to play off in your game.

– Innocent love for another
– Innocent desire to see something or someplace, perhaps because they have never seen
anything like that before
– Innocent desire to travel by a certain means (boat/horse/hot air balloon)
– Innocent desire to help someone, or some creature
– Innocent desire to have a certain item, perhaps because they have been poor most of their lives, and owning it would not, from their current point of view, cause any harm to anyone

The second trick is to decide whose innocent desire causes the big problem. If it is a local commoner, or a friend of the characters’, then the characters would be drawn in simply because they are of heroic stock and want to be helpful. This is fine and would certainly do the trick. However, if you can somehow work it so that it is one of the characters who cause the big problem, then not only do they want to be helpful, but you add in the feeling of guilt and the moral obligation to fix the problem. Now you have a hook on your hands.

The third trick is to make the decision on what big problem the innocent desire will cause. You will want to decide how extensive the problem will be – will it be a problem only locally, or will it be a problem for an entire region, or an entire continent, or even the entire world? You will need to decide what exactly will happen – Will someone die? Will some important place be destroyed? Will some special object be destroyed or lost? Will a special power fall into the hands of evil? Will some great evil be unleashed upon the good people of the world?

2. Even The Most Simple Folk Can Do Great Things
One of the most clichéd plot-lines found is the ‘common person does something great’ plot. You find it even in the simplest of stories, like fairy tales. Just look at Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack gets his hands on some magic beans, climbs a magic beanstalk, takes out a giant, and brings back a goose that lays golden eggs. Clichéd is not necessarily a bad thing, though. As the line goes: There is nothing new under the sun.

This is certainly true of the movie Legend. Jack (they even use the clichéd simple-folk name) is a simple, common woodland dweller. He knows nothing of fighting, of swords or of armor, and certainly nothing of good and evil and magic. Lily, Jack’s true love, is a princess, but is a commoner-at-heart. She even states this, that she would much rather live as a simple person in the woods, rather than be a princess.

One of the greatest things to take away from Legend is that simple, common folk can, indeed, defeat the ultimate horrible evil. There are easy ways to arrange this is your game. Of course, you can certainly start your players’ characters at a low level, making sure they know that their characters are common folk from the start, and slowly help them climb up to god-like stature. There are other, much more enjoyable ways to do this, however. (If using this for gaming ideas, always remember that role playing game rules are simple guidelines; you should always feel free to change things if you need to.) There is no reason a dragon has to have magical breath attacks. Demons and devils do not have to have magical defenses. The players might find it oddly thrilling to accidentally happen across a dragon, with no way to flee, only to find that the dragon has no breath weapon or magical abilities, making it nothing more than an overgrown lizard. What if the heroes run afoul of a demon or devil that tracks them down, and the heroes find that they have no magical defenses and a sword slices through their skin as easily as it does a normal human’s? The devil-character in Legend, after all, did not appear to have any magical defenses, and there is nothing to indicate that the sword Jack uses to attack him was magical in nature. Perhaps one of the characters has some knowledge of geology, and notices a fault-line sitting underneath the keep of their greatest opponent. A small, simple explosion could send the keep hurtling over the cliff over which it sits, ridding them of their greatest opponent in no time.

Remember, also, that, when in doubt, there is nothing new under the sun. Go with the clichéd if you have to. Go with real-world, typical myth and legend, if you must. Holy water can be used against undead. Salt can be used against fairies. Sunlight can be used against great evil (as shown in Legend).

3. Help Is (Or Should Be) Always Welcome
A role playing game group, if there are enough players, will typically consist of at least three characters and will include a fighter-type character, a healer, and a magic-user. This is not, however, always the case. In some instances, the GM will specifically ask the players to make a group of characters that are all fighter-types, or perhaps the GM wishes to have only magic-users. Sometimes, though, there is no helping the situation. The gaming group just isn’t all there, and you only have a GM and one character (oh yes, this was the case in Legend). If this happens, the GM should offer plenty of NPC’s to help the character. This can be easy – in Legend, Jack found himself in an enchanted forest filled with happy, helpful dwarves and faerie creatures, or it can be hard – maybe the character is in the middle of a grouping of villages in which no one knows how to use magic, and few know how to use a sword beyond the typical block and thrust. Whatever the case, the character will undoubtedly need help, and there are ways to make it happen:

– There are readily available NPC’s in the surrounding settlements and the character just needs to find them (plenty of reason for role-playing here)
– Certain sorts of NPC’s (magic-users and healers) can be found only in certain regions and the character simply needs to travel to those regions to find help (plenty of reason to move and travel here)
– There may not be a lot of helpful NPC’s around, so the GM will need to introduce a traveling adventurer who seeks to help the poor and downtrodden.
– There may not be any helpful NPC’s nearby, nor will there be any traveling adventurer passing through. This would be a specific decision by the GM, for the character would, at
this point, need to petition a higher power in order to get help.

The thing to remember here, of course, is to make sure that any help offered to the character is help that will actually be helpful. Try not to offer NPC fighter-types to help a fighter-type character. If the character is a magic-user, try to make sure the NPC uses some sort of blade, the bigger the better.

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