Posted 23 Jun 2021 to Fantasy

A system for effective Solo or GM-less play in the land of vikings and fey.


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 5
Sessions as Solo Player: 3

I Used

I have the PDF and also the Delve add-on book. I played on Roll20, when playing with my friends and also when playing solo. I took game notes in a Google doc.


This was my first foray into solo RPGs, and I found it really engaging. I soon found I lacked the discipline to actually play properly when alone, and invited some friends to play. It was a good move for me, to switch to GM Mode. Much better. It was good fun, and easy to run with light prep.


The Good

  • Hard difficulty. I established my starting scene - my young plucky scout was sneaking up on a raider, hoping to take him by surprise and kill him. Things went badly. One or two failed rolls later, my brand new character was in a serious pickle. This was exciting! There are real costs to pay when you fail a roll, and that adds a lot of tension and fun. Every dice roll matters. This is great.
  • Defined Moves. There are about 30 Moves you can make. Some of them are broadly defined, like "Face Danger" which could be used when climbing a cliff but also when dodging a boulder. This makes the game very structured and after an hour of play, I got familiar enough with the Move options and knew what to use.
  • Low prep. The game encourages a strong improvisational style, where the player (who could be playing solo) does not know what they will find around the next hill. There are tables that help the GM create content on the fly. The improv tools are great, and I have begun using them in other games too. I found that my sessions improved when I did some light prep, however, rather than going in with a blank slate. That is to be expected.
  • Great Roll20 character sheet. This sheet contains the text of all the Moves, and so it really helped the players get into the game without having to do a ton of reading.
  • Collaborative world-building questions. I was ready to skip them and just start playing, but the players wanted to do them. I'm glad we did. They really helped cement the world in our shared imaginations and introduced new twists that I had not considered. They didn't take long, maybe 15 minutes.
  • Cards. I play on my computer, so I don't usually have physical game aids at hand. When I discovered that the asset cards are designed to fit into Magic The Gathering card sleeves, I printed them out and made them up. It really made a difference to how the game felt in play, and I'm glad I did.
  • Amazing clear rules presentation. The author uses flowcharts and diagrams to reinforce what they say in text. A lot. I was impressed with how effective the book is at explaining how the game plays and helping you get started. The actual page count could have been a lot lower if these had been omitted, but then the game would have been slightly harder to learn.
  • Hack the game chapter. They encourage you to reskin assets and rename abilities to play in other settings. There are guidelines. It would be pretty easy to do, which is an exciting prospect for me. If the default Nordic setting does not appeal to you, it is very easy to transplant the game into another fantasy setting. Low magic will work best.

The Not-So-Good

  • You need to have the moves reference in front of you at all times. There are around 30 Moves, and they each have their own text for what happens on a success or partial success or failure. It is not possible to remember all of these, and so you will need to have the rule book close at hand constantly while playing, because you will need to read what happens with every dice roll. There tends to be a lot of page flipping during play.
  • Monsters are a bit samey. All threats are treated the same way - they are represented by a track of 10 boxes, and you fill in these boxes when you score hits. You take damage or other setbacks when you miss. The difference between fighting a ghost that tries to suck your lifeforce and fighting a bear is purely fictional. The ghost does not actually have any special unique attacks or properties that make the fight mechanically different. After a while, they started to feel the same.



I am sold on this core game engine. I backed the Starforged kickstarter as a consequence of the good fun I had playing Ironsworn. I have been musing about reskinning the game for a variety of other settings, especially urban fantasy. Next time I play Ironsworn, I'll pick a different setting. Anything low-magic will work. Maybe Westeros?



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