[PbtA] Ironsworn - a new fantasy game that I love

First Age

D&D h@ck3r
Staff member
#1
I thought I'd write a little bit about Ironsworn, a new fantasy RPG that is currently rocking my world. I've run the game a couple of times at conventions to a good reception. People like the game, the tightly woven and complimentary 'Moves' that help to drive forward action, the simple character generation that draw on Asset cards to provide unique edges, the elegant dice mechanics, and even the look and feel of the game.

You are Ironsworn. Others live out their lives hardly venturing beyond thelands around their village or steading, but you are different. Your vows will lead you to a life of heroism, danger, and sacrifice beyond the edges of civilized lands.

Ironsworn is a tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) where you play a hero sworn to complete perilous quests in a fantasy setting. You will create your character,make some decisions about the world you inhabit, set your story in motion,and play to see what happens. When you encounter something dangerous or uncertain, your choices and the dice determine the outcome.
The game is loosely derived from the PbtA stable of games, but feels very much its own thing. Your character has five core stats in a 3,2,2,1,1 range that provide the bonus to your Action Die roll. Mechanically, characters are differentiated further by the selection of Assets. An Asset might be a 'Path' such as a Storyweaver, a combat stance - that provides a bonus in combat, a companion, a ritual etc. Bonds are a simple mechanic to tie the character to places, communities, gods and individuals (also providing a mechanical +1 at oportune Move moments.

The game is quest driven. You make sacred Vows and then go off and carry them out. These Vows, once completed, provide Experience for improvement, the amount dependant on the complexity of the task. They can be trivial through to Epic and you can carry many at the same time. Shared Vows tie PCs to their allies and provide impetus for shared action.

Here's an example move:

A Move-1.jpg


Here is the dice mechanic:

Dice Mechanic-1.jpg


Every roll counts. Both Challenge dice under your Action Score is a 'Strong Hit', one die under is a 'Weak Hit' and none under is a 'Miss'. All have consequences.

A key concept that flows simply in play is 'Momentum'. As you succeed in your Moves and in play you graduually buuild up a ally of Momentum. This can be spent to influence the Challenge Dice turning one or both of them from Miss to Success. It's a great feeling to have a well of Momentum pulsing on your characater sheet, Nothing can stop you. Well, OK, maybe not, but you know the tide is currently with you. Once burnt, your Momentum resets and you start to build it again.

Other elements that draw on the PbtA heritage include:

- The GM doesn't roll dice but guides the use of Moves.
- Foes are simply rated with a difficulty level. Everything else is fictional dressing. Scaled as per Vows and Journeys, they have Progress tracks that you fill in as you wound them.
- Core outcomes have elegant Moves that draw the shared fiction in interesting directions
- Play to find out what happens - the Moves and 'The Oracle' and 'Pay The Price' random dice rolls can do some of the imaginative heavy lifting

It is worth noting that Ironsworn supports a number of play styles:

Ironsworn supports three modes of play:
• Guided: One or more players take the role of their characters, the protagonists in your story, while a gamemaster (GM) moderates the gaming session. The GM helps bring the world to life, portrays the people and creatures you interact with, and makes decisions about the outcome of your actions,
• Cooperative (Co-Op): You and one or more friends play together to overcome challenges and complete quests as your characters. A GM is not required. The Ironsworn game system—and your imagination—will help you resolve challenges and decide what happens next.
• Solo: As with cooperative play, no GM is necessary. You portray a lone heroic character in a world fraught with danger. Good luck!
Reflections after Play

It's a breeze to run and prepare for. NPCs and Foes are a single difficulty level. This defines the speed that their 'damage' Progress Track is filled in and the amount of Harm that they dish out if the Move dictates.
Players have enjoyed the rules. Even those who are a bit adverse to PbtA Move based mechanics.
Although ideal for 3-4 players, I had a table of 6 last time and we managed fine. The deal there is to provide a bit of old school structure on the top to give everyone some spotlight time and split Foe Progress tracks up to refelct the larger number of PC weapons flailing about.
Everybody loves the Asset cards. As they are all unique, if you print one set, then the pool ensures that everyone has their own special thing to bring to the table.
I can get a bit 'Move happy' as they drive play - which is OK for combat because it provides the essential structure of the game, but it is important to drive events with good narration, the Moves are there to give you options and outcomes.
I like the setting. Dark Ages, clannish, interlopers in a wild peninsular with creatures and gods and forces that do not welcome the refugee Ironlanders.
Accepting the essential Vow based core, Ironsworn is ready for your own fantastical world with some tweaked Assets and narrative embellishments. People are using it for other genres, by re-phrasing the Assets.
The game is heroic - Ironsworn are hard to kill (though I have managed it), but also has a gritty edge to it. Ritual magic is evocative and dangerous.

The game has a strong and beautiful graphical style. The PDFs are free. I print mine out in 'ringbinder editions'. My latest is an A5 book, ready for the quests ahead.

Anyway, I like it. If you've managed to play in a game, then do chime in below. If not, wave and I'll run it for you. Download the game and take a look, let me know what you think?

Cheers.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r
Staff member
#5
We should bob online and have a bit if a go? If you can do it that way, shall we repair to the actual play area and set something up?
 
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Newt

RunePriest
#10
Downloaded it on your recommendation, and now reading through it. It's very you, a solid with extra bells and whistles :) Nicely written, so I'm quickly absorbing it even on screen and half awake ;)

Would be up for some online play ;)
 

Guvnor

Administrator
Staff member
#15
I am cool. I am happy to play from 6-11.
But I know I am in a job and at an age and with a family that allows for that.
 
#17
Reading through the rules at the moment. They're interesting approaches to getting probabilities, but I'd hate to do the maths and see just how swingy or not it is. Not what I'd call simple rules either since there are lots of conditionals. From what I can work out, each Move roll requires calculating a number, comparing it to two others, which have to also be compared to each other plus the original number has to be compared to Momentum upon which more comparisons have to be made. And I'm not all the way through the rules yet...
 
#18
Thanks for sharing, Graham!

Reading through the rules at the moment. They're interesting approaches to getting probabilities, but I'd hate to do the maths and see just how swingy or not it is. Not what I'd call simple rules either since there are lots of conditionals. From what I can work out, each Move roll requires calculating a number, comparing it to two others, which have to also be compared to each other plus the original number has to be compared to Momentum upon which more comparisons have to be made. And I'm not all the way through the rules yet...
It's pretty similar to the standard Apocalypse World 2d6 probabilities, actually, but with a bit more of a spread. A fairly boring, predicatable curve.

As far as resolution goes, you are generally just rolling D6+stat and comparing to the D10's. I find it's at-a-glance quick, but your mileage may vary. There's sometimes bonuses to be gained through assets, and you want to keep your eye out for matches on the D10's as a trigger to introduce a narrative twist. Apart from that, there really isn't any other comparisons that need to be made. Momentum is typically triggered by choice on (very occasional) rolls.

I know Graham has run Ironsworn with a fairly large group, so I'd be curious to hear what he thought of the speed of resolution or the ease of explaining it.

All that said, Ironsworn has been accused of being a bit fiddly, and I'll cop to it. There's various resource tracking mechanisms and such. Character abilities are a bit more focused on mechanical rewards versus pure narrative. I find that these mechanical levers help support the gameplay loop and ground the fiction (particularly for GM-less play), but it's certainly not for everyone. It's one of the reasons I've been reluctant to label Ironsworn as PbtA, though it's obviously heavily inspired and derived from those games.

I love seeing discussion on Ironsworn and really appreciate you giving it a look. Happy to answer any questions!
 

Guvnor

Administrator
Staff member
#19
Hi Shawn. Any experience running it online? I am thinking all this dice rolling might Roll20. Does the player need to see the GM dice?
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r
Staff member
#20
I know Graham has run Ironsworn with a fairly large group, so I'd be curious to hear what he thought of the speed of resolution or the ease of explaining it.
It took about 5-10 minutes for players to grok the dice rolling, it is all pretty straightforward. Challenge dice the same was enthusiastically taken up and quickly. Momentum flows up and down, but is easy to track and spend. I think it was a few goes before everyone remembered that the Action Die result needs to be lower than at least one of the Challenge Die to create some form of success. All seemed to play smoothly.

I've run with six players, a number that can be tricky with many a game, trying to ensure plenty of spotlight time for all. Running with a larger number pushed me to 'go round the table' slightly procedural and split foes into multiple 'Progress Track' groups to give some balance to combats, with so many PC weapons thrashing about.

So, plays well. The moves interlock tightly. My only error is to follow their machine like clicks and whirrs and not roll out sufficient descriptions to embellish the mechanical progress. That's just me getting used to it.
 
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