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posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Iron Heroes was written by Mike Mearls under the Swords & Sorcery imprint that he shared with Monte Cook. Monte Cook would write Arcana Unearthed/Arcana Evolved under this line, which was more his style, but that's a completely different discussion.

Iron Heroes has a couple of big ideas, which I'll try to cover here:

Skill Groups

This was their attempt to streamline the 3e skill system. Basically, skills would be grouped together, and then if you put a skill point into one, you'd get skill points in all of them together.

For example, the Armiger class has access to the Athletics skill group. If they put a point into Climb, they also gain 1 rank in Jump and Swim.

The Executioner class has access to the Athletics, Perception, and Stealth skill groups. If they put a point into Listen, they also gain 1 rank in Search, Sense Motive, and Spot. If they put a point into Hide, they also gain 1 rank in Move Silently.

If an Armiger puts a point into Hide, though, it only goes to Hide - they would need to increase their Move Silently skill separately.

Also, there are no more "cross-class" skills as defined by 3e. You put one point into a skill, and you gain one rank in it. What's supposed to represent cross-class-ness is whether or not you have access to the skill group to let you save on points.

Skill Challenges

Basically, take a penalty to a skill check to gain an additional benefit, or, in-combat, succeed at a skill check to gain a bonus, such as an attack roll or damage roll bonus. This technically is something that you could have already with standard 3e, the book just formalizes it as a thing.

It's supposed to dovetail with ...

Glory Points

Whenever the player does something "heroic", the DM should award them with Glory Points. If you choose to spend Glory Points before rolling for an attack, skill check, or saving throw, you add a d10 to your roll for every Glory Point you want to spend. If you choose to spend the Points after you roll your d20, you add a d6 for every Point instead.

This is supposed to encourage risky behaviors and heroic actions: you throw yourself into harm's way to earn Points, and then you use those points to pull of skill checks that would normally be impossible.

Reserve Points

Iron Heroes has no spellcasters, and thus no healers. So Mearls took the Reserve Points variant rule from Unearthed Arcana and applied it here. You have a number of Reserve Points equal to your maximum HP. Whenever you are not engaged in strenuous physical activity, you can convert the Reserve Points into Hit Points. When you're sleeping/resting, you both heal your HP and recover your banked Reserve Points. It effectively gives you twice your maximum HP, but not within a fight.

I suspect, but have no way of proving, that the concept of 4th Edition's "Short Rest" and "healing surges" may have had their genesis here.

Defense Bonus and Armor as Damage Reduction

These are again variant rules from Unearthed Arcana that Mearls made into default assumptions for IH.

Armor as Damage Reduction means that wearing armor no longer increases your AC, but instead reduces the damage you take from successful hits. Except Mearls took it one step further and made it a random roll. Whereas plate armor would give you a flat DR 4/- in the 3e variant rule, you would instead have roll 1d8 for your plate armor's DR in IH.

And then, since you no longer have an AC bonus from armor, you simply have a Base Defense Bonus, similar to Base Attack Bonus, that takes the place of what your armor should be.

(it's also worth mentioning here that the Base Defense Bonus actually goes up to what your expected AC value would be not only from wearing armor, but also from the periodic upgrades of that armor's enhancement bonus, from +1 to +5. This is because there are supposed to be no magic items in IH.)

(it's also the case that Base Attack Bonuses are also higher, in order to account for this. A level 20 3e Fighter would have a final BAB of +20/+15/+10/+5, but a level 20 IH Archer would have a final BAB of +25/+20/+15/+10/+5. That extra +5 is from the +5 weapon that they should have had, had they been playing in a setting where magic is real)

Feat Mastery

This is a big change, and a big fiddly change in a game that's already full of fiddly bullshit.

Feats are divided into two categories: General and Mastery. If it's a General feat, then it's the same thing as normal 3e feats. You learn it, you get the effects. Improved Initiative is (still) a General feat. You learn it, you get a +4 bonus to initiative rolls.

If it's a Mastery feat, you can take it multiple times, and the benefit you gain is based on your Mastery Level. Let's try an example:

At level 1, a Berserker has a Power Feat Mastery of 1, and nothing else.
At level 5, a Berserker has a Power Feat Mastery of 3, and Armor Feat Mastery of 2, and a Feat Mastery of 1 for all other categories.

Foe Hammer is a Power Mastery feat.
As a level 1 Berserker, you can only take its Mastery 1 version - whenever you hit a target, the target must have a Fort save DC 10+half-damage-you-inflicted, or suffer a -2 injury penalty to attack rolls until the end of their next turn.
As a level 5 Berserker, you can take either its Mastery 1 version, or its Mastery 2 version - you may take a Full-Round Action to make a single attack. If it hits, the target must have a Fort save. If the target fails, its speed will be reduced by half.
As a level 11 Berserker, you can take the Mastery 1, 2, 4, or 6 versions of the feat. The Mastery 6 version will let you replace the a confirmed critical hit with inflicting the Sickened condition.

You have to wait until you get to level 15 Berserker to get access to the Mastery 8 version of Foe Hammer. But at level 15 Berserker your Armor Feat Mastery is only 7, and your Feat Mastery for everything else is only 6, so make sure you remember that!

But probably a bigger issue than the complicated mess of this thing is how the book manages to split up previously useful feats into buckets of warm spit.

Improved Trip: the first feat at Mastery 2 removes the OAs for Trip Attempts. The Mastery 3 feat gives you the +4 bonus in the opposed roll for the trip attempt. The Mastery 4 feat gives you the free attack after a successful trip attempt. So you need three feats and anywhere between character level 3 to 4 before you can get what you used to be able to have with just one feat from the 3e PHB.

The fact that IH gives you feats every odd level, and that there's a Mastery 6 upgrade of Improved Trip (target falls prone in adjacent square instead) and a Mastery 8 upgrade of Improved Trip (target must pass a Fort save or be stunned) doesn't really earn back all that you lose from this Feat Mastery system slicing up whole feats into mealy-mouthed quarter-feats.


I'm going to end this post here to give us something to chew on, because the individual class discussions are going to be much longer, but suffice it to say that the general rules framework that IH is built around is this creaky, unoriginal structure cobbled together from Unearthed Arcana variant rules that only serves to wreck all possible easy conversion to other d20 games.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

There are two more big concepts in Iron Heroes that I forgot to mention:

No Races

Everyone is assumed to be human. Instead, every character has two "Traits", which provide certain bonuses that are supposed to take the place of whatever abilities you would have normally gained from having a race.

Traits are subdivided into Background, Mental, and Physical categories. Characters can only have two Traits max, but are limited to one Background Trait.

These are things like:

Artisan - Gain 4 ranks in Craft at level 1, and your Craft skill always increases by 1 rank each level. Raw materials for crafting cost 10% less, and you have a choice between [Taking 20 on Craft checks halves the time expenditure], [you deal 2x damage to items when trying to destroy them], or [you gain a +2 bonus to Appraise checks and can sell items for 10% more].

Bloodthirsty - when you kill an opponent, you gain a +1 bonus to damage and a +2 bonus to Will saves. There's a very pedantic clause attached to this that says the opponent had to have been killed from a positive HP score; that Coup de Graces don't count.

Desert-born - you get a +2 bonus to all saves versus Fire. When you are in the desert, you can always make Survival checks even when untrained, and you gain a +4 bonus on Survival checks. You only consume half as much food and water when you are in the desert. You also have a choice between [gain a +2 bonus to Balance and Tumble checks while walking on sand], or [when you are reduced to less than 0 HP, you can make a Fort save to not fall unconscious and continue to fight normally (Camel's Tenacity)]

There are Mental Traits that give you a +2 bonus to your Charisma or Intelligence or Wisdom.
There are Physical Traits that give you a +2 bonus to your Strength or Dexterity or Constitution.
However, these always come with a -2 penalty to something else, unless you take the Trait a second time to remove the penalty. But that already eats up both your Traits.

More Hit Points

Since this is a gritty, Conan-esque implied setting, characters need to be hardier. So instead of a Hit Die, characters now have a flat HP amount plus a rolled value.

A Thief in Iron Heroes, for example, has a Hit Die of [1d4+4], as opposed to a 3e Rogue's [d6]. So a Thief's worst HP roll is only going to be 1 less than a Rogue's best HP roll, and a Thief is going to have 2 more HP per level than the Rogue, on average.

That Old Tree posted:

I assume it's because, since there are no wizards in IH, the idea is to give players more "stuff" to buy and fiddle with to build their characters. Of course, this is an utterly ass way to do that, and betrays that base d20 non-casters are fucked yet going forward no one involved would try to undo this implicitly acknowledged problem.

The problem is that if you increase the number of feats that everyone gets, but then subdivide the feats into 3 or 4 parts, then you're really coming out behind.


posted by gradenko_2000 Original SA post

Iron Heroes classes

The big idea for class design in Iron Heroes is tokens. You earn them through a variety of means, and then you cash them in to let you perform abilities so that you're not just a Fighter doing Full Attacks all day.

I'm not going to go through every class, but let's start with the Archer, as that's the first one in the book, and it's a straightforward example of how this system works:

The Archer has a [1d4+4] hit die, it has full BAB when using ranged weapons, but 3/4ths BAB everywhere else, has access to the Agility, Athletics, and Perception skill groups, and has Projectile feats as its best Feat Mastery.

The token pool used by the Archer is the Aim Token. At the start of a turn, an Archer can designate a target that they're aiming at.

If the target was the same target as last time, and the target did not move in-between rounds, the Archer gains 1 Aim Token against that target, for free
If the Archer spends a Move Action to aim (which basically means "do nothing, stare at your navel), they gain 1 Aim Token against that target
If the Archer spends a Standard Action to aim, they gain 2 Aim Tokens against that target
If the Archer spends a Full-Round Action to aim, they gain 4 Aim Tokens against that target

At level 1, and at every odd level afterwards, the Archer gets to select a one of the following Shots that they can spend their Aim Tokens on:


Accurate Shot: For every 1 Aim Token you spend, you reduce the target's AC-bonus-from-cover by 2

Armor Piercing Shot: For every 1 Aim Token you spend, you ignore 1 point of the target's DR

Deadly Shot: Spend 2 Aim Tokens to deal extra damage equal to half your Dex modifier. You can only add this extra damage once per attack.

Disrupting Shot: When you hit the target, they must make a Fort save. On failure, they suffer a -1 penalty to their attack rolls for every 1 Aim Token spent, until the end of their next turn. This replaces all of the damage that you might inflict with that attack.

Distant Shot: For every 1 Aim Token you spend, you reduce the ranged penalty for your attacks by 2.

Hamstring Shot: Ready an action to shoot at your target when they move. When your readied attack hits, the target must make a Fort save, whose DC is increased by the number of Aim Tokens spent. If they fail, their movement speed is reduced to half until the end of their turn.

Storm of Arrows: As a Full-Round Action, fire a volley of arrows at a target. For every 2 Aim Tokens you spend, you fire 4 additional arrows. If your normal attack roll hits, then your target takes damage as normal. However, any other enemies adjacent to your target will also take damage if your attack roll was also high enough to beat their Defense. These adjacent enemies will take 1 damage per additional arrow fired (so a minimum of 4 damage by spending 2 Aim Tokens). The damage from these additional arrows is capped at your Dexterity modifier.

Unerring Shot: Before you shoot, your target must make a Reflex save, whose DC is increased by the number of Aim Tokens spent. If they fail, they lose their Base Defense Bonus against your next shot. This effect only lasts for your next shot.

At level 10 their gain Aim Tokens faster.

At level 11 and every odd level afterwards they get a second set of special shots to spend Aim Tokens on, ranging from stuff like "make a ladder out of arrows" to "make an intimidate check by shooting a target's ear" to "8 Aim Tokens to guarantee that your next hit converts into a crit".

That should give you the general gist.

Right away there are a couple of problems with this. Anyone who's familiar with Mike Mearls work in 4th Edition D&D's Essentials line is going to have not-nice things to say about the Shroud Assassin, and how they had to "build up" Shrouds on their targets, and then spend them to deal extra damage. This was a shitty design because a lot of the time the target would die before your Shrouds ever got to build up, and once they died you were at zero Shrouds again and had to rebuild. This is the predecessor to that idea.

If the Archer targets anything else, they lose all their Aim Tokens. If the target dies, the Archer has to target something else ... and they lose their Aim Tokens.

This whole token system also represents a critical misunderstanding of just how long d20-era combat took: a goblin has 5 HP and wears leather armor, which is good for 1d2 DR in IH. An Archer with a 1d8 longbow is going to drop the goblin in one hit about 30% of the time. Even if you retained Aim Tokens across targets (which you don't), you're going to be on your third goblin before you have enough tokens to really do anything special.

And this is an example of an Iron Heroes class that works well. For an example of what a bad class looks like, let's go to the Armiger.

This is the flavor description for the class:


While other warriors rely on speed or canny parries to defend themselves, the armiger trusts in his armor. Armigers create their own protective gear and improve it over time. They can stand before dozens of opponents, confident that their armor will shield them from harm.

The armiger wins battles by wearing down his foes. If you decide to play an armiger, keep close to your friends but stay near the front of every battle. Ideally, the most powerful monsters and opponents you face focus their attacks on you. This may sound suicidal, but the armiger excels at defending himself. Attacks that barely faze you could seriously injure your friends. As your foes’ attacks harmlessly rebound off your armor, you wear down their stamina and position yourself for a devastating counterattack.

So they're supposed to be the tank, right? A heavily armored warrior that punishes those that try to hit him.

The Armiger has a [1d4+6] hit die, full BAB, has access to the Athletics skill groups, and has Armor feats as its best Feat Mastery.

At level 1, the Armiger moves one speed category faster while wearing armor, so heavy armor such as plate, which would normally reduce a 30-foot base speed into 15-feet, now only reduces the Armiger to 20 feet.

They also get Tough as Nails, which allows them to use either their Strength score, or their [Constitution score + Strength modifier] to determine encumbrance limits, whichever is higher.

They also get Master Armorer, which gives them free maxed-out ranks in Craft (Armor).

That's it.

I'm not kidding, that's fucking it. They get nothing that would make them particularly better at combat compared to a "Warrior" NPC class.

At level 2? Still fucking nothing! It's a dead level with no special abilities granted.

At level 3 they finally get to start earning Armor Tokens. For every 10 damage that is soaked up by an Armiger's Damage Reduction rolls, they earn 1 Armor Token. To give the design the least bit of credit, at least the Armor Tokens can be spent against any target that has previously attacked and hit the Armiger.

These Armor Tokens can be spent on the following abilities:


Armored Trap: Spend 1 Armor Token to activate this ability, then ready an attack when you are hit by a melee attack. When you make that readied attack, you may spend additional Armor Tokens, gaining a +1 attack bonus for every Token spent this way. If you hit, you gain a damage bonus equal to the amount of damage absorbed by your armor from the attack that you just reacted to.

Combat Magnet: Activate this ability with a Full-Round Action and by spending 2 Armor Tokens. Whenever an adjacent ally is attacked, you may spend another Armor Token to force the attack to be resolved against you instead. This ability lasts until the end of your next turn. You cannot make attacks of opportunity while under the effect of this ability.

Defensive Stance: Activate this ability with a Full-Round Action. Whenever you are attacked, you may spend an Armor Token to make an attack of opportunity against your attacker.

Distracting Lure: Spend 4 Armor Tokens to force an enemy to make a Will save whenever they next attack you (and you may spend additional tokens to increase the save DC). If the target fails, they lose their Base Defense Bonus against the next attack against them.

Draining Defense: Spend 2 Armor Tokens and a Move Action to force an enemy to make a Will save. If they fail, the suffer non-lethal damage equal to 1d4 + your Constitution modifier.

Indomitable Wall of Iron: When you are attacked by an enemy, they must make a Will save, whose DC is increased by the number of Armor Tokens spent. If they fail, they suffer a -2 penalty to attacks against you, and a -2 penalty to their Defense (to the benefit of everyone attacking them).

Iron-Sheathed Counterattack: Spend 4 Armor Tokens to gain a free Trip or Disarm attempt the next time you are hit and the damage is completely absorbed by your armor's DR.

Sentinel’s Defense: Spend 4 Armor Tokens to let you roll and add your armor's DR value to your base attack checks, grapple checks, and strength checks.

You will see a problem with this ability set right off the bat: How the shit does the Armiger gain any armor tokens?!

Earning tokens requires them to be hit, but there's not one thing that the Armiger can do to earn any tokens if the DM just decides to never attack them, and if they're not attacked, then they don't earn any tokens, so how can they force the DM to attack them?

Indomitable Wall of Iron was at one point errata'd to not need a minimum investment of Armor Tokens, so you can actually use that at zero tokens, but even then, if you use it on a target, and the target fails the Will save (they might pass since the token-less save DC won't be very high!) then they get a penalty to hitting you, which makes it even less likely that the DM will want to attack you, and if they ever do, it's actually harder for them.

And then the problem of the rate of token acquisition being completely fucked rears its head again: 1 Token = 10 damage absorbed by DR. Even if you have a gentleman's agreement with the DM to please let you tank because you said so and need it, a goblin smacking you with a 1d6 morningstar is going to take 3 to 4 rounds to give you ONE Armor Token. True, there's probably more than one Goblin, but at the same time there's also more than one of your in the party trying to kill these goblins at the same time.

I could go on, but I think that's enough to give you a basic idea of what the game is like. You need TOKENS TOKENS TOKENS to be able to do anything, but even for a class that frontloads Token earning like the Executioner, there's not going to be enough rounds of combat for you to be able to do anything with it.

If there's any other specifics people would like to know, I'd be happy to get into it, but that should be it for this broad look at Iron Heroes.