Burning Wheel or Iron Heroes for a Monster-dense, fight heavy campaign?

edited June 2006 in Story Games
OK, so I'm playing and digging story games, ever since the Forge and Dogs specifically woke me to these possibilies. But they also awoke a monster,
in that I'm now finding myself ever more interested in recapturing some of the kick-ass fantasy gaming of my youth. One thing that is sorely tempting
me is to take the setting of Titan (from the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own adventure books) and play a campaign in it. This is where my gaming began, and I've always been partial to it: a bloodbeast does it for me in a way that a beholder never really did.

I'd want to use a beefier system than the Advanced Fighting Fantasy one, and one obvious choice would be Burning Wheel. I have the core set, and getting the Monster Burner would enable me to stat up the various beasts and foes. However, I don't know if it quite leans towards the somewhat naive kick-ass play that I'd be after. Plus, we've already been throwing together some nice ideas for a BW campaign that have a more obvious fit with its style of play.

The alternative would be to get me some Iron Heroes. I've heard nothing but goodness about this game,and some things about it seem to fit very well - the low magic, cool fighty manouvers, and resilience of PCs allowing them to get through battle after battle without needing weeks of healing. However, this would be my first D20 product, and I am wondering about how much investment of my brain and time would be needed to actually run this. When I look at some of the descriptions of action combos (first do this, then this and this, and then you can do this!) my mind boggles, but perhaps this is due to it being a foreign language to me at present - Attacks of Opportunity and the like. And I took a while to grok the BW fight terminology, too. Another mark against it, maybe more serious, is how to produce all the cool FF monsters. The Monster Burner, which I've yet to get, sounds like the perfect tool for this, whereas I don't know of any similar guidance for D20, and get the feeling that you have to be pretty savvy to start mixing things up unguided in that system.

Any thoughts? So far, I can see

BW = good monster guidance + system I get & like + own the books except for the MB
IH = Wacky, fighter-centred combat + More high-heroic feel + cheap pdf


  • I don't know Iron Heroes from a D&D-shaped hole in my head, but I bet it, or some flavor of it, would be a better fit for what you are describing based on my experience with BW. Burning Wheel is optimized for grittier, more brutal combat with genuine danger and meaning attached to what you are doing. You can't shrug off an injury. Even the shabbiest mook can be a deadly opponent if he gets lucky. When's the last time your heroic fantasy dude had to choose between running away screaming and begging for mercy? "Naive kick-ass" isn't how I would describe it. If you're familiar with BW you probably know this already, in which case I'm misunderstanding your desires.
  • Have a gladiator night...do some BW and some IH and see what the players dig.

    I think that IH is what you are looking for but it all depends on how you set it up.
  • Hi Alex, I've never played Burning Wheel, but my impression is that it's mostly designed for heart-wrenching story-stuff, with lots of killin' added in. Since you're mainly in it for the killin', BW might be too sophisticated for your taste.

    Have you tried Donjon? It's free, it does killin' and fightin', and it's pretty simple to learn. Coming up with enemies is really easy.
  • Jason, you're understanding them ok. I've only played through BW the once, and I understand that at higher-LPs the system does approach more heroic-type stuff, but yeh, my sense is that the fit isn't quite right. Iron Heroes appears better.

    The big kicker for me, though, is the Monster Burner. The attraction of doing this in the first place is having (and then dispatching) some of these monsters, but having them a bit more substantial system-wise than FF did it (2 stats, fixed damage, and the odd special ability). I would be prepared to compromise on the heroism - to a limited degree - for the Make-yer-own-monster fun that the MB offers.

    If I went with the 'Heroes, I have no idea how I would go about getting the beasts together - I presume there is some kind of D&D Monster Manual that I could lift things out of and recolour? Then, of course, I have to fold in that cost, + any further work in tweaking them for the system (I think some things work slightly differently from the core system). And it's certainly not as satisfying as making stuff up - which I'm not confident I could do in D20 without breaking things totally.

    The other issue is rules complexity - as a D20 naive fellow, am I opening a Pandoras Box here? If so, any other recommendations?
    Judd - that is, indeed, an idea.
    James - Donjon is all about dungeon-crawls, no? High on magic, treasure etc. The thing I liked about FF was that items + stuff were both rare and always a means to an end - you didn't build up an arsenal of stuff, you weren't a walking treasury. I'm not sure if this would really mesh - what do you think?
  • I have yet to play IH (own it), have not played BW, but have a well-developed D20 hole in my head, that finds its tasty and charming for what it does. If you have never played D20, it may take a little getting used to, but it is pretty much wired to do exactly what you want. D20 is very good at rp-colored combat game and IH is tricked out to make that combat as lively and dynamic as possible. I would just drop the Arcanist from the mix and go.

    As for monster creation, well, there is a companion to IH that helps out with that. That being said, I have found that in D20 you can really create a monster with a lot (a *whole* lot) less than that given to it in a Monster Manual style entry. Once you figure out how many hp it has, how it attacks, what cool powers it has, you just need to do a few quick comparisons to other monsters of a similar Challenge Rating to get a good idea of how high its Attack should be and what sort of saving throw values are reasonable. Give it the HD appropriate to that Attack value, use that to get its saving throws, and give it some ability scores that seem appropriate.
  • Thanks Ian, that's good stuff to know. What's that companion called?
  • I think BW doesn't do party-versus-many combats as well, as the larger numbers have a fantastic advantage. From all the good things I've heard, it's IH FTW. I think Chris (bankuei) posted about some good actual play with it on his blog.

  • Hi,

    I did like a dozen or so sessions with Iron Heroes and had a blast. THOUGH, you must be warned- D20 is not an easy, light or simple system. And, on top of that, IH does have some rough edges which the non-D20 head might stumble into. You might want to check out my cheat sheets for IH for some idea of the depth you're looking at:

    Action Sheet
    Stunts and Combat Challenges
  • Wow, thanks Chris that's super handy. The complexity of the system is my biggest worry. If we did end up playing there'd probably be a D20 /D&D player in the group so that would help some. I keep coming back to Judd's idea - play through some combats until we're notionally competent at it, and see where to go from there.

    Right! What I'll do now is take to my 'group' (ie string of people who might want to play) the kind of play I'm envisaging, the systems and relative pros and cons, and suggest that whatever we use we play some combat friendlies beforehand (maybe even with both systems) to gain some nominal competence.

    Thanks everybody, I've got enough to get started with. But if anyone has any further advice, lay it on me.
  • If you do decide to take up IH at any point, please let me know. I learned quite a bit about what makes a good encounter as well as a couple of useful things to pay attention to as a player and as a GM.
  • bankuei: I'd love to hear what you've got. I own IH but have never run it (like BW) due to front end learning curvature (I have played d20, though).
  • Thanks Chris - once my attention is wrested back from the world cup we'll see if this is viable - and then I may be pestering you ;)
  • Just started a new discussion - Iron Heroes 101. If anyone has questions, I'd be happy to share what I know.
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