Since I reviewed Fate Core in December (You’ve not read the review yet? Go read it now, I’ll wait…okay, done?) I’ve been eager to get back into the system to give it another try, but finding a setting my home group can all agree on and get into quickly can be problematic at the best of times. Fate Core is indeed a great system, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing @Fiddleback lead the next YALP on an expedition through the system, it promises to be a great deal of fun.
A few years ago, one of my players decided that he’d run a game of Viking RuneQuest, it was okay but I think I was let down because I had been expecting something the game was never meant to simulate. None of us seemed to have the drive to play a second game, and now I think I know the reason why.
Most of my friends and I have grown up on tales of Norse mythology, it’s not something easy to avoid when you’re a group of fantasy geek metal-heads with a passion for viking metal (yes, it’s a thing), but that’s just it. After listening to stories of trickery, war and cunning between the humans, gods, and giants, you know that farming and fjords just don’t cut it. The image we have of Vikings — ignoring the horned helmets issue for the moment — makes the real Vikings pale in comparison. Unless you’re into simulation-style games where you raid settlements or engage in contests of arms, then a Viking-based game won’t necessarily float your boat. There’s far more excitement to be had in those tales of mythology, especially when you want to play a narrative-heavy, collaborative story game like, say, Fate perhaps? That brings us to today’s review, Iron Edda – War of Metal and Bone, let’s find the fun.
So what’s Iron Edda?
Iron Edda – War of Metal and Bone is a campaign setting written by Tracy Barnett and published by Exploding Rogue. The Iron Edda kickstarter successfully funded in February 2014 and was published on Drive Thru RPG in September 2014. Using the Fate Core system, plus a few rules from Fate Accelerated (worth a look if you want to play Fate in a… more accelerated manner), Iron Edda tells the story of a unique Midgardian holdfast and its denizens as they experience the effects of a war against the dwarves and their automated creations, as well as other threats from Norse mythology.
I really like the cover and interior art done by the folks at Exploding Rogue, those full-page pictures of the bonebonded and dwarven destroyers really express the kind of scale the setting operates on, there ought to be more of this artwork, but I imagine that artwork would really eat into a smaller studio’s budget. The book itself is well laid out, it seemed fairly easy to find the tools I needed whilst running the playtest.
Speaking of tools, part of where Iron Edda really shines is the holdfast generator, a series of random tables with plot hooks and adventure seeds that enable a group of players and their GM to create a unique campaign region. The other main innovation in the rules section of the module deals with scale, establishing three basic scales — Human, Giant, and Epic — that most action in the setting will operate on, and options for players and GMs to create characters that fit in with this core element of the setting, such as the bonebonded.
The concept of the bonebonded — essentially a fantastic, magical mecha that uses the bones of a giant — was what really sold the setting to me. Norse mythology is a great place to start, but throwing in a few elements from outside the standard myths is a good move, especially with a system like Fate, that wholeheartedly encourages the zany. Other than the bonebonded, there’s a few features for other Norse-style characters to invest in, such as the runescribed, seer and authority figures, and some stunts and extras to help your Fate game fit in with the overall vision of the setting. I’d be happier if there were more options, but I’m greedy, and there was plenty of scope for the 4 players who ran the playtest with me to make interesting and novel characters.
Is it fun?
I’m an easy sell though, slap a dragon and some horned helmets in a game and I’m sorted. I suppose the better question to ask would be, what fun can be found in Iron Edda? Would you, the reader, enjoy it?
If you want to row a longship into an English monastery and roll greataxe damage against some monks before heading back to your historically accurate fjord to farm goats or whatever, then go play RuneQuest, it’s brutal, realistic and can be tooled to simulate the Viking experience pretty damn well. If you want a tactical fantasy experience themed around Vikings and their mythology, with clearly delineated rules set in stone and balanced power levels, go play D&D or some variant, throw in some frost giants and off you pop. Making something appear Viking on the surface, or dusting on a bit of Viking flavour isn’t difficult, we all know the tropes and the set dressings, making something feel Viking, however, is another issue altogether.
I think part of what Iron Edda accomplishes so well is a consistent feel of Norse mythology, despite how zany some of the concepts presented within can be. Part of this is due to the three different scales it operates on. If you’ve read or seen Beowulf — yes, I’m aware that strictly speaking, it’s an Anglo-Saxon epic, rather than an original Viking tale — in any of its various incarnations, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Norse stories about humans that just fight other humans can be a bit staid and don’t fill the shoes of their epic counterparts so well. Giants, trolls, dragons, these are myths that have a little more kick to them, towering over the protagonists and generally causing a right kerfuffle. A game that uses creatures like these has to have the tools to make sure that — unlike D&D, where the seven or so different sizes would become too complicated — the size of the creature doesn’t just mean it takes up a few more squares or has a longer reach, but that it uses different mechanics to express just how much bigger it really is. That’s exactly what Iron Edda does, and it does it well. When the characters fight against something that towers over them, the entire way combat is fought changes. If I could figure out a way to port a similar system into D&D, I would, because I bloody love it.
I’m also a big fan of the holdfast generator that Iron Edda offers. The last time I played Fate, a few players and readers noted that the setup for such a game can be time-consuming, often requiring an extra session just for setting and character creation. The shame is that quick pick-up games are difficult to get going due to the amount of time invested in the setup. The holdfast generator, which establishes important campaign details about the region where the game is played, cuts that time down significantly whilst not skimping on development, and can be used to add new issues or situations in as the campaign continues. With Iron Edda being a Fate module, there’s an expectation that these plot hooks can be expanded upon through player discussion, to create the kind of game they players want to play.
All said and done, we managed to create a reasonably detailed holdfast and four characters in an hour with two players completely new to Fate. I think that an hour is a very reasonable amount of time to spend on setup for an ongoing campaign, and we had enough adventure hooks to fill about seven or eight sessions of normal play. We played two four-hour sessions over the weekend, drank a lot of mead and whiskey and generally had a great time. Like most Fate games, Iron Edda really excels at collaborative storytelling, and even the mechanics of multiple size scales work very simply during actual play, which makes for fast-paced games with a real Viking feel, but enough original content to make the book feel like its own product.
So, if you’re in the market for a collaborative story game that’s quick to set up and creates an authentic Norse feel, go ahead and check out Iron Edda – War of Metal and Bone, I promise you’ll have a great deal of fun.
You can find Iron Edda – War of Metal and Bone – on Drive Thru RPG here. If you didn’t read my review of the Fate Core system, you can find that here, and shame on you for not doing it earlier when I asked you to. If you don’t have the Fate Core rulebook, here’s the Fate SRD. Finally, you can find a live play of Iron Edda on youtube here.