Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Love Letter to the Iron Kingdoms, or, Why You Gotta Do Me Like That, Baby?

Hey Iron Kingdoms, it's me Jason. How have you been? I know it's been a while, but you've been on my mind lately. I was thinking about all the good times we had. Remember that? You were always so fun, so alive. I've seen your sisters Warmachine and Hordes around a lot lately, and I ran into your little brother Scrappers at the game store the other day, but none of them could really tell me how you were doing. I guess I just wanted to write to say I miss you. I miss what we had IK, can I still call you IK? I miss the fun and the adventure and your complicated personality. So I was wondering if we could, you know, get together sometime. Maybe have some coffee, catch up, nothing too serious. It'll be just like old times...

So, let me tell you, gentle readers, that I've been preaching the gospel of the Iron Kingdoms for years now. For those of you who may not know about the Iron Kingdoms, and shame on you if you don't, the IK is a setting created by Brian Snoddy and Matt Wilson and published by Privateer Press. Western Immoren, where the action takes place, is a high fantasy world that's well into its industrial revolution and is about to plunge into World War I. Do I have your attention? No? Shall I tell you about the semi-sentient steam powered robots guided by a magical clockwork AI? Steam driven powered armor fielded by the crypto-Russian Khadorans that has just as good a chance of working as boiling its pilot alive? How about magic weapons that run on batteries, or the Bodger who has a class ability that lets the player squeeze a little more use out of a broken machine by whacking it with a wrench and cussing it?

That's just a taste. Snoddy and Wilson took stale and played-out fantasy tropes, dying elves, dour dwarves alone in their mountain fastnesses, mighty dragons, fecund humans running rampant over the ancestral lands of the meta-human, and turned them right on their heads. Each culture, both human and meta-human, is a mash-up of different real life cultures (Khador is sort of Russia and northern, central and eastern Europe, Cygnar is sort of the UK, etc.) and filtered through a traditional fantasy RPG lens. Everything works differently in the Iron Kingdoms. Healing magic is uncommon, and just as liable to consume the healer in a fireball or fill their body with maggots as it is to heal someone (the gods frown upon healing magics), and traditional magical items are rare as hen's teeth for the same reasons. There aren't any gnomes or halflings or, God forbid, kender here. Instead they're replaced by playable, civilized versions of goblins, ogres and trolls. Hell, dwarves don't even commonly wear beards in this setting!

As for books, the Character Guide and the World Guide make up an 800 page opus of histories, calendars, peoples, gods, playable races and campaign hooks. The precious few expansions made for the game, like the Liber Mechanika and Five Fingers, expanded further on the already rich and fully realized setting laid out in the two main books. Each book is meticulously thought out, full of beautiful art and packed full of so much information that you can waste a week getting lost in the World Guide alone. All of this, the attention to detail, the messing around with traditional fantasy ideas, the steam powered robots, is what hooked me from the first time I read the Witchfire Trilogy.

Then, just as it was hitting its stride, the IK RPG was hung out to dry. I know that Warmachine and Hordes, tabletop wargames based in the IK setting, are essentially licenses to print money and I can understand them getting top billing.  I understand that there's only so much money and so much time to go around, but, come on. Monsternomicon 2, the last published book for the IKRPG, was just a mess, and a sad note for a great game to go out on. IKRPG deserves better than that. I'd love to see Privateer Press reboot the Iron Kingdoms with their own game system (it was previously hitched to D20 3.5 which didn't really suit it), and give it the support that it really deserves. So please Iron Kingdoms, I'm begging you, if you ever loved me you'll go out with me again, just once, for old times sake.


Phalanx said...

Iron Kingdoms is my favorite setting that I've never gotten to play. (And I say that because I did actually get to briefly play Transhuman Space on a couple of PBP games and ran a one-shot for my wife's friends in college.)

I vaguely recall that there may have been a fan conversion made to Savage Worlds.

But, yeah, I love the detail in Character and World Guides. They're worth having just to read. I just felt like the game mechanics were often clunkier than they needed to be.

Anonymous said...

Man, I feel you on that appeal. If Privateer press released a completely stand alone version of IK, I could probably be tempted away from my new mistress of 4e.

I'm not one to enjoy my fantasy and sci-fi mixed, but something about the Iron Kingdoms just felt so right.. so good.

It was also my favorite setting that I never actually got to play. But I had the whole Witchfire trilogy, and pored over them time after time, salivating at the thought that I MIGHT get to play them one day!

I even have the shirt that you got for sending in a d20 because yeah.. I read the fine print before it was cool!

Justin said...

They spread the word at Gen Con, not an official announcement, but the PP employees were allowed to tell people that they are in the earliest stages of developing an in-house system to re-launch the Iron Kingdoms with.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm for some reason only half the post can be seen. I tried reloading but still same.

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Anonymous said...

Did you heard what Rob Matts said about that?