5 Tips for GMing Avatar Legends: the RPG
Are you excited to run your first game of Avatar Legends but you’re not sure where to start? Have you run a game already and want to make your next session sing?
This article is for you!
Avatar Legends has some fantastic advice for GMing in “Chapter 8: Running the Game.” There are also plenty of tips and tricks that GMs of all experience levels might not know about! Today let’s look at four of them to help you GM a fantastic and fun game of Avatar Legends.
Tip 1: Let your Campaign Creation Worksheet guide you!
The setup phase of the game is key to ensuring everyone is on the same page. It’s the plot bible to the TV show that is your game! Make sure everyone (including you!) has a say in which options you choose. Use the worksheet to keep your game on track in these two key ways:
After it’s filled out, use your worksheet to help players create characters that fit the story. When someone starts creating an Icon who travels the wilds to hunt dangerous creatures, and your group focus is about solving a mystery in Ba Sing Se, point them back to the worksheet and ask “How does this work with what we’ve all created?”
Turn to the worksheet when you prep sessions or if you get stuck during play! If your scope is “the Earth Kingdom” and your group focus is “to deliver the supposed true Earth King to Ba Sing Se” in the Kyoshi Era, each session should be about a different stop on your long journey or a danger that halts your progress — a daofei ambush, wilderness hazards, etc.
Tip 2: Treat balance as more than black and white!
In Avatar Legends, each PC’s principles are in conflict but they’re not “good vs. bad.” It’s when characters overcommit to principles and lose their balance that causes problems! Struggling with your ideals or responsibilities and finding out how far you’ll go to embrace or reject them is at the heart of every story in the Avatarverse.
In your own games, let PCs lean into one principle before showing them value in the other. Bring in NPCs who enable them as well as those who disagree (or want to change them). Since true evil is rare in the Avatarverse, present antagonistic NPCs as having taken their principles too far rather than just being “bad.”
Try to also shift balance through player choices as much as NPCs’ influence. When a PC commits to one of their principles with words or actions, show how significant it is by making a move and shifting their balance, whether they’re sticking to established beliefs or having a change of heart. Do this when PCs act heroically as much as when they act selfishly so it feels natural, not like a punishment.
Tip 3: Run the game like an episode of the shows!
Avatar Legends is designed to capture the feel of both shows with its rules and mechanics. The game shines when you lean into telling stories in the style of ATLA and LoK, as opposed to running things like a more traditional RPG. Turning to the GM principles for guidance will carry you through, but here are a few examples of what this looks like using the shows as guides:
- Start the session as close to the action as possible, like Mako chasing triad goons across the streets of Republic City or Aang arriving at Omashu and discovering it’s been conquered by the Fire Nation.
- Give just enough detail so players can make decisions or ask follow-up questions, then ask “What do you do?” As you play, ask guiding questions and use the answers — “Rogue, you spot someone you owe money to across the street; who is it and why are you avoiding them?”
- Push towards serious events that have everyone on the edge of their seats! They can be truly dangerous, like the Fire Navy laying siege to Agna Qel’a at the North Pole. These moments aren’t always fights — they’re also introspective, like Bolin having to accept the truth about his bending abilities.
- Mix in light-hearted moments! You don’t have to go right from serious to slapstick comedy (unless it’s appropriate!) but sometimes a comforting “kiss” from a giant sky-bison after pouring your heart out to your friends can be the perfect way to move on.
- Whether it’s a one-shot or part of a longer game, round things out with a conclusion to the overall issue of the session, like the Fire Ferrets overcoming their interpersonal drama to advance to the pro bending championship. You can instead keep everyone wanting more with an exciting cliffhanger, like Amon revealing his power for the first time!
Tip 4: Keep fight scenes fluid and snappy!
Martial arts are a core element of the Avatarverse and sooner or later, a fight’s going to break out. Instead of running combat exchanges as characters trading attacks, like a turn-based video game, think of the fight scenes in the TV shows. Keep things in motion and remember that people in these stories almost never fight to their last breath!
In your own game, show how the world and characters change after every combat exchange. Don’t be afraid to make a GM move to do that! Say the PCs are resistance fighters during the 100 Year War era and attack a squad of Fire Nation prison guards during an escape. What happens after an exchange?
- Maybe the guards beg for mercy and you turn to the Hammer to see if they accept surrender or give in to Force (shifting their balance)!
- Maybe a wall or some furniture is damaged in the fighting, offering a possible path to escape (offer a risky or costly opportunity)!
- Maybe one of the guard’s helmets is knocked off, revealing them to be an old friend of one of the PCs (reveal a hidden truth)!
If techniques seem restrictive, remember that a fight is more than a series of combat exchanges — an exchange is when you and an opponent trade blows, but a fight scene is often more than that single moment and you can make basic moves in between exchanges!
There are many more tips and tricks to offer but these are some things that you may find the most useful as you begin your first journeys. As you go, feel free to reach out to other GMs on our community Discord to share your experiences with each other, and keep your eyes on this space for more of these kinds of articles in the future! We hope this helps you as you get ready to run your own games of Avatar Legends!
Written by Reyna (she/they)