Avatar Legends Review, Part 1

Today I’m taking a look at the new Avatar: Legends RPG from Magpie Games, a Powered by the Apocalypse game based on the Avatar cartoon from Nickelodeon. If you’ve seen Avatar (or just now Googled it) you will know that it’s a martial-arts-heavy story with a lot of big emotions. How well does that translate into a game? Let’s take a look and see!


The main source of setting for this game comes from two cartoon series from Nickelodeon: Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra. You get more detail, though, from all the novels and comics of the Avatarverse which can provide you with hours and hours of inspiration. There is a lot of detail provided in the book to get you up to speed but you’ll definitely get the most out of your experience if you’re familiar with these media (though being an encyclopedic expert is not necessary).

Image © Nickelodeon and Magpie Games

I really don’t want to spend a ton of time setting up the world if you don’t already know about it (there are dozens of sites for that) but here’s a very brief summary. In the world of Avatar Legends,the Four Nations try to coexist with each other, sometimes succeeding more than others. Each of the Nations has “benders” capable of manipulating a particular element (fire, earth, air, or water) but there also exists the Avatar who is capable of bending all four, reincarnating each generation to each of the Nations in succession. Your game of Avatar Legends will be set in one of the eras covered by the series or comics, roughly divided up by who was the Avatar at the time: the peacekeeping times of Earth Kingdom Avatar Kyoshi, the tense times of Fire Nation Avatar Roku, the gap when the next Avatar was in stasis and the Hundred Year War raged, the time of rebuilding when Air Nomad Avatar Aang returned, and the era of modernization with Water Tribe Avatar Korra.

In the shows and stories, the adventures of the avatars cover world-spanning events and you can follow this model whether you are playing a famous group like Team Avatar or whether you are just up for a lot of travel. On the other hand, you might be telling a narrower story focused on a particular city or area. The book’s second chapter has a ton of information on the geography and history of the world, with two-page write-ups of the broad details each of the Four Nations. Each of the five eras also has a write-up of a dozen pages including major events, important people, and double-page profiles of what each of the Nations is up to in that era. I particularly appreciate the attention to thorny questions that would come up, like how to play a Fire Nation hero during the eras when that nation is conquering other people.

There are a lot of different models of stories to tell in Avatar Legends and the book does an admirable job trying to provide support for all of them. This does mean, though, that there’s less time for telling specifics which is why you definitely want to watch at least a little of the show before diving in here.

Image © Nickelodeon and Magpie Games

Characters and Moves

The first step in creating characters is to think about the overall game. This includes picking an era and scope (as mentioned above), as well as a group focus (defeating a dangerous foe, for example, or learning about a culture or training), and the inciting three-act incident of the campaign (the pilot which you can skip). Your character generation really begins when you pick out a playbook which, like other PbtA games, is based around story role and not specific abilities. In fact, your character moves are completely independent from what bending (if any) that you are capable of, expressed as a training. You can make a character with waterbending, earthbending, firebending, or airbending or weapons or technology training if you want to play a non-bender. Additionally you pick a fighting style which differentiates you from others with the same training (a Bommerang Expert vs a Sword Master or two airbenders with differing Air Bison and Fox-Kestrel styles).

Combining your playbook concept with a training type and your background (military, outlaw, privileged, etc) gives you a pretty detailed character already. Some finishing touches round it out by thinking about your hometown, demeanor, look, and personal history (including why you’re committed to your group). Names for each of the four nations are also provided, along with their real-world cultural origins and meaning (which is pretty awesome).

Which brings us to playbooks! Each playbook is representative of your role in the story and includes a theme, some playbook moves (you choose two from the playbook’s list), a special feature move unique to your playbook, and a powerful moment of balance that lets you resolve an entire scene in one go with a powerful moment (more on those with “balance” below). Once you have your group set you also establish connections to the other characters through your playbook.

Image © Nickelodeon and Magpie Games
  • The Adamant is the playbook for someone willing to do what is necessary and unwilling to let others in (like Prince Zuko). They have a lodestar character that is someone they actually trust and gain benefits for relying on them.
  • The Bold is someone living big and loud (like Sokka) and they have moves based around making big moves, helping their friends, and pushing their limits. They have character growth tied directly to big, bold moments too which is fun.
  • The Guardian has a charge that they’re trying to keep safe (like Lin Beifong) even when it takes over their lives. They struggle a lot with doing what they want and following their duty, plus plenty of moves that make them great at uncovering trouble.
  • The Hammer handles every problem the same way, but beating the tar out of it (like the young days of Toph). They have a dedicated adversary who represents what they want to change in the world and a whole lot of big-hit moves.
  • The Icon is a person with responsibilities who is an inspiration to others but maybe feels like their self gets lost in the mix (like both Aang and Korra). Their moves offer a struggle between throwing their position around and doing things the easy way.
  • The Idealist is someone who always does the right thing even when it’s hard, relying on their moral compass and strength of character to see them through (like Katara). They excel at pushing past barriers and standing up for what’s right.
  • The Pillar is the leader of some small squad who is the sort of person to have with you when things get messy (this one’s hard but probably Azula fits this). They support their team and rely on their training for a lot of their moves.
  • The Prodigy is someone who is just starting on their journey but already possessed of some impressive power (like Jinora). They have moves that let them easily view situations with an open mind but also might experience a comeuppance or two.
  • The Rogue is the character who is only “sort of” good, maybe recently reformed or even just going with the ideals of the party for now (like Varrick). They could be charming or provocative but they are tempted to give in to their bad habits to get results.
  • The Successor is someone from a powerful lineage that comes with some baggage, someone out to prove that they are a better person than their predecessor (like Zuko in the Korra series). They can use their corrupt lineage’s resources for the goals of good now.

Game Mechanics

Characters in Avatar Legends have four stats that determine their rolls: Creativity, Focus, Harmony, and Passion. The starting values of these stats are determined by your playbook and you can increase one by +1 to personalize. The maximum for the stats is normally +2 without a boost from a move. In addition, characters have fatigue tracks which measures their health and conditions which you might be familiar with from Magpie Games’ other bit PbtA game Masks. Your character might feel afraid, angry, guilty, insecure, or troubled which all affect some moves and which also can be cleared by taking specific actions (usually against your best interest). Technically these are two separate tracks (you can have a ton of conditions and no fatigue, for example) but when you are totally fatigued you do start marking conditions instead. When your conditions are all marked and you’re supposed to mark another you’re instead “taken out” which removes you from the scene because you’re knocked out, trapped, overcome, etc.

Image © Nickelodeon and Magpie Games

The last thing to talk about before we get to moves is balance. Every character has a balance track that has seven points stretched between two principles of their personality. Your playbook determines your two principles and while they are not exactly opposed they do wax and wane in opposition. For instance, one playbook’s principles are Self-Reliance and Trust so as the character decides to rely on their team more they are less focused on themselves. Mechanically this is true as well: when Trust is at +2 then Self-Reliance is at -2.

At the center point both principles are at zero while if they are ever pushed beyond the maximum of any principle (+3) then they lose control of their powers and/or actions according to the principles. Maybe the character goes too far in the Trust direction and trusts the wrong person to lead to disaster. The powerful moment of balance from your playbook requires you to be balanced between your two principles (and it needs to be unlocked through character advancement). If you can manage that, though, your balanced state is rewarded with a huge, once-in-a-show-season moment.

Next Time…

This is a big game so I’m splitting it there. Next time I’ll be getting into more of the moves, the stories you play out in Avatar: Legends, and the game’s first expansion that’s already out. Tune in next time for more Avatar goodness!


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