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).