Designer’s Diary: Crafty Games – Mistborn Adventure Game


Mistborn Adventure Game
Mistborn Adventure Game is a complete role-playing game system published by Crafty Games.
By Alex Flagg and Patrick Kapera

Welcome to the twenty-fourth Designer’s Diary, a regular column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product. If you’d like to share your product in the Designer’s Diary column, send a message to aaron@roleplayerschronicle.com.

Designer’s Description
The Mistborn novels are a dark fantasy epic (four books as of November 8), which pose a very basic question: What if the hero who saved the world became a Big Bad himself, and instead of rescuing people from oppression instead conquered them and transformed the world into a massively oppressive society? The series features really compelling characters, fascinating plots, events on a truly grand scale, and a distinctive-yet-grounded magic system based on the power of various metals.

The Mistborn Adventure Game is designed to capture the dynamic storytelling and rich characters the series is known for, and it employs a rules-light narrative system to do it. A Hero’s story not only drives everything he does but informs how he or she is created, develops, and plays at the table. Heroes band together to form Crews — groups of outlaws and misfits operating outside the societal strictures of the Final Empire to fight for a common cause.

All Heroes have an edge — be it abundant innate talent, huge influence in the world around them, or powerful magical abilities — and this edge sets them apart and gives them a fighting chance against a world chock full of enemies. Through their actions, Heroes discover fascinating secrets, confront powerful noble houses, evade the Lord Ruler’s Steel Ministry, and may ultimately change the world.

Purpose
Well, it’s a kick-ass setting! We discovered the series just before the second book in the original trilogy was released and were immediately captivated by the Final Empire, its well-fashioned characters, the fantasy-heist theme, and obviously the magic systems of Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy.

From a design standpoint, the Mistborn Adventure Game offered us a chance to break away from the big, highly structured systems we’re known for and create a game that squarely centers on storytelling and player creativity. Brandon Sanderson’s books are known for high action and compelling characters, and so we built a system to encourage — rather than contain — that style of play. The rules encourage collaboration and highlight equal contributions from all the players, including but not limited to the Narrator (the Mistborn Adventure Game’s name for the GM).

Influences
Besides the obviously central influence of the novels themselves, which informed all our decisions, we had a number of other inspirations. The first and most important was series creator Brandon Sanderson himself. He was involved from the very start, helping us frame a vision of what the game would look like, and he served as a fantastic source of information and feedback all the way through the process.

Another important inspiration was designer Alex Flagg’s wife, Becky. She’s not a gamer but is a huge fan of the novels, so she ended up being a great litmus test for many of the most important design decisions we had to make. Alex could show her a piece of text and watch her sort through it mentally; when she got it we knew we had something that would hit the audience the way we wanted. The best compliment we received through this entire process was after she read the rules and said, “You know, I think I would like to play this sometime.” That was a huge confidence-builder for all of us.

A few other RPGs were influential as well — mainly indie titles. We knew from the start that the game had to be accessible as possible, and decided on a d6-based dice mechanic before we even started looking around for inspiration. This obviously impacted the games we considered. FATE was one we couldn’t ignore, specifically Strands of Fate and Spirit of the Century, and the idea of structured questions driving the character building process was a lock from the get-go. We’re both longtime Savage Worlds fans as well, so there’s some of that in there as well.

Brandon also happens to be a big D6 Star Wars fan, so we spent some time looking carefully at what worked there, and longtime West End Games fans may notice a few familiar ideas. Oddly enough, First Edition Shadowrun also helped out in one particularly sticky spot of character development, so we have to give that a nod, too.

Research
Most of our research was based on careful readings of the novels, along with the annotations Brandon wrote as sort of a “DVD commentary” to each novel after their publication. We were very focused on making the game true to the world of the books — particularly the magic systems, which are for many the brightest highlight of the novels. We even used Brandon’s “realmatic theory,” a core philosophy tying together all his original settings, as a key part of the core system design.

We had unparalleled access to many creators tied to the Mistborn universe. One of Brandon’s concept artists for the series, Ben McSweeney (http://inkthinker.deviantart.com), had long been a primary illustrator for our Fantasy Craft series, and so we tapped him for the cover and all the original interior images. This was especially helpful as Ben already had a working relationship with Brandon and could simply ask when he needed guidance for a particular piece.

Brandon introduced us to Isaac Stewart, who created the various magical alphabets for the world, as well as the Allomantic Table of Metals…

http://www.brandonsanderson.com/blog/833/Table-of-Allomantic-Metals-limited-edition-available-immediately

We incorporated a great deal of Isaac’s work into the game, including his symbols not only as art but also as language in one particular spot. The Allomantic Table of Metals and a new Feruchemical Table of Metals are also included as full-color endsheets for the deluxe hardcover version of the game.

And again, Brandon was involved at every stage of development, providing inside information about Scadrial and guiding our decisions with the rules. He even went so far as to include personal notes to the reader in various parts of the book. (Did we mention he’s great to work with?)

Art Direction
The Mistborn Adventure Game is a bit different from your standard RPG in a number of ways. Most notably it was designed to look like an additional volume in the existing novel series, keeping the distinctive, clean style of the books in a package that nicely matches the other books on a Mistborn fan’s shelf. We’ve even created a deluxe limited edition hardback, which is a near-perfect match to the Mistborn hardcovers, featuring a dust jacket, foil stamping, and full-color endsheets depicting the Allomantic and brand new Feruchemical tables of metals…

http://www.crafty-games.com/content/mistborn-adventure-game-deluxe-hardcover-edition

This is also the first time the world of Scadrial has been officially illustrated, and we hired Mistborn concept artist Ben McSweeney to realize Brandon’s vision. The core game product is broken into four Books (chapters), each illustrated to produce a distinctive look and style appropriate to its contents, yet everything is specifically conceived and drawn to look like it belongs together in the same world.

Gaming Experience
The game replicates the epic flavor of the books — Mistborn Heroes aren’t just peasants who’ve picked up a sword for the first time and marched off to fight evil. Rather, they stand head and shoulders above their peers, each bringing his or her own blend of powerful skills to the Crew. Some Heroes are Mistings, drawing the power from one specific Allomantic metal, while others are scholarly Keepers wielding the hidden art of Feruchemy (storing power in specially prepared objects called metalminds), and still others are shapeshifting kandra contracted to the group. A few may even be Mistborn, skilled in all the Allomantic arts, though not to the same degree as their Misting cousins.

Most importantly of all, many Heroes have no special powers at all. Some are powerful financiers, influential noble politicians, mystic elder keeping ancient secrets, burly mercenaries, or well-heeled thieves. We went to great lengths to make sure that characters without magic are equally playable and contribute just as effectively to the Crew’s success. We’re already well-known for games without inherently good or bad character choices, just different ones, so this was already right in our wheelhouse — and it wasn’t even all that difficult once we decided on a basic structure for character creation (a series of 10 questions, three of which define your greatest strengths and weaknesses).

The Mistborn Adventure Game also recreates Brandon’s dynamic, action-filled storytelling style: task resolution is quick and easy; combat is bloody and decisive; and the Heroes can achieve world-changing results with a little luck and a healthy dose of skill. Character-driven choices inform every part of the play experience, all the way down to your Hero’s quirks and personality. As an example, characters consist of a few stats and several Traits — some positive, some negative — and when those Traits are worked into descriptions of play the person describing the action gains dice. A player will often describe his own actions but may just as often benefit from those of another character, which not only rewards interaction between characters but also each player’s growing knowledge of the world and its inhabitants.

Likewise, characters advance not by racking up body counts or achieving objectives set forth by the Narrator, but rather by achieving personal goals, working together as a team, conquering their demons, and fulfilling their destinies. Placing the focus squarely on the Heroes like this, and bringing the players into the heart of the campaign-building process, ultimately encourages and nurtures an experience very much like the novels themselves.

Comparison
The Mistborn Adventure Game is a little different from your average licensed RPG. It’s designed not only as an introduction for gamers to the world of Scadrial, but as a gateway for fans of the books into the world of tabletop gaming. To make sure we served both audiences well, the book straddles the line between traditional RPG and Mistborn world book, the latter mainly through new information on the Metallurgic Arts and original fiction by some of gaming’s hottest authors and Brandon Sanderson himself. Veteran gamers will have no problem diving right in to the action and gathering valuable information about the world, while fans of the books will find plenty of examples and introductory material to play their first tabletop RPG in one of their favorite worlds.

This game also lives at the rules-light end of the pool. You can teach the core mechanic in just a few minutes and create a character the first time out in about a half-hour, even if you’re not that familiar with the novels. We’ve put out a Primer for the line…

http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=95856&affiliate_id=71282

…and beyond being a great way to test drive the basic system it summarizes the core rules in just two 6 x 9 pages. Veteran gamers shouldn’t let this put them off, however — the system has plenty of depth for those who really want to explore the rules, just as the line expands many aspects of the world.

Development Process
Like most things about this game, our design and development process varied quite a bit from our usual cycle. We started with the source material — not just reading the books but really digging in and figuring out what made the world so interesting, and the novels so much fun to read. Months of research and discussion narrowed the field to a few core elements:

  • The unique magic system
  • The dynamic narrative style
  • The concepts of rebel crews and fighting for shared beliefs
  • The notion that a group of heroes can change the world

With these touchstones in mind we set out to establish the game’s foundation. Alex put together a vision document, including an early version of the core system, and put it into review with editor Patrick Kapera and John Snead, who worked closely with Alex on the magic system. Lots of discussion followed as we batted around ideas, aired concerns, and pointed out shortcomings of the proposal, and revised, rewrote, and revised again. Meanwhile, our story team developed the narrative for Book 1 and provided valuable insights that helped inform the design process. We always kept those four core concepts in mind, making sure they remained central to the game at every stage of development.

As the final rules started to take shape we pushed the book out to internal playtesting, including Brandon Sanderson’s personal gaming group. These alpha draft readers are not only fans of the original novels but also longtime gamers, which made them the ideal test bed for this endeavor. Brandon and his assistant Peter Ahlstrom also provided feedback and assistance on canonical information we were creating to make sure it synced up with the novels, and they also cleared new ideas we added to the Mistborn canon. This period was absolutely invaluable in shaping the product as it stands today.

With approvals in hand we entered editing and final playtesting, soliciting groups both online and in live tests at Gen Con and other gaming shows to see how players reacted to the new system. We rolled their feedback back into the game, as well as the first adventure, “Thieves of the Ninth House” (which will be released soon after the core book), and also used their comments to help guide new last-minute text (there’s always new last-minute text), and clarify language and phrasing where needed.

We’re actually still in this phase as we write this — tweaks tend to happen all the way up to release in the RPG industry, and we plan to hold off sending the book to the printers for a week or two after the November 8 digital release so we can fold in alpha comments from the public as well.

One last thing before we go: we wanted to take a short moment to let your readers know where to look for us – because it’s a big wide web out there and it’s not always easy to find everything you’re after. Anyone who’d like to see more about the Mistborn Adventure Game, or any of our products, should check out the following sites and feeds. We regularly post new stuff in all of these places, and some stuff is exclusive to some places, so it’s best to hit us everywhere.

www.mistbornrpg.com (where you’ll be able to buy the Mistborn Adventure Game on 11/8)
www.crafty-games.com
www.crafty-games.com/needtoknow (our RSS feed)
www.facebook.com/craftygames
www.twitter.com/Crafty_Games

Thanks for having us, and Stay Crafty!
Alex and Pat

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