Iron Kingdoms Unleashed (IKU) has been with us for nearly a year now. I’ve spent plenty of time remarking, in past posts, about its unique entry into the Tabletop RPG Games’ arena. Bringing a level of diversity that’s even beyond its predecessor, Iron Kingdoms. I know the lore for the world those two games are based in fairly well, I would never claim to be as knowledgeable as my good friend Nick though, so I had long wondered if there would be further additions to playable races that are even more strange and varied than the ones laid out in IK & IKU. Races like the Undead legions of the Cryx, a crazy concept for role-play I’d still love to see, or maybe the blighted peoples of the Legion of Everblight. The latest entry was neither of those however, instead we were given rules for a group I’d paid little mind to over the years, the Skorne with their new manual Iron Kingdoms Unleased: Skorne Empire (IKU:SE). Not one of the groups I was asking for but boy am I glad to receive it!
Delving into IKU: Skorne Empire took me a while to get around to. It sort of appeared on the scene without my noticing it, not one of the books I got the pleasure of receiving a copy of for review. I only heard about it because my friend, mentioned above, wanted to run an IKU game using it. I knew it would be a project for me because, as already mentioned, this isn’t one of the races in the world of Immoren that I already had familiarity with. I knew that along with new Careers, Abilities, and styles of play, I’d have to brush up on their lore. If there’s one thing you need to know about Privateer Press, lore is in no shortage, if anything they OVERFLUFF you! Some of the best lore masters in the gaming industry in my opinion.
The Skorne of Eastern Immoren are a wildly interesting race, seemingly based loosely on Arabic cultures. They have no gods to speak of and they have full awareness that, upon death, their souls are sent screaming into the void. So, many years ago, they took matters into their own hands and created a means in which to house the souls of the deceased. To do this is a laborious process, requiring the crafting of what they refer to as Sacral Stones. Not all are worthy of this Exaltation, however, one must prove themselves worthy of this great saving of the soul. To be considered such one must follow a strict warrior code and prove themselves upon the field of battle. Due to this there are numerous Skorne who just accept the fact that upon the day of their death they will have little to no chance of being saved from a terrible fate. This has created a caste system where warriors take the top ranks above all else, and has made for a very unique roleplaying scenario where you are decidedly considered subservient, with rare exception, to those in the caste above you.
As far as new crunch goes IKU:SE gives us some unique flavor in the racial abilities of the Skorne where every Skorne begins the game with an Arcane stat of 1. No other race does this, the Skorne are uniquely attuned to the Arcane. We get a whopping 15 new Careers that are all strictly Skorne based, unusable by any of the races in IKU. In fact, in reverse, very few of the IKU Careers are availiable to the Skorne. Hence the need for the huge influx of Careers. The Skorne are just really different from the wild races of Western Immoren, too alien for much crossover. Take for instance the fact that Archer could technically be a Career for a Skorne PC but it would be a very strange contradiction to the Skorne’s abhorrence to ranged weaponry (with the one exception being their own Venators). The Careers are all very restrictive among themselves, which could alienate some players. Beyond the typical considerations that separate certain Careers you have the addition of Caste. A player might consider two Careers to be a perfect match and find that you simply can’t because one is a Warrior Caste Career and the other requires the character to be from the Paingivers. Honestly I had a really hard time making a character due to this exact thing. I kept thinking of a cool concept only to be blocked by namely Caste. For better or worse this supplement contains the highest level of restrictions between Careers. I still haven’t decided if this adds a level of sophistication to the game, making it almost an RPG on “Hard Mode” or if it is just annoying. Either way, you PC is likely going to be harder to build than in some of the other Iron Kingdoms materials.
There are a host of new abilities, spells, weapons and warbeasts to choose from. Other than warbests, everything contains choices that cross over between the old IKU book and the new supplement. They did a good job of putting a book number next to the new items, so you can figure out whether it’s from IKU:SE or from its parent book, but it’s no lie that it can be somewhat tiring flipping between the two. Hardly a new thing though, and barely a complaint. Much time was spent on some of the more unique aspects of the Skorne, namely the details behind the Extollers (a Career who’s main focus is Exalting Warriors into the Sacral Stones). Many pages describe the cool things they can do using their stone-crafted soul houses. From full on exaltation to the simpler methods of housing souls temporarily and in constructs that can actually fight. All very cool stuff that almost made me play as an Extoller (opted not to because I just couldn’t manage to figure out a secondary Career that meshed the way I wanted it too, REALLY wanted to be an Extoller\Tormentor but it just wasn’t to be).
I am loving the game I’m in right now, not only is Nick a sturdy GM and very knowledgeable of the various Immoren lore, but the Skorne are just interesting to play. My character is a Warlock\Beast Handler and due to this a member of the Paingiver Caste by virtue of my secondary Career. It is rare in the Iron Kingdoms RPG to be a Warlock and not the leader of the group in a sense, but in Skorne Empire a Paingiver is simply lower than those of the Warrior Caste. There are two Warriors in our group and I have to be careful not to anger them (in game of course). In fact just this last Monday I mistakenly pushed my warbeast (Rupa, a Cyclops Savage) too far and he frenzied. Sadly, the closest target, because a frenzied warbest lashes out, was one of the two Warriors in our group. By the time I got Rupa under control again I’d damaged Warrior and nearly lost my head for it. It set up a really cool roleplaying moment, and beyond that I’m enjoying the challenge of playing a character who cannot take a leadership role in any fashion in the group. Others may not care for that, and may have a hard time figuring out where\how to shine in a Roleplay sense though. Very unique style of play.
I’d put Iron Kingdoms Unleashed: Skorne Empire in a very unique category. In a Roleplaying Game that already makes no bones about keeping things all that balanced, Skorne Empire takes it even further. Everything is useful in its way but unlike most RPGs that allow for a free and open role-play situation you will find yourself pretty restricted on that front. For me, it adds a level of complexity to the world and makes things really interesting. Others may just shut down and feel they have little to add while the others at the table stride around in their higher Castes. Regarding the crunch I basically only have very specific complaints. I want to be an Extoller\Tormentor for one. Not many Careers lend toward being of the “Cunning” Archetype (although that’s an issue I have with the Iron Kingdoms RPG as a whole, I don’t like that some Careers require the Gifted Archtype). Lastly, fighting claws should either be considered Hand Weapons or Tormentors need to be able to train in Unarmed! Like I said, very specific stuff.
Pick this game up if you’re interested in a challenging, but overall fun, experience. The Skorne are merciless and give you the opportunity to really play up a less than “good guy” type PC, perfect fits for the Unleashed universe. Privateer Press apparently does not release supplements simply for the sake of it, a lot of fine detail went into the making of this product. I continue to be impressed. If I ever get my hands on a physical copy I’ll add a bit about its make, for now I’ve got the pdf which is solidly bookmarked. Thank you PP for having good pdfs availiable, other RPG companies should take note, well, one other company.
Take care all!