Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 19 November 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.


It is such a common trope in fantasy roleplaying that it is almost no surprise that amongst the releases for Free RPG Day 2021, there are not one, but two scenarios in which the Player Characters must protect a village against a threat. Common enough, of course, but in fact, the nature of the threat in both scenarios consists of the undead, in both scenarios the Player Characters have to protect the village overnight, and in both scenarios, the Player Characters face an onslaught not once, not twice, but three times! One is Reap and Sow, a scenario and quick-start for Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound, but the other is Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness. This is a scenario for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, the version of the Steampunk and high fantasy setting best known for its miniatures combat game, Warmachine: Prime,  for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. Published by Privateer Press, Iron Kingdoms: Requiem and thus Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness bring the setting and intellectual property full circle, both having been first seen in The Longest Night, Shadow of the Exile, and The Legion of the Lost, the trilogy of scenarios published for use with the d20 System in 2001. The three would later be collected as The Witchfire Trilogy.

The Iron Kingdoms is noted for three things. First, its interesting mix of races—Gobbers, Ogrun, and Trollkin alongside the traditional Humans, Elves, and Dwarves. There are no Halflings or Gnomes, and even the Elves are different to those of more traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy. Second, the prevalence of technology, in particular, the use of firearms and Steamjacks and Warjacks, steam-driven robots with magical brains, used in heavy industry and on the field of battle. Third, the tone of the setting is fairly grim, there being an island to the west, Cryx, where the sorcerers have long experimented with combing the undead with Steamjacks and Warjacks, and have long planned to invade the Iron Kingdoms. 

Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is not a quick-start for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, but a scenario, so the Game Master will need access to a copy of Iron Kingdoms: Requiem to run the scenario. It is designed to be played by between three and seven Player Characters of First to Fourth Level, but is optimised for five Third Level Player Characters. As the scenario opens, whether as envoys, on escort duty, or conducting family business, the Player Characters have come to the small coastal village of Ingrane, which is in the middle of celebrating Founding Day, the anniversary of its refounding. Surrounded by swamp, the village is a year old, having been refounded and rebuilt on the ruins of the previous village of Ingrane which was destroyed a little over three decades ago by Cryxian raiders. However, the village was also home to a late, great hero of the Iron Kingdoms, and many people have come from far and wide to rebuild the village in her honour.

Upon entering Ingrane the Player Characters have the chance to explore Ingrane and interact with the villagers, whether that is praying at the Shrine of the First Daughter—the statue of the fallen hero of the Iron Kingdoms, engaging in friendly competitions and games of chance, doing a little bit of shopping, and even testing out a new invention! These are chances for the players to roll the dice without having anything serious at stake, roleplay a little, and with luck establish some rapport with the villagers. Certainly the latter will be in their favour when the Player Characters have to defend the village, the Founding Day ceremony has barely been completed when the villagers are assaulted by the stench of burnt corpses! Which can only mean one thing—Ingrane is under attack by Cryxian raiders (again). Cryxian forces consisting of a mix of Bile Thralls—bloated reservoirs of digestive tract corrosives which fire their own intestinal acids at their targets via a Bile Cannon, Brute Thralls—great hulking things capable of knocking down the walls of, and then whole buildings; Mechanithralls—horrific fusions of corpses and machinery possessed of great strength; and Scrap Thralls—ramshackle amalgams of old jacks rebuilt to carry necrotite-infused bombs, assault the village in the course of the evening and into the night. 

In the first wave, the Cryxian attack the people on the streets of the village and target the garrison, whilst in subsequent waves, they will target individual buildings. The Player Characters will be forced to react time and time again, rushing to each flashpoint, with little chance for rest or recuperation. Perhaps the most fun encounter is with the Brute Thralls attempting to smash the village open, but the attacks in each the three waves are different and present different challenges for the Player Characters. Ultimately, the commander behind the raiders comes ashore and his real intentions revealed, all tied into the history of Ingrane.

There is plenty going on in Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness, its structure differing between its two halves. In the first, there is a decent amount of roleplaying and a celebratory, playful feel, whilst in the second, the tension ratchets up as wave after wave makes their way ashore and assault the village. There is very much a nod to the wargaming play style of Warmachine: Prime in this second half, such that if a gaming group wanted to, it could easily map out the village on the table and use miniatures, and mixing the roleplaying with the defence of Ingrane. This is helped by the simple, clear map of the village provided with the scenario. Rounding out the scenario is a pair of appendices containing the stats and write-ups of all of the monsters and NPCs the Player Characters will face, as well as details of some magical items, firearms, and the village’s NPCs.

Physically, Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is a decently presented book. Not necessarily done on glossy paper as other releases for Free RPG Day, but full colour, with some excellent artwork. The scenario is well written and easy to understand, and consequently, relatively easy to prepare, and should provide one good, if not two sessions’ worth of play.

If there is a problem with Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness, it is that it is not an immediately accessible adventure that perhaps a quick-start might have delivered, and so Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is much more demanding in terms of a Game Master bringing it to the table. That is not a criticism ofIron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness as such, but rather a matter of highlighting the investment necessary to simply play it. Overall though, Iron Kingdoms: An Echo in the Darkness is a likeable, flavoursome adventure, which nicely shows off the feel and threat to the Iron Kingdoms.

No comments:

Post a Comment