Retro: Avatar, the Last Airbender

March 2, 2007

Shreyas got me hooked on the Nickelodeon kids’ show, Avatar: the Last Airbender, which has surprisingly nuanced character development, a rich setting, and features real Chinese martial arts.

Once I began thinking about non-commercial roleplaying and writing games that were more along the lines of fan-fiction, Avatar seemed like an obvious thing to start with. I could spend time writing a game that would never be published commercially, but would still potentially be supported by a sizable fan community.

Along the way, a bunch of neat things developed:

One was the “chakra/dial” concept, which allows scenes to be framed according to a cyclical pattern which individual characters or the game as a whole moves through.

One was the importance of naming and re-naming things. In this case, scenes are named before they are played out and renamed afterwards. Likewise, in the process of character development, you name what you are trying to achieve and then, after you progress a ways, you must rename your original declaration in order for it to become a trait. In this way, you never achieve exactly what you set out to find. You always find something different, whether slightly or completely different.

Shreyas, Thomas, and I played the game at GenCon (Selene watched and gave feedback) to great success. But it was hard to tell whether it felt so much like the show because we, as players, injected that feel into the game (in a very Primetime Adventures way) or if the game actually encouraged that.

Most of the neat mechanical aspects of the Avatar game are now being fleshed out in greater detail in the Exalted hack and in Four Nations.

Recently, Shreyas ran a simplified version of the game on IRC, using just the dial and renaming traits. It also did pretty well.

Sources
– 2006 May 23: Character Framing and the Last Airbender
– 2006 May 25: Avatar Development Arcs
– 2006 May 26: Basic Character Arc Mechanics
– 2006 May 28: Avatar Character Sheet
– 2006 May 31: Traits as Keys, Dharma Paths
– 2006 Aug 30: Initial GenCon Playtest Report
– 2007 Feb 13: Shreyas Runs Avatar on IRC

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