malatesta's Ironsworn RPG campaign

While I was looking for two person Powered by the Apocalypse games, I came across the free Ironsworn RPG, which can be played solo, cooperatively (a group sans GM) or “guided” (a GM with one or more players).

Tonight, I polled some Discord servers I was in because I was hoping to find someone who wanted to make characters and play around with the system, but I couldn’t find anyone! So I think this is a great place to chronicle my solo Ironsworn game.

So far, it looks like a really interesting system. The basic mechanic of Apocalypse World and similar Powered by the Apocalypse games is: roll 2d6 and add your relevant stat. If you get a 10+, it’s a hit and you succeed. A 7-9 is a weak hit, where you succeed but you might pay a cost, make a hard choice or suffer a complication. A 6 or less is a miss, and in most PbtA games, you don’t accomplish what you set out to do and the Master of Ceremonies (the GM role) gets to make a move that will make life more difficult and more interesting for you.

In Ironsworn, you roll 1d6, add your relevant stat and any bonuses, and you roll two Challenge dice, 2 10-sided dice. Basically the Challenge dice set the difficulty for your success. Your 1d6 roll plus your bonuses has to beat the number on at least one of the Challenge dice to succeed - that’s a weak hit. If your total result beats both the Challenge dice, that’s a strong hit.

If you roll a match on the Challenge dice, interesting complications are supposed to result. Ironsworn has an Oracle system if you don’t have a GM (if you’re playing solo or cooperatively with friends), which entails rolling on some percentile tables and then figuring out a good interpretation of the results that accord with your established fiction.

The other interesting mechanic is Momentum. Different moves (PbtA jargon for bits of rules triggered by your collective narration of what’s happening) might add to your current Momentum. You can burn your current Momentum to auto-succeed vs. a Challenge die that’s less than your current Momentum. So if your current Momentum is 6, and you roll a 5 and an 8 on the Challenge dice, you can burn Momentum to get a weak hit, since your current Momentum of 6 is higher than the 5 on one of the Challenge dice. If you burn Momentum it resets, and you have to build it up again.

There are some other interesting bits of design, like Progress Tracks, which can track how many Bonds you have with people around you in the game, or how you are doing pursuing various objectives or quests. It’s a lot more abstract and less granular than D&D, but really suitable for fast-moving games and solo games especially, where you can elegantly embroider any results you get, like Philip K Dick writing The Man in the High Castle while referencing the I Ching.

Not quite sure how best to keep track of my character sheet so I can keep posting it here with updates, maybe I’ll try different things until I figure out the best solution. Also if anyone else wants to create a character and jump in please join me. You can download the whole rulebook from the link at the top of this post…the basics of the game are in the first 20 pages, and the character creation section is next after that.

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I don’t know why I spent all that time typing up that explanation, the Ironsworn site did it better than I did!

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Apparently when you fight foes, the harm you do translates to filling in a Progress Track. But you don’t fill in the Progress Track one-for-one according to your harm. You fill the Progress Track in varying amounts according to the challenge rating of your foe.

All the conversion required makes this unnecessarily confusing.

The Ironsworn Character Sheet is on the downloads page in a couple different versions. Probably going to make a text-only version of this I can edit to update for this thread.

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Character Name: Zura
Experience (spent/unspent):
Momentum (max 10/reset 2): 2

Edge 2 Heart 1 Iron 1 Shadows 2 Wits 3

Health: 5
Spirit: 5
Supply: 5

Combat Talent | Archer | 1 If you wield a bow…When you Secure an Advantage +wits by taking a moment to aim, envision where you intend to land your shot. Then, add +1 and take +1 momentum on a hit.
Ritual | Augur | 1 When you summon a flock of crows and ask a single question, roll +wits. On a strong hit, you interpret their calls as a helpful omen. Envision the response (Ask the Oracle if unsure)
and take +2 momentum. On a weak hit, the crows ignore your question and offer a clue to an unrelated problem or opportunity in this area. Envision what you learn (Ask the Oracle if unsure), and take +1 momentum.
Ritual | Shadow-Walk | 1 When you cloak yourself with the gossamer veil of the shadow realms, roll +shadow. On a strong hit, take +1 momentum. Then, reroll any dice (one time only) when you make a move by ambushing, hiding, or sneaking. On a weak hit, as above, but the shadows try to lead you astray. You must first Face Danger to find your way.

[ * ]

  • Elderwatch
  • The Iron Priest - Sidan, who taught Zura mystical arts they learned from the iron gray pillars
  • Kalidas, a noble boy set adrift

A Long Term Vow

An Inciting Incident

Conditions: Wounded Shaken Unprepared Encumbered
Banes: Maimed Corrupted
Burdens: Cursed Tormented

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My Ironlands Truths:

This is a quick way to come up with some core assumptions for the game’s default setting. The book gives three options for every category here and invites you to make your own. Instead of making my own, I’m probably just going to make choices and tweak them later. I’m going to try and follow the advice from the rulebook and leave room for inspiration and surprises, so I don’t think I’ll make all decisions now, and I might shift or change some. I rewrote the text for these because I haven’t double-checked this game’s copyright, which already resulted in a little bit of customization.

The Old World:
Ecological disaster. The Old World could no longer sustain us, and from scarcity came conflict. We fought each other for what remained, and some of us launched ships and came to what we now call the Ironlands to settle and rebuild. I think this will probably change. A core assumption of the setting, no matter the choices given in this category, is a settler-colonial story, and I’m not sure what I want to do with that.

The land is dotted with strange iron gray pillars, smooth monoliths. Nobody knows what they are for, and many tales are told - some say they were always there. The Iron Priests worship them and swear vows upon them. Most don’t truck with them. They never tarnish and cannot be marked. This question is about why the lands are named the Ironlands, and this answer piqued my interest the most. You also get a cool weird organization, the Iron Priests.

Not sure what to do here, so I’ll leave it for now. This question has to do with who was here before the current Ironlanders - are we the first to come to this peninsula? Did some of us try to settle here “untold years ago” and fall into “savagery?” Are there ancient remains of a people long forgotten?

Communities are called circles, and they may range from a few families in size to villages of a few hundred. Some circles are nomadic, and voyage across regions and maybe even between them. Circles might band together to form political confederacies, and various circles may trade and feud with each other. This question is about how populated the Ironlands are, and what the infrastructure is like. I picked a middle option that appealed to me because it reminded me of the society from Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness.

Leadership ranges widely, from insular family governance to a council of respected elders, to a theocracy of religious leaders, to authoritarian single rule by patriarchal family tradition, to village assemblies where everyone has their say. What political arrangement predominates? The option that’s most varied seems the most fun for me.

This one is about how organized the fighting forces are in the Ironlands. Not sure about this one. The options are, basically: village defense; a wandering warden system with ronin for hire; or organized warbands that hearken back to the Old World.

Not many can wield powers of magic that can reshape or transform reality. Those who can are rare and gifted, or truly cursed. How rare is magic? I chose the middle option.

Maybe some still pay homage to the old gods out of tradition, but most believe the gods have abandoned us. How strong is religious belief and how present are the gods?

Who was here before? It seems like the default assumptions are: elves, giants, and suchlike. I’m going to leave this because adding this element would make this strongly colonial and I’m not sure how much of that I want to dial in.

How much of a menace are mythical, dangerous beasts? Feeling like this should either be set to the middle or turned up high.

Beyond the circle of light cast by your hearthfire, or the village bonfire, out in the woods or in the deep, dark ocean, lurk things that Ironlanders cannot truly ken. If you voyage between settled places and take risky journeys, you do so at your peril. The White Wolf/Walking Dead dial. How apocalyptic is the horror that surrounds us? I picked the middle setting.

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Here’s a quick and dirty recounting of my character creation process, which the book calls “envisioning.” I had a basic concept for a young hunter that I kept in mind as I filled out the character sheet. You are given a stat array of 3, 2, 2, 1, 1 to assign to your five stats. I envisioned her as a kind of smart stealthy hunter, so her Wits were 3 (she’s smart), her Edge is 2 (she’s good at shooting) and Shadows are 2 (she’s good at being sneaky and deceptive). Everything else I set at 1, even though I would like her Heart to be higher than 1. Gotta make tradeoffs.

I fleshed my concept out with some of the determinations I made from the Ironland Truths process…

Zura (a name I took from rolling on the Ironlander Names Oracle table) is a hunter and a skilled archer. Her people live in small scattered settlements along the Ragged Coast. There aren’t more than a few families in each Circle, and most Circles are just one or two families (re: Circles, see the Communities section of the Ironland Truths post).

Zura lives in Elderwatch (a name I got from the Settlement Name Oracle table). Her family are mostly fisher-folk, who ply their boats and nets, but unlike them, she’s an archer, and she roams the coastal forests for game every day. She’s independent, and strains against the daily requirements of social living and tends to be off by herself as much as she can get away with.

Deep in the forest that presses upon the rocky coast is an iron gray pillar. It seems to speak to Zura, promising her a future she dreamed about secretly in her youth: adventure, doomed romance, and a meaningful life.

I still haven’t chosen my Assets, which in other PbtA games might be playbook starting moves. I get three when I make my character.

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Envisioning Elderwatch

I already know that Zura’s people are fisher-folk. At first I thought perhaps they’re not super-committed to any particular place and that they wander…I’m not sure fishing people actually do that.

The name Elderwatch is really evocative, though. What does Elderwatch imply? I decided it means that Elderwatch is made up of ancient stone houses atop a rocky cliffside. Maybe there are rocky paths cut zig zag fashion up and down the face of this cliff, overlooking the stormy sea, and the houses face the ocean. Zura’s people didn’t build these stone houses, but at some point in the past they arrived here, and the good fishing and the ancient empty stone houses were all too convenient to ignore, so they stayed.

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I have to mark three Bonds as part of character creation and make three ticks on the Bond track. As far as I understand ticks, as explained as part of Progress Tracks, you make ticks in boxes until you have four ticks per box. This is hard to represent in text, so one tick will be /, two will be X, three will be *, and four will be #.

What are Zura’s three starting Bonds? One is Elderwatch, for sure. Another will be the Iron Priest who tends the pillar deep in the woods, near the Circle where her family lives. Not sure about the third, so I’m leaving it unspecified on my character sheet.

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When I was choosing Assets, I chose a couple stealthy magical Rituals for Zura. I was left with the question of where she learned them. Based on my setting assumptions, I think it’s obvious that she learned them from the Iron Priest Sidan, who heard these rituals whispered to them from the iron gray pillars and then taught the rituals to Zura.

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I’ve had a really hard time envisioning a Background Vow for Zura. I’m going to use the Ragged Coast Quest Starter as a springboard, and modify it to my tastes.

Here’s my version: *“From somewhere beyond, a burial boat washed up on the shore of the Ragged Coast. Supposedly the raiders of the Barrier Islands put their dead in one-person boats and launch them into the turbulent seas with their prized possessions, to be swamped and drawn under. But this boat washed up on Zura’s stretch of shore, and the young man set adrift was still alive.”

Rolling on the Ironlander Names Oracle table for the young man gave me a result I didn’t like, so I just picked from the table: his name is Kalidas, which is awesome, because it’s basically the same as a legendary Sanskrit poet.

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