“Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang, and although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.”1
The Avatar Has Returned
If you’ve watched Avatar the Last Airbender then you already know those words, the opening credits that start after the pilot. AtLA, as it’s often abbreviated to, was seemingly just a kids’ cartoon on Nickelodeon, but I – a recent college grad – could tell this would be something more from just that pilot. A captivating coming of age story, adult themes like loss and war, inspiration from indigenous peoples, martial arts, the supernatural ability to bend the elements, and truly endearing characters… If you don’t know the show, then I won’t spoil it for you, but I highly suggest you go binge the 3 seasons of the first show before you come back and read more about this new, amazing, inspiring game: Avatar Legends!
It only took 16 minutes for the Avatar Legends kickstarter to be funded last summer. I think it’s pretty clear why: the fans. This beloved show and its sequel show Legend of Korra are captivating tales of growth, relationships, found families, but also conflict, war, nationalism, and imperialism. These shows found new popularity once they came onto Netflix during the pandemic and I’m so glad they reached new fans young and old alike. Over 81,000 of them pledged more than $9.5 million dollars to this joint project from Magpie Games and then ViacomCBS, now Paramount. I’m a fan of Magpie and their other games like Urban Shadows (I need to try 2nd Edition) and Masks, one of many games I tried at my first PAX Unplugged. I need to try Root too! But now with the April release of the PDFs for the kickstarter, I got to try my hand at Avatar!
“In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.” – Uncle Iroh
Hope & Thanks
Now maybe it’s the state of the world with Russia’s inhumane and atrocious war on Ukraine, the plight of a pandemic, the divisive political climate, building concerns over Roe v Wade – I’m pro choice and defend a person’s right to choose for the record – but I find increasingly the media I want to consume and play are positive, uplifting, challenging sure but there’s hope. I could write an entire series of why I and many others are loving Heartstopper on Netflix – maybe I will – but that’s not what this article is about. Granted it might just be someone saying they felt Charlie was an airbender in a recent tweet I saw… My point is how these pieces of art, these means of entertainment are important to us from the trauma faced, the joy and hope we want to see and bring to the world. Let alone, it’s family friendly!
Avatar Legends specifically notes as such though you’ll see the Quickstart does remind you about safety tools like the X card and discussing the kind of game you want to play. It’s based on the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) ruleset meaning you’ll only ever need two six-sided dice (2d6) for each player. I’ll note here that Magpie put a lovely Acknowledgement section in the main book. They thank Vincent and Meguey Baker for creating the PbtA system, as well as the Avatar teams at Avatar Studios (including creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konieztko), those individuals at then ViacomCBS, numerous freelancers, and more. Speaking of the shows, the comics, and more Magpie adds: “They taught us lessons on heroism when we were younger and represented many of us in a meaningful way when we missed seeing ourselves on TV.” Exactly. Representation matters, let alone it’s amazingly heartfelt material! A special thank you to Paramount and Magpie Games for helping make this game happen!
Players & Characters
I’m very grateful that I could trust this material with my friend Zoe who got to partake in some of the early playtesting of Avatar Legends. She like myself funded the kickstarter and with a group of friends – some new to AtLA – crafted some characters to try out on a few adventures. We’ll see if a campaign happens, but in the meantime some periodic one shots are more than enough to get me tear-bending with joy. The Quickstart gives you all you need to possibly upset or even help a certain cabbage merchant including the rules to start a game, how to play in and out of combat, abridged character creation rules, six playbooks, and a starting adventure!
For our sample game we decided to work out our own characters, especially as we’d be trying out some of the adventures in pre-release PDFs. To begin you may have a concept of what you want in mind or you might choose your Playbook first. Like other PbtA games the playbook frames up a bit of concept for you including guiding Principles – central themes for your character to find balance between – and some moves to choose from that are only available to your Playbook at least at start. The Quickstart contains 6 as I mentioned but there are many more once you get the full game. I chose the Prodigy as I wanted to play someone who’d been able to develop airbending without a teacher, and was just good at learning from others. Of course the Prodigy can grow beyond achieving Excellence to finding kinship with their Community and in doing so become a teacher themselves!
Now I had to choose a Background like Urban, Military, Privileged or in my case Outlaw. Someone unsure how they have airbending and are used to getting along on their own in the world? Pirate! Not completely alone but perhaps not the most nurturing environment. Expand your concept now with a Name, a quick description of your Fighting Style (swords, fans, ice spikes, fire dancing, etc.), as well as the Demeanor of your character pulled from the options suggested in your Playbook or something all your own if it’s not well represented. I chose a proud and defensive demeanor for my pirate! Your playbook will also have determined your four stats between Creativity (think quick and unconventionally), Focus (act under pressure), Harmony (social awareness and empathy), and Passion (emotional strength and drive) There’s always a +1 to place and it’s a good idea to review the basic moves, moves for your playbook, and how you want to play the character to decide where to place it. Choose your moves to start with. There’s things like the Icon’s move to get a rideable friend like Appa (the move is called Yip Yip!) or the ability to Wait and Listen, a Prodigy move to use your Focus instead of Creativity to assess a situation. Assess a Situation is one of the basic moves that lets you survey a scene and figure out what’s going on.
Trainings & Techniques
Ah but Concept, Playbook, and Background don’t determine your Training. There are six areas you may be trained in: the four elements of Air, Earth, Water, or Fire as well as Weapons or Technology as we see developing through AtlA and more so in the Legend of Korra. It is possible to have more than one training or learn from another – as Uncle Iroh wisely first teaches Zuko – but you’ll have to get there in the course of your adventure. There’s ways of picking up those specialized types of bending too, but that’s also in how you’re using that training.
Your Technique you might say. What your Training opens up for you is the ability to learn not just Universal techniques – as everyone is assumed to be trained in some form of martial arts – but techniques specific to your training from the classic Water Whip to Flame Knives to the ever adorable Air Scooter. You can find the classic Earth Armor but also rare advanced techniques like Weapon’s Chi Blocking, Technology’s Jury Rig, or Firebending’s Lightning Blast! While the moves from your playbook are predominantly for out of combat, techniques are for utilizing your training in stressful situations. Every Playbook also has their own unique Technique, though it is universal so others could learn it from you over time. Knowing which techniques you’ve learned, which you’ve practiced, and which you’ve mastered will become important later when we discuss combat.
Finally, like most PbtA games, after the players introduce their characters there will be some backstory or other Connections to help tie the characters together. Every playbook has two and I highly encourage to spread those connections around to make sure there’s some unity but also drama rife for the exploration of the game. The Prodigy had to choose who they felt needed some training from someone smart like them but also what character tends to make them happy, mad, and sometimes both. The Prodigy and its moved sure seem inspired by Toph while the Icon – someone choosing between the role their meant to play and the freedom to have fun and be true to themselves – is clearly inspired by Aang. You’ll find many of the Playbooks have their inspirations revealed through their descriptions, moves, and core Principles though of course nothing is predetermined.
Combat & Balance
In combat you choose Stances. Based on the stance you’ll roll a certain Stat with your 2d6 and then figure out which Techniques you can do, including the Basic Techniques available to everyone like Ready, Smash, Bolster, etc. Every Technique is tied to a Stance however so make sure to choose the Stance that will hopefully allow you to do the Technique you want! As an example the Icon’s Wall of Perfection technique is tied to the Defend & Maneuver stance. But what exactly do these stances mean you’re doing? If you’re looking to change position or retaliate when an enemy attacks, you’ll Defend & Maneuver (Focus). Eager to get in and strike? Choose Advance & Attack (Passion). Finally the Evade & Observe stance lets you roll with Creativity or Harmony as you try to bolster an ally, hinder an enemy, find what’s driving your enemy, or center yourself.
All of these Stances have value and your enemies will be choosing from them as well. They also help determine initiative, moving in the sequence as I described them. Remember to consider is that if you want to use a learned or practiced Technique, make sure you get a 10 or more on your roll. You haven’t mastered them well enough yet to use them on a hit of 7-9, basically reflecting you still succeed but now with the ease and precision you find with a better roll. It does add a secondary level of choice while also keeping versatility to the abilities the characters develop. You can learn more about the Basic Moves on Page 18 of the Quickstart while Basic Techniques and some example combat is detailed on Page 21.
The most important thing to consider in combat is not about destroying your enemy. That’s not what Avatar Legends it’s about. An engagement doesn’t even happen unless both sides are looking to engage. Through conditions, statuses, and directly calling out your adversary (often with Evade & Observe techniques) we can push them so far off Balance that we encourage them to back down, make them want to run away, maybe knock them out, or overall get to the point of combat’s conclusion. This isn’t hit point damage, health checkboxes with blood and gore. At the core Avatar Legends is about a journey of self-discovery and learning, and sometimes we go through that journey through challenges. Unfortunately those challenges can be very tough, but thankfully we have those around us to help. A shame our adversaries do not always have that, especially if they’ve pushed their tutors, staff, and girlfriends away… Yes, Azula. I’m talking to you.
Time & Place
You and your players are free to explore the stories you wish with your cast of characters. Magpie has thankfully given us details to explore games in numerous locations. Care for a trip to Lake Laogai? No? Well how about the Eastern Air Temple, do some introspection? I hear there’s a lovely troupe performing on Ember Island who tell the tale of the Avatar better than any movie ever could… But it’s not just the location, but the time. Play in the time of Kyoshi, Roku, the Hundred year War, just after Aang and Team Avatar stop the Fire Nation, or after Korra and her allies handle the fall out of Kuvira’s war and now her trial. Do check out the Ruins of the Empire comic trilogy when you get a chance. Dark Horse has been expanding all the avatars stories off screen! Oh and I’ll add that various NPCs are fleshed out in the materials, both completely new and those we love like Aang, Korra, Katara, Tenzin, Azula, and of course Zuko.
While I won’t reveal the details of the sample adventures and the ones we’ve tried out so you can enjoy them as a surprise, I will say the clever use of areas and NPCs we know and love will make you feel like you’re right in the show. One friend remarked on the general feel of innocence that was authentic to the show. “The fact that our two big bads had such ridiculous names and descriptions felt in line with the show,” said Alli. There’s the evolution of Toph’s metalbending academy, the diverse and difficult politics of various cultures living together in the wake of wars, and the careful tone and authentic care of detail brought to the gaming materials much like the creators brought to the original show.
“The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same.” – Guru Pathik
How To Play Now
I highly suggest you invest in Avatar Legends and if you haven’t yet, Avatar the Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra TV shows and subsequent comics. It’s too late to fund the kickstarter as materials are off to the printer, but if you don’t know someone who funded the kickstarter you can try the game out in a few ways until the materials are available for purchase! First, pick up the quickstart rules here! There’s also the curated play program that Magpie runs with many one-shot and the occasional Avatar games held as well as other games too. Finally, should you attend a convention whether in person or online, Magpie and their partners always have various games being held and Avatar Legends is sure to be one of them! Just announced they’ll be at Gen Con this summer and are looking for GMs to run some of their games too! Back in 2020 when Gen Con went online I got to play an amazing Urban Shadows 1E game, hosted through Magpie’s discord, which I encourage you to check out as well. It’s an amazing community of people!
I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!
I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!
- Avatar: the Last Airbender show opening words excerpt, Paramount*
- Avatar: the Last Airbender timeline banner, Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial, Alltimelines
- Avatar bending types, Collider and Paramount*
- Fire Lord Ozai art piece, Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial, Kehasuk
- Iroh’s tree from The Tale of Iroh, The Tales of Ba Sing Se, Paramount*
- Cabbage Man / Merchant, Paramount*
* Avatar Legends and all related titles, logos and characters are trademarks of Paramount Global / Paramount International Inc.