As a frequent contributor and eventual moderator for Basic Fantasy RPG, I was privy to hear from Chris regarding a new game he was going to write, Iron Falcon. As a take on the first version of D&D (BFRPG would model the later B/X edition), there would be a lot more work for Chris to interpret the rules and intentions of that game, not to mention still staying within the bounds of the OGL license. I was a sounding board as Chris roared ahead and wrote the majority of the game very quickly, also garnering feedback on various forums (following our mantra of “release early and release often” as open-source software likes to follow). Once completed I helped proof it (although there honestly wasn’t much that needed correcting or clarifying). I recently took advantage of a Lulu coupon to order a paperback copy, and now I feel I can truly flip through and review the game. I must say however, that I’m quite disappointed in my Lulu print; the cover is fantastic, but the interior text and artwork is an extremely light gray. I will stick with Amazon in the future.
The first thing I immediately notice when I open the book is the typeface. Compared to Souvenir/Soutane used in B/X and BFRPG, the font used in Iron Falcon is MUCH easier to read. The Table of Contents is very detailed for what’s considered quite a thin book these days for an RPG. Creating a character is pretty simple to do, and there aren’t too many differences compared to the later D&D/OSR games. Unlike BFRPG there’s a separate table for each stat that clearly shows the bonus/penalty of each one.
The same four character classes are available, but the section on races should come before classes; this is the case in many games, and it annoys me to no end. Not only is it more logical to pick your race first, but there’s class restrictions and other info that would be good to know prior to choosing your class. Unlike BFRPG but like D&D the thief skill Hear Noise uses a d6 rather than d100 unlike the other skills. Still makes no sense to me. The thief skills are adjusted depending on your race, which is a neat little variation.
In addition to the four classic races, half-elves are an option as well. Unlike BFRPG alignment is included in the game, though it’s the simple Lawful/Chaotic/Neutral setup. I usually don’t care about alignment in my games, but this system works to at least give players a broad overview of how their character will normally act. Unlike BFRPG or any other D&D/OSR game a whole page is dedicated to a sample character and how it’s created. Obviously this is invaluable to newcomers and I commend Chris for including it.
Equipment uses the gold standard just like in most games. I like LotFP’s silver standard as it’s more plausible, but apparently in most games gold is quite abundant. Unlike most other pre-AD&D games, the weapons in Iron Falcon have a separate damage value for Man-Sized and Large creatures. For many weapons it’s the same for both, while some deal quite a bit more or less against Large creatures. Is this a needed detail/rule? I don’t think so, but again it’s another little touch to set Iron Falcon apart.
Before getting to the Spells, as most games do, Iron Falcon dives into the rules for combat. Interestingly distance is given in scale inches rather than feet or yards; this echoes OD&D’s wargaming ancestry. Unlike BFRPG Iron Falcon follows the standard of using descending armor class, which means we get a nice big table for attacking; at least it’s just one table, including a column for monsters. I’m not sure I’m keen on the Thief and Cleric sharing the same column, as I believe the Cleric should improve more than the Thief. The rest of the rules are pretty standard, including Savings Throws. I still greatly prefer the 3-save or single-save systems used by DCC and Swords & Wizardry respectively.
Next we have Spells, and overall the list looks to be pretty standard. Next up is Monsters. Unlike the 1- or 2-page explanations in other games, in Iron Falcon it’s maybe a half-page at most before we dive right in to the monster descriptions. In D&D/OSR tradition the Dragon has the most extensive write-up. The list of monsters goes by fairly quick as there’s no artwork for some or most of the entries as in other games. While I do miss the artwork for some monsters, it does leave it up to the reader to conjure their own vision of what might be seen. Unlike BFRPG, in Iron Falcon the tables for monster encounters comes at the end of this section, which makes more sense. This is also where we see the information on NPC encounters, rather than in the GM section.
Now we’re on to Treasure. Chris has noted online that Iron Falcon has much more treasure than BFRPG. Looking at the two games, I would have to agree there’s more in Iron Falcon, but not significantly more. I mean, nothing compared to AD&D and clones! But that’s also more rules, magic, monsters, etc. I will say Iron Falcon does have a few more pages of description of treasure compared to BFRPG.
The last section of Iron Falcon covers Adventuring. At first read I wondered why these rules weren’t put before Spells like in most games, but after thinking it over and re-reading it I can understand putting these rules in the traditional “GM eyes only” section of the book. Some items are things the players don’t need to worry about or actually won’t even control in the game, and the other items are things the GM will determine and make any needed die rolls anyways (dealing with traps for example).
Iron Falcon has a couple of appendices that can help a GM customize the rules to suit their tastes. Appendix A, Alternate Combat Rules, offers Exceptional Strength, Weapons vs. Armor Type, and the Paladin class. Appendix B is all about Intelligent Swords, and 3 pages are devoted to them. While BFRPG barely covered them, Labyrinth Lord does spend almost 2 pages on details as well. I personally don’t see the use of them, but could still be an interesting NPC/Monster/Treasure. Appendix C, Referee’s Guide, offers guidance on how to adjust the rules and vary the choice in character race and class depending on what “era” of D&D the group wishes to follow. While I certainly know the history of the game and how the rules evolved, I don’t think any newcomers will really care. Most will want anything as a possible choice, while the GM can make some things off-limits if it’s to suit their game/world. Appendix C also offers more details on magic and death. Finally the book ends with a handy Campaign Checklist, a blank Character Sheet, and the OGL license.
Overall I’m fairly pleased with how Iron Falcon turned out. These rules do seem to be a bit clearer and more consistent than BFRPG, as Chris was the sole author of Iron Falcon. I like the little rules variations and options, as well as the additional treasure. I would more likely run this game rather than BFRPG or any other OSR game. I do kind of miss the artwork that other games have, but for a rule-book it’s not quite necessary.
Iron Falcon is available free in PDF on its website (as linked above), along with an adventure compendium, character sheet, campaign checklist, and a GM screen. If you’d prefer hard copy, that can be ordered either from Amazon or Lulu.