Iron Gauntlets Review
In the late 1970s and early 80's there was a profusion of RPGs unmatched until the dawn of D20 OGL. The difference being that in the earlier renaissance each game came with an entirely new mechanic. Many of these games were amalgams of other systems where authors stuck things together that probably shouldn't have gone. During that bygone era, this game would have rocked.
By Brett M Bernstein
from Politically Incorrect Games
$7.50 for PDF download from www.pigames.net
116 pages, some color, includes "disposable minis" and "Dungeon Rooms" samples.
Chapter 1: Characters
Players determine their character's race from the standard fantasy choices, plus centaur and goblin. These may require certain gimmicks or backgrounds and provide other stipulations or benefits.
Using guidelines determined by Race, players choose backgrounds, which again may require or prohibit certain gimmicks or adjust costs for skills. Backgrounds include Cavernfolk and Cityfolk, but there are 12 to choose from covering almost any reasonable backstory.
Now up to 3 Gimmicks are selected (in addition to racial or background gimmicks). These are advantages and disadvantages, which will add to or subtract from ability points. Included are "dark vision" and "Childe of Gods". One that I personally like and contains huge potential for abuse is "Cursed Relic". Sort of a "signature gear" that cannot be lost/sold/etc. but has drawbacks.
Next up is vocation. This is more dignified than "class" but that's what it is. There are 17 choices including mason, merchant, and prophet. Some of these require that certain backgrounds or gimmicks were taken.
Now 5 abilities (fitness, awareness, creativity, reasoning, and influence) are assigned values from 0 to 6 from a pool of about 16 points. The about is based on the number and sorts of gimmicks taken. Up to 4 points of flairs may be applied which are sub-attributes. There are two or more for each and as long as the plusses and minuses work out, its all good. The Luck ability is rolled for (how appropriate) and wizards will need to assign points to crafting.
Finally skills are selected using a pool of 30 points. Skills must have a value of 2 to 8. The skills are grouped by governing ability and there are only about 60 altogether, so it's not quite as daunting as Gurps frex. There are also styles, which allow groups of skills to play off one another.
Chapter 2: Task Resolution
This is why I read gaming books and where this one fell short. The quick version is roll (attribute)d10, add up how many are less than or equal to your skill, and compare to a target number (2 for combat, usually). There are assorted ways to increase or decrease target numbers and number of dice rolled, but that is the gist of it.
Chapter 3: Equipment
This is pretty pedestrian. All the standard fantasy things are here, without the double-ended axe. This section also includes a useful bit of thought regarding "brews" or potions, application, and times to affect the target.
Chapter 4: Magic
Would you believe that Iron Gauntlets contains not a single magic system? It also contains not 2 or 3 systems, but there are 4 (count'em 4) magic systems within this game: Crafting which is wizardry as we all know and love; Divinity or religious spell casting; Totemic or ceremonial magic, and Essence magic which amounts to Chi.
In addition to the 4 types of magic, they are all very open-ended allowing for a broad range of effects. Unfortunately, this openness makes it very beginner unfriendly. The addition of a chart of common spells would have gone a long way.
Chapter 5: Bestiary
The bestiary is far from comprehensive, but gives a decent range and provides abilities and gimmicks for those creatures. I'm not fond of their being grouped by class of critter (Common Animal, Droll, Behemoth, etc.) but it is only 10 pages, so this listing can be overcome in a pew seconds.
Chapter 6: Behind the Scenes
This is the usual array of stuff the Director (IG GM) needs or wants to make his gaming easier including treasure tables and adventure ideas.
It also contains what I consider to be the worst idea within this game and that is the character advancement section. Skills may be improved by gaining 20 experience points in a skill. An experience point is gained by succeeding in a task with a difficulty of 4 or more. This means that to increase a skill you must either have an attribute for that skill which is 4 or better, or use Luck for extra dice, then succeed at a skill of difficulty 4 or higher. Because combat is normally a 2, you must ensure that your foe has an advantage, before you attack, then hope all your dice succeed. The result is that Skilled characters with high attributes will advance faster than the untrained, until the limit of skill 8 is attained.
If you like Class-based systems, this is better than D20.
If you like Gurps-y advantages and disadvantages, this is OK.
If you like Ars Magica spell systems, this is a good thing.
If you like elegant task resolution, look elsewhere.
The writing was exceptional. I found it easy to read and despite the clunky mechanics, I do like this product. I am also fond of the Politically Incorrect Games name and acronym.