Oh man, so I got off work and came straight to GoPlayNW without any real prep or plans. Lukas texted me while I was on the bus asking if I could run the very sketchy Korra hack that I put together Sunday morning at Gamestorm after only seeing the first pirated episode online. Sure, but I needed copies of the character sheets. Luckily David lived nearby and agreed to go print us some sheets if he could play. Crisis averted!
Turned out that, almost as soon as the game started, it became clear that I’d written the core moves for fighting and bending (which are like half the show) totally wrong. Oh well. The character creation and setting-prep guidelines worked nearly perfectly and we fell back on just rolling the core elements and having our collective sense of the TV show carry us through. It was totally awesome! Furthermore, having actually played it now, I have a much better sense of what the moves need to look like, so the next version will be much better.
The Premise (minor show spoilers, but Jamie and David had just seen Avatar, not Korra, and we made an effort not to ruin things for them):
The pro-bending circuit has been shut down due to recent events, leaving only the triad-run underground “bare-knuckles” circuits where anything goes. I pitched to the 4 players that we should be an underground pro-bending squad (of 3) and then either their manager or an undercover cop or something like that.
Leslie played Victoria Lee, the fire- and lightning-bending black sheep daughter of a wealthy industrialist family from Republic City. She started the pro-bending team (“The Spider-Rats!”) with two classmates from the academies (we said school was in the style of the Fire Nation, like in Avatar season 3), and they were planning on competing in the official circuit until it was shut down. She had a car and a swank apartment in a nice part of town, where she lives with her two pet fire-ferrets, Kiki and Rika. She also had a secret crush on Lyri.
David played Lyri, the water- and (secretly) blood-bending scion of a couple of first-generation Water Tribe immigrants who’d become triad accountants mostly out of desperation. Lyri was drawn into criminal activity from a relatively early age and lived in a community of houseboats in the middle of the bay, away from police eyes. When the pro-bending circuit was shutdown, it was Lyri who used his triad connections to work their way into the underground matches.
Jamie played Taka, a sand- and earth-bending immigrant from Kyoshi Island. All the girls there were trained to be Kyoshi Warriors, including his sister, while he and the other boys were left more directionless, so he became a beach bum, traveling the earth kingdom in search of adventure and good surf. He’d run into some triad smuggling activities while hanging out in the beach town on the ocean side of Republic City and eventually become the equivalent of a “session musician” for underground pro-bending, being assigned to other teams as needed if one of their players couldn’t compete (usually do to injury). We decided that the Spider-Rats’s normal earthbender — Victoria and Lyri’s classmate — broke both his legs in their first underground match, so Taka was assigned to their team at the last minute.
Lukas played Lo Shang, an older metal- and earth-bender from a prominent police family. Raised by his mother, a cop, he was expected to go to the police academy but decided to try the life of a pro-bender instead. But after suffering some injuries (the extent of which was unclear), he retired to coach younger athletes for the arena, partially as a way to get out of a massive debt to the Triple Threat triad, one he never seemed to be able to work off. Lo Shang lived in an old sparring gym next to the (now closed) stadium, under the pretense of training late into the night, though it seemed like the gym owner knew that he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
The first episode started with the Spider-Rats’ match against the Sun Cats, their first match since their original earthbender broke both his legs and they forfeited by refusing to continue. Taka has just been assigned to them and Lo Shang gives a very Gladiator-style speech about winning the crowd. As they head out, the winners of the previous match, the notorious Ice Goblins, sneer at them and even ice the floor as they enter the cage where the match will take place. Victoria firebends the ice away, humiliating and slightly singeing the lead Goblin.
The match takes place in a rusty cage in a warehouse basement, filled with mounds of dirt and rocks, but also partially flooded. Before the match begins, Lukas hilariously uses his phone to read off the official rules of pro-bending from an Avatar fan wiki, including all the things you’re normally not allowed to do. None of that will apply here. In the underground circuit, fights are done in “capture the flag” style, with each team having a small statue representing their name (in our team’s case, a Spider-Rat). Capturing the other team’s statue means you win the round, and best 2 out of 3 rounds prevails.
They lower a bell from above the cage and, off to the side, a mysterious figure wearing sunglasses in the style of aviator goggles tosses a few pebbles at the bell with amazing accuracy, hitting the bell and signaling the start of the fight.
Round One: Victoria botches her initial fight roll, so the Sun Cats’ waterbender freezes her hands — still holding their statue — in a pillar of ice. Next, Taka uses earthbending to create a bridge from one mound of earth to another, staying out of the water. The opposing earthbender grabs his bridge and pulls it upwards, turning it into a wall that divides the arena in half diagonally. Lyri uses the flooded pool to make a wave of water that slams the third Sun Cat into the corner now made by the cage and the earthen wall, but part of the wall crumbles and collapses on the Sun Cat, pinning him underwater and also hiding him from the view of the “referee” who’s supposedly overseeing the match. Victoria firebends her way out of the ice, Lyri saves the Sun Cat from drowning, and Taka does a wall-run on the stone wall and handily swipes the Sun Cats’ statue to win the round.
Round Two: The Sun Cats are down to two members, since the half-drowned kid is carted away. The teams switch sides of the arena, giving the Sun Cats the high ground and leaving the Spider-Rats in the now muddy bottom of the pool, since most of the water is now splashed on the crowd. Victoria gets off to a better start, fireblasting the Sun Cat holding the statue off the top of the wall and sending him falling into the mud. The earthbending Sun Cat gets really angry and first uses some advanced sandbending to create a glass dagger that he sends flying at Taka. When Take easily blocks it with an earthen wall, the Cat uses his powers to lift the entire arena off the ground, causing it to shudder about and send people flying everywhere. Lyri pulls all the water and sweat off the crowd and uses it to knock the Sun Cats’ statue into his hands, winning the round and the match. The earthbending Sun Cat lets out a sigh of, “Oh, man,” and drops the entire arena, causing everyone to end up covered in mud and dirt.
Later, in the showers, there’s some great in-character banter where Victoria is frustrated about not being badass enough in the match, but offers to let Taka stay in her apartment instead of forcing him to sleep on the beach. Lyri mostly seems concerned about their money, as he’s trying to raise enough to leave Republic City and his family’s triad dealings far behind. Victoria is shocked that he (her secret crush) really doesn’t want to be here.
Lo Shang goes to talk with Jad, the Triple Threat bookie who runs the fights, about their money. Jad is counting up the take and whispering with the mysterious dude in sunglasses. Jad says that the Spider-Rats’ winnings from this fight just barely covers buying back into the circuit after they forfeited the last time (due to refusing to continue after their teammate’s injury), so they won’t earn any money until after the next fight. Lo Shang complains about the cost of food and training and the sunglasses dude interrupts him and says, “It’s okay, I’ll cover them,” pushing forward some money out of the triad funds. “I’m sure you’re good for it.” Lo Shang goes back and splits the money with the rest of the team, with a great line about “Don’t look a gift wolf-horse in the mouth!” when people complain about how meager it is.
Victoria wants to go out for noodles, but Lyri says that he can’t waste money on frivolous stuff like that. Victoria offers to treat him and then Lo Shang says, “That’s a great idea; let’s all go out for some team bonding,” which was not Victoria’s idea at all. They all go to a noodle shop, part of a regional chain founded decades ago by Uncle Iroh, and are slurping noodles when Taka’s crush, Mona — a perky Equalist rally-goer — walks by with another guy. She says, “Hi Taka, is this your… girlfriend?” pointing at Victoria, who is sitting next to him. Lo Shang pipes up with, “No, you’re looking at the Spider-Rats: Republic City’s next great pro-bending team!” Taka tries to play this off — since Mona doesn’t know he’s a bender — by saying, “Haha, Lo Shang, you’re such a joker!” and quickly walking down the road with Mona and her friend Khan, away from the noodle house. Mona says that she and Khan are headed to an Equalist rally later in the week, the same day as the Spider-Rats’ next match, and invites Taka to come. He agrees and it’s clear that Khan is a jerk and is suspicious of Taka. Back at the noodle shop, Victoria tries to flirt with Lyri, but Lo Shang’s boisterous enthusiasm keeps getting in the way.
Eventually Victoria and Taka head back to Victoria’s apartment, and Taka marvels at how nice it is and meets her pet fire-ferrets. They collapse into bed and fall asleep.
Lyri heads down to the harbor, stalked by some mysterious figures who include the Sun Cat that he saved from nearly drowning, and takes his personal kayak back out to the houseboat that he shares with his large family. When he gets home, a minor Triple Treat boss is going over some accounting details with his father and saying terrible things about rustics from the Water Tribe. His mother is restraining herself from punching the boss in the face, but is concerned about Lyri when he appears and has obviously been fighting. Lyri brushes off her concern and goes off to hide in his own “room”, which is just separated by curtains from the rest of the boat. However, before he nods off to sleep, a Triple Threat gangster comes in and says they have a job for him that pays decent money, but doesn’t let him ask any questions about it. Dreaming of getting the money to get away from all of this, Lyri agrees.
Finally, the episode closes with Lo Shang heading back to his sparring gym to sleep on the floor, when he gets jumped in an alley by a bunch of thugs who seem to have some ties with the Sun Cats. They kick out his bad knee and loom over him as he lies on the ground. Lo Shang begins to use metal-bending on his cane to take some of them out, but the leader makes it clear that any violence will not end well for him. The thugs say that this is retaliation for one of the Sun Cats almost drowning under that rubble during the match, but Lo Shang asserts that pro-bending is dangerous and sometimes people get hurt. The lead thug threatens ominously: “You’re right, people DO get hurt.” And they all walk away.
The second episode of the night launched with Lyri rolling a “gig”-style move to see how his errand for the Triple Threats went. Mixed result. Turns out the triad had a old hearse that they used to smuggle things, so the job involved picking up some coffins from various parts of the city and then loading them out onto a ship out near the beach shantys beyond the inner harbor, the ones that Taka used to hang out and surf near. But the triad smugglers on the boat needed an extra pair of hands to unload the coffins at their destination and Lyri, as the new kid, got picked. He gritted his teeth and agreed.
We flashed over to see what the other characters were doing. Victoria was just waking up from nightmares about her anxieties of failing in the ring, screaming Lyri’s name as he was burnt to a crisp. Taka is there and reassures her by offering totally inappropriate advice based on his own experiences: i.e. she should just run away from everything that upsets her.
Lo Shang goes to visit his mom, the semi-retired police sergeant, who cooks him a ridiculous meal and then teases him about not being married. Lo’s mom says she told an ambitious female police officer that Lo Shang teaches combatives and indicates that the officer might stop by his gym for a practice session, suggesting pretty blatantly that Lo Shang should ask her on a date. Lo objects that he can’t have cops involved in his activities, but his mom sweeps his protests aside.
Back in the harbor, Lyri helps the triad smugglers unload the coffins behind Aang’s giant statue in the middle of the bay, which they claim is prime smuggling real estate because “Nobody ever comes here anymore, except for during festivals.” As the smugglers begun to ready the ship for departure, Lyri hears a tapping sound coming from one of the coffins and a voice says: “Is anybody there? You have to help me!” Lyri, alarmed, tells the speaker to be quiet and quickly walks over to leave with the smugglers… only to come back later in the day, in his own kayak, bringing a hatchet which he uses to break open the coffin. Inside, he finds a recent arrival from the Northern Water Tribe, a young noblewoman named Taeda Tanaka who was kidnapped by the Triple Threats and is being ransomed to her family. Lyri knows he’s likely to be in serious trouble with the triads for helping her escape, but he kayaks her across the harbor and plans to hide her in the sparring gym that Lo Shang lives in.
Meanwhile, at morning practice, Victoria is the only one who has arrived on time, so Lo Shang tries to teach her some snappy repertoire to use during matches (like “If you mess with fire, you’re gonna get burned!”). At that moment, Alisha the policewoman walks in the front door, inspects the very obvious and illegal pro-bending training equipment in the room, takes off her metal armor, and begins practicing earthbending. She’s good, but her control is not what it once was, as she’s gotten used to the precision of metalbending, and she takes out one of the gym windows with a practice stone. At that point, Taka walks in and Lo Shang tries to turn attention away from Alisha’s awkward presence by encouraging him to try that glassbending trick the Sun Cats’ sandbender did during the last match, maybe even to fix the broken window. Taka gives it a fair shot (I warned that he could only succeed on a 12+), but the sand he pulled from a old punching bag simply explodes all over the room, getting in everyone’s hair and clothes.
And that’s when Lyri and Taeda arrived, just in time to get a face full of sand. Alisha says: “Wait, you’re Taeda Takana, aren’t you? We’ve been looking for you all week! Where have you been?” But Lyri nails a manipulation roll to half-convince the cop that Taeda is “my cousin, Mika, visiting from the Southern Water Tribe.” Alisha looks at him squinty but doesn’t make a move. She does however tell Lo Shang that she wants to polish up her earthbending and that, if he’ll help her improve back to her formal level of mastery, that she won’t report any of his illicit doings here in the gym and in the illegal pro-bending circuit. Lo Shang agrees, not really having much choice (plus a little bit smitten). Feeling jealous and wanting to keep Taeda away from Lyri, Victoria offers to let her live in her apartment as well, so she doesn’t have to live in the gym with Lo Shang.
On the day of their next match, Taka goes to the Equalist rally to meet up with Mona, who is there with Khan. Mona gives Taka an earful of Equalist rhetoric and Khan asks awkward questions like “So when did you first feel that something had to be done about benders?” Then Amon appears to give a speech, but they’re too far away to properly hear him, so Mona grabs both the boys and tries to push her way to the front of the crowd. Taka actually uses earthbending to try to subtly clear their path to Amon (!!!), and nails his role, so no one else is the wiser. They catch the last of Amon’s speech and then Khan goes backstage to meet Amon personally. Taka and Mona talk a bit about their ideals and then Taka tries to impress her by dragging her backstage to meet Amon as well. However, just as they get there, they see Khan getting into an Equalist van with Amon and driving away. Mona looks heartbroken that Khan’s left to be a “real Equalist” without her.
Then it was time for the second match, which took place on an old houseboat floating out beyond the harbor, where the police could only track them down after it was too late. Of course, Taka was missing because he was at the Equalist rally and the triads were starting to pressure Lo Shang about finding an alternate. It looked for a moment like Lo Shang himself might be forced to step in, but then Alisha appeared out of nowhere, wearing the trademark Spider-Rat headband around her eyes as a mask, and said that she was Taka’s replacement. Ding! The bell sounded.
Round One: This match was against the Ice Goblins, who they’d encountered just before the match with the Sun Cats. The Ice Goblins were all waterbenders (since underground bending doesn’t require a proper distribution of benders) and began by freezing the water beneath the boat into an iceberg and tipping it up on one end. Alisha slid down the deck and grabbed the side, just before sliding into the water. Lyri turned the iceberg into a thousand shards, sending it flying towards the Goblins, and then Victoria finally decided she would do something awesome, firing off bolts of lighting through the iceshards making a massive cloud of thundersnow that electrocuted the Ice Goblins and sent their statue tumbling into the ocean below. Lyri jumped in the water after it but saw that Taeda had secretly come to the match and had actually dove in after the statue as well, trying to be helpful. Meanwhile, Alisha, missing the absence of her armor, used metalbending to extract a bunch of nails from the boat and mold them into a metal gauntlet around her fist. She then launched herself at the remaining Ice Goblins and started pummeling them with the help of Victoria, who was blasting flame and lightning everywhere. Lyri made it to Taeda, who in turn had the statue, but the water above them was frozen over and they were trapped beneath it. Lyri used her bending to separate out a disk of ice above them and turn it over, flipping them up onto the surface. The bell sounded: they had won the round.
Round Two: There was only one Ice Goblin left standing, and he gripped the statue looking very intimidated. Alisha, who was holding the Spider-Rats’ statute, strode menacingly across the sinking remains of the boat towards their only opponent and threatened to brain him with her statue. Giving up, the Goblin passed his statue over to her and she raised them both over her head in triumph. Ding! They were victorious.
Afterward, walking back home soaking wet and shivering, Victoria confronts Taka, as he had arrived late wearing an Equalist badge he picked up at the rally. He responds: “Well, the Equalists have a point! Maybe there should be a governing council of six members, three benders and three non-benders! Or, since there are so many more non-benders, maybe it should be by population, with 5 non-benders and only 1 bender!” Victoria was about to say something but then admitted that the Equalists did have a point. She asserted, however, that she wasn’t objecting to their goals, necessarily, just the way they went about achieving them.
Finally, the episode ended with the mysterious guy in sunglasses sneaking into Victoria’s apartment while everyone is off at the match, slipping his way past the easily distracted fire-ferrets. Tip-toeing from room to room, he manages to stumble across Taeda’s embroidered Water Tribe parka lying on one of the beds. He picks it up and examines it. “Interesting…”