with Alex Flagg of Crafty Games
By Aaron T. Huss
Welcome everyone to the latest Word in Edgewise with Roleplayers Chronicle. Today Editor-in-Chief Aaron T. Huss, depicted by the prefix RPC, is talking with Alex Flagg of Crafty Games, depicted by the prefix AF. The interview took place over Skype Messenger.
RPC: Alex, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself, giving us a look at your RPG background and publishing history.
AF: Sure thing. I started out in the gaming industry back in 2002, when I cold-submitted a 200 page supplement to Spycraft line developer Patrick Kapera. Pat pretty much hired me on the spot. We worked together at AEG for a number of years, working on their Spycraft, Shadowforce Archer, Stargate SG-1, and Spycraft 2.0 lines until they shut down most of their RPG division back in 2005. Patrick and I, along with another partner, chose to license Spycraft from AEG and start Crafty Games as our own shingle. And the rest is history. I’ve also done freelance for Fantasy Flight, Privateer Press, Paradigm Concepts, Mythic Dreams, and more recently Modiphius Entertainment.
RPC: When I saw the new Terris supplement for Mistborn, my curiosity was renewed in the RPG. I had the unfortunate pleasure of being laid off for the previous 9 months, but decided to take that time to read the Mistborn trilogy. I can honestly say it’s my favorite fantasy series; not that means a lot because I’m a much bigger fan of dark fantasy than epic fantasy. With that in mind, what drove you to acquire the rights to produce the Mistborn RPG?
AF: Well, like you, I’m much more into the grittier fantasies, such as the Song of Ice & Fire or the Black Company, than epic fantasy. But I think part of what drew me to Mistborn originally was that it had a definite edge to it – a massively powerful and oppressive society; brutish and deadly action; heroes who are both flawed and traumatized, but find a way to rise above that all. The epic stuff comes from this darker background, which I think makes it really compelling. Reading the books, it became clear to me very early that a) this was a very gameable setting, and b) that Brandon thought like a gamer, as I could see with how magic worked (I would come to find out very quickly he *was* a gamer, so bonus!).
RPC: What aspects of the Final Empire and the concepts of using metal as a source of magic were you most excited about recreating in the RPG?
AF: Well, the Final Empire itself is a good place to set an RPG. You have a clear villain (the Lord Ruler and the Steel Ministry); intrigue through the nobility, balls and the like; clear and easily accessible motivations like rebellion and theft for the Heroes; and an uphill battle to make those goals happen. That all is instantly compelling for an RPG group in my experience. The magic system itself is very game-y, even in the books. Brandon lavishes those systems with a great deal of care and attention, considering physics and the societal repercussions of having those magics around.
RPC: That’s one aspect I really like about the setting is how magic is viewed in awe by those who don’t really understand it.
AF: The trick was sorting out how to accomplish my goals as a designer (a game that flows with the quick and fun narrative of the books) with that sort of detailed approach, while making every option for a character both fun and useful in the world. I wanted to have characters with no Powers running around, doing equally cool stuff to the Mistborn and Keepers when it was their turn to shine.
RPC: Considering your comment about the Final Empire, is it safe to assume the RPG is set before the events in the first book?
AF: Yes. It’s set *around* the time of the first trilogy. In Final Empire terms, that could easily be as early as 100 years before the books happen (since everything in that society is so static) to the times of the Collapse (the period of the Mistborn trilogy). Ideally, most games would be happening around 20 years of the trilogy, though.
RPC: Do you have plans to introduce sourcebooks that can move your games to after the collapse but before the world is “rebooted”?
AF: There’s not a whole lot of time to do that…the capstone of the novels (The Hero of Ages) ties things off pretty tightly. But you can play during the period all the way up to the Hero of Ages without any problems.
RPC: Very true; once Ruin is freed, the novelized timeline seems to tighten quite a bit. But I can imagine the excitement of playing after the fall of the Lord Ruler and before the freeing of Ruin.
AF: It’s pretty much a straight line from the end of Well of Ascension to the end of the third novel. We define stuff as being pre-Collapse or post-Collapse a lot in the books.
RPC: Is the RPG nominally placed in Luthadel?
AF: Not really, though the world is still very defined by Luthadel in the novels, which makes it a central location if not the easiest default. We have an awesome campaign on our boards where the group is playing pirates in the Southern Seas, building on a few toss-in ideas I put in the very beginning of the RPG.
RPC: How many of the dominances do you flesh out in the core setting guide?
AF: None in particular detail. Just getting the rules for the game, the necessary background to get started, and advice for creating heroes and campaigns was almost 600 pages (the second longest Mistborn book when it was released :)). That’s part of what we’re looking to do with books like Terris: Wrought of Copper – to flesh out and add texture to the rest of the Mistborn world as we go.
RPC: Does the Terris sourcebook only discuss the cities of Terris or the entire Terris Dominance?
AF: It describes anything and everything related to Terris – starting with the Terris people and their history and present-day situation, the Terris Dominance at large and the city of Tathingdwen. The cool thing is we get to build upon the canon of the books, springboarding from what we know from the novels and fleshing it out in some totally new ways.
RPC: Do you then get to expand on feruchemy and the use of Keepers?
AF: (TOC here: http://crafty-games.com/files/File/CFG7003-Terris_Wrought_of_Copper-Preview-Consolidated.pdf) Well, we did a lot of expansion on Feruchemy in the Mistborn Adventure Game itself, as when we were writing it back in 2011, Brandon was still developing parts of Feruchemy. One of our ideas – the power of Feruchemical Cadmium, to tap and store breath – came from us, and Brandon folded it in to the final design of Feruchemy. But in the Terris supplement, we’d be remiss to not discuss Feruchemy and the Keepers. There are sections on both, as well as on the Synod, to whom the Keepers report.
RPC: The biggest question I’ve always had about the RPG after reading the books is how do you balance Mistborn characters versus Mistings or those without any powers?
AF: It’s actually pretty simple. We use a system we call Strengths – one strong, one average, and one weak – which you have to spread out between 3 aspects of your character: Attributes, Standings, and Powers. If you choose to be a Mistborn, for example, you automatically have Strong Powers, so you will have either weak Attributes or Standings, and the other will be average. For a character wtih no Powers (weak Powers), they will be Strong or Average in the other two categories. The trick then was to make sure both Attributes and Standings were strong/utilitarian enough to stand up to magic. Attributes (Physique, Wits, Charm) are the core of most rolls you make, so you use them all the time; Standings are power over the world around you, be it through money (Resources), connections (Influence), or luck/fortune/fate (Spirit).
RPC: I can see Mistings having Average Powers and Strong Attributes…?
AF: You’ve got it exactly right. Mistings are Average Powered characters.
RPC: Strong Standings = Nobles?
AF: Typically, yes, but also skaa fixers (like Dockson, from the books) would fit in there.
RPC: That makes sense. I must say, what you have described really gives me the “ah-ha” effect on how the characters are balanced in their own way. Brilliant!
AF: Thanks. We wanted a simple system that felt balanced and was not too game-y – the system was designed to be accessible to fans of the books and of Brandon Sanderson, not necessarily a hardcore gamer, as default.
RPC: Nowadays, accessible is quite a trend; moving away from excessive options to simplicity.
AF: I think a game can be fun and interesting without having to use your degree in mathematics. Its all about accepting where a game exists in a gamer’s life – if it’s a game they just pick up and play, make it easier to do so :)
RPC: Can I play a Kandra?
AF: You sure can. Kandra are also Average Powers.
RPC: Who are the main antagonists of the core RPG, besides the Lord Ruler and his mooks?
AF: There’s all sorts of ne’er do wells in the world. Assuming the Crew live outside the bounds of normal society, nobles are often a real PITA. Skaa rebels can be a pain when they interfere with a Crew’s big score or want to pull them into a futile war against TLR, and there are always other mercenaries, thieves, skaa gangsters, koloss, and other folks to give you grief.
RPC: What’s the driving force behind a Crew? Or does it depend on the desired campaign (such as a thieving crew)?
AF: The first step of character creation is to determine who your Crew is and why they do what they do. We break that down into Drive (why you do it), Target (who you do it to) and Method (how you do it). The Crew is the glue that brings the PCs together around an idea.
RPC: Do you provide examples or random tables in the core book?
AF: Oh, the core book is loaded with examples. In fact, the example that runs through the core book may be one of the most epic examples ever found in an RPG, running the length of the book as a continual narrative of a group creating a crew all the way through playing the game.
RPC: Does this mean the game can be played in the most devious ways possible? As in, it’s not all heroics, it can be a group of thugs who like to steal from everyone?
AF: Sure, but there’s an inherent assumption that you’re probably in it for an idea or goal, rather than loot. Loot in Mistborn is hard to collect…perhaps impossible.
RPC: With enough Mistborns, coins should be littering the ground! :)
AF: Just like the heroes of film, who shoot a gun until it’s out of bullets then toss it aside, Mistborn Heroes have 2 types of gear: Props (the signature gear they always have, like Vin’s knives, vials, and coin sack, or Sazed’s metalminds and journal) and everything else. Each time you have some serious downtime (we call these Long Breathers), you get all your lost or used up Props back, but lose all the other stuff. If you want to get rich, best to increase your Resources and Influence Standings, which stick with you.
RPC: Aah…! See, another ah-ha moment… How do you handle the acquisition of metals, especially atium?
AF: Beyond the 10 common metals, which are known and available to everyone, the rest of the metals are available at whatever frequency and speed the Narrator chooses. So if your game concerns some Heroes discovering Bendalloy, then the Narrator might bring Bendalloy being available for purchase a few sessions later. But if that same Narrator wants to keep Duralumin out of the players’ hands, he or she can do that too. Atium, being known, is damn expensive and hard to find. Buying stuff is a Resources roll, and atium has the highest difficulty possible.
RPC: *Spoiler* What is Bendalloy?
AF: It’s a metal you don’t learn about what it does until the 4th novel in the series, The Alloy of Law. I won’t say more than that.
RPC: Ugh! I have it on my shelf but haven’t read it yet!! I’m in the middle of reading The Black Company…
AF: Alloy is a really easy, fun read. If you’re digging the original trilogy you’ll really like Alloy. We’re doing a supplement for that book as well.
RPC: I’m looking forward to it; I just wanted to take a quick break. Although now you have me wanting to just read what’s in the core setting guide simply to add to my understanding of the Final Empire as a whole.
AF: The first 20 or so pages lays it out pretty quickly and concisely.
RPC: You published the core setting guide in Mass Market Paperback size correct?
AF: 6 x 9, so a bit bigger. Do they call that trade paperback size?
RPC: For some reason I thought it was the Mass Market PB size… I think that’s trade paperback size. Although it’s a size I prefer (and use for my own publications). The core setting guide is 600 pages in 6×9 format…?!
AF: Yeah, it’s friggin’ big. 1/3 of that is to cover the magic system, which includes the Alloy stuff as well as the classic era and rules for all 3 branches of magic.
RPC: … classic era?
AF: The original trilogy we call Classic; the Alloy era is…the Alloy era :)
RPC: Ah, now I get it… Can you provide me a quick breakdown of what’s in the core book please?
AF: I think this preview has a TOC: http://www.crafty-games.com/files/File/Mistborn_Adventure_Game_Preview-Consolidated-v2.pdf
RPC: Is that an obligator on the cover?
AF: A steel inquisitor
RPC: What are your future plans for the Mistborn RPG?
AF: Well, Terris: Wrought of Copper is just our first supplement in a series we plan to do expanding the world and crafting a set of really kickass adventures in the Final Empire. This summer, we’ll also be releasing the Alloy of Law supplement, which brings the new character options, magic, gear and world of the Alloy of Law novel into the game. There are other plans, of course, but I’m going to cling to those secrets for a while longer yet…
RPC: Well Alex, that’s about all I have for you. Is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
AF: Hmm. Well, both the Mistborn Adventure Game (including the direct-only Deluxe Hardcover edition) and Terris: Wrought of Copper are up for sale on our website right now, at www.mistbornrpg.com. Wrought of Copper print copies should be in our hands and shipping by the end of the month!
That’s it for this interview. I’d like to thank Alex Flagg for taking the time to talk with me and Ed Healy at Gamerati for helping to set-up the interview.