Review of Mistborn Adventure Game (Part 1) by Crafty Games

There has always been a strong link between storytelling and role-playing games, and it is that link that differentiates RPG’s from board games and war games. Sure, board games and war games often have interesting stories or plots to set up the premise of the game, it is the shared experience all the evolving plotline between the players and the game master may give role-playing game is its broad based appeal.

Not surprisingly, we’ve seen the development of role-playing games over the years which had been inspired from the stories and plot lines found in fantasy and science fiction short stories and novels, and even from television shows and movies of those genres.
For instance, early in Chaosium Games’ history, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos short stories and Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibonea Saga provided fertile ground for two well-known RPG product lines which were quite popular in their day. And in recent years, the Margaret Weis Productions’ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game and Green Ronin’s Songs of Ice and Fire RPG have found great enthusiasm among gamers desiring a role-playing experience based upon a world renowned comic book universe and a popular fantasy novel series, made all the more appealing by several block-buster movies and an epic HBO miniseries!

Last summer, Crafty Games found inspiration for a new fantasy adventure role-playing game in Mistborn trilogy of novels by Brandon Sanderson. Set in the post-apocalyptic fantasy world called Scadrial, Mistborn heroes rise up to expose secrets and oppose a brutal theocracy and god-king, finding power in metallurgy to unleash powerful magicks!

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Adventure Game

  • Author / Setting Inspiration: Brandon Sanderson
  • Game System Designer: Alex Flagg
  • Illustrations: Ben McSweeney
  • Publisher: Crafty Games
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF, Deluxe Hardbound & Perfect Bound (584 pages)
  • Price: $44.99 (PDF $14.99 available from RPGNow / Perfect Bound for $34.99 – available from the Amazon.com)

Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Adventure Game is a heroic role-playing game inspired by the Mistborn Trilogy of fantasy novels. The game features all the materials needed to create a wide range of player-characters based upon the races, powers, and talents demonstrated by the heroes in the novels, as well as a complete rule system for handling skill resolution and combat encounters. Mistborn features a unique magic system based upon drawing power from various metals and offers players three paths to use this power depending on their characters’ personality. The game manual also comes with instructions Narrators (Game masters) to run a Mistborn campaign, for creating adventures and encounters, and a “monster manual” of NPCs and creatures to challenge heroes – including how to build new NPCs and monsters!

Production Quality

The production quality of the Mistborn Adventure Game is excellent, with a great layout, a very logical presentation of the rules, and very solid writing which conveys the game concepts very well. The type face is bold and easy to read – although if you have a PDF format, magnification is never an issue – and the chapters are divided nicely into single topics, so that it’s easy to reference a particular concept or mechanic using the table of contents or the index. Tables and italicized text describing game play examples bring focus to topics where needed, and the original author of the setting has added comments in shaded boxes throughout the work that help merge play mechanics to the unique setting.

The illustrations and maps in the Mistborn Adventure Game are quite good, although limited to black and white sketches and line drawings. There are some nice flourishes on pages like metallurgical symbols as page breaks and thumb tabs – I particularly liked the addition of those as they make each chapter stand out when viewed along the page edges. The illustrations are, sadly, a bit sparse given a book of this size, with a majority of them found in the Narrator section – particularly the NPCs and monster sections. I definitely would have liked to see more spread throughout the book, as artist Ben McSweeney, is quite a talent.

I should note that I am actually writing this review from the deluxe hardbound version of the Mistborn Adventure Game rulebook, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how beautiful this book truly is. It’s standard novel sized – and a weighty novel at that – complete with a beautifully illustrated cover dust cover. The black bound tome has a great feel to it, and the spine of the book has gold-embossed lettering on the black binding which gives it a fantastic appearance on the shelf without the dust cover. And inside the front and back covers are stunning end papers showing the metallurgical symbols and functions of metals for Allomancy (front cover) and Feruchemy (back cover) respectively. As an ardent bibliophile, the overall aesthetics of the deluxe hard bound version of the Mistborn Adventure Game was a pure delight to the senses.

The Adventure Game

The game designer divided the rulebook for the Mistborn Adventure Game into three sections (“Books”) with a detailed Introduction. Each Book covers a concise range of topics pertinent to understanding and playing the game. Book One is The Mistborn Adventure Game which contains the rules for character creation and play; Book Two contains The Treatise Metallurgic and gives details about the unique magic system for the setting; and Book Three is really the Narrator’s section and aptly named Always Another Secret – players should steer clear of this section to avoid spoilers!

The Mistborn Adventure Game opens with a short story by Brandon Sanderson called The Eleventh Metal, and stars a Mistborn Allomancer named Kelsier, who appears in the Mistborn Trilogy. The Eleventh Metal is actually a prequel to the trilogy, and provides some tantalizing hints about the setting, as well as concrete examples of how the magic of Allomancy works.

Following The Eleventh Metal is an Introduction which contains a brief overview of setting for the players (there are more details about the setting scattered around Book 3 for the Narrators). There is also a listing of the Mistborn novels, and quick run-down of the rule book sections – and even a preview of products on the horizon to support the Mistborn Adventure Game.

In Book One of the Mistborn Adventure Game, the game designer covers the major topics of playing the role playing game, including what a role-playing game is about, building heroes, improving heroes, the basics of the game’s concepts and mechanics, and how to adjudicate challenges, contests, and conflicts. The designer does a good job of going over what is needed to be understood if you are a neophyte to role-playing games, or an advanced player, and he makes it possible for the Narrator and the players to get started quickly playing the game. There are eight pre-made characters ready to be used by players, and a scenario or “scene” is available from the Crafty Games website – which actually is a lead-in to an adventure module called Thieves of the Ninth House. You can download the Mistborn Adventure Game Primer here from Crafty Games.

At its heart, the Mistborn Adventure Game is similar to the FATE, Savage Worlds, and Storyteller RPGs, and uses six-sided dice and dice pools of 2 to 10 dice to determine outcomes. Unlike some other games, the Mistborn Adventure Game does not have classes or levels, but rather are a collection of Powers, Traits, Attributes, and Standings. Characters have three Attributes – Physique, Charm, and Wits – and three Standings – Resources, Influence, and Spirit – ranging from 2 to 6 in order to define them. Characters also have powers and traits to add additional dice to those derived from Attributes and Standings, allowing them to be able to have substantial pools use in resolving Challenges, Contest, and Conflicts. What I really like about this system is the logic by which the dice pools are derived, and how they easily they can be applied to resolve typical situations that arise in an adventure.
Another point I really enjoy about the character generation process if the use a series of ten questions which help players define the sort of alter-ego they will portray in the game. The answers to those questions will help determine whether the character will have full magical powers through one of the magical systems (Allomancy or Feruchemy), a smaller power set from either being one of the shape-shifting or just a tinge of power as a Mistling or through Hemalurgy, and what races they can be (Nobles, Skaa, Terris, or Kandra). Questions are also asked about defining moments in their past like terrible things happened to them and what they think is their ultimate goal are answers which focus the personality of the hero. These questions are a fun and powerful tool to assist in character creation, and can get the players to form not only better personas, but also a cohesive adventuring group – called a crew – which is a bit more cohesive than just having heroes meet in a bar and had off a-questing together.

Characters in the Mistborn Adventure Game increase in power over time by gaining and spending Advancements – sort of like experience points – but used to buy upgrades to Attributes and Standings, increasing Power levels, and gaining new Traits. Advancements are gained each session, dictated by how a character contributes to the ongoing adventure and to staying in character.

The Challenge/Contest/Conflict mechanics are also well defined, where a challenge is analogous to a skill check, a contest to an opposed skill check, and a conflict to a combat situation. Conflicts can take the form of physical, social, or mental attacks, and the damage that can be inflicted range from broken bones and maiming, to public humiliation and loss of property, to depression and severe mental illness. Troublesome story elements rather than hit points are the cost of being “injured”, and it is a fairly strong method to keep a narrative moving forward.

One final pair of character mechanics worth noting is the concept of Destiny and Tragedy. Characters have both, as do most major Villains in the game, and both help to bring a level of importance to the players’ heroes in the ongoing course of the unfolding story. Destiny and Tragedy can be known to the character, but sometimes it is a mystery, or even something the player thinks is one thing, but actually it is something entirely different. These facets of the story are sub-plots and unfold over time, and can affect the main story at times, or might just be something intrinsic to the hero. On a personal level, these concepts really resonate with me as a game master, and are things that I’ve tried to introduce into my own role-playing games, albeit with less formality and structure. I’ve always believed that making the players feel that their heroes are important movers-and-shakers in the world is very important to role-playing, and I like that the Mistborn Adventure Game has a solid mechanic for handling these concepts.

Next week, in Part 2 of this review, I’ll cover the second section (Book 2) and highlight aspects of the unique magic system in the world of Scadrial, as well as discuss the Narrator section (Book 3) and the tools for running adventures and campaigns – and I’ll also offer my final recommendations and score card for the Mistborn Adventure Game!

So until Part 2 of the review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in the deluxe hardbound format from which the review was written.
 

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