Avatar Legends made waves in the industry last year by making 9.5 million dollars last year on Kickstarter. The game was originally due out at the end of last year but the supply chain woes affecting everyone struck here as well. The revised timeline has books coming out in the middle of this year, but Magpie Games recently dropped a huge PDF for backers recently featuring the full rules and much of the art. Does it feel like the show? How does it handle the rules for bending? How does it fare as a general sourcebook? Let’s take a look at this preview edition.
Avatar Legends uses a Powered By The Apocalypse base for its system. Players choose a playbook and customize with some move selections. The playbooks mirror many of the characters in the show but link to personality types rather than classes for specific bending. The central themes of the character are put on either side of a balance meter, which can be used by the player if they are acting towards a principle…and also targeted by an opponent if they are not. For example, The Icon features a conflict of Role vs. Freedom. This character has an important role they have to fulfill while also struggling against the desire we all have to make our own way in the world. Shift too far towards one principle and the player will be faced with disastrous consequences. Maybe they have to betray their friends to fulfill their role or because they are off being free, someone else takes over their role and causes a disaster.
Fans of Masks: A New Generation will find a lot of familiar elements in the structure of the game. While the powers in that game were mostly thematic, Avatar Legends gives a bit more mechanical heft to characters' fighting techniques. Players choose one of six styles of fighting: airbending, waterbending, firebending, earthbending, weapons or gadgets and a technique or two supported by it. These techniques inflict fatigue, conditions or statuses on opponents. Fatigue functions like stress in Fate to represent minor damage and a resource that powers player effects. Statuses reflect abilities that aren’t damaging but useful, such as freezing an opponent or blinding them with a flash. Conditions are similar to Masks where they provide lingering penalties that can only be cleared by acting out or having a heart to heart with a fellow PC.
These elements come most directly into play in the exchange system, which adds a layer of tactical combat onto the usually loose framework of this style of game. There’s a rock-paper-scissors-like choice of approaches which are then revealed and resolved as defense, attack, then evasion. While this adds some complexity to what seems like it should be a simple game for Avatar fans new to the hobby, these exchanges make important battles feel more like the show. Evasion opens up the opportunity for shifting balance. There’s room for talking between exchanges and some space given to one roll combat for displays of power against unnamed mobs. The key here seems to be running these like Fate combats where only the most dramatic battles run to the bitter end; opponents should flee or negotiate peace long before everyone runs out of fatigue.
The game strikes a balance between natural development and training. It divides expert techniques into three levels; learned, practiced and mastered. Learned techniques cost fatigue to use. Practiced techniques can only be used on a good enough roll. Mastered techniques can be used whenever they are viable, but mastering a technique requires not only seeking out someone to teach the technique but accomplishing a story goal set forth by the master. These can range from defeating a specific opponent to telling a person a difficult truth. These goals are given a wide latitude not just to fit the philosophies of the different bending school but also to get players to make dramatic, difficult decisions. Does a player never lose their balance? Maybe their master wants the character to so they can regain control with a new perspective.
One area that I think will help newcomers are several excellent examples of play scattered throughout the book. In the past these games have collated their play examples in pages long sections. For Avatar Legends, they’ve placed many of them by the relevant sections, making it easier to understand the game. Even though it seems like there will be a ton of actual plays of this game to show people how it works, I think this is a great element for new players.
The book also contains a lot of information about the world. Players are asked to choose the scope and era of their game, the starting incident that brought the players together and a brief summary of how it all went down during session zero. The book covers five eras of play: the ancient times of the Kyoshi Era, the uneasy peace of the Roku Era, the Hundred Year War leading into the first show, the Aang Era in between the shows and the Korra Era of the sequel series. Each era writeup features discussions of important events, people and themes. Even though I am only familiar with the eras connected to the shows, these summaries help me feel confident about running games in these other eras defined by tie-in materials. They also are an excellent resource for gamers who want setting information but aren’t fans of this style of gaming.
Avatar Legends is a fantastic adaptation of the Powered By The Apocalypse system, showing how well Brendan Conway, James Mendez Hodes, Marissa Kelly and Mark Diaz Truman have pushed and pulled the framework of the system to fit this beloved property. A healthy knowledge of the underlying rules set will probably help smooth over any rough spots, but anyone who loves this setting will find useful information in this book.