I admit, I'm not great at tabletop roleplaying games. Despite that, I find this medium to be limitless with potential, and my interest is constantly piqued by all the newest games. One tabletop game that has lingered in my mind is the Mistborn Adventure Game, set in the universe of fantasy writer Brandon Sanderson. Being a huge fan of his work, I had to see for myself how accessible and easy it was to get into a medium that appeared daunting to play.
Brandon Sanderson's claim to fame is his Mistborn trilogy and subsequent spinoffs taking place many years after the original events of his first foray into its universe. After Sanderson's first book in the Mistborn series release, The Final Empire, Crafty Games devised a tabletop RPG in the book's universe. Now, Crafty Games released several supplementary works and have gone on to make another Mistborn game called Mistborn: House War.
I talked with one of the founders of Crafty Games, Alex Flagg, and we discussed how accessible the Mistborn Adventure Game is and what fans of this novel series and newcomers to the genre will enjoy when playing it.
The Mistborn Adventure Game's Origins
Alex Flagg was approached by a colleague of his who was a huge fan of fantasy. This friend told Flagg about how Mistborn's first novel (which was at this point in the time only published novel in the series) would translate well into a tabletop game. Flagg was skeptical at first, but eventually purchased the book.
I went to the student book store, I bought The Final Empire, and I read it. Got about 40 pages in and realized, 'Holy shit, this guy is a gamer.'
With Sanderson's rise in popularity, many fans might know of the author's involvement in gaming. At one point, a Mistborn video game was in development. A VR game based on his series The Stormlight Archive exists, too. Sanderson is also a very avid Magic the Gathering fan.
In any case, Flagg realized that the way Sanderson's worldbuilding worked seemed like a very "gameable" setting. He contacted Sanderson, who happened to be going on tour in Flagg's area very soon, and they met up. At a restaurant in the middle of Portland, the deal was settled, and the development of the Mistborn Adventure Game had begun.
Several weeks after announcing the development of the Mistborn Adventure Game, Brandon Sanderson was chosen as the writer to finish the Wheel of Time book series by the late Robert Jordan. According to Flagg, this was a game-changer. Years later, Sanderson is now a prolific author of dozens of books. Flagg and the rest of the team at Crafty Games didn't know just how successful Sanderson would become.
"He deserves all of his success, absolutely," said Flagg, "but we never knew going in that he was going to be as prolific or successful as he is. We just liked his work."
The Mistborn Question
The idea around the Mistborn Adventure Game is similar to the books. Crafty Games wanted to build upon the base of the novels and expand upon their lore, though new ideas and adventures are all a possibility in this game. To begin with, players are part of a crew, and it's up to the group of players to decide their purpose and goal. A thematic narrative guides players to determine their role within this group to aid and facilitate character creation.
Reading the Mistborn books, I would ponder what kind of Allomancer I would want to be. Allomancy is one of three types of magic in the Mistborn series. Allomancers "burn" metal, granting them powers such as super strength, enhanced senses, and more. There's also Feruchemy, where users can store up attributes and use them at a later time. Lastly, Hemalurgy, which involves impaling metal spikes through sacrifices. Then, Hemalurgists can wear these spikes and receive the power of the sacrifice.
It's not as complex as it sounds, and becoming any of these magic wielders is possible in the Mistborn Adventure Game. Thankfully, creating characters is quite easy for newcomers.
This game is written to be as accessible as humanly possible. So, if you are a person, especially if you're coming from a DnD Pathfinder background, your expectation of what it takes to build a character is probably much different than what we need here.
One of the most arduous but exciting tasks in an RPG campaign is creating a character. Crafty Games takes a simpler approach. There is no skill list. Instead, skills are determined by the player as it fits their role. Players also have traits, which is a method to allow individuals to play narratively. Traits can be an area of knowledge your character is an expert in or a physical characteristic, for example. Using traits to your advantage allows players to add an extra dice roll.
Another interesting inclusion are props. Players choose an item that, as Flagg describes, is a physical extension of your character. Han Solo has his blaster, and Vin from Mistborn has her bag of coins. A player's prop is something that is always with them, which helps define who they are.
Players have the choice to be almost anything in the Mistborn unvierse, too. This means you can also be a Mistborn. Mistborn can use all the allomantic mentals, which might make them seem overpowered.
"I call this the Mistborn question," said Flagg, "'cause everybody's concern is: "How do you let people play Mistborn and not have everybody else suck.'"
His solution is math, but also creating a system that doesn't limit players. Mistborn are usually strong in the novels, and excel with their powers in the Mistborn Adventure Game too. Still, the team has balanced this by requiring Mistborn to have mediocre stats at the beginning of the game. Player's also pick different attributes their characters are strong, average, and weak in to further balance each character out.
There are many other factors at play, but the Mistborn Adventure Game's character sheets are simplistic. Flagg says that in some instances, the process of character creation is under an hour. The character creation process, learning how to roll, and going on a starting adventure can all be done in one sitting.
"The game is easy enough to retain," said Flagg, "easy enough to pickup and put down, but you don't have to be committed."
Combat in the Mistborn Adventure Game might seem familiar to those with limited tabletop experience. If you've only played tabletop staples like Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, combat involves the same basic principles of initiative, damage, and contests. Players roll against another result to hopefully come out on top.
Stories Told and Untold
The Mistborn Adventure Game is more about the story than anything else. This game is not about gathering loot and experience but playing your character narratively and experiencing an exciting adventure. The team aspect of this game defies your motivations and controls the story. You really do get to live in the Mistborn universe as an important character.
Everybody in [Brandon's] books, they are people who can change the world. And we want the players to be those same types of heroes, that they are not just some peasants. They are people who come to the game with experience. They come with real abilities and they come with a purpose. And that's, I think, the defining feature of this game.
There's still more stories to tell and adventures to embark on with Crafty's Mistborn games. Mistborn: House War is a more recent board game with miniatures, cards, and more. An expansion based on The Well of Ascension during the Siege of Luthadel is out some time in the future. And expect more from the Mistborn Adventure Game as well.
"Mistborn's done very well for us," said Flagg "and right now we're going to need to focus on that, because we've still got some stuff to say on this world, and we want to say it all rather than go chasing the new shiny."