Five years ago today, I officially released Ironsworn. Happy anniversary to those who celebrate! If you'd like to grab Ironsworn, Ironsworn: Delve, or Starforged at a great price, I've put the family of Ironsworn products on sale at DriveThruRPG. Discounts include physical and digital editions, with the exception of Starforged (digital only). Sale ends Monday, July 31st!
Of course, calling it a five-year anniversary is stretching the truth a bit; I delivered preview versions of Ironsworn 16 months prior to the full release. The first playtest package is shown below. Sadly, the fellow on the lower left had his head lopped off and replaced with someone else via Photoshop in the final Ironsworn layout. Such are the sacrifices that must be made.
Before that first playtest, Ironsworn was in development for well over a year. It first struggled to life as a Microsoft OneNote document. Thanks to the long memory of the cloud, I still have those nascent materials. Every so often I give them a look, marveling that I managed to persevere through a thousand missteps and stumbles.
Player characters were originally defined using four pathways: Warrior, Hunter, Mystic, and Rider. You could mix-and-match pathways to some degree, but it was standard Powered by the Apocalypse playbooks by another name.
Why put riding a horse at the same level as fighting or casting magic? No idea. I like horses, I suppose. In the screenshot below, you can see the "Last Ride" move, wherein you say goodbye to your faithful steed and undertake a quest to gain a new horse.
Eventually, pathways became Ironsworn's à la carte assets, and moves such as the Warrior's "Blade-Bound" were reforged as a single asset.
Ironsworn's action roll (two D10's versus a D6 + stats + bonuses) did not appear in early drafts. Mechanics are hard! I struggled for months, trying out various permutations of dice systems: 2D6, 2d8, 2d12, an olympic-sized array of dice pools, and much more.
Would Ironsworn work as a 6D6 dice pool? Luckily, we never have to find out.
And even earlier, before those original drafts start to take form, there is a cover mockup. It's a ritual for me at the start of a creative endeavor, dating back to my days as a failed novelist. It is embarrassingly nerdy, but it puts a stake in the ground. It says: this is the thing I am making. It helps sustain me through the long, cold months of OneNotes and Google Docs.
Do I always get the title right in those early stages? No. Almost never. As evidence, here is Ironcall. Same font, though!
In spite of a few wrong turns, Ironsworn was released five years ago, July 25, 2018. My side-gig as a game designer is still formative, but when I complete a project I look back and can't believe I stuck with it through the hard work and frustrations. That's true with Ironsworn, perhaps most of all.
But whatever measure of minor success Ironsworn has achieved in the big world of TTRPGs is not at all a credit to my bumbling about in Microsoft OneNote and Photoshop. Rather, it is thanks to the kindness, generosity, and creativity of those who found some fun with my goofy creations, and those who contributed in big and small ways. Thank you—sincerely. I can't wait to see what comes next, and hope you'll continue with me on this adventure.