2108 Legends & Lore reviewed

Published in August of 1990, 2108 Legends & Lore is a very noteworthy title, seeing that it had been updated three times by one of the books original writers, James M. Ward, who together with Rob Kuntz wrote the original Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes in 1976; the two would be assigned to update this to Deities & Demigods in 1980, a book steeped with controversy so fierce that the title was changed to 2013: Legends & Lore in ’85, but besides losing some content, the text itself had gone relatively unchanged for 10 years.

If you ask around the web, which Legends & Lore book is the best, you will usually be told 1st Edition. I myself had suggested 1st Edition, but until writing this, and directly comparing the two, I have come to a very surprising conclusion. You can’t talk about one and not talk about the other. There is a glaring problem with the 1st Edition book: Forgiving the absurdity of a Monster Manual filled with gods, the title did not support TSR’s existing product lines, nor was it all that useful for world building. This isn’t a new complaint. Visually, the 1e book is superior, the artwork is what people love, they even let it slide that they were marketing nudie pictures to 10-year-olds. While visually appealing, the content itself left something to be desired.
By 1990, Rob Kuntz had left the company with Gary Gygax, so James M. Ward was teamed up with Troy Denning to once again rewrite Legends & Lore in an attempt to make it more functional. The work the two did was impressive, as the content was completely revised. All of the entries were researched again, and a new templet was designed.

There are two sets of index, one in the form of the Table of Contents, in the beginning, and a detailed index in the back, which is nice, but the content itself is what counts, right? Each pantheon is divided into separate chapters, just like the 1st Edition, but a lot was added. We can learn a lot about a culture by examining the gods that they worshiped, but the 2nd Edition took this a step further, each chapter starts with a very quick history of the people, not the gods. Granted it isn’t of high quality, this is a gaming book, the idea is to emulate a culture. It edits it down into a formula which is believed to function well for writing pulp fantasy stories set in historic times. It basically gets a DM interested, points him in the right direction and lets him go!  There is some really great stuff in here that serves to add color.

Next it adds a few new spells; spells that are unique to the pantheon and placing examples of unique Magic Items as well, not the things that the gods necessarily use, but things that your players might be gifted or able to find along the way. They also had some maps drafted which allows a DM to get an idea of their temples or what-not.

Finally, we get to the gods themselves, and instead of just being insane monster entries, each god gets at least half a page with a brief description, complete with role-playing notes and specific statistics. The Avatars are described with stats that have been recalculated to make more sense, but the primary focus being the tools the DM can use to bring the NPC to life. Finally you get the Duties of the Priesthood, with special attention given to the RP aspects.

This book isn’t just for DM eyes only, it was also written to aid players.

So, you have a really superior product to its predecessor! Unfortunately, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. With the high level of detail going into the entries themselves, decisions had to be made and material had to be cut. The 2nd Edition created a fictionalized American Indian culture (which I kind of wished that they hadn’t), the Arthurian, Celtic, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Japanese, and Norse mythology were all maintained, the Central American mythology was rename Aztec, and the Nehwon property which TSR had permission to use from its creator, Fritz Leiber was also included, but much was dropped.

I want to say that most, if not all minor gods have been removed, the oriental monsters found in 1e had been moved to MC6 Monstrous Compendium Appendix, non-human faiths would get their own book as well, but Finnish, Babylonian, and Sumerian mythology were dropped completely, leaving many of us wishing that they had published a second volume.

As a work of reference, this product is superior to its predecessor, so why do people not like it? Is it all the art, or is it the memories that go along with it? There is an illusion going on, the 2e L&L is a longer book, yet it feels like there is more information in the 1e L&L, even though there really isn’t. Everybody has an opinion about this, the missing mythology is definitely a factor, which points a finger at TSR, 2108 is a clear case of appealing to a mass audience, and thus, they alienated everyone who actually would use this book. Setting a game in Roman times is much simpler than researching and designing Finnish or Babylonian cultures, and when it comes to gaming books, we expect to pay for the really difficult work to be done for us, and this really wasn’t the case here.  I think that the problem is, even if TSR were to ask the consumers what they wanted, just as Dave Cook did when writing the Players Handbook, they would had still ended up with the same finished product, as people who had no intentions of buying the book would respond with common answers, and that is exactly what this book is: Common answers.

Now, to really be honest, the cultures detailed in this book are familiar tropes within fantasy fiction; Fantasy authors want them to be different but still identifiable, so they generally tend to stick to them. How different is Finnish Culture from the Norse? It probably isn’t too different at all, though we like the Finnish pantheon because it is distinctive. Then we have Sumerian and Babylonian, these faiths are unique from everything in the book, but are mirrors of each other; just as Roman mythology is common with the Greek. Why wasn’t one of them in the book? I think that TSR made some inappropriate choices.

There is also, and always has been, an element of racism in the system when it comes to black cultures. They are notably avoided, as is the case with this book. Where are the examples of South African faiths? Now, to be honest, we could convert the fictionalized American Indian Mythology as the belief in spirits were common, but then again, Shamanism is very easy to simulate, but that really isn’t the point.

I suppose that it is easy to fault this book for racism, it is an old argument, but placing that aside, TSR has notably always made It difficult to play specific characters out of stereotype, but beyond that I think that we expect to get a fairly broad view of the old world with this title, and it really never did deliver. What we got was a perpetuation of our very Western World view. To make as much money as possible from the product it didn’t really challenge us with the Slavic influence upon Europe, the Oriental Faiths are all bastardized into one undefined time-period which only serves to conform to pop-history, which really is the purpose of the book. Pop-History, written for a Western Audience: This defines all incarnations of Legends & Lore; I just wonder how much of an influence this book actually has upon Fantasy Fiction. If Slavic was ever included, would we see it more often in popular literature?  This is something that I will never really know.

The physical specs of this book are fantastic: it is hard bound and constructed to last with normal use and since this book has haunted our bookshelves, rarely coming out, it has fared very well. It is not a collector’s item; it is worth $7-$20 with a mint book worth no more than $25.

As far as rating the book goes, at the time, I would had given this book a D, preferring the previous editions, but once actually sitting down, comparing them and really looking at the content, I now give this book a B. The information is very good, it can be used to add different cultures to the published settings, but its usefulness is primarily limited to world builders and your more experienced Dungeon Masters. Since it doesn’t cover all of the work done in previous editions, there is still a lot of work left for DMs to supplement themselves, but the fact that it prizes the people over insanely bloated stats which conform to no rules outside of it, is a huge factor to me. Many of those that choose to knock it as inferior probably never actually read the title; I know that that was the case with me.


Pedro Obliziner said...

great review, man. I'd never read this book, but you delivered some toughs even for those who haven't read it, like me. I'd love to see you expanding your analysis on the stereotypes and what cultures are referenced or neglected in D&D.

Ripper X said...

Welcome Pedro. At it's very root, D&D is designed to play a high fantasy game in a fictional Europe set in the Medieval age, but we often tinker with it. We put cultures that never met right next to each other, just to find out what might happen. We can tweak the time period to anything from prehistoric to the future. Some of us (not many, mind you, but some) like to explore to places way beyond the scope of the game. We try to climb inside of the heads of our characters to see things about ourselves that we normally won't see, and sometimes, what we really don't want to look at.

Your average player is an American White Male, and getting beyond what we know as truth is difficult.

Brooser Bear said...

Ripper, there is a huge difference between the Norse and the Finns. Historic Finnish culture, as late as the 17th century was sufficiently strikingly different that it could have inspired an amazing setting in D&D. There is also a world of difference between the Native American, African, and Central Asian shamans to make for three separate classes, not subset of the same Shaman class, mind you. You are quite correct about the white middle class parochialism of Gygax and the founding fathers of D&D, but had they been the likes of those who drank with Hemingway, hung out with young Jack Kenndy in Florida or read Watts and Hermann Hesse, D&D would have been a different game indeed.

BTW, the version of the book I like is the original Deities and Demigods with all the copyrighted content that was later pulled from subsequent incarnations of that book.

Ripper X said...

I got to looking at the deal with the copyright fiasco; it turns out that the book was altered voluntarily. Nobody cared that they were in there, but TSR saw it as promoting the properties of competitors.

Gygax gets credit for this decision, but this was back when he was off in Hollywood pretending to be a movie guy. He wouldn't return to the home office until 85, the year the title was changed, because they finally told him that the company was broke.

Brooser Bear said...

For all his shortcomings, one thing that I can't blame Gygax for is living high off the hog in a Hollywood for a bit. That a guy lived in LA and never learned to drive shows his limitations. Then again, what kind of a person does not learn to drive in rural Wisconsin? Someone whose family can't afford a vehicle and someone, who can't or won't socialize with the blue collar America, where automobiles and driving are as common as socks and underwear? That says something about Gygax's socioeconomic origins. That and his grubby mindset - where he would edit out his competitors mythos, rather than make a deal with them and make D&D products tied to competitions' product lines, which would carry them. Of course, this could also be the reflection of the Dilles' mindset, dead set on promoting themselves from a position of an inferiority complex.

You can flaw Gygax for any of that, but you can't fault him for wanting to live a little, which he did in LA in the most profligate way possible, which shows if anything, is that he came from a background of social instability, with little to no incentive to save, because there was no apparent pay off to doing so when he was growing up and developing as a person, but that is speculation.

As a contrast. Tom Petty too, came to Hollywood from America's Nerdistan. He left his band in Florida in the 1970's to promote his band. And promote it he did. He produced You Got Lucky vieo, which he called a "Mini Mad Max" movie featuring his band, did a lot of pioneering work with MTV, and ended up making Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers a household name. I take it this was a win for Tom Petty.

In the end, Gygax was left with nothing. Not quite so, but he complained that he did not have enough money left over to open a bar. The big question is, would his bar have been successful or was he better off opening a liquor store?

Ripper X said...

I'm no businessman. Far from it, as I see money as an oppressor. He did give us the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, and for now he appears to be immortalized. He was a man, with all the successes and failures that we all have, but on an epic scale.

Brooser Bear said...

We have a relationship with the divine, relationships with our loved ones, and a relationship with money.

Ripper X said...

Money corrupts and blinds us. For some, it defines their self-worth. Money is the chains that bind us, which sets limits on achieving our full potential. Money divides us into classes. Money takes us away from the divine, it takes us away from our loved ones. Money keeps the have-nots down, limits their education, shortens their lives. Money motivates our darkest aspects. We are slaves to it, if we don't play the game our families suffer, yet if we play the game our families still suffer, but with food on their plates every night.

I often question if we are even allowed access to real currency, or if it is just a grand lie to keep us preoccupied and distracted from a horrible truth.

How many inventions could had saved the world, but were shot down because nobody could make money from them? Not just our country, but the countries that we really oppress. The ones that really suffer so that we can keep our delusions.

Sorry for ranting Brooser. I'm just in a really dark place right now. It is getting hard not to freak out again.

Steven M said...

Nice review! Keep them coming.

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