You Need More Iron in Your Diet: A Review of the Mistborn Adventure Game RPG
Game Name: Mistborn Adventure Game
Publisher: Crafty Games
Authors: Brandon Sanderson, Alex Flagg, Patrick Kapera, and John Snead
Playing Time: It’s an RPG Baby!
Retail Price: $49.99 Hardcover or $14.99 Digital edition
Category: Science Fiction/Early industrial steampunkish RPG
Alright, this review begins with a preface: I’ve never read any of the Mistborn novels, although I know Elliott has and highly recommends them, and I did begin to listen to the audiobook edition of the first in the series. I don’t know if it’s because I wasn’t a big fan of the narrator, the time of day I normally listen to non-fiction – which is at night before I go to bed – or simply I couldn’t get into the story but I simply didn’t get into it. So I’m I approached this review with no real knowledge of the setting. Crafty Games on the other hand is a company I’m very familiar with and I really enjoyed their Fantasy Craft core book and will have reviews of a couple of their supplements for that system in the future. So I was interested in what Patrick Kupera and Alex Flagg were going to bring to the table with The Mistborn Adventure Game.
I’ll also point out the review is of the digital download of the book as opposed to the physical tome itself. Digital download has grown on me more and more since I picked up a nice tablet last year – before that I wouldn’t have been caught dead in front of a computer monitor reading a book since I stare at a computer all day in the real world. I’d still prefer to have a physical book if I were to be running a game because I normally find it easier to jump right to a page with the info I might be looking for rather than scanning through a file.
I know Elliott and I both found it interesting that Mistborn series author Brandon Sanderson was intimately associated with Crafty Games during the creation of the RPG, not only writing some short fiction for the introduction but also adding comments throughout the text and playtesting the system as well. You don’t normally run across that kind of involvement when you encounter licensed material.
Let’s start off by saying this is one big book! 500 hundred pages my friends so if you think you’re simply buying one of those rather short RPGs based on a licensed property, you’ll be sorely mistaken. I’ll also mention that this is an entirely new role playing system and is not based on the previously mentioned Fantasy Craft and runs a bit lighter rules-wise than that 3.5 OGL series.
The book opens with a short story called The Eleventh Metal by Sanderson himself. I’d say it’s a pretty good read overall, unlike many short stories that tend to open the proceedings in many RPGs. The story also serves as the player’s introduction to what sets this fantasy setting apart from others in the genre: Allomancy. Allomancy is a sort of magic that deals with metals of all sorts and knowing how to weave these metals can unlock great powers and effects.
The Mistborn setting is of an industrial revolution era land in which a Fascist government rules the people and the populace have very few options outside of conformity or death. This may sound a bit like steampunk, and I suppose in some ways it is, but true steampunk is historically based – at least to some degree – whereas the land of Scadrial is a completely fictional locale. As mentioned most of the inhabitants of Scadrial aren’t enjoying their lot in life but there are a few who are willing to buck the system whether by skirting the law as bandits and thieves or looking to obtain a higher goal and free the people from oppression.
This is where the players come in. Player Characters comprise what is called a Crew: a group of individuals, from various backgrounds, looking to achieve a common goal regardless if it’s getting rich quick, rising to power themselves, or perhaps even vying for loftier goals. There’s plenty of wiggle room in the sorts of characters and adventures that can take place in the Mistborn setting.
Character creation is especially well presented and, if a bit long winded in parts (as are quite a few sections in the book) leave very little room for error. I find it particularly interesting that there’s a lot of balance involved with the characters players will game with around the table. For moany palyers, and I suppose those intimately familiar with the setting the obvious choice of character type would be the mistborn, those who can ingest metal and turn around and use those metals for magical results. Yet, regardless of character type, focusing on one particular area, in this case magic, leaves your character weak in other areas. Characters are broken down into Powers, Attributes and Standings and one must assign a rating of weak, average, or strong to each with no two being the same. So if you’re strong in Powers, something else is average and the other is weak.
The character creation is based upon more upon a question and answer session as opposed to skill point allocation so this can be a time consuming process. Mistborn is not the sort of game where a player will create a character at home and bring along to game. As a whole it is the Crew that is going to make an impact on the game world and you’ll want to have your core group of gamers present during the character creation so you know what the goal of the group is and who will be the best individuals that can lead to successfully meeting that goal.
The rules in themselves are fairly simple as the mechanics and concept work well together. This isn’t to say the main mechanic for action resolution won’t leave a few people scratching their heads if they’ve played other RPGs. The system uses a d6 based dice pool mechanic that allows for traits and modifiers to the die results. Depending upon what you’re rolling to do (fighting, convincing someone to see things your way, sneak past a guard, etc..) will determine the number of dice you roll as well as the difficulty number you’ll need to succeed. The GM, or in this system, the Narrator, will tell you what number you need to roll or higher. You want to roll doubles of that number or higher and if you have more than one set of doubles you can choose which you use. Sixes are good if you succeed and bad if you don’t but a big boost to everything you do with this system is the ability to describe in detail just what you’re looking to achieve.
Some players will make this resolution system much more complex than it needs to be and once you get the hang of it the trickiness of the mechanic goes away. I will say I’m not a big fan of some of the ways in which the numbers are manipulated but I’ll get to that in a bit.
The second section of the book discusses each and every one of the forms of magic in great detail, covering history, methods and mechanics. Each type of magic is unique and has a lot of flavor and will lead to a multitude of character types that can be gamed. There’s a lot of information here to process laid out sensibly and very structured. In many RPG systems I’ve found the magic rules and structure to be the worst laid out or explained and, happily this isn’t the case here.
The final portion of the book is for Narrators and goes into detail about not only running the game but also tackles what makes the Mistborn setting much different than any other. Granted there are plenty of spoilers for those who haven’t read the trilogy of the offshoot novel but items like creating secret goings on behind the scenes, creating stories in which the characters really are larger than life and making an impact on the game world, as well as tying threads together to make a narrative whole are discussed in detail. This section is where I think Craft Games really shines as I was a big fan of this same sort of material in Fantasy Craft.—
At five hundred plus pages, The Mistborn Adventure Game is by no means a simple game but, even at that length, I don’t find too much of the system to be overwrought or difficult to digest. In some ways I find the mechanics to be new just for the sake of being new and wanting to launch a completely different core system that is truly Crafty’s product so I don’t have any beef with that. I will make mention that I’ve never been a big fan of the artificial means that some systems try to inject in order to promote what they feel is “good role playing” and I think to some extent Crafty Games is doing that here; if I’m the Narrator and you, as the player, can tell me in great detail just what you’re looking to accomplish in your task, you’ll have an easier time doing so. Unfortunately, some players who enjoy role playing games can’t be that creative on the fly – hell, I’ve run across many DMs who aren’t that mentally nimble – and Mistborn as written penalizes that in some ways.
Lastly, I’m not a fan of the new era of thinking that a role playing game is a great democracy in which the players take adventures off into any direction as they please. This isn’t meant as a critique pointed at Mistborn specifically but more toward the genre recently. There is a little bit of that in this rule book but I’m old school: Rather than just show up and run something completely off the top of my head, as many DMs currently do, I came to the table with a clear idea and game plan in mind of what I was looking to achieve on any given evening. In the past couple of years I’ve sat in on any number of roleplaying sessions and, regardless of what system was being gamed, have walked away utterly unimpressed with the crop of game mastering currently out there. I’m not picking on people new to the hobby because even in the 1980s there were plenty of people I didn’t think were very good refs either! Thankfully, even though I have some minor quibbles with the Mistborn game design, the gang at Crafty take plenty of time to help shine a light on good game mastering that can be used by anyone regardless if you run a Mistborn setting or not.
Overall, the Mistborn Adventure Game is an exceptionally fine outing and Crafty Games has proven that they can put together their own rules system, based on an outside intellectual property none the less, that will have strong appeal to role players looking for something different and truly a must have for fans of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn world!