~ 4600 words, ~ 20 min reading time
The village of Newriver sits on the coast in the harsh Shattered Wastes. Few Ironlanders have ventured this far North, but Torrens’s clan was determined to establish a village here. Torrens was the only son of his parents – the village’s healers, and he trained with his parents in this discipline.
Everyone knew that the Shattered Wastes were uninhabitable. And it turns out the cold was not the worst thing that the community faced. Horrors would wander out of the frozen wastes surrounding the village – mostly attacking the village’s herds, but sometimes attacking people. To protect themselves, the villagers had brought a warrior with them who fought off these creatures whenever they would appear.
However, that warrior was now dead. A chimera has come out of the wastes and attacked him, and he was mortally wounded. Torrens ran to give care, but the wounds were too severe, as the warrior died in his arms, Torrens swore an iron vow – he would travel across the Ironlands and find a new warrior to protect his home.
Before he could leave, however, a dark secret was exposed. One of the village priests had a vision – the creature that killed the warrior did not happen upon the village at random. Instead, one of the member of the village was summoning these creatures for some nefarious purpose. Before he can leave, Torrens swears to the village of Newriver – his village – that he will root out the traitor.
Chapter 1 – Newriver
Alban was an old adventurer who came as one of the founders of Newriver for one last, great adventure. Torrens had always liked the old man, and thought he might have some insight on who would betray their town, or how to track them down. Torrens brought Alban’s favorite mead, and the two shared a drink. Alban pointed out that this particular creature seemed to be composed of dead animals which had been invested with unnatural life. So, it seemed likely that the person who raised this creature has some strong connection to animals perhaps one of the village’s ranchers, or the village’s veterinarian.
Torrens decided to check one of the ranchers first. Under the cover of night, Torrens overhears a discussion – a couple of the village ranchers are talking about how the weather here is so harsh that it is unlikely their flocks and herds will be able to survive – a tougher breed of animal is needed. This suggests to Torrens that there is a broader conspiracy than he thought.
The next evening, Torrens investigated Cadigan, another one of the ranchers in town – only to see a chimera like the creature that had killed the village warrior attacking the sheep at this farm. Torrens manages to scare the creature off, and offers to help the rancher by treating the sheep that had been attacked. Unfortunately, it is too late, and, as Torrens is realizing the sheep is too far gone, the chimera returns. Torrens manages to scare it off again. Cadigan thanks Torrens for his help, and the two of them follow the chimera to Haleema’s hut – Haleema is the village vet.
Torrens and Cadigan then hatched a plan – Cadigan would invite Haleema to check out some of the dead sheep on his farm, and Torrens would question her there.
The next day, they carry the plan out. When Haleema arrivees, Torrens – who is an imposing figure – intimidates her into answering some of their questions. She reveals that there is a broader faction in the town which wants to relocate to more hospitable lands. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t enough of them to make for a viable settlement themselves. So, they hope to convince the town as a whole to come with them. They didn’t expect the town warrior to die – his bravery and the chimera’s viciousness simply made for a bad combination. Haleema agrees to try to dispel the chimera, but suggests that she may be able to make a more docile version which would be able to survive the harsh climate of Newriver.
Haleema organizes a meeting between her faction and Torrens, where Torrens makes the case that everyone should stay. The faction is won over by Torrens’s impassioned speech, but they want him to use his charisma to convince the town of something else. A priest – a relative newcomer to the town – came under the pretense of hunting the Wastes for artifacts that may prove useful. However, this priest seems to be far more interested in winning favor with the town leaders – the mayor in particular – than with searching the Wastes for anything.
Seeing his town divided into two hidden factions (those who wish to leave, and the priest and mayor who seek only to maintain the status quo), Torrens decides that his best bet is to reveal both of these to the rest of the town – but realized that an important step would be getting the mayor to step down from his position.
Torrens tried to win support among the people of Newriver to convince the mayor to resign, but people were not interested. Finally, Torrens took it upon himself to try to compel the mayor to step down. The mayr agreed, on the condition that Torrens undermines the relationship between Haleema and the ranchers – the mayor thinks since he sacrificed something, she has to sacrifice something too.
To this end, Torrens begins spreading rumors among some of the town ranchers that Haleema’s true motives for summoning the chimera was simply to make money off of the injured livestock, knowing that convincing the town to relocate was unlikely to happen. However, this doesn’t work out as hoped. Haleema simply decides to leave town entirely – leaving the town with one less person to help care for sick and injured livestock, which are all too common in this harsh weather.
Torrens decided that now is the time for a town meeting so that he can fulfill his vow to the town. He reveals the conspiracies – both Haleema’s and the mayor’s. Now, however, there is a power vacuum in town.
Rather than being thankful to Torrens for what he had done, they are upset at the instability that he has created in their little village. He vows to help them find a new mayor, but the town meeting erupts into shouting. Torrens immediately forsakes this vow, and decides to take his owl Errol and his horse Dash and leave town so that he can find a capable warrior that can protect the village from any other creatures that may come out of the icy wilderness.
Chapter 2 – The Fleet of Highriver
Torrens traveled along the coast until he happened upon a fleet that was preparing to depart to the South. The Fleet of Highriver – which is located on the coast in the Tempest Hills – was on a scientific expedition to the Scattered Wastes, but the crew mutinied against the head scholar that was leading the expedition since supplies were running low. Torrens agrees to serve on the Fleet in exchange for passage to Highriver.
After a few days of travel, they came to a cover where they could do some fishing and some resource gathering. It took a great deal of work, but they built up their supplies. After a few days journey, they were getting close to Highriver when a storm blew them off course. The next day, they made progress and came upon a strange light – and a creature bathed in light appeared on the deck of the ship, and promised them help for the remainder of the journey. The creature vanished as quickly as it had appeared. The next day, they came to Highriver.
Chapter 3 – Arriving at Highriver
On arriving at Highriver, the crew expressed their concern about being punished for mutiny, and asked Torrens to help them avoid any negative consequences from that decision. He swore to help, only to learn that the scholar they had mutinied against was a personal friend of several members of the Council.
After asking around town, Torrens learns that the strong tradition of dueling is alive and well in Highriver, and that duels are well-respected among these people. While naturally strong, Torrens isn’t a trained fighter and has no weapon. But, he is willing to enter a duel unarmed.
Torrens meets the head of the ruling Council – a warrior named Mila, and challenges her to a duel. Torrens secures an early advantage in the fight, and manages to knock Mila to the ground where she yields, and agrees to Torrens’s demand to forgive the crew, given the circumstances they faced.
Torrens then appeared before the Council – reminding them how soundly he beat Mila, and they agree to let it go, but ask Torrens to help the city overcome their cursed past. He makes an iron vow to help them.
Chapter 3 – The Curse of Highriver
The mouth of the river running through Highriver has been heavily eroded, and is in need of strengthening. Apparently, the early founders had done a poor job shoring up the river banks. Torrens learns that a woman named Muna outside the town may be able to help.
He arrives at her home, and finds that she is very distrusting. Torrens manages to charm his way into her home. She reveals that her late husband was involved in shoring up the riverbank around the mouth, but that he died in the process – leaving less skilled engineers to complete the work.
Torrens then revisits Mila to see if she has more information. She tells him that this area was originally held by the giants, but they were driven away by the arrival of the Ironlanders. The giants had removed the supports they had placed at the mouth of the river which greatly weakened the banks.
It turns out the giants have resettled not too far away, and Torrens travels to meet them. He meets their tribal leader – a man named Otaan – and tries to convince him to shore up the bank of the river, noting that the giants and Highriver, despite their history, have established peaceful trading relations since then. Otaan refuses – the Ironlanders may be trade partners, but he feels no obligation to help those who have displaced his people.
Torrens realizes that Mila, as a warrior and head of the ruling Council, is much more likely to win Otaan’s trust. She agrees to come with him.
The two of them visit the giants again, and the giants reluctantly agree to help, but want to have a place within Highriver in exchange for their hep. Torrens speaks to the Council when they return to Highriver, and the Council agrees, thanking Torrens for his help in this matter.
Torrens resupplies in Highriver and asks around to see if anyone knows of a warrior that could protect Newriver. He learns that there is a town called Lost Bridge far to the South, in the Flooded Lands which is the home of Lio the Warrior.
Chapter 4 – Traveling
Torrens takes Dash and Errol, and they travel three days in the direction of Lost Bridge before they arrive at Fort Frostmark
Chapter 5 – Fort Frostmark
From its perch at the top of the hill, Fort Frostmark watches the forests around it. Torrens enters the fort seeking solace on his journey. He learns that the signs of the Varou have been marked near the Fort, and the inhabitants of the Fort expect that the Varou will strike any time. Torrens swears an iron vow to gather information about the Varou for the Fort, but the people of the Fort were not interested in an outsider’s help. Torrens foresakes the vow, and leaves the Fort behind him.
Chapter 6 – Traveling
Torrens and his animal companions journey three days until they come across the Mine of Lowmount
Chapter 7 – The Mine at Lowmount
Torrens entered the small mining village of Lowmount, and secured some provisions. He learned that there was a mysterious phenomenon occurring the town. Homes were being vandalized with the word “Revenge,” but no one knew why. Torrens swore an iron vow to discover the culprit. As he was questioning people around the town – learning nothing – some supplies were stolen
That night Torrens stayed up to watch who was responsible. He watched as a shadowy figure emerged from the woods around the town and scrawled the word “Revenge” on one of the villagers’ doors. Following the figure back into the woods, Torrens found a small tribe of Ironlanders camping in the woods near the mine. He returned to the town, and revealed what he found the next morning. The villagers simply refused to accept what he said as true, and kicked him out of town
Chapter 8 – More Traveling
Torrens traveled southward for 5 more days, when he was attacked by Varou!
Chapter 9 – Battling the Varou
After several blows, Torrens managed to kill the Varou, and took its knife.
Chapter 10 – Traveling to Camp Axewood
Another 12 days of traveling. In this time, Torrens got attacked by a Harrow Spider, and killed it. Torrens also lost his knife in the wilderness. After 12 days, Torrens arrived at Camp Axewood.
Chapter 11 – Camp Axewood
Torrens didn’t get very involved with the happenings here – he simply got more provisions and left.
Chapter 12 – Traveling to Lost Bridge
Two more days of traveling, and Torrens arrives at Lost Bridge, home of Lio the Warrior.
Chapter 13 – Lost Bridge
Torrens arrived at Lost Bridge to find that Lio – the great warrior – had been captured by a neighboring settlement, and was being held for ransom. Torrens swore and iron vow to free Lio from his captors. Torrens sought to learn more from the townspeople, but they were too distraught by their loss to be much help Torrens them simply headed in the direction of the settlement in question in hope that he can help when he gets there. He scopes out the settlement to identify where Lio is, and then sneaks in at night.
Except Torrens isn’t very sneaky, so he gets captured as well. He challenges his captors to a formal duel to secure his and Lio’s freedom. Torrens wins the duel, but is left badly hurt and scarred.
The tribe agrees to let ONE of them go, and Torrens chooses Lio, who leaves Torrens then tries to convince his captors that there is little point in keeping him. They’re unconvinced, and injure Dash in response. That night, Torrens managed to sneak out, taking Dash and going back to Lost Bridge.
At Lost Bridge, the town thanks Torrens for his work, and considers his vow fulfilled.
Now Torrens has to convince Lio to come with him to Newriver. Much to his surprise, it doesn’t take much convincing. Now, Torrens has to see if Lio really is a good enough warrior to protect Newriver – someone who is capable and trustworthy. He learns that the village of Wolfwick is in need of help, so Lio, Torrens, and Torrens’s animal companions head in that direction.
Chapter 14 – A Near Ending
The party travels five days through the marshes of the Flooded Lands, and are attacked by a sodden (a drowned person who returns as undead). They manage to fight it off. The next day, they are attacked by two more sodden. They fight them off, too. Two days later, they are attacked by another one – and fight it off.
On the 10th day of the journey, Lio wanders off, and Torrens spends the next day finding him. Two days later, Lio tells Torrens that he is no longer interested in helping Newriver, and leaves.
The next day, Torrens is attacked by another sodden. Still in bad shape from the previous fights, Torrens succumbs to the blows of the sodden, and loses consciousness, sure that he will die.
But he is wrong. In a vision, he sees the Keeper of Death, who says that he has a task left for Torrens to complete, if he will swear an iron vow to do so. Torrens swears the vow to help a fisherman in the village of Mournwatch – a man named Morell – to fulfill his destiny.
Chapter 15 – A New Life
Having sworn a vow to the Keeper of Death, Torrens awakens to find Dash and Errol with him. The sodden that attacked him is dead on the ground next to him. Torrens is still in bad shape, but death is not an immediate threat.
Torrens arrives at Wolfwick, though the people there do not seem willing to trust him. They give him basic hospitality – a time and place to heal and advice about a safe path forward – but are not interested in him helping them with any troubles.
Chapter 16 – Travel to Fort Thornford
The journey to Mournwatch is long. Torrens and his animal companions travel for 46 days, facing off against many wild animals – and running from others – on the way. Torrens is wounded and emotionally broken. Outside of Fort Thornford, Torrens adopts a new companion – a mammoth which he names Harry.
Chapter 17 – Fort Thornford
Torrens found the gates of Fort Thornford closed to him. They’re simply not interested in taking in such a scarred broken man. He turns away from the gates, saddened at their lack of hospitality.
Chapter 18 – Travel to Mournwatch
12 more days of traveling which were pretty uneventful. Torrens then arrives at Mournwatch.
Chapter 19 – Mournwatch
Torrens arrives at Mournwatch to help Morell achieve whatever his destiny is. However, here in this humble fishing village, he finds that Morell is not particularly respected. Rather, other people regularly take advantage of him, leaving him and his wife in poverty.
Torrens asked around town to find out if there was a ringleader of this bullying, but, while he was doing that, his horse, Dash, was stolen. Torrens swears an iron vow to recover his horse.
At this point, Torrens doesn’t have much patience, so he threatens a townsperson to get information out of him about who stole the horse, and the townsperson agrees, as long as Torrens agrees not to say who shared the information. Torrens agrees, and follows the person who was identified as the thief back to his home. He finds that this person doesn’t have the horse at all. The person who gave him the information was lying.
Torrens has had it. He hunts down the information and challenges him to a duel… and it turns out the duelist was trained as a warrior.
Despite this, Torrens does well in the fight – and kills the liar.
However, one of the man’s friends then challenged Torrens to a duel (the dishonor!) After a long duel, Torrens kills this man as well, and takes is sword.
Torrens intimidates another townsperson into revealing that the two people Torrens just killed were the thieves, and reveals where the horse can be found.
Torrens rests for a few days, recovering his health and his mind after the harrowing journey and awful duels. He can then turn his attention to helping Morell. He visits Morell and his wife. He has to convince them he’s not there to kill them, but, instead, to help them. He’s on a mission from Death. While they may be a bit weirded out by this, and have no idea what destiny would await Morell, they are happy for some help. In exchange for a place to stay, Torrens agrees to help Morrell with fishing until the path forward becomes clearer.
Torrens decides that a priest may be able to divine the destiny that Morell has. He visits the local priestess, and tries to persuade her. The priestess Brynn, it turns out, is an ambitious person and wants a position on the Council. After this is achieved, she will help Torrens divine Morell’s destiny. Torrens swears an iron vow to do this.
Torrens learns that the Council names their own members – not a great design, but one that is firmly entrenched in Mournwatch’s culture. So, Torrens must first persuade the Council to adopt Brynn as a member. Torrens first meets with the Council Chief, who agrees to let Torrens speak to the Council.
At the Council, Torrens spoke persuasively to convince them to allow Brynn to join. They agreed, but first Torrens must help the village reestablish the trade route between Mournwatch and Fort Frostmark, which has been blocked by Varou attacks. He swears an iron vow to do so.
Torrens learned that that the trade route lies on the border between two Varou tribes. If Torrens can encourage the tribes to attack each other, they may be so weakened by the battle that the trade route would be safe again – at least temporarily.
To accomplish this, Torrens began leaving each tribe’s mark in the other’s territory – but he was caught in the act by one of the Varou tribes. Torrens runs off, but was hurt in the process.
Back in Mournwatch, Torrens drummed up support among the villagers to attack the Varou. They agree, as long as Torrens leads the charge.
He does and a battle ensues. The Varou tribes are weakened enough by the battle that the trade route is reestablished. Torrens has now fulfilled two vows at once: the trade route is reestablished, and the Council has accepted Brynn.
Having achieved her seat on the Council, Brynn seeks to divine Morell’s purpose. She learns that Morell is destined to create a magical talisman that will create a mystical barrier that will protect Mournwatch from many horrific creatures. Brynn suggests that Torrens should talk to an Artificer who lives not too far from Mournwatch who may know how to make this talisman, or at least tell us what ingredients are needed.
Chapter 20 – Travel to Artificer
After a 6 day journey – which involved fighting a madman (one of what Ironlanders call The Broken), Torrens arrived at the Artificer’s home. Masias, the artificer, says that such a talisman is possible – but must be made from a whale bone, and blessed by a priest at one of the iron pillars that one can find spread throughout the Ironlands. Even then, it is not guaranteed to work.
Chapter 21 – Getting the Whale Bone
Morell and Torrens convinced a ship captain to take them whaling, on the condition that the captain gets to keep most of the whale while Morell and Torrens get only the bone. All agreed to this arrangement.
The expedition was quite short, as they found a whale on the first day. Morell harpoons the whale. Unfortunately, Torrens loses his sword off the edge of the ship.
Torrens and Morell took the bone to Masias, who carved into the necessary shape.
Torrens and Morell return to Mournwatch and ask Brynn to accompany them to one of the pillars to bless the talisman. She agreed to come, but wants Torrens to speak to the Council on her behalf to advance her position with the Council. He agreed to do so when they return.
Chapter 22 – The Road to the Pillar
The three of them traveled toward the pillar, but Brynn started to act nervous. Then, she ran off, just as two men come out of the woods. These men are brothers of one of the men that Torrens killed in a duel when he arrived in Mournwatch, and they want revenge. They attack, and break the whale bone. The battle is not going well, so Torrens and Morell run. They managed to escape, but now they need a new whale bone and a new priest. Torrens swore an iron vow to kill Brynn for her betrayal.
Chapter 23 – Dueling Brynn
They got back to town – badly wounded, but standing. Torrens took a couple of days to heal before he found Brynn and challenged her to a duel to the death.
The two of them fought, and Torrens was overcome by his wounds. While Brynn should not have been a difficult foe, Torrens’s old injuries kept him from being able to fight very well. Brynn managed to get the upper hand early in the fight, and though Torrens got several good hits in, he eventually passed out from his wounds, and Brynn put him to an end.
And, this time, the Keeper of Death did not come to his rescue.
I enjoyed this playthrough of Ironsworn. The system is very story-driven. The progress track system is interesting, but takes a bit to get used to. Let me explain:
Extended actions (quests, journeys, combat) are tracked on a progress track, which is ten boxes which you fill in as you progress. The goal is to get the progress track pretty full, and then you roll against the progress track to see if you successfully complete the quest/journey/combat.
Each extended action is given a rating – Troublesome, Dangerous, Formidable, Extreme, or Epic. These determine how quickly the track fills. Troublesome tasks fill 3 boxes at a time (so, to fully fill the track takes 4), Dangerous 2 at a time (5 to fill), Formidable 1 (10 to fill), Extreme 1/2 (20 to fill), and Epic 1/4 (40 to fill). Now, technically, you don’t have to fill the track completely to finish – you roll a d10 against the number of completely filled boxes, and each die that comes up less than the number of filled boxes is a success. 2 successes are a “strong hit” (really good outcome with no downside), 1 success a “weak hit” (success, but at a cost), and 0 successes a “miss” (failure, usually an expensive one).
There’s one thing you have to get used to with this system. It *feels* like the rating should be “difficulty”, but that’s not quite correct.
For battles, the foe’s rating determines both how many hits you have to get in AND how much harm the enemy does. So, “difficulty” is a good interpretation.
For journeys, the rating is much more a LENGTH thing than a difficulty.
Similarly, for quests/vows, the rating is about COMPLEXITY – that is, how many steps (in game terms, “milestones”) it will take to fulfill the vow – than necessarily “difficulty”. As I was playing, I found that I preferred to give vows a low rating – usually Troublesome – because most of the things I promised could be accomplished in 3-4 steps. Even the big “find a warrior for Newriver” quest, which I labeled as Extreme, should have had a lesser rating. To have a great chance of success, this would have to take 20 milestones. But, I didn’t get anywhere close to that. (I crossed off 1 1/2 boxes – 3 steps.) This makes me think that the big vows are supposed to be *much* bigger. Like, world-altering stuff. My problem is that I’m a very “small” RPGer – I tend to think in low power levels and local terms. So, I think of small goals for my characters (“I want a horse!”) rather than big ones (“I want to integrate the elves with human society!”).
Another thing I’ve learned about myself from this experience is that, when I’m soloing, I prefer to spend very little time making *decisions* in the gamemaster role, and want to stay in player mode as much as possible. So, I want to automate as much as possible, and not have to do too much interpretation.
Anyway, I enjoyed this experience, and there’s definitely a lot of potential here for an RPG soloist. And, hey, you can get PDFs of everything you need to play for free from DriveThruRPG and the Ironsworn website. That’s pretty awesome.
Originally, I planned to try Star Trek Adventures next, but that game seems to be impossible to play as a single character – in fact, the rules suggest that players will play multiple characters even if you have a bigger group. So, not a good match for soloing I suspect. But, I really want to do something scifi, so I found Cepheus, which seems much better suited to this purpose. (In fact, a recent issue of Cepheus Journal included rules for how to solo the game. I don’t know that I’ll use those right away, but it’s good to know they’re there!)