Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Review

O.K. so I am in need of a break from preparing my 40K armies for the upcoming Ancon (starts Thursday, May 2nd. Stop by if you are close to the Cleveland/Akron Ohio area, Hudson is right between the two). So the Iron Kingdoms roleplaying has leapt out from behind my computer to grab my attention. Even middleweight grognards should remember Privateer Press' early start in the d20 era with the Witchfire trilogy, although their current Warmachine miniature game greatly out shadows that earlier effort. You should also remember their Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy d20 based Character and World guide, this review is not about that game. Late October of 2012 I picked up the lasted roleplaying offering titled "Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game: Core Rules. On examining it, it became quite clear it represents a clean break with the d20 past, and a switch to a 2d6 system closer to the Warmachine system.  once I recovered from the shock of it not being d20 (like the old Iron Kingdom books I have and kind of liked) I think got a reasonable value. Lack of a good monster manual in the back may limit its game play, until an adequate monster manual appears. The artwork is nice although some of it is recycled from those older books. I think the rules are a better "fit" with the Warmachine/Hordes miniatures rules than the "old d20", although an explicit explanation of how to move between this and those systems is lacking. A bit more crunch than I like to see in rules, and a character system which is overly "straightjacketed" turned me off a bit. The fact that it is 2d6 based will make harder to steal from for my d20 games. However, the game looks very playable, and the "straightjacket" character system allows for generation of a complex character quickly. Overall, I give it 3.5/5 stars. My page by page in-depth review starts below.

The first 103 pages are world setting and can probably be skipped by those already familiar with the Warmachine world.

Pages 105 and 106 cover Stats. Pages 107-114 cover races. Stats are a bit different consisting of primary stats of Physique (PHY), Agility (AGL), and Intellect (INT) and secondary stats linked to the primaries: Speed(SPD) and Strength(STR) for PHY; Poise (POI) and Prowess (PRW) for AGL; Arcane (ARC) and Perception (PER) for INT. Stats are determined by race selection (no dice role for you). There are also derived stats such as defense (DEF)  Initiative, Armor (ARM), and willpower (WIL). I am not quite sure what to make of the stat system.  I thought at first it was to better align with Warmachine but those stats are SPD, STR, Melee factor (MAT), Ranged attack (RAT), DEF, ARM, Focus, Command (four of them line up, the rest are missing). It is probably closest to the Fantasy Trips old tri-stat system of Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence, although the secondary stats may ameliorate some of the deficiencies of that system. The fact that it is fixed by race and doesn't vary that broadly (only 2 to 8) also helps. However, that does not yield much roleplaying fodder to distinguish between your burly barbarian, and your effete city dwelling mage. This It is probably closest to the Fantasy Trips old tri-stat system of Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence, although the secondary stats may ameliorate some of the deficiencies of that system. This distinction is provided by selecting one of four archtypes Gifted, Intellectual, Mighty, or Skilled which are covered from pages 115 to117.

Careers are covered from  117 to 149. Instead of classes everyone gets to choose a career (actually two). There are twenty eight all together. A few of them are restricted to a certain race, a few of them are restricted to Gifted archtypes, a few of them are available only to starting characters, for example Warcaster can only be chosen by a gifted starting character (you must also choose the tradition focuser). Once you have chosen your two class your skills and abilities are pretty much determined. An ability is just something you can do, a skill requires a check. There are several general skills which are freely selected  (I understand why Climbing, Jumping, Swimming and Riding are on the list; Animal Handling, Intimidation and Lore not so much), but most skills are linked to career. I did not see any general abilities they seem to be all linked to careers. The system reminds me most of the Old Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFR), but thankfully Iron Kingdoms do not require the acquisition of props like that system (In WFR: want to be a rat catcher? first you need to get a cage and a stick).This system feels a little unnecessarily straightjacketed to me, but it will keep the "min-max"ers in check for a bit (of course there is nothing "min-max"ers love more that a straightjacket to wriggle out of, I would start by poking at the afterthought sidebar on customization and options on page 119). Pages 120 to 149 explain the various careers in detail. Page 150 explains how to finish out your character sheet. Page 151 to 153 talk about adventuring companies, since it is poorly explained and optional, I skipped it.

Experience and advancement are detailed from pages 153 to 155. With your starting advance coming at 2 experience points (xp) it obviously on a far different scale than most games (you do get 1 xp just for showing up for a game). Acquiring the top rank in this book requires 150 xp (although this number seems small, at 1 xp per session its a lot of games). Most advancements are in the form of stat and skill improvements, although there are ability gains and archtype benefits as well. Being a bit "Old School" I prefer a more varied experience table , after all if you're man enough to go hunting dragons you deserve to advance faster, than if you go grinding through orc grunts every session.

Pages 155 to 168 detail all those abilities we've been talking about, there's a brief section on connections (in my view a specialized friends in high or low places ability) and then we get skill descriptions from 171 to 195. Most skills have a little doing things table with them which is quite good (although my brain requires recalibration from the high stat modifier plus d20 numbers I am used to).

Page 196 to 226 we finally reach playing the game. Most of the system is straight forward: roll 2d6+modifier to determine outcome, Action order determined by an initiative roll at the start of the combat, movement is your speed in inches (No grid for you 4e guys). The two quick actions, attack and one quick action, or full action per turn is eerily familiar. As always a bunch special rules for charging, knockouts, grapples...etc. Area of effects use templates (I like 4e's grid better). Damage is against your attributes (although they are doubled and laid out on a six arm spiral, not quite double the arms join two bubbles out from the center). Run out of bubbles on a spiral you get a minus two to combat function that attribute supports. Run out of all bubbles and you are incapacitated, when you come to you get to roll on the injury table. Not my favorite system, but not completely horrible either.

Page 227-246 are magic and magic spells, magic seems to be point based, although many spells require upkeep. Not a lot of spell detail in the descriptions, most are just one sentence. Looks complicated, I'll tackle it in another post.

Page 247-297 are stuff. Yes, they have stuff including all sorts of firearms, and alchemy. Not sure if any of this stuff counts as "magic" in the D&D sense (I am not seeing +1 swords), but a lot of it is both "cool" and character enhancing. Steamjacks being extra-special stuff get their own chapter from pages 298 to 325. A comparison between the custom steamjacks of these rules versus standard jacks in Warmachine would be of interest. However, that will wait to another day as well.

Page 326 to 339 are the usual Dungeon Master yada, yada, yada. Most DMs can figure out how to create NPC, encounters, and campaign settings on their own. About all you need is the chart showing how many monsters of what toughness to through at what number and level of characters. Having DMed over 30 years, I usually find these parts dreadfully boring. As least they had the good sense to limit it to one short chapter, rather than publishing it in its own book (as some games are want to do).

Page 340 to 347 Monsters. Most disappointingly there are only 16 of them, and that's if you include the different level variants of several of them. Hopefully an actual monster manual is in the works. Here's another idea they missed, include a guide on how to convert all those Warmachine and Hordes stat'ed things in all those miniature rules into this system, that would give you several "instant" monster manuals to get up and rolling.

Book is closed out with character sheets, blast templates, and a nice large index (one of my favorite things in a complex roleplaying game).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Blognomicon Swords and Wizardy edition

To commemorate Swords and Wizardry  appreciation day, and because blogger will only let me track 300 sites at one time, I have posted Tenkars afternoon list of participants to a new tab on the top labeled "Blognomicon Swords and Wizardry Day".  Hopefully someone besides me will find it helpful.

P.S. Full Blognomicon still in preparation. I'd like to do it blogroll style, but still haven't figured the java for that out.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Swords and Wizardy core review

Sword and Wizardry is an interesting beast. The first question to ask is which version to review. For now I’ll be sticking to the free ones, although I may use the discount code to pick up the complete version later. I have copies of the second, third and fourth printing (just like early edition players handbooks, which kept tweaking the rules and not warning anyone, we’d pull out our handbooks to resolve some dispute and discover different peoples handbooks said different things). I also have  a draft of the white box edition. For the most part I’ll stick to the fourth edition.

The stats are the standard six rolled on 3d6 in order. Most stat bonuses appear to be either -1 if you are below average or +1 if you are above (the fourth printing seems to relent a bit and allow extra modifiers for high strength to a maximum of +2 to hit +3 damage). Character classes are the basic three cleric, fighter, and magic user. Thief is included as an option in the fourth printing. Advancement charts are very old school (exponential scale to name rank then linear, with different rates of advancement for different classes). Fighters and fighters only get the option to parry using their dex score (like most old school parry rules this is a trap, try to parry your way out of a fight and your dead). The fourth printing mentions dual classing for humans but gives little guidance. In terms of races other than human: Dwarfs are always fighters or fighter/thieves and capped at 6th level unless they are strong;  Halfings are either fighters or thieves but a maximum of 4th level fighter; Elves may be Fighter/Magic-Users, Thieves, or Fighter/Magic-User/Thieves but are limited to 4th level fighters and 8th level magic users. Alignment is Law, Chaos or Neutral, but not much emphasized. The equipment list is well the equipment list. Armor class has both the “old school” descending armor class, as well as an alternate ascending armor class. Movement includes a weight based encumbrance table, reduced movement for combat and extra movement for running. There is a very short how to play section. Saving throws are based on class and level (weirdness note:  although there is a text description of the saving throw process, the chart in the saving throw section is for an alternate system). The combat round is very “old school” with group initiatives and pre-declared spells ( an alternate system uses a dex based system for initiative). Surprise has been made extra nasty by giving  a 1 in 4 chance to drop something in your hand if you are surprised. Separate to hit table are provide for each class (well thieves and magic users have to share) as well as monsters. The specific situation rules add some tweaks for different situations, well as a two weapon fighting option.  Turning undead is done on a 2d6 table. Death is not instantaneous at zero hit points even though you fall unconscious, you have to hit minus your level in hits points before you are dead. Morale is handled by the DM will determine…. Rules are included for building a stronghold and hiring henchmen. Spells are the basic old school ones although I did not check for completeness in my little brown books. It has a pretty good monster list, although the demon list seems to be augmented with ones that did not show up until the Eldritch Wizardry expansion. Treasure generation seems to be new system with trade out options for every 100 gp to add gems and magic items. Magic items are the same old, same old. Book finishes with a one page campaign setting and a map.

The book is well written and rules straight forward. I enjoyed the pen and ink line art throughout the book. The fourth printing is well formatted and colorful. I would have organized things a little different, perhaps sticking the example of play with the campaign setting in the back. Overall  Swords and Wizardry core remains true to its desire to re-create the little brown book rules, although one can sense the strain in the little flips and twists the author sneaks in. The core rules set will definitely give you the old school experience. As is traditional “old school” many things such as climbing, jumping, handling boats, etc. is left to the GMs discretion. Me, I was done with the “old school” long ago, having started playing just about the time the Greyhawk supplement came, and never looked back. I never liked the level caps on races (Swords and Wizardry second printings allowing higher level dwarves and elves, but on a slower experience scale, was better). One also finds the basic three character classes quite restricting after a while. I will be using my discount code to pick up the “Swords and Wizardry Complete” edition, as is seems to offer a bit better range of character diversity.  Its also got that cool Erol Otus cover as well. You can too either at

Frog God Games website (use the code SWApprDay ).


SRD store webstore (use SWAD252013)

I am going with the Frog Gods link myself, as they make lots of other cool stuff and I want to support them. However SRD is also cool (an online version of Swords and Wizard can be found at http://www.d20swsrd.com/)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A to Z fantasy roleplaying

O.K. so this is the month that makes me feel totally inadequate as blogger.The busy bloggers are off posting once a day in alphabetical order, while I have trouble cranking out something once-a-month these days. Today it occurred to I already have this A to Z covered. All you have to is click on the second tab on the top of this blog and it will take you straight to the Rulenomicon, my alphabetized list of role playing games I have down loaded off the internet over the years. If you click on the dark blue text, its a link which will take you to the place I downloaded if from. I have also provided links to the forums and blog associated with the game as well. I was going to do weird little emoticon ratings, but She-who-must-be-obeyed  put her foot down. Not quite as cool as the role-playing game dungeon map below (which I found googling "megadugeon map", my maps don't show up until  you hit the show me more, I suppose if I'd labeled them as megadungeon they'd have done better).

P.S. I'll see you all again on Swords and Wizardry day April 17th ('cause I love blogging for free swag), unless the mood strikes me sooner.

P.P.S I have once again hit the 300 feed limit so some of the more anemic ones may be moving off to blognomicon garden memories again. Someday I'll get that page working well enough to add a tab for it as well. Unfortunately I cannot figure out how to tell blogger to use different layouts for different pages, so my original plan for the blognomicon of just centering the feed widget did not work out...
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