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Review of Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi by Chaotic Shiny Productions

We come from the land of the ice and snow…” ~ Led Zeppelin (The Immigrant Song, Houses of the Holy)

If you want to convey how tough and hardy a hero is, just portray them running, fighting and jumping around in some horribly inhospitable climate.  ikanoi cover art
It worked for movies like The 13th Warrior and The Chronicles of Riddick, where the audience sat back and thought to themselves, “I sure wouldn’t want to be out there running around in weather like that!”

Tougher climates breed tougher heroes, and we all know this down deep.  If you meet someone who came from someplace where just surviving everyday is an act of heroism, you know they are already a force to be reckoned with.

Taking this theme, Chaotic Shiny Productions has released a supplement called Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi, which offers Players the ability to create tough and unique Characters, of any race, hailing from a brutal arctic climate.

Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi
  • Author:  Hannah Lipsky
  • Illustrators: Rachel Yung
  • Publisher: Chaotic Shiny Productions
  • Year: 2009
  • Media: PDF (27 pages)
  • Cost: $4.95

Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi is a D&D 4E supplement which details an arctic-dwelling society called the Ikanoi in great detail.  MC: The Ikanoi contains a full description of the culture, including history, appearance, racial types, and other back ground information, such as folklore and legends, to bring Ikanoi Characters to life.  The Author discusses how various Player-Character classes can fit in the Ikanoi culture, and offers class power substitutions which can be used to modify existing Player’s Handbook Classes to make Ikanoi variants.  There are 12 new Utility Powers and 31 new Heroic and Paragon Tier feats which can be utilized by Ikanoi Characters, including four new Multiclass Feats for creating Ikanoi versions of multiclassed Fighters, Rogues, Rangers, and Warlords.

The overall production quality of Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi is fair to good, with a logical design for the content, and the material displayed in formats standard for 4E.  The section on Feats was very extensive, and given the number of feats displayed there, could have really used a reference table.  But the Author does provide a general table of contents to allow for reasonable navigation through the document.  I did like that the Author provided a “printer-friendly” version of the document, to save on ink, and was pleased to find the writing was exceptional, easy to read, and very evocative in imagery.  The artwork has a real challenge keeping up with the prose in MC: The Ikanoi, and it ranges from average to good, with some really nice illustrations as well as some mediocre ones.

The Author describes the Ikanoi  as a “martial culture”, a culture of warriors and hunters who dwell in an inhospitable arctic climate:

The Ikanoi are a fierce tribe of warriors, hailing from harsh lands of ice and snow. They are intensely proud of their ability to survive in such conditions, and heed the lessons learned there even when in gentler climes. No Ikanos has ever been caught unprepared in a sudden squall, or run out of food on a trek across the desert.

Tales of wrestling bears and outwitting ice spirits dot Ikanikon folklore. Many Ikanoi seek to prove themselves with achievements in a similar style, while others travel, dreaming of new and more exotic feats to add to the stories of their people.

The most interesting thing about Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi is its racial diversity.  While many articles and source material detail a specific sub-culture of one particular Player-Character Race, the Author of MC: The Ikanoi offers D&D 4E Players and Dungeon Masters the option of more than merely a race, but a diverse society which can include many different peoples, living and working together, and sharing in a heritage, regardless of species:

One Tribe, or Many

When an Ikanos speak of the tribe, it can refer to one of two things: those that the Ikanos lives among, or the Ikanikon people as a whole. But the extent of each of these things is up to you.  The Ikanoi could be a vast people, populating the entire region from the southern tundra to the northern ice caps, with towering stone cities and strictly defined territories. Valued skills would include trading, diplomacy, and artistry, not just hunting, fighting, and herb collecting. The glorious Ikanikon nation would be a wonder of the world, proof that a civilized culture can flourish in even the harshest climes.

Or the Ikanoi could be several small groups of nomads, just barely eking out a living in an icy wasteland. The tribes occasionally cross paths as they migrate through seasonal hunting grounds, exchanging trade goods and lore before parting.  Perhaps there is only one tribe of Ikanoi, just one group of the many that make the arctic their home. This small group has rich traditions and legends of of a time of glory, but few outsiders even know they exist.

The Author describes how each of the PHB and PHB 2 Races could fit into the Ikanoi culture, and how that culture would affect how those races would be role-played differently, given their arctic playground as they grew up.  There is also information in Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi to utilize the Ikanoi as an NPC race, with which adventurers might have interact during a quest across a frozen landscape.  Although just using them as NPCs would be, in this Reviewer’s opinion, a waste, because there is just an vast abundance of “fluff material” in this supplement which can allow a Player to create and portray a truly unique, dynamic Ikanoi Character.

The Author does an amazing job of creating the little details which make a fantasy society “feel” real, ranging from Ikanoi naming schemes and ancestral worship, to their unique dress and body tattoos.  This latter feature is discussed in great detail, because the tattoos each Ikanoi has on their bodies tells a story, not only of their own accomplishments, but of their tribal history and legends.  Player-Character Ikanoi would be able to pick and choose from a plethora of tattoo ideas to adorn themselves with, each one an important part of that Character’s appearance and personal history.

But even with all the “fluff material”, there is also plenty of “crunch” in Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi.  The Author does not skimp when it comes to feats and powers, adding all manner of new abilities which can be used to make, for example, an Ikanoi Fighter that is very different than a standard Fighter.  There are substitution powers for various class features, such as an ice pact for Warlocks, which can take the place of an infernal pact.  Other class power substitutions include second strike to take the place of the Rogue’s first strike, and inspiring shout which can replace a Warlord’s inspiring word.  All these new class features are interesting variations on existing ones, but are unique to the Ikanoi, and are nicely designed to add a lot of flavor to a Character without sacrificing game balance.

One thing I really liked about the new Feats offered by Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi is the prerequisites.  The Author created an Ikanoi zodiac, which is tied to this arctic culture’s spirituality and beliefs.  Certain feats can only be taken by Characters which are “descended” from a particular zodiac sign, making a tangible and very important link between “fluff” and “crunch” material.  I have crafted a couple zodiac-based reward systems for my own campaigns in previous editions of D&D, and I think the Author’s idea to link feats and zodiac signs was quite inspired.

One other option offered by the book is the relationship between snow sprites, a type of malevolent spirit native to arctic climates, and the Ikanoi.  Ikanoi must learn to appease and placate these creatures, and Dungeon Masters are given the opportunity to add an interesting fey creature to the near-polar regions of their campaign worlds.  The Author even provides a Skill Challenge – “Ward of the Snow Sprites” – which could be a lead in to introducing Ikanoi both as Player-Characters and as an NPC tribe.

Overall Grade: A-

Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi is a really spectacular example of “thinking outside the box”.  Rather than simply creating another sub-culture of humans or an odd variant of tieflings, as we have seen so often from “official” releases, MC: The Ikanoi describes an entire culture, made from as many Player-Character Races as the Dungeon Master desires in their campaign.  The society is richly detailed, with a fascinating history, and a ton of background options which can be used to create any number of utterly unique Characters that would be both memorable and a lot of fun to portray.  With all the “fluff” and the “crunch” you get in Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi, the price is actually quite reasonable, and well within the budget of almost any D&D  4E gamer.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Editor’s Note: This Blog’s Author received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

Grade Card

  • Presentation: B+
  • - Design: B+
  • - Illustrations: B
  • Content: A-
  • - Crunch: A
  • - Fluff: A-
  • Value: A-

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


2 Responses to “Review of Martial Cultures: The Ikanoi by Chaotic Shiny Productions”

  1. Swordgleam says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m really glad you like it.

    Mind if I link the review from my Reviews page?

  2. Not at all… feel free. I definitely enjoyed your supplement. Keep up the good work!

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