What’s holding Open Legend back?

A while back I bought a used hardcover copy of Open Legend. According to its subtitle it’s an open-source RPG which is right up my alley. I basically bought it on a whim. The cover looked nice and everything open source usually gets a thumbs-up from me.

When the book arrived I immediately sat down and gave it a read. It’s only about 140-pages long and has a very nice clean layout, good artwork, and glossy paper. From the cover and the term “legend” in the title one may assume Open Legend being a Fantasy RPG but it can in fact be used for several genres. The mechanics are actually on the lighter side since the authors wanted an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use framework for fast games with a narrative focus but still allowing for somewhat tactical combat. On first glance I’d say they succeeded in this goal.

Open Legends does a lot of things right and it should be a much more successful RPG than it is at this point. Heck, I consider myself somewhat of a TTRPG collector and I barely even heard of the game. So what is holding Open Legends back?

Rules-wise the game is fine. It even includes some elements which I think are brilliant. If you have the time, check out their website which contains all the rules of the game and give the section on Banes and Boons an especially close look. This system reminds me a lot of the Powers in Savage Worlds while being more open and more versatile. For some reason the game immediately made me want to run it. I can easily see even my more outlandish campaign ideas be viable using the Open Legend rules.

The main issue is probably its obscurity. I faintly remember reading about it years ago (probably when the Kickstarter was launched), but that’s about it. It’s not widely discussed in the social media channels I am a part of, nor have I ever read anything about it on the rpg.net forums. A major problem is that the digital copy of Open Legends is not available on DriveThruRPG. Regardless whether you like it or not, the digital storefronts by OneBookShelf are basically THE first place people look for new and exciting roleplaying games. It also doesn’t help that Open Legend is an extremely generic sounding name especially since there’s also Legend by Mongoose Publishing which is available under the OGL.

Another problem is what parts of Open Legend are actually “open source” and how hard it is to actually find out. You might think that the whole book (aside from the artwork perhaps) is actually released under a Creative Commons license or something similar. No, that’s not the case. The only thing open under their Open Legend Community License is the Open Legend System Reference Document (The license is not unreasonable and quite open, bit I still don’t get it why they just didn’t use Creative Commons) which is not identical with the rules available on the website. There’s also no easily available PDF or Word Document containing the text of the SRD. At least I couldn’t find it. The SRD is mentioned many times on the website but I couldn’t find any link pointing to it. Eventually Google helped me find it on GitHub.

Does all this make Open Legend a bad game? No, of course not. In fact I think it’s quite good. But it’s relative obscurity is one issue which could have easily been remedied by making it a bit more open and transparent. People in the TTRPG space love open games, Just look at the many OGL- or CC-based games who took off in the last few years. We gamers thrive on derivative works. But give us too many loops to jump through and we look for something else. That may be the case with Open Legend.

My advice to you, dear reader: check out Open Legend ASAP. It has a couple of brilliant ideas and may be a lot of fun to play. My advice to the makers of Open Legend: please reconsider using a custom license and switch to something most people are more comfortable with (like CC) and make it easier to find the SRD. I also recommend making it available at more digital storefronts like the aforementioned DriveThruRPG or itch.io.