How to Play
(Back to the Rule Reference)
Playing the Mistborn Adventure Game is a little like having a conversation with your friends, except that each of you is playing a role (the one you may have just created with the tools in the Building Heroes section). One of you, the Narrator, sets the scene by briefly describing your surroundings, and he or she also controls all the characters the rest of you aren’t playing.
Some of the conversation involves speaking “in character,” which means that, for as long as you’re comfortable, everything you say also comes out of your character’s mouth in the game world. The rest of the conversation involves description, usually of what your character is doing.
Certain descriptions also establish your surroundings and details about the characters. Most often these kinds of descriptions come from the Narrator, but one of the most exciting things about an RPG is its truly collaborative nature. (Almost) anything is possible, and the only “fixed” parts of the story are things that have already happened or been described. Everything else is either something the Narrator has planned that hasn’t been discovered yet, or up for grabs, which lets everyone — including the other players — help to define their unique version of Scadrial.
In practice, this is as simple as the Narrator or a player including new details in descriptions of their actions. Anyone is free to add any details they want, though there are two all-important rules to remember:
- Any player can veto a detail about his or her own character (e.g. deciding that they do not, in fact, have mud on their boots). Unless…
- The Narrator can veto or confirm any detail introduced by anyone, regardless of whose character is impacted or how.
ROLLING THE DICE
As the conversation unfolds, you’ll reach points when it isn’t clear whether a character can do something a player describes, or whether something a player wants his or her character to attempt will succeed. It’s at these moments that you roll the dice.
Characters can accomplish many things without a roll: there’s no need to check whether they recall common knowledge (like what Inquisitors look like or where major canals go); or whether they spot something obvious (like someone standing in the open, or gently Ironpulling a steel-banded door); or whether they can hop across a gap of just a couple feet. All these things can simply be described without fanfare, so you can get on with more Heroic matters.
Every time you roll the dice you also introduce the chance of failure — and potentially change the focus of the story — so making a roll should be an equally big deal. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to know the best times to roll the dice. Ask yourself:
• Can you picture different outcomes for success vs. failure?
• Does the situation present a challenge?
If either answer is “yes,” then you should consider rolling, and if both are “yes” then you should definitely roll. The harder the task and the more dramatic the difference between success and failure, the greater the need for a roll.
TYPES OF ROLLS
The Mistborn Adventure Game features three types of rolls:
• Challenges, when a character tries to do something that’s difficult or… well, challenging without direct opposition from another character, like climbing a high wall, making an important speech, or using magic in a difficult way
• Contests, when two or more characters compete against one another, as in a chase, when bribing a reluctant noble to keep his mouth shut, or using Allomancy to yank a sword from a foe’s hand
• Conflicts, when one character tries to harm another physically, socially, or emotionally
Challenges are the most common type, and use only the basic rules for rolling dice. Contests and Conflicts have additional rules.
When you’re unsure whether the additional rules for Contests or Conflicts should apply, ask yourself two questions:
• Are the character and the target trying to hurt each other? If so, it’s a Conflict.
• Is another character resisting or competing with the action? If so, it’s a Contest.
If your answer to both these questions is “no,” it’s a Challenge.
The Mistborn Adventure Game uses six-sided dice (the cube-shaped ones you find in most family board games). Each roll is made with 2 to 10 dice, otherwise known as your “pool.” The number of dice in your pool varies based on the action your Hero is attempting, and is determined by the Narrator based on the description of your character’s action.
Generally the Narrator starts by choosing the Attribute, Standing, or Power rating that’s most pivotal for the action. You start with the number of dice your character has in the Attribute or Standing, or a number of dice equal to the Power’s rating.
Next you add dice based on the Traits, Tools, and Circumstances that apply.
Your pool grows by one die for each Trait that supports an action. This is true whether the Trait belongs to you, an ally, or an opponent, so long as you can justify how they help.
The Narrator may suggest the Trait(s) that apply but you should always be on the lookout for ways to apply them on your own. When you think one or more Traits may influence the outcome, describe how they’re helping your character’s action. Keep it simple and stick to what’s happening in the story (e.g. “I scramble under the table, counting on my slight build to conceal me from the thugs” rather than “I hide”).
If the Narrator agrees, add a die for each Trait he or she approves.
Remember, Traits cut both ways. If the Narrator determines that one or more Traits are detrimental to an action, he or she may describe how it hurts your character’s chances and shrink your pool by a die for each Trait that gets in the way.
Also keep in mind that if your action targets a character, he or she may have Burdens you can exploit. These are temporary negative Traits generally acquired during Conflicts, which operate almost the same as normal Traits except that they only increase a pool — commonly an opponent’s (see page 187).
Certain items are especially helpful with certain actions. If your character is using an item that’s particularly well-suited to the task at hand, your pool grows by 1 die.
The reverse is also true: some items are, while not absolutely necessary for an action, still very useful, and when your character lacks an item that is clearly desired, or is forced to use an item that’s damaged or broken, your pool shrinks by 1 die.
As with Traits, you may suggest which Tools apply to your character’s action, but the Narrator has final call. Unlike Traits, your pool may grow or shrink by no more than a single die, no matter how many Tools may apply. In the event that Tools add to and subtract from your pool, the Narrator decides how your pool is adjusted. Most of the time, he or she will add a die if more Tools add dice, subtract a die if more Tools subtract dice, or make a judgment call if the same number of Tools apply on both sides.
Circumstances include all the other miscellaneous conditions that might affect a character’s actions. Running across a slippery rooftop is more challenging than running on a dry, level street, just as interpreting an ancient text over months is easier than rushing through it in a few days.
Unlike Traits and Props, Circumstances are always and only applied at the Narrator’s discretion. Like Tools, Circumstances only add or subtract a single die. Whether the Narrator adds or subtracts a die depends on the circumstances at hand:
• If your character faces two or more favorable conditions (e.g. fighting from a fortified position with the sun at your back; transcribing a well-preserved manuscript with assistance from a friend) your pool grows by 1 die.
• If your character faces two or more adverse conditions (e.g. fighting while knee-deep in ash and wounded; transcribing a water-damaged manuscript without useful reference materials), your pool shrinks by 1 die.
Common Conditions Examples
POOLS ABOVE TEN DICE
The largest any pool can ever be is 10 dice. If your pool ever grows above 10 dice, it remains at 10 dice and you gain 1 “free” Nudge for each die beyond 10 (see page 154). These Nudges may only be used on this roll, and only if the roll succeeds.
POOLS BELOW TWO DICE
The smallest any pool can ever be is 2 dice. If your pool ever shrinks below 2 dice, or if you start with less than 2 dice (say, because you have a score of 1 due to Hemalurgic spikes), you roll 2 dice and your Outcome worsens by 1 for each die below 2 (see page 144).
READING THE RESULTS
When you roll your dice, the numbers 1 to 5 are read as actual numbers, while 6’s become Nudges (ways to improve good rolls and offset bad ones). Set those 6’s aside for now and look for matching numbers on the other dice.
If the numbers on two or more of your dice match, the number shown on those matching dice is your Result (if you roll more than one set of matching dice, choose one set as your Result — the higher the better).
• If your Result equals or beats the Difficulty, the roll (and your character’s action) succeeds.
• Otherwise, your roll (and the action) fails.
Once your pool is formed but before you roll the dice, the Narrator declares a Difficulty. This is a number ranging from 1 to 5, based on how hard the Narrator thinks your character’s task is. Some actions are harder than others. Scaling a smooth vertical wall is much harder than climbing one that’s at an incline or has lots of handholds.
Only the Narrator may assign a task’s Difficulty, though as usual the players may point various factors out if they think it may help the decision.
Difficulty is sometimes abbreviated along with the Attribute, Standing, or Power used to make the roll (“Wits 3” means a Wits roll with a Difficulty of 3).
Sometimes it’s important not only to know whether your roll succeeds or fails, but also how well it succeeds or how badly it fails. This is called your Outcome.
It’s figured by subtracting the Difficulty from your Result (if your roll failed the Result is 0, and if no Difficulty was declared it defaults to 1). Outcome can be positive or negative.
An Outcome of 0 is just barely a success, while a positive Outcome is more impressive the higher the number. Likewise, a negative Outcome is more dramatic the lower the number.
If you’ve done the math you may have already noticed that the two best Outcomes (5 and 6) aren’t possible. They aren’t normally, being beyond the ken of most mortals, but certain Powers can bring them within range, as can Nudges (see page 154).
Likewise, the worst Outcome (–6) is only possible in the most dire situations, otherwise known as rolling with a pool smaller than 2 dice (see page 144).
WHEN NOT TO USE OUTCOME
Outcome tells you roughly how well or how poorly your character does something. Outcome is just another tool to help the Narrator and other players develop moments in their shared story. As with all rules, the Narrator has final say, but the rest of the play group is encouraged to add details and liven up the ongoing conversation, so long as none of them abuse the opportunity to gain an unfair advantage.
Many actions won’t suggest multiple stages of success or failure, and in these cases the Narrator shouldn’t use Outcome, rather describing what happens based on whether the player rolled a matching set with a high enough number to beat the Difficulty. The decision to use Outcome always happens after the roll is made, and often only happens in the Narrator’s mind, the other players may not even realize its use was ever in question. Indeed, they may not even recognize Outcome when the Narrator does use it.
Even when Outcome isn’t used to help describe what’s happening, it’s still important to know the Outcome number when a roll fails, as it may introduce Complications…
Complications are clear setbacks that impact the character and possibly other Crew members and allies who are unfortunate enough to be affected by the mishap. Those moments in the movies when a hero in a swordfight finds himself backed up against a ledge over a high fall? Or narrowly misses the mark with an arrow, instead cutting a support rope for the escape bridge? Those are Complications.
When a Hero (or Villian) suffers a negative Outcome, the Narrator (or players) may apply one or more Complications. Each point of negative Outcome justifies a single Complication that affects just the character who made the action, but if the character suffers an Outcome of –3 or worse, and the story suggests a suitable Complication, the Narrator (or players) may instead introduce a single Complication that affects that character and all allies in the vicinity. (The Narrator still approves any Complications players suggest for Villians, and may decide to go another way if the situation or story is better served with a different resolution)
The Narrator should always choose Complications that raise the stakes and draw the other players into the action. Complications should also make sense in the moment, and should ideally result from the failed roll that triggers them. Complications may come with story or game penalties and sometimes both, as appropriate to the situation.
Some possibilities include:
• A Hero suffers a Complication when picking a lock. Not only does he fail to tip the tumblers but he also breaks a pick off into the keyhole. He loses a Beat fishing it out before he can try again.
• A Villain suffers a Complication when hunting the Heroes through a manor house. Since one of the Heroes recently broke away to stage a distraction, the Narrator rules that the distraction goes off early, shrinking the Villain’s Wits pool by a die for a Beat while he turns his attention away from the rest of the Crew.
• A typically graceful Hero rolls a Complication while fleeing Obligators in a city square and clumsily slides into a merchant’s stand. She’s able to right herself immediately and doesn’t lose any time (or suffer other tangible penalties), but the Narrator makes a mental note of the event, planning to come back to it later. Perhaps the Narrator knows the Hero will have to impress someone who witnessed her stumble, and expects to shrink her pool by 1 as a result. Maybe the Narrator simply plans to have another character mock the Hero at a critical moment, distracting the player from noticing a subtle detail introduced at the same time.
• A Villain’s henchman, a hulking brute of a man, suffers a Complication while leaping from one rooftop to another. There are so many options here… Does he fall just shy and wind up scrambling up onto the other side, losing a Beat in the process? Does he land poorly, losing a point of Health? Does the Villain notice and malign him before their troops, costing him a point of Reputation? Maybe his Outcome was –3 or worse, and the Narrator decides that in the henchman’s scramble he dislodges several shingles from the roof, making it harder for the troops behind him (and shrinking their pools by 1 each). Any of these is possible, as are many other Complications.
When Complications come with penalties, they should be marginal. Per these examples, a single Complication is enough to cost a character a single Beat, a single die for a single Beat, or a single point of Resilience, and story penalties should be commensurate. However…
Many Complications may be applied more than once. All that’s needed is a handy number in the effect: an Outcome of –2 could wind up causing the Hero in the first bullet to lose two Beats before he can try to pick the lock again; or cost the Villain in the second bullet two Beats before he turns his attention back to the rest of the Crew; or in the third bullet shrink the Hero’s pool by 2 dice when trying to impress the witness; and so on.
Situation-specific examples are provided throughout the rules, but everyone should be on the lookout for new and creative uses for Complications. The Narrator can also find additional rules and guidelines for this on page 454.
Nudges are the opposite of Complications — they’re little perks your character receives when fate smiles on you (i.e. when your dice come up just so). Those 6’s you may have rolled and put aside earlier? Each of those is a Nudge.
Only Heroes and Villains can use Nudges (fate never smiles on Extras), and the stars of the show can use Nudges in two ways: to augment their successes and mitigate the fallout of their failures. In both cases this is called “nudging.”
If your roll succeeds, you can nudge that success once for each 6 you roll. Like Complications, Nudges can affect the story, the rules, or both, and each Nudge should only offer a marginal benefit (a single extra die with your next action, a small insight about the current situation, a mild dramatic flourish, or a similar story benefit).
Here are some examples of single Nudges:
• A Hero who’s picking a lock might nudge his success to reduce the time it takes by a single Beat. (This is a special case, in that Nudges can’t ever reduce the time needed to do something to less than one Beat.)
• A Villain who’s hunting the Heroes through a manor house nudges her success to intimidate her prey, promising dire consequences when they’re caught. This might grant the hunter a bonus die with her next action, especially if it’s a Wits or Spirit roll, or it could cost the prey a die if the hunt is a Contest (see page 157).
• A Hero might nudge a success while fleeing Obligators to not only sail over a merchant’s stand but shoot a dazzling smile at the merchant’s handsome son on the way past. This could be nothing more than a great character moment, or the Narrator might see the opportunity for the merchant’s son to push out a cart, just in time to slow the Obligators down. He feigns ignorance and sheepishly withdraws, but shoots the Hero a knowing glance — and possibly an inviting smile — on the way back to his father’s side.
• A Villain’s henchman, though brutish and often slow, rolls a 6 while leaping between rooftops. He might realize the shingles on the far roof are loose, letting him kick them away so his troops won’t slip when they follow. Alternately, his unexpected dexterity might rally the troops, refreshing a point of their Willpower. If he’s really lucky, the Villain might notice and later commend him, or even offer him a place at her side during a pivotal battle.
As with Complications, Nudges have myriad more applications. Common Nudges are described throughout the rules, especially in the Treatise Metallurgic (see page 265).
The same Nudge can be applied more than once if the situation supports it, and when you score three or more Nudges (roll three or more 6’s) you may spend all your Nudges to catch a Beat (take an extra action immediately, before anyone else can take their turn).
The Narrator must approve Nudges before they’re added to the story, and you may choose new Nudges to replace any the Narrator declines. The Narrator may sometimes suggest other options, including other ways for you to combine or spend Nudges for more spectacular results. Additional rules and guidelines for the Narrator are provided in Book 3 (see page 455).
Nudges have only one effect when your roll fails: each reduces the number of Complications that are introduced, before they’re chosen. Nudging Complications below 0 has no effect (as once you’re down to no Complications, you’ve done all you can to mitigate your character’s failure without reversing it, and that’s beyond even fate’s control).