Monday, November 22, 2010

Side-Show Arcade: Iron Heroes

I admit it: I hate the Wizard class.  I’m not sure what it is about those beady-eyed, pompous, over-dressed, social misfits that gets my dander up.

So Iron Heroes is my kind of system.  Created by Mike Mearls, it uses the framework of D&D 3.5e to propose an RPG world where there is little to no magic available for the players.  And what magic there is is more likely to corrupt or destroy you than give you a to-hit bonus.  This is a world where dedication, brute strength, cunning, and intelligence rule; where the Gods are distant or capricious; where magic is the province of madmen and fools.

Largely, my kind of place.

I have nothing but praise for the system, although I admit to just being introduced to it fairly recently.  Iron Heroes differs from standard D&D in the way that it treats skills, and the way that it implements feats. 


In standard D&D, you’ve got a metric that describes your basic attack.  Say you’re a third level fighter; your experience level + Strength rating  may give you a bonus when you take a swing with your broadsword at that goblin warrior. 

The same goes for Iron Heroes, but the Iron Hero warrior may also be able to use skills to help make his attacks better able to hit.  The Iron Hero warrior may roar and rant just before striking, using his skill at Intimidation to gain a bonus on his swing; he may do a couple cartwheels to distract the goblin before striking, leveraging his capability with Tumbling to give him a leg up in his attack. 

The way the system implements skill is VERY satisfactory to me; most of the characters I like to play are skill-centric rather than combat-oriented.  (Which is why I lurv the d20 Modern system…)  Practically any skill can be used to augment combat ability; even traditionally non-combat skills like Diplomacy and Survival can be massaged into doing service for your blade or axe.

The other neat thing that the Iron Heroes system does with skills is to group them into families and allow for complementary skill point distribution.  Each Iron Heroes class has access to certain skill families; if you have access to a skill family, then you need only spend 1 skill point to feed all the skills within that family.  So, for example, the skill family Agility contains the skills Tumble, Escape Artist, and Balance.  My Weapon Master need only spend a single skill point to upgrade all three skills because she has access to that skill family.  For skill families to which she doesn’t have access—for example Robbery (made up of Disable Device, Forgery, Open Lock, and Sleight of Hand), she has to spend a skill point on each skill if she wants to augment them.


The thing that makes Iron Heroes stand out against other gaming systems is probably its use of Token Pools.  Token Pools are a device to reward players for using feats; or for playing their character to type.  For example, the Berserker has access to the Fury token pool; he can gain tokens by watching an ally fall in battle; getting hit; or spending a turn thinking about how angry he is.  :)  Those tokens can then be spent on special abilities available to his class.  The more tokens he spends, the better able he is to bring the enemy pain. 

Token pools are available for non-class feats as well.  For example, the old standby Dodge.  Normally, the Dodge feat allows you to nominate a single enemy and gain a bonus against all attacks from that source.  In Iron Heroes, the Dodge feat gives you access to the Dodge Pool; the more that enemy attacks you and misses you, the more Dodge Tokens you get.  You can spend those tokens on making him miss even more.

And that leads perfectly into the idea of the feat masteries.  The first time you take Dodge, you get a +1 bonus to your defense per token spent against a single enemy’s attacks.  As you level up and learn more, you’re able to learn to use Dodge even more effectively.  For example, at Dodge Master 3, you’re able to spend 4 tokens and redirect an attack meant for you to hit someone else.  At level 7, when your designated opponent attacks and misses you, you can spend 4 tokens and take an immediate 5 foot step.


I don’t really have any.  Whether the system is good from a game master’s perspective, I don’t know; I’ve only been a player. 

From my standpoint, the system inspires creativity and boldness in combat.  That’s precisely what I’m looking for, so Iron Heroes plays almost perfectly. 

Next up: d20 Modern!

No comments: