Sunday 6 January 2013

Iron Kingdoms RPG Review

I bought this on sale in hopes of finding a use for my respectably sized Warmachine armies.  Now Warmachine itself is a game I have learnt to roundly dislike, due to a plethora of special rules making it more akin to a CCG than a wargame. The short movement and firing ranges and focus on unit synergy and "combos" means the minis could be rather easily replaced with a "deck." I also feel the game is so unbalanced it is balanced - i.e. there are so many sub-rules that victory is determined by the player who can remember the minutiae - memory > tactics).

The rulebook is glossy and well presented... and weighs in at a hefty 358 pages

That does not mean I dislike the Iron Kingdoms setting. Far from it.  The steampunk-and-sorcery is a fun mix - who can dislike stompy steam-powered magic robots?  The miniatures, although typical exaggerated GW-style "heroic" (i.e. misshapen with outsized heads and hands) are pleasant to paint and have plenty of character.

So - will Iron Kingdoms give an excuse to dust off the Warmachine paraphenalia?

 Gun-mages...  awesome concept. In the flesh, the sculpts are actually pretty "meh"

The Shiny
As usual with Privateer Press, the production values are excellent. It is a hefty, hardback, glossy rulebook (358 pages) with plentiful characterful art.  I found it a bit of a slog ("wall of text") at times but that probably was due more to its intimidating size than anything else.  Gaming templates and character charts nestle at the back of the book along with a thorough index.  Overall, an impressive tome and I feel good value for its $60.

Iron Kingdoms has almost as much history as Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire...
Warmachine fanboys, rejoice!

History & Background

Each region's history is detailed, along with religions, in a 106-page chunk.  I'm sure Games Masters will appreciate it but I admit I speedread through it as it was pretty vast in scope - it had rich history and lore containing details like military service, commerce, laws, languages, the "industrial revolution" and its effects. An impressively in-depth primer for the Iron Kingdoms.  A good resource for GMs, and showcases the depth of the world that Privateer has developed over the years.  Trains, steamboats and alchemy, religious fanatics, giant robots "warjacks", magicians and scientists, dragons, undead, monsters and giant beasts... there is a rich lore which is rapidly expanding to match the scale of the 40k/Warhammer canon.


Character Creation
There are three primary stats, each with two sub-stats:
Physique (toughness): Speed, Strength,
Agility: Poise (ranged attacks), Prowess (initiative),
Intellect: Arcane (magic power), Perception (defence, initiative)

There are also stats derived from the above "primary" stats:
Defence (speed+agility+perception)
Initiative (speed+prowess+perception)
Armour (armour bonus+physique)
Will (physique+intellect) <-----------I found that a weird combination

Characters have a "life spiral" like that found on Warmahordes beasts, with physique, agility and intellect as the three "whorls."

There are racial stats for the seven races of Western Immoren (elves, humans, dwarves, goblins, ogres/trolls - the latter of which are a bit more intelligent than the fantasy standard), and then a character is designated as one of the four archetypes: "Gifted" (magickers) Intellectual (commanders) Mighty (tough fighters) or Skilled (quick, nimble, roguelike)

There are 28 careers which tend to reflect Warmachine roles - stormblades, trenchers, pirates and mage hunters for example stay closely within the scope of the game. Each of those careers has attached abilities, skills and assets and receives its own page, contributing to the 52-page length of this section.  You choose two careers which allows for quite a bit of variety.  The focus. however, is strongly on combat-orientated characters.

Experience, Skills and Abilities
There are simple rules for leveling up (there are 150 experience levels) and you could end up with 38 skills and abilities by level 150, not counting inherent career skills.  I thought Warmachine profiles had a lot of "special rules!". Speaking of which, there are 144 "abilities" to chose on, of which 90% are combat-related.  In addition, there are 39 skills which are more general (i.e. non-combat) and are tied to specific character stats like perception or agility.

TL:DR: Quite a bit of variety in character creation but sticks strictly to the Warmachines-specific roles. An enormous list of 180+ skills and abilities makes Warmachine look restrained. 

The main difference between Warmachine and Iron Kingdoms is the activation sequence

The Game

The mechanics themselves are the same as Warmachine - you add the Stat + 2d6. The only additional rule is Iron Kingdoms allows you to add a skill bonus on top of that, and that "Resolution Rolls" can be used against GM-assigned "target numbers" like in most RPGs - i.e.
Moderate = 10-12
Complex = 13-15
Difficult = 16+ etc
Combat resolution is thus pretty much identical to Warmachine, but characters move in order of initiative, not IGOUGO, which changes the whole feel of the game.  Players can also "hold" their activation and interrupt an opponent's move (a kind of "overwatch").

Players can throw, grapple, slam or push opponents like Warmachine jacks and there are "actions" like dismounting, going prone, reloading and pulling the pin on grenades that add detail.  As expected, the RPG has more complex terrain rules as well as rules for interacting with them (climbing, bashing open doors, light and darkness, etc.)

At only 25 pages the combat rules are pretty simple and closely follow the Warmachine rules.

This is resolved by spending focus points and adding 2d6 + ARC (Arcane) to target the spell. 
There are different "schools" of magic each with a range of 30-40 spells ranging from 1 to 4 focus cost to cast.  The categories are: Arcane Mechanik, Arvcanist, Gun Mage, Priest, and Sorcerer.  I'd estimate there are at least 180+ spells to choose from - again, they are 99% combat related. 

TL:DR:  Pretty much Warmachine, but a different activation sequence changes the game significantly. A bit of extra "grit" is thrown in and the magic selection is mind-bogglingly large.

 Other Stuff...

Gear & Equipment
By now I'm expecting the list to be as enormous and detailed as everything else so far, and I am not wrong.  There are 58 pages of stuff: with 100+ ranged and melee weapons and pages of ammunition, clothing, mounts, food, drink, runes, alchemical ingredients and compounds, mechanika and miscellaneous equipment such as a humble piece of chalk.  Many have detailed profiles.

The Arcanist can actually carry a kitchen sink! There are even rules for sinks with and without plugs in the equipment list... (this may be a slight exaggeration)

The stars of Warmachine have their own section, and in addition to their usual profiles they have "stats" like the RPG characters.  They in turn have their own equipment and weapon lists, gear and upgrades.  They also have more complex damage tables, repair rules, and rules for their own  "development" i.e. gaining skills due to an improved bond with the warcaster.

Game Master Stuff
There are tips for rewarding players and player development, creating and balancing NPCs and encounters, and scenario settings.  These tend to be generalised guidelines rather than specific examples and are very "light on". There is also a very small bestiary (burrow-mawg, dregg, farrow, thrall and thrullg) that is specific to Immoren. I was surprised how sketchy this section was compared to the elaborate detail of the other parts of the book. A lot like Lord of the Rings - Iron Kingdoms presents an immensely detailed world, without much of a plot to go with it.  Perhaps you could use old Iron Kingdoms sourcebooks such as the Witchfire Trilogy but it is optimized for a completely different system (d20 D&D 3.5e).

TL:DR  An exhaustive equipment list (I think the kitchen sink was included) and steamjacks also had extra rules tacked on. The Game Master chapter was surprisingly vague and contained no concrete gameplay examples.

So, to Summarise...

Iron Kingdoms is an impressive production, with 100+ pages of background and "fluff" and quality presentation.  The mechanics of gameplay are lifted directly from Warmachine but alternate unit activation alters the gameplay from the synergies and combos of IGOUGO.

Weapons, equipment, abilities and spells are given in mind-numbing impressive numbers and detail, and are tied very specifically to the Warmachine universe.   Given the game machnics themselves and the games master/scenario section are rather sketchily presented in contrast, I am left with the feeling that Privateer Press had a whole lot of unused art and "background" material leftover from other projects and decided to make a book out of it, tacking on a rough modification of the Warmachine rules as justification. That it does use familiar Warmachine mechanics may be a positive to some, and it is certainly simpler than the D&D 3.5e of the earlier Iron Kingdoms books.

Recommended: If you can't get enough Warmachine fluff, then your prayers have been answered.  To me, it feels like a vanity project by Privateer.   Though it has a strong combat/miniature focus, I'd argue that the Savage Worlds engine would make a better RPG and wargame....  

Iron Kingdoms admires its own "fluff"

Privateer Press Guy #1: "Should a steamjack heavy battle blade cost 250 gold pieces?"
Privateer Press Guy #2: "Well, since Cygnar is the primary manufacturing base for 'jacks, and the Menoth war has caused 8.9% inflation - say.... 275 would be better."
Privateer Press Guy #1: Thanks. You need to get this stuff right. 
Privateer Press Guy #3: "So, ummm....   what are we doing for rules for this RPG?"
Privateer Press Guy #2: "Oh, just copy and paste Warmachine and make it more complicated so's people know its a RPG and shit."


  1. A comprehensive and honest review as always mate, thanks

    Have you had a chance to check out "Deus Vult!" by Fireforge games yet?

    1. Some mechanics of Deus Vult:

      Combined with the review below you should get the idea.

      The best review I could find:

      I liked it cos he has the same gripe I always have - simple "stats" but a zillion "special rules" is actually MORE complicated....

  2. From memory I dismissed it as a Field of Glory/DBM/Impetus type game (i.e. 3-4 minis to a "block") but I was monitoring the minis for use in a "warband" LOTR skirmish mod.

    I'll check it out, but if it is indeed a mass battle game, I've found the $10 PC game "Medieval Total War" pretty much does everything you'd want (campaigns, character development, sieges, huge 2000+ battles). Actually if your lad likes PC games, it's pretty "educational"

  3. Honest review but I have to respectfully disagree with most of it.
    In the end it's a matter of tastes and I guess the author and myself have very different ones.
    I for one love both Warmachine and Iron Kingdoms, finding the former far more tactical and far less make-one-mistake-and-lose than Warhammer (my only other wargame) and finding the latter more varied, straightforward and fun than D&D.

    I must add that the Magic system described here is strictly for focusers (Warcasters), the will-weavers (every other magic-using class) work differently.
    Spell cost for them adds up into Fatigue Points and if you end up spending more than your Arcane stat (but up to double your Arcane stat) you need to roll 2D6 equal or over the amount of Fatigue points. If you fail, you've exhausted yourself and can't cast on the next round.
    I find that distinction between Warcasters and the rest interresting.

    1. Thanks for your post.

      Have you considered other games besides 40K or Warmachine (and D&D for that matter)? They are popular, but that doesn't mean they are the "funnest" or "bestest.' :-)

      There are some fascinating and interesting rulesets out there. Most have rules (and miniatures) for a fraction of the cost of the "big two."

  4. A bit of a necro, but I just saw this comment again...

    "I for one love both Warmachine and Iron Kingdoms, finding the former far more tactical and far less make-one-mistake-and-lose than Warhammer"

    ..what, wat? Warmachine is FAR more make one-mistake-and-lose, given the that victory is usually assassinating one (albeit tough) guy, and there are so many ways to lose, with the myriad of attacks and combos....