Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tommy's Take on Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin

It's going to be hard not to compare Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin with Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade, given how strong of an impression that game made on me, and how recently it was that I reviewed it.

One big difference is that Iron Dynasty is kind of inspired by anime...whereas Wu Xing is heavily inspired by anime...that alone should tweak the feel considerably. I'm also terribly familiar with Savage Worlds...it being my favorite in print RPG system...so that, plus Reality Blurs' reputation (I've never read RunePunk or Realms of Cthulhu, believe it or not) gives me high hopes going in.

So...does Iron Dynasty live up to "heavy metal oriental action"? Savage Worlds is probably a great system to accomodate it.

WORDS FROM A WISEMAN

Here is the setting "fluff", laying the groundwork for the world. Industrialization is crushing the spirit and honor that true warriors lived by, and in the face of imperialistic expansion all who would truly live free are being called to take up the sword and embrace the Way of the Ronin.

Okay, that does sound awesome. Kinda appeals to the libertarian in me, not to get too political.

The Iron Dynasty begins with the assassination of the Emperor and the installation of one of his two twin sons as the new Emperor. When the missing twin returns home, he's exiled (instead of killed, as the Emperor was told to do by his handlers)...and winds up returning - now the Witch-King - with an army of machines, crushing his brother's empire and taking his place, ruling with the might of machines.

Years later, history repeats itself somewhat as the new Witch-King, cousin of the new Empress, arrives...seeking to take the throne. He's dismissed out of hand, and leaves a nasty parting gift that wreaks havoc and leaves the throne empty.

For the next twenty years, up to the "present", The Empress' Honor Guard have ruled the Empire, now calling themselves the Lord Generals...and they're a little crazy.

A helpful sidebar informs us that Iron Dynasty has largely removed the class system typically found in feudal oriental societies.

Good set-up, told concisely, not overly verbose...and sets up a Ronin vs Crazy Empire With Guns And War Machines.

PATHS TO UNDERSTANDING

As is common in Savage Worlds books (and deservedly so) the character creation chapter begins with a listing of common character types for the setting...and we're talking pages worth. So if you're stuck for an appropriate concept, look no further.

This is followed up with nine sample characters of different concepts. Additionally, the book points out five "roles" that should be fulfilled. The upside of Savage Worlds is that it is EXCEEDINGLY easy to toss an NPC into a role to fill in a skill/knowledge gap without the game becoming cumbersome. The recommended roles are Talker, Healer, Infiltrator, Thinker, Warrior.

CHARACTER CREATION

Oh, woops...it is it's own chapter.

Still.

Humans are your only choice in the game, and they get a free Edge of Heroic Rank or less to start with, amping the power level up a bit, which is certainly fine for the setting. Otherwise, character creation is largely the same as in other Savage Worlds games.

It is also recommended that the PCs get "defining interests", which are similar to the Common Knowledge bonuses.

We get a few new Hindrances, a couple of which are familiar from other sources but wholly appropriate for the setting, such as Prideful...(a villain with Prideful will never deliver a finishing blow, for example).

Edges are where the setting really pops, as we get three new Arcane Backgrounds, which inform us that we're getting some new powers as well. They can be roughly categorized as mad scientists, priests and wizards.

Not surprisingly, there are all kinds of new Combat Edges in the game, like the impressive Arrow Cutting, which allows you to use your Parry score against physical missiles fired at you, rather than the standard TN of 4. Another nice one is Scabbard Block, allowing a swordsman to use his scabbard as a shield. Silent Kill is another great one: If your Ninja (or whoever) kills a foe unnoticed in a single round, they can either attempt to hide the body quickly, or pin it in place.

There are a LOT of new Edges...my biggest disappointment here is that there are no new Legendary Edges, unfortunately.

ARMS & EQUIPMENT

The equipment chapter begins with a conversion chart for money, which can be helpful if, among other things, you want to buy something that didn't make it into the book.

Helpfully, there are a lot of images and descriptions of armor and weapons, so that you can tell what they are. Seriously, I love this for any game that uses either non-standard equipment or non-standard naming conventions. It may seems like a little thing, but it's not. Having a page of illustrations for the various armors is tremendously useful. In addition, there are four different "grades" of equipment, modifying the prices and giving bonuses and penalties are appropriate. For the weapons that are essentially just renamed from common western names, a handy translation guide is present as well.

All in all, props for the equipment chapter for the little things as much as the big things.

SETTING RULES

Every Savage Setting typically stands apart because of the setting rules, which modify the core rules a bit to evoke an appropriate feel.

A lot of these are minor: Guts is removed in place of a Spirit check for fear effects and the like. Some Edges are modified or outright excluded, or replaced by new Edges. A couple of new uses for existing skills are listed, like using Intimidation to interrogate and Persuasion as both a Disguise skill and too perform seduction.

There are also Extended Trait Checks, which are reminiscent of Skill Challenges from D&D4e, and will probably be of much interest to some SW players.

KEY ELEMENTS

Here we get some new powers, as well as one important tweak: Speak Language now lets you talk to Nature Spirits.

New powers allow your heroes to banish oni and spirits from the mortal realm, raise the dead(!) (yes, it is a Legendary power), and travel long distances by stepping through dimensions. There are several more powers, giving plenty of options to choose from for the Arcane Background types.

A new Reputation system is included that can range from -100 to +100 and provides a benefit depending on your ranking. Agt -60, for instance, you essentially have the Mentor Edge, where followers seek you out to learn from you...at +95, you have a Sidekick showing up to help you out.

We also get Dueling rules, which have several pages of guidelines (and no, are not the same rules from Deadlands, which would feel out of place here). Duels can influence your Reputation, whether by winning, losing, accepting or refusing.

We also get a little more detail on black powder weapons such as firearms, grenades and the like and some useful guidelines on calculating troops for using the Mass Battle rules (which I'm a big fan of, personally, and love the opportunity to use in SW).

KONOYO: THE KNOWN WORLD

Now we getting into the setting chapter proper, starting with the five races of people in Konoyo, and how they differ in appearance, dress, etc. Note: This is race in the classic Our World sense, not in the classic Fantasy World sense. Everyone's still human.

Nine provinces are also laid out, each getting about a page, detailing their economy, legal system, allies, enemies and even the common outlook of the people. Like with the background in the beginning, I applaud the author for their verbage here: They never go long winded, giving you the details and getting out.

SECRETS OF THE SENSEI

Thus would be the GMing section...specifically, the somewhat more detailed information on each Province with cities, factions and places of interest, as well as plot seeds that can be used as inspiration or misdirection. Again, this section could easily go long winded...God knows a lot of game books do...but not so here. For me, at least, the level of detail feels about juuust right...because if you're hitting me with a wall of setting text, it better be some amazingly interesting stuff. Here, we get enough information to use any part of the world, though a little work has to go into all of it, because it's not meticulously detailed.

KESSHI TALES

What's one way to sell me on a book? Include a random adventure generator...which this does. It feels similar to the one in Solomon Kane, but expanded, especially with a few tables specific to the setting, which is awesome. You can roll up the premise of the adventure, the mcguffin, the basic location, the supporting cast...all of the good stuff.

We also get a system for designing "Corrupted", who are people that have been...er...corrupted by dark mojo.

Templates are provided for Lesser and Greater Oni, as well as "Yokai", with random tables that can be used to further modify them for effect. Finally, we get four Monstrous Templates that can be added to most creatures: Clockwork (clockwork samurai FTW!), Demon-Blooded, Ghostly and Kami-Possessed.

CAMPAIGN FRAMEWORKS

Seven campaign frameworks are included, with recommended character types, adversaries, locations, rewards, etc. Each framework is given a set-up and a sample plot progression that could be developed into Plot Points with a little work. The first one is Heroes of the People with a story arc called The Seven, Oh, Y'Know...and is a band of, say, samurai summoned to help, say, a village against, say, bandits...although their plot arc includes 90% more demons than The Seven Samurai did.

Fields of Blood is all about battlefield conflict, in which the heroes rise from footsoldiers to battlefield generals.

Vengeance is Mine should be a REALLY self explanatory campaign type, and so on. While these aren't the most useful for actually laying out individual adventures, they do a nice job of relaying the depth of the setting and helping to structure a campaign.

PEOPLE OF KONOYO

These are your stock NPC stat blocks for various walks of life and so forth. Seven pages, from Animal Handlers to Yakuza. Pretty much most of what you're going to need is present here, for killing or otherwise.

CREATURES OF KONOYO

Ah, monsters...

Starting with the spider-like Baku, through elemental spirits and even common animals. Iron Dynasty doesn't just leave you at the mercy of using random monsters, instead providing many options for you, demonic and otherwise.

THE MIGHTY KIKAI

This would be the section on the giant war machines...we get basic information on light, medium and heavy kikai...with word that more will be coming in The Art of War, apparently an upcoming supplement. There is enough information here to use the three stat blocks, and since it'll be illegal for most PCs to have one, this is probably sufficient information.

TWENTY MYSTIC RELICS

This is kind of a self explanatory chapter...being about twenty mystic relics.

We have weapons like a bone spear made from the leg of an oni, a flute that can jog people's memories, a mask that can grant a lion's roar, an orb that can raise the dead and a lucky stone that grants the owner a benny at the beginning of the session as well as any time they draw a Joker.

Finally, we get an extensive index and a full color map.

The PDF is bookmarked, searchable, copy and paste enabled, has a clickable table of contents and is layered (not that it's a high end product, graphically speaking, as it is almost entirely black and white).

There is a credit for the character sheet design, but that seems to be missing from the book...I assume it is on the Reality Blurs website. If so, that's a minor, but annoying, omission. I'm not a fan of that or the lack of Legendary Edges...in a perfect world, every setting would have at least a couple of Legendary Specific Edges, if for no other reason than to help dispel the annoying misconception that Savage Worlds ends at Legendary. I'm also a bigger fan of the slightly more "westernized" oriental setting found in Wu Xing than I am here, but that's a personal preference and nothing more. Ultimately, it's two superficially similar settings with wildly different executions.

I do like the variety of campaign and character options, the random tables are always welcome, the equipment chapter is *incredibly* well done, tons of new Edges and some cool new powers (including Resurrection, making its first Savage Worlds appearance that I recall seeing).

A very worthy addition to the Savage Worlds library, showing off how SW can do cool martial arts action.