Unwritten: Adventures in the Ages of MYST and Beyond is a Fate Core-powered RPG that focuses on solving mysteries, successfully completing puzzles that give you deeper insight into the setting’s mythology, and forming powerful relationships to answer truly epic questions, like “how would you handle the ability to teleport to a new world?” and “with limitless resources from limitless worlds, what moral choices does humanity face?”
This review takes a look at this game from both perspectives: a MYST fan and an outsider to the franchise.
The following review was first posted on DriveThruRPG, but addresses both the PDF and Softcover formats that are available:
MYST Fandom Not Required
It is through sheer luck that I happened upon an RPGnet thread discussing mostly non-violent, puzzle-centric roleplaying games and this gem of a roleplaying game was mentioned. Remembering back to some time spent on the original MYST game, but having never finished it nor followed up on its sequels, I was intrigued enough by the idea of a fan-created tabletop RPG based on a franchise that was all about exploration, so I started doing some research. That very quickly sent me down the rabbit hole of Let’s Play videos on YouTube and exploring every aspect of the MYST universe, but in a strange twist of Fate (see what I did there?), this game proved that you don’t have to be a MYST fan to get a great roleplaying experience.
What’s It About?
This is the true power of Unwritten: to present an RPG experience centered on mystery, moral choices, puzzles, and hopping to and from bizarre worlds. It doesn’t matter that it is based on MYST, because it is a complete Fate roleplaying game, and it expertly co-opts various tweaks for the system to make mysteries and puzzles shine.
A system from the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game is ported over as “Deductions” in Unwritten, giving players the chance to make checks and offer answers to mysteries or puzzles based on their rolls, and thereby use logic to come to a conclusion, “solving” the mystery even when the Gamemaster doesn’t know the answer…if they succeed, of course! Players can establish facts in this way about the various worlds that can be visited, and thus have a ton of agency over the direction of the game. Since the rules appeal to logic and hints can be provided (or denied, based on the rolls) by the Gamemaster, there are no game-breaking effects.
These systems (Deduction is but one of them) are — like much of Fate — easily portable to other games and systems, and clearly would be a breeze to insert into any other Fate-based system, of course.
The mechanics purposely gloss over detailed combat or gear in favor of relationships, exploration, and solving mysteries, so the game is fairly light: there aren’t any stress tracks (relying solely on Consequences), and none of the Skills are strictly combat-focused. That said, the game remains meaty, if not necessarily in numbers and rules, but in advice on how to conduct mysteries, exploration, and puzzles in a manner that is fun and player-centric, never resorting to “pixel-bitching” or interminable rounds of dice-rolling in order to get the clue necessary to move on. In this way, it’s reminiscent of the intent of systems like GUMSHOE: the players can always move forward, even after failure; things just get more complicated for them in the game world. Like the various “Powered by the Apocalypse” games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World), success can come at times even on a failed roll, but a price must be paid.
But I Like MYST!…
…or, What’s the Setting Like?
For those who are MYST fans, there’s plenty in this book for you. A detailed look at how to bring in all of the concepts of the MYST games can be found here, from Relto books to linking stones, listings of most (if not all) of the Ages from the games and the Myst Reader novels, and overviews and stats of many of the prominent characters, including many of the DRC members and Yeesha herself. The D’ni city (located under New Mexico) is thoroughly detailed, and there’s even several pages covering possible campaigns in alternate timelines (during the height of D’ni civilization or after the Bahro War is over).
My -1 star ding comes solely from the fact that this information is presented in such an encapsulated form, and that all of the more detailed Ages and examples are new to this book, and not taken from the MYST games. There’s a publication schedule on the publisher’s website that addresses a forthcoming book that will cover the Ages featured in the games, and further discussion of puzzles, but these aren’t out yet, and I’m left wanting more.
The PDF Version
The PDF version is great, because it comes with all of the following: 1) fully bookmarked version of the game, in full color 2) fully bookmarked 2-page view version of the game, in full color 3) un-bookmarked Black & White print-friendly version (the artwork’s still in there, so it’s not completely free of some ink-draining pages) 4) print-friendly Character Sheet.
That’s a great value, and when you consider that the book is laid out very well, it’s a breeze picking the right version to have up on the device you are using at the time, whether it be a desktop (2-page view) or tablet (regular version, color) or lower-powered mobile device (B&W version). The included B&W print-friendly version has an added use: the first 30 pages are in-world written materials from various character’s journals or transcriptions of speeches and so on, all great stuff to have a physical copy of to hand out to new players or use as clues and background information for their characters.
Want the softcover, too? The softcover — I nearly immediately purchased the softcover after completing my read-through of the PDF, because it’s that good — is about the size of the Fate Core rule book and is of great quality. It’s full color, and the artwork is evocative of the setting, using both original art and some concept art from Cyan Studios, which is really neat for the collector or video gamer that isn’t necessarily into pen and paper RPGs so much.
The history sections are also perfectly made for non-roleplayers, but keep in mind that some options and explanations aren’t technically canon, and are instead logical extrapolations that can be used in the RPG setting.
The binding seems strong, so this is a great deal when you consider the price!
I highly recommend this game, whether or not you’re a fan of MYST or Fate. It’s not going to work for a combat-centric game or group, and will over little in the way of new Fate rules if you already own several Fate games, but if you’re at all interested in mystery games or how to incorporate puzzles into roleplaying games without needing a “just give them the answer!” hand-wave, this game’s got a lot of useful discussion, rules, and options.
If you’re simply interested in a game of world- or reality-hopping, Unwritten has that in spades, too, with several lists of Ages and a handful of more detailed examples (and full rules on creating plenty more).
Pick it up!
Are you a fan of MYST, Unwritten, and/or Fate-powered games? Let us know how you’ve used this game at your table!
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