I saw a Twitch stream about Ironsworn early this year or late last year and I was intrigued enought to want to try it out. The PDFs are free to download, which is amazing considering how much work the author put into the game. So far I like it enough that I would buy a hard copy and I may do that in the future.
Ironsworn styles itself as a game of perilous quests. I immediately think of Beowulf when reading through the material. The backdrop of the game is a cold and bitter forested land a long way from the Old World. There are a few details and a map, but the player(s) or GM adds in more flavor through a series of world building choices. In fact there is a separate world building PDF you can download, print, and mark choices. One great point is that the rules emphasize that the people of the Ironlands have all mixed and matched from the Old World. So you can play any kind of human you can imagine, regardless of skin or sex or what have you.
What intrigued me about Ironsworn was the ability to play Solo, Co-Op, or small group. The rules emphasize no more than four players and I think this is to keep things simple and intimate. You progress along your story by making moves and rolling dice to see if you get a Strong Hit, Weak Hit, or Miss. The game emphasizes fiction first and explicitly says it is not a game about situations. I will show that off once I get into the play.
Very simple. You roll 2 d10s and a d6. All are separate, none are added. The d10s are your challenge dice and the d6 is your action die. You add a relevent ability and then add in any other bonuses. I will go over that more in part 2 I think, I do not want to bore folks with mechanics.
- If your Action die result is higher than both dice, its a Strong Hit
- If your Action die result is higher than one die, but not the other, its a Weak Hit
- If your Action die result is lower than both, that’s a miss. Misses can be a little bad or a lot bad. Depends on the move and the condition you are in.
You can use momentum to move a miss to a weak hit, but I do not think you can turn a weak hit into a strong hit. I need to read on that further.
Play – Mabon’s Tale or Alone Against Chaos
I named my character Mabon and made her female. Mabon was a raider and a king who realized her embracing of chaos as a cosmic force was bad. She rescues a boy, adopts him, and goes to the Ironlands. There she takes up residence in a village named Heldar Landing. Ironsworn emphasizes getting into the fiction before anything and to lean into that.
During character creation you take 3 bonds (and can take more later, a theme in the rules). Bonds are things important to the character. For Mabon, I took Heldar Landing (the village); The Guild of Hunters who feed and protect Heldar, and Symon her adopted son who is nearing manhood.
You take 2 vows at the begniing: one a background vow, which frames your character’s entire journey and play and an inciting incident. For Mabon, her background vow is to drive chaos from the Ironlands, which I marked as Epic. You can decide how tough fulfilling your vow is, from Troublesome to Epic.
The inciting incident is that a dire wolf kills Lorn, Symon’s best friend and a member of the Guild of Hunters. Symon will soon be a man and be joining the Guild of Hunters. So Mabon girds on her ax one more time to kill the dire wolf. I also added this as a step towards fulfilling my background vow. As a note, you can foresake or abandon a vow. Obviosuly this is a detriment to you, but the choice is there. You can also take on side quests and the game encourages you to do this. Taking the results and framing them to create new conflicts and goals for yourself.
Mabon kneels over the body of Lorn, iron dagger in hand. Nearby Symon and the Guild of Hunters watch her. Mabon knows the Hunters are three old men, two old women, and seven children who can barely be called adults. Fighting raiders is one thing; fighting chaos is quite another.
“I swear by the old gods and the new, by the blood of my ancestors that I shall slay this wolf and use its skin as armor to protect myself against the evils of chaos.”
And that is where play begins. My first session I did the world building and character creation. I also began Mabon’s journey. I decided a rival village might hold the key to finding the wolf. I Asked the Oracle, a move you can do at any time, and I asked a basic question: Will the villagers of Windburn help find the Dire World? I judged this unlikely, which means I need a 76% or higher and rolled d100 on the Ask the Oracle move. I rolled an 88, so yes they will help me.
The way the game works is that you make vows and gain experience by fulfilling them. You fulfill them by reaching milestones. In solo play this is largely up to you to decide if you reach a milestone or not. I decided for the Dire Wolf Quest, I would Undertake a Journey (a move). I chose it to be troublesome, gave myself three waypoints to meet, and began to roll. Mabon crossed into the deep wild; Found the sacred hunting grounds of the Windburn folk, and Found the village. Each of those was a roll. On the first two I got strong hits and maked progress on my sheet for the journey. I could have chosen to gain momentum at the cost of supply, but did not. On the third roll I got a weak hit, still made progress but also lost supply. So Mabon has 4 supply now (down from 5). Finally I Reached My Destination. In this case I roll the challenge dice and measure my progress against them instead of an action die. I had 9 progress from my three hits and I rolled a 3 and a 6, so I got a strong hit. This mean not only did I find the village but I also got a +1 to my next roll.
The next roll was a Gather Information. I rolled two 2’s on the challeneg dice which are a match, and my action dice total was 6. So a strong hit, but with a twist. Matches signify something happened. If you beat the challenge dice, its good or interesting. If you don’t beat them, then its bad. In Mabon’s case, I decided that the hunters of Windburn knew the dire wolf loved barbed moles (what is a barbed mole? I dunno I just made it up). So my next part of the journey will be to find barbed moles and I will make it harder. I marked myself as having reached a milestone with learning that information and marked progress on Kill the Dire Wolf. When I kill the dire wolf, I will mark progress on the Background Vow.
A few thoughts
- The tougher the vow or challenge, the less progress a hit makes. A Troublesome quest gets you lots of progress on a hit, where as a Epic quest gets ya just a few ticks.
- I probably should have framed the journey to Windburn as a vow; that would have let me gain experience. It did not feel vow worthy, so that is why I didn’t. I might make finding the barbed moles a vow. That is a move you can make, and fail at.
- I can stay and make friends with these rivals at Windburn or I can immediately go after the moles. I am planning on the latter and perhaps one day coming back to make allies at Windburn. Or kill them all.
- I do have three assets that I have not used. You receive them at character creation. I have a Raven companion (Lord Deth); I am following the path of the Slayer, which is good for killing beasts; I am a Sunderer which means I am bad ass with an ax.
- Solo play is interesting and a lot of work to make it interesting for yourself. I can see lots of places to add side vows and quests though. Its fun and I am still learning the mechanics. Co-op play interests me as well and I want to try that next.
- I did do the world building work book. I can reveal those choices if folks find that interesting.