The Book of Iron Might (PDF Edition)
What it is
The Book of Iron Might is the latest book from Malhavoc Press, written by Mike Mearls. Described as a sourcebook to add new life to d20 combat, it is a 62 page PDF, including 2 advertisements and the OGL. The front cover art depicts a pair of warriors, one obviously one of the iron-born (a new race introduced in the book). Interior art is pretty good, and the art seems to generally depict something described on the page.
The book opens with the table of contents and a short introduction by Mr. Mearls, in which he talks about how combat tends to run in an RPG session, and how this book can help improve combat in your game, with new options, maneuvers, and a stunt system. The book is broken down into 4 chapters, each covering a different mechanic to add to the game. The chapters are as follows:
Chapter One: Combat Maneuvers
This chapter is the largest of the 4, with 19 pages devoted to the new mechanic. Basically, combat maneuvers are the bits and pieces that make up particular effect. An example in the core rules would be the trip attack. This system lets you create a maneuver from the ground up. Want to trip an opponent and slow their movement? How about smack an opponent so hard that he flies back through the air? Both maneuvers and more can be pretty easily created with this system.
First up is a discussion of how a maneuver is built, including integrating spells into a maneuver. Next is a discussion of the effects of a maneuver (which can be combined to create a more complex one). Each effect includes any warning flags that may come up in play by allowing access to this maneuver, any prerequisites, the mechanics of the effect, what happens on a critical hit, and the penalty to attack that the maneuver entails. A table with a listing of each of the maneuver effects (broken down by melee and ranged) is also included, making it easy to find what you wanted and give a quick overview to players of each maneuver’s effects.
Next are the drawbacks added to each maneuver. A drawback exists to make the maneuver easier to perform, at the expense of the character losing some combat effectiveness in one way or another (such as opening themselves up to an attack of opportunity or the maneuver allowing a saving throw). Drawbacks are listed with the modifier provided to the maneuver penalty, a mechanical description of how the drawback penalizes the character’s action, and an example of how the drawback could look in combat. There are not as many drawbacks as maneuver effects, and each drawback belongs to a certain ‘type’ (for example Counter). No type of drawback can be duplicated on a maneuver, which limits how simple it can become to perform a maneuver, and the maneuver modifier can never go above 0 due to drawbacks. While it is possible to have a player ‘munchkin-out’ a maneuver, a good DM can pretty easily avoid this.
Finally comes a few pages on working with and designing maneuvers, including a step-by-step walkthrough of maneuver design. A breakdown of the maneuver drawbacks talks about the pros and cons of the various drawbacks as they apply to types of maneuvers.
Lastly comes 2 pages of pre-made maneuvers, 13 for characters, and 3 for monsters.
Chapter Two: The Ironborn
This chapter details a new race, the ironborn. A created species, they are a kind of intelligent construct. The chapter opens with a background for their creation, allowing ease of introduction to most campaigns. The next few pages talk about the ironborn as a species, including personality, physical description, relations with other races, where they settle, religious beliefs, language, and naming conventions.
Following this, 3 pages discuss the ironborn’s racial traits, and racial packages. There are 3 sizes of ironborn (Small, Medium, and Large sized), and the packages are abilities that come from how the ironborn was designed. For example, an ironborn designed to wield magic would be built differently than one designed to crush foes underfoot. Each package comes with two abilities. The Small and Large size ironborn might not get the secondary ability of the package. There are 8 different packages, and it would not be hard for a DM to make new ones if needed. The listed ones seem to cover a lot of bases, and there is one package that seems to mesh well with an existing character class.
Next comes a discussion of the ironborn’s creator and the purpose for which they were created. This includes a mechanic by which an ironborn is subject to the commands of its creator. This mechanic involves a Will save to disobey, and is low enough that a PC should have no problems making a save if it is really needed. A paragraph at the end of this section discuses the DM’s responsibility to not abuse this feature, but to instead use it to make the game fun for the ironborn’s player.
A related section details the burden all ironborn have. The burden of an ironborn is basically the role in life they were created to fill. If an ironborn resists this instinctual urge, it becomes increasingly erratic, until finally it either begins fulfilling the urge, regardless of its appropriateness to the situation, or lashes out in a berserk rage. This is handled by a simple mechanic, a Will save based on how long the ironborn has gone without fulfilling its burden. The drawback provided by the burden is relatively easy to fulfill and could even be ignored by a DM, but also provides a DM with potential story fodder.
Finally, there is a discussion of ironborn in the campaign, details on their aging process, and creating ironborn (including a new craft feat). There are also 7 feats unique to the ironborn, allowing them to expand their abilities in unusual ways, from having a built in holy symbol to being a walking spell book.
Chapter Three: Feats of Iron Might
This is the second largest chapter in the book, coming in at 13 pages. It is broken into 3 new types of feats: Arcane Battle feats, Battlemind feats, and Fighting Style feats.
Arcane Battle feats are the integration of magic into a fighting style. A fighter does not have to be a magician to make use of these feats, and a mechanic exists to give certain arcane classes automatic access to the basic feat required to gain subsequent feats it is a prerequisite for. Basically, the arcane battle feats provide limited supernatural assistance to a fighter. There are 27 arcane battle feats, which provide abilities ranging from adding a small amount of damage to an attack from an energy source to a magical defensive bonus, to making an area attack with a melee weapon.
A short section talks about adding arcane battle feats to a campaign, and how they are scaled and balanced against other abilities. We then get into the feat descriptions themselves. Some of the feats are very powerful, but this is offset by the prerequisites required.
Battlemind feats are a melding of the warrior’s mind and body to produce almost magical effects. There is a discussion of what a battlemind feat is and how a character could learn one in play, followed by the feat descriptions themselves. There are 9 battlemind feats listed, and they vary in power. None seem overpowered at first glance, and most have some pretty hefty prerequisites before a character could pick one.
Lastly are the fighting style feats. These are feats that are meant to cover a particular way of fighting. Once chosen, the feat then grows with the character, giving them access to new abilities as their base attack bonus goes up. One typo I noticed is that at the beginning of the chapter, it mentions that fighting style feats must be chosen at first level. This was obviously changed, as the section describing them talks about gaining them after first level and how to adjust the bonuses provided based on the BAB when the feat was taken.
There are a total of 10 fighting style feats listed, which cover many of the standard melee and ranged fighting styles, though new ones could be easily added. Each feat has at least 5 abilities the character can gain, one at a time as his fighting ability increases. Most are a +1 to hit or damage or an AC bonus, but some give other abilities.
Chapter Four: Skills and Stunts
This chapter talks about new uses for skills in combat and action movie style stunts. The skills are a nice mix of ideas, only a few of which seem a bit odd (such as being able to run vertically, an ability usually given only through magic or picnics). Each new use is given a description of what it entails and a game mechanic to make use of it.
The stunts system is basically a freeform system that requires serious DM control. A stunt is described as a move action combined with a skill check (and possibly an attack in some cases). Examples for various skills are given, then it moves on to freeform stunts and how the DM should apply modifiers to the DC.
The chapter rounds out with a section on common sense and stunts, how frequently stunts should occur in various campaign types, and some optional stunt rules (such as using BAB in place of a skill check or spell caster levels).
The last page is the appendix, which is a short half page of how to integrate the rules into Monte Cook’s Arcana Unearthed rule set, followed by the OGL.
What I Think
I have really enjoyed this supplement. I’ve been making use of it in both my Mutants and Masterminds game and my Star Wars game. It has been pretty easy to fiddle with and add things to. For example, I wanted a maneuver to simulate the classic fastball special of X-Men fame. That required me to break down a grapple action into the maneuver system, but it was easily done based on the examples of maneuvers provided. It was also pretty easy to come up with another comic book trope of the villain picking someone up and throwing them into another hero. While that can be done over 2 separate rounds under the current rules, I wanted the character to be able to do it as a single full-round action, which was pretty easy to come up with.
There have not been any glaring spelling or punctuation errors I have found in the book, and the art seems pretty good and evocative of what it is depicting. So far I have not had a chance to use the stunt system, and am not sure if it would fit into any of my current games. A friend of mine is using the ironborn in his Eberron campaign, as a separate species from that world’s war forged (one being more ‘human’ than the other in his game).
Overall I would rate this at a 4 out of 5. It has added a lot to my d20 games and I will definitely be continuing to make use of it. The fact that good portions of it are not DnD ‘centric is very nice and I appreciate being able to use it with ease in other d20 games.