The Mistborn Adventure Game is published by Crafty Games in 2011, and this review was a request. Not only am I going into this review blind (the same as the last couple of reviews), but I don't know anything about the source material and only vaguely know who Brandon Sanderson is.
The PDF is 563 pages (including covers, etc) and I've been informed that this includes a lot of short stories which pad the page count and I won't care about because I've never read a Mistborn book.
Right out of the gate this book is laid out a little strangely. It is three books in one (and I am using the word book literally, right out of the table of contents).
- Book One: The Mistborn Adventure Game (What would be a PHB in another system)
- Book Two: The Treatise Metallurgic (I have no idea what is going on here)
- Book Three: Always Another Secret (The DMG equivalent book)
Word of warning: I'm going to completely skip over all of the short stories in this book. I don't care about them and am not even going to read them but I can pretty safely assume that anyone buying a game "Based on the best-selling novel series" (as written on the front cover) does care so the stories aren't a complete waste of space. However, if I wanted to review short stories I'd be doing that instead of this.
Skipping stories, we're now in the Introduction, and I have to say that the world of Mistborn as described is weird. It's the effective technology of the 18th century but then volcanoes erupted and the sky is blotted out by ash and there are undead and we've got some sort of V for Vendetta oppressive government/church running everything and wealth is measured in the secrets you know. Also some people can use metal to do magic. And PCs are running around trying to make things better.
It's not the worst setting for an RPG that I've ever read, but I can definitely say that I still have absolutely no interest in reading a book from that setting. Please note that if this is completely wrong and not what the Mistborn books are about that I'm just summarizing what's in the RPG book so blame the authors of that.
Thankfully there is a bunch of setting information after the introduction for people who are interested in the setting. I'm clearly not so I'll just skim through it. We've got the desolate world of Scadrial where all all civilization is a part of the Final Empire which is ruled for an immortal god-king who ascended to the throne a thousand years ago. It's all very grimdark sounding.
Magic is broken down into three basic fields: Allomancy (eating metal do do things), Feruchemy (storing powers in metal to be used later), and Hemalurgy (using metal spikes to steal abilities from others). There are 19 different metallic elements and alloys used int eh Metallurgic Arts, and you're pretty much not going to be able to use any of them. Most practicioneers can only use a single magical style and metal and two of them are inborn with the third being a closely guarded secret.
After that we get the general "what this is" section of most RPG core books. Mistborn is a storytelling game so from experience I am prepared to not like it.On to Book One!
If 3.5 is your game of choice, be prepared to not like Mistborn. "For those of you who've played RPGs before, the Mistborn Adventure Game is a relatively rules-light, strongly narrative storytelling game. There are no levels, no "grinding" for XP, and no killing things and taking their stuff." Why does a rules light game have a core rulebook that is over 500 pages? At this point I honestly don't know. Oh look, a note from Brandon Sanderson. Mistborn is a storytelling game because those are his favorite types of systems. Remind me to never play a game that he's running. Also he wanted a game that could be run in PbP (I'm not sure how that's a design goal but okay).
Mistborn is a d6 system that explicitly requires you to have at least one friend. (Paying with strangers is not allowed! I'm joking but it does say that friends are required to play, along with dice and paper and imagination.) The GM is the Narrator (as expected in a storytelling game). Brandon Sanderson pops in again to talk about how you don't have to read the books to play the game. I expect to get annoyed at his sidebars by the time this is over.
Okay, first major critique (bias against storytelling games aside). Want to know what is right after the "Getting Started" section? A bunch of sample characters. I have no idea what is going on or how even to make a character but look, here are a bunch of pre-mades with backstories and everything ready to go. This annoys the crap out of me. Fuck you pre-mades, I'm not even going to read you later when I know what your sheets actually mean.
After the pre-mades is a glossary. I'm going to skip past this too, it's another very poorly placed section. Glossaries go at the end of a book! They shouldn't be a chapter in the beginning!
Now, on to what might be the little bit of crunch this game actually has. Character creation mechanics!
There are three Attributes: Physique, Charm, and Wit. Generally they range from 2-6 (with the number being the dice poo.
There are three Standings: Resources, Influence, and Spirit. These range from 2-10.
There are four Powers: Allomancy, Feruchemy, Hemalurgy, and Mimicry (there is a shapeshifting race that can mimic the forms of dead people they eat). Powers are rated individually (of course).
There are Traits which is pretty standard for a storytelling game. These range from skills to physical characteristics to relationships to whatever. Just make them up! Traits can be used to grant bonus dice to rolls (or lose dice). Negative traits exit but they aren't things you pick and they are "actually one of the best ways to develop and enhance your character's personal story". I'm rolling my eyes if you didn't notice.
There are three Resiliences: Health, Reputation, and Willpower. All three are derived stats (they are calculated by doing math with other existing stats). A resilience of 0 means you have been defeated (which doesn't always mean death because this isn't that kind of game).
We also have props which are "not just 'stuff' to collect for that rare moment they're needed - they're an essential part of the character". All props are equipment and they're "permanent". If your prop is a sword cane and you lose your sword cane then you get a new one "off screen" unless the GM says otherwise.
Characters have Destinies and Tragedies because a storyteller game isn't a storyteller game unless you have a backstory that takes up at least a page.
Character creation is done as a group because part of your character is defining the crew that you are all a part of. Brandon Sanderson doesn't like random people thrown together in an adventure, he says so himself. It's "harmful".
Then you come up with a phrase that is a character concept. This goes on your sheet. I don't know why. Then you answer a survey and put those answers on your sheet as well. I feel like I'm reading census instructions. Stats are also generated as part of this census process, they aren't randomly generated.
Once you've finished your stat generation and most of the rest of the census, then you get to pick your race. This is because specific powers are restricted to specific races so that has to be last. Races do not have a mechanical impact aside from that.
Even though this is a level-less system, characters can advance through things called Advancements. Advancements are granted per session and up the the narrator. You can get advancements for things like "making a critic choice at a Turning Point in the game" or "staying in character" or "selflessly improving the quality of the game for everyone" (an example there is adjusting your actions to get the Crew back on the game rails). Things like this are why I really don't like storytelling games.
Advancements are tracked on your character sheet (until you spend them) and you can't have more than 20 at a time. Some Advancements have a cost of 20 so know what you're saving up for before you spend your points.
After character mechanics we delve into how to play a storytelling game, blah blah blah. Rolling dice is both different and really weird. Okay, you figure out your dice pool (max 10, min 2). You have a target difficulty number anywhere from 1-5. You roll your dice. 6's get put aside because they improve your rolls. You then take the highest set of matching dice and those are your result to be compared against the target difficulty.
What happens if you roll a bunch of numbers that don't match each other? I have no idea.
You can't even fail without matching numbers according to what I'm reading. This is insane.
You then take your result and subtract the difficulty from it to get your outcome number. Positive outcome is good (higher is more positive), negative is bad (all negatives are a failure) and a 0 is just barely succeeded. Those 6's you rolled and boost the outcome number as can some other stuff. This is only for situations where degrees of success or failure would matter. Negative outcome rolls also introduce complicates so they should still be tracked.
As a storyteller game with all kinds of different stats, Mistborn runs combat differently than you might be used to. Conflicts encompass all kinds of, well, conflicts, including combat. This means that all kinds of actions are possible using all kinds of dice combinations and targets get to roll defense dice based on what stat is defending against the "attack". For a rules-light system this is actually pretty complicated (although most of the work is on the GM's side).
It's so complicated that after the chapter on Conflicts there is a chapter on extra rules for Physical Conflicts (aka Combat). After that is a chapter on Social Conflicts. After that is a chapter on Mental Conflicts. I guess since Conflicts are pretty much the main thing anyone is going to be rolling dice for I can understand it, but we're talking about 60 or so pages just about how to roll dice. This is terrible, I can't even be bothered to read these rules because they layout is so bad and there are multipage examples all over the place breaking up the flow.
Next we have a chapter called Changing the World which has rules on Standing rolls and Resources rolls (such as buying equipment) and a bunch of other things. I'm already annoyed at the conflicts rules and things here aren't any less complicated. Rules-light my ass. It doesn't help that every little thing that might be rolled has multiple paragraphs of examples. Just give me some quick dirty tables and be done with it Brandon Sanderson!
Pushing past all of that, we get a chapter on the shapeshifting corpse eaters. They're special and get special rules.Book 2: The Treatise Metallurgic
I'm going to make a prediction right now. This whole book is going to annoy me with hyper-specificity and too much non-rules text. Let's dive in.
We have the basic rules of Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy. Each is more complicated than expected but nowhere near as bad as the conflict rules (and normally you'll only have to worry about one of them anyway, unlike conflicts).
Next we have overviews of each type of metal, how they are used in the different types of metalmancy, and little Brandon Sanderson thoughts about each one that I just can't be bothered to care about anymore because he and I just don't see eye-to-eye about some really basic stuff.
All in all this book is so much better than the previous one. Everything is well written and concise, things make sense, examples aren't long and rambling. I feel like it had a different editor. My prediction didn't come true though, that's a plus.Book Three: Always Another Secret
Okay, we still have over a hundred and fifty pages to go and we're at the DMG section. This game is explicitly a collaborative storytelling game. This is hammered home right here if you didn't believe me before. The Narrator has "rights" including being able to Veto things and "play too". There are pages and pages about how to narrate things and tell stories and make characters and this is just so boring.
Then we get a whole chapter about exploring the books. I know this is based off of the books by didn't they already say I didn't need to read the books? I guess I don't need to read them because the world information is laid out here in this chapter.
Then we get a chapter on how to make a story. Don't forget to add a twist! That's step three.
Pretty much this whole book is how to be a narrator. Chapters 8 and 9 have characters from the books and general NPCs, and chapter 10 is making your own NPCs. There is no rules text in Book Three.Final Thoughts
I hate it. I hate it because it is a storytelling game, I hate it because Brandon Sanderson is obviously a very rambly writer who writes a paragraph when a sentence would do. I hate it because I don't know what happens if your roll your dice pool and you don't get doubles so there are giant rules questions about the very basics of how the game works. The layout is terrible. Everything is terrible except for Book Two. I liked Book Two. If you want ideas about metal based magic then look at Book Two and use it in a different game.
I have been informed that the only part of the book that I actually didn't have a problem with (Book 2) was written by Brandon Sanderson and that he didn't write any of the rest of it. Apologies to Brandon Sanderson, you are a good writer. You just teamed up with crappy writers to write this rulebook.