We’re going to venture away from Dungeons and Dragons for a little bit for the next review, but not away from epic fantasy. Today, we’re going to look at a roleplaying game were massive creatures clash against huge automatons, but the setting is Midgard, the creatures are undead giants, and the automatons are dwarf constructed magical mechs. Today, we’re looking at Tracy Barnett’s Iron Edda Accelerated, published by Encoded Designs.
I’ll issue the same disclaimer that I did with previous Encoded Design reviews—there is Gnome Stew overlap between Encoded Designs and Gnome Stew, which is another place you can find my reviews. Tracy is a fellow gnome, but I have, unfortunately, not had the good fortune to meet them yet.
The Runes of the Endtimes
This review is based on the PDF of the product, as well as the print on demand in both hardcover and softcover. Because I’m currently running the game, I picked up two copies, with one as a table reference for my players.
The PDF is 131 pages long, with a two-page character sheet, two pages of Kickstarter backers, and a two-page index included. The headers of the various chapters have a “flying embers” appearance to them, and the pages themselves are parchment colored with a “crinkling” effect on them. The artwork is black and white on the parchment background, with splashes of color for emphasis (for example, in one scene, the firelight is orange, and in another, a puddle of blood is red).
There are many half and full-page pieces of artwork, clear headers, bullet points, and boxed sidebars, making the book easy to read. In addition to being easy to read, the artistic elements really make the overall appearance pop.
The print on demand books are the digest size of most of the Fate books. The parchment color is a bit more grey in the print version, but the overall effect of the formatting and artwork still look very nice. Because of the size of the book, the softcover is actually a little easier to page through than the hardcover.
Prologue and Introduction
The book starts with an epic poem that outlines the overall story of the setting using traditional Norse structure. I will also freely admit that the only reason I recognize the structure is because it’s what Walt Simonson used when he wrote the issue of Thor where he fought against the Midgard Serpent.
The introduction summarizes the setting, explains that all the rules are found in this book, outlines the order in which the campaign begins, and discusses what you need to play.
The game itself is a variation of the version of Fate Accelerated used for the Dresden Files Accelerated game, adapting the concept of mantles into destinies. The setting is Midgard, at the time of Ragnarök, with Loki playing dwarves and mortals against one another. The dwarves are wrecking the world with giant mechanical automatons, and Loki provides mortals with the ability to bond with the bones of dead giants to fight them.
It’s Ragnarök. Dwarves are piloting magical automatons to destroy the world. The best hope Midgard has is for warriors to deny their clans, cut a deal with the spirit of a dead giant, and ride around in its ribcage so they have a chance to fight the giant dwarf constructs on even terms. And it’s all Loki’s fault, just like it should be.
I will pause here to point out that the core concept of this game is metal AF. I have Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song in my head even as I write this review.
Building Midgard and Additional Setting Information
The first step of the game isn’t to make characters. Instead, the group works together to create the Holdfast, the location that the player characters call home. The group will draw a map and add items to that map as they answer questions, generating the facts of their home.
Each player (and optionally, the GM) rolls on a series of tables to find a question that they will answer, and that answer helps to establish the setting. The broad categories are:
- Hanging in the Balance
- Sword Talk, Axe Talk
- Political Maneuvers
- Dictates of Fate
- Blessings of the Gods
- Curse of the Gods
Once the general category is generated, the player rolls to see if they are answering a question about the past, present, or future, and then they roll on the appropriate sub table to get a specific question.
In our own group, we ended up with several politically edged questions, between other settlements and with the Petruvian Empire, and it definitely pointed us in a specific direction for our first session, and provided quite a few hooks.
What is interesting is the order information is presented. Holdfast creation comes first in the game, but it literally comes first outside of the introduction, even before some of the finer details of the setting, which come in the next chapter. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad way to present the chapters, because nearly ever Fate product with the full rules included does things a little differently, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the order and thought “this is the perfect order to present information in a Fate product.”
Once we do get into setting details, Midgard (in this case, a name for the Norse inspired lands, not the whole planet) has three sections with their own settlements, rivers, and recent history. In addition to Midgard, there are analogous cultures to the Roman Empire, the Celts, Native Americans and First Nations peoples, the Middle East, and hints of other lands as well, and the elves have a presence in the mortal world as well.
Everything in the setting is painted in broad strokes, in part because setting creation is meant to be unique to each table. There is some brief talk of what these other cultures have that are analogous to the Bonebonded, those warriors bonded to giant bones. The elves have animated trees, for example, and the people of the deserts of Brand summon huge elementals. The druids of the Isles of Mist animate huge burning wicker effigies. It’s all brief, but evocative.
I love the quick but colorful descriptions of the rest of the world. It gives you enough to use in a game, with enough flexibility that you don’t need to worry much about being wrong or forgetting fine details. The only thing I would bring up is that the traders from Brand are mentioned as not speaking themselves, and only communicating through their slaves. This would seem to make them more difficult to use if the PCs do decide to branch out to other cultures, and it’s a bit of a rough generality to use for the whole region.
Characters, Gameplay, and Destinies
The Characters chapter walks players through the steps of making a new character. Much of this is similar to making characters in other Fate games, but the game has its own unique set of approaches, as well as some specific aspects.
Characters have the standard High Concept and Trouble aspects, but then make Warrior Clan aspects, Sacred Item aspects, and Group Aspects. Characters from outside of Midgard replace their Warrior Clan aspect with a cultural aspect, and the Bonebonded are no longer part of their former clan, so they create an aspect for the spirit of the dead giant with which they have bonded.
There are nine different clans, with a possible secret tenth clan of secretive outcasts. Each clan has its own aspect that represents how the clan does things, so the wolf clan is centered around acting as a pack, while the dragon clan is all about the rage.
While we get the steps to creating a character, the next chapter is about how the rules work, in general. This is where we get into the Fate details of the Four Actions (Attack, Defend, Overcome, and Create an Advantage) and what happens with the Fate dice indicate failure or a tie, versus succeeding with style (getting 3 or more higher than the needed result).
This section also describes the approaches in more detail, with examples of when each one would be the appropriate approach for a given action, as well as the rules for invoking and compelling aspects. It’s a nice, concise explanation of the expanded version of the Accelerated rules first put forth in Dresden Accelerated.
In broad terms, for people that have never spent time with Fate before, the dice are rolled four at a time. They produce either a +, -, or blank, and are added to the number of the approach. Depending on the action taken, there are different outcomes for failure, success, and succeeding with style, and you can spend Fate points to reroll or add a +2 if you can explain how one of your aspects is involved in the situation.
This version, like Dresden Accelerated, has some special conditions that can be marked, either to trigger destiny abilities or just under the right circumstances. These include things like Doomed or Indebted, meaning that narratively a character that takes stress while Doomed might die if they can’t mitigate that stress, or a character will have to do something to repay the character that they are Indebted to so they can remove the condition.
Then we reach the chapter on destinies. Destinies are what you might view as character classes in other game systems. They have their own sets of core stunts (abilities only they get), and some have special conditions that only exist for that destiny. These destinies are varied, and include:
- The Bonebonded
- The Seer
- The Skald
- The Runescribed
- The Leader
- The Shieldbearer
- The Farmer
- The Crafter
- The Merchant
- The Bandit
- The Priest
At first glance, some of these may seem to be more exciting than others, but just about everyone has some neat tricks that make them really good at operating within their own area of expertise. When creating characters, almost all of the destinies seemed interesting to my players as they were reading through them.
As an example, the Bonebonded may be flashy because they can summon giant bones and go on a rampage, but the farmer can hand out bonuses to anyone that has consumed goods from their farm, and gets bonuses to defend that farm from attack.
The Shieldbearer may be able to ignore titanic amounts of punishment, but the Leader can call on people from the community to make checks for them, and they can “spend” some members of the community to accomplish goals or to protect them.
Most of these destinies only have a few uses of their abilities before they have to spend time doing something specific to clear the boxes of their abilities they have used. The Bonebonded, for example, need to indulge the spirit of their giant in their worldly desire, which they have been able to enjoy since, well, they’ve been dead. The bandit needs to mend fences with the community if they push their predations too far or too close to home, and the leader may need to prove they are advancing the community if they call on their people one too many times.
There are some spectacular situations that can occur when characters trigger certain conditions by pushing their abilities too far. The Runescribed can literally explode from indulging in their rune’s power too often. The priest can burn themselves out channeling the power of their deity. The Bonebonded’s giant spirit might go on an uncontrolled rampage if they are called on one too many times. Lots of fun risk-reward mechanism built into all of these.
Conflicts, Contests, Challenges, and Matters of Scale, and Advancements and Customization
Like Dresden Accelerated, Scale is an important rule for Iron Edda Accelerated. If one character is operating at a higher scale than another, they either get a bonus for each step of scale between them when the roll, or they get additional shifts of success after a successful roll. The scales used in the game are:
For whatever reason, I have an easier time remember these scale levels than the levels in Dresden Accelerated, where I was always getting a little confused at where faeries were versus wizards or vampires. These seem to map a little more logically in my head, compared to the destinies that use them.
As an example of when scale applies, the Bonebonded is going to act at a higher scale when they are riding around in their giant’s bones, and the Farmer operates at a higher scale when defending their farm. All of these scales and when they apply are listed in the various destinies.
Turn order works in a similar manner to Dresden Accelerated, with the group determining who would logically go first, and that person handing off to another person or the GM when their turn is over. This section goes overall of the Fate standards of burning conditions or checking off stress boxes when taking damage, conceding before being taken out, and running Contests and Challenges (trying to accumulate a certain number of successes before a rival, or participating in a montage of actions to accomplish a more complicated goal).
The Advancement and Customization chapter explains what kind of advancements characters can take at Minor Milestones (usually once per session), Significant Milestones (possibly once every two or three sessions), and Major Milestones (six or seven sessions or a major story arc has completed). In addition to these advancements, there is some advice on customizing and creating new destinies for the game.
Creating the Rest of the World, and Running Iron Edda Accelerated
Creating the Rest of the World gives some standards for what kind of stats should be assigned to minor, supporting, and major NPCs in the game, if they should have access to conditions or stunts, and how much work to put into different types of NPCs.
In addition to the outlines on NPC creations, several examples of threats are detailed in this section, including various dwarven war machines, Fenrir, and Loki. Dwarves have a special condition that they mark when exposed to sunlight, and Fenrir’s unique modifications for this setting are great. Fenrir has not been having a good Ragnarök, and it’s even more formidable and strange that it might have been otherwise, after a few mishaps.
Draugr and Ghosts are also outlined, but they are written up like the previously appearing destinies. Some of those destinies, if something really bad happens, will direct the character to swap out their destiny for one of these two destinies, but they are both interesting enough that I almost want to see a player take one from the beginning and see how it works into the narrative.
The Running Iron Edda Accelerated section has some nice, procedural advice that is clearly bullet-pointed and repeats some of the steps of play from other sections of the book. It has several good sections on setting opposition, making sure to establish and define costs, and getting feedback from the players to include what they are interested in within the game.
My favorite part of this section, however, is the section on Story Stress and World Advancement. Once you establish your main plotlines in the game, you create a set of stress boxes with eight boxes. For every milestone, the GM marks off a box. For every two boxes checked, the plotline gets a new aspect added to it. At the end of eight boxes, the plotline resolves in whatever way is logical.
This is assuming that the PCs haven’t spent the session actively working on that plotline, in which case, the box doesn’t check, but there may be multiple story tracks advancing at the same time, and they may not be able to juggle all of them in a single session.
This is an extension of ideas like Fronts from Dungeon World, or even the clocks in Headspace marking the advancement of corporate goals, but I like that this is spelled out in this section, and it’s a handy tool to remind the GM to keep advancing the world when the PCs aren’t focused on some aspect of it.
I was a fan of Dresden Files Accelerated, but I think the same rules, as expressed in this book, are a little easier to follow. I love the story stress track as a tool to advance the campaign. I really enjoy the diverse range of destinies and what the contribute to a campaign as a whole. Creating the holdfast generates a lot of built-in story hooks, as well as providing immediate buy-in for the players. I was saving this one for last, but the setting is absolutely awesome and such a brilliant idea. I cannot say enough good things about the overall concept.
Dining with Hel
I know all of the non-Midgard cultures are painted pretty broadly, but I wish there was a little bit more to how Brand was portrayed. I don’t know how I would do it, but the order of some of the chapters feels a little unintuitive to me, but I can’t think of the best order for them. There are a few minor technical hiccups, like the Bonebonded Summon the Bones condition providing three boxes, but other rules implying that the condition has five boxes.
Strongly Recommended--This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.
If you have even a tiny interest in Norse mythology, even if you don’t like Fate, I think it’s worth it to pick up this book just to get the setting information and the Holdfast questions as campaign starters. There aren’t exhaustive setting details or timelines, just lots of evocative and fun ideas that make the setting feel compelling.
If you do like Fate, it’s an even easier recommendation. It’s a very clear implementation of the Dresden Accelerated rules, and tools like the story stress boxes are a great idea that can be ported to any other Fate game you are running.
I think the only people likely to be unhappy with this product will be people that know, from the outset, that this doesn’t fit their tastes.