"Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?"
I've talked before, somewhat maliciously and long-windedly, about how D&D 4e strove to adopt aspects of wargaming and by doing so, court some long-standing members of that genre. I also mentioned that the plan failed pretty miserably, the system being a schizophrenic Frankenstein's monster of MMORPG and boardgame elements.
Now time to talk about a game that used a similar strategy and actually succeeded, at least in the gameplay mechanics. Only time will tell if the system takes off commercially; but personally, I really hope it does.
It's Iron Kingdoms again!
As I've likely mentioned before, Iron Kingdoms began as a D&D setting, then evolved into the wargame Warmachine, which became pretty popular, and inspired them to return to the RPG format. Thus: Iron Kingdoms RPG.
While I find that the system prevails over D&D 4e in many places, I'm going to focus on Combat and Roleplaying.
While 4e had the tendency to grind to a halt due to the morass of class powers and level glut, with each combat taking anywhere from one to three hours to complete while feeling like they were taking twice as long to complete (especially with larger parties), Iron Kingdoms feels swift and streamlined, utilizing the same engine as WarmaHordes, which has proved to be a popular and easy system to learn and use.
Tracking abilities can occasionally be a hassle when you first acquire them, but each is fully defined and becomes second nature once you've acclimated to it, and you're never inundated with new skills or abilities: each come at a steady pace, even slowing down once you reach higher experience levels. And if you want, you never really have to choose new abilities, there are always alternate options when leveling. The option to determine your character's battle complexity is a fantastic way to ensure even novice gamers can pick up and play.
Obviously, in just about any roleplaying game you have the ability to, well, play a role, and there are indeed some systems that have mechanics that actively encourage this by providing a mechanical means by which to assist in player decision making, or even in creating in-game backstory plot points that can be utilized by the GM for developing stories.
Iron Kingdoms has a tiny bit of the latter, with your characters' careers somewhat defining how they've spent their lives up to this point. However, what I'm really appreciative about the system is that it doesn't have barriers to roleplaying. Experience is doled out for player action, not for killing enemies. For a RPG based off a wargame, this is a fantastic step for Privateer Press to take, utilizing a storytelling experience reward system, rather than something combat or loot-based. This allows players who abhor combat encounters to improve by resolving intrigues or investigating mysteries, rather than looking for the next piñata to beat xp out of.
Iron Kingdoms is a fantastic example of a gaming system that has evolved beyond its roots, and I look forward to every time I can sit at a table and play it.