Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin

Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin

Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin by Reality Blurs is an oriental setting for Savage Worlds, largely modeled upon pre/early industrial Japan, with a healthy dose of fantasy tropes. The pdf version I purchased came with a very nice color map of the area in the back, but otherwise the pictures and maps were black and white art. Actually they almost felt like sketches most of the time, which may have been an effort to either keep costs low or enhance the atmosphere of the product, but in comparison to other Savage Worlds tie ins, licensees, and setting books, it suffers a bit.

This is a book I was really excited to start to get into, and see if they were able to get the feel and atmosphere of the setting down. Swords, martial arts, and the advent of machines, there's a great wealth of material there that could be used for story material. And on the atmosphere, you can tell that they tried very hard at achieving it, authentic names for weapons along with descriptions, and simply the language used to describe things and people could have come straight out of a martial arts film.

Unfortunately, the meat of the product is somewhat lacking. Not in volume, it rolls in at 284 pages, but in style. As you read through the book, you come to the inevitable conclusion that this is not really in the spirit of Savage Worlds. In fact, it reads much like a D20 product that's been converted over to Savage Worlds, or a someone writing a Savage Worlds setting, but keeping the D20 sensibilities of a plethora of tables and handholding. It does not embrace the Savage Worlds concept of Fast! Furious! Fun! Of course, for an individual who wants something like that, it may be a boon. One instance of this is in character creation, they include defining interests, which are essentially further specializations of the Common Knowledge area. It provides guidelines to using character background and giving bonuses to Common Knowledge that should be gleaned from it, but it also feels limiting, as well as creating extra bookkeeping. Another example being in the Power Edges, they make an attempt to define and limit what could have been explained as trappings and ruled loosely in almost any other Savage World setting. There are even rules of fitting armor and rulings on what to subtract when someone picks up armor off a dead enemy without fitting it. While it's a nice touch, it's also nitpicky and additional bookkeeping that doesn't add to Fast! Furious! Fun! One interesting addition is the Reputation Rules, which is nearly identical to the Fame/Infamy rules in Pirates of the Spanish Main, except that one may go all the way towards the evil spectrum without losing control.

The same sensibilities run through the adventure creation rules, you'll end up rolling D100's and D20's to determine unique monsters and adventures. Which runs pretty contrary to what most Savage World settings try to run with. In other words, it's got a quality that allows one to get very deep into detail, and yet the cost of that is increased bookkeeping, and increased time that one would need in order to set up an adventure. Again, it feels like the writers were trying to recreate a D20 or GURPS or retro experience, as opposed to embracing the Savage System.

One of the bright spots in the book is the detail afforded to the setting. In fact, it provides details upon major towns, cities, locations of power and the like. On the other hand, they missed the mark in not linking the locations to Savage Tales. The Savage Tales by the way, are not ones that we are familiar with from other Savage Worlds products, instead of being loosely linked adventures or plot points, the book provides several mini campaigns which it calls Savage Story Arcs. These are essentially linked adventure series with very little leeway for deviation, each 'adventure' being described in anywhere between two sentences to a half page long description.

Overall, it was a solid reference book, but mildly disappointing. There is certainly a wealth of things that one can take from it, but I can't imagine playing the setting itself without heavy modification, and to play a campaign would require a good deal more work than one would usually go through in a Savage Setting. I would almost say that the Campaigns are more ideas for campaigns, that a GM would have to spend a lot of time fleshing out and improvising throughout. Also providing less room for going off the tracks and then returning later than other settings usually would provide. The big impression I get is of a book more suited for a D20 derived product than a Savage Worlds book. At $15 for the pdf, I'm not terribly disappointed, but it's not the definitive oriental adventures setting book I was hoping for, and it's not one that I would feel happy with at the cost for a print edition.

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