Ironsworn RPG

Last night, as part of my "play more games" intention, I started playing a game of Ironsworn (or at least made a few initial attempts). Ironsworn is a game that can be played either solo, cooperative, or with a GM. It borrows from many existing games and systems and synthesizes them into a unique blend of roleplaying experience.

The strongest flavors in Ironsworn come from Dungeon World (and by extension Apocalypse World). The primary way your character acts in this world is through Moves, such as Sojourn, Strike, Undertake a Journey, and so on. Each of these moves has a Strong, Weak, and Miss condition. These are determined by rolling 2 d10 dice and 1 d6 die. The d6 die is your "Action" die, which you'll add various modifiers such as the attribute you're using (ranging from 1 onward) and any additional modifiers (called "adds"). This is compared against the numbers on the d10 dice. If the d6 + modifiers is higher than the number on the d10 you succeed. If it's a tie or lower, you do not succeed. Two successes are a "strong" success, and one success is a "weak" success. No successes are considered a "miss" that has consequences (usually reflected by the move "Pay the Price", which is a random table of options for penalties or complications). The player-facing nature of Dungeon World coupled with this dice mechanic makes for a strong foundation for determining how well your character is doing against the opposition, and means you won't have to determine any characteristics about a foe like armor class or percent to hit or anything like that; the dice determine your success. That's not to say that Ironsworn can't be tactical, and can range from a simple Battle with one roll all the way to a grueling contest where your character is whittled down in health and consequences. In some sample fights against "dangerous" foes I was thinking that "epic" foes would be near impossible without building my character out more.

Each foe can be given a progress bar which tracks how well you have defeated them. "Harm" is doled out by your character in several ways. For easier foes you can mark out three boxes at a time, for more difficult foes you may be making a tick mark in a box for each harm, and only marking the box as complete for four tick marks. When you have sufficiently reduced your foe in the contest you may make a "progress roll" through moves like "Ending the Battle", where you rely on the 2d10 to be higher than your number of marked boxes. Again, numbers on each die that are higher than your progress against the foe are reflected as strong, weak, or misses, and have suitable consequences for each result.

The momentum mechanic is also quite interesting. Momentum can be used to guarantee a success if your momentum equals a die roll. This resets your momentum to whatever your reset value is (+2 to start). You gain and lose momentum based on the success of your actions. Negative momentum can be used to nullify your action die if it matches the absolute value of your negative momentum. This could have dire consequences and turn a successful roll into one where you're relying on your attributes in order to pass the tests. Keeping your momentum up is vital for your character's survival.

Each character has bonds with the world and vows that they swear to uphold. The vows can be tracked similar to foes. Each time you uphold your vow and make progress on it you mark it the same way as doing harm to your foes. Completing a vow is done the same as other progress rolls. Breaking vows is also possible and can have dire consequences.

There are other mechanics for experience and for companions, paths, rituals, and combat techniques, but I didn't dive too much into them. I got a little confused with my first character and how to get it started, which had my camp ambushed by scouts of those whom I was running away from. I made some mistakes and things got punishing very quickly. I created a new character to try a different approach, but a battle with a boar ground things to a halt while I figured out those mechanics. That's more of a reflection on my understanding of the rules than anything bad about the game.

One thing I must mention that I didn't cover above was the oracles. The oracles in this game are random tables for many different pieces of the game. You can ask the oracles simple "yes / no" questions to get answers, but you can also build up other pieces like what troubles might a settlement be facing, names of characters, how must I pay the price, and so on. They're very well thought out and evocative. They act as a compliment to your quest and are optional (save for paying the price), but can add some flavor if you need something to happen and don't know what could happen.

I've only scratched the surface of Ironsworn. This is a fantastic game that borrows heavily from Dungeon World, Apocalypse World, Fate, Mythic, and City of Judas (and acknowledges each in the credits). The rulebook is free and sports a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license. There's also an SRD which is CC-BY 4.0 licensed so you can create your own games from this. What's most striking about this game is that it encourages hacking on it. There's tips for adapting the mechanics and oracles to suit your purposes and left me awash in ideas that I don't currently have the bandwidth to explore. There's also a companion "Delves" book which tweaks the rules for more dungeon crawling experiences, and a forthcoming Starforge book that takes the quests based system of a doomed world and ports them into a doomed universe.

I'm looking forward to playing this again and learning more about the system. If you're looking for a solo or cooperative RPG system I highly recommend you check this out.