Avatar Legends on What Makes Azula Scary

Avatar Legends brings the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender to your tabletop as an RPG. The game has a balanced take on what it means to be a villain and a monster.

Lucas: Hello and welcome back! It’s season 3 of Making a Monster, the bite-sized podcast where game designers show us their favorite monster and we discover how it works, why it works, and what it means. I want to start this season off with a little game you might have heard about, based on that kid’s cartoon from the early 2000’s you probably don’t remem- OH YEAH IT”S AVATAR LEGENDS!

This is the officially licensed roleplaying game for Avatar The Last Airbender. The game has raised $8 and a half million dollars, broken every tabletop roleplaying game record on Kickstarter, and unlocked more than thirty stretch goals including obsidian dice, which is amazing.

Really I’m not surprised – thoroughly impressed, but not suprised, it couldn’t have happened to a better property. With beautiful animation, compelling characters, and ruthlessly accurate fight choreography, Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel the Legend of Korra were never satisfied with the status quo. They broke new ground for Asian and disability representation, and unflinchingly discussed issues like genocide, parental acceptance, imperialism, trauma, xenophobia, and sexism.

It also elevated what a villain and a monster could be – Zuko, Azula, Ty Lee, Jet, and Mai were real people too, as real as the heroes of the show, and we cared about them. Even faceless rampaging monsters were spirits looking for a place in a rapidly changing world, and we came to understand them.

For that reason if no other, and there are many, Avatar Legends is the best place to start this third season of Making a Monster. I’m beyond thrilled to welcome two of the designers who helped make this game a worthy heir to Avatar’s legacy of subversive excellence.

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Here we go. Three, two, one.

Earthbender Mendez

James Mendez Hodes: What’s good. I’m James Mendez Hodes. I use he him pronouns and I’m a writer game designer editor and cultural consultant working on the Avatar Legends RPG, and many other things that you may or may not have also heard of. My interests in game design and in cultural consulting include race, culture and religion hip hop and martial arts.

Sharang's smiling faceSharang Biswas: My name is Sharang Biswas. I’m also one of the contributors to the Avatar Legends RPG. When people ask, I tell them I am a game designer, writer, interactive artist. I’m also the game artist in residence at the Museum of the Moving Image right now. And I teach at NYU Game Center and for them department of computer science I engage with stories and interactivity from a variety of angles. Some of which you may know, and some of which are very strange.

Lucas: Thank you guys so much for taking the time to be a part of this. I was thrilled beyond measure to be able to talk to you and to be able to feature Avatar Legends on the show.

I have so many questions about the game and the design work that you do and the antagonists of the games specifically. But before we get into it, I’d love to hear a little bit more about you guys. I assume you guys have met before the whole working together and a zoom conversation seems to be pretty natural for you at this point.

Sharang Biswas: Mendez and I have been friends for a number of years now.

James Mendez Hodes: Yes, Sharang and I have been friends for a while. You might have seen us together on other projects, like the designing Asian settings and themes panel that we keep doing at various conventions.

Lucas: What does avatar legends, the role-playing game mean to you?

James Mendez Hodes: For my whole adult life. I’ve been thinking about how to make a game about Avatar. And it was one of the first game design challenges that I ever kind of set for myself long before I thought I would ever do game design as any kind of a professional thing. And I remember sitting in a bar with friends in, in New Hope, Pennsylvania and talking about, well, how would you mechanize like the, the emotional states that the Avatar characters go into?

The way that when Aang gets upset, he goes into the avatar state. What happens to Zuko and Mai and Azula when each of them gets upset? What happens when Katara gets upset? And we started talking about like all of those characters’ emotional extremes, and how you would represent those in a game. That conversation just always stuck with me as I eventually followed this weird path and wound up in game design.

So I’ve kind of always been thinking about this and it’s surreal that now it finally gets to be real.

Sharang Biswas: I think engaging in fictions is a fundamental thing that humans do, right? Like engaging in stories, engaging in fictions. And I think we enjoy being able to lose ourselves or to immerse if you want to use the term that’s hotly debated in, fictional world and, meet the characters and engage in the, even just the tone of the world, right?

Like the tone of fictional worlds are particular. And so I think Avatar Legends is a way for people who enjoy or gain a lot from the Avatar world, be that the TV show, that’s probably the most common, or in the comics for those who read them, or in the video games and existing board games already out there.

I think it’s a way for people to engage in these worlds and by nature of being a tabletop role-playing game, they can glean and make their own meaning out of the experience and seek out the experience they want while still engaging with the tone and stories of this pre-existing world.

And I think that’s powerful because you might enjoy the shows or whatever a lot, but you are beholden to some degree to the meaning the authors imbued, which of course you can absorb in a different way, but there is a specific meaning the author is trying to imbue and in the role playing game, you get to use the world and create your own meaning out of it. And that’s, that can be very powerful for people who are very into the stories that already exist. And alternatively, for people who are not familiar with Avatar, who come into the game they get to have a really cool world with interesting themes that they can play around.

Lucas: You guys mentioned kind of a convoluted path to get where you are, and I think that’s true of every game designer, in some sense, we’re a weird breed. And I would love to know just in brief, if you wouldn’t mind how you came to be involved in this project in particular.

Sharang Biswas: I think Mendez “recco-ed” me, right? Yeah.

James Mendez Hodes: I did. Yeah. Towards the end of last year Mark Diaz Truman contacted me and was like, “Hey, we we got a licensed property that we’re making a game about. You know you’re gonna want to work on it.” And I was like, “cool, what is it?” Mark was like, “I can’t tell you but we know you’re going to want to work on it.”

So I was like, oh, okay. So it’s the Wu Tang Clan. They finally got the rights to make a game about the Wu Tang Clan. Great. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. And then cause like, cause there’s no way they got the Avatar license. And then then I actually, I was actually talking to Mark and he explained what the project actually was.

And I was like, oh, that’s very similar. That’s, that’s the, that is the, maybe the second. Yeah, that, that’s the other thing I’ve been preparing to do my whole life. So I was like, “that’s great. Where’s Sharang? Sharang now?”

Sharang Biswas: Mendez and I have a history of lobbing gigs at each other.

Lucas: The best kind of friends. Yeah the next question on my list was how familiar were you with the material when you joined the project? I, I might be able to junk this question. I think I’ve got the answer already.

A wealth of Avatar lore

Sharang Biswas: it’s actually really interesting because for example, I had only watched the shows, but our colleague Yeonsoo, who is the like lore mistress right now for the game, has delved into every single piece of media created about avatar in order to write all the lore. It’s like insane. How deep into it, like she’s been getting.

James Mendez Hodes: Yeah. I had, I had watched both of the shows and I had read all of the comic books that were out at the time. The one thing that I hadn’t I hadn’t read was the novels, but as soon as the project started, I immediately devoured the novels. So, yeah, the the comics are actually some of my, like my favorite part of parts of the show.

Sharang Biswas: I also heard, I haven’t read the comics and the books, but I’ve also heard through the team that the comics and novels have a different target age group. Like they seem to be a bit more mature.

James Mendez Hodes: The novels, especially. I mean, the comics get into really complicated themes. There’s one that goes into decolonization and cultural appropriation. You also see some like stuff with like a lot of stuff with messy relationships in the comics. And then the novels are just like, if you ever remember watching the show and thinking, you know, nobody there isn’t a lot of blood and gore, cause this is a kid show, but if I had these powers, I bet I could kill people in really horrific ways. And then in the novels, people get killed in all of those horrific ways. So the, the novels are definitely they’re grown up there and they’re a little scary, I think in terms of the kinds of like violence and villainy that happened.

Lucas: I did want to ask because we are at the point where if you don’t know what Avatar: The Last Airbender is, you’re, you’re lost I try not to assume that people are familiar with any piece of media or any sort of consensus fantasy universe. When you talk about the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, what do people get most excited about?

Sharang Biswas: Every time I was telling someone about Avatar, they’re always like bending, it’s in the name of the, the name of the piece. I think I literally have a sentence in the chapter I wrote being like, “Bending is in the name of this game, you know, or in the name of the show.”

Yeah. And, and I know that’s that to, some people can sound superficial, right. But the promise of fantasy worlds often starts with that fantasy. Right? What is this like speculative hook that brings people in, and then. What are the consequences of that speculative hook?

So if someone’s like, “Oh, bending, well, that’s a silly answer. That’s not deep or interesting.” I’m like, “Well, that’s a simplistic way of thinking about specular fiction, right?” People are intrigued by the, what if question? Like what if people could channel the elements and then that becomes, or what do they do with it? Do they become conquerors and take over each other’s lands? Do they make farms where they stand and shoot lightning into them to charge batteries? Right. So, so bending is saying that I have encountered most people being very interested in. And of course, we’ve also as a team, we’re getting a lot of questions about how does bending work in this game, right.

James Mendez Hodes: For me it’s character focused. People get really effusive about who their favorite characters on the show were and, you know, their OC that they made up for when they were role-playing in high school in this universe or something like that. A lot of those characters tend to answer the questions that the show brings up, but doesn’t have time to cover because you know, it’s a half hour show. There’s two of them. There’s only so many seasons. So the show raises all of these questions that I think people get really into and really want to answer.

Like for a lot of Asian people, for example it’s where would, where would people from my background fit into this? If I could see people inspired by you know, the Philippines or Nepal or Saudi Arabia in this show where could they fit in? A lot of people’s OCs or, you know, their own fan universes, their fan fiction that they write focus on like answering those questions and bringing in those like interesting new cultural influences.

Sharang Biswas: Which again is, I think is the power of role-playing games. Right? You can add that. Obviously we have a limited amount of so-so. I should say Yeonsoo has a limited amount of space in the book. She can’t write, here are 12,000 culture that are in this book. But given the palette and the power of role-playing games, you can then create your own things from it and out of it.

Avatar Legends: Powered by the Apocalypse

Lucas: I have a three tiered universal theory of role-playing games and it’s not anything terribly complex or unusual. It’s that every role-playing game has a setting, mechanics, and a chance operator. I’d love to talk about mechanics because you had to assign a whole game engine, if you will, to this existing property. And there’s a lot of considerations with what do. What system did you apply to Avatar Legends and how did you make that decision?

Cover of the original Apocalypse World game

James Mendez Hodes: So Magpie Games decided to go with the Apocalypse World engine originally seen in Apocalypse World by Meg and Vince Baker. Which has become a design framework for many, many different games. It’s a great game to play and a great game to read and play if you want to learn how to do basic design.

Magpie had already chosen that system by the time they brought me on. And I had experience working in Powered by the Apocalypse games. Sharang had experience at least playing and running Powered by the apocalypse games. But Sharang had done like, of course, many other kinds of game design before this. So. The Apocalypse World engine has a lot to recommend it. But it’s, it’s a really simple modular structure. There’s a long tradition of games based on it that respond to and learn from each other.

There’s some great best practices built up. And people taking it in many, many different directions. For example, there’s Apocalypse World games which don’t have a chance engine that use a currency system.

Sharang Biswas: I think God’s Fall is one really good example of that, right by a Mina Mina

James Mendez Hodes: Ah, Mina McJanda. Yeah.

Sharang Biswas: That does not have a chance system at all, because you play gods. And the text of the book says, “Gods are not subject to the whims of fate.”

Lucas: I’m going to have to update my definition.

The Balance Track in Avatar Legends

James Mendez Hodes: What I might substitute in for a chance mechanism is setting, mechanics, and decision points. There are points in the game at which the game and the narrative change based on the narrative choices that you, the humans out of character playing the game make. And so by that definition, you could bring in stuff like like, high school forum role-play so, of course there’s many different ways to implement the Apocalypse World system. So a couple of the, a couple of the first things that I focused on coming up with one was the system of balance.

So every character in Avatar Legends has a balance track, which is defined by two poles. And the two poles of the balanced track tracker, two principles which are like moral or ethical ideas that drive you. And those two ideas are in tension with one another. They might not be opposed for everybody, but for you committing to one of them means neglecting the other one and vice versa. So every playbook, every different character type in Avatar Legends has a distinct and unique pair of principles, which they’re getting pulled between. I think the, the original inspiration for it was probably from the first edition of Monster Hearts, there was a character called it, called the angel.

Monsterhearts by Avery Alder

Sharang Biswas: I remember that. Yeah.

Lucas: Avery Alder.

James Mendez Hodes: Yeah. And the angel gets pulled between forgiveness and trespass in a similar way. So yeah, the the balanced system owes a lot to those ideas. And also if I’m honest to stuff like like Paragon and Renegade in Mass Effect.

Sharang Biswas: Or like light side and dark side in all the Star Wars games and stuff, right? Like this binary being pulled between two separate forces, I think is common and powerful. But I think what Mendez did is not just like good and bad, which is it’s more like specific ideals, like tradition versus innovation and things like that.

Like much more specific to each character. I think the two hallmarks of modern Powered by the Apocalypse system games, I think, are that character sheets slash playbooks are not just about capabilities, they actually define the narrative arc your character is seeing, which I think this balance track adds an extra layer to, and the fact that most powered by the apocalypse games are about mechanically escalating trouble for the player. So it’s not like the GM’s like, okay, now let’s see what interesting thing I can throw at them. It’s like, oh, you rolled in this way. This will automatically escalate issues.

Using that system makes the game become a lot more like, tumbling out of control in some ways like, oh no things are happening and we must deal with it, which fits well into this idea of we are kids. Trying to save the world kind of thing.

Which obviously might not be the story your table tells, but it’s kind of the tone the game sets that you are a young small group of young people trying to do good, but things tumble out of control all the time. And in that tumbling, you define who you are or in dealing with that, with all that you define who you are in your arc.

What is a Monster in Avatar Legends?

Lucas: And we’ve moved neatly into the, the real crux of what I wanted to do and what I have been doing with this show. You guys probably know the Dungeons and dragons has a pretty signature approach to its antagonists, its opposing forces or narrative forces in the story and Apocalypse World has one that is very different. The question that I have to ask and I have to ask it in this way, is, are there monsters in Avatar Legends?

James Mendez Hodes: Yeah, absolutely. You gotta, we should nail down our definition of monster first.

Lucas: It’s the next question. Uh, And I don’t get to answer that.

James Mendez Hodes: okay, cool. The simplest definition of a monster is that it’s a, a large, dangerous entity that is in some way, not human. That’s like if you put a, like, if you put a gun to my head and asked me to define monster when I hadn’t slept for a while, that’s probably what I would say. So, yeah, Avatar Legends absolutely has those. The world of Avatar is full of a weird animals. Most of those animals are either a very large version of an otherwise tiny animal, like a giant beetle that you can ride, or they’re a combination of two or more animals, like a saber tooth mousse lion.

So, the world of Avatar is full of these and like with real animals, depending on how you treat them, they might be your friend or your enemy or somewhere in between. In addition Avatar as a setting also has a spirit world. The spirit world and the human world used to be very closely related, but in the early prehistory of the setting the human world and the spirit world diverged and that’s been a point of tension for the entire setting that Avatar Aang and then Avatar Korra and the other Avatars deal with in different ways.

And then one of the events that happens in Legend of Korra is spoilers – you know, stop now, if you still haven’t finished it – is that Avatar Korra reunites, the human world and the spirit world, which is a good decision in many ways, but also causes a great deal of trouble as the world adjusts and resets and spirits in the world of Avatar.

They can take human form or spiritual form. They have all kinds of different powers and some of them are very classic, like monsters or demons that we might that might seem at home in the pages of a monster manual and Dungeons and Dragons. However another another important element of the definition of a monster in like a D and D sense is that they’re a source of antagonism.

And so if you look in the monster manual, there’s stat blocks for like an, ankheg or a mimic, but then there’s also staff blocks for

Sharang Biswas: Peasant

James Mendez Hodes: like an evil brigand.

Sharang Biswas: evil peasant that rushes at you.

James Mendez Hodes: Exactly. And as we know it the the television shows and the comics and the books of Avatar, there are some spirit antagonists who are a big deal.

Sharang Biswas: Koh the Face Stealer!

James Mendez Hodes: Exactly. Koh the Face Stealer, General Old Iron, Father Glow Worm. There are like big, scary monsters out there. However, the most consistent source of of danger and threat to the characters always comes from other humans.

Sharang Biswas: Yeah, there’s this concept. So I’m writing the GM-ing chapter and there’s this concept we’re talking about is that there is very little in the world of Avatar that can be considered true evil, right? Like it’s it think more of a for players in GM’s. We ask them to think more about being out of balance.

Right? We talked with Mendez talk about this balance concept. So people do bad things because they’re out of balance and spirits do bad things not because they are evil and want to commit evil, but either because they’re out of balance or because their nature makes them do certain things, which in interacting with the current environment might lead to bad things happening.

Right? So there’s this idea of like, there’s very little in the way of like evil. And we want to stress that in this game. And secondly, unlike games like D & D, which I argue the presence and defeat of monsters is the central activity of the game, right. You will do other things. You absolutely will do other things, but there are few D and D campaigns where you never fight a monster or something, right. You’d be like, what am I playing? I’m not playing D and D. Also, what are all these capabilities my character has that I’m not usingat all? Right. It is highly likely that you will play multiple sessions of Avatar without fighting anything.

There are robust fighting mechanics. And if you want to, you can, but because it’s a Powered by the Apocalypse system, the the the, the challenges of the game poses on a not always based on like singular entities, wreaking destruction. Right. And that I think is an important difference in the game. So if my first play test, for example, we had like one fight in the whole play test. And I think that’s central. So while there are entities and figures that could be described as monstrous, they’re not the focus of the game and the game also, doesn’t encourage you to kill them. In fact the game discourages you to kill them. I literally wrote this thing about like seek things other than death. So, yeah.

Lucas: It’s it’s difficult to, to move on from this point because the, the crux of making a monster up to this point has been that we work through one step block at a time, like this set of numbers that defines this entity and the ways in which you interact with it. That’s really useful as a tool of rhetorical criticism, which is why the show has been working.

And then I really knew, I really knew that I had to talk about Avatar Legends, and it was not going to be the same kind of episode I usually do because I can’t. I don’t feel like there is any and I’ve, and I’ve read through the quick start guide. There’s not one set of numbers that I could use as like a tool of rhetorical criticism for the antagonizing forces in this story. Or did I get it wrong? Is there something that, that you would point to as a focal point.

Sharang Biswas: I mean, I would say like the game, the final version of the game will come with like sample stat blocks for antagonists. Right. But it is also easy to run on a game like this without having a stat block for an antagonist creature. Right. You can rely completely on the moves mechanics and have a whole thing happened where there’s like a rampaging creature or something without having built sub block.

And the game provides a way to do that. Also provides a way to, oh, if you need to whip up a quick stat block, use these ideas because again, unlike like we’re not the game isn’t as concerned with. Whittling down hit points. And there is a, there is a currency for like measuring fitness and how much so informant, but that isn’t the focus of the game.

And you can engage with that, but you can also engage with like the other mechanical game to deal with with with the world. And that’s part of the PVTA design philosophy where all antagonistic challenges can be treated in a similar way.

Monsters that are more than just numbers

James Mendez Hodes: One thing that I was thinking about as I was starting to design the combat system and designing the ways in which you would represent the kind of threat that an NPC antagonist would pose is thinking about NPC antagonists from the show and what makes them dangerous. If you look at a stat block in Dungeons and Dragons, if like, if I open a monster manual to a random page,

Lucas: And of course it’s right there.

James Mendez Hodes: Uh, to a random page, okay. Here’s a nightmare. Okay, large fiend, neutral evil, armor class 13, 68 hit points, speed 60 feet, strength, dexterity, constitution, damage immunities, senses challenge rating, confer, fire resistance. If I pull a random eight year old who’s never played a role playing game before into my game, none of those things that I said mean anything to that eight year old. And that doesn’t mean that D and D is like a bad game or that there’s something wrong with this stat block, but it does mean that I can’t use it for the thing that I need Avatar Legends to do, which is to immediately resonate with someone who’s watched the television show but has never played a role-playing game before, possibly because they’re eight, possibly because they just really liked the TV show and they haven’t played RPGs before and they really want to get into it. And they don’t want to feel like intimidated if they have to be the one who runs the game for the first time.

So, with Avatar Legends if I asked that eight year old, what makes Princess Azula dangerous? That eight year old would absolutely have a bunch of answers. And a lot of the answers would talk about her personality. She’s ruthless. She’s a smart, she doesn’t care. She’s willing to hurt other people, even people who she loves and is close to in order to get what she wants.

Sharang Biswas: And she’s a little unbalanced.

James Mendez Hodes: Yes. She has influence, right? She’s powerful in the fire nation. If she wants soldiers or elite troops or elite fire benders to join her, then she can do that. And of course this kid’s going to talk about what kind of physical danger she presents. She’s a really strong fire bender. She’s really good at the technique of using fire to propel herself and across a landscape really quickly. She’s mastered an advanced form of fire bending that allows her to shoot lightning and electrocute somebody. So, the way that we represent NPCs in the game a lot of it is their personality.

Like you have to know that the, the big threat that the monster is going to pose to you, isn’t just creating a bunch of fire. Anybody can create a bunch of fire You can create a bunch of fire. Your friend can create a bunch of fire. There’s, there’s gotta be more than just – like, you’re a powerful character surrounded by powerful characters.

So the threat that an NPC presents has to have to their personality, what drives them to do things and what kind of influence they have, like politically and socially over the world has to be a huge part of that. And then in terms of like the specific stat block one of the things that makes NPCs dangerous is access to advanced combat techniques.

In addition to like the other aspects of the game if you want to get mechanically specific, there is a kind of arms race that goes on in the game with NPCs who have access to really advanced, scary combat techniques and PCs, attempting to learn new techniques from masters and teachers around the world so that they can keep up with and then overcome NPCs who have access to similar advantages.

Lucas: What do you guys as individual designers and writers, what do you hope people will gain from the experience of playing this game?

Sharang Biswas: I think I’m going to say something very similar to what I said before. Right? I’ve been recently thinking a lot about what is the role of art and like, does art always need to like teach you something and make you think about the human condition? And the answer is no, because I don’t like this mindset of, we only build things for utilitarian purposes.

Right. That makes me feel sad about humanity. So I simply, what I want people to get out of this game, is this going to be sightly a cop out, but like whatever they want and get out of the game, right. If they want to just run around and like shoot fire and have a fun time pretending that, amazing!

If they want to, like, in my playtests sit at a dinner table and discuss fake fictional food for like 20 minutes of our game? Amazing! Right. We like talked about bao for like 20 minutes, right. There’s like a restaurant where they supposed to be planning a heist. If they want to really think about, okay, what does it mean to be the scion of a empire that is, does arms dealing for the fire nation?

And now now I’m changed, I’m turning over a new leaf and helping the, like the new air nation like do stuff. If they want to deal with all this world-building and deep themes. I think that’s cool. I think when, one builds a role playing game of this type, so very different from like, I have a lot of history of making very small focused art, zero playing games, which are asking to do just one thing right there.

I hope that the player will get this one thing. I’m going to tell them, but in a game like this, which is expansive, sandboxy you get to do a lot of things. My hope is just players just have a blast and get whatever intellectual slash artistic slash entertainment experience you want from it. Right. And our goal as designers is to give you the tools to do that in a simple and satisfying way, right?

Because obviously I can tell anyone, “go play pretend in Avatar” and anyone can do that. Right. But our goal is to, here are some tools that allow you to replicate the feel of the, of the show and things, and let you do that pretend in a fun, engaging way and possibly get another other emotional experience of that.

James Mendez Hodes: Yeah. I think that my main intent is, is exactly what Sharang just said, like that, that bit at the end, the feeling of what makes the show distinctive, what makes it different? What makes it stand out from other stories that you’ve told and what goes on on the show that makes it so different and memorable? And it’s stuff like bending and like the, the social interactions and the emotional and ethical stakes and the ships. There’s a lot of what my players want to do is romance it turns out.

Sharang Biswas: Zuko/Sokka, Zuko/Sokka!

James Mendez Hodes: So, so I think what I hope this game does is create new space in your mind and your creativity for what a game can be about. And I hope that like in terms of designs that it inspires in the future. Like in 10 years I want there to be other games which have combat systems that aren’t focused on just killing enemies. I want to see other games with combat systems which are focused on objectives and controlling the environment and affecting not just your enemies body, but also their mind. And I’m excited.

Sharang Biswas: Keep in mind Mendez doesn’t just mean psychic damage. Right. Like a hallmark of something that Mendez designed in the game is during combat you can learn about your opponent and you can influence their their outlook on life.

James Mendez Hodes: Yes. There’s a fight in season one where Aang is fighting Zhao and he gets Zhao really angry. So that Zhao sets fire to a bunch of his own ships. That allows Aang to escape unscathed. And so moments like that, like I want to see, I want to see players create those moments in this game.

And I also want to I want to see the next design after this, where someone’s like, well, this Avatar game was fine, but I can do it better. And I want to see the next design that does this thing that I’m talking about, but even better than I did, I’m excited for

Lucas: That’s great. And I, I want to thank you for bringing this perspective in, because if you have listened through the last two seasons of my show or worse made the last two seasons of my show the temptation would very much be like, everything’s a message. Let’s pick it apart until we find what’s at the bottom.

And so often I’ve been reminded. This is about playing a game and having fun and creating a feeling and letting people ask the questions and find the answers and do the things that they want to do. So if that, for no other reason, and there have been many, I’m very glad that you guys have been on the show.

Game design is a team effort

Lucas: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you guys want to make sure as a part of this conversation?

Sharang Biswas: I mean, one thing we, as a team have talked about a lot is this idea of legacys right. Like people love to come up to us and be like, oh my God, you did such a good job on this game is making $7 million on Kickstarter. We have to keep, I like to keep reminding people that in this legacies and, and collaborations multiple levels.

Right? So first off, this is a team effort, right? We’re all going together. This is an engine that was developed by a very specific group of people, right? Meg and Vincent Baker made the Powered by the Apocalypse system and through that, all these different, very interesting games have come out, but it’s important to keep that in mind that the game system, you know, comes originated with the Meg and Vincent Baker and then it has evolved and to the current, by different people that evolution or cognitive people, and all these changes starting with the original system has allowed us to reach this game.

Right. And also the idea that the show this isn’t an original world that we’re creating together. We are adding to it certainly, but it comes from the creators of the show Avatar, but more than that all the like writers of the comics and the guest writers for the episodes and, and all that stuff comes together.

And this unlike, you know, a game that Mendez might work on his own or I might work on my own is very much a product of hard work of so many people whose names, I don’t even know. I don’t know all the names of the writers of the books and the comic through that Yeonsoo has painstakingly drawn from, in order to write the lore.

I don’t know the names of the Mendez actually might, but I don’t know the name of the martial arts consultants the show brought in to that, that then influences the scene that Mendez watches and then says, oh, that seemed like a good thing to emulate in the game. Right? This is a product of so many people and it’s important to acknowledge that in this game.

Lucas: Thanks for listening to Making a Monster. If you like what you’ve heard and you want to support the show, please share this episode with someone who loves Avatar The Last Airbender. This is exactly the kind of work this show was built to do,so if they like this episode, there’s a good chance there’s another one they’ll like too. Your recommendation is the best way to prove Making a Monster is worth the time and attention.

And of course, you can sign up for the show’s email list to get free extras from my guests, like stat blocks, tokens, and discount codes. There’s more than a dozen of them and you can get them by following the link in the show notes.

Lucas: Here’s how you can find out more about Avatar Legends, James Mendez Hodes, and Sharang Biswas.

James Mendez Hodes: Right now Avatar Legends is on Kickstarter. You can check out the Kickstarter, you can back it if you want to get a copy of the game, or you want to get all of the neat little trinkets that are coming with it, like obsidian dice or character journals.

Sharang Biswas: The dice look really nice.

James Mendez Hodes: Yeah, dice are, the dice are great. Even if you don’t back the Kickstarter, you can download a quick start of the game, a simplified version of the game and you can run it and play it with your friends, with your kids. And I would love for people to do that and let us know how it went and, you know, gush about it on Twitter or complain about it on Twitter, whichever.

Also, if you want to follow me and Sharang, I’m on the internet at James Mendez, hodes.com. I’m on Twitter at LulaVampiro. Sharang, where can people find you?

Sharang Biswas: Yeah. So, you can find me on Twitter where I’m very active at Sharang Biswas the spelling of my name, that links to my website, uh, which is Sharang Biswas dot my portfolio dot com. And if you’re interested in some of my, some of my other work, I have an itch IO page, which is Astro Lingus dot – think “star tongued” – dot itch dot io. And also even if you don’t get the Kickstarter for Avatar, Magpie is going to make this a commercially available product.


So check out the Magpie Games website. And at some point, who knows when some people know when, it will be available and you will be able to purchase it and see Mendez and my shiny names, um, in the book,

James Mendez Hodes: Uh, Early, early 2022, I think is the projected date.

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Next Episode: GM Edition with Beholder to No One 

Nikki's five-eyed beholder smiles for the cameraGM Edition asks actual play RPG podcasters about how they use monsters in their games, beginning with Nikki Yager of Beholder to No One.

Nikki Yager: I have some favorite monsters in fifth edition, but the ones that I enjoy playing are the ones who think they’re doing the right thing. So to them, they’re the heroes, but to everybody else, they’re the monster.

Scintilla Studio