Avatar Legends Review

Magpie Games currently holds the record for the most funded tabletop RPG Kickstarter with Avatar Legends, its game set in the universe of Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. The Kickstarter campaign earned nearly $10 million from over 80,000 backers, a truly staggering total that, when considering campaigns for specific RPG titles, has yet to be beat. Surely the completion of this game would be met with renewed interest and immense sales success, so we’ve been looking forward to the release- wait. I’m being told that the game was released before Halloween. Huh. Well, one would naturally assume that the release would see a second wind of- so apparently the PDF version on DriveThruRPG hasn’t sold more than 500 copies since coming out. Odd. Now, to be fair, the physical game isn’t yet available, and PDF fulfillments from those preorders don’t count among the numbers I’ve cited. Even so, the campaign sold nearly 8700 PDF-only rewards, so getting not quite to 5% of that number upon release is…worrying.

As many pointed out and grumbled about during the campaign, Avatar Legends is the largest licensed RPG Kickstarter as well as the largest RPG Kickstarter in general, and as such the buyers’ motivations are often a little different. Consider: around 2,800 people paid $50 for the pledge tier which got them a physical core book and PDF copies of everything else. However, over 39,000 people opted for the $75 tier which added all the physical stretch goals. Those physical stretch goals were one more book, dice, a cloth map, a card deck, a pack of journals, and a tile. Combine that with the tier level that gave the physical stretch goals in addition to a copy of the special edition core book, and the vast majority of backers paid for the doodads. And everything I have to say in this review will not take away from those doodads, I’m pretty sure.

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Crowdfunding Carnival: December, 2022

And the crowdfunding feels like a Carnival!

The games draw you in like a beer

And the folks at the bar, who put bread in my jar

They said ‘this month’s intro got real weird’

It’s December, usually a low time for crowdfunding. People have shifted their discretionary budgets towards holiday gifts, holiday travel, and anything else they need for this season’s set of traditions around turning on all the lights and screaming to beat back the coming solstice darkness. Even so! There are a number of interesting crowdfunding projects on at least two crowdfunding services which are worth a closer look.

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Plumbing the RPG Blog Depths

The tabletop role-playing game has been around for nearly fifty years, and role-playing discourse arguably longer than that. While in recent years we’ve been blessed to see books recording RPG history from the likes of Jon Peterson, Shannon Appelcline, and Ben Riggs, histories of how the RPG player base has evolved are thinner on the ground and indeed more difficult to capture than those chronicling the evolution of game designers.

To give credit where credit is due, Jon Peterson’s books do focus on the player evolution that happened early in the hobby’s history; Playing at the World spends a lot of time discussing how the wargaming hobby birthed RPGs through Braunsteins and Chainmail, while The Elusive Shift examines the first decade or so of RPG evolution through APAs and other fan correspondence. Where things start to get really tricky is in the 1990s, thanks in large part to the stratification caused by this little technology called the internet.

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System Split: Apocalypse World and the Burned Over Hackbook

It’s tough being the first. Back in 2010, before Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition (and before Fourth Edition Essentials too), Vincent Baker released the first edition of Apocalypse World. While the praise was immediate, the snowball effect of the game had just started. By the time Baker released the second edition, now (and from this point forward) sharing the byline with his wife Meguey Baker, Powered by the Apocalypse had become a force in the indie game world. After another five years, the Baker family revisited Apocalypse World again, with Vincent and Meguey working with their children to produce Burned Over.

There are two things about Burned Over which caused me to overlook it initially. The first was a misunderstanding, though also a reflection of how many indie games are made these days. Burned Over is a hackbook, and having not heard this phrase before I confused it in intent with an ashcan. An ashcan is essentially the game equivalent of a minimum viable product or Early Access; it contains the rules to play and a first draft of the written game while being otherwise incomplete. Burned Over is not incomplete; though some of the initial rules were released on Vincent Baker’s Patreon (of which I am a subscriber, full disclosure) in ashcan form, the hackbook as it stands is complete, laid out, and 100% playable. What hackbook means is that Burned Over is a hack of Apocalypse World released as a book; Burned Over requires Apocalypse World to play though this belies the differences made somewhat.

The second element which caused me to overlook Burned Over at first came from the description of what it was. When the Baker family undertook Burned Over as a project, it was described as a version of Apocalypse World which toned down the sex and violence of the original. My initial reaction was that this would be a bowdlerized Apocalypse World, and I didn’t really like that. Needless to say I was wrong, but it meant that I didn’t actually read Burned Over until I had seen praise of it elsewhere. Burned Over strongly recenters many elements of Apocalypse World without changing the core mechanics of the game or its core gameplay loop; this recentering both revises and strengthens the rules as well as shifts the game’s relationship towards its own setting. While this is perhaps too informed by recent discourse, I think Burned Over shifts Apocalypse World from genre emulation of post-apocalyptic film and games to being a post-apocalyptic work in its own right with its own setting. 

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The Trouble with NaNoWriMo: A Filler Post

The trouble with NaNoWriMo is simply that it takes a lot of time. Although most of you know me as an RPG commentator, I have been a writer, broadly, for most of my life, both personal and professional. I enjoy writing fiction, but it’s difficult to write long-form fiction and keep up the pace long enough to produce a full story. The 2000 word articles hosted here at Cannibal Halfling Gaming are, if not easy, at least easier than a 50,000+ word novel.

This year I decided to do NaNoWriMo to give my fiction writing a kick in the pants. In 2019 I picked up a rewrite of a novel I had written a decade before, right after college, and decided to give it an honest go. I got close, though the pandemic seriously disrupted my writing habits. In 2021, amidst a whole host of life challenges and transitions, the writing ground to a halt. So here, in November of 2022, I decided to challenge myself to do NaNoWriMo in order to get back into the habit of writing and build up my self-discipline enough to also finish my in-progress novel. So far, so good: yesterday was the midpoint of NaNoWriMo and I have successfully hit the 25,000 word halfway mark.

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