Author Brandon Sanderson is right here in Albuquerque this weekend as the guest of honor at Bubonicon, our local science fiction convention. Right now he seems to be best known as the guy who gets to finish the Wheel of Time novels for the late Robert Jordan, but he’s also the creator of the Mistborn novels. I have a hard time describing these books; think post-apocalyptic magical steampunk X-men, and you might get close. It’s a quasi-Victorian world where people live under an ugly, totalitarian regime and pollution chokes the skies. The rebels and freedom fighters are the mistborn, people gifted with the magical ability to do things with, and to, metal. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s heroic, and it’s a fun series to read. And now, it’s a roleplaying game.
When I received my copy of the Mistborn Adventure Game in the mail, the first thing that grabbed me was the format. It’s not in any standard game-book format; it’s the size of a hardcover novel, complete with a dustjacket. This is neat, because it can sit on the shelf with my Mistborn novels. It’s dense, at nearly 600 pages. It begins, possiblity more appropriately than usual, with an original short story by Sanderson set in the world of Scadrial.
The next section details the setting for those not familiar with the novels, and recaps and expands a bit for those who are. This game is set during the time of the original trilogy (The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages), and doesn’t cover the most recent novel, The Alloy of Law, which is set several hundred years after the original novels. There is a supplement planned, however, for those who wish to play in that time period.
The standard, seemingly obligatory “how to play” section doesn’t feel awkward here. One would hope that a successful novel series would make a great bridge to introduce people to roleplaying games, so it’s appropriate. It includes 8 pregenerated characters, so new players can jump right into the game.
Character creation begins with the players sitting down together and envisioning what they want their crew to be like — something that should be standard in all roleplaying games. As Mistborn they have reasons built into the setting for them to be together, but working that out ahead of time, and then coming up with character concepts that are complimentary, remains unusual. Each player then works up a concept for their character — there are no preformed classes or archetypes here — and answers 10 questions to flesh out their background. These provide you with some Traits, that are similar to Aspects in Fate.
Powers, Attributes, and other things are allocated with an interesting system. You determine if that category of abilities is going to be Strong, Average, or Weak. If you’re Weak in one area, you can be better in others, or gain more Traits. It’s really flexible, and helps you to nail down exactly the type of character you want. The choice of Strong, Average, or Weak indicates how many points you then have to allocate to different types of abilities. In addition to the three Attributes (Physique, Charm, and Wits) each character also has three Standings (Resources, Influence, Spirit) and Resiliences (Health, Reputation, Power). There are rated, roughly, from 2 to 10.
The system emphasizes only rolling the dice when needed. If a character is going to do something and it’s pretty clear they will, or should, succeed, it just happens. When the outcome is unclear, it uses a die pool system. The gamemaster, called the Narrator here, picks the most appropriate Attribute, Standing, or Resilience, and you roll a number of d6′s equal to the rating. If you have a Trait that would help, add a die; if your have a Trait that gets in the way, remove a die. If you have tools, or other circumstances, that help the character, add dice; if things get in the way, remove dice. It seems simple, but I see how it will require some judgement calls and negotiation. You can never have less than 2 dice, and never more than 10. The Narrator than assigns a difficulty from 1 to 5, and each die that beats the target number is a success. You add up the number of die that were successful to determine the degree of success, but you also subtract the target number. So if you get 5 successes, and the difficulty was 3, your outcome is 2. This seems confusing, but given that the standard difficulty is 1 and a 0 result counts as a minimal success and not a failure, it’s not as bad as it seems.
There are things that, as a writer, I enjoy about that game. There are periodic boxes marked “From Brandon”, where the author chimes in on the world, the function of the game mechanics, and any other sort of aside he felt the need to add. This really shows that the property wasn’t just licensed and handed off into the void; Sanderson is a gamer himself, and was an active participant in its development. I also like small touches, like the fact that equipment is referred to as “props”, which makes stuff feel more integral to the character and not just, well, stuff.
Overall, the Mistborn Adventure Game is well put together, a lot of fun to read, and looks like it will be a ton of fun to play!
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