So Privateer Press had their keynote presentation at Templecon, and there were a number of exciting announcements. The Cephalyx will be their own playable faction for Warmachine and Hordes, which of course means a number of new models which will be a great addition to the IKRPG.
Speaking of which there was a major announcement for IKRPG, that the 3rd book, 'Unleashed' will be coming out early 2015. This book will be covering a number of major additions to the game. The will be a number of new playable races, such as Gatormen, Farrow and more, plus of course numerous careers, and new magic rules for the Fury manipulating warlocks.
Unleashed has also been setup as a second core book, since there will be so many new rules and races and careers that will really only be playable for games set in the wilds of the Iron Kingdoms, and so of course while the book will be fully compatible with the books already printed, the book will not be expected to completely balanced with the options and characters that can be constructed with the original core book.
Is this really such a big issue as a lot of people are making out? A starting human aristocrat alchemist and a starting Gatorman Bokor Warlock are very different characters and excel in very different environments. It is a fools errand to try and balance all the options in all books to the point that a party may include any combination of characters. Firstly because different types of characters really only fit into certain types of stories, which means they encounter particular types of challenges and threats. And secondly, thematically and logically, some party combinations are just nonsense, and neither in keeping with the game setting, or the type of stories the GM wants to run.
A lot of this seems very reminiscent of players moaning about power balance between different splats in WoD games, when while the games run off the same engines, each game setting is setting out to address particular types of stories. Also a demand for this type of mechanical game balance is born out of how people approach online rpgs, and of course the need for everyone to be a special snowflake character. Again there is a massive rant to be had here about how IKRPG is not DnD, and not all about playing in a way where all that matters is killing things, taking their stuff, and levelling up.
Honestly I think the approach being taken with Unleashed is a great idea. Another core for what really is another setting within the Iron Kingdoms, and where fans of Hordes can play a rpg that focuses more their favourite setting rather than that of Warmachine. It should be a massive book filled with tons of monsters which will be great for IKRPG players for either setting, and of course it sets us up for the following book where we will see the Skorne introduced.
Right now for the main event.
Iron Kingdoms is quite the genre mashup game. We have a setting that has a style that spans the Renaissance, Napoleonic, and Victorian. There is definite theme of taming the wilderness and frontiers. And so with the firearms, steam trains, and exploration, Iron Kingdoms happily encourages stories that more of less look like those from Westerns.
So what's the main aspects of a Western?
The Western genre sometimes portrays the conquest of the wilderness and the subordination of nature in the name of civilisation or the confiscation of the territorial rights of the original, Native Americans, inhabitants of the frontier. The Western depicts a society organised around codes of honor and personal, direct or private justice such as the feud, rather than one organised around rationalistic, abstract law, in which social order is maintained predominately through relatively impersonal institutions. The popular perception of the Western is a story that centres on the life of a semi-nomadic wanderer, usually a cowboy or a gunfighter. A showdown or duel at high noon featuring two or more gunfighters is a stereotypical scene in the popular conception of Westerns.
Given the above we can now think about what locations in the Iron Kingdoms would fit with this? Clearly the borders of the Iron Kingdoms all fit in. Cygnar, the Protectorate and Llael all border the Bloodstone Marches and the deserts beyond. The Marches are of course home to a number of Trollkin Kriels, who in many ways are analogous to the displaced Native Americans. Those who make their home out in the sun baked plains and deserts eke out a living through mining and tending to herds of the hardy bison. In comparison the snowy tundra north of Khador is where explorers also look for opportunities to mine, hunt for pelts, find redwood trees for lumber, and also to escape the oversight of their oppressive government.
In all these places there are many dangers. First and foremost there is the danger of the elements. Townships die as waterholes dry up. Logging villages starve as snow cuts them off from civilisation. Surviving in these harsh conditions and looking at how characters cope and help their community, are respectable stories already filled with drama. Other dangers from the elements are those that characters and society invoke. Be this cave-ins due to mining, the danger of trees being felled and crushing people, surviving the water rapids as they travel down stream.
The next type of danger in these environments comes from the beasts that roam the wilds. Typical things may be wolves, bison, mountain lions, and more. Of course the Iron Kingdoms and Immoren have their own creatures, some being more fantastical versions of what have already been mentioned (Dusk Wolves, the bison that Trollkin ride, etc), and more to boot (Gorax, Argus, Dolomites etc). These monsters and beasts of the wild present unique challenges, and reinforce the fear of the wild and the unknown.
The exploration and colonisation of the the wilds of course leads to conflict between the colonials and the natives. The most obvious case of such a conflict is between people of the the Iron Kingdoms and the Trollkin Kriels. The Trollkin has been previously displaced, and forced into the Bloodstone Marches, and now even that land is being encroached upon. All the while there is the danger to the bison ranchers of attacks from the Farrow Brigands, and in the north the woods are roamed by the blighted Nyss and the dragon kin monsters. Of course we can't forget about the dangers posed by the Gatormen and Bogtrogs along the water ways, or the Dregg in the north. Humans, and the peoples of the Iron Kingdoms, are creating conflict and chaos through their need for expansion.
The final danger is the one that exists within the communities. Being on the edge of society, the edge of the known lands, away from the oversight of government officials, makes it very enticing to commit crime. This can range from murder, bison rustling, or having your gang set up a protection racket. Within these communities honour, respect, and the local justice counts for a lot, and so characters could be drawn into the protection of these rights, and enacting private justice.
Westerns also typically feature a number of characters archetypes. The first and foremost is the nomadic wanderer. This is a character, who often has a dark history, and travels from town to town, righting wrongs and taking up mercenary contracts. This is our 'bad ass in a trench coat', and is either the silent type or a wise cracking sort. We can then look at the token native, who previously in films was the sort of character type that was pure exploitation, but in this day and age offer a stark glimpse into how we have destroyed peoples who were more in touch with the land, which we have now taken for granted and damaged. Tonto of course is a classic example. In a similar manner we can also look at the issue of slavery and what it means to be free and how the themes of a the Western fit into the desire for this freedom and personal justice. Django is a excellent example of this character type, from Django Unchained. Other character concepts of course cover the lawmen, priests, doctors, travelling snake oils sellers, rail tycoons, bandits, bounty hunters, ranchers, and more. Given the diversity of character concepts, it would be more than feasible to run a game that revolves around a single town and the social-political drama that takes place there, all the while natives and beasts threaten the town.
While we can mine Westerns for plot ideas, what elements particular to the Iron Kingdoms can be used. Perhaps we have a mine that opens up onto an ancient Orgoth mine, and unleashes a zombie plague. Maybe the mine opens up into the chasms that are the home to the Cephalyx. Perhaps Farrow have kidnapped a family member, and much like in the classic Western, 'The Searchers', you have to track down the Farrow and rescue the enslaved family member. Maybe in the far north you band of explorers come upon a lost town, and discover it fell foul of the harsh winter and there are signs of cannibalism, and now they have to deal with the corrupted humans that have resulted from that. Of course a plot much like 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' could be played out with the backdrop of the conflict between Cygnar and Khador.
Within the setting we also have a town already written up for use for these types of plots, Ternon Crag, plus another one presented in No Quarter, Wexmere. These are excellent locations that offer Western locations for games.
Now character archetypes. We have many combinations to use that fit into the Western. A Troll could be from the Kriels, and has come for revenge against the ruthless company owners who have driven them from their lands. A goblin alchemist could be peddling fake oils and serums while also doing a fine trade minting fake Cynaran crowns. A Ruhlic bounty hunter has come stalks the woods around the northern logging village, looking to acquire numerous pelts. The Captain career would make for a good representation of a town Sheriff, while a Pistoleer could easily be a 'bad ass in a trench coat' mercenary. A Rifleman would be the perfect career for a rancher, enabling him to lookout for his herd and shoot wolves or bandits.
So the Western for Iron Kingdoms? How would you run it, or what characters would you come up with?