I’m back with the second half of my Avatar Legends RPG review. Last time I talked about character creation and the start of mechanics. I’m picking up right where I left off to give you the action-packed details!
More on Moves
While there are feature moves and playbook specific moves, there are a set of basic moves that all characters will be using. Outside of combat you can assess the situation to ask questions of the GM, guide and comfort to remove fatigue or conditions from another character, intimidate to scare someone into doing what you want, plead to try to win them over through niceties, or trick to get your way through cleverness. In a tough situation (including combat) you might push your luck to get through by chance or rely on your skills and training to get through methodically. You can also help someone to give them a boost on their move.
For the spiritual, there are balance moves like live up to your principle where you mark a fatigue to roll with the principle value instead of whatever you were supposed to. You can also call someone out if they aren’t living up to their principles and deny a callout to resist someone doing that to you. NPCs might try to shift your balance as well (“enough of this idealism, we’re in the real world!”) so you might also want to resist shifting your balance. If you are pushed past the +3 mark on either of your principles, though, you must lose your balance which can really mess things up for your party… but with so much delicious drama!
There are instructions for making custom moves but notably you don’t making specifically bending moves. Everything is included in the description so when you make a move you describe how based on your training. An airbender might intimidate with a swirling vortex of power while a weapons character might just lean on their massive sword. In combat, your training also plays into push your luck or rely on your skills and training in whatever way you imagine. That said, there are advanced techniques that you can learn but these are not moves just modifications to your moves. For instance, Flow as Water is a waterbending technique that lets you mark fatigue to move to a new location and impair your foes. Not a move but it lets you do something you normally couldn’t in a general sense. The book contains universal techniques for all types, group techniques to help teammates, and techniques for the four bending paths and weapons and technology.
There are some basic techniques as well that play into combat exchanges between characters. When you enter combat you choose your approach to the situation: defend and maneuver, advance and attack, or evade and observe. Each has different stats that it rolls with through a stance move. Your success on the stance determines how many of your techniques you can use in this action. Your techniques start out as learned and if you try some more they can become practiced and then mastered. The better your mastery of a technique the more likely you are to use it with your stance move. All of this is one exchange and after the exchange you see who’s still standing and go again. Most often, though, after an exchange or two the combatants will take the opportunity to switch gears, offer a truce, or even just run. This is a little involved but once the rhythm is established it goes pretty quickly. That means you can have tactical combat without the length and grind of a game like D&D (thankfully) even if it’s more complex than Masks or City of Mist.
Running the Game
Following all of the information on playing, there’s some great resources for the Gamemaster (yes, “GM” not “MC” for this particular game). There are some themes and guidelines that the book recommends specifically for Avatar Legends, and a list of GM moves for when players fail a roll or when you need to shake things up. Some of these are straightforward (like “inflict fatigue or a condition,” “shift their balance,” or “threaten someone”) but there are more narrative options as well. I particularly “reveal a hidden truth” and “provide wisdom in unlikely places.” Advice for one-shots and long-running campaigns alike continues the effort in the book to support all sorts of play styles.
There’s a good section on creating NPCs which are designed to be quick to make and easy to run. NPCs have a name and description (make it memorable!), a Drive that they want to see accomplished, fatigue tracks, one or more conditions (from playbooks or made up for the NPC), advanced techniques if appropriate, and principles and balance (unless they’re a total nobody). Unlike PCs, NPCs don’t balance between two principles; they get just one and they’re either upholding that or drifting from it. Minor NPCs often have nothing more than a name and Drive, but combat-oriented ones can get the bare minimum of other stats. Major NPCs have more steps on their fatigue tracks, more balance points, and maybe a few advanced techniques. Master NPCs have the most fatigue, five conditions, and their balance track goes up to +3 (sometimes less). They also have at least a few advanced techniques. Groups of NPCs can be statted like a single person that’s more powerful, letting you clash with groups of soldiers like a real action hero. Lastly, Legendary NPCs are the truly incredible, mechanics to let them stay in play a lot longer, and even more options than your typical PC. In short, we’re talking about the named characters from the shows and books here.
A collection of NPCs helps fill out your stories whether Minor NPCs like town guards and shopkeepers, Major NPCs like military commanders and nobles, Major NPCs like rebel or Triad leaders, or NPC groups like a small mob or police squad. For Legendary NPCs, each of the Avatars (Kyoshi, Roku, Aang, and Korra) are written up, as well as Uncle Iroh for variety.
Wan Shi Tong’s Adventure Guide
Since this game did so amazingly on Kickstarter, it actually released almost simultaneously with it’s first expansion book! Wan Shi Tong’s Adventure Guide is named for the mysterious library-spirit from the original series. This book expands on the core book with new material and some adventures. First off, there’s information on Wan Shi Tong’s Spirit Library itself: what it is, how you would get there, and specialty moves for finding information and escaping once you have it. As if the whole thing wasn’t evocative enough, there are many plot hooks for including the library, including era-specific hooks.
The book also has some more advanced techniques and some the Legends you might have been missing from the core book: Rangi from the Kyoshi-era novel; Taqukaq from the Roku comics; Long Feng, Azula, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, Ty Lee, and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender; and Asami, Kuvira, Tenzin, and Varrick from Legend of Korra. These powerful NPCs might be allies, teachers, or even enemies for your group of PCs during their adventures. There are also a few more Playbooks for the players here.
- The Destined is in for something very important and their fate comes to define them (maybe an Avatar or maybe something else).
- The Elder is experienced and a ready mentor to the rest of the group, teaching and guiding the other characters.
- The Foundling is someone from one culture who grows up in another. They straddle these two worlds and their split experience can be invaluable.
- And the Razor is someone raised to be a weapon, seeing everything in a straightforward way like the Hammer but with a darker purpose they are trying to leave behind.
Finally, this book has several pre-written, starter-friendly adventures that are ready for GMs to take and run with. Earth & Root is set in the Kyoshi Era, showcasing the massive city of Ba Sing Se. Fire & Brimstone is set in the Roku Era and features a technology symposium and summit in the Fire Nation capitol of Hari Bulkan. Ash & Steel is a war-time adventure set in the Hundred Year War Era, dealing with intrigue and tough choices. Air & Wind is set during the Aang Era and centers on the legacy of the Air Nomad Genocide and the legacy of Team Avatar. Finally, Water & Mist is a Korra Era adventure set in the modern Republic City with a high-stakes mystery to solve.
I think there’s two principal audiences for this game. The first is fans of Magpie Games and the Powered by the Apocalypse system, folks who just love rolling a pair of d6s and possibly getting themselves in trouble. I’d count myself among that group, most of my favorite games at this point are PbtA and I’m writing a lot of material for that system. It’s really good and very simple since everything you need to know is in that one roll and it incorporates a lot of crunch for a primarily narrative-driven system. A key difference here, though, is that a lot of PbtA games (like the original Apocalypse World or Magpie’s other PbtA game Masks) have a limited number of basic moves and then all the other moves to try are on people’s character sheets. That’s not the case with Avatar Legends. It’s got a ton of moves, even before you start complicating those basic moves with techniques and questions of balance. It’s going to be a climb for players (and the GM) to become familiar with all of these moves and most of the information for them is not on the character sheets.
On the other hand, the beauty of Powered by the Apocalypse remains. You roll a 2d6 every time, sometimes you add or subtract a little. When you look up a move you aren’t 100% on the text is all in one spot and it helps you interpret the results every time. Also, stories in the Avatarverse wear a lot of hats so this game needs to have rules for emotional connections, rules for spiritual stuff, crunchy rules for fighting, and it needs to include a lot of different character types and make them all cool. That’s a lot, and every single move in the game feels both well-designed for its purpose and definitely necessary to capturing the feel of Avatar.
So the other audience? Fans of the Avatarverse who want to try out the RPG version. Those folks want to see all the familiar sights and sounds of the world, plus they want to play benders (and non-benders) with all the amazing powers we’ve seen onscreen. They want to rub elbows with Korra and Aang, they want to visit Ba Sing Se, and they want to mix it up with villains and save the world. This game covers that so well. In addition to having mechanics that match the action onscreen, it’s got storytelling approaches and advice that helps you craft stories that could easily be an Avatar episode. It also lets you expand on what we’ve seen so you can play dramatically different stories than the adventures of the various Team Avatar groups but that definitely fit into this world.
So, who should play this game. If you’re a fan of Avatar and an experienced gamer (especially experienced with PbtA) then go get this game immediately. If only one of those things fits (experienced but not into Avatar or vice versa) then you still might want to check it out because of all the cool work. The mechanics for fighting duels and/or balance could fit into another game of your choice and really capture the theme. I think using this as an introductory RPG for Avatar fans in your life might be a tall order; maybe get it and then meld the lore with the Masks rules to start them off before gradually shifting over. If you don’t like Avatar and aren’t familiar with PbtA then there are easier entry points.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the Fire Nation armada headed to the Water Tribes outpost is not going to stop itself…
3 thoughts on “Avatar Legends Review, Part 2”
Thanks for the thorough review. My wife and I are definitely eyeing this as we are huge AtLA fans. We haven’t personally played PBtA before but we have a decent amount of experience with WW, D&D (multiple editions), and Cypher System. Would you think this is a reasonable level of difficulty in grokking based on that?
Well, generally I think PbtA are easy to pick up on so I think you’d be set! Out of what you listed, I think this would be most like Cypher since PbtA games also feature rolling almost entirely in the hands of players. If you attack or convince then you roll to attack or convince, and if you are attacked or someone tries to convince you then you roll to resist those things.
On top of that, your experience with White Wolf games probably will help you with the subsystems (and the tracks like balance which play in like Humanity or other stuff) and the techniques can work like subclasses or feats from D&D.
Hope that helps!
This absolutely did help. I do love Cypher and I am definitely getting some of those vibes here. Mechanically it doesn’t look nearly as complex as D&D for example. I do acknowledge the more complex forms and moves for combat, but I am also considering the combat cards to have on hand as quick references. I think we may end up sold on this!
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