Thursday, December 31, 2020

Kai the Coldhearted 1 - Ironsworn Solo Play Record


I've been playing Ironsworn solo recently due to the pandemic. Like most folks, I haven't been able to play as much tabletop as I'd have liked to, even though I was able to swap most of my games over to digital tables. 

I definitely didn't expect to like playing RPGs solo as much as I have, I value the social interaction I would normally get from a group game very highly. Solo play offers me a chance to both scratch my creative writing itch as well as get some reps in with a game I haven't spent a lot of time playing. If you're interested in trying out solo play as well, you can pick up Ironsworn for free from their site here.

Follows is a rough record of my time starting a game of Ironsworn, creating a character, and my first chunk of playing. Normal text has been used for commentary, italic text conveys in-world narrative and bold has been used throughout for emphasis. 

As a brief overview, Ironsworn is a game about playing heroic adventurers in a pseudo-Viking fantasy setting. You can play in a group with a GM, co-operatively in a group without a GM, or solo without a GM. I didn't come into the game with any knowledge of mechanics and don't assume that any would-be readers have knowledge of the mechanics either, so I'll leave commentary and explain my choices as they come up.

The game doesn't claim to be OSR, but I think it has a healthy amount of room for the traditional OSR playstyle to play a big role. I'm coming into this game from an OSR mindset and set of biases and expect that to influence how I interact with the rules.



Ironsworn offers you the choice of making a world or a character first, depending on your preference. I have no initial ideas for a character currently, so I'll start by answering their prompts to create a world. I'd like to stick to a world relatively within the default parameters for this run, but I could easily see taking Ironsworn on a different track.

Ironsworn makes the following baseline assumptions about your world:

  1. "Two generations ago, your people were driven to the Ironlands from their former homes in the Old World."

  2. "The weather here is harsh. Winters are brutal. The rugged terrain makes travel and trade difficult and dangerous."

  3. "There are no thriving cities. Instead, Ironlanders live in isolated villages or steadings. Their homes are modest buildings of wood, stone, and thatch."

  4. "Many areas of the Ironlands are unexplored and uninhabited except by the firstborn—beings such as elves, giants, and the wolf-like varou."

  5. "Coins have little value here. Most commerce is made through barter and favors."

  6. "Some communities remain isolated and independent, while others trade in basic goods such as iron, grain, livestock, wood, wool, and coal."

  7. "There is a diverse mix of peoples and cultures within the Ironlands, even within a single community. You can envision your character and those you interact with however you like, unbound by considerations of geography, lineage, sexual orientation, and gender."

  8. "Communities sometimes band together under a powerful leader, but there are no kingdoms. Territorial lines are sketchily drawn, if at all."

  9. "Large-scale warfare is unheard of, but raiding parties and skirmishes between communities are a constant menace. Some communities subsist entirely on raiding."

  10. "Spear, axe, shield, and bow are the dominant weapons. Swords are rare and highly prized. Some warriors choose to wade into battle clad in iron, while others trust in their prowess or in the strength of their shields."

  11. "Magic is subtle and mysterious. Mystics seek to ward away the darkness through the practice of magic, but often succumb to it. Rituals are performed as blessings and to gain insight."

  12. "Supernatural creatures and beasts are rare, frightening, and dangerous."

 Ironsworn then asks us to comment on the following aspects of your world, my answers follow:

  1. The Old World: The Old World could not sustain us. We bled the land dry of resources, our crops withered in the field and our people starved. Our ancestors knew that they must begin again in a new land if any of us were to survive.

    I enjoy the idea that a lack of sustainable practices drove humanity from the Old World. This implies a conflict between the unsustainable ways that are tried and tested versus the sustainable practices that folks have to come up with as they go along. It also pushes a huge amount of survivor's guilt and culture of survival directly onto the society that survived the Old World.

  2. Iron: Our ancestors carried the secrets and rituals of Iron with them from the Old World. Iron is a cursed metal, made from the blood of our people. Even a small tool made from it requires the sacrifice of tens, sometimes hundreds. The survivors of the Old World turned the dead into Iron before they left, entombing their ancestors in small, rectangular ingots.

    It's metal as hell (pardon the pun) for the only iron to be that you can get from people. It makes all iron profane due to the sacrifice yet necessary due to its power. All iron objects inherit a huge amount of narrative weight, even if they're nothing but a pocket knife.

  3. Legacies: We are the first humans to walk these lands, but not the first people. 

    The Firstborn were the first people, and this culture is an explicitly colonialist one into their territory. That conflict is going to factor heavily into the character I've got in mind.

  4. Communities: We have forged the Ironlands into a home. Our villages are connected by well-defined roads. Trade and travel is common between settlements, at least in Haven. Even with all our progress, the majority of this land is still wild.

    I want lots of survivors and a culture of trade and communication. I want humanity to feel like an overwhelming tidal wave crashing onto the shores of the wild Ironlands.

  5. Leaders: Our communities are ruled by our priests. Only our holy Bloodwitches know the rituals to pull Iron from the dead and the wards to keep the Firstborn from our homes. Each community trusts their only small population of Bloodwitches to make choices for the good of all.

    If iron is both profane and necessary, surely there are a group of people in society that know how to make and work it. I figure they would be centrally placed and well respected due to their skills and position, so it's natural to make them the ruling caste.

  6. Defense: Our lands are protected by our Ironsworn wardens. Each is weighed down with a piece of Iron to remind them of their duty and protect them from the magics of the Firstborn. Most communities boast the protection of a few Ironsworn, though there are more than a few who travel the land, beholden to no place in particular. Eventually, all Ironsworn are consumed by their own Iron.

    Player Characters have to factor into this society somehow. Making them the primary wielders of Iron gives them a clear diegetic place in society as a problem solver and warrior. I think it's extremely cool for iron to consume its wielders, though I don't know exactly what that looks like yet. Possibly it drains them of blood to make more iron?

  7. Mysticism: Magic exists, one must simply reach out and grasp it. Magic, like Iron, corrupts all who use it, burning practitioners to ash as they wield more and more arcane might. The Bloodwitches practice rituals to insulate themselves from this effect. Rumors abound of other ways to protect oneself from mageburns, though nothing substantial is known.

    Magic is available, it's just a Faustian bargain! Choose wisely!

  8. Religion: Our ancestors take the place of our gods. Each family reveres powerful figures from their past and honors their deeds and sacrifice with every passing day. It is common to see shrines dedicated to particularly noteworthy ancestors, even here in the New World.

    This culture is obsessed with itself in all facets, including religion. Ancestors also feed into the iron-and-magic dynamic I'm building up here by being accessible through the iron their blood creates.

  9. Firstborn: This land was peopled when we arrived, inhabited by the fierce Firstborn. They hold power over the wild places and resist our growth, though we are many and they are few. Our Iron helps us resist their magic, which is possessed in great power by even the youngest and weakest of the Firstborn. We war constantly with them, and it’s unclear which of the two of us will ultimately survive.

    I'm making Firstborn (Elves, Fae, etc) be the mirror of humanity. I'm pushing this society towards a growing realization that their current methods of colonialization, unsustainable industrial practices, and magics cannot continue and that they'll have to change to survive. Positioning the Firstborn as the primary antagonists allows me to steal themes unrepentantly from the likes of Princess Mononoke, which I fully intend on doing.

  10. Beasts: Monstrous beasts roam the Ironlands in great numbers. Some among us blame the Firstborn for their great proclivity and voracity, but we’ve seen evidence that Firstborn settlements are attacked as well. Our stout stone walls help to keep the beasts at bay, but everyone knows they’re not enough. Travelers usually travel in groups large enough to defend themselves or small enough to hide from the beasts.

    Beasts are the primary way of the Ironlands fighting back against civilization pressing in. I want The Wild to feel like a force constantly pushing back against humanity, and making powerful creatures that live there is a part of that.

  11. Horrors: Our dead do not rest unless we burn them. The unquiet dead roam the lands, searching for the warmth of life that is now forever forsaken to them. Salt, fire and Iron keep the dead at bay, but the dead are relentless and the living must sleep eventually.

    Zombies, skeletons and other undead just heavily push the themes of survival, which I want.



Now that I've got a world to make my character against, I'm starting to get some more ideas. My character is going to be a loner, and meshing that with the survivor vibes from the world, I'm picturing a jaded warrior type. I imagine a man who's locked himself away from the world and his old relationships in a classic case of toxic masculinity overreacting. I'm looking forward to having him meet new people and slowly unfreeze his Grinch-like heart.

Following the Ironsworn default character creation, I get the following:

  1. Envision your character: A grizzled loner veteran type. Skilled at violence and selfish survival but inexperienced with social relationships and relying on others. Ultimately, the stereotypical warrior that this society would create.

  2. Choose a name: I rolled randomly on the table in the back of the book and got Kai.

  3. Set your stats: I chose 1 Edge, 1 Heart, 3 Iron, 2 Shadow, and 2 Wits. This means that Kai is good at melee combat, being strong and iron-willed, decieving his foes, and outsmarting his foes. He sucks at talking to people, being quick on his feet, and ranged combat.

  4. Set your Health, Spirit and Supply to +5: Done.

  5. Set your Momentum to +2, your Maximum Momentum to +10, and your Momentum Reset to +2: Done.

  6. Mark up to 3 Background Bonds: I know I want to have a rival that's doing everything better than me, so I roll up a person in the back of the book and get "Violent" "Stern" and "Ironsworn." That describes exactly the kind of person I'd expect to be my rival at the beginning of the game, so I mark her as a bond as "Asha Wavecrash."

    I also want Kai to have the beginnings of a positive social relationship with someone already, so I roll for someone else and get "Sick" "Connected" and "Intolerant." This is a bizarre set of qualities, but I envision a Bloodwitch I've worked with before as a likely candidate. I roll for a name and get "Cortina" and so mark her down.

    I have no ideas on a third background bond so I decide to save it for now.

  7. Pick three Assets: I picked Veteran, Blade-Bound and Sunderer. Veteran and Blade-Bound seemed like easy choices for any Ironsworn warden, especially in this setting. I picked up Sunderer as well to emphasize Kai's skill in melee combat.

    As part of choosing Blade-Bound, I need to come up with a weapon and a name. I pick war-axe because I like the Sunderer Asset best out of the weapon specializations. I give it a random name ("Icebreaker") and mark a background bond with it. I also decide at this point that it's likely that Kai's direct ancestors contributed to the axe blade, which is part of why it's special to him. It makes sense that this would be true for most Iron tools, making the position of Ironsworn largely hereditary.

  8. Make note of any important equipment or items: I'm not sure what the expectations are here, so I just envision myself with my axe, a thick cloak, a wooden round-shield, and a pack + bedroll. I'm disappointed there isn't a set of equipment tables to help fill out the setting, but I can roll with it.

  9. Set a background vow and give it a rank of Extreme or Epic. Then, envision your inciting incident.
    At this point, Kai is just human society writ small and I see no reason to stop now. I figure that he used to be a specific guardian of a community before the community was destroyed by the Firstborn, led by a specific warlord named (roll on table) "Atani." I give her the title of "Manslayer" to really push home that she's a badass.

    I write my background vow as "I will bring an end to Atani the Manslayer, fearsome Firstborn Queen of the Barrier Isles (Extreme)." The Barrier Isles are just a region defined in the book that I rolled for at random. Her proximity to the coast means this game will feature a lot of marine and coastal scenes, which I'm happy about.

    I'm picturing Kai as a sorry loser that failed to protect his village some time ago in his past. The easiest inciting incident available at this point is something that plays off that, to keep rolling with the same themes. I took a look at the World Truths I described above and see the line about the undead again. What if his dead comrades and community members are now terrorizing the countryside? That's an extremely personal problem for Kai but also poses a much larger problem for the surrounding people. It seems like a great place to start.
Wrapping up all of the above, here's Kai's "character sheet" as it stands right after character creation. My next post will start with Kai finding out about the inciting incident and picking up the call to adventure.

Kai the Coldhearted

Edge: 1 | Heart: 1 | Iron: 3 | Shadow: 2 | Wits: 2

Momentum: +2

Health: +5 | Spirit: +5 | Supply: +5


  • I will bring the end to Atani the Manslayer, fearsome Firstborn queen of the Barrier Isles (Extreme)


  • Icebreaker

  • Cortina the Bloodwitch

  • Asha Wavecrash


  • Blade-bound (Icebreaker)

  • Sunderer

  • Veteran

Notable Gear:

  • Icebreaker, an Iron waraxe

  • Wooden round-shield

  • thick wool cloak

  • pack of traveler’s gear

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Kai the Coldhearted 1 - Ironsworn Solo Play Record

WHAT IS THIS? I've been playing Ironsworn solo recently due to the pandemic. Like most folks, I haven't been able to play as much ta...