Venture Into the World of the Mistborn Adventure Game

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Mistborn, Art by Ben Mc © Crafty Games
Mistborn, Art by Ben McSweeney © Crafty Games

The Mistborn Aventure Game, developed by Crafty Games, is based on the Mistborn trilogy written by Brandon Sanderson. The original three book series follows a band of heroes put together to accomplish the impossible and defeat a god. The world of Mistborn is populated with memorable characters, a setting where ash falls from the sky every day, and a magic system that is compelling and unique.

Mistborn seems to be tailor-made for creating a game in that universe, so when I had the chance to ask one of the Mistborn Adventure Game creators, Alex Flagg, some questions about the game, I just had to know what it was like. He talked about developing the game, the world of Scadriel, working with writer Brandon Sanderson, and more.

(Warning: Some spoilers for the novels follow.)

Mistborn seems like a setting perfectly suited for creating an RPG. Did you find that to be the case, or were there some unexpected challenges?

It was Mistborn’s suitability as an RPG setting that drew me to the series in the first place. After I read the first 30-40 pages of Mistborn: The Final Empire (the first novel in the series), I said to myself, “This guy’s a gamer.” The fundamental conflicts of the Final Empire’s society, the well-thought-out and highly detailed magic system, and challenges Kelsier’s crew faced seemed almost purpose built for a tabletop game to me. The world was just bursting with possibilities for fun and adventure. As it turns out, I was right; Brandon was indeed a player, and jumped at the opportunity to have an RPG made of his books. And he’s been highly supportive of all our efforts since.

Mistborn Adventure Game © Crafty Games
Mistborn Adventure Game © Crafty Games

Forming Scadrial into a proper setting for a tabletop game did throw us a few curve balls, however. My business partner Patrick Kapera and I had worked on the Stargate: SG-1 RPG together back in 2003, but as it turns out, developing a literary property is quite different from movies or TV. For example, a novel can’t provide the same visual language of a show: every reader has their own idea who Vin looks like, or how Luthadel’s slums might feel, or what a kandra resembles. So it became part of our job to establish a look and feel for the Mistborn universe as part of our process. Fortunately, we were friends with Ben McSweeney, Brandon’s concept artist, and that made the process a whole lot easier than it could have been.

Another challenge was figuring out the myriad details we all take for granted in visual media. While the novels provide a great level of detail and texture about the world the heroes inhabit, ultimately the series only shows us a tiny sliver of that world. If the viewpoint characters never did something themselves, we simply don’t have any information to work with. Suddenly, simple things we all take for granted become big question marks for players; for instance, how do people in the south make their living? How do average people pay for food, and what do they eat? Are there birds in the world (that was a very serious question we debated at one point)? Again, we have been very lucky that Brandon’s been willing to let us flesh out the world in a way that makes it richer and engenders new possibilities for play.

Mistborn Concept Art (Skaa), Art by Ben McSweeney © Crafty Games
Mistborn Concept Art (Skaa), Art by Ben McSweeney © Crafty Games

How involved was author Brandon Sanderson in the game creation?

Far more than any other licencor we’ve worked with! I had a number of discussions with Brandon at the very beginning, to get his feelings on how he’d like the game to play, which lead us to create an all-new system especially for Mistborn.

Throughout the process, I was able to contact Brandon for his insights on the world and what he thought of certain decisions we made which lead to some cool collaboration; for instance, the power of Feruchemical Cadmium (the ability to hold breath) was something that one of our writers came up with during development, and Brandon liked the idea so much he wrote that back into the novels!

Brandon also wrote an original story called “The Eleventh Metal” for the game, focusing on Kelsier’s training, and quite unexpectedly, he wrote some “liner notes” to our game to give fans his own advice and new insights on the Mistborn universe. It was a really great process overall.

Is your target audience readers of the novels who might be new to role-playing games, long-time RPG players who haven’t read the Mistborn trilogy, or both?

A bit of both, certainly, but we definitely wanted to focus on readers of the novels primarily. The best introduction to the Mistborn Adventure Game in my opinion is the first novel; not only is it a great story, but it gives players a good feel for the world and the basic premise of the game itself – playing as a member of a Crew. To that end, we really strove to give the reader a basic overview, while providing new insights and information on the books for fans of the novels.

The game does not assume the reader has played a tabletop RPG before, so it uses an rules system you can pick up in a few minutes, includes lots of detailed examples, and doesn’t require any more equipment than a handful of standard dice, a few pieces of paper and your imagination. We’ve found a lot of fans of the novels have appreciated our approach, and have been able to dive right in and start playing.

Mistborn Concept Art (Vin), Art by Ben McSweeney © Crafty Games
Mistborn Concept Art (Vin), Art by Ben McSweeney © Crafty Games

Why did you choose to set the game during the events of The Final Empire (with the Lord Ruler in power)?

More accurately, we set the Mistborn Adventure Game *around* the time of the first novel – going a hundred years before to anywhere through the third book totally works. But we chose The Final Empire as our pivot point for a few reasons, the foremost being to give gamers as much room to play and change the world as possible. RPGs are all about encouraging friends to make up their own stories together – ideally without worrying if they’re “doing it wrong.” Starting with the end of the Final Empire, the series becomes much more about one plot and makes it much harder for gamers to figure out where their story fits.

A lot of our “what if” advice in the book encourages players to consider what might have happened if Kelsier’s plan failed, or Vin died, or other ways to create space where you can insert your Crew. We found the best way to encourage players to really make the Final Empire their own to explore and change is to assume Kelsier hasn’t pulled off his scheme yet. Luckily for us, the Lord Ruler’s society has created an essentially static society for nearly 1,000 years – it’s pretty easy to assume a game set 50 or 100 years before Kelsier was even born would looks a lot like the world of the series.

Secondly, the Lord Ruler makes a great villain. The Final Empire, prior to the end of the first novel, is an easy place to understand for a gamer; there’s an oppressive government, an unstoppable god-king, dire social divisions and a people direly in need of heroes. That gives players some fixed points to work from, and clear opposition – after all, you don’t feel too bad spending months planning a heist against a noble house if you don’t have to worry about starving or the world ending!

And then of course there’s the practical implications: while we would have loved to cover Alloy of Law, development of the Mistborn Adventure Game took about a year, well before a draft of Alloy of Law was ready to go. Our next book will cover the Alloy era of the series, but we have plenty left to say about the time of the Collapse and the New Empire yet!

Kandra is an interesting choice for a player character. What was your motivation in adding a non-human race to the mix?

Personally, I found the kandra to be one of the most compelling parts of the entire series; TenSoon and OreSeur are awesome characters, and I love their arcs throughout the books. The idea of playing such a weird creature, especially one that’s a “frenemy” to the Lord Ruler and nobility, seemed like a great way to engage players in a really interesting way. For someone who’s really comfortable as a roleplayer and as a fan of the books, I think kandra are a uniquely rewarding option for playing the game.

Plus, y’know, a lot of fans really wanted us to include kandra as a character option. So there’s that. 🙂

Which Allomantic power would you most like to have?

Hmm… as a self-employed small business person, I’m gonna go with Bendalloy (which grants the ability to slow down time around you). There’s simply not enough day in the day to get everything done I need to get done and still have time to do all the writing I’d like to do.

If I were to cheat (or were a Twinborn), I’d have to go with Furuchemical Copper; as a creative, I have a lot of ideas I don’t need right now, but would really REALLY like to have them, perfectly recorded, for later. Feruchemical Bronze for wakefulness would be cool too. Sleep is for the weak!

When can fans look for an adventure set in the world of Alloy of Law?

Our hope is they can by Christmas of this year! We have the cover art and all the text in for our Alloy of Law supplement now, and are in the process of illustration, editing and approvals.

As you may expect, there’s about a thousand things that can go off the rails when you’re dealing with a project like this, but we’re striving mightily to see the book out sometime in 2013. For the impatient, we’ll be debuting our first Alloy adventure in August at the Gen Con game fair, so players can strap on their six shooters and start playing in a whole new age!

The Mistborn Adventure Game is available for purchase on the Crafty Games web site. A promotional copy was provided for review purposes.

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