Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Legends, Melee, and GURPS: a Brief Comparison

I’ve had fun playing Legends of the Ancient World with my son, but I wondered what I was missing out on from Melee, so I tracked down the rules. Here’s some of the most significant differences:

  • Legends lacks any sort of rules or guidelines concerning how much stuff you can carry. Armor adjusts dexterity downward regardless of strength in both Legends and Melee. Melee limits figures to carrying two weapons and a dagger. GURPS counts the weight of each item of equipment and adjusts defenses downward, but not attack skills. Strong characters in GURPS can carry more equipment without degrading their defenses.
  • Legends has sides roll initiative once… and then pretty much do an I-go-U-go thing until the end. Melee has players rolling for initiative every single turn– with the winner choosing whether to move first or last. Attacks are then resolved in order of adjusted dexterity. Interestingly, if a melee attack hits, the attacker has the option of forcing the target to retreat backwards one hex. This can cause figures to lose their chance to attack that turn! GURPS eliminates initiative altogether and has figures move and attack in basic speed order– there is no concept of “sides” in GURPS.
  • In Legends you choose between moving, moving and melee attacking, moving and throwing, readying, or standing still and shooting. Melee’s “options” are different depending on whether you figure is “engaged” or not. These are fairly nuanced, but if you can move more than half your MA only if you are do nothing else and are disengaged. A melee charge allows you to move up to half MA and attack. Engaged figures can only shift one hex… and most importantly… can only get their last missile shot off before they have to change to a melee weapon. Legend’s grappling rules are similar to Melee’s hand-to-hand rules. (Melee’s options are clearly similar to the “maneuvers” you can do in GURPS, though GURPS of course has many more.)
  • Facing is completely irrelevant in Legends, but Melee gives a to-hit bonus for attacking your opponents side or rear.
  • Thrown weapons are -1 to-hit per hex of distance. (There are few if any modifiers in Legends.)
  • In Melee, figures that take 5+ points of damage are at a -2 DX penalty on their next turn. Figures that take 8+ points of damage fall down. (In GURPS, these events are the falling down check is influenced by rolls a roll against the Health stat.)
  • Melee has critical success and critical failure effects more or less along the same lines as GURPS.
  • Legends give a single experience point per combat victory. (That’s very similar to Car Wars.) Melee gives varying experience amounts depending on whether you fought a superior opponent and weather the combat was “to the death”, arena, or “practice combat.” GURPS emphasizes role playing, so there you pretty much just get a flat amount per session regardless of your combat awesomeness.
  • Unlike Legends and GURPS, Melee has no skill or talent system. The only way to advance in Melee is by improving your attributes.

(There are more differences, but these are the most significant ones.)

Melee is a surprisingly modern game for its time. Legends of the Ancient world seems to err on the side on simplicity– it makes no attempt to make a perfect set of Melee house rules. (Indeed, Steve Jackson already did that with GURPS.) If Legends added one thing from Melee, it should probably be the concept of a figure being engaged or disengaged. Yes, it’s significantly more complicated, but that (along with the facing modifiers and the larger variety options) would go a long toward giving the game some more tactical flavor. On the other hard, if you’re going to try to pimp it out too much you might as well switch to GURPS, so I can’t fault Dark City Games too  much for their game design choices here.

I am stunned, however, that Melee existed in such a perfect form as early as 1977. If anything, the genius of Steve Jackson is underrated… even by his own fans.

For more posts on this topic, see:

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6 responses to “Legends, Melee, and GURPS: a Brief Comparison

  1. Kyrinn S. Eis June 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Jeffro,

    What are your thoughts regarding proto-GURPS:MAN TO MAN? Was it enough of an advancement over Melee, or do you find that Melee itself is the better iteration until your prefered edition of GURPS?

    I seem to remember that MTM was a nearly perfect amount of information that then became an avalanche as it became GURPS.
    –Is that looking at the past through rose coloured glasses?

    • jeffro June 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      My memories of 2nd edition GURPS was that it always seemed extremely abbreviated. It erred on the side of serious role playing, and as such it excised the standalone arena combat mini-game that that formed the basis of CAR WARS and Melee. That one move made it almost impossible for my unsophisticated teenage self to learn. If Man-to-Man kept that as a core concept, then I might have done much better with it!

      Ironically, GURPS 4e is closer to Melee and Wizard than GURPS 2e was– check out the attribute costs, for example, and you’ll see how the core of the game builds on what is essentially a tri-stat base! If you can look at the plethora of options that is GURPS 4e and ignore huge swaths of it… I think you’ll find the superior game. However, there’s not a lot out there that does that for you. (Even stuff like the Dungeon Fantasy series is a madly souped up game.) For better or for worse, GURPS is a toolkit game. In a sense, you have to assemble your game before you can game and that is strangely daunting for people that have incorrect notions about what “doing it right” entails.

  2. Pingback: The Fantasy Trip articles in The Space Gamer #27-31 « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

  3. Peter June 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

    In Melee, figures that take 5+ points of damage are at a -2 DX penalty on their next turn. Figures that take 8+ points of damage fall down. (In GURPS, these events are influenced by rolls against the Health stat.)

    Slight correction – only the second is influenced by rolls against HT. The penalty to your next turn is -1 to -4 and not influenced by HT.

  4. Pingback: My Son’s First Total Party Kill « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

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