Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

10 September, 2009

Extreme Makeover: LotRO’s legendary items
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:03 PM

Going to try a new concept this post: the extreme design makeover. I’m going to look at a system in an existing game and turn the designer’s critical eye to it. I’ll discuss the system, what the flaws are, and what some design concepts to improve the system might be.

Today, I’m going to take a look at LotRO’s legendary item system.

The system, in a nutshell

Legendary items (sometimes also called legendary weapons, even though not all of them are weapons) are an alternate advancement system in LotRO. Every character can have two items, a melee weapon then a special class item (which could be a ranged weapon), that gain experience and levels. As items gain levels, they get points that can be spent on legacies for an item. Legacies affect the powers of your class by extending durations, increasing effect, reducing cooldowns, etc. For example, one of the most coveted legacies for the Champion class increases the damage done in the DPS stance by up to an additional 10%. Weapons are restricted to a specific class, and the legacies on the weapon enhance only the abilities of that particular class.

Items come in three rarities based on the “age” they were created in. Third Age items are common and least powerful, Second Age items are more powerful, while First Age items are the most powerful and rather rare. The more powerful items can gain higher levels, therefore allowing more points to spend, and have more legacies. Third age items get more powerful as the required level increases.

Legacies have two stats. Level indicates the effect of the legacy, with higher levels allowing for a bigger bonus. Level is increased by spending the points gained when the item increases in level. A legacy’s tier indicates how expensive it is to raise a legacy’s level.

Items are initially unidentified, so the legacies it has are unknown. Legacies are randomly assigned to an item, and they have random tiers to start. Every 10 levels, a legendary item must be reforged and can gain a new legacy (levels 10, 30, 50) or increase the tier of an existing legacy (levels 20, 40). The new legacy or legacy with increased tier is selected from 2 random legacies the player can choose from.

Finally, items also have three “relic” slots: setting, gem, and rune. Relics increase the stats of the character using the item. Relics are accumulated by deconstructing legendary items or by finding “sealed” relics as drops. Higher tier relics can be gained by combining 5 relics of a lower tier.

The problems

The first problem with the system is the randomness. While some randomness can add a bit of spice, it an also be a source of frustration. For some classes, there are a variety of abilities that are great additions. Getting a legendary item adds flavor to your abilities, making you slightly stronger in one area. For other classes, however, there is one must-have ability. As I mentioned above, the most desired ability for Champions is one that increases bonus damage in the main damage stance. No other legacy is going to increase damage as much. But, most champion items don’t have this legacy. You might want to increase the level of the legendary item in order to see if it gains this legacy, but that becomes a significant grind. Even if you find an item with that legacy or an item that gained the legacy during a reforge, it may have a low tier and therefore be much more expensive to advance. In other words, it becomes a total crap shoot.

The other big problem, in my opinion, is that this system takes the emphasis off of player-crafted goods. Until recently, players could only craft Third Age items for a significant cost. Given that Third Age items were already fairly common, they were not in high demand. In addition, the crafted items were unidentified and could have completely crap legacies. All that effort invested for nothing. (The most recent patch added recipes to craft “Reforged Second Age” items for a higher cost, but this means that only one recipe out of a few dozen is really worthwhile to make for others.)

Further, there is no reason to use a regular weapon when there are legendary weapons to improve. The increases from the legacies are so powerful that regular weapons cannot compete. In addition, relics add better stats than can be found on most regular weapons as well. So, any two-handed weapon, in particular, becomes useless. One-handed weapons are only useful for the few classes that can use off-hand weapons, since legendary weapons can only be wielded in the main hand.

Proposed fixes

The most direct way to fix the system would be to separate out legacies from the items themselves. Instead of having the legacies be part of a weapon, allow them to be slotted in the items similar to the way relics are slotted (or, for you WoW players, the gem system in that game). This would provide a lot more flexibility in weapon design, where some weapons might have nice stats but only one or two legacy slots, where other weapons might have nothing but a bunch of legacy slots. Relic slots might likewise be limited on a weapon, with more available at higher levels.

Instead of getting unidentified weapons as drops, players would get unidentified legacies for a particular class. Once identified, the legacies could be put into a weapon and advanced with the weapon’s experience. The tier of a legacy could be improved by reforging a weapon at certain level, or higher tiers could be found in more challenging situations. By having legacies come from drops, you still have a powerful incentive to do instances and raids to improve your gear.

Crafted weapons would fit well in this system. Players could craft a variety of weapons, from starter weapons with a few slots to a fully customizable weapon with few built-in stats and lots of slots. Crafted items (and even quest rewards) could once again compete with instance drops and not feel worthless. Two-handed weapons from crafting or quest rewards would be more than something to sell for a bit more silver than other items.

Could legacies be removed from a weapon? That might be an interesting addition to the system, allowing legacies to be reclaimed by deconstructing a weapon. I think restricting it so that legacies above a maximum tier (say 4 out of a maximum of 6) could not be removed from a weapon would be interesting. This allows a player to build up a nice selection of legacies, but they are limited unless they want to commit some legacies to the weapon and hope they don’t find a better weapon later.

Finally, have the relics that give stat boosts be craftable by players instead of by deconstructing a item. For example, jewelers or scholars could make the gem relics, metalsmiths or weaponsmiths could make settings, and woodworkers or tailors could make the runes. Perhaps allow the trades that can only make a limited number of legendary items (like scholars or metalworkers) get access to better relics. Each trade could make a specialized set of relics to get everyone involved.

Changes already announced

With the recent Siege of Mirkwood mini-expansion, it was announced that players would be able to craft legendary items. Since players can already craft items, the wording of a previous announcement lead some people think this means you’ll have more control over the legacies. The details have not been announced, but this could also take steps toward reducing the complete randomness of legendary items and give more emphasis to player crafting.


  1. Wouldn’t slotted “legends” tend to have less character? I agree, a slotting mechanism that allows for a legend to move between weapons would be better game design… but how would you frame it and still maintain the mystique of wielding Glamdring or Sting?

    Comment by Tesh — 10 September, 2009 @ 4:38 PM

  2. As much as I dislike the whole random character of it, isn’t the only viable alternative for items that are supposed to be rare the grind? Which I can’t say I like all that much more.

    Or you give up on the idea of it being rare, and everyone has one.

    Related post:

    Comment by Toldain — 10 September, 2009 @ 5:12 PM

  3. Tesh wrote:
    Wouldn’t slotted “legends” tend to have less character?

    In WoW, does badge gear with gem slots have “less character” than the old “of the eagle” type random enchantments? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it’s better or preferable. I think this is definitely a case where fun trumps “realism” or remaining true to the source material. I think the “mystique” you’re talking about needs to come more from role-playing that the game mechanics. My champion’s sword “Serenity” can have its own story, ignoring the mundane facts that I simply crafted it myself and ran the equivalent of daily quests to get it up to its current level.

    Toldain wrote:
    Or you give up on the idea of it being rare, and everyone has one.

    Legendary items really aren’t rare. Part of the core mechanic is getting weapons, giving them some levels, then destroying them for relics (and legendary shards to make other weapons). I’ve gotten to the point where I simply discard any Third Age legendary items that aren’t for my class, because they aren’t worth anything to a vendor and spending the money to identify then deconstruct them for a single tier 1 relic seems like a waste.

    My thoughts.

    Comment by Psychochild — 10 September, 2009 @ 6:44 PM

  4. Great write up and suggestions on the issue. I agree that legacies should be separate from the weapons and, more or less, their own form of loot. This way you would ensure far less “wasted” weapons and force people to choose between stats (relic slots) and ability enhancements.

    Comment by Ferrel — 11 September, 2009 @ 9:14 AM

  5. Another point of view from a very experienced LotRO player:

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 September, 2009 @ 3:35 AM

  6. Absolutely I think the legacies need to be separated from the items. In addition I think the weapons themselves should level. For example, the first third age weapon you get should level all the way to 60, with appropriate increases in DPS as it goes. You should never be tempted to swap out legendary items unless it’s an upgrade to a new tier (e.g., third age to second age), or a switch to a different weapon you like better (e.g, sword to mace). Such a system would make any particular LI feel like a real part of your character, since you’d use it for hundreds of hours.

    Into these weapons you slot foozles. They are different from gems and relics because because they grant legacies that need to be leveled rather than a static bonus. The unwanted foozles are broken down in massive numbers to get teir I gems and relics. The foozles themselves come via several avenues:

    1. Random drops. All legacies currently available have an equal chance of appearing. As most of the these legacies are crap, most of these foozles would get trashed for teir I static slottables.

    2.Crafting. Crafters can make a few solid foozles that anyone would want, using mithril flakes. However on any given LI, you’ll want no more than two or three of the crafted foozles for your slots. The ones you’ll want to fill out your last slots are insanely rare random drops, and/ or from group quests and PvP.

    3. Quests. Long hard quests, similar to the book quests, lead to very nice foozles.

    4. PvMP. Getting to high enough rank on the ‘moors allows you to buy foozles similar or identical to those you can get questing.

    Comment by Yeebo — 12 September, 2009 @ 9:25 AM

  7. Nice writeup.

    As for crafted Settings/Relics/Runes i had already given that suggestion, but i didn’t get alot of feedback (

    Scholars are able to craft legendaries. They can craft Lore-Master Books and Minstrel Books.

    It would be interesting if you could remove legacies from an item. Maybe if you removed a legacy from an item it would decrease in level by 1 or 2 tiers. That could be interesting as the more you trade the legacy around the worse it gets unless you are always upgrading it.

    Comment by wickedpt — 14 September, 2009 @ 2:44 AM

  8. wickedpt wrote:
    Scholars are able to craft legendaries.

    I worded that poorly; I meant to say professions that could craft only limited legendary items. Weaponsmiths and Woodworkers can create a wide variety of weapons, whereas the other professions (including scholars) can only create a few items.

    I’ve edited my original post to make this clearer.

    But, nice to know I’m not the only person to think about this. :) And, yeah, perhaps allowing you to keep one high tier legacy when you deconstruct a legendary item might work nicely, too.

    Have fun!

    Comment by Psychochild — 14 September, 2009 @ 1:52 PM

  9. Wednesday MMO Reader

    [...] takes the time to offer some tips on Making over Legendary Weapons in LotRO. He makes solid points and I fully agree with the [...]

    Pingback by Epic Slant – MMO and guild commentary from veteran players — 16 September, 2009 @ 7:57 AM

  10. When you mix in crappy legacies with awesome ones, you create the lotto system that is at the heart of most complaints of the LOTRO legendary item system. When you have “must-have” legacies and other than are completely useless, the players make no real choices – you just hope for random luck. When you have a dozen “must-have” legacies and have to pick 6, the players then have to make choices. The ability to make choices is what makes a game fun. And the lack of ability to make chocies with legendary items is where the system loses its fun.

    Most of the legacies are simply not well thought out. I’ll use one as a great example. The Guardian tank class gets a legacy that increases it’s DoT damage by 1%, scalable up to a little over 10%. That sounds well and good until you look at the Guardian’s DoTs. Their main DoT does about 12 damage per tick, with another that does about 50 per tick. There’s no much difference in damage output from a 1% gain and a 10% gain. Every class has many of these complete duds as legacies. Replacing them with other must haves will fix the system more than any other change.

    Comment by Marthos — 29 September, 2009 @ 10:03 AM

  11. The LotRO devs announced some changes to Legendary Items in their Developer Diary:

    Some interesting changes. Champions are getting some of the biggest changes; the descriptions are vague, but from what I can see it looks like a mild nerf to Fervour stance and a boost to Glory/Ardour stances. Being able to upgrade specific legacies (to make them cheaper to increase) is nice. There’s still a large amount of randomness to the system, even though all the “good” legacies will be front-loaded; this assumes that the developers and players agree which ones are good. ;)

    I don’t think this really addresses my core concern that you still have to go through a lot of legendary items to find a good fit. This just means you can (probably) discard more of them without having to work them up an hope the legacies don’t suck. But, we’ll see how it goes in practice.

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 October, 2009 @ 3:24 PM

  12. My other beef with the system is that some effects of the relics are not self explanatory. I still have no proper answer what +2.5% devastate actually does. And what devastate is. Someone told me it is kind of a critical critical hit, which is a bit vague.

    But well, that is a minor side concern, after getting to experience this system firsthand, I can only agree to you, there is a lot about this system that does not seem to be okay.

    Comment by Longasc — 24 October, 2009 @ 3:20 AM

  13. Intrinsic Motivation in MMO’s

    [...] watched this video today, and then I ran across Brian Green’s extreme makeover of Legendary Items in LOTRO. As I was commenting on his blog that the only other option for random rare drops seemed to be the [...]

    Pingback by Toldain Talks — 29 August, 2013 @ 4:35 PM

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