Friday, October 26, 2012

Avatar World: Some Thoughts
Afro-Celt is good, right? Yeah.  Yeah, it is. Moving on.
Less design work, more general thoughts. This is what I've been mulling over and thinking about with regard to the game, but these thoughts aren't really game design in and of themselves, more ideas. I'll just go on ahead with it.

Avatar with the Giant Blue People: I''m going to just say right out that I will NEVER reference this movie when I just say Avatar. When I just say Avatar, I mean AtLAB, I'll denote the James Cameron movie one with its own notation or something. Just sayin' it and saving myself a lot of clarification.

Master and Apprentices: From what I understand, the master-apprentice relationship is absolutely a common thing in the stories I'm drawing on. Even Avatar is, for two and a half seasons, was about Aang finding masters so he could fulfill his destiny and take down the Fire Lord. In the end, of course, his masters aren't exactly traditional, in friends of his, but the idea is masters are important. Heck, we have (from the elemental powers side of the source medias) Codex Alera, which is CONSTANTLY masters/apprentices before Book 6, and Fullmetal Alchemist keeps the concept of masters alive. On the other side, my immediate first thought is Karate Kid, but I know there's a lot.
However, on that note, characters START wicked strong in ANY Apocalypse-Powered game, even Dungeon World which has levels (note: I will not have levels. Both because I prefer it without and because oh my god I don't have enough ideas to make THAT many moves per playbook). That means that in Avatar World (which I notice now ALSO has an abbreviation of AW - note that when I abbreviate it's gonna be Apocalypse World), you're never really going to still be with a master. You're awesome, and maybe you interact with your old master, but you won't be low enough to still work with them in an apprentice capacity.
So how do we get the dynamic? Well, several possibilities.
1) Apprentices are not a thing. Laaaaame.
2) An Apprentice playbook. This is most problematic because you could be an apprentice of just about anything - all the moves would be about being an apprentice, not about being something and getting moves from your specialty are all from "Take Move From Another Playbook" advancements, of which they'd have more than usual. Also it would required me to actually write a whole additional playbook.
3) You're the Master side of the apprenticeship! It'd be a move a la Followers/Pack Alpha/The Queen. You'd essentially have an NPC under your wing. I could totally use that some.
Those are the sets I can think of. Not sure which I like most - number 3 probably. Gotta do some real thinking about this.

The Avatar: Oh yeah. He's kind of a big deal. I just realized I didn't actually EXPLAIN bending in the first post, but now I'm going to say that I'm NOT going to explain any of the Avatar The Last Airbender things until I actually write game text. If you're here, I assume you're familiar. If not and you're confused, ask for any clarifications and I'll give 'em to the best of my ability, or just google it.
Back to The Avatar. Well,  like above, you don't play the wimpy little still-learning Avatar, you play the peace-keeping nuclear bomb Avatar. Wham. Suddenly, you're WAY over the power of everyone else, and your innate concept steals the spotlight constantly. The only way you get ANY spotlight time in a game like AtLAB is to interact with the Avatar, and the only way to get it consistently is to be his traveling companion, student, or helper.
So obviously, you don't play the Avatar. You can try if you want, but you really need to be ready for the implications.
Of course, there IS another way to play the Avatar: maybe you play the Avatar who isn't actually that tough. Maybe you play a regular playbook, maybe even a non-bender playbook, and you just keep taking playbook moves from the benders - their dedicated moves that give the Avatar their elements (depending on the path I take with those moves, they're almost definitely gonna have exclusivity clauses about not having multiple of them in order to avoid accidently becoming the Avatar - this would be a twist of that restriction).
So, in summary, the Avatar is not present by default and cannot be built with the standard rules, but can be included with either small or large drifting depending on your purpose. They are, on the other hand, entirely valid as an NPC to interact with from time to time, especially if in peacetime or if the Avatar is being sought for knowledge. If there's any exceptions to "Characters would be Masters, not Apprentices", it's if you're being taught by the Avatar.

Additional Playbook Concepts:
Wanderer (this feels like a concept attached to any other playbook, not it's own thing. It is, however, a significant archetype, so I dunno. Not so sure on it.)
Geisha (this is a distinctly non-Avatar one, but it's a common piece in the source medias, and could easily parallel the Skinner. Plus, another Natural-based playbook could help. Could easily be a subset of the Aristocrat though.)

Hx, Bonds, Strings, Trust: Of course, the traditional replacement of Hx in hacks. The idea I have in my mind is sort of a combination of Strings and Trust/Hx (which are quite close) in a system of Debts. Owing Debts to people, and honoring those or breaking them, seems significant. Perhaps Debts and Oaths, actually - Debts for things you owe, oaths for things you've promised to do. Broken Oaths become Debts. I dunno, I'm tossing stuff around, but this is the direction I'm going.

Sex Moves: Nope. Nope. Nope. Not sex moves. Need to come up with something significantly worthy of being a special type of move of everyone, but I'm not interested in fostering the sexual side of things. Yes there's quite a bit of that in the source media, but it's not enough to be a move unique to everyone and it's not an appropriate thing for Avatar.
But what to replace it with? Not a clue.
Coming back after a bit. Could this be a solution to Masters/Apprentices? Like I said, that idea is something that anyone can take advatange of, so maybe it's a good idea. It would make something similar to every archetype's training though. We'll see, it's a decent idea to explore. "When you train with a master,..."

Terminology Rephrases: There's some phrases that go with Apocalypse World that are sometimes changed. The MC is a big one. Playbooks are sometimes changed. The principles are usually reworded (though not often enough rethought).  I'm ready to change playbooks - I've been thinking Disciplines or something. I'd like to change the MC - I personally think that Mc should really stay in AW, it makes it special. MC doesn't make much sense in Avatar World. Not sure what it will be instead. Saw Sage in Legends of the Wulin, kinda like that, but while Sage is great for an asian game, it may not be perfect for an Avatar game specifically.

Themes of the Game versus the Shows: This one was motivated by my thread on Story-Games collecting some rudimentary input. This topic was approached by Jonathan Walton (link to his blog, Corvid Sun), who himself has spent multiple years attempting to build an Avatar and now Korra-based game, which in its current state is even a rough Apocalypse World modification! Sound familiar. Anyway, he brought up that Avatar, as a show, isn't really ABOUT the bending and the kung-fu but is instead about the character arcs and self-discovery and dealing with the consequences of actions, both yours and others's. His point was that the game would have to place its focus on those rather than the flashy bits in order to replicate a game that emulates or feels like the shows. After a little thought, I decided that that's NOT what I'm trying to do here. What I'm trying to do isn't model the show, but to use the show's basic premises and setting pieces to create a world of Supernatural Martial Arts. That's kinda why I'm bringing in other media if I can, it keeps it from being Avatar: The Game and instead World of Supernatural Martial Arts, which, while less emotionally fulfilling, is cool and fun and the kind of thing both I and (I believe) my group is looking for. Avatar is a springboard, but this is about using Avatar's pieces to tell other stories rather than using Avatar's ideas to tell the types of stories the show did.
So this came up with one specific clarification in my mind: I am doing this to build a fun, over-the-top action game, rather than an introspective and emotionally ripe game, though I hope to make those still possible within the structure at least.

Martial Artist's Genericness: This one was motivated by my thread on Story-Games collecting some rudimentary input. Joe McGuffin brought this one up. Each of the playbooks I have estasblished have pretty clear flavors and social roles within the society, even from just being a name, save for the benders and the Martial Artist. The Benders very well may integrate - it is unlikely that the final product will call itself Avatar World since I'm planning to genericize it a bit. Of course, maybe they remain unintegrated without clear social cues - obviously they don't exist in real societies, without Avatar as a touchstone the main connotations they have are as magicians. But the Martial Artist...this isn't a fake idea. It's just a really generic one. As Joe pointed out, the name can apply to pretty much any of the classes already there and lacks its own unique sense of identity.
Now, I can see two main possible ways this could be resolved. First, and simplest, the renaming of the class to something that more directly deals with the intended concept, which is the unarmed fighter - the D&D monk, essentially. The question is, though, is that even enough of an archetype to have a playbook? What DEFINES that archetype? Most importantly, it's the combination of monkhood and physical prowess using nonstandard weapons or no weapons at all. Look at D&D, and throw in some kind of ki powers. This is the combination, basically, of a bender type plus the Monk playbook. I'm definitely starting to think it's entirely unnecessary.

Speak Without Honor, Commit Open Violence: No one mentioned this, but I'm still doubting this relationship. I've come to the decision that I CAN'T eliminate Commit Open Violence. A move that directly allows an attack without an underlying reason is important, because once conflict starts those reasons seem to vanish. Most conflicts I've seen so far start with Speak With or Without Honor, but once conflict starts it's often just about defeating the opponent, and reasons come back at the end. Unfortunately, to me this sounds like going into "combat mode" and losing the consistent reasoning and just doing a fight is far less interesting. Another unfortunate thing that requires a Commit Open Violence is some characters, what they want really IS to kill the opponent. They've ulterior  motives, but not ones fulfillable by diplomacy or intimidation; Zuko Commits Open Violence against Aang all the time because he wants the return of his honor. That's something that he wants and is the source of the conflict, but Aang can't give it to him, only his capture or death will.
I'm also realizing that I'm probably going to have to change it to Act Without Honor. Sad, but probably necessary. Maybe I can name the move Speak Without Honor but word the description for acting as well.
The real way I think I can achieve having Commit Open Violence do what I want is to write a new move rather than trying to transfer Seize By Force. Even SBY is about TAKING something (and I think that leads to a lot of confusion on how to use it as the Violence move), and what I really need is for COV to be about explicit attack - when what you want is something the other person can fulfill and you're trying to get then to give or do that, you want Speak/Act Without Honor.

Advanced Bending: So, bending comes in four+one forms: air, fire, earth, water, plus straight energy for an amped-up Avatar. Of those four bending forms, we see some other substance-manipulations that become curiosities, and they're worded as pure or advanced forms of the four bending disciplines. Lightningbending is a pure expression of firebending. Metalbending is an enhanced form of earthbending, and sandbending is a pretty big variant as well. Swamp/naturebending is advanced waterbending, as is bloodbending, though icebending is just a different face of normal waterbending. Airbending has...well, it doesn't. In the course of the shows, there ISN'T an advanced discipline for airbending. That would kinda make the other bending forms more interesting as playbooks, since I love expanding bending like that. And so, I think I found my advanced airbending, and hopefully it works, since I think it's one of the few things still left very uncontrolled: sound. Soundbending feels like something you could do with airbending, especially since the both of them are about manipulating something you can't see or touch but is all around us.

Playbook Moves: Already starting the mass brainstorm of moves. Watching the show helps, but for some I have better ideas than others. My Earth choices seem decent, I'm excited by my Fire choices, I'm confident in my ability to write some Waterbender choices, and I have a Momentum sub-system thing in mind for Airbenders that I'm excited to write. Wait, I really should be ekjxcited about the nonbenders too, but I can't bring myself to be as thrilled about them as I am about crazy bending powers. They just seem more boring to me, and I need to break that in order to make this work. More source medias would help, and I'm currently collecting titles (and would love even more suggestions).

And here's some interesting things I noticed while watching Avatar again. Some are relevant; some are not particularly.
* A sense of wonder with bending and the world. The world is mystical and not fully understood. It's alive and has a mind of its own through the Avatars and the spirits. A wonder with the world is a pretty common trait for fantastical settings, but it's still important.
* Hybridized animals. I love them. I love them so much. They are a glorious piece of concept art-age, and an amazingly simple idea for a great set of fantasy world monsters. D&D may have a bit of a monopoly on the Owlbear, but the world just wasn't complete until the phrase "It's a platypus-bear!" was uttered.
* The spirits are mighty and terrifying, and are capable of taking mortal form, but are aspects of the world. They can be KILLED. They are an integral and important part of both the world and the story of the show, and I want to be able to integrate the spirits into the game somehow. I don't know how - most likely through some playbook (probably the Monk) having a move that adds or modifies the Meditate move.
* The interconnectedness of Firebending - staying rooted to the Earth, controlling the breathing of Air, etc. It helps that I just saw Iroh teaching Zuko about redirecting lightning and the idea that ideas can be transferred between disciplines, even if actual control of the elements is different.
* Oh my god Toph's voice actress is GREAT
* Huh. Airbending is kind of the least explained bending form, despite the main character using it, since all the others get explained very directly to Aang in the training episodes (and Fire comes early through Zuko as well), but other than a couple of flashbacks we get very little direct instruction on Airbending theory. Maybe Korra has some though, I haven't seen ANY Korra.
* Wow I don't remember enjoying Toph's character this much. Holy cow.

There, that's all I have for the past couple days I guess. Totally check out the thread on Story Games or come and comment here or something, I thrive on feedback and really do want to make the best thing I can out of this.
Now it's time to watch some more Avatar before my Apocalypse World game (after which I will be THREE Actual Plays behind on that).
Might see you guys in a little bit if I post up the third Front that came out last time, otherwise see you at midnight for the next Songaday.
End Recording,

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