Before 4e: Iron Heroes

Mike Mearls is well known as one of the developers of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition and various expansions. But less well known is his 2005 work Iron Heroes, which removes the spellcasting classes and magic items from D&D and expands the rest to fill the space. The result is an all-martial version of D&D 3.5 with several innovations I still think are really cool.

Iron Heroes class abilities cost power points to use (like 3e psionics or spell points). These power points are called Tokens, and can be accumulated during an encounter by taking tactical actions which vary by class. For example, an Archer can spend a move action to aim at his target and gain 1 point.

I like IH’s token pools far better than 4e’s encounter powers, because they make narrative sense. It’s hard to explain why the fighter can only trip once per combat, but if he can only trip an opponent after taking some action that sets him up for the trip, it makes more sense. The tokens system is also more versatile, because you can use the same encounter power twice.

IH’s system neatly solves another problem in 4e: the grind of weak at-will powers when you run out of encounter powers. Most IH classes gain tokens during combat, so special attack use scales with combat length.

It’s like 4e in some ways, though. IH heavily uses per-encounter resources rather than per-day. It also uses the reserve points, an early precursor to 4e’s healing surges, which lets you recover hit points between combat without a cleric. This is down to IH’s lack of magical healing, I think, as opposed to 4e’s design to remove reliance on a cleric PC as a healing battery.

I also like that like 3.5, IH supports miniatures but isn’t reliant on them. Distances are in both squares and feet. You can flank on your own by moving around an opponent and attacking in the same round, at the cost of your move action (i.e. no full attack this round) and an attack of opportunity.

You can buy the 2007 revised PDF edition Iron Heroes at RPGNow now for £9.43 or whatever that is in your currency. There’s also a complete Iron Heroes bundle for £22.07. If you’re looking for a low-magic setting or a change from your current D&D, Iron Heroes is still as good as it was in 2007.

Comments (1)

Andy (January 25th, 2013)

Ooooooooooooooh that sounds awesome.

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