Published on September 24th, 2021 | by minshewnetworks0
Avatar Legends: What’s in a Franchise?
For all of those who have an avid interest in animation, storytelling and gaming, the name Avatar the Last Airbender is incredibly familiar. Airing from 2005 to 2008, the beloved Nickelodeon show captured the hearts of many children, including myself, which perseveres to this day.
The franchise has sprung off into many branches including: a sequel series The Legend of Korra, comic books, games, podcasts, a (terrible) movie, a soon to be released live action Netflix show and most recently a tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) called Avatar Legends.
Having recently obtained the “beta” version of this RPG’s rulebook, I sat down with a group of friends and have started a roleplaying campaign with a greater focus on player interaction, character growth and balance.
This new development is particularly interesting. The show received a resurgence of attention and fans after it was shown on Netflix and this TTRPG is evidence of the franchise’s potential. With a goal of $50,000 on Kickstarter, the game reached its goal in a record 16 minutes. By the time the funding timeframe had ended, a whopping $9,535,022 was raised.
But why does this franchise have such allure across different forms of content and media? From Uncle Iroh’s words of wisdom to the honest yet sensitive discussion of heavy topics such as migration, refugees, asylum seeking, war, genocide, dysfunctional families, the list is endless. The Avatar franchise has never failed to ask insightful questions about personal psyche and geopolitical issues, and it is this thoughtfulness that has always left me thinking after multiple rewatches of the original series, this show does not need to be this good. And yet, it is. In summary, the show takes itself and its audience seriously.
It is this character driven attitude to story-telling that makes Avatar Legends stand out from other TTRPG’s that I have played. Each character playbook (class) has their own balance principles, two ideas which the character must juggle to avoid committing to one ideology and losing their sense of balance in the constant flux of Ying and Yang.
A good example would be The Icon playbook where the character must balance their actions from being role based or freedom based. You can see how easily this fits thematically within the franchise. Whether it is an air bender struggling between the stringent rules and lifestyle of a monk inspired by some Buddhist principles, with a focus on not being attached to worldly concerns, compared to having the freedom to enact one’s agency over the world.
Conveniently, this actually translates into gameplay, if said air bender were to lean more into their role then they can access a positive dice result modifier when acting in accordance with their cultural rules. Conversely, they would be taking a negative modifier if they wished to take an action more in line with personal freedom if they wanted to focus on their role as an icon of the air bender culture.
This has allowed for interesting character interactions where both player characters and non-player characters can challenge each other to live up to their principles and discuss why each path has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Whilst it must be admitted that some of the mechanics are clunky at first, with an unfamiliar initiative system based on what approach you wish to take into combat, as well as some of the unclear wording in rules that may plague new games, I will be sticking with this game for the long run.
With the beta rulebook available for free on the Kickstarter website and a release date set in early 2022 there are high hopes for this TTRPG to make waves in the roleplaying community.
The future of the avatar franchise looks bright, though it is still relatively untapped in terms of game potential. Sure, according to the Avatar Fandom Wikipedia there are technically over 60 video games in the avatar franchise, though it would be difficult to say that any of them truly stand out or fulfil the potential of the franchise. The one possible exception being the in-development Avatar [Aang Project] on the PlayStation Dreams game.
What Avatar Legends proves is that there is a gap in the market for more avatar content and that would provide a perfect setting for a more traditional RPG game of the likes of Skyrim or the Witcher III: Wild Hunt. The breadth and customisability of the world and its potential characters lends itself to a masterpiece in the making if placed in the right hands, and I for one cannot wait to see what the future holds.
David Hildebrand is a writer, and correspondent for Immigration Advice Service, a legal organisation that helps undocumented migrants to regulate their status.