"Obscure" RPG Apprectiation Day!
Since the Catacomb Librarian expressed interest in Légendes celtiques, this is only another (badly translated) version of the French presentation I wrote last year. Please correct any mistakes.
Légendes celtiques (1984) was the second French RPG (1984, after The Ultimate Challenge). It was clearly supposed to be a "simulationist" game and may have been inspired by some FGU games, like Bushido, Daredevils or Aftermaths!
A Unified System
The Légendes rules are all based on the same system: you have to roll low under your score (your Ability, your Skill or your Spell Level) with a d20. Difficulty is a modifier to your basic score. The Margin of Success is the difference between your score and what you rolled. "01" is a Critical Hit and "20" is a Fumble.
There were two parts: (1) Generic (Fantasy) Rules and (2) Civilization books which included setting-appropriate Skills and Spells, but Jeux Descartes published only a few sourcebooks (Celtic, Arabian Nights, and later for the simplified edition, another edition of the Celtic setting, Arthurian Knights and Ancient Egypt). There was also an unofficial, fan-produced Greek pseudo-historical setting (Légendes des Cités).
A Complex Character Generation
Character Generation mixes some randomness and allocation of points. There are 8 Abilities (Aura, Coordination, Endurance, Intelligence, Sanity, Speed, Strength, Will, you may allocate 70 + 6d10 points, minimum is 5, maximum is 20) and 8 General Talents or Areas of Expertise (Art, Communication, Faith, Fighting, Magic, Mechanics, Nature, Perception). Perception is divided in five different senses, plus a Sixth Sense.
There are many derived characteristics, like Fatigue and Breath (roughly Hit Points and Stress: you gain Breath Points when you are shocked, left breathless, injured or exhausted). If you lose too many Fatigue Points or if you are wounded, all your abilities and your skills will decrease proportionally. There are 3 "thresholds" before coma (-25%, -50%, -75%). It means that wounds can start a "Spiral of Death" effect where you become less and less able to defend yourself.
Then you buy Skills with a different set of Skill Points. The charts for each Skill are in the setting sourcebooks. The list is quite fine-grained (the Character Sheet is 4 page long). Each Skill has a cost which is proportional to a few related Abilities and/or Talents. A character with a low Coordination, low Strength, low Fighting Talent could try to improve a Weapon Skill but it would be costly. There were no Character Classes but some Professions were defined by a list of relevant Skills.
Contrarily to many other early RPGs like RuneQuest, beginning characters could be quite knowledgeable (but Magicians had less Skills since they had to learn Spells). On the other hand, experience was really slow.
Combat is based on the same system as Skills, with one roll. You do not roll for damages, damages are proportional to your Margin of Success when you hit. On average, a skilled fighter is therefore more likely to cause more damages. But it is not always linear, each weapon skill has a different chart to calculate damages.
There is another optional roll for Hit Location, which is more detailed and may be more lethal than RuneQuest.
There are a few tactical options, like the speed of your attack (the faster you act, the less precise you are). You can choose to parry (passive defence, a modifier to your opponent's score) or to dodge (you cannot strike next turn).
Each Spell is ranked in a Spell List (which is called a "Phylum") where you are supposed to learn lower Spells before you can learn more advanced versions (like in RoleMaster or in GURPS). Some mundane Skills are also prerequisite. For instance, you need a minimal score in the Animal Handling Skill to cast Animal Control.
Magic is a dangerous art and it is the most difficult section of the rules, with even more acronyms and derived attributes and equations. You need time for your ritual and some Spells are not suited for combat. In fact, you are often supposed to prepare a Spell beforehand to be able to cast it later. You also need a few rare Material Components which are specified in the Spell Description. For instance, you need a feather of eagle, a branch of birch, a pinch of verbena and some copper to cast Fly. Then you roll a d20. If you fumble, the Spell can backfire.
Fatigue cost is inversely proportional to your score: the better you know the Spell, the less tiring it becomes. The effect of the Spell is proportional to your Margin of Success after you succeed, like damage in the combat rules. That makes Magic really unpredictable. When you cast "Wind", you never know if you get the storm you expected or only a gentle breeze.
There are a few options I would not recommend, like that frustrating rule where another Wizard could "steal" the Mana of your Spell if he recognized it before you had finished your ritual.
Légendes was created by a committee. One of the designers, Guillaume Rohmer, co-created the narrativist Gothic Horror game, Maléfices, maybe because he wanted to avoid the complexity of Légendes. Another author, Philippe Mercier, created Féérie, which is unfortunately very difficult to find.
There were a few modules for Légendes celtiques and Légendes des Mille et Une Nuits, and even a simplified edition ("Premières Légendes", 1987). The RPG has been out-of-print since the 1980's and I don't even know who owns the copyrights now.
I've already mentioned a few problems. Légendes used too many acronyms. In fact, I've never seen a RPG which is more in love with acronyms. Character Generation was too long but it could be improved by a computer program. You really needed the 4-page detailed Character Sheets if you didn't want to use many charts and slow down the game.
But in spite of this simulationist complexity, Légendes was impressive. There are few games that can cause this impression of immersion. Légendes is very consistent and logical. It's also really fun.