I’ve gotten around to watching the shows Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) and Avatar: The Legend of Korra (great shows, btw). Along the way, I’ve taken notes on recurring themes and opportunities to bring ATLA to the tabletop.
This post is less than a full game – for those, try out Avatar-inspired titles like Legend of the Elements (Powered by the Apocalypse narrative game) and The Last of the Lacers (D&D game). The following are the elements (see what I did there? 😁) I’m concerned with for making ATLA into a streamlined RPG.
ATLA is consistent with a set of ‘rules for the world’ which make it ‘kid friendly’, though these can begin to be stripped away for a harsher feel depending on game genre.
- No one kills another. (It’s only an option for the biggest, baddest evil villain.)
- People live for over a hundred years.
- Gravity is really low, so falls, jumps, and throws are very impressive.
- Injuries reduce capability until a person is unconscious, not dead.
- There is the Spirit World and the Material World.
- There are four Elements (Air☁, Water🌊, Earth🌎, Fire🔥) with a subset and super-power each.
- A person is either born able to Bend (magically control) one of the four Elements or not. (Cataclysmic events or powers can give or remove Bending ability.)
- Animals are intelligent and a companion is common.
Got it? Cool! Onto mechanics…
Very similar to BITS, two six-sided dice (2d6) roll at or above a target number, that number representing the threat of an individual or otherwise the difficulty of enacting a character’s will on the world.
To aid rolls, the applicable stat number gets added to the value.
A simple set of stats represent the collective ability of any action a character may take.
- For fighting and physical exertion, getting your way manually. This includes the name of a preferred weapon that, when used, gives a bonus to the action or outcome.
- For leading and convincing others, getting your way without violence. This includes the name(s) of a companion, human or animal, that gives a bonus when they are also interacting in a social situation.
- For when doing a life’s work. This uses a specific name of a specialty which in turn has lists of actions that could be taken for a bonus.
Training may be Bending, Soldiering, Crafting, Performing, Wandering, Administrating, or other professions a character could spend their time at. However, if not choosing Bending, other boons are given to the character, eg another weapon they are practiced with.
Other stats keep a character in the game and add color to their life:
- Where the character comes from. This is also the default Element the character may Bend, though for role-play another Element may be Bent if it’s specified that a parent is from another Nation.
- How much more the character can take. Any detriment to Stress adds conditions that impede the character’s actions before they are ultimately rendered unconscious or otherwise lost.
- The things the character is proud of. Some advantage may apply when doing such things.
- The things a character should be ashamed of. Some disadvantage may apply when doing such things.
Stat advancements are the first goal since they improve the odds of accomplishing other things in the game.
The goals in fiction are ultimately up to the type of game being played. The primary goal must be shared by all players, but each player may have additional goals for themselves that give reward such as stat advancement or other mechanical boon.
Some group goal ideas:
- Stop the Fire Lord from conquering the world.
- Resurrect the Avatar.
- Unite the Material and Spirit worlds.
- Find an item of power to bring balance to the Nations.
The “magic” of the game offers great robustness in how diverse a character may become as they Train. Whether used as a utility, brought to bear in offense, or as a matter of healing, Bending can do about all. Each Element also has a magical Elemental animal.
pushing objects away,
|Raising the ground,|
using water to manipulate objects.
|Subgroup Bending||Cloud Bending||Sand Bending||Light Bending||Swamp Bending|
|Advanced Bending||Gravity Bending||Metal or Lava Bending||Lightning Bending||Blood Bending|
|Animal||Sky Bison||Badger Moles||Dragons||(none)|
No matter the Bending Element, a true master-level character may Bend with only their minds. Hands-free magic!
The god-tier forms of Bending usually lie with the Avatar, the incarnation and agent of the cosmos to keep balance in all things. Walking the Spirit world, telepresence, removing Bending ability, using all Elements at once, achieving a temporary state of extreme ability, and transforming into a hulking colossus of energy are a few examples.
Not to be outdone by Benders, normal folks have their own gifts too. In advanced Trainings, a non-Bender has access to a lot:
- Acrobatics to dodge attacks, run on water and walls, and scale heights.
- Chi blocking or assassination to immediately disable the limbs or whole body of an opponent.
- Medicine to care for any ill or injury.
- Weapon skills to duel with and defend against any foe.
- Engineering to create machines and tools matching or exceeding a Bender’s ability.
- Brilliance to outthink any situation and foretell things to come.
Bending gives a natural edge that some non-Benders have overcome with study and dedication.
As a world, ATLA is rich with potential. Keeping things simple, the above outline establishes a solid way to create a purely ATLA game experience. Surprised this wasn’t a post about BITS?
I may come back here someday to create a game from this, though if you beat me to it, let me know 😉 Cheers for now!