EDIT: We have our free PDF winners! Congratulations to Malcom and Will! I’ve already sent you the code for a free download. -Ben
The large shapes crashes through the countryside, a fiendish combination of metal and bamboo. It is a kikai, a machine built for one purpose: to destroy all that its pilot wishes to see destroyed. Your hand tightens on the hilt of your katana. You spring forward.
A few well-timed leaps send you up the back of the monstrosity. The creation pitches and bucks below you, the pilot attempting to dislodge you. You will not be denied. The moonlight flashes off your blade as it plunges through bamboo, past metal, and into the neck of the pilot. A spray of blood covers the cockpit. As the kikai falls, a smile crosses your lips.
Pain rips through you…
Your companions find your cold form the next morning, broken beneath the wreckage of the kikai. As one, they salute you, and being the funerary rights. Though your spirit has passed, your sacrifice was not in vain. One less kikai in the world means more lives saved.
If the above text intrigued you, then Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin is a game that you seriously need to check out. Reality Blurs went out of its way to create a full, vibrant setting in which some awesome samurai/gun/mech action can happen, all using Savage Worlds. Full disclosure, this review is being written based on a PDF copy of the book that I received for review purposes.
When I first heard about Iron Dynasty, back at GenCon 2010, I was intrigued. I mean, the idea of Samurai Steampunk just sounded cool. When I had a chance to look at the book, I was sold. The game is set in the Bright Empire, an empire divided. The classic trope of twin brothers divided due to inheritance issues is used very well as the basis of the conflic that lies at the center of this game.
The short version of the story is that Karasu, the brother denied the inheritance, was exiled. In exile, he grew to rule another kingdom, but never forgot what he truly believed to be his. He traveled back to his homeland and struck a deal with the Oni-Kaji, created the Ikusa Kikai, and took back the kingdom that was rightfully his. This was the beginning of the Iron Dynasty. (As an aside, if you liked my abbreviated version of the events, you should read the history at the beginning of the book).
With the attack on the kikai, the world changed. Technology was introduced into a sword-bearing society, and it is in that world, a world of conflict between old and new, that the game sessions take place. Any walk of life that you can think of in a feudal Japan-type setting is available as a character background, from Warrior to Craftsman, from Engineer, to Peasant. Some areas hold tightly to the old ways, with castes and firm hierarchies of rank. Other areas have embraced the change that guns and technology bring, realizing that might can make right, and that the efforts of an individual can change their station in life.
The rules do a good job of supporting all of these ideas as well. New Background Edges let you express your heritage and outlook on life well. And, as you might imagine, the Combat, Ki Power, Professional, and Social Edges do a good job of helping you continue to mechanically express your character as you level up. Savage Worlds has a lot going for it as a generic system, but it often needs good tweaks to make a given setting feel original and differentiated from other Savage Settings. Iron Dynasty does a very good job at this.
Similarly, the setting information is rich, allowing for a variety of stories to be told therein. The thing that is true throughout is that the stories will be of a certain type, usually. If you’re not looking for a samurai movie, with amped up blood spatter and a dash of anime, then you’d be better off not looking at Iron Dynasty.
Reading the book is a pleasure, at least in the PDF. I assume that the good layout and good font choices would hold up in a print version as well.
Overall, this is a Savage Setting that I can completely recommend, if you’re looking for this kind of setting in which to game. This is the kind of setting that scratches a particular itch, and if you’re not looking to have that itch scrated, then move on to something else. If, however, you want to find out what it’s like to face down a 15 foot tall bamboo mech, with nothing but a sword and your wits, then this is the game for you.
Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars. High marks, all around. Iron Dynasty is published by Reality Blurs and was written by Sean Preston.