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Dungeons & Dragons: How to Run a Last Airbender-Themed Campaign

If you're thinking about running an Avatar: The Last Airbender-themed Dungeons & Dragons campaign, here's what you need to know.

With Avatar: The Last Airbender enjoying a deserved return to the limelight via Netflix, it's a great time to consider the possibility of running an Avatar-themed Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Experienced players of Fifth Edition know of the disappointment that is the Way of the Four Elements Monk subclass. It's hard to separate the idea of a monk shooting fire out of their fists and the popular animated series. It's just a shame that the subclass is so underwhelming, suffering from poor action-economy, meaning that players get very limited uses of their coolest, most powerful stuff.

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Homebrew Options

The good news is that a creator from the DM's Guild, Alex Tanner, designed a totally-not-Avatar handbook for playing as a "Lacer," the copyright-free way to say Bender in his Incarnate: The Last of the Lacers 5E module. The module includes the Lacer class, which incorporates monk elements with the ability to cast re-flavored spells that will be familiar to Fifth Edition veterans. The book also includes a more casting-focused class, the Druid/Wizard-esque Samsari, and several more Last Airbender-themed creations. Unfortunately, while the handbook is an excellent in many respects, it's far less balanced than official D&D materials.

The other option for Dungeon Masters looking to run an Avatar campaign is to either use or modify the Way of the Four Elements Monk. Frankly, we suggest the latter. Reducing ki point requirements on certain spells would work, but if you're looking to tinker, you could also add elemental-based spells like Fire Bolt, Maximilian's Earthen Grasp and Tidal Wave to the the monk's spell list. Make the lower level spells require less ki points, and you've got the makings of a Bender.

Monk-Ing Around

The problem with running an Avatar campaign is the likelihood that nearly everyone is going to want to be a Bender. Having a party of monks might sound like fun, but there are plenty of obstacles to it. First, your party will lack a proper tank and the ability to heal. Give Earth benders a constitution boost (maybe even a d10 hit die) and Waterbenders some healing spells to solve this problem. If a player wants to be a chi-blocker, give them some home-brewed abilities spells like Hold Person and Bane.

Second, your players will probably find themselves overlapping in terms of identity and utility. Some of the fun that goes into D&D is having a variety of races and classes work together. That will be lost here, especially if you don't allow other races or a limited range of classes. Make sure you allow players to pick classes that obviously fit in the Avatar universe, like Fighters, Rogues, Non-Bending Monks and maybe even Barbarians, Bards and Druids. Ask your players for character backstories, and try to weave them together. Spending time with the different backstories will help differentiate the characters, which is especially important if your group is new or shy to roleplay.

Finally, give your players Avatar-themed items like gliders or boomerangs to set them apart and remind them of the universe they're in. Use homebrew creations found online for help or base the item on another official item.

Adapting The Avatar Universe

One of the most difficult parts of this whole process will be adapting 5E monsters to the Avatar universe. The most thematic way to do it is take one of the Avatar universe's hybrid animals, like the buzzard wasp, and combine two corresponding D&D monsters, in this case, the vulture and the giant wasp. Make a list of these beforehand and order them by challenge rating so you can pull from them whenever you need a random encounter.

Another way is to use a weird D&D monster and turn them into a Spirit from the Spirit World. Maybe the spirits are angry and spilling into the world. If your players have seen either Avatar or The Legend of Korra, they won't question you throwing a Spirit World Blight at them.

Storywise, we suggest picking a time-period in the Avatar-universe that isn't seen on screen or in the books, that way you won't have to worry about meta-gaming or your own knowledge of the world. It'll also mean that your players will feel like they have a real chance to impact the world instead of just working towards an inevitable, pre-determined ending.

You'll also want to give your players the opportunity to visit locations they'll recognize from the show. Give your players an incentive to travel the world just like Aang and his friends did. Maybe they have to collect clues from different places or convince world leaders to help them on their quest. Consider altering the designs of the locations based on what time period your campaign set in. If it takes place before Aang's time, The Misty Palms Oasis will still be running cold and fresh, and the Airbender temples will still be fully functional. Maybe Ba Sing Se is less populated. You've got plenty of chances to play with your player's preconceptions about the world and to write your own headcanons about the fantastic series.




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