Here Be Monsters: Iron Kingdoms Unleashed.

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So Gdaybloke was going through his mail the other day and I suppose he was a little curious why it weighed as much as a cinder block. Turns out this little beauty of a book was inside! The Iron Kingdoms Roleplaying Game has been on the shelf for some time now, but as we saw previewed at TempleCon a year ago last month, they had something new in the works, and I’m thinking it’s a good idea they did. There’s a great little write up in the Introduction that talks about how they originally had planned to do this as an expansion book for the Iron Kingdoms, but discovered they were working with so much material that it really was a whole new *thing*. Having looked through this book, I’m having a hard time disagreeing! It’s a monster of a tome, and really fleshes out a huge broad world.

I am a fan of most of the IKRPG books, largely because I’m a lore junkie. I don’t undertake RPGs lightly, but I have the IKRPG books because I love the world, the background and the peoples of Immoren (I *refuse* to call it by so trivializing a moniker as “fluff”). One of my favourite books to peruse when I’m looking for inspiration to paint, play, or write about the Iron Kingdoms is Kings, Nations, and Gods–a wonderful book that talks about all aspects of life in the industrial world of Western Immoren. It’s packed with information about geography, politics, religion, culture, demography, history.. it’s thrilling and enormously helpful to understand the people that inhabit this world. Much like the eras on which the setting is based, however, there is a distinct line between so-called “civilization” and the wilds beyond. Like the adventure stories of Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling, there is a whole world of ancient peoples to explore, and that is where this great book comes in.

While the Iron Kingdoms core book and Kings, Nations, and Gods deals with the heart of industry, Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed takes us into the wild. Fully half of this nearly 500-page tome is devoted to rich descriptions of the peoples and tribes of the wild, many of which we of the Warmachine and Hordes community are already somewhat familiar. Right out of the gate, the book starts with a history not just of a nation, but of the world itself. It starts with the creation myth of Dhunia and the Devourer Wurm and weaves its way through many other mythical and ancient concepts of Caen, including the Old Witch, the Lord of the Feast, and more, bouncing many off of the various cultures and tribes of Immoren, discussing their individual interpretations of those concepts. In this very organic narrative, it shapes an image of the landscape and its peoples for the reader, rather than as a portrait of an empty wilderness. That’s part of what makes this so enchanting, is that while the IKRPG series is focused intently on urban environments and national civilization, Unleashed focuses on wide open spaces and natural environments without sacrificing any of the society that they possess. Speaking of which, what follows is a gradual shift from ancient myth to history. The events that the IKRPG books touch on are expanded here, dealing with more about the Molgur peoples, Golivant, Grimmr, and more. All of this serves to outline the various tribes and races with which we are familiar from WM/H, and opens up into the next section, which is really my favourite.

The next part has enormous and detailed descriptions of the various “anational” peoples of Immoren. Detailed descriptions of the Circle Orboros include history, hierarchies, and territories, including maps of their various holdings–something I found particularly interesting as I’d never seen it before! It breaks up Western Immoren into the three great Dominions, and illustrates major holdings in and outside the Iron Kingdoms, like isolated islands. It is helpful to imagine, as it gives us a sense of their scope and disposition. (The CRS might love to get their hands on this..) It talks about life in each society, like what it’s like to grow up in the Trollkin Kriels, discussing dress like their famous Quitari and food and drink, like the aptly named “Trollkin and Booze” sidebar, or for that matter the Farrow’s complete acceptance of cannibalism in the “Pork is Delicious” sidebar. Hilarious. It talks about their political relationships, like the Farrow tribes’ Thornfall Alliance under Lord Carver, and their strange relationship with Dr. Arkadius. It talks about language and religion, like the Gatormen’s relationship with their god Kossk and their language’s close relationship with Quor-Og, the language of the Bog Trogs. Speaking of which, the book details the relationship each group shares with the others, including how the Nyss refugee shards interact with the huge numbers of tribal human societies of which there are a great many detailed, like the Idrians or even the unique Tharn Tuaths. It also involves an in-depth investigation of the various climates and environments each of these groups inhabit, including natural phenomena like landslides and sandstorms, and how people survive in the wild. It even goes on to illustrate at length the various features of Immoren, talking about each river and lake in turn, the great forests and territories, giving each a great deal of detail and history, as well as discussing what groups live there and who fights there.

As is to be expected in these books, there is a great deal of time and energy spent on character creation, which I would like to revisit in the next installment as I go through making my own! Needless to say, the game plays very easily and really quite simply compared with many other RPGs, using a slightly more involved version of the combat mechanics used in Warmachine and Hordes. Moving between the two is a cinch! There is a section devoted to magic, and the casting thereof, which involves a similar system to that of the IKRPG, with two Arcane Traditions to choose from. Will Weavers cover the majority of magic-using Careers, like Mist Speaker or Blood Weaver or Shaman (Devourer Wurm), and then the Harnesser covers all of the Warlocks. The spell list is phenomenal, including a great deal of old favourites from WM/H like Snipe, Bone Shaker, Hellmouth, and Admonition, but also includes a number of unique spells I’d love to see in the war game, like Earth’s Cradle (1 Fury–caster immediately Digs In, basically)! Each career has a selection of spells they can learn, which I like because each career follows a very different kind of magic! There is a wonderful illustration of this in the book where a Blood Weaver appears to have just finished some kind of profane sacrificial rite, and has coated her and her party in blood while they look on in horror at what she’s done.. brilliant!

The section on warbeasts is very flavourful and entertaining. Unlike maintaining and constructing warjacks, warbeasts are living things that have to be found in the wild and bonded by a harnesser. There is a broad variety of warbeasts to choose from, though the magic section is where they address building and controlling wolds! I love the idea of looking after the care and feeding of warbeasts, though they aren’t readily accepted in urban environments. I suppose that much is understandable! Of course they have a lot of personality as well, and are controlled by the GM to a great extent, which is appealing for me as a player. It gives the GM a little more to do while the party adventures, and gives some degree of communication between the Warlock and his beast rather than assuming they are in sync at all times. Each warbeast can be trained to wear various kinds of armour and wield various weapons as well! It makes them more versatile than you’d expect! Some, however, are less capable of being trained, usually with a few amusing quips by the writers. They have this to say on training options for Boneswarms: “Training: None. (Are you kidding? That would be like trying to train angry roadkill!)” There is also a terribly amusing discussion on War Hogs as well, entitled “Some assembly required”, where players can use different mechanical parts with the Giant Hog warbeast to create their own cyborg monstrosities! Neat!

One of the things I love about this book is that it has a nicely fleshed out bestiary. This was the first kind of book that dragged me into RPGs, with the Monster Manual from 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons. For some reason it thrilled me. The section is richly populated with many creatures with which we are familiar, mostly of Hordes tradition, but many that are unique to this book as well, like the various kinds of Drake and Tatzylwurm, to the Thornwood Mauler! I love the various kinds of lore the GM can describe and I like knowing the habits and habitat of the various creatures of the wilds.

This, to me, is what the book is all about–an enormous endeavour to flesh out a geography that is more than a topographical map in the front of your Hordes rulebook. It is a rich environment that changes with the seasons and the motions of the tribes, and is possessed of a history and a mythos, and it is why I will pick up this book for myself. I want to explore this world, whether or not I ever actually play the game, and if you love the world of Immoren, do yourself a favour–check it out.

Tune in next time, when I will be undertaking the building of a character in Iron Kingdoms: Unleashed!