Avatar Legends hands the future of Last Airbender and Korra over to fans

Avatar Legends hands the future of Last Airbender and Korra over to fans

Flameo, Hotman! Avatar Legends: The Role Playing GameMagpie Games’ tabletop role-playing game set in the Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra universe, is officially available for pre-order. The initial launched via Kickstarter, achieving funding goals in just 16 minutes. Now anyone can own a copy.

If you are a fan of Avatar and Korra but not that well known, or even completely unknown, with TTRPGs, don’t worry. Avatar Legends is designed to welcome newcomers, while providing depth that will be satisfying to those who have a lot of experience around the table. Players have the freedom to express their creativity – from bowing or weapon style to time period and objective – all within the wonderful world and themes of Avatar.

Image: Nickelodeon Animation Studio

Play a session of Avatar Legends would feel like making your own episode of Avatar or Korra.

The game uses Powered by the Apocalypse, a framework designed by Meguey Baker and Vincent Baker that focuses on group storytelling. The roll of the dice does not determine whether something will happen, but how it will happen. Maybe you’re trying to hide from Dai Li agents, or maybe you’re throwing a rock at an airship. There are many ways your attempts can be shaken — and negative results have consequences. Maybe the stone won’t make contact, or it might end up in a place you didn’t expect; the benders on board can now see you and throw projectiles your way. How will you respond? Think of it as a lengthy game of ‘yes, and’ where you are always on your feet.

The Avatar universe spans decades and players can campaign in one of five eras: Kyoshi, Roku, Hundred Years War, Aang, or Korra. The era dictates the power struggle and the canon characters (called Legends in the game) you encounter along the way. Want to lend a helping hand in a world marred by imperial rule, or tenderly navigate an era of reconstruction and technological advancement? (Since little is known about the Roku era, Magpie collaborated with Avatar creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko to write previously unreleased canon material.) Stories can be lighthearted or serious — whether local or regional, or on a global scale.

Avatar Legends set, including a rulebook, various playbooks, combat action deck and various dice

Image: Magpie Games

Finally, players agree on a “focus” – fertile ground for generating a story set in the Avatarverse. Do you launch a rescue, like when Zuko and Sokka Suki break out of Boiling Rock or when Tenzin, Kya and Bumi searched for Ikki? Are you trying to learn it, like when Team Avatar managed to unravel secrets from Wan Shi Tong’s ghost library? Or maybe you’d rather take out an intimidating foe, like when Korra and his friends battled Kuvira’s massive metal mech.

Can I create my favorite Avatar or Korra characters?

A waterbender is located on the left side of the frame, facing right.  They bend water in an arc.  On the left is

Image: Magpie Games

In Avatar Legends, create your own new characters, using playbooks. This means that the game can start quite quickly, compared to a traditional Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Playbooks focus on archetypes – for example, the Prodigy has an excellent mastery of the technique, an obvious nod to Toph, the Blind Bandit whose superhuman earthbending made her a tough rival. These playbooks give characters a narrative compass to guide their emotional arc, helping the group determine the types of stories they want to tell.

“By choosing the successor, you’re not just saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this powerful family,'” said Mark Truman, co-founder and CEO of Magpie, and core designer for Avatar Legends. “You also say, ‘These are the kinds of things I want our game to be about.’ And now the [game master] can say, ‘Cool, your powerful family will show up all the time, and it will be a big part of the story that your powerful family matters.’”

Avatar Legends classes, called Trainings, mean you can create a character using one of four bending styles, or focus on weapons or technology. It’s all mix and match. You could build a Guardian archetype that fights with technology like Asami’s electric gauntlet, with the intent of protecting another player at the table, or a faithful boomerang Child prodigy. This ensures that benders don’t just get a place of honor. “Sokka’s journey is just as important as anyone else’s,” Truman said.

Each playbook also includes a balance meter, which guides a player’s beliefs and evolves as the character’s ideology changes. The show is based on the importance of balance – balance between the bending nationsbalance between personal extremes. The Successor, for example (think Zuko or Mai), is torn between tradition and progress; a Moment of Balance will play as a climax in an episode, such as Zuko choosing to brave the Fire Nation to join the Avatar Gaang. Under specific circumstances, players can also switch playbooks, adding even more customizability.

Players can ultimately create whoever they want and tell a compelling story with them. A few qualities hold up, in the spirit of the show. Each of you is a hero who has “willingly answered the call” (according to the rulebook), meaning your group of friends won’t break or completely fall apart under stress, just like the Gaang. Because the game focuses less on “fighting” and more on “heroism, difficult choices and balance,” Truman said, the door is open to possibilities.

“We want players to come to the table and say, ‘Okay, I’m an Earthbender, but I don’t bend big chunks of earth, I always bend crystals,'” Truman said. “That might not fit very well in a canon story, but within the story you tell at your table, we want to embrace that, and be like, Yes, that’s great.”

Cultural competence in a changing world

Avatar Legends is set in a world inspired by Asian and North American native cultures, just like the original TV shows were.

“One thing Mike [DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko] was that really smart, was it just make an Asian and native world, and treat it like the Lord of the Rings treats English peasants and English stories as the lingua franca of that world,” Truman said. “It means that everything that happens in the Avatarverse has the potential to be part of that experience. And yet no part of it is supposed to map directly, Oh, these people are Japanese, these people are Korean.”

Independent designers have long diversified the table game space, making it more inclusive for players of color and queer players. At the same time, legacy TTRPGs like D&D still struggle with a Eurocentric legacy, which includes racist depictions of races like orcs. (Wizards of the Coast recently apologized for the images of the Hadozee race.)

Avatar Legends is positioned – as an adaptation of a much-loved franchise with an existing legion of fans – as a much-played, immersive TTPRG set outside the European subcontinent. But it also poses a challenge, as the Avatarverse blended different Asian and indigenous cultures to create its world. (In previous interviews, DiMartino and Konietzko have said that this was largely due to) avoid characterizing a particular culture as villainous). In 2022, it will be even more challenging to find that balance between cultural rigor and drawing inspiration from such cultures to create a fantastic universe.

“It’s a pan-Asian experience with a lot of rich opportunities,” Truman said. “Some of it doesn’t work. Some of it works great. I think our job as an RPG company is to give you the tools to really live up to your own experience, and to challenge white players to think about the ways this still isn’t a white world.”

To bring these stories to life, the team at Magpie Games – a minority and women’s company – worked closely with a number of talented game designers who had expertise in the real-world regions from which the game draws inspiration. This included bringing in James Mendez Hodes (a game designer and cultural consultant) as the core designer.

“We ended up with our four key designers — the three of us, Magpie plus Mendez — and then another level of contributing designers out there, before we put pen to paper, to discuss all the major issues,” Truman said. “We’ve been working with that community of people for almost two years now to make this game great.”

The Magpie team worked with Dr. Siu-Leung Lee, who worked as a translator and calligrapher on the project, and who was the calligrapher for both Avatar and Korra. “He told us these stories of how they came up with the original calligraphy,” Truman said.

An image featuring the Wan Shi Tong Adventure Guide, which is part of Avatar Legends.  It's a book with a big owl on the cover.

Image: Magpie Games

Magpie is based in New Mexico and the team also collaborated with contributing designer Dr. Lee Francis, founder of Native Realities and Indigenous Comic Con, on a Water Tribe adventure as part of the Wan Shi Tong game supplement. The story focuses on water rights, echoing the real water rights fights in the state. “We want the sense of indigenousness of the Water Tribe to be really strong in the stories,” Truman said.

And to guide players, the rulebook includes a section in the “Creating Characters” chapter devoted to guiding players through “playing outside your experience”, aimed at players who don’t want to share their character’s ethnic heritage. (Of course, many TTRPGs ask players to create characters outside of their race — including races that are completely fictional. But many of these can and will take inspiration from the real world.) Avatar Legends rulebook advises players to make sure they are “portraying a whole person, not just an identity or a label.”

“The Avatarverse is so awesome,” Truman said, noting his excitement “to have the opportunity to bring this to RPGs, and to have never done it before.”

Avatar Legends: The Role Playing Game was viewed using a digital copy provided by Magpie Games. Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. you can find additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy here.

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