ajs writes "Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes is an advanced role playing rule book, based on Wizards of the Coast's d20 System (the rules that underpin the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons). What's unusual about it is that it presents both a setting and rules for "low magic" fantasy that doesn't sacrifice high adventure to get its gritty action." Read the rest of Aaron's review.
|Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes|
|summary||d20 System variant Player's Handbook|
Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes (I'm just going to call it Iron Heroes from here on) is published under Cook's imprint, Malhavoc Press, by Sword & Sorcery who are best known for their d20 System rules variants and supplements. Sword & Sorcery, in turn, is owned by White Wolf Publishing, well known for their World of Darkness line of storytelling games. Originally titled "Iron Lore", the title was changed before publication due to legal entanglements. But, enough about the publisher, let's discuss the book.
Mike Mearls, a regular contributor to Dragon Magazine and long-time d20 System author, has a vision, it seems. His Iron Heroes game gives us a window into a world where the fabled dragon-slaying knight doesn't carry a glowing trinket of a sword that solves his problems, but has to rely on his skills and experience. On its own, this would be a serious undertaking, but the goal of Iron Heroes is to balance such a world as closely as possible with the established mechanics, threats and rewards of the d20 System. This is something which I would have considered difficult enough to be impractical before I read Iron Heroes.
The book begins by explaining that inexperienced role players need not apply. This is intended as an advanced rulebook, and those not already familiar with d20 will have everything that they need, but may find the book daunting (this is the only major flaw I've found in the book). If you are aware of the d20 System, you will note that none of the usual d20 classes are there. Instead of the rogue, there is a thief. Instead of barbarian, there is a berserker. These are not capricious name changes, however, since the mechanics of each of these variant classes are quite different from their d20 equivalents. More on why in a bit...
To begin to explore the idea behind Iron Heroes, imagine the iconic fantasy setting that D&D generally presents. Now suppose that you make two changes: there are no overt gods interfering with the daily workings of the world (and hence, no divine magic), and magic itself is a wild and dangerous force, not to be toyed with lightly or without consequences.
These two changes produce a world in which the focus of high fantasy adventure turns from the wizard and the magic sword to the muscle-bound weapon master or the stealthy thief. To compensate for the fact that the characters will not have access to powerful magic, each of the core classes in Iron Heroes is substantially more powerful than their standard d20 counterparts. The base attack bonuses (BAB) increase at a faster pace and feats are gained much more quickly than in the SRD (the official, and freely available d20 System rules).
For the rest of the system, the mechanical differences can be summed up as follows:
- Feats are more tree-like, allowing progression and specialization in each feat.
- Skills and other actions can be used in creative ways by players and game masters alike, with a well balanced system for determining difficulty of unusual "stunts" and "challenges".
- Traits, a "variant rule" in standard d20, are a core mechanic in Iron Heroes.
- Since magical healing is rare at best, characters have reserves of hit points that they can make use of between encounters.
- Armor class is replaced by defense and damage reduction. Defense is the active capacity that a character has to avoid a blow. Armor, on the other hand, reduces damage taken by a character, using the standard d20 rules for damage reduction.
Of course, the most glaringly different element of Iron Heroes from d20 is the magic system. Magic is dangerous and unpredictable in Iron Heroes, so while there is an "arcanist" class, their spells are used cautiously and often with consequences. The magic system itself is quite different from d20. An arcanist pulls "mana" from elsewhere and focuses it using a "method". Methods are the mechanical effects of a spell, but the strength and "special effects" (to use a Hero System term) of a spell are determined by the amount of mana used and the player's preference respectively. This makes for a magic system which is much more flexible than in standard d20, but not as free-form as, say, the magic system from White Wolf's Mage. Magic is also quite a bit more limited in Iron Heroes, but I imagine that that will be addressed by later supplements.
The system is not easily combined with an existing campaign, so don't look to Iron Heroes for classes to add to your existing characters or for NPCs to introduce into other games. In a world full of magic items, for example, Iron Heroes combat classes would be far too powerful, and Iron Heroes arcanists would be hobbled by the restrictions on their magic use.
In short: this game marks—for me—what the d20 System and the Open Gaming License are all about. It presents a rich set of mechanics that build in compatible ways on what we already have access to, and gives us new ground to cover in the already well-covered ground of the fantasy role playing industry."
You can purchase Monte Cook Presents: Iron Heroes from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.