A solo Ironsworn: Starforged run

I am glad you’re running with this. I’m very late to this system, having recently gone in for my own copy, and I’m fascinated by the idea of a solo TTRPG.

My last post was spent on basic universe setup. Today is character creation. For Ironsworn: Starforged, we’re working with a pretty simple character sheet:

A lot of the sheet isn’t even used for inherent character stats. All the vertical numbers on the sides are gauges for various in-game states, and the middle stuff is used to track progress for your character’s evolution and growth. Really, the main questions to answer for a starting character are centered on identity, picking two Paths, allocating points to some basic stats, and picking up a couple more assets.

The first step is to separate the asset cards. Starforged literally has card sheets in the pdf that players are meant to print out and cut apart. These represent in-game assets like your Starship, special starship Modules like a medical bay or an expanded cargo hold, Support Vehicles like ground rovers and snub fighters, Paths, (more on that in a bit) Companions like pets and sidekicks, and Deeds which include stuff like becoming in charge of a homestead or being known as an oath breaker.

While I’m not jazzed about printing and cutting out my own cards, I don’t see a way around it. The cards are essential to character creation. On the other hand, physically having the cards gives the assets a nice tactile element on the table. It’s fun to shuffle them, spread them out, and pick through them when making decisions. If you have multiple people at table creating characters together, you can even trade them back and forth to create a more well-rounded team.

With the small arts and crafts exercise out of the way, the first real choice in character creation presents itself. “Choose two paths.” There are 46 different Path cards available. The Path cards look like this:

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With a beginning character, only the ability with the filled-in pip works. As you evolve, you’re meant to spend XP to acquire the other abilities. But remember that you get two of these cards, so you can create some interesting combinations of powers right at the outset. The rules even have a few suggestions like taking Ace and Navigator to create a “Hotshot Pilot” archetype, which is nice for players that may be overwhelmed by choices.

Last post, I rolled for bounty hunters being a thing in my version of the Forge. I think I’ll go with that as a starting concept. I like the idea of being a free agent, so I’ll choose Bounty Hunter for my first Path.

I was going to go with Gunslinger, but that was already picked earlier in the thread. I’ll instead go with Weapon Master which gives me a whole bunch of options during a fight and it sounds cool.

Step three is creating a backstory. I rolled for this and got “You are the sole survivor of an attack or calamity.” Nice! I’ve decided that when I was a teenager, the settler colony of Keltan on New Pitts was glassed from orbit and I was saved only by sheer dumb luck. I was on a student exchange expedition to the nearby city of Symphony at the time. To this day, no one knows who executed the attack or why it happened. We just know that 600 lives were lost including my family and friends.

The next step is writing a Background Vow. This is a character’s epic motivation. It may take years to fulfill, if ever. My Background Vow seems pretty obvious from the backstory. I need to find who killed everyone in my home colony and why they did it. “I will bring the perpetrators of the Keltan Massacre to justice.” Maybe I want revenge, or maybe I really do want to catch the baddies and hand them over to the courts in accordance with the law. I’m not sure yet, but my vow is worded generically enough to give me some story leeway.

Next is my Starship. Every solo player or group gets a Starship, but the asset card doesn’t say a lot to flesh it out. There’s an example of a general jack-of-all-trades “Ornithor Class Multirole Starship” in the rules that’s very nice. It could easily be something out of Star Citizen or Firefly. I decide that my ship is one of those. I roll for the ship’s backstory and get an 86. “Taken while fleeing an attack or disaster.” Oh, that fits nicely with everything else. I stole my ship from Symphony spaceport after I received news of the massacre. I next roll for a starship quirk and get “Exterior is marred by rust and grime.” I name my ship The Keltan Contessa.

Choosing a final asset is the next step. Here you can give yourself another Path, add a specialty Module to your Starship, grab a Support Vehicle, or add an NPC Companion to your team. Looking over the options, adding a super-powered psionic Path like Firebrand or Kinetic sounds very neat, but so does kitting out my Starship with some better equipment like an Overseer AI or upgraded Heavy Cannons. I could always use a Support Vehicle like a Hoverbike to zoom around on land. At the end I chose a Protocol Bot as a Companion NPC. I figure that since I’m so combat heavy otherwise, I need someone to help me navigate diplomatic encounters. My bot is named Humbug. He’s a bit of a grouch.

Here is my starting deck of Assets:

Setting my stats is pretty easy in Starforged. You get 3, 2, 2, 1, and 1 to allocate to these blocks:

Edge: quickness, agility, and prowess when fighting at a distance.
Heart: courage, willpower, empathy, sociability, and loyalty.
Iron: physical strength, endurance, aggressiveness, and prowess when fighting at close quarters.
Shadow: sneakiness, deceptiveness, and cunning.
Wits: expertise, knowledge, and observation.

My character is going to need a very good Edge score, a decent amount of Iron and Wits, while my Heart and Shadow can be at the low end of the scale. Wait a minute! A 1 for Heart sounds like my character is not going to have much courage or empathy. Correct. He’s going to be a bit of a jerk, and not a Han Solo heart-of-gold-type mercenary. A real ass. Humbug’s going to earn his keep.

Setting Condition Meters is easy. Health, Spirit, and Supply all start at 5. Momentum is +2 to start. Max Momentum is +10 and Momentum Reset is +2.

Envisioning my character is half-done already thanks to the steps above. He’s wiry, dirty and quick. Kind of a mean-spirited, vengeful type that stole his ship and fled a tragedy. I think he has his hair in loose braids and he likes to wear a brown Sicklehorn leather jacket. He likes to use a pearl-handled blaster pistol that I’ve decided is a Kennington Model 6 that he was able to save from the wreckage of his family’s house.

His name is Darius Cheng, and he goes by the callsign “Slicks” because he’s known as a greasy slightly unsavory person. His pronouns are He/Him.

There aren’t any stats for equipment, but you’re encouraged to note some basic stuff down on your sheet that would have story importance. Of course Slicks’ trademark pistol and jacket belong here. I’ll add the default Spacer Kit to give him the basic set of goods to start like a toolkit and medkit.

And that’s all done!

Here is Darius Cheng’s starting character sheet:

The task now is to create or generate my starting sector. I’ve got a small boost thanks to the character creation process. During that session, I came up with my avatar’s home planet of New Pitt, which contains one moderately advanced city and one destroyed community. Since this is a space opera style campaign, I’ll need more places to visit!

Starforged has an Oracle feature to assist me in creating all this stuff. It’s a whole lot of tables and charts with possible names and stats for almost anything you might run across in a game of Starforged. To some people, the Oracle is worth the price of the book by itself.

The first step is to pick a starting Region of the Forge. There are four choices. Terminus is the more civilized and populated area. The Outlands are a bit rougher and communities are farther apart. The Expanse is like an untamed frontier - the Wild West of space. Finally, the Void is the farthest and least friendly area, and the rules literally say not to start here. To my mind, the best pick is the Outlands. This will put my guy on the outer edge of civilized space so he’s not completely alone and cut off from assistance, but he’ll be far enough away from the safest space lanes to get into trouble.

The next task is to Determine the number of Settlements in my sector. According to the suggestion in the rules, an Outlands sector should get three settlements. Each will offer Darius a place to recuperate from adventures as well as locations and contacts to start new scenarios. According to the rules, there should be three settlements in my starting Outlands sector.

The settlements need some fleshing out, and thankfully there are Oracle tables to do a lot of that work. Each settlement needs a name, a location, population, authority, and two settlement projects which are like the general purpose for the community.

Here is what two of the settlements turned out to be. The Oracle rolls are noted in parenthesis.

Settlement Name: Pinnacle (62)
Location: Orbital (58)
Population: Thousands (81)
Authority: Tolerant (33)
Settlement Projects: Entertainment (26), Black Market (11)

Settlement Name: Felicity Station (26)
Location: Deep Space (88)
Population: Hundreds (43)
Authority: Ineffectual (28)
Settlement Projects: Research (64), Engineering (24)

Based on these outlines, I’ve decided Pinnacle is a gambler’s paradise. Maybe it’s just one big resort/casino that caters to the shady folks of the Forge and the rich willing to slum it and get a taste of danger? Felicity Station, meanwhile, is a deep space think-tank and waystation. A stopover for most people, but sometimes the genesis of something new and exciting.

The third settlement was partially created during my character’s origin, so I’m going to pick and choose appropriate stats.

Settlement Name: Symphony
Location: Planetside
Population: Tens of thousands
Authority: Fair
Settlement Projects: Manufacturing, Trade

There are additional tables to determine the stats of the planets and stars. These are mostly used for flavor.

Symphony is located on a jungle world named New Pitt. The planet orbits a “glowing orange star.”

Pinnacle orbits the ice world Shroud in a binary star system.

Felicity is a deep space station, so we don’t need to generate a planet.

The next step is placing these settlements on the map. In the rules, this is fairly freeform and the sector illustration you create isn’t supposed to be a true map.

“The grid isn’t meant to track literal distances, but can be used as an abstract representation of whether locations are clustered together or remote from one another.”

Once I burn through a few pencils marking up my test maps, I find an arrangement of settlements that pleases me. The rules suggest marking the locations with visual cues like a circle with a cross to denote a planetary settlement, a circle with an arrow for an orbital station, and a square for a deep space outpost. I’m no artist, so that’s good enough for me.

Step 7 is creating passages which are basically the space lanes used to travel interstellar distances. An Outlands region gets two passages. These can either go from settlement to settlement, or from a settlement to the edge of the map leading to a neighboring sector. I decide my hyperspace highway will go from New Pitt to Felicity, then from there lead out to the map border.

Here’s what it looks like:

Step 8 requires the player to zoom in on a settlement and roll up some stats. For Symphony, let’s start with the First Look, which are the initial impressions the settlement gives a visitor. I rolled a 26, giving me “elevated or multi-level construction” which fits my vague concept of the place. Symphony’s trouble is “social strife” according to the 72 that I rolled. Maybe the have-nots of Symphony are starting to feel like the haves are getting too much?

Here are Felicity Station and Pinnacle’s results:

Felicity Station’s first look: (37) High-tech construction
Felicity Station’s trouble: (12) Clash of cultures

Pinnacle’s first look: (17) Built within repurposed ship
Pinnacle’s trouble: (64) Preyed upon by raiders

For the planets in my sector, we needed some more information. Rolling on the Oracle tables for Atmosphere, Observed from Space, and Planetside Feature gave me these results:

New Pitt
Atmosphere: Ideal
Observed from Space: (42) Massive canyons, (80) Unusual vegetation color
Planetside Feature: (21) Extensive exposed root systems, (67) Surging rivers

Shroud
Atmosphere: (30) Toxic
Observed from Space: (54) Sky-breaching geysers, (37) Snowbound mountains
Planetside Feature: (50) Rocky islands amid icy wastes, (16) Clusters of ice spikes

One of the biggest steps is creating an initial Connection. This is an NPC with whom my character should share an important relationship. Basically, this will be my contact guy. I roll an 83 which is a Smuggler. That will work. I think my bounty hunter would have at least a person or two in his life known to dodge import fees or taxes. According to the Oracle tables, my smuggler buddy is scarred and weathered, he’s protecting a secret, and he’s independent and cautious. His name is Merrick Barlowe.

Barlowe has a “troublesome” rank as a connection, which isn’t a reflection of his attitude towards me or his abilities. It’s the overall rating of “the potential risks and costs associated with the relationship.” A troublesome connection could be that buddy that sometimes calls you at 2AM needing a ride somewhere. It’s annoying and probably won’t negatively impact you much, but there’s always the off chance that it could lead to some interesting stories.

Rolling on the First Look table for Barlowe gives me some odd results. A 26 for “Concealed” and a 79 for “Tattooed.” Does he have concealed tattoos? Or does he have tattoos and he’s concealing something? I’m going with the idea that he’s got heavy ink on his arms and neck. He’s also got that look and mannerisms of someone that’s constantly hiding something. Whether he is or not is up for debate.

Barlowe has a “stingy” streak according to the 82 roll on the Revealed Character Aspect table. He’s also “adventurous” thanks to the roll of 2. He lives and works out of Symphony.

Merrick Barlowe’s callsign is “Nails” which seems appropriate for a stingy bounty hunting smuggler contact.

Whew! Almost done!

We need some sector trouble. I roll a 44 for “notorious pirate clan preys on starships.” Since we already discovered that Pinnacle’s trouble was “preyed upon by raiders” I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of the situation in the sector. Arrrr! Space pirates!

Finally, we need to name the sector. A roll on the Oracle gives me the “Hollow Void.”

This is great! Thanks for doing this and I look forward to reading more.

I got a decent way into a solo run of Ironsworn, but it petered out as I felt like I kept needing to create more stuff (quests and plot twists, mostly) before I had enough progress to have a decent chance at resolving anything. I think the way I was trying to balance quest progress was off, somehow. I’m really looking forward to reading how someone else does it (assuming the system in Starforged is shares some of the fundamentals) to get some perspective.

I too am enjoying this and looking forward to reading more.

And you’re right about the Oracle being great (at least based on my experience with it from Ironsworn). If someone needs to quickly generate some NPC motivations or settlements or really just about anything in concrete-yet-vagueish terms that can be further fleshed out by a GM and/or players, look no further.

Me three, keep 'em coming. I backed this on KS so even though I already have all the digital goodies, I’ve decided to wait until the actual books arrive. So this AAR will tide me over.

The first step on my solo adventure is to Envision an Inciting Incident. The advice given in the rules for how to come up with this inciting incident is great for any RPG. In general, stuff like “make it personal” and “make it a problem that won’t go away on its own,” seem really basic but I think I’ve come across a million RPG scenarios that just toss a location and a Foozle at you that otherwise wasn’t bothering anyone. That works well enough when you play as gadabout adventurers sitting in ye olde inn waiting for the next assignment from the Exploring Guild, but not so much when you’re trying to build a narrative experience with teeth.

There’s a table in the rules to help generate this initial problem. Rolling a 31 on this gives me “Ferry a rescue team to a perilous disaster site.” My first instinct is to toss this out for being too complicated, but then I take a minute to think it over. Can I actually use this?

In my previous session, I decided that Pinnacle, the semi-hidden space casino/resort built out of an old luxury cruiser, falls prey to pirate raiders every now and again. Normally, these raids are little more than “protection” extortion demands and the overseers at Pinnacle just pay the pirates off. It’s good business. After all, some of that money eventually comes back to Pinnacle anyway when the raiders immediately spend the money gambling, drinking, and paying for the unsavory experiences that can be had in the relatively lawless environment of Pinnacle. The presence of the pirates helps attract richer clientele seeking a hint of danger. This almost friendly relationship between the raiders and Pinnacle’s management has gone on for a long time.

When I generated the sector’s trouble “notorious pirate clan preys on starships” the idea I initially had was that maybe Pinnacle’s pirate troubles was something everyone knew about, but it hadn’t gotten serious enough just yet to warrant an organized response. Perhaps this initial scenario can be the start of a sector-wide change in the status quo?

Pinnacle’s normally mutually beneficial arrangement has gone sideways. The raiders showed up for their regular visit, but instead of accepting the payoff, they killed a bunch of people, took hostages and sealed themselves off in the power generation area of the resort. The resulting firefight crippled the station when a stray shot accidentally detonated the plasma pods and blew a portion of Pinnacle’s outer hull into space. Hundreds died. The surviving staff and guests are trapped in the main casino area. They’ve got plenty of food and water, but they’re trapped with only emergency life support systems and lighting and more raiders could come at any time. Symphony is sending a rescue ship, but it’s going to take a few days to get everything together. A very rich member of Symphony’s high society wants a team to get his daughter out of there immediately. He’s got a security team ready to go, but they need a ship willing to ferry them out to Pinnacle. Guess who is gonna get the job?

The next step is to Set the Scene. There’s basically two options here: Start with a prologue or start in medias res. I always prefer the latter, especially with a game system that’s new to you. I think beginning with a quick action scene allows you to get familiar with mechanics and provides a low-stakes, but effective, way to introduce characters.

Let’s start with a staple of adventure roleplaying. We’ll begin with a barroom fight. Darius Cheng is at a dirty dive watering hole in Symphony, and he’s once again managed to piss off a local. A trio of factory workers got a little too loud with their celebrations and Darius, ever the diplomat, told them that their ceaseless caterwauling was hurting his ears while he was trying to enjoy a whiskey at the bar. He may have also disparaged the characters of their mothers. One of them, a burly fellow still smelling of his arc welding, taps Darius on the shoulder and asks him to repeat his comment.

If you’re not familiar with the Ironsworn rules, (they’re free, so go get 'em ya doofus) the basic rundown is that you roll a D6 as the Action Die and 2D10 as the Challenge Dice. You’re trying to beat (not just match) both of the Challenge Dice results with your Action Die + Stat + Adds = Action Score.

A simple example is if Darius wanted to jump over a chasm with a Challenge of 4 and 7, he’d roll the D6, add his Edge of 3, add any other modifiers, then compare the total Action Score against the 4 and 7 Challenge. If the Action Score beats both dice (let’s say I rolled a 5 so with his Edge 3 it would be 8 result) then he’d jump the chasm, no problem, with a Strong Hit. If I rolled a 1 (so with his Edge it’s a 4 result) he’d Miss completely and fall into the pit since he didn’t beat either Challenge score. If I rolled a 3, so his result with Edge was a 6, then he’d beat one Challenge Dice with a Weak Hit, meaning he makes it but there’s a cost. Perhaps he barely scrapes by, but drops the sample of Black Iron he was stealing, or he damages his blaster pistol on the rocks when he slams into the pit edge.

Obviously there’s some things that can complicate this action mechanic, but for the most part this is the simple elegance of the system.

The other gameplay mechanic is Moves. Everything you do in Ironsworn: Starforged is composed of Moves. They’re an abstraction of, well, every interaction or choice in life. I think the concept was originally used in the Apocalypse World TTRPG system, but don’t quote me on that.

“Moves are self-contained systems to resolve an action, scene, or question.”

The caveat being that Moves are only used when something interesting can result from the outcome or there is drama inherent in the action. You wouldn’t bother with a Move to “open a door” unless the door is locked and there’s something you need on the other side and the clock is ticking. Moves are presented in the rules like this:

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Let’s go back to Darius sitting on his barstool. Now he could apologize and buy the trio of locals a round, which could defuse the situation and maybe even make him a couple of temporary allies, but Darius is a bit of a jerk, remember? When the local grunts and repeats his query, Darius responds by spinning around on his stool and aiming a punch at the man’s jaw. Darius has Entered the Fray.

“When you initiate combat or are forced into a fight, envision your objective and give it a rank. If the combat includes discrete challenges or phases, set an objective with a rank for each.”

The objective here is for Darius to sucker punch this guy and stop the fight before it even really gets started. He’s hoping the sudden downing of the leader will make the other two roughnecks tuck tail. This is going to be a “troublesome” objective. The three guys aren’t really fighters. They’re just local boys that are used to people giving them leeway based on their looks and attitudes more than any actual martial ability.

Progress tracks for objectives in Starforged have 10 empty boxes. A “troublesome” objective means you fully fill three boxes every time a Move or Asset Ability tells the player to Mark Progress.

My Challenge Dice come up as a 2 and a 4. I roll a 4 on the Action Die. My Action Score is 4 + 1 Shadow for “act against an unaware foe” which gives me a Strong Hit result as I beat both Challenge Dice. For getting a Strong Hit result on Enter the Fray I can take both +2 to Momentum (more on that later) and start “in control.”

With that, let’s see what my punch does. Since I’m “in control” thanks to the Enter the Fray result, my next Move is Strike.

When you are in control and assault a foe at close quarters, roll +iron; when you attack at a distance, roll +edge.

On a strong hit, mark progress twice. You dominate your foe and stay in control.

On a weak hit, mark progress twice, but you expose yourself to danger. You are in a bad spot.

On a miss, the fight turns against you. You are in a bad spot and must Pay the Price.

The Challenge Dice come up as a 3 and an 8. Oof. My Action Score is 4 (Action Die) +2 (Iron) = 6. I get a Weak Hit.

I mark progress twice. I have four boxes on the Progress Track left to fill.

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But now I’m “in a bad spot.” Since I didn’t floor the guy with one pop to the kisser, his buddies have gotten out of their chairs. My punch has staggered the guy, but he’s going to fight back soon.

As a quick aside I should mention that the pdf rules are extensively hyperlinked so going from Move to Move and navigating your action is really easy and not at all as confusing as it seems at first. Props to @BiggerBoat for the good pdf work!

Is that situating and starting a fight what you did when last sitting down with Ironsworn? Or maybe there was more than would have been too long for the write-up? Does it feel good to make what I would call small, incremental progress in relation to other TTRPGs–almost like a mobile game for filling in between other activities?

Do you think the wide variety of moves suits solo play better than co-op play? Systems that are Powered by the Apocalypse might have a similar number of total moves, but they’re divided across players. I would think that helps maintain good pacing with multiple playing in person.

I enjoy reading your approach to the questions the game posits. I lack the ability to motivate myself to do any such answering without other people to share it with. Oh… Maybe the forum provides that very thing that I otherwise get from a play group.

My first active game session was just too long to plop down in one go, but I think the beauty of playing solo is that I’m beholden to no one else for pacing. If I just want to play out one encounter for 20 quick minutes of play, I can do that.

I think the way Shawn has written both Ironsworn and Starforged allows the solo/co-op/GM players to make their own decisions on whether or not to model a particular conflict. For example, normally I wouldn’t bother playing out a random barroom fight with a couple of idiots. I would just say something like, “Darius walked into Barlowe’s cluttered garage, his face showing evidence of the scuffle he’d just had with a local.” From there, you can get as granular as you want. You could roll out every move and counter-move for every participant. You could lump all enemies into one progress track. One of the other options is to just use the Battle move to determine the outcome of a whole fight with just one roll by abstracting combat to the bare minimum.

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Thanks! That is more of a pain in the butt than you might imagine. InDesign takes great joy in occasionally obliterating all of my hyperlinks for no apparent reason.

And thanks for picking up this thread :)

Oof! Way to make me feel guilty. Sorry everyone. I’ve been a bit busy with life stuff.

That said, this isn’t dead. I’m coming back to it later.

I don’t think I’ve written about this here, but when some version of the rules were released I was waiting at the airport for a longish flight. I checked whether the Stargazer web app worked offline (it does!) and spent a few hours doing some worldbuilding on my phone while in the air. It was incredibly pleasant. I’m forcing myself to wait for the physical materials to really dive in, but I’m enjoying this thread.

Where is this? (Sorry, it’s probably been linked above, too lazy to scroll up).

No worries :) Stargazer

Holy crap! How did I miss this awesome site?

Loving this, and pushing me to get started on my own play through. Post any updates when you can!