Friday, 24 April 2015

[review] Let loose the Argus' of War - Iron Kingdoms Unleashed Review

Delicious, tasty, filling, meaty, something to dig your teeth into, but also a familiar flavour throughout.

Oh yeah, we’re talking about the new IKRPG Unleashed book. Not some meaty dish!

So previously I have reviewed the IKRPG Unleashed Abridged rulebook that comes in the new starter adventures kit. That basically covered what we are familiar with - primarily the core rules, and magic for Willweavers. But, we also got a taste of the new things. Harnessers, Warbeasts, and Blood Magic.

The main core book builds on that familiarity. It assumes that the reader is essentially new to the world of Caern and the Iron Kingdoms, or of course is a Hordes player. Thus we get the entire history of the setting all over again, but with certain events and characters and myths explored in more depth that they were in the IKRPG core book. These of course bring life in the wilderness into focus over life in the cities. Also, where IKRPG assumes the in game date is 605 AR as Llael has fallen to Khador, Unleashed assumes the in game date is 608 AR, and thus assumes that the events surrounding the war in the Thornwood between Cryx, Khador and Cygnar and others, have passed.

While IKRPG explored the nuances between the different ethnic groups that make up the Iron Kingdoms, Unleashed looks at the each of the main wilderness factions (Orboros, Trollkin Kriels, Farrow, Gatormen), plus the various other human tribes, and explores where their territories lie, what life is like in these societies, and their relationships with the other factions of Western Immoren. The amount of detail is excellent, and really allows you to delve into just one of these groups and use that as a basis for an adventuring party.

What is really excellent is that we get a healthy dollop of information about the Nyss, and their life that borders the wilds and the cities, and so builds upon the little information we had in the IKRPG core book.

Let’s not forget we have information on the Tharn and their tribes. They are presented then as a separate group, while also being allies to the Orboros. Perhaps not to a similar level of detail, we also get information on the Bog Trogs, who again are allies to the Gatormen, but are their own race.

What is important with all these sections, is that we are presented these groups so that while we get a sense of their communities and lives, but also these groups are not presented as monolithic entities. We get a sense of how diverse even Gatormen societies can be depending on the bayous they hail from.

Following the section on the different societies we get a section that explains the differences between different geographical regions, the way of life in those places, the hazards that they present, and the animals and plants that exist there. Each major forest, desert, mountain region etc are detail individually. This is all important for a GM who then has a reference text to help them paint an evocative picture of the landscapes that the adventuring party is travelling through.

With the setting out of the way, we get the familiar again. Character creation and stats. We have a number of races to choose in this book. Bog Trogs, Farrow (whose Warbeasts I learnt are just malformed Farrow births!), Gatormen (I really need to play one!), Humans Nyss, Pygmy Trolls, Tharn, and Trollkin. We have 4 archetypes are normal, but for the wilds, Intelligence is replaced by Cunning. Of course we then have the list and details on careers. Of course how these are used in character creation is the same as for IKRPG, but the options is quite interesting. Highlights are the Bokor, the Bone Grinder, the Bloodweaver (basically a close combat Gun Mage), a variety of mounted careers. Ugh… guess I will be getting some mounted troops for my armies!

The familiar continues, as we wade through abilities and skills, and the combat rules. Of course there are new entries that are more befitting the wilderness based games. Perhaps something that has a lot more options is the section on environmental hazards. 

Magic. That most mysterious of arts. Is again… familiar. Character can be will weavers (just as in IKRPG) or harnessers, who are able to control beasts and channel fury, and thus be Warlocks. Much like Gun Mages, Blood Mages can be willweavers or harnessers, depending on career combinations.

Harnessers, as I explained in the previous review, are exactly what you expect. They use rules identical to how warlocks work in Hordes, and are able to rile beasts, force them, and channel fury from them.

Wolds, the construct monsters of the Orboros get their own section in the chapter on magic. We get details on their construction of Wolds, the golems made of wood and carved stones. While these creatures do generate Fury and so act as warbeasts, they differ in that they must be repaired rather than healed, and do not frenzy. This makes Wolds in the rpg rather like a cross between a warbeast and a warjack.

That all of course brings us to the next major chapter, Warbeasts.

Essentially as we already know from the abridged rulebook, that the rules for them are the same as they are in Hordes. Of course we do get some more information on the nature of the warbeast/warlock relationship, the dangers of an ill fed beast, the way such creatures frenzy when their warlock dies, and more. For every beast within the book, we get information on the rules for training, arming, and animi, that beasts can learn and be equipped with. The actual stats for the beasts are given later in the book, and so this saves space by separating the Warbeast specific rules from the Warbeast stats.

The chapter on gear is as expected, featuring the tools of the trade for many of these races. But we also get a whole load of items and ingredients for wilderness alchemy, which are great additions for even regular IKRPG alchemist characters. But Bone Grinders (who are not just farrow, but any race) are more like specialist cooks, who know the brews and broths to create. Bone Grinders can also fabricate magical fetishes from the body parts they harvest from creatures and fallen foes.

The penultimate chapter, preceding the GM section, is the bestiary, which serves both as a list of opponents for characters, and the selection of creatures for warlocks to control. Many of these will be familiar both from the wargame, or from the pages of No Quarter and the Monsternomicon. Creatures get the standard style of information we have become used to, plus the templates (given in the appendix and in No Quarter and the Monsternomicon) than allow us to present variations on the same creature (so a juvenile Argus, or a Argus Alpha, or a trained Argus etc). There are some new beasts in the pages here, like the different types of Drakes, and the Feral Geist.

So, how do I feel about this book?

If you are new to Iron Kingdoms, and start here rather than the IKRPG book, then it is an excellent, massive, and well presented book, filled with the art and lore that we have come to expect from Privateer Press.

However, if you are like me, and already play the war games, or play the IKRPG, then there is a lot that is familiar, or duplicated wholesale. Is that a bad thing? Perhaps. But then Privateer Press has two core books for two player bases for two different settings, which are bound together by a greater setting. In that respect, it is similar to the scenario FFG has with the Warhammer 40k rpgs. So if you really want the content of Unleashed, but don’t want to buy a book you already have half of, then go get the pdf is my suggestion.

Lastly, right at the back of the book are two pages of conversions done by the Privateer Press studio. Lots of cool ideas here and I hope PP will make models available in some manner to make getting bits easier for such things.

Oh and the hard copy version of this book is excellent. I guess with the IKRPG core book, I now have two core books for my group when basic rules need referencing. But then the abridged rulebook is great for that too.

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