Normally I don’t bother with reviews unless they are about new products, but the Alloy of Law supplement for the Mistborn Adventure Game has a curious lack of reviews around the internet. This is especially curious because I feel it is everything I wanted the original setting to be and so it actually makes me interested in running the game. If you also like the Mistborn series of novels but been less than enthusiastic about the RPG, allow me to sell you on taking a second look.
If you want a review of the Mistborn Adventure Game, there are definitely enough around. I recommend this one from RPG.net which is detailed and well-organized, this one (as a counterpoint) which points out some of the games mechanical failings, Part 1 and Part 2 of this Mythweavers review which is a little gushy, and this video one if you’d rather watch/listen than read. I’m going to avoid getting into the basics since you can already read all about them and concentrate on why I think Alloy of Law might win some people over.
Spoilers Note: I’m going to try and avoid spoiling too much about the novels here, though it’s pretty hard. If you are tyrannically afraid of having things spoiled, I would suggest that you stop reading now as it’s pretty unavoidable. However, if you’ve read the first Mistborn book and the back cover of Alloy of Law then you already know everything I’m about to mention anyways.
The Trouble With Mistborn
I loved reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. It’s imaginative and new, with a magic system and setting that are unlike anything I’ve read before. He’s a great author and his characters leap off the page so it’s natural for gamers reading the books to imagine campaigns set there. Who wouldn’t want to leap across the rooftops of Luthadel or brave the mists traveling to Fadrex City? Imagine a party of thieves who can swallow metals and use them to gain magical powers, bending steel or influencing people’s minds. Better yet, what if you were a godlike Mistborn with power over all the metals and a freakin’ secret identity on top of it.
But, there’s a problem. The Mistborn series (as in Sanderson’s first three books in this world) surrounds a crew of remarkable thieves who achieve the impossible. They are unique individuals with mastery of their powers and a streak of luck several miles wide. You’d have to make those same sorts of characters but it ends up cheapening things a little bit. Kelsier and Vin are amazing characters because there’s no one like them… So if your PC is just like them then what’s the point?
Don’t get me wrong, there are stories to be told in the Final Empire and the Mistborn Adventure Game devotes about one hundred pages to helping you with that exact issue. Any game based on a book or movie franchise faces the problem of playing a story that’s already been told and they overcome it. For me, though, the oppressive nature of the world and the singular nature of the protagonists never felt like a world I could emulate at the table. I read through the Mistborn game and pondered it a while but never really gave it serious thought.
Then I read Alloy of Law and suddenly gave it very serious thought.
What Alloy of Law Offers
Let’s start with the most obvious thing: Alloy of Law is set three centuries after the original trilogy. All of those monolithic characters from the novels are famous historical figures and/or icons of religious reverence. You can reference those earlier, amazing books but you aren’t operating in their shadow. You also aren’t operating in the oppressive Final Empire but a rough-and-tumble world somewhat like America in the late 19th century with six-shooters and a factionalized parliamentary government.
There’s a frontier here, the Roughs out beyond the mountains that encircle the great city of Elendel, and this opens the way for intrigue-filled political stories, fast and tough stories about justice, tales of prejudice and cruelty, clashes between technology and tradition, and all things in between. Without the Lord Ruler there are power vacuums and without the Steel Ministry there are schemes and the need for heroes. Most importantly, things are changing. It was made explicit in the original Mistborn books that the Lord Ruler had purposefully caused society to stagnate for the past thousand years, but in Alloy of Law both society and technologies are in flux and that leads to conflict and stories.
In terms of mechanics, Alloy of Law gets rid of the Mistborn (people with all the Allomantic powers just aren’t born anymore) and introduces the option of Twinborn, who are people born with both an Allomantic power (burning metals for abilities) and Ferruchemy (storing up abilities to enhance oneself later). The divide between skaa peasants and rich noble was left behind with the collapse of the Final Empire, although the Terris people are a separate ethnic group (flavor-wise, not mechanically). The kandra are either gone or in hiding but there’s an option to be koloss-blooded if you’d like to try a large, dumb character. Mistings (able to use one Allomantic power) are still an option, as are Ferrings (able to use one Ferruchemy power). Add to that firearms and political power and clockwork inventions and things are really full for your characters’ options.
Destiny and Tragedy: A Wonderful Tool You Can Use Now!
In this new era, the system of Destiny and Tragedy actually makes more sense to me. In the time of the Final Empire, your character would get a Destiny that they aspire to (“free my home from the Lord Ruler” or “find the Eleventh Metal”) and a Tragedy which haunts them (“wanted by the Steel Ministry” or “lost love to House politics”). There’s a great game-organization system detailed in the book to allow the GM to craft these into the sort of grandiose tales that Sanderson does so well.
The trouble for me (again) is that all Destinies are going to fail in the Final Empire unless they are the most meager sort of goals. We already know how the story goes and it’s not the PCs who save the world. You can start smashing out portions of Sanderson’s amazing narrative to make room for your players’ big dreams or they can tone things down. When you are planning to save a house instead of a city or a ring instead of their family, though, the appeal starts to wane.
With the setting in Alloy of Law, however, you’re able to make the plans as grand as you like. If the character wants to become the main criminal boss in an octant of the city, that’s fine and doesn’t break the setting at all. If they want to found a new town in the Roughs well that’s just fine too! They might want to connect their community to the railways, find some of the writings considered lost from the days of the Final Empire, or venture further beyond the mountains than anyone has gone before. All of these are big and all of them are possible in a world that isn’t under a god-king’s thumb.
Should You Get This?
Let me break things down like this. If you read through the Mistborn Adventure Game but felt that it fell short, you should still definitely consider the Alloy of Law supplement. If your main objections to the original game were anything mechanical or the way that Allomancy and Ferruchemy works then there’s a good chance you won’t like this one either and you should move on. If your issues with the original were mostly story based, though, then this is a book that might reset that and allow you to give this game a try. If you do and have new thoughts on the Mistborn Adventure Game, definitely come back and post them here!