Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed will be available on April 22, 2015
Fasten your seat-belts folks, this one’s gunna be a gush piece. Look, I tried to approach Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed as a stoic reviewer but with every page flip I grew more and more impressed. To the point I just gave up trying to be an unbiased commentator and just let myself become the fanboy. Privateer Press has crafted something really impressive here, a true sibling to it first core book Iron Kingdoms: Full Metal Fantasy, but yet something more.
With Unleashed we are introduced to a vibrantly wild setting. It is a primal world where the strong must match wits and power with the rest of the savage inhabitants. To do this players will need to tap into that primal nature. Perhaps it’s as simple as eating the foe they just defeated in order to get a meal that night, or maybe they rip out the bones and tap into a primal magic inherent within that can help win battles down the road, or perhaps the player captures and dominates a huge beast, bending their will with wild majicks and making them fight battles for them. All of that and more is available within the nearly 500 pages of Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed.
QUALITY AND LOOK
As mentioned above, this rule-book comes in at just under 500 pages, a daunting task for good binding. Thus far it has held up very well with my incessant flipping of the pages, and trust me when I say there has been a lot of flipping between my friends and I. Physically the book appears to be in good shape, if that ever changes I’ll be sure to update but so far the thick hardcover and solid binding seem to be up to the task of frequent use. Being said, with any book this big I’d still be careful how forcefully you open it up.
Privateer Press long ago chose their art direction and to their credit have stuck with it. When making the switch to a more primal look the bombastic colors and big characters work very well. There are some great scenic landscapes within the pages and characters in action leap from the page. The borders on every page are interesting but not distracting, and I’ve always been a fan of how smaller versions of the same are used to make important text boxes pop. Another added touch is a just visible color code that heralds the change to a new chapter if you know what you’re looking for. Helpful for at the table when you need to flip to a certain section.
The first chapter, after an obligatory dose of “what is an RPG etc.”, within the book gives us a 100 page history of the wilderness of Western Immoren (the world of Iron Kingdoms) and a lengthy description of the modern day geography of the wild lands. Privateer Press’ team has always impressed me with their attention to the lore surrounding this world. In fact, much of this lore came from their the wargame this RPG is based on. They had these great stories long before they even had an RPG.
One of my favorite things about this section lies with the descriptions of history and current society of the major races playable in the game. If you want to know whether the tribal pigmen, the Ferrow, cannibalize their own (they do) you have a portion of the book where that’s found. You may also read that they are scavengers who value their position based largely how they are viewed by their peers. Thus a Ferrow will want to appear strong and useful to a tribe, and you’ll see that food gathering and scavenged weapons play a critical role in boosting one’s image.
To me this is the sexy chapter. I flipped here first thing receiving my review copy. Here you’ll find all the information you need to craft that one of a kind primal warrior who will be savaging the wilds soon enough. Character creation in Unleashed mirrors the way it was handled in Full Metal Fantasy, to the point where if you wanted to, and your character met the prerequisites, there is no mechanical reason why you couldn’t pick up a career from either book.
I’m a huge fan of the character creation in the Iron Kingdoms RPG, both Full Metal Fantasy and Unleashed. In Unleashed, like its predecessor, players browse a list of careers like Monster Hunter, Warlock, or Wolf Rider. Keeping in mind the perquisites for some of these careers a player will then choose a starting career and a secondary career. Each career comes with a package of Abilities, Skills, and Starting assets. Meld the two careers together and you’re already more than half done creating the character. Now, before and after the career section you have a bit of work to do, choosing your race and archetype and rounding out skills and equipment, but careers are usually where I start.
I do note that in Unleashed the careers tend to have more perquisites than I recall from the Full Metal Fantasy core book. This does sadly pencil you into certain races a lot of the time but in many cases it just wouldn’t make sense otherwise. Frankly, die-hard Hordes lovers would scratch their heads if a Gatorman could be a Bloodweaver anyway so it makes sense from a lore and game precedent standpoint. Those new to the game may quibble at that fact, but they may wish to keep in mind that even with such restrictions there are far more “class” options available here than in the better known RPGs out there.
The range and variety of characters you can create in Unleashed is truly a wonderful thing. If this setting hits the right buttons for you you’re going to love the colorful blend of careers at hand. One of my favorite inclusions are the four varieties of Warlock to choose from (one for each race). Unlike the Warcaster from Full Metal Fantasy, who sadly lack a starting Warjack, the Warlocks of Unleashed start the game with Warbeasts bonded to them to accent the list of spells they can cast. With rules for bonding even larger beasts later on in the book the Warlock is understandably a considerable threat in this game!
Whenever the folks at Privateer Press decided to craft an RPG that mimics the rules of their wargame, they struck gold. The combat in the RPG is so similar to their wargame it fits like a glove for anyone who has played latter. I must also mention that those introduced to the RPG will have an easy time going the other way too, I have proof of that within my gaming group. Adding in some out of combat rules doesn’t complicate much, you still use two six sided die and add any bonuses a character may have in that skill to meet a target number. This section explains it all very well and looks to have required little new from the Full Metal Fantasy book.
The game is very tactical, it is based on a wargame after all. Those of you who aren’t big fans of grids and minis might wish to move along. Although, I would advise you at least give it a try, using tape measurements for movement feels a lot more intuitive than spaces on a grid.
MAGIC OF THE WILDS
Magic in the wilds can seem similar to the forces thrown about by the more “civilized” factions of the world as they war, there are will weavers of the arcane arts and those who harness beasts similar to the ways machines are controlled, but spend any amount of time studying the ways of primal magic and you will find great differences (assuming you survive long enough to compare the two).
Will weavers in the wilds cast spells by tapping into their own endurance as a power source. Spells cast, maintained, etc earn fatigue points that build over time. Every turn these are removed based on a character’s Arcane stat (i.e. a stat of 3 removes three fatigue). Even gaining a large quantity of fatigue by casting beyond your limits only gives the chance that fatigue will exhaust the character. A die roll must meet or exceed the number, roll less and your turn is over before it starts.
Harnessers make up the second branch of primal majicks in the wilds of Western Immoren, and typically some of the most feared. These are the denizens of the wilds who bend the will of large beasts. Players of the Wargame Hordes will already be familiar with how a Warbeast works with its Warlock but for the uninitiated the Warlock actually forces the creature to do their bidding. When they force them to perform more aggressively than normal it gets angry and produces a power the Warlock can “leach” from the beast in the form of “Fury Points” for the Warlocks own pool of spells. Truly a dangerous pairing.
Blood magic is a third styling, though technically a Blood Magic user can either be a Will Weaver or Harnesser. Someone wielding this type of power channels from the essence of their own blood, and more often the blood of their enemies, to craft dangerous spells into their empowered melee weapons. Bloodweaver spells are all melee weapon focused and all very dangerous to go up against. It’s a very cool career to use but you are very limited if you want to play it. You must be a female Tharn (tribal human race) to access this power.
The chapter ends with a portion about a type of golem-like creature called a Wold that only the Circle of Orboros can create. These creatures are similar to Warjacks in the way that they are created rather than taken from the wilds. They still function like Warbeasts in the way that they generate fury for their Warlocks but they have some perks too, like being immune to fear as they are a construct. Of course, a Wold needs to be repaired, it doesn’t heal like a Warbeast.
I love that there is an entire chapter dedicated to these creatures. They are fleshed out amazingly well and the instructions for using them are thoroughly explained. It may seem daunting at first reading through the pages and seeing all the rules for using a Warbeast but I feel they are laid out well. They go over certain benifits you gain from forcing your Warbeast and what might occur if you push too far, everything a player of the wargame already knows but explained well to a new player. A bevy of Warbeasts are available in this chapter, I’m especially excited that they have rules for Roadhogs, which are basically giant steampunk boars!
GEAR AND BONE GRINDING
I love this chapter. Only in a setting like Unleashed can you have a chapter dedicated not simply to equipment but also equipment you can craft from the body parts of your dead enemies…or, up until recently, friends. The weapons and armor present here all have the look and feel of what you’d expect from scavenged items in the wilds. Many of the weapons are similar, or outright the same, as the one’s from Full Metal Fantasy but we do get a few new items that are either career specific or race specific like the Trollkin Rune Axe or a Nyss Claymore.
The newest feature is Bone Grinding. This is an alchemical process that uses natural ingredients, typically found within the bodies of the creatures in the wild. Beyond simple items like venoms and bottled oils that produce light a character called a Bone Grinder can turn body parts into what are called fetishes. These fetishes have a wide range of abilities mainly to enhance the spells and abilities of the caster but also to give interesting perks as well. One example is the “Speaker’s Tongue”, it can grant the user the ability to speak and understand any language its previous…uh owner… was able to.
You may recall back in the Fall of last year that I wrote a blog piece about Privateer Press’ Monsternomicon. Well apparently that didn’t scratch the itch for them when it came to creating baddies for us to fight because they’ve added just under 100 pages of new creatures for a game master to throw at their players. A truly frightening new addition is the Frost Drake, I didn’t even bother to count the dots in the life spiral (what passes for HP in IK).
Pretty excellent to add this by the way. They could have easily held out a little while and just made “Monsternomicon II” or something like that. Kudos folks.
GAME MASTERING UNLEASHED AND APPENDIXES
Rounding out the end of the book we have a chapter explaining how to GM the game, and the usual “what is a GM” stuff. The game is very tactical in nature, if you haven’t already gathered from the section on game rules and this section does a decent job of explaining how a GM can handle working with the players to run the game. Aspects like Feat Points, a built in reward system for the players, are also covered. There’s a little bit about NPCs in this chapter but only a bit, the building blocks are all there though. Lastly they explain some good Campaign strategies and even a way to play without miniatures (don’t really recommend that one myself).
Appendix A gives you a number of great creature templates, similar to the ones found in the Monsternomicon. These are great for sprucing up a fight and turning preconceived notions on their ear. Appendix B contains a copy of the character sheet and various game-play templates. Appendix C finishes things out with a model gallery to pull pictures of characters players may play as or run into.
I have very little to be critical of regarding this book, and I even feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what I can pull from it. I have to be honest, I simply had to skim in order to get a review out there prior to the release date of April 22nd, there is just too much book here for me to read every word in the time I had. Everything I read was quality though, if there is wasted space created I have yet to encounter it.
If you have any interest in this game system, buy this book. If you like owning quality RPG books you might never even run, buy this book. If you like Warmachine and Hordes buy… well you know. I told you I would be gushing and I hope I didn’t let you down. If anyone has any questions for me prior to launch when you can get this book on your own I’ll be glad to assist, for that matter I’ll talk Unleashed for a while to come if you want to chat about it. I hope I get to see these guys at Gen Con gain this year so i can shake their hands and thank them for this quality product. Now, get out there and create some savagery!.. In game of course.