Monday, October 22, 2012

Avatar World: The Beginning Stages (Stats, Basic Moves, Playbooks)
So, hey there. You very well may know that I've been playing some Oriental D&D 3.5 on Tuesdays with my friends Kenny (who you may know from any of my recent APs), Luke (who you may know from the AW AP), and Josh (who you would only know from my Oriental 3.5 AP). A modification we made to our game in the last session was, essentially, element-bending from Avatar, and it was without a doubt the coolest gameplay thing in the session. I'll talk about that in its own AP that I will right eventually. I apologize sincerely for saying I'll do these things over and over and then not, I really will get to it soon.
Anyway, the POINT is that through the course of the session, I'm not the only one who's feeling a bit restrained by the trappings of 3.5. Everyone, even Josh (who has never played an AW variant), agreed that they'd be really into trying out an Avatar: The Last Airbender-inspired Apocalypse World hack. Guess what doesn't exist though! And so, I've taken it upon myself to try to make it myself. Watch closely now as I get in way over my head...

AVATAR WORLD (tentative title)
So, I have no experience making full hacks. I HAVE done some experimenting with moves, built a supplemental playbook in The Gunslinger, have played and MC'd several AW derivitives, and own and have read at least five complete published (or soon-to-be-published in tremulus) Apocalypse-Powered games. That said, none of it actually helps in where to start when you write a hack. And so, I just jumped right in where I hoped made sense.

So, I had a couple starting point ideas. The one I went with was the basic moves, followed by the stats, then the playbook ideas. The idea was to come up with the core actions that really exemplify the genre, and to go from there. I don't need to actually write out the basic moves yet, just the general ideas of what actions they encompass. Mostly, this involves coming up with parallels to the most general of Apocalypse World's moves (with examination of other basic moves from other hacks), reflavoring, removing any inappropriate ones, and finally adding new ones that round it out. Then I find out  what categories of stats I need to make that work, and name 'em. Then I just start building the archetypes of characters.
The alternative starting place I'd thought of was to start Keeper-side with what the core Principles are. I must say, that's been a bit of a curiosity - only Monsterhearts seemed to do a real, complete changing of principles, and even then it wasn't that far. I'm curious, when I get there, whether this is due to the existing principles being more principles of how to make a story/how to make this system function rather than actually using them to evoke the genre specifically ie system tools not setting ones. There's definitely SOME of the latter - Monsterhearts's Make monsters human/make humans monstrous is definitely a setting thing. Anyway, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, since I started in the other place.

Basic moves. From Apocalypse World, I had Act Under Fire, Go Aggro, Seduce/Manipulate, Seize By Force, Read a Sitch, Read a Person, Open Your Brain (plus the ones from MH, DW, MotW, and tremulus). I looked at those and started filling out a couple of things that sounded like really important things for the game. I got Move With Intention, Speak With Honor, Bend The Natural Order, Stand Fast, and Meditate as my immediate ones. From these, I started to look at what stats I'd need.

The stats I had from AW were Cool, Hot, Hard, Sharp, and Weird. This brings me to something I mentioned back in DW and again with the tremulus annotations: there's a naming pattern to the stats that I think should be followed. See, with DW and tremulus, your stats are qualities you have, they're abstract concepts. Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Might, Passion, they're attributes. With AW and MH, the stats are instead adjectives about your characters that describe them. Cool, Hot, Hard, Dark, Volatile, they're things you ARE. I think this is the general rule that defines how it works for me:
If you can say the phrase "[Character X] is [Stat]," it is a good stat for an Apocalypse-Powered game. Bones is Hard. Life is Hot. Adam is Dark. Titanius is...Strength? Not quite. Titanius is Strong. Mouse is Dextrous, not Dexterity. It's the wording. I'm not sure how much pull it really has in the end, but I far prefer them to fit this pattern.
3 notes. 1) I do not begrudge DW this at all. DW picked its stats to evoke D&D, which is a more important thing here than a precise wording. 2) Monster of the Week is bizarre in that it borrows several stats from AW while adding a couple more, one of which follows the rule, the other of which doesn't. It keeps Cool, Hot, and Weird, and adds Tough and Charm. Tough works - Charm doesn't. Bizarre, and I'm not sure what this does to the cohesiveness of its structure. 3) I'm pretty sure this distinction is what allows AW to use a single stat for Act Under Fire while DW needed to bring Defy Danger under all stats to make it ideal. It's either that or how classes/playbooks are divided up.
Anyway, I bring this up because I wanted to follow my little rule for my own stats. Here's the stats I started writing with:
Well, Move With Intention, and it's an Avatar The Last Airbender thing, so maybe Fluid? Get the whole motion thing caught up with an element?
In fact, why not Solid for Stand Fast, and Hot for a violence one?

In the end, I have five stats.
, NATURAL. Natural represents Wood/Tree, and is the Social stat.
, HOT. Hot represents Fire, and is the Violent stat.

, SOLID. Solid represents Earth, and is the Defensive stat.

, KEEN. Keen represents Metal, and is the Perception stat.

, FLUID. Fluid represents Water, and is the Motion stat.

These are the Wu Xing, or Five Elements/Five Steps of Chinese antiquity. Originally thought to be similar to the Western concept of the Four Elements (Air/Earth/Water/Fire), they instead generally act as a mnemonic device. I picked each one quite intentionally. Note that my general source here is Wikipedia, so if they got it wrong, please correct.
The steps form two cycles, one regenerative, the other of conquest. This is the generating/creation cycle's order. The point is that they always go in a particular order (hence why they functioned pretty well as a mnemonic), and that is something I kind of want to keep going into the character sheets eventually. The colors are also those associated with that stage of the cycle. Wood is ALSO blue, but I felt green would ease confusion with water, which is, oddly, black.

Wood, or Tree as would be a probably more accurate translation, is the first step, and is the beginning of growth. As it says in the Wikipedia article: "It is also associated with qualities of warmth, generosity, co-operation and idealism. The Wood person will be expansive, outgoing and socially conscious. The wood element is one that seeks always to grow and expand." It is Springtime, the East, blue, green, the Wind, and the Azure Dragon in the Four Symbols constellation.
This is an element that filled in a lot of holes for me, and was one of the last decided on what it would be. In an AtLAB game,  having something to correspond to Air is pretty important, and, if you didn't notice, there IS no Air element in the Wu Xing. However, Wood, one of the two unused bending elements, happened to encompass the wind! Solved that little problem. Additionally, none of the others seemed particularly suited to being a social stat, so reading that first part was extremely nice.
This stat still has my greatest point of contention of all of them: the name. I am, of course, sticking to my adjective rule, but I need something that says both Wood and Social Stat. Natural was the closest I got, and while it works, it's kinda long and doesn't flow as smooth as some of the others. I hope to have a realization, but this is one I'd love suggestions for.

Fire is the second step, consuming Wood to grow even greater. This is the Wikipedia bit I found relevant and useful: "however an excess of it can bring aggression, impatience and impulsive behavior. In the same way, fire provides heat and warmth, however an excess can also burn." It is Summer, the South, red, hot weather, daylight, and the Vermillion Bird in the Four Symbols constellation.
I knew pretty quick that Fire was going to be the violent element. It lends itself that way. It will be, in many ways, like AW's Hard.
The name, though. I chose Hot. There were a bunch of options, but none of them as snappy and strong as Hot. Unfortunately, Hot has a lot of connotations in this system already - AW uses it as the Social stat, while I plan to use it as the Violent stat. We'll see how that goes.

Earth is the middle step, produced by the burning ashes of Fire. Here's some more quoting: "Earth is associated with the qualities of patience, thoughtfulness, practicality, hard work and stability." Earth is damp, is associated with each of the four seasons, is the color yellow, and is at the center of the Four Symbols cosmology. Earth is very much the middle, in just about every respect.
I came up with more to do with Earth. It's the Defensive stat for me, and I was worried it wouldn't have enough basic moves attached to it, but once I realized that Stand Fast is essentially Act Under Fire, an extremely important move. Not that many playbook ideas I have are really about Solid, but that's okay, because they'll all probably make good use of the stat anyway.
I came to the name Solid pretty easily, and I have no issues with it.

Metal is the fourth step, as Metal is drawn and extracted from the Earth. My quotes won't help here, because I went and made a substantial change. I do keep with it being Autumn, the color white, the west, old age, dry weather, Gold/Silver (wealth), and the White Tiger in the Four Symbols.
Unfortunately, Metal is, in its attributes, extremely similar to Earth for our purposes. It's effectively stability and strength of the mind. That doesn't HELP me though. I can't have two defensive stats. I WAS, however, struggling with a lack of any stat to associate with the perceptive moves, the Read a Sitch/Read a Person equivalents. I stumbled, by accident, into the phrasing of Metal as Keen, which is a word that can definitely be used for Metal and for senses/perception. Having the stat name helped me along there. As such, I've abandoned the original use of Metal for one that will serve my purposes.
Here's a funny conundrum: if each of the others seems to associate with a type of bending, Metal ought to be Metalbending, right? I mean, that IS a thing in Avatarland. Well, it happens to be an advanced form of Earthbending, and I can't very well have one of the stats just be a tougher variant of another stat. No, instead I focused on the idea of Metal being the blade. Metal is a focus for the characters who DON'T do Bending as a primary.

Water is the final step, with metal trapping water falling from a source. Quote: "water is representative of intelligence and wisdom, flexibility, softness and pliancy; however, an over-abundance of the element is said to cause difficulty in choosing something and sticking to it. In the same way, Water can be fluid and weak, but can also wield great power when it floods and overwhelms the land." Water is downward, and holds its energy in stillness. It is winter, the north, black, the night, cold weather, and the Black Tortoise in the Four Symbols. Water wipes away all in its floods, clearing the way for the cycle to begin again.
Water was always going to be Fluid, and be associated with motion. Move With Intention was the first basic move I came up with the idea for, and I already knew I wanted it to line up with Water. There's nothing complicated here.
The name I like. I like Fluid. However, I have this niggling doubt that it doesn't actually function as an adjective the way I think it does.

So, I had those couple of Basic Move ideas that I used to springboard the stats, now I need to fill out the Basic Moves list to try and fill in the gaps. Let's see, what did I have before... "Move With Intention, Speak With Honor, Bend The Natural Order, Stand Fast, and Meditate". Let's shift those into where I kinda want them to line up to my stats.
Natural: Speak With Honor
Solid: Stand Fast
Keen: Meditate
Fluid: Move With Intention
I have something special in mind for Bend The Natural Order, so we'll pretend he's not here at the moment.
So, Speak with Honor is obviously social, Stand Fast is definitely defensive, and Move With Intention is definitely about movement. Depending on the context, I could try to slide Meditate around, but I think it works best as a Perception thing.
Now, we have some holes. Nothing at all Violent, and I said I want a Read a Sitch/Person equivalent. Those are pretty obvious where they'll go, so let's come up with some names.
Natural: Speak With Honor
Hot: Speak Without Honor, Commit Open Violence
Solid: Stand Fast
Keen: Meditate, Observe Carefully
Fluid: Move With Intention
Why yes, I DO find Speak With and Without Honor being separate moves to be funny! I intend Speak Without Honor to function in a lot of ways to Go Aggro. I have Commit Open Violence here, a Seize By Force sibling, but I'm not actually all that attached to it. Seeing as one of my intended principles is going to be "Violence is never just for the sake of violence" or something to that effect, I think I may be able to bend Speak Without Honor into filling the entire violence role, but I like having an explicit attack one here, just for the time being at least. Observe Carefully is intended to be just a combined Read, maybe even with two sets of text depending on what you read, or maybe I'll turn it just into Read a Sitch and make Reading a Person the sort of thing you do with Natural instead.
Yeah, I like this list for now. Here's a summary, and again, just ignore Bend The Natural Order for now. We'll be back for him.

Speak With Honor: This is the move for polite conversation, when you want something but are trying to go through diplomatic means to get it. Essentially, it's Manipulate an NPC. Not Seduce, just Manipulate. You can use sex as the promise, but it certainly isn't big enough to be in the name. It makes sense to work off of the social stat.
Speak Without Honor: This is actually Go Aggro. It represents when you're threatening or otherwise using blunt or "vulgar" language to try to get what you want. It's about being hot-headed and more violent than social, so Hot. The only place this has issues is when violence is also the goal - essentially "I'm going to Go Aggro, and what I want is to blow his brains out," which is the typical way one-sided combat is handled.  However, when paired with my principle that "Violence is never just about violence," I hope that situation doesn't arise very often. I could get around it by renaming it some (heck, even Act Without Honor would cover it), but I love the little dichotomy between Speak With Honor and Speak Without Honor. Maybe it's just me. I'll be sad to see it go if it is.
Commit Open Violence: Seize by Force. Pretty explicitly. The move I most want to eradicate from my list if I can. Obviously a move for the Violent Stat.
Stand Fast: I went through three different variations of what I wanted to do with this move. The first was almost a clone of Hold Steady from Monsterhearts before I realized it's just not that important to this game. The second was to make it as Defend from Dungeon World - guarding people and sacrificing yourself for others IS a theme in the genre. However, I decided to turn this move into the Act Under Fire copy. Being that way adds an extra gravitas to Solid that it needed, plus it fills in the spot of being a general go-to move. I AM still thinking about adding in a Defend version, since it IS an important genre idea.
Meditate: Meditate is actually Open Your Brain/Gaze Into The Abyss. It's consulting the spirits, it's going deep into your consciousness, it's "GM, I don't know what to do. Deliver unto me information!." I went with Keen because it actually lined up really well with what I kinda wanted for the Keen-focused playbook, and it makes sense to be a perceiving thing. In the very original draft of the stats before I did any actual work, I'd been thinking Fire/Water/Earth/Air/Spiritual, and while that could have worked (being Hard/Sharp/Cool/Hot/Weird), it was far more boring to me than this stat layout that, in my opinion, is a lot deeper and a lot more evocative of the flavor of the east.
Observe Carefully: A combo Read a Person/Read a Sitch. I don't know HOW exactly I'll combine them, and I may end up splitting Read a Person to Natural if I can't work it out. Otherwise, it's not particularly special or new.
Move With Intention: This is actually pretty distinct to this game! I haven't thought out at all how it'll really work, but this is the one for doing special movement. Deliberate and slow combat forms, smooth evasive maneuvers, leaps of acrobatics, it's all Move With Intention. This is a big part of the genre to me, and I really wanted to make it a big thing. Hopefully others like this, because this is kinda my darling, along with the stat layout.

So that's the Basic Moves! I hope they work, and of course, feedback really appreciated.

Last is a small listing of what exactly I've got so far in terms of playbooks. I don't have any actual detail, but I have basic concepts and am trying to really narrow it all down.
Martial Artist
Monk (Wizened, not Martial D&D)

Hey look at Japan throwing in Samurai and Ninja. Ninja is different from Martial Artist for me in that the Martial Artist is about combat while my Ninja ideas are about stealth. I could merge them if I needed to though. Now, most playbooks have primary stats they use. Let's take a peek.
Firebender - Hot
Airbender - Natural
Waterbender - Fluid
Earthbender - Solid
Monk - Keen
Samurai - Hot/Natural/Solid
Martial Artist - Hot/Fluid
Aristocrat - Keen/Natural
Scholar - Keen/Solid
Ninja - Fluid/Keen

I really hope it's not that hard to read that with all of my color antics. I'm enjoying myself at least.

Anyway, one last thing for this post. I've put him off as an aberration several time now, saying that I have something special in store for him. Yeah, Bend The Natural Order. This is the Bending move. So here's my several ideas bouncing around.
1. Everyone has bending of some kind, it's a basic move. The playbooks are dedicated users. Not too big on this one actually. It would likely handle bending variety as a sort of special category like Dungeon World's Race moves.
2. Bending is exclusive to their playbooks, not a basic move at all but a single move replicated in a slight variation on the four playbooks. It would allow for specific wordings and concepts relating to the element. This is actually my favorite, with bending available to others through judicious use of "Take a move from another playbook" advancements.
3. Most classes have a move to trigger their bending ability, unlocking the basic move. Benders are full of powers. Allows for specific playbooks to get a special bending power all their own without obsoleting the bender playbooks. Reading it after writing it, I'm starting to like it some as well.
All of the ideas would work, it's just finding out what I like the best. Each actually has some basis in a piece of elemental-magic media. Number 1 is kinda like Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, with the furies. I love that series, and want to draw some of the ideas into this (and I admit, I will probably need some of it to fill out some playbook move lists). Number 2 is actually closest to Avatar, with pulling from another playbook basically being unlocking hidden potential. Number 3 is kinda wizard-y, and also kinda Fullmetal Alchemist-y, with each person being able to do something, but it takes training and practice to unlock it.
I actually like all three, so we'll see. Maybe I can't keep it up with playbook balance, or maybe my group or any of you readers like any one in particular or something.
Oh, and the reason I couldn't apply it to a stat is that it changes its stat depending on how you obtained it/what element you're wielding. Hot for Fire, Solid for Earth, Natural for Air, Fluid for Water.

I think that's it for today! I'll be back at midnight with Songaday, but I really REALLY want some critique on this. I'll eventually start posting it up at Story Games or Barf Forth Apocalyptica when I feel more confident, but for now it's just here.
End Recording,

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