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Ironclaw is a fantasy role-playing game published by Sanguine Productions, in which players take on the roles of anthropomorphic animals. The game is set in a Renaissance-inspired fictional universe on a continent called Calabria. The primary theme of the game involves four noble houses embroiled in political hostilities, with players taking the roles of citizens and adventurers.
Since its initial publishing, the Ironclaw core book has undergone a revision to bring it more in line with Jadeclaw, which has cleaner rules. The revised Ironclaw contains numerous errata and corrections, some new artwork, and an expanded section for game hosts. The cover of the first two printings of Ironclaw sourcebook bears a strong resemblance to the cover of Slayers The Motion Picture, with small changes. The "Ninth Anniversary Edition", released in 2009, depicts the characters from the original cover cowering before Amalsand Jakoba, the canon arch-villainess of the setting.
The current edition, Ironclaw: Squaring the Circle, was released in 2010 with new rules and art, as well as a supplement, Ironclaw: Book of Mysteries. A new version of Noggle Stones, using the same revised rule system, was released as well.
A number of supplement books have been released over the years, detailing the various cultures of Calabria and providing new rules and sample adventure modules.
The largest city in Calabria is Triskellian, on the southern coast of the continent in the Bay of Auvric. As an enormous port city, this metropolis benefits from substantial economic and political clout. It is also the intellectual and social nexus of the world.
The four Great Houses are powerful feudal estates that control vast domains of the continent. Because of their great historical, cultural, and racial differences, they are often in competition for land, resources, and political power. Hostilities and warfare are common between neighboring lands, but the ruling parties are wary to balance their aggressions, lest they leave an undefended flank for a rival to exploit.
- To the east are the Aviordupois, a militant theocracy of horses, who practice S'allumner, a sacerdotal religion similar to the real world Roman Catholicism. The capital city is Salon du Sauldre, which contains the most magnificent of S'allmner temples. However the seat of the church's administration remains in Rinaldi hands.
- The northern territory is controlled by the Doloreaux, a staid house of traditionalist boars, who engage in the pagan practice of Lutarism. The capital city of Bruges is a full of natural splendor, despite being a mining town known for manufacturing cannons.
- The Bisclavret are a young, ambitious house of wolves who control much of the western coast. They specialize in relatively advanced military dogmatics and technology, including pioneering into the manufacturing and use of firearms. The capital city, Harrowgate, is land-locked, but a port on the western coast has a seaport and is the largest manufacturer of ocean-going vessels and ships.
- The Rinaldi are a declining house of grey foxes, who once held political sway of Triskellion, but have since lost much of their holdings to the burgeoning merchant class. Their holdings have largely dissolved, leaving many members penniless peasantry, ignorant of their former nobility.
- In addition, the primitive Phelan inhabit the heavily-wooded western lands, and are ancient ancestors of the Bisclavret. Though not considered to be a noble house by the other inhabitants, they do have a distinct culture including a complex legal system, religion, and governmental practices. They are similar to real world Celtic ancient culture, and are known to practice Druidism.
There are also a number of minor houses, which swear fealty to one of the larger ones, such as the Repense, a minor house of bats which serve the Bisclavret and are fascinated by astrology.
Detailed information on each of the houses can be found in small supplement books. Inside are jobs, abilities, and special rules for certain aspects of the houses. Each book also includes a "secret" list of Thaumaturgical magic, supposedly written by Khandrinigar, a mysterious wizard who is rumored to have invented many of his own magic spells.
In Calabria, magic is a rare and difficult study undertaken by apprentices and usually taught by older wizards. Spells are ranked by difficulty and effectiveness, and one must gather enough knowledge and practice to qualify to learn more potent magic.
Journeyman spells are the middle level, usually improving on many spells the wizard already knows and adding a few advanced spells to his repertoire. Also, the Journeyman's privilege spell enables the wizard to nullify an apprentice level spell of the same school.
Master spells are the pinnacle of magical knowledge of that school, and take the greatest amount of time and dedication to achieve and use. The Master's Privilege spell even negates the spellcasting of Journeymen spells of the same school.
The Five Schools
There are five schools of magic available to player characters. Each has its own flavor and usefulness.
- Thaumaturgy is the study of the underlying nature of magic. A thaumaturge is able to perform a wide variety of useful spells, such as seal doorways, protect himself from rain or snow, or view distant objects and places by use of an astral body.
- A practitioner of White Magic typically uses his ability to aid others, healing wounds or cleansing tainted objects.
- An Elementalist harnesses the potency of one or more of the four classical elements, Fire, Earth, Water, and Wind, to gather information, communicate with magical beings called elementals, or attack foes.
- Green and Purple Magic is feared for its ability to manipulate the minds and emotions of its targets, similar to mind control or telepathy. Victims may be paralyzed, put to sleep, or even compelled to attack each other. Less sinister uses include communicating mentally with a subject, or projecting oneself into another's dream while they sleep.
- Black Magic is a rare and shunned school that is persecuted by civilized folks. It is typically only learned by finding a copy of Ye Olde Book of Black Magick, written by Frater Pephedro, presumably a black wizard from ages long past. Black magic allows for communicating with the recently deceased, commanding undead creatures, and even wracking a target's soul with pain. The rulebook recommends not allowing starting characters to have access to Black Magic.
Those coming from cultures in which wizardly magic is unheard of often possess quasi-magical powers that stem from some cultural practice.
- Atavists, savage folks who supposedly are in tune with their baser instincts, learn to suppress their higher cognitive powers to hone their racial abilities to mythical levels. The Phelan are feared for their extensive experience with atavism.
- Those who follow one of the Blessed Paths of Lutarism hold nature in high regard, gaining supernatural abilities from their adherence to a philosophy embodied by a particular plant, herb, or tree.
- The Bardic tradition of the Bisclavret may be a holdout of their ancestral origins, but those capable of performing mystical tunes can affect the minds of those who hear them.
- Sacerdotal Magic is a specialized version of White magic, available to Aviordupois devout S'alumner. Many paladins and functionaries of the church make use of this wide variety of spells.
- Phelan Druids are feared even by their own kind, as their merciless and incomprehensible customs are the antithesis of civilized life.
- With insults and trickery, a Fool can get the better of those of higher station or physical brawn.
Like most RPGs, Ironclaw makes use of polyhedral dice. Five types of dice are needed: four (the "smallest"), six, eight, ten, and twelve-sided ("largest"). The dice are linked to a set of stats which describe the character. Higher stats typically mean larger dice to roll when determining the outcome of dramatic contests.
When a player takes an action that has a chance to fail in some meaningful way, they use the dice determined by all applicable abilities and skills. The Host (or game master) uses dice to represent opposition to the character, such as the ability of an NPC or an arbitrary difficulty. The highest number rolled by the player is compared to the highest number rolled by the Host. If the player scores higher, he succeeds in his attempted action. If the host's dice are higher, the character fails.
Interestingly, characters, being anthropomorphic animals, often have racial abilities which may assist them in certain activities. For instance, a squirrel character may have an easier time climbing, while a rhinoceros has the racial ability to resist pain.
There are many unofficial variations on the game, using the system in other genre of games. One example is the Timeclaw game which is a conversion of the Doctor Who (Time Travel) adventures.
Scars, a novel set in Calabria written by Ted Mackinnon, also published by Sanguine, tells the story of Danica, a female fox who works as a bounty hunter in Triskellion during an era of civil unrest. The book provided much needed information about the Rinaldi house and the daily events of the city when it was first written, as the Rinaldi supplement book was out of print and hard to come by.
Sanguine Productions and Skotos Tech have released "Ironclaw Online", a MUD-style computer game set in the Ironclaw universe. The game takes place primarily in the city of Triskellian.
Jadeclaw is the successor to the Ironclaw RPG, and uses the same system. Changes include more "traits" (martial arts), and there are now non-mammalian "races". There are now Birds, Reptiles (Snakes and Tortoises), and races from Chinese Mythology (such as Dragons). There are also some strange servitor races of insects (scorpions, centipedes, etc.), which are strictly NPC's (Non-Player Characters).