Ironsworn/Starforged Progress Move Thoughts

~900 words, ~5 min reading time

I’ve not posted about my solo RPGing recently, though I have been doing it. I preordered Starforged (at least as of 8/31 you can buy the PDF but not the physical book – they’re doing an initial print run for Kickstarter backers and preorderers, with the physical book made available to others late this year), by the maker of Ironsworn. The preorder gave immediate access to a PDF of the game. The major mechanics are basically the same in the two games. Here, I’m going to focus on the “Progress Move” mechanic.

The Use of Progress Moves

“Progress Moves” are used any time you’re trying to accomplish something that isn’t “one and done”. Instead, you take actions to accumulate progress. The games formalize progress moves in 3 cases: quests (called “vows”), expeditions/travel, and combat. (Starforged adds “connections” to this list, where you use progress tracks to track relationship development.) Each case has “steps” you take – “milestones” for vows, “waypoints” for expeditions, “harm” for combat (in Ironsworn, just “progress” in Starforged – Starforged acknowedges the possibility of non-harm objectives in combat while that is lacking in Ironsworn). However, how many steps you have to take depends on the “rank” of your objective. One of the challenges of playing the game is picking an appropriate rank for a progress track. Let’s look at an example.

Suppose I’m exploring a derelict spaceship, hoping to find some useful supplies/technology. First, I decide the rank of this expedition – Troublesome, Dangerous, Formidable, Extreme, or Epic. The rank determines how much progress you make on a 10 box “progress track” with each step you make toward your goal. For a Troublesome expedition, you mark 3 boxes for each waypoint. For Dangerous, 2 boxes. For Formidable, 1 box. For Extreme, 2 “ticks” (basically, half a box, since a box requires 4 ticks). For Epic, 1 “tick” (1/4 of a box).

Some Statistics

When you decide you’re done, you roll 2 10-sided dice (2d10) and compare them to the number of boxes that are completed on the progress track. If both die show a number LESS than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “strong hit” – so some very desirable outcome. If just 1 die is less than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “weak hit” – you get what you want, but at a cost. If neither die is less than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “miss”. There are a couple ways to deal with a miss, depending on the context. For an expedition, you either just fail to accomplish your goal (nothing valuable in this derelict!), OR you renew your efforts by clearing some of the boxes, pushing the rank up a step, and then continuing. Doing some math, here’s a potentially useful table:

Boxes filledProb (strong hit)Prob (strong or weak hit)Troublesome StepsDangerous StepsFormidableExtremeEpic
10%0%00124
21%19%1248
34%36%13612
49%51%24816
516%64%51020
625%75%2361224
736%84%71428
849%91%481632
964%96%391836
1081%99%45102040

Now, let’s apply this to the different categories.

If you complete 2 milestones on a vow/quest, you have a 75% chance of at least partial success if the vow was Troublesome. 51% for Dangerous, 19% for Formidable, and 0% for Extreme or Epic.

Or, put another way, to have at least a 50% chance of at least partial success, a troublesome quest requires 2 steps, as does a dangerous quest. Formidable 4 steps. Extreme 8. Epic 16.

Suggested Interpretations

Because of this, I suggest these interpretations for progress track rank:

Combat – rank captures the difficulty of the objective – by increasing the number of successful rolls required, a higher rank increases the length of combat and therefore the amount of damage (to health, stress, supplies, etc.) that the players are likely to take. In Ironsworn, rank also increases how much damage the opponent does.

Vows/Quests – rank captures complexity of the quest – not necessarily difficulty. You could have a Troublesome quest where the 2nd step is an Extreme combat (which, if successful, means the quest is probably completed). So, the quest is straightforward – but the 2nd step is quite hard.

Expeditions – rank captures the length of the journey or the size of the area being explored (speaking in # of rooms terms) – each progress step is the discovery of a new waypoint. Longer journeys have more waypoints, as do larger dungeons/derelicts/etc.

An Alternative Interpretation

Another interpretation suggested in Starforged is that rank should indicate how much time you want to spend on this vow/combat/expedition/relationship. Practically, this is likely the best approach. Troublesome goals tend to be finished quickly. Epic goals take a very long time to complete. However, I think it worthwhile to keep in mind the guidelines above. I have found myself “stuck” before when I decided a quest was “Extreme”, but quickly ran out of steps to complete after 4 or 5 – which meant the odds of success were basically zero, even though I couldn’t think of what else would need to be done to accomplish these goals. Keeping in mind the # of steps required to complete the progress track helps keep us from under/over ranking quests.

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