Monday, 4 June 2012

Legend of Korra's Pro Bending in D&D

Dominic Matte
Pro bending is a small-team sport that focuses on coordinated and cooperative combat. Sounds like a perfect fit for D&D, right?

At its simplest, pro bending involves two teams (3 players each in the show, but up to 5 or 6 for a D&D party) trying to push each other out of the arena. To make things work in D&D, we'll allow any class to play – you don't need to adapt Avatar's bending into your game. However, keep in mind that due to the nature of the game, some classes will be stronger than others.

Without using bending as it is in the TV show, some rules have to be modified, and others have to be added or considered because of how combat works in D&D. This way you can drop the sport into any existing game without needing to introduce new classes or change your campaign world to include bending.

Note: pro bending and D&D combat each use the word “round” to mean something different, so I'll make a distinction between the two:
a Round (capital R) is a sports round, ie you play for a certain amount of time and the Round ends.
A round (lowercase r) is the turn measurement in D&D combat rules, ie one full initiative rotation.

Cartoon images are from Avatar: The Legend of Korra and are copyright Nickelodeon.

The Arena and Basic Rules

The arena is a raised platform above water (or some other setup that allows for safe falls) divided in halves (one for each team) and zones (three for each team). Teams begin each round in their side's zone 1. The goal is to push the enemy team as far back as possible in the allotted time during each of the three Rounds. One Round lasts 5 rounds (lowercase r; in other words, 5 full initiative counts).

All damage in the arena is nonlethal (unless of course you want to run a particularly brutal variant, or use these as special rules in a gladiatorial match). If a combatant runs out of hit points, they're not knocked unconscious, but are instead stunned until the end of the Round. During a Round, healing is the only way to remove the stun.

I used to have an image of the arena battle grid but it's disappeared into the ether.


A player can receive a foul for several reasons. When the referee declares a foul, that player moves back one zone.
The D&D version of the game permits a little more brutality than the sport from the TV show, due to the prevalence of magical healing and wider array of abilities permitted.
Zone foul: received when you move forward without having the ref's permission to advance (ie, when you've forced the entire enemy team back).
Pull: received for pulling an enemy out of his zone and into another. Pulls are fine as long as they don't force an enemy out of the zone.
Side knockout: enemies can only be knocked out of the back of the arena, not the sides.
Excessive force: an attack that imposes any type of effect that lasts longer than 1 round is a foul.
Grabbing/Icing: received for interfering with your opponents' movement, whether by imposing the restrained or immobilized condition, or creating difficult terrain.
I'm not sure about the grabbing/icing rule. It makes more sense in the TV show than it does in D&D, so consider this an optional foul.


If you push all enemy team members out of a zone, your team can advance to fill the empty zone. The team that owns the most zones at the end of a Round wins the Round. Best 2 Rounds out of 3 wins.
However, if you manage to push all enemy players out of the arena in a single Round, that's a knockout, and an automatic match victory.
The Fire Ferrets have pushed their opponents back to zone 2

Actions in combat

Your combat actions are modified slightly for this sport. Since it's a friendly competition, you can incorporate some special moves that wouldn't work in a true fight. One modification is also made due to a certain weakness with most classes.

This is your basic form of offense. You need to attack in order to win, since pure defense won't push enemies out of the arena. If you hit an enemy with a single-target attack, you push that creature 1 square. If the power already pushes, you increase the push by 1 square. And finally, if you hit an enemy granting combat advantage, increase your push by 1 square.

When you take a total defense action, in addition to the normal effects, you can make a saving throw to ignore the first forced movement or imposition of combat advantage you take that round.

This is a variant of the rule for preparing actions. You can prepare an action to attack an enemy that attacks you as normal, but when you do, you make an opposed attack roll. If your attack roll is higher than the enemy's, you ignore all effects of that attack, and your attack functions as normal.

Ganging Up
You can prepare an action to attack an enemy at the same time as a teammate. If the first attack is successful, the enemy grants combat advantage for subsequent attacks on the same initiative count.

Special Circumstances

If a given Round, or the match, ends in a tie, a tiebreaker occurs. Roll a die or toss a coin to determine which team chooses the circumstances of the tiebreaker. The winning team chooses one member of each team for a one-on-one duel on a small circular platform that raises itself from the centre of the arena (the space of both zone 1s). Whoever knocks their opponent off the platform wins the tiebreaker and the Round (or match).

Critical Hit
On a crit, you push your target 2 extra squares, because why not. Huzzah!

Dwarves and Resistance to Forced Movement
Dwarves (and other creatures) have some resistance (or immunity) to forced movement. In normal D&D, this is a neat tactical element. However, in a sport where the entire point of the game is to push your enemies around, it's blatantly overpowered.
Of course, you don't want to simply tell your party's dwarf that her push resistance inexplicably disappears when she enters the arena. In the interest of both fun and balance, dwarves (and others) must roll a saving throw when they're subjected to forced movement. If the save succeeds, their resistance functions as normal. If it fails, the attack ignores that resistance and the creature is moved the full distance.

Second Wind & Action Points
Action points function as normal. Second wind also functions normally, except that you can also roll a saving throw to ignore the first forced movement or imposition of combat advantage you would take before the beginning of your next turn.

General Tactics

Okay, so now that we've gone over the mechanics, let's take a look at how things work overall.
When you start a match, you roll initiative as normal. Now, due to the nature of the rules, initiative is a lot more important than usual for determining victory. You'll want to make your modifier as high as possible, since whoever goes first has the first chance to push the enemy team around. This can be huge: if your entire team gets to act before anyone on the enemy team has a go, you have a chance to move forward a zone before they even get to attack.

Manipulation of the initiative order is the key to victory, perhaps more so than a powerful offense. Since your focus is on pushing rather than dealing damage, you and your opponents will frequently be delaying and acting out of turn to exploit the special rules and maximize their advantage.

If your party has a melee attacker, he may feel kind of useless if the enemy is out of reach, since he can't move into their zone without incurring a foul. But melee fighters can still provide some very useful services to a team. Standing as far forward as possible and taking defence actions can provide a buffer zone where ranged attackers don't want to be, so just by taking a position, a fighter gives his team a positioning advantage, forcing the enemy a little farther back and making them more vulnerable to pushes. He also provides cover for allies standing behind him. And finally, there are a few melee powers with exceptional pushing ability, so it may actually be worthwhile to consider pulling or sliding enemies into range of the fighter to exploit an occasional 3, 4, or even 5 square push.

I think that about wraps things up! I'd love to hear what you think of this rule adaptation, especially if you have suggestions for refinements or have noticed something I missed.
Whether or not your game incorporates bending, these rules should be a great way to run a tactically interesting yet nonlethal combat for your players to just have fun with.

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