Friday, November 11, 2011

Iron Kingdoms

Well, I'm not doing part 2 of DARK•HERITAGE ethnicities yet.  I have a head-ache, and frankly I just don't have enough energy to compose that much original material.  Rambling about something else that I don't need to think too hard about; that seems more my speed right now.

Although I'm in the middle of reading the third Conan compilation--and in fact, I only have two stories to go; one of which is the famous "Red Nails"--I've gotten kind of distracted from it by picking up The Monsternomicon by Privateer Press.  This is one of the early books from PP--long before the Warmachine or Hordes games were a glimmer in Matt Wilson's eye.  Back then, the company was Matt Staroscik, Matt Wilson and Brian Snōddy (I don't know if the line over the o is just an affectation so folks pronounce his name correctly or not, but I've seen it thus spelled online recently--at his website, no less).  Only Wilson remains today, and the company has grown tremendously--but at the same time, it's no longer what it used to be.  The Iron Kingdoms setting was, once upon a time, a roleplaying game setting; specifically a D&D setting, albeit one with a twist.  For quite a long time, that's where Privateer Press put their efforts; the Witchfire Trilogy modules (which actually also contain a 4th entry; "Fool's Errand" a small minimodule that slide in between the 1st and 2nd published module.  It had a pdf only release, until it was bundled with the other three in a reprinting of the entire trilogy.)  Then there was Monsternomicon.  Eventually there was even the Lock & Load Character Primer.  Privateer Press had a reputation back then of being high quality (especially the monster book) but very slow to put new stuff out, and any release dates they projected were taken with a truckload of salt.

A few things happened to this picture in the next few years.  I don't remember exactly the order of each, but they all became pretty important game-changers for Privateer Press.
  • 3.5.  While in the middle of writing the campaign setting book, the system of the SRD changed from 3e to 3.5.  Privateer were left a little in the lurch.  Do we go back and fix everything to be updated to the new system, or carry on as is?  They ended up doing the former.  What was already a very lengthy project that we'd been waiting literally years for dragged on even more.  Not only that, the book grew to a size that defied reason.  There were 800 pages of the setting book.  It was eventually released in two massive 400 page parts; the first being mostly (but not exclusively, as is sometimes claimed) rules and setting basics, the second being almost completely systemless.
  • Warmachine got released.  At first it was a pretty modest, small skirmish game.  It sells like hotcakes.  It makes much more money (presumably) than the RPG.  Eventually, the game grows to encompass large battles with lots of miniatures, gains a few new factions, and becomes the second best selling miniatures game, after Warhammer 40k.  The "savage spin-off" hordes becomes the fourth best selling miniatures game, after Warhammer.  (For the math impaired, yet that means that 40k was 1st and Warhammer is 3rd.  Based on the most recent sales data for summer 2011, that is.)  Because of this, the RPG line suffers, getting only two more books after the setting, as well as a reprint of the original modules.  A few articles with RPG content appear in the No Quarter magazine, but after a while even these dry up, and No Quarter becomes the Iron Kingdoms version of White Dwarf.
  • The tone and feel of the setting start to change.  Whereas at first, Iron Kingdoms in the RPG line is presented as a kind of grim and gritty, pseudo-horror-like dark fantasy, struggling with a burgeoning industrial age, and peppered with a lot of independent threats and weirdness, it starts to coalesce into a setting that favors the wargame.  Independents are vaccuumed up into the factions.  There's no reason for some of the countries of the RPG setting to exist anymore, so they're invaded and incorporated into the bigger superpowers.  A state of open warfare between the countries is now presented as canonical; whereas before, it was a kind of tense cold war feel, but clearly characters could be well traveled (look at Professor Pendrake's notes in Monsternomicon for an example.)  As opportunities for the wargame were favored in the setting, opportunities for the RPG were sacrificed.
  • In addition to that major change, instead of a darker, primitive fantasy just starting to get some industrialization--very early industrial age feel--the setting is advanced to a nearly modern, or at least WWI in fantasy feel.  Suddenly firearms are nowhere nearly as rare as the RPG implies.  Warjacks of various kinds start to spill all over.  The whole feel of the setting is less grim and dark and now more "HOLY COW, WE'RE TURNED UP TO ELEVENTY OVER HERE!!!!  AREN'T WE AWESOME?!?!"  This is reflected in the art as well as... well, as well as everything else.  Heck, they even get a computer game developer to pardner up with them.

  • Finally, after years of sitting fallow, Privateer Press announces that they are going to release a house roleplaying system, the Privateer Press Roleplaying Game, to come out sometime in latish 2012 (it's not clear to me if PP has become trustworthy on release dates due to their Warmachine experience or not.  I'm crossing my fingers, but at the same time, I won't be surprised if 2012 comes and goes without this being released.)  The system is going to be at least somewhat based on the Warmachine and Hordes game in terms of rules.
See, to me, I don't know if this is a tragedy or a cool thing, or just a thing.  I don't really play, nor am I interested in playing, any more systems.  I don't actually use the Iron Kingdoms setting, although I liberally steal stuff from it, and like I said, the Monsternomicon is by far my favorite monster book(s).  So material in a new system?  What am I going to do with that?  Unless I love the game for it's own sake (unlikely) it'll just be a (hopefully) pretty book of art and fluff that I turn to occasionally to look at the pretty pictures. 

Speaking of which, Privateer Press have released this relatively lo-res sneak peak of a pretty picture, supposedly from the game.  It does look nice.  Like I said, I'd buy the book probably for the artwork alone (just like I did Warmachine: Escalation and some others) but I'd like to think I could get some more usage out of it than that, if I'm lucky.

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