By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 01 August 2018
When I think of games set in an era of vikings, I think of heroes slaying beasts, gods guiding humans to great deeds or follies, and events that involve weaving of epic tales and showcasing the hubris of both man and god.
I would not have expected mecha-like robots fighting semi-sentient beasts controlled by humans that sacrifice themselves for power.
Iron Edda pitches a war-torn version of the Midgard we know from mythology, twisted by inventions, machinations, and desperation that would be fitting for an epic tale within a mythology book.
Now, with a new edition being launched and successfully funded via Kickstarter, I’m here to give you a behind-the-scenes view of what the game offers.
Writer’s Note: This is a review of an early draft or the RPG provided via the Kickstarter, and compares the differences in editions. The final product may have many changes that make some of the points in this review moot at the time of publication. Permission for this review was granted by the author, Tracy Barnett.
To directly quote Tracy during an interview they were nice enough to give us:
Rangarok happened in the form of fifty foot tall metal dwarven destroyers rising out of the ground and humanity is like ‘Oh god oh gods what do we do!” And Loki says ‘Hey, I have this thing that I totally didn’t steal from the dwarves that will let you take the spirits of your bravest warriors and bond them to bones of dead giants and you can treat this like your personal Pacific Rim.’
Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone weaves a tale of the duergar, the dwarves of Norse mythology, starting an assault onto the land of Midgard with large war machines made of steel and using the knack of invention that only dwarves could be capable of. This invasion seems impossible to repel, as humans are like ants to these machines and the gods have been silent, unwilling (or unable) to offer aid.
That is, until humanity found a way to fight back.
In Midgard, a secretive clan in the far north found (or was given) a way to bind the bones and spirit of a giant to a warrior and grant them the ability to fight back against the tides of the duergar war machines. Seers and Runebound sorcerers use their respective magics to aid in battle, and there is no lack of warriors willing to stand and fight.
You count yourself among those in this war, whether you are seeking glory or a death that will grant you entry to the halls of Valhalla.
==What You Get==
As of this writing, Iron Edda Accelerated consists of an Early Access document for Kickstarter backers, which contains 115 pages of markup-laden text. The final version will have proper layout and images to go with the text.
Iron Edda is powered by Fate, with the first edition using elements of Fate Core and Fate Accelerated. The new Accelerated edition changes the game to be closer to Dresden Files Accelerated while still using the toolbox presented in Fate Core. Unlike the previous version, this is an all-inclusive book; you don’t need additional books to play this (unless you want to borrow tech, of course).
In the first rendition of the mechanic, we see a collection of tools put to use, namely Fate Core rules for “human scale” tasks, followed by Fate Accelerated approaches for anything in “giant scale.” Magic, special items, and even the clans you were part of all borrowed from the “Extras” chapter of Fate Core, while the additional rules for large-scale beings acting as their own zones made an appearance with some modifications.
The new version still uses some of these elements, but overall streamlines the game. Characters now have “Destinies” to represent who and what they are, which works identically to Mantles in Dresden Files Accelerated. Other mechanics, such as Scale, Stress, and Conditions, are pulled from the same game to sleep up the nature of the game.
Right out of the gate, anyone can see the improvement in quality between the two editions. Tracy has grown as a writer and has a solid support team behind them, making Iron Edda Accelerated a much nicer, cleaner work.
Speaking of cleaner, the change from Fate Core to a modified Fate Accelerated (with the emphasis on Dresden Files Accelerated) is a brilliant touch. Considering this game focuses on telling epic tales of fierce battles between humans, gods, dwarven mechs, and those who have their spirit bonded to the bones of a giant, this is absolutely critical.
This change promotes better storytelling as well as the mechanical balance. Tracy and I discussed this during the interview, but with the better ruleset, players and GMs can codify so much more than before. There are notes about better usage of Zones specific for the scale of the game. Conditions add a mechanical note to the character instead of it being just “background dressing”, so having a giant’s mind in your head isn’t just an RP note, but now a mechanical bonus (and hindrance!). Destinies make character creation a breeze, and designating each Aspect to represent a specific thing (like a favored item, clan affiliation, etc) also speeds things along.
To me, Iron Edda Accelerated showcases the same best changes between the editions of The Dresden Files, and with regards to mechanics, I really couldn’t be happier. By removing clunky rule combinations and ambiguous wording, we have a solid foundation to build on when game time rolls around.
On a more social commentary high note, I do love how Tracy tied in current gender issues while being true to the old Norse society. For example, women could be warriors and leaders in that society, and we see that here. We also see a removal of stereotypical gender norms, nods to non-heterosexual relationships, “gender-flipping” when it comes to names (like a female Jarl taking a masculine name) and we finally see Loki as non-binary (as they should be, because chaotic, shapeshifting trickster deity). Considering the overabundance of viking-themed products and material out there right now, it’s nice to see a different approach and emphasis on the other side of things.
By far, the one thing I have to touch base on is Holdfast creation. This was something we saw in the first edition that worked on a bell curve and yielded with some horribly skewed results that made it almost unusable, which was upsetting considering it was the big bit of new tech introduced in this version of the game. Now, Holdfast Creation returns with a vengeance.
Instead of the usual setting creation we see in Fate Core, or with City Creation we see in The Dresden Files, we are given the ability to make a holdfast, the home of the characters. This is done by rolling some Fate Dice and comparing them to a table to determine topics, timeline (Past-Present-Future; a nod to Futhark divination methods), and then allowing the players to answer one of 108 (!) questions. This is done one time for each player, ending with a note on the shared map of the holdfast and its environs.
For example, if I were making a holdfast with my group, we would roll two Fate dice to determine the Tone. If my result was +-, the tone is “Sword Talk, Axe Talk.” I rolled another die and got a blank face, meaning the timeline is Present. I roll on the table for Present results for the tone, and got a + and a blank face, giving the question: “Two warrior clans are feuding. Which clans are fighting and what is the source of their strife? Can anything end it?”
At this point, the GM should go into note-taking mode. The players can decide which clans are having an issue, they could name the two feuding parties (perhaps scorned lovers), and they could even dictate a place on the map as “Contested Battle Ground” to represent a physical space. This gives the players control over the story, as well as give the GM addition resources to use.
While it’s not a mechanical game changer like the introduction of Mantles in Dresden Files Accelerated or implementing the idea of “Maximizing” a die like in Tachyon Squadron, it is, in my opinion, a wonderful tool that adds flavor to the game for all parties involved. My biggest complaint is that it’s the only tech really added to the game.
While I do love how Tracy makes it clear that the game is your own to do as you will, I feel that there are some details that are a bit lacking and would have been interesting to see their take on them. For example, what makes the Dwarven Destroyers tick? Is it possible for humans to steal one away and use it against the dwarves? What else do we know about Treants or Wicker Men? How does magic in other parts of the world work if they don’t have runes?
While some of this may be in future materials (like the Iron Edda Companion stretch goal), it feels a bit odd to leave that much open to the table. I like having worlds that feel full of potential, but I like some guidelines to ensure that I keep some degree of the feeling of the source material. As I’ve been known to gripe about in the past, I like knowing what sort of rules are in place within a world/universe, and I feel that what we have for Iron Edda Accelerated consists of loose story rules that can counter the mechanical codification Tracy strove to add in this new edition.
So basically, it’s less a full setting, more of an solid foundation with vague guidelines to move forward, and I have a love/hate relationship with that premise, doubly so when it requires knowledge form outside the book to maintain the feel and themes presented within.
As the book is still early access, we don’t have any art to go on. To me, this is vital to mention, as the art felt a bit lackluster in the first edition. Full-body characters were nice but not placed in fitting or “powerful” areas, and full-page art left something to be desired. Art really can deliver a premise within a product, and it faltered in the first edition, as it felt sloppy and not too great thematically. I hope that this will be remedied in the Accelerated edition, but the art we have available right now (the early access cover and a few images on Kickstarter) are not giving me much hope.
For die-hard Fate fans, the book may feel slightly lacking. As previously mentioned, there’s not much in the way of new “tech” in this book, but rather showcasing how someone else has hacked the rules. While we get Holdfast creation (which is phenomenal) and a note on Story Stress (something toyed around on forums and a tool similar to clocks in Blades in the Dark), we don’t really get much else beyond what some would consider a standard Fate hack.
This is more of a nitpick thing, but a part of me is a bit wary about yet another viking-themed product out in the wild. Over the last few years, I’ve felt you can’t load a website without having something Norse/Viking related cropping up. The Vikings TV series, Gaiman did a spin on Norse Mythology, indie devs are playing with the topic as fast as possible, and you can’t go to an SCA event without a small army of “Vikings” hanging around. It’s almost like “Viking” is the new Deadpool, and I’m not sure how I feel about that…
At this time, even with the early edition and my concerns, I’d have to give Iron Edda four buns.
The idea behind the work alone is already something that is appealing to me, and I am certain that others will feel the same way once they get into it. Even if you aren’t interested in picking up the game for the setting (which is brilliant), there are some great ideas that can be easily tweaked and borrowed for other Fate games (such as Holdfast creation and Tracy’s version of Mantles), making it worth the pricetag to pick up.
Plus, it’s Vikings and Mecha? What’s not to like?
If we see some of the layout cleanup that we’re expecting and get some solid artwork that is well placed, this will be a strongly suggested Fate book for any fan’s collection, and it will earn those four buns. If the art is lackluster or the layout doesn’t turn out as well, it might still eke out the four, but it could also slip down into the threes…
If you aren’t a fan of vikings, Norse mythology, and medieval alternatives to mecha, then you’ll want to give this a pass (and be asked by me how can you hate all of these things).
Iron Edda is created by Tracy Barnett, an indie RPG dev and the creator of The Other Cast. The first edition of the game is available on DriveThruRPG for $7.50 (or in a bundle for $11), while Iron Edda Accelerated is currently available by backing the game on Kickstarter. You can learn more about Tracy and get some behind-the-scenes info on Iron Edda Accelerated by checking out the interview we posted last week.