Part of my Gaming Goals 2022 is to try out five RPGs new to me this year. A buddy backed the Kickstarter of Avatar Legends and it finally came to be. He’s run it for our table a couple of times and we might even be trying a short adventure ‘season’. I’ve got a few thoughts on it …
PLAYING THE GAME …
- It is another Powered by the Apocalypse game, taking the core mechanics of 2d6 resolution, playbooks of moves instead of character classes, and an emphasis on the narrative triggering the crunchy dice rolling aspect. Our table has been primarily mechanics first D&D games so it’s a bit of a mental shift of playstyle to this approach but that’s not a bad thing.
- Like every PbtA game, there are setting specific changes. In this case, combat is its own mini game of approaches (defend & maneuver, advance & attack, evade & observe) and techniques. Those approaches (called stance in the game) dictate what techniques you have available. The techniques available to you include basic (anyone can do them), ones specific to your training (elemental bending or weapons or technology), and potentially ones from your specific playbook. A simple strike can be narrated as a martial arts flying kick, a bender slamming water at a foe, or even firing off a grappling gun offensively.
- One of these unique mechanics is balance. Each playbook comes with two guiding principles for the character to struggle between (force vs. care, self reliance vs. trust, friendship vs. survival, and so on). There are moves that can shift you to either pole and potentially drive you to the extreme, force others to follow one of their principles, or even put someone out of commission for the scene. This balance can even be substituted for another character stat if it aligns with that principle, so if you are weak in your stat of harmony but strong in your principle of care, you could use your care bonus to make a roll to comfort and guide another PC. That’s a good thing, I promise.
WHAT I LIKED …
- Even if you haven’t watched any of the TV shows, there is a good deal of information included up front. The world is nicely captured, with short write ups on locations, people, and details about each era’s technology, conflicts, and themes so there is a fair bit of range on setting and a fair chunk of advice on running the game. The Asians Represent podcast did an episode about some of the design philosophy on how this part was approached (also available on Youtube).
- Helping other characters is hard baked into the mechanics, and you are urged to describe that narrative of how you are helping that effort.
- Character connections are part of character creation, though sometimes it takes a bit to get the feel of how they play out together. For some PbtA games, there is a mechanical effect, but not in this one.
- Improving characters happens pretty quickly, driven by four yes / no questions answered at the end of the session. The questions themselves shape the play style. Did you learn something new, did you stop a threat or help a community, did you help someone towards balance, and one question that comes from your playbook so it is tied directly to the focus of that character.
- There are some really good player aid summery sheets provided with the game, listing the moves, conditions, statuses, and combat stances.
WITH THIS I TOOK ISSUE …
- I know that with time, we will get better at tracking all the information and techniques and conditions and statuses of a character, but in the meantime we’ve cobbled together some simple player aids to help with the combat and there is a fair bit of information to track as we learn this game. Not a bad thing, but it’s fairly different than a starting with a freshly created fighter who only needs to track hit points and attack bonus or the spell caster with three spells.
Some hacks I used included writing the stat modifier beside the stances and techniques so I did not have to keep flipping my character sheet over, a printed tent for PC names and during combat to show what stance each character was taking for that round (called exchanges in this game).
On a similar note, a one page PC creation summary would have been welcome as well.
- Some of the abilities are mildly unclear in their usage, something that I expect a future FAQ or a reprint to fix up, For example, the Hammer playbook’s Fueled by Anger that states that when you mark off the Angry condition, you get to do an additional technique in that exchange but is that only when you first mark the condition or every exchange while the condition is place? So there’s some taking your best guess on the fly required.
- Resource management – if you like the crunch of tracking how much coin your character is rewarded with, you will hate this. The primary resource is fatigue which is reduced through harm, fuel ability use, helping others, and consequences. Some playbooks have resources unique to them, but it isn’t always clear if some of these expire after an encounter, after a session, or even after a long comfortable rest. See the previous remark on taking our best guess on the fly.
- There once was a free quick start booklet online to help promote the Kickstarter campaign. That booklet is no longer available through those original sources, but with some adept google-fu, it isn’t too hard to track down. I’m surprised that they didn’t leave it up there as a hook for more players.
FINAL THOUGHTS …
I’m enjoy it so far, watching the characters develop through play, rolling with the whole idea of this being a very cinematic style of play (that a one shot is a movie and a campaign is a series of episodes, and all the tropes that go with these concepts). There are some live play videos and podcasts out there for those looking to sample how the game runs. The printed PDF copy we’re using continues to get a few notes scribbled in the margins, post it notes marking key pages, and the like.
This has its own unique flavour. I currently prefer Blades in the Dark or even the PbtA Root the RPG for their settings, but there are some good ideas in this game that will bleed into some of other games I play at the table. If you are curious about other Powered by the Apocalypse games, there are many that use that operating system and several have free versions out there.