And so, the saga is now complete.
Okay, that was a little heavy-handed, but I simply could not resist. However, The Iron Heroes Bestiary does, in a fashion, bring to an end what could be considered the core Iron Heroes setting written by Mike Mearls for Monte Cookâ€™s Malhavoc Press. As the title suggests, the Iron Heroes Bestiary is a collection of monsters to present a challenge to even the sturdiest of Iron Heroes character. Like the previous two Iron Heroes books, the Bestiary also provides an interesting insight into the mechanics of the D20 system and ways it can be manipulated to suit a groups gaming style. The Iron Heroes Bestiary opens with simple examples of mythical heroes and their equally legendary foes. Indeed, would we even remember Bard had he no Smaug to bring down, would anyone care about Beowulf if he did not face Grendel?
Great heroes need great foes!
Chapter 1 - Using Monsters in Iron Heroes
The first chapter of Iron Heroes Bestiary teaches the reader how to incorporate any D20 based creature into the Iron Heroes system. Designed to work with any other D20 system, an Iron Heroes DM does need to remember that with magic almost non-existent for player characters; there are some monsters who could present an insurmountable challenge. With a simple magic missile spell even a first level wizard can do damage to a creature who flies far above the battlefield, but in the magically scarce world of Iron Heroes, even a simple flying beast can present a challenge. Mearls reminds the DM to provide the characters with options within the theater of combat that level the playing field, while not making the fight too easy. Death, while annoying in a traditional fantasy game, rarely means the end of that character since spells and items that bring back the dead are very accessible. However, in Iron Heroes they are nigh non-existent and even then, they will often come with a terrible price. Mearls provides the reader with many options in converting a creatureâ€™s instant death (or any other PC stopping ability) to make it more palatable with Iron Heroes. That does not mean however that the beasts within Iron Heroes are any less lethal. Indeed not, as most lack spells or supernatural instant kill abilities, the monsters in Iron Heroes are equipped with hundreds of ways to bring on some serious pain. Chapter 1 also provides the DM with a highly detailed, yet still readable, mathematical approach to designing and converting monsters for characters to face in Iron Heroes. It is a credit to Mearlsâ€™ writing ability that even this potentially dry information flowed well. Chapter 1 wraps with a small section on new Monster Mastery Feats that ad an even greater threat level to the players.
Chapter 2 - Villain Classes
I love the concept of Villain Classes. There is nothing better then pulling the rug out from under my players when I describe how a monster looks...leaving out the part where he is also a 10th level Champion. First introduced in Mastering Iron Heroes, Villain Classes are a quick and easy way to make an encounter more challenging or to make a long term foil all the more memorable. The three new Villain Classes introduced within the Iron Heroes Bestiary are the skilled Champion, a creature who is just as skilled as any fighter or man at arms. The Champion may choose from a list of Mastery Feats and grow skilled in various fighting style. I cannot wait to use the Flesh Flayer that also happens to be a skilled duelist. Next up is the Demonic Minion; a smaller, less physical cousin to the Demonic Brute as found in Mastering Iron Heroes. Smaller of stature but greater in intelligence and cunning, the Demonic Minion can play hell (no pun intended) on lower level characters or act as a devious assistant to the more dangerous Arcanist from Mastering Iron Heroes. Taking the best (or worst as the case may be) traits from the Demonic Brute and the Demonic Minion, the Demon Knight is rage and cunning given infernal form. The Demonic Knight has the potential to become a long time and extremely dangerous enemy to the player characters.
Chapter 3 - Here Be Monsters!
Any player of Dungeon Master even remotely familiar with the D20 system knows how a monster is broken down. The creatures within chapter 3 of Iron Heroes Bestiary are no different, with one small exception, as alignments do not exist within the Iron Heroes settings; they are not given in the monster description. (Mike Mearls does do an excellent job of describing a monsters outlook on the world, giving the DM a good idea as to who is good and who is bad). There is plenty of variety within chapter 3 as the monsters within run the gamut in terms of threat level, from the lowest being 1/2 a Challenge Rating to the epic CR 20 beasts. As the monsters in Iron Heroes need to lack the instant kill and other PC stopping abilities, Mike Mearls created some truly memorable ways to inflict harm upon a character. A few of my personal favorite are the Internal Gears in a Bone Machine, which cuts and grinds up a character that was unlucky enough to find them selves trapped within. Or, like the dangerous Paeldrem who are able to share token pools and tactics, making them a fun fantasy version of Tomax and Xamot. Another great and helpful addition that Mearls has added is possible Action Zones that certain creatures are able to perform during a combat phase. Additionally, Mearls provides information and stats for attacking creature that need a bit more then a simple hack and slash to bring down, such as the Colossus of Thard, which is so large it needs to be climbed to be safely brought down!
Mike Mearls wraps Iron Heroes Bestiary with a well-written appendix on converting creatures from the other widely popular Malhavoc setting: Arcana Evolved. DMs who wish for crossover challenges from that high magic setting will find the information invaluable. As I have come to expect from all Malhavoc products, the layout and attention to detail within Iron Heroes Bestiary is outstanding. As was the case in the previous Iron Heroes books, Mike Mearls uses his gift for writing to ensure the reader never grows tired or bored with the less than crunchy information provided. (Of which there is little in this gem of a book).
I would be remiss if I did not give a mention to the fine art within Iron Heroes Bestiary. Again, Kev Crossley invokes images that I feel are perfect for the savage setting in which an Iron Heroes game is supposed to take place. There have been some who have felt Crossleyâ€™s art is too simple. I disagree. Crossleyâ€™s art has an intense brutality to it that makes a perfect companion to the combat heavy world of Iron Heroes. I would also like to comment on the cover art by Jeremy Jarvis, who lent his skills to all three Iron Heroes setting covers. Each cover captured the epic / high adventure theme Mike Mearls aimed for with Iron Heroes. I look forward to more work from both of these talented artists.
In a way, this is the end of a saga as Mike Mearls has taken a position at Wizards of the Coast as one of their roleplaying game designers. I can only hope the folks at WotC give him the same creative flexibility he had at Malhavoc Press.
Iron Heroes Bestiary is a necessary buy for any DM or player interesting in the Iron Heroes setting. More impressively, Iron Heroes Bestiary is an excellent addition to any gamer who wishes to ad some serious and creative challenges to their campaign world. More so, although I wholly recommend Iron Heroes for any fan of the D20 system, you do not need own Iron Heroes to get good use out of the Iron Heroes Bestiary.
For that, and all the reasons above I give The Iron Heroes Bestiary by Mike Mearls:
5 out of 5 Critical Hits!