Ironsworn: Starforge is an in-development supplement for the Ironsworn roleplaying game, taking perilous, quest-driven gameplay to a far future at the edge of known space.
In this article, we'll look at some of the basics of the setting, along with some of my current plans for how Starforge will extend and modify the gameplay of Ironsworn.
Everything is subject to change, and your feedback is welcome!
TONE AND INSPIRATION
I'm calling the default tone of Starforge "The Scavenged Future" or "Dark Ages Sci-Fi". I envision ships cobbled together from salvage and spare parts. Settlers cling to survival in isolated settlements on inhospitable worlds, or on backwater stations where air itself is a commodity. Advanced technology is expensive and prone to failure amid the furious stellar maelstroms of the Forge, so people make do with more straightforward solutions. Much has been forgotten or lost. It's a rough, lonely, dangerous life for anyone living on the frontier, and doubly so for the Ironsworn.
Inspiration comes from the workaday tone of Firefly, the isolated suspense of Alien, the desperation and retro-future of Battlestar Galactica's modern reboot, the lived-in aesthetic of Star Wars, the mysticism of Dune, and the cosmic horror and mysteries of Lovecraft.
As with Ironsworn core, you can adjust these dials to your liking. With minimal tweaks, Starforge should work just fine for a variety of spacebound adventures. The trick is to maintain a focus on connections and personal quests or missions as the drivers for your story. I could imagine playing as a rogue crew of Klingons in the Star Trek universe, or as bounty hunters on the outer rim in a Star Wars campaign.
WHAT IS THE FORGE?
The Forge is an expanse of chaotic space. Your people came here generations ago. Perhaps they were refugees, cast out of their former home after a calamity. Maybe they were explorers, now lost and alone on this wild frontier. Or, perhaps they were survivors of a vast interstellar war, praying their enemies do not follow.
The anomalies scattered across this region create turbulent gravity waves. Stars, planets, asteroid fields, and stellar phenomenon drift and dance upon these waves in a horrendously complex mockery of orbital mechanics. It is the universe gone amok.
This chaotic environment offers both opportunity and peril in equal measures. Remnants of an ancient civilization hold dangerous knowledge and forbidden power. Your people build homes on new worlds, but those places rarely offer a safe haven. Baneful creatures and dark forces dwell on planets and in the vast expanse between stars. Some of your kind have been lost to this place, made savage by the black heart of the Forge’s fire.
Your people have made the Forge their home. They pray it does not become their grave.
Much of what you are familiar with from Ironsworn will be unchanged in Starforge. The existing stats and trackers carry over. Character creation is still fast and flexible. Set your stats. Pick three assets. Play.
There are, however, some new components to consider. Your character now has rep and influence. Rep functions like a stat, and is used when you take action leveraging your resources or notoriety. You start with rep at +1, and improve it over time. Influence is a spendable resource, and is used to build your rep or bail yourself out of bad situations.
The addition of rep and influence ties into a new emphasis on forming connections and bonds. Your character's relationships get more focus in Starforge—both narratively and mechanically. More on that shortly.
Assets are still a key aspect of your character, updated to support the setting. Some assets are lightly re-themed. Others will be all new. For the most part, you can also continue to use assets from the core game. For example, you might decide that hand-to-hand weapons still play a heavy role in your version of the Forge. Is it because they are practical and cheap? Are they part of the warrior traditions of Forge cultures? Or, is it simply a bad idea to get in a gunfight in a fragile spaceship?
Most importantly, the focus for your character is still your Ironsworn vows. You are driven and fated to fulfill those vows—no matter the cost. Your adventures within the Forge should mix the mundane and the mythic. The arduous and the epic. It is your struggles that make you Ironsworn.
There will be an alternative version of the moves handout which relabels the quest moves as "missions". This will support more generic settings. But, I much prefer—and recommend—the ritualistic aspects of swearing on iron. The "Your Truths" section of the setting chapter will include some options on how this practice came to be.
By default, you have a ship. It may not look like much, but it's yours. Ships are a mini-character. They have their own type of asset called a component. Ships are assumed to do the basic thing that makes them a ship—flying from one place to another. It's the components which give your ship its flavor and provide leverage for actions in the game.
When you create your ship, you select three assets. When you earn experience, you can spend that experience to improve your ship with new and upgraded components. If you are playing with allies, you can pool experience points to enhance your ship.
Components are general enough to accommodate vehicles of many types. So, you might have a skiff for planetbound journeys, or a fighting mechsuit to hold off raiders outside a settlement. If you play using a different setting or genre, you can also leverage components to build appropriate gear. Need a supercharged car for post-apocalyptic highways? No problem.
When your ship takes a hit, the Withstand Damage move helps resolve what happens. If your ship is at 0 integrity, you will need to mark a component as disabled or face possible destruction.
When you try to patch your ship back together, or pull into port for a refit, you'll make the Repair move. This moves gives you a pool of points to spend on increasing your ship's integrity, getting a component back in working order, or fixing your mechanical companion.
If your ship is destroyed, and you somehow manage to survive, you'll likely need to make some big promises to a powerful connection to get flying again. What will they ask of you?
Navigating the Forge
Navigating the Forge is a dangerous task—this isn't about marking a distant star and pointing your ship in that direction. Instead, imagine sailors of old setting sail on turbulent seas, fighting the currents and storms that would lead them astray.
When you travel through space, you've got two choices: Do you plot a new course, or follow a known path? If you've already undertaken a journey to a destination, you've got what you need to follow a known path. Or, you might have obtained charts from one of your connections or through a more nefarious method. Following a known course is faster and safer. Charting a new path will be necessary if you don't have the data you need or haven't made the journey yourself already.
From a gameplay perspective, this choice also offers an opportunity to quickly bypass a journey, rewarding you for the time and risk of charting a course to new destinations. When you make a return trip or follow a previously charted path, you can use the Lay a Course move to shift the focus to what happens when you arrive.
When you do chart a new path, one of my goals is to ensure that the waypoints on your journey are exciting and full of opportunity for adventure. In reality, space is an incomprehensibly vast amount of nothing. In the Forge, planets, asteroid fields, derelict ships, astral phenomena, outposts, and stranger things serve as waypoints for navigation. The Forge is like a confluence of ocean currents with stellar flotsam caught in its wake.
In the Forge, no one survives entirely on their own. Your connections are your tether. You'll depend on them for supplies, repairs, medical aid, information, and simple comforts. Some connections will give you a purpose, sending you into the depths of the Forge to fulfill Ironsworn vows.
Think of a connection as a half-step between an NPC and an Ironsworn bond. They also serve as a replacement for the Sojourn move, giving you the mechanical and narrative boost you need to survive the Forge.
When you reach out to establish a new contact, it's time to Make a Connection.
Connections have a progress track. As you leverage your connection, fulfill vows to their benefit, and stand with them to overcome hardships, you'll mark progress. When you are ready to take your relationship to the next level, you make the Forge a Bond move.
Forging bonds earns you influence. You can spend influence to improve your rep or apply leverage to alter the outcome of a move. When things fall apart, you can also spend influence to get a new start (resetting your tracks and debilities).
In short, connections and bonds give you in-game relationships that deepen and evolve over time. It adds a new focus on NPC interactions to Ironsworn's core gameplay, providing narrative opportunities to show how those relationships change your character or add new complications.
SEE YOU IN THE FORGE...
That's a basic summary of the default setting and some of the gameplay updates you'll see in Starforge. There's more to come. If you want to be involved as the Starforge supplement develops, please consider joining the Ironsworn Discord. There, I'll share previews and gather feedback.