Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mistborn the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson Part 1

Below I'll be discussing Misborn the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. This is a series I decided to pick up when I heard he would be taking over the Wheel of Time. I haven't read the Wheel of Time for several books now, but I figure if it's ever actually completed, I'd like to see what the author whose taken over it can do. And I am pleasantly surprised.
Any page references are to the science fiction book club edition. Note that there will be spoilers below so those who are not looking for spoilers, go no further.
Brandon Sanderson uses many of the formulatic methods of writing fantasy that are familiar to those with a wide background of fantasy material.
1. The Prodigy: One of the heroes, Vin, is a Mistborn by blood. Her powers come from her father and his bloodline, mixed with that of her race, the skaa. She is a natural at the things it takes others months if not years to learn. She's also capable of quickly coming up with new strategies and methods with her powers that others for a thousand years haven't thought to do. In many ways, her ability to be a game changer, makes her a good sample player character.
How so? In the standard campaigns, if the NPC's acted like the PC's do, using their powers in many practical and purposeful methods, the whole setting would be vastly different. By having Vin not do things by the standard, it allows her, the prodigy, to be the game changer.
2. The Mentor. Vin is initially a lowly thief who doesn't even know of her power but she falls under the guidance of Kelsier, a man with a shady past. He teaches Vin her power and gives her something to believe in. In a role playing game, mentors are hard to pull off. Make them too powerful and they can steal the spotlight. Make them too weak and the players will soon pass them by. Kill them and make their deaths heroic and serve and as example to the players? Works here.
3. Thieves with a heat of gold. Intially hired to perform their mission, Kelsier and his 'crew' all follow through with the plan even when the one hiring them is killed and the money isn't there. In many role playing games, the default assumption is the players have a heart of gold. If the players are only motivated to adventure for the money, they could be cavaran guards or something of that nature where the adventure isn't really an adventure. It could work for some groups, but by having motivations that move past the financial, even if those motivations are still item based, they have reason to go hunting things that they just can't earn down the corner.
4. Urban Campaigns are character driven. In this book, part of Vin's duties is to act as a spy in noble society. She encounters numerous nobles and their servants and learns that despite the higher wealth and easier life they live, that the nobles have their own problems, most often, the other nobles. When having adventurers stay in a city, try to keep at least a list of twenty places that they either know about or can visit and at least three people involved with each of those twenty places. Urban campaigns can provide a change of pace from adventuring in the dungeon, but require a bit more work as the players, unless they'll be leaving the city very quickly, aren't going to just hack and slash their way through problems. Although there is always the city...
5. The powerful evil minon. Initially the evil Inquisitors are so powerful that Vin and her mentor can't overcome one. Then the mentor does. Then the secret for their destruction is passed out. This can be done in a game like 4e relatively easily. First, as the characters advance, the unbeatable becomes, well, defeatable. Next, the GM has the ability to make monsters minions. One of the great things about games like Mutants and Masterminds is the Mook rules in which if the players can damage the enemy, they've beaten the enemy. It's the old Ninja or Sentinel (Marvel comics old X-Men foes) problem. One of them is vastly difficult to beat requiring a pulling out of all the stops but dozens of them? They fall by the wayside.
6. The invicible enemy. Many fantasy epics have their own takes on such enemies. For example, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time is leading up to a showdown between Rand and his nemesis. Other fantasy tales use dark gods, demon lords or other such villains. Here it's the Lord Ruler, the "Sliver of Eternity". If you can introduce the big bad early on, and provide a scene to showcase the big bad's vast and unopposable strength, when the players finally manage to get the device to beat the bad guy or finally have enough raw power in levels to do so, allow them to earn that victory.
7. Character Growth: Part of the young prodigy being in the novel means growth. Initially a scared thief who trusts no one and wastes no food, Vin grows into someone who not only comes to trust her crew, but to love her mentor, and finds the ability to trust a strength she didn't know it could ever possess. Too often novels will keep characters in some odd timeless state and they'll grow stale. If the players are able to effect real change on the world and on non-player characters, have the way others treat the players change. Allow the world to grow around the actions the players commit.
These are some standard staples of the genre but Sanderson does them with an agile hand by allowing the characters to grow, using a lot of foreshadowing that you may not even be aware is foreshadowing till another event happens, and drawing the reading into the world of the Mistborn through quick pacing and characters that relate to each other like people.
By giving the players something to care for, the players motivation will be more than money and will provide the Game Master with clues as to what types of campaign they enjoy.