Far to the East, across the blasted wastelands, across the abyss, is a nation that most residents of the Iron Kingdoms have never even heard of. Its people are proud, driven by their understanding of honour to be the very best they can be in an effort to save their eternal souls from damnation… and at the same time, they are a cruel, callous, vicious people who consider all other species to be lesser, worthy only of enslavement, experimentation and worse.
The first expansion for the Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed RPG opens up the Skorne Empire, and may Menoth have mercy on our souls…
This article has taken me a little while to get started. Not because of the quality of the product, but more because of the significance of the content, both in terms of what it brings to the IK Unleashed experience, and the fact that it deals with a nation built on slavery, torture, and other such abhorrent concepts. What both sold me and touched me, though, was a sidebar in the Game Mastering section, simply entitled Games should be fun.
In this little box, the authors acknowledge that the Skorne Empire is, frankly, a very unpleasant place that can make a lot of people feel uncomfortable, and exhort the Games Master to be mindful, to tailor the gaming experience to the group’s comfort level. It’s a simple little thing, but it’s a good thing.
On with the show!
For the fluffbunnies:
Skorne Empire is, as mentioned, the first expansion for IK:Unleashed, and it brings us a look at one of the greatest mysteries of the Warmachine/Hordes universe. We’ve long had inside knowledge into the backgrounds of the Iron Kingdoms, but until now we’ve known more about the scattered, disparate Circle of Orbors than we have about the Skorne, who supposedly control an empire that rivals the Iron Kingdoms in size. Such a huge part of Immoren, and we’ve only had vague hints as to how it all works, until now.
Suddenly we have a breakdown of the history of the Skorne like no other – how the culture developed, examination of the caste system, dominant houses, Skorne philosophy – Ishoul, Kaleed, Kexorus, Morkaash, Voskune… were we even aware that there are five different ethnic subgroups within the Skorne? Law, politics, economies. Skorne Empire is a trove of background information that any Hordes Skorne player would love, let alone anyone interested in the setting of the Iron Kingdoms. This book is the equal of any Kingdom-centric chapter in the Kings, Nations & Gods sourcebook.
For the players:
Skorne Empire presents an interesting roleplaying dynamic in that each member of the group’s role isn’t just defined by the careers they choose, but more by the castes. Every rpg team needs a number of specific roles filled to give it a balanced chance of success, but when some classes are limited to specific castes – warrior, extoller, paingiver, worker, slave, outcast – then the very point of character creation can establish who’s “team leader” and the like. How the members of the team interact with each other and with any NPC’s is going to be heavily impacted by caste choices.
Take the Chirurgeon, for example. Skorne Empire introduces no less than 15 new race-specific classes. As a healer, even amidst a group of characters for whom the ability to endure pain is of almost religious signigicance, the Chirurgeon’s abilities can make him indispensable… and yet, as a member of the Worker caste, he can never expect more than the barest minimum of respect from members of the Warrior caste, for example.
This can present some amazing opportunities for inter-party roleplaying, as much as it can present challenges.
Along with a range of careers that allow you to play essentially any Skorne miniatures you have in your collection and more, Skorne Empire brings Skorne adventuring companies (including the Beast Hunters and Renegades, which are suitable for non-Skorne Unleashed characters, a huge pile of new abilities, page after page of Skorne-specific equipment, and then there’s Chymistry…
An entirely new science for Unleashed, Chymistry is the Skorne’s equivalent of Alchemy. The right combinaton of ingredients can provide a potent toxin, a healing poultice, an explosive or, I’m sure, an incredibly potent laxative.
There are even full rules for the chymical sling shell – Combat Chymists are a thing.
Mortitheurgy, the extoller arts, how to transfer a sacral stone from a damaged vessel into a new one – even notes on playing an Ancestral Guardian, all before we even touch on Warbeasts, from the humble Razor Worm to the towering Mammoth…
For the Games Master:
Aside from giving us the rules for pretty much every gribbly of interest that we’ve previously been familiar with when dealing with the Skorne, Skorne Empire snuck this one under the radar as well, giving us our first glimpse of what we can expect from the newest Gargantuan for the Army of the Western Reaches.
More importantly, the Games Master section details some of the challenges (read: near impossibility) of using a Skorne player in a party of non-Skorne, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to town with the book. There is an awful lot of adventuring to be had for a full Skorne party, just as there is for a party of other Unleashed races running around inside the Empire, trying to remain unnoticed.
Skorne Empire is an excellent resource for IK: Unleashed, an insight into aspects of a culture that have previously been unknown to us… and it has me eager and waiting for Ios, Rhul, and even Cryx. Whether you’re curious about the Skorne, looking for a new campaign setting, or just want to make sure you can properly spell Vuxoris next time it comes up in your PhD notes, this tome is well worth your time investment.