I’ve been excited for the Iron Kingdoms RPG from Privateer Press for a while, and I finally managed to pick up a copy about a week ago. The Core Rules book is pretty hefty at 360 pages and has excellent production values. The book’s first 100 pages provide an overview of the Iron Kingdoms that includes everything from their history and religions to types of coinage. Roughly the next 100 pages cover character creation and advancement. Then there are five sections of about 30 pages each that cover the core rules of the game, magic, equipment, and steamjacks, and game mastering.
The game’s rules are based on the rules for Warmachine and Hordes, and should be easy to pick up for anyone familiar with the miniatures games. Like those games, most rolls use 2D6 + modifier and need to get a certain target number in order to succeed. Characters have Speed, Strength, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Defense, and Armor stats that are used in the same ways as in the miniatures games, but the game also adds a range of other statistics to round out characters. Characters and steamjacks also use life spirals and damage grids like warbeasts and warjacks in the skirmish game. The combat system is well-suited for using miniatures and includes blast templates, base size assumptions, and facing rules, but it also seems like it would be possible to run without miniatures without too much trouble.
The character creation and advancement rules are one of my favorite parts of the system. The book includes 7 character races: human, dwarf, gobber, iosan (high elves), nyss (wild elves), ogrun, and trollkin. In addition to a race, each character picks a single archetype. These archetypes are broad character roles: gifted (magic-user), intellectual, mighty, and skilled. The coolest part of building a character is the career system. Each character starts with two careers and it is possible to add new careers as a character advances. The book includes 28 careers, so there are a ton of potential combinations. The careers include options such as Gun Mage, Alchemist, Soldier, and Warcaster. Each career provides a set of starting benefits as well as providing options for new abilities and skills that can be purchased as a character advances. The simple requirement of picking 2 careers is a really neat concept because it allows for a much wider range of character concepts right from the start and also adds depth to characters since Pirate-Aristocrat says more than either Pirate or Aristocrat do alone.
The magic system divides spellcasters into two categories. Warcasters are considered focusers and get a set number of points to spend on magical effects, including spells, each turn. All non-warcaster spellcasters are known as will weavers. Will weavers gain fatigue when they use magic, but are able to recover a set amount of fatigue each turn. If they gain more fatigue than their Arcane stat, then they risk becoming exhausted and temporarily losing their spell casting ability. The spells included in the Core Rules are very combat orientated and are presented in a very rules-focused way without any description of what a spell’s effect is beyond its name and mechanics.
One problem with the book is that it includes very little game master content. The game mastering chapter is pretty minimal and mostly just offers guidelines for building NPCs and an encounter balance system. The appendix with monsters also is short at only 8 pages and 6 groups of monsters: burrow-mawg, dregg, farrow, human, thrall, and thrullg. Luckily, Privateer Press has released a couple of free downloads to add an intro adventure and more monsters.
The setting already has a lot of material in products from Warmachine and Hordes, but I look forward to seeing more books for the role-playing game. Privateer Press has announced that they plan to release additional books with a focus on areas beyond the core nations of the Iron Kingdoms that will include additional careers as well as rules for warlocks and warbeasts. Just presenting RPG versions of the characters, warjacks, and monsters from the miniatures game could fill a bunch of books, but I hope Privateer Press takes the opportunity to focus on other aspects of the setting that we haven’t seen covered as well . In particular, I’d love to see a book with more material on spies, assassins, criminals, and other character types that operate away from the battlefield.
If you are a fan or Warmachine and enjoy role-playing games, then I think Iron Kingdoms is a great product for you. On the other hand, if you aren’t familiar with the setting, I’d recommend taking a look at the quick start adventure to see if it seems like something you’d enjoy. I think the game system has some interesting mechanics, but it is also very closely tied to the Iron Kingdoms setting so it would be hard to justify buying the game if you aren’t interested in a setting that mixes the industrial revolution with fantasy elements.
Also, I’m planning to run the quick start adventure on Skype in early December. If you’d be interested in playing, then you can get more information on my Players Wanted page.