Twice this month already I’ve written about whether and how to try to play according to one’s values in games. Both posts have been inspired by Lotus Dimension, a TTRPG that explicitly encourages finding nonviolent solutions to in-game problems. In my first post, I expressed interest in the game because it “allow[s] and encourage[s] other paths to vidtory.” In my second, though, I wondered whether that were good enough: “Is ethical behavior in a game because the system of the game rewards that behavior truly ethical?” I’ve been continuing to think about these questions since writing both posts.
In what initially seemed like entirely other news, I got an email this week letting me know that the Bundle of Holding service is running a deal on the Mistborn Adventure Game. I actually own the main product from this line, purchased in college when my love for Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series was at its height. I didn’t do much with it except for run a two-session campaign and design some characters for fun with my brother, but it’s an interesting universe and an interesting system, so I briefly considered supporting it. However, my interest in Mistborn has gone down over time—the latest book felt like it was as much fanservice for those who have read all of Sanderson’s stuff as it was a true sequel, and my questions about values in TTRPGs (and other games) have also extended to other media. I love the Wax character from the second Mistborn subseries, but he racks up a huge body count in each book, and I started to have complicated feelings about that.
Today, though, while mulling over my original set of questions, I actually wondered whether the Mistborn Adventure Game is the TTRPG I’ve been looking for in terms of challenging players to play by their values. Here are some of my scattered thoughts:
The original Mistborn trilogy (the default setting for the game) is set in a world defined by a tyrannical, omnipotent dictatorship; oppressive class and ethnic distinctions; and the hoarding of weatlh, power, and resources by those who already enjoy the most of them. Players in this game aren’t merely adventurers in the D&D sense—they’re deeply caught up in questions of power, either carving out some dignity for themselves or trying to hold onto the power that they do have. So, the story of the game naturally invites questions of ethics and values—and complicated ones at that!
Perhaps more importantly, the mechanics of the Mistborn Adventure Game allow for players to accomplish goals through a variety of means. It could be interesting to play a non-violent character in Dungeons and Dragons, but it would probably get very old very quick. Too much of D&D simply assumes conflict, and a “peaceful run” doesn’t make much sense. You can play the game without playing as “murder hobos,” but at some point, the game is going to force you into violent conflict with other creatures. In contrast, the Mistborn Adventure Game has mechanics for social conflict explicitly built into the game. The game doesn’t force you to avoid violence (it very much allows it), but you could play entire swaths of a campaign without drawing blood if you wanted to.
I really have to stop buying new TTRPGs simply because they sound interesting, especially considering that I can’t even find the time to keep my solo Starforged campaign going. However, I’ve been thinking about ethics and games for over a decade at this point, and the publisher of the Mistborn Adventure Game is going to stop selling digital versions of any of this line at the end of 2023. Maybe this is just a flimsy justification to spend more money on a game that I don’t have time to play, but I think I may pick up the Bundle of Holding after all. Who knows if it might be the right kind of game for asking questions about ethics and values.
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