Tabletop Game: Ironclaw

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Ironclaw is a Tabletop RPG of Anthropomorphic Fantasy published by Sanguine Productions. Its first edition came out on 1999, with its second edition released in 2010. The setting is a Low Fantasy setting with the themes of a Medieval European Fantasy experiencing the rise of the flintlock, the musket and the merchant classes as powerful influences. The big difference is that all the races that live in this game are anthropomorphic animals.

Ironclaw takes place in the continent of Calabria, the majority of the lands controlled by the Great Noble Houses:

  • Avoirdupois: The House of horses, chivalrous and austere, with a history of strong religious convictions. Their army is the strongest in Calabria, though their hesitance to modernize might spell their downfall.
  • Bisclavret: The House of wolves who cast off their traditional roots to claim the resource-rich woods, giving them control over lumber production (and subsequently, shipbuilding). They are for the moment the House most interested in progress and innovation.
  • Doloreaux: The House of boars, beset on all sides by rival Houses and with only enough farmland to subsist, is the most aggressive of all Houses. The official religion is the worship of a fertility goddess and, naturally, the clergy is all female.
  • Rinaldi: Greatest of the Great Noble Houses, the grey foxes count the High King of Calabria as one of their own. They rule from the city of Triskellian, the greatest of all cities and the origin of the continent's biggest religion. Sadly, their titles are hollow and their rule is wavering. The true powers of the city are the Guild Masters. Still, the House basks in their remaining power and plays at still being relevant.

Apart from the Great Noble Houses and their vassals, two other forces lay claim to territories in Calabria:

  • Phelan: These are the wolves who continue to keep their old ways, the five clans continuing to live as their great-grandfathers did. To outsiders, this is a land untouched by civilization and fraught with dangers. They even say that goblins known as the Morrigna live in these dark woods.
  • Chevernaise: Goat-tribes who inhabit and lay claim to the Rothos Mountains, something that infuriates the Doloreaux to no end.

The players take the role of adventurers plucked from the new middle class. They have esoteric skills and abilities above the common unskilled laborers, and have access to expensive equipment. Meanwhile, the nobles of Great Houses fight their petty wars for more power, and are not above using those below them as pawns in their game. The world is waking up to an Age of Reason where technology is slowly catching up to magic and the old ways of government are being questioned.

In addition to the main book, Sanguine Productions also published a number of supplements for first-edition Ironclaw, detailing the major political players of Calabria. For second edition, they have released two supplements so far - the Book of Mysteries, the Book of Jade and the Book of Adventures, all of which have updated versions of materials from 1e supplements. Additionally, Chris Goodwin, who did all of the illustrations for the second edition's species chapter, has released a book titled Ironclaw: A Bestiary, which contains those illustrations as well as the full versions of the descriptions he wrote for them.

Sanguine Productions also made an Oriental-themed anthropomorphic RPG called Jadeclaw; the first edition was separate from Ironclaw but the second takes the form of a supplement called Book of Jade.

Ironclaw Provides Examples of:

  • Abusive Precursors: Heavily implied to be the case with the Autarchs.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: A few examples
    • Don Constantin Rinaldi's father died of plague when he was a child, he almost died as well but his nurse had a religious experience and developed white magic, after she died curing the city he and his mother founded the Church of S'allumer.
    • One of the Avoirdupois kings, Paien IV, was three years old when his great-grandfather died (after outliving his son and grandson), his uncle Childeberd was his first regent but his financial policies caused a massive rebellion and he was assassinated by one of his own guards. His second regent exascerbated the civil war by giving the rebel lords' titles and lands to loyalists. Paien IV later died just a few years after his official coronation.
    • The current Bisclavret Duke, Mausein, was nine when he ascended four years ago, it remains to be seen whether his regent will step down when he comes of age.
  • All Part of the Show: In the adventure "The Wages of Envy" it's stated that any fighting the PC's do in an opera house will be taken by the wealthy, somewhat sheltered nobles in the audience as part of the show. Even the villain firing an organ gun on stage will be seen as mere "opera grotesque."
  • Animal Stereotypes: Each of the species detailed have their own quirks and stereotypes. Note that these are In-Universe examples of stereotypes, as well; the Species Descriptions are largely how the other species see each other.
  • Badass Creed: Every character is supposed to have a motto that describes their outlook on life. Acting out according to said motto earns you more experience points.
  • Black Speech: Semi-subverted. Night Speech is an ultrasonic language that can only be spoken by Bats (who can echolocate), though other races with "Keen Ears" can learn to understand it. Though not an inherently evil tongue, due to the bats' reputation, others treat it as such.
  • Black Magic: Unholy magic. It doesn't make you evil, but since it's so damn dangerous, it often doesn't matter either way.
  • Carnivore Confusion: Subverted. Ironclaw and Jadeclaw took a page from Usagi Yojimbo and introduced an entire ecosystem of lizards, dinosaurs, and lizardy birds which fill the usual niches of livestock, beasts of burden, pets, and wildlife. Pests include both small lizards and oversized insects; Word of God has mentioned beetles the size of cats.
  • Chunky Salsa Rule: If you score an overkill (or are subject to one), the result is being so horribly mutilated that allies will become afraid. There's also not enough left for Necromantic spells requiring corpses to work on the victim, and not enough for the game's only genuine resurrection spell to work fully — it can resurrect them, but they're too badly mangled to be restored good as new and are permanently disfigured.
  • Color-Coded Wizardry: Elementalists wear colors associated with their element, cognosticites wear either green or purple, priests white, and thaumaturgists grey.
  • Corrupt Church: One of the central conflicts in the adventure A Crisis of Faith (originally in the Avoirdupois supplement, later to be updated and rereleased in The Book of Adventures) involves this trope.
  • Critical Failure: Rolling all ones, called a "botch". Especially bad when rolling to reduce damage taken, as a botch increases the damage. On the other hand rolling three or more sixes when casting black magic is really bad as well.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Saint Helloise, the central figure (though not founder, the faith came after she gave her life powering a spell to cure a plagued city) of the Church of S'aullumer.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Necromancy and aggressive Blessed magic draws on the power of the angry dead. This would not be so bad, except it also gives said dead a chance to influence the living world; Sample backfires include one possessing an unconscious person and working out it's issues with the living, possessing a corpse, or being spooky.
  • Depending on the Artist: Sometimes grey fox characters are grey- or bluish-grey recolours of red foxes, and sometimes they have the correct colouration of their species. It's especially noticeable with Vaslov, who is blue in Squaring the Circle and more naturally-coloured in the Book of Adventures.
  • Dual Wielding: The Ambidexterity gift allows you to wield two weapons (and more if you have prehensile feet and tail), even pistols.
  • Elemental Powers: Being an Elementalist lets you have access to this.
  • Fake King: The adventure published in the Rinaldi sourcebook, and the tie-in novel Scars feature a fake Prince Fabrizio de Rinaldi who has been brainwashed with purple magic into thinking he's the real thing.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Great Houses: The Bisclavret (despite their French house name) and Phelan are rather blatantly Scottish, the Avoirdupois seem French, and the Rinaldi Italian. The Doloreaux are less clear, they have a vaguely Celtic/Germanic religion while the rest of their society seems general European.
    • Some of the less influential species are as well: Bats and coyotes are mostly like gypsies, bears were like Vikings, and tigers are generic Asians.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted, as pistols and other firearms are available in the game.
  • Feather Fingers: Avian species have wings for arms, but can somehow swing a sword as easily as any other species. The raven depicted in the species art is carrying a bag and cane.
  • Giant Spider: Two of the sample wild creatures in the Omnibus. The Damhánalla is stated to be about the size of a human head, and the nastier Tarantella is even bigger.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: The standard coinage is the silver denar, they've also got less common gold aureals (24 denarii) and more circulated bronze orichalks (1/12 of a denar).
  • Grey and Grey Morality: As part of the game's political focus, every single major noble house and culture is given both sympathetic and unsympathetic qualities. The only notable exceptions are goblins, undead and necromancers (and even then, one sample adventure has a necromancer NPC who'll let the PCs go through his lands unharmed if they ask nicely). This is perhaps best exemplified in the adventure The Wolves in Winter: no-one involved in the conflict is clearly good or evil, and there's no way to get an unambiguously happy ending.
  • Heroic Bastard: Danica from Scars, for a given value of "heroic", is the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman, the late king, Don Fidelio di Rinaldi
  • Horse of a Different Color: No, not the Avoirdupois. Rather this trope refers to the variety of dinosaur-like reptiles used as mounts, many of which are named after types of horse (palfry, destrier, etc).
  • Indentured Servitude: The practice is one of the more serious penalties that can be applied to commoners in Calebria. And the Phelan normally impose fines for all crimes but if the accused cannot pay they are sold into slavery. The price list for Labor in the equipment chapter lists slaves with an indenture of one year or for life.
  • Interspecies Romance: While it does occur fairly often few specifics are given on the results, save for the novel Scars stating that when a Grey and a Red Fox have kids the peasant color dominates.
  • Le Parkour: A gift that lets you do just that.
  • Light The Way: Access to Thaumaturgy lets you do this.
  • Lovable Coward: Any PC with the Coward gift. You can actually make yourself afraid (as it gives bonuses to dodge and run)!
  • Low Fantasy: Monsters and Evil Overlords are mostly relegated to legend and folklore, and morality is Black and Grey at most, but magic is a bit more common and benign than most Low Fantasy settings.
  • Made a Slave: Most houses take war captives as slaves but wolves (both Bisclavret and Phelan) are the most prominent slavers. It's also used as a criminal sentence in some places, like Phelan who can't pay the normal fines.
  • Massive Race Selection: As of the Book of Jade, there are 61 playable species available, not counting variant species.
  • Metaplot: Subverted. The first published adventure and the first tie-in novel deal with the murder of the High King and most of his family, and the search for the sole surviving heir. It became the common touchpoint for almost every campaign using the official setting — but every campaign resolved it differently, with far-reaching impact on the rest of the political situation. (It also immediately established Ironclaw as a game where beginning characters can be kingmakers.)
  • Mysterious Animal Senses: Each Species in Ironclaw has one or two Natural Senses, but no more; when using those senses, they can include their Species Trait in their Observation roll. Some Species have Gifts that improve those sense even further (Keen Eyes, Keen Ears, Keen Nose), or provide exotic sensory abilities like Echolocation.
  • Natural Weapon: Comes with being an anthropomorphic animal.
  • Noble Savage: The Phelan have a rich oral tradition and enjoy greater social mobility than their Bisclavret cousins (who already allow more mobility than the other great houses), and the pics generally portray them wearing Loin Cloths and leather bikinis and fighting with bare claws or stone spears. Even though the written descriptions indicate they're just as likely to wear the kilt and fight with steel claymores.
  • No Name Given: To protect yourself from magic, there's a gift that lets you forsake your name.
  • Non-Combat EXP: EXP is completely based on roleplaying. Combat only figures in when it accomplishes one of the characters' Goals.
  • No One Could Survive That: In order to avoid PCs being mowed down by lucky shots, there are gifts that allow you to avoid it with appropriately dramatic results.
    • In 2nd Edition all PCs start with Combat Save for free. As do major villains.
    • Only a Flesh Wound: The Toughness Gift allows a character to treat one attack per scene per instance of this Gift like that.
  • Not Using the Z Word: None of Sanguine's material ever, ever uses the word "Furry". Officially, these are anthropomorphic animals.
  • Nubile Savage: Most of the Phelan women portrayed in the artwork, see above.
  • Oh, Crap: What happens to an ally of a recently overkilled character-they literally become Afraid if they're vulnerable to it.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: They're known here as the Morrigna by the Phelan and look like a cross between a wolf and a raven. The Morrignai are also far more dangerous than typical goblins; one regular goblin can be a threat to an entire group of player-characters. Also, they can fly.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: "Oupires"; they're undead, drink blood and fear holy symbols running water and sunlight, though those things don't hurt them.
  • Point Build System: 1st Edition was a fairly traditional setup. 2nd Edition still has it as a variant rule and for character improvement, while the default method budgets the points out into Traits (2d8, 3d6, 1d4), Skills (13 marks), and Gifts (3). While to prevent Min-Maxing Flaws were either converted into Gifts (i.e. Coward, above), or reduced to a variant rule enabling more opportunities for roleplaying EXP.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: Every denar (the standard coinage) bears the motto of Calabria, Rex una, republicus una in the Magniloquentia language.
  • Privateer: A 1st Edition sourcebook for House Bisclavret had privateers as a playable career.
  • Royal Inbreeding: The description for grey foxes states that due to inbreeding they tend to exhibit traits like hemophilia and colorblindness, with rumors of things like split tails, polydactyly, and hairlessness.
  • Shout-Out: The cover of the first edition was a deliberate homage to Slayers, with Lina and Naga as a Fox and a Wolf.
    • One sample character, a vixen warlock known as the "bandit killer" is a continuation of the above; it's more obvious in the first edition where the character is Lina in all but name and species.
    • There is Mount Eisengrim, named after Ysengrim the wolf of the Renard Cycle.
    • The Bisclavret are named after a 12th Century French poem of the same name. It's about a werewolf.
    • Example given of using the Deceit skill to make someone light a candle: "It's very dark in here. You are likely to be eaten by a Grue."
    • The section on undead is titled "That which is not dead can eternal lie."
    • The artwork for the Peafowl race in Book of Jade is very clearly inspired by Lord Shen from Kung Fu Panda 2.
  • Shown Their Work: particularly noticeable with the Phelan, whose culture is based heavily (and accurately) on pre-Christian Celtic society. The Phelan calendar is based on the actual Celtic lunar calendar, and the Druids are much closer to the priestly caste of history and the mystics of folklore than to the nature priests of modern fantasy.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: codified in the game mechanics. The Race Trait (Species Trait in Second Edition) is an attribute that ranges along the same scale as Body, Mind, and the rest, and indicates just how strong your animal heritage is. There's no direct connection to physical appearance stated, but the art suggests that the inhabitants of Monderévelé range from Borderline Little Bit Beastly to Petting Zoo People with "Atavists" who tread the line into Civilized Animal.
  • Spell Book: Each spellcaster's (save for Druids and Blessed, who don't even need to be literate) trappings Gift includes one. On Elementalism for Elementalists, Thamauturgoria by Kyndranigar the Shadow Magus for Thaumaturge's, Ye Book of Black Magic for Necromancers, and a Bible The Testaments of Helloise for Clerics.
  • Stealth Pun: The Avoirdupois are well known for their Chivalry. Cheval means horse
  • Talking Is a Free Action: You can talk freely on your turn, but you'll have to wait until the other person's turn for them to reply. Talking may be free, but a conversation is not.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: What happens when you score six or more successes on a damage roll, which leads to messy results. The art work demonstrating an overkill shows the victim dying off panel.
  • Throw It In: the species descriptions in the second edition were originally written by the section's artist, to provide himself with a mood and theme for each image. They were too good not to use.
  • Title Drop: Or as close to one as the game can get while still making sense - one of the Atavism gifts is named "Claws of Iron".
  • White Magic: Primarily the demesne of priests of S'allumer, though some claim that it existed before the Church. It also includes more offensive spells than usual.
  • Word of God: Sanguine has maintained an active mailing list since 1999, and many details of the world background, game mechanics, and design philosophy have been discussed over the years.
  • World of Funny Animals
  • Villains: The NPC creation rules have their own version of the standard hierarchy
    • Mooks: Horde, d6 in all traits, no skills other than their species and career bonuses, and the only Gifts they get other than species and career are Pack Tactics and Local Knowledge.
    • Elite Mooks: Elite Horde, d8 in all traits, plus the Armored Fighter, Shield Fighter, and Unshakeable Fighter Gifts.
    • Mook Lieutenant: Leaders, as their associated Horde except with True Leader and Militia Leader, and Elite Leaders also have Toughness, Diehard, and Troop Leader.
    • The Dragon: The Enforcer, d10 traits, along with one Trappings gift, Diehard, two Toughness gifts, Counter-Tactics, Mob Fighter, and Unshakeable Fighter. Intended to threaten the entire party on their own.
    • The Villain, d8 traits, one Trappings gift, True Leader, Militia Leader, Toughness, Luck, Combat Save, Pack Tactics, and a personality gift.
    • Big Bad: The Supernaut: All traits are d12, Armored Fighter, Bravery, Charging Fighter, Combat Save, Counter-Tactics, Diehard, Guard Breaker, Local Knowledge, Luck, Militia Leader, Mob Fighter, Pack Tactics, Resolve, Shield Fighter, Toughness x3, True Leader, Unshakeable Fighter, Veteran, and two other saving gifts plus three others of the GM's choice. The kind of character who only comes around in one out of every dozen adventures, and can take on entire armies.
  • Yin-Yang Bomb: NPC Vaslov Jakoba is rumoured to be able to use both White Magic and Black Magic (optional in 2e; confirmed in 1e). Regardless of whether it's true, it's a source of much consternation for the church. It's possible for a player character to be able to do this too.

Tropes specific to Jadeclaw/The Book of Jade

  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Anthropomorphic centipedes, spiders and scorpions, part of what's called the "Five Venoms". And they're playable in Book of Jade!
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: In stark contrast to Ironclaw, where it's ambiguous as to whether Heaven exists.
  • Eastern Zodiac: There's a nod to this; the twelve animals of the zodiac make up the twelve noble families of Zhongguo.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Zhongguo is Warring States era China with anthropomorphic animals and gunpowdernote ; many of the Imperial dynasties even share the same names. In addition, Yindu is clearly India, Camels are Middle-Eastern, the Yaks are Tibetans, and Leopards are implied to be similar to Mongolians.
  • The Four Gods
  • Fragile Speedster: In Jadeclaw, swallows are fast and mobile, but very frail. They're no longer a playable species in Book of Jade, but their 2e counterpart (the sparrow) fits the speedster part.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They're eastern-style, unsurprisingly.
  • Winged Humanoid: Unlike other bird species, the zhuque have their wings and arms separate. This makes them the only flying species which starts off able to wield two-handed weapons in mid-air.
  • Wuxia