Solo Tabletop RPG Review – Ironsworn Part Two

Ironsworn (Tomkin Press) Part Two
Designed & Written by Sean Tomkins
You can download Ironsworn for FREE here.

Read Part One for a brief overview of the rules for Ironsworn.

To play Ironsworn, I used a remarkable and free online play resource called Iron Journal. First, I chose the Truths for my version of the Ironlands default setting. These are as follows in a more summarized version than the game presents them:

The Old World: There was a pandemic that ravaged our homelands, and people fled in droves; many were tossed overboard when they were found to be sick, and those who survived have carved out a home in this new, rough land.

Iron: The weather here is brutal, and the sun rarely breaks through the clouds. Those who make it here that can survive the long winters are said to be made of iron.

Legacies: Another race of ancient people once lived in large numbers in the Ironlands, older than the elves even. The landscape is dotted with the ruins of their civilization.

Communities: Our people have tamed a good portion of the Ironlands to the point there is an established system of roads between major towns. Trade caravans can go back and forth all year, but there are still large swaths of the wild.

Leaders – Each community has its own specific form of leadership, sharing characteristics with other villages. In some, there is a patriarchal or matriarchal clan leader. In others, there are councils of elders. In more still, the priests command the people while some settle conflicts in fights to the death.

Defense: All communities have the presence of wardens, figures not directly affiliated with these places but who have vowed to defend the expansion of humans in this dangerous world. They take the watch at night and journey into the wild to beat back what they see as threats.

Mysticism: Our people brought their own magic & beliefs, which have intermingled with magic that courses through the Ironlands. To harness this power would take tremendous devotion, but it is there for anyone willing.

Religion: Some people still honor the old gods, and others give up on them. Prayers don’t go far in the Ironlands.

Firstborn: You might call them elves & dwarves; they passed long ago. There are stories of remnants and small tribes out there in the wilds. Most of us believe they were just a story.

Beasts: Monstrous beasts can be found if you stray far from the roads; they are always hungry.

Horrors: In the dark forests & in the shadows of night, strange things walk. When the sun goes down, most people stay inside, knowing they are safe as long as the fire burns in the hearth.

I used the Ironsworn Generators created by rsek to give me the name, stats, asset choices, and bonds for my character to make it even more random and to challenge myself. So here she is:

Etana is most skilled when it comes to Shadow. She grew up in the village of Darkmoor, located in the shadow of The Veiled Mountains. The community depends mainly on agriculture and sheep to sustain itself. Etana’s grandfather was a retired warden who settled here and trained his granddaughters in combat to protect themselves. Etana excelled at the bow, and she hit nearly every target her grandfather put up. However, Etana and her little sister, Milenna, became dissatisfied with life in Darkmoor, distant and disconnected from the rest of the world. When they were old enough, they ran away, following the roads and having quite a bit of luck in avoiding danger. 

Eventually, they came to make Lostmark their home, a large settlement in The Havens. Lostmark is protected by the wardens from outside threats, but within, there is no clear leadership, with several gangs vying for control of districts. Etana realized early on that joining one of the gangs would be their path to stability, so she bid for The Onyx Wolves. Membership in their gang promised a warm place to sleep and two meals a day, something not guaranteed in these times otherwise. Part of the initiation involved Etana collecting a debt for the gang, and this debt was owed by Sadia, a local actress who owed the Wolves money for making sure a rival met an untimely end. Sadia couldn’t pay, and Etana was meant to collect it. Unfortunately, things went wrong, and Etana’s blade found Sadia’s gut. The young woman fled, but the magic in the land tied Sadia’s spirit to Etana. When she performs a ritual that sends her into a trance, she can commune with Sadia’s ghost, who, by the benefit of being dead, can see what the living cannot. 

While in Lostmark, Etana also met Sayer, a stout pitbull who lived on the streets. He proved more intelligent than she first assumed and has become a constant companion ever since. But things got worse when Milenna was abducted off the streets by slavers. It wasn’t uncommon, but Etana had thought being affiliated with The Onyx Wolves would protect them. Not knowing what to do, she decided that returning home to her grandfather was her only option. He had been a warden; he would help. However, this sudden unannounced departure angered the Wolves, leaving Etana with the knowledge she could never return here or meet with their wrath. 

The journey was long, but eventually, Etana returned to Darkmoor. To her surprise, she finds the town completely abandoned. She and Sayer wander the streets looking for anyone and almost give up hope until they come across Zantia. Zantia is a shepherd who was out overnight with her family’s flock in the fields. When she returned in the morning, everyone was gone. Etana also crosses passes with Haleema, a professional beast hunter passing through The Veiled Mountains on the hunt for a monstrous silver bear. He’s a slimy figure, and Etana mistrusts him immediately when she catches him being cruel to Sayer.

Zanita eventually reveals that about three days before the disappearance, a masked person showed up in Darkmoor. They claimed to be part of a tribe in the mountains who needed food and water as aid. The elders of Darkmoor did not trust this person and cast them out; the figure promised revenge. Etana realizes this must somehow be connected to the vanishing. After a night’s rest in her grandfather’s cabin on the edges of town & conferring things with Sadia’s spirit, Etana realizes the tracking skills he taught her will be necessary to find the culprit. 

This journey is put on hold when Etana, Sayer, and Zanita discover the ravenous silver bear tearing apart a cow that got loose and was wandering the streets. Etana has to stalk the creature; using the buildings as cover, she can line up a shot that blinds the bear’s left eye. He lets out a roar and charges away, confused & enraged. Etana and Zanita gather supplies for the journey into the mountains but run afoul of Hilemma, whom they believed had left town. He found the cow’s carcass and a trail of blood which infuriated him. He sees Etana as having stolen his prey from him, complicating his hunt. He threatens Zanita, but Etana launches an arrow into his arm, crippling his dominant hand. Hilemma is ready to kill them both when the silver bear returns and decapitates the hunter with a single swipe of his massive paw. Then the bear speaks with the voice of another, telling the two women that he awaits them in the valley of the dead before lumbering off towards the Veiled Mountains.

After wandering for half a day in a valley forest, the trio discovers a traveler’s path worn in the grass. A caravan is passing, coming from the north. They appear to carry many wounded people, but they aren’t soldiers, just settlers. Lonn, a warden traveling with the caravan, explains to Etana that they had founded a settlement on the edge of the northern pole named Frosthope. Precious ores had been discovered in the area, and a moderate mining operation had been set up with plans for expansion as more were unearthed. However, as they dug deeper, something was awakened. At night, creatures would crawl out of the mines and drag away anyone foolish enough to be out. A quarter of the settlers were taken, which was when it was decided to abandon Frosthope and head south. Communion with Sadia makes Etana sure this incident and what happened to Darkmoor are connected.

Wading back into the forest, Etana and friends eventually discover a river valley. It is completely silent here, with no birds or insect sounds. Sayer goes out to scout and, moments later, rushes back, pursued by three Bonewalkers. They are clad in weathered leather armor and carry rusted & broken weapons. Etana sees they are focused on Sayer and flanks them, managing to take out one. They charge at Etana, which only makes Sayer want to protect her more. The fight ends when one Bonewalker scoops up Sayer and rushes downriver with Etana and Zanita in pursuit.

The women give chase and eventually crest a hill to discover an ancient battlefield laid out before them. The grass is withered yellow and dead. Dozens of other Bonewalkers wander mindlessly around the field, mimicking the battles that killed them repeatedly. Etana spots the Bonewalker holding Sayer, who delivers their dog to a person in an ornate golden mask and golden robe. Etana goes into her ritual with Sadia and learns from the spirit that this is an ancient elven king surrounded by powerful dark magic. There was a war when others sought to take power from the king and, to make sure he could never lose it, cursed the lands with blight. He cannot die now, but he also cannot feel the pleasures he once had as a genuine living soul. So he now collects souls and has them perform for his benefit. 

Etana notices some skeletons on the fringe of the battlefield that are not moving about and slips on the armor it wears. She makes sure to smear some of the rot that covers the battlefield on her and is determined to get her dog back. Etana successfully navigates this potential minefield, and just before she can get to her dog, a tangle of Bonewalkers caught up in a recreation of their fight pull her in too. Etana uses her dagger to cut her way out of it all. Lining up her shot, she aims at the masked elven king performing a rite over Sayer, likely to turn him into his thrall. The arrow temporarily binds the elf’s hands together, and Sayer snaps out of it, rushing to Etana’s side. 

A necklace hangs around the elven king’s neck, and on it is a blue crystalline orb that hums with the aura of life. Etana knows in her soul that this is where the people of Darkmoor are being kept. She got close enough to snap the chain and take the necklace. Etana and her companions run like never before, pursued by hordes of Bonewalkers now directed at them like arrows by the dark king. The roars of the elven king echo across the valley and then fade, Etana realizing that this necklace was holding the monster’s current form together. He’ll be back.

Resting in Darkmoor, Etana admits she has no idea how to help extract the people from this blue orb. Sadia explains that the elf king was keeping them alive while trapped, and now that he is gone, a clock is ticking. Their life forces will fade unless Etana can find someone skilled in old magic to release them. It’s known that the largest elvish cities were in The Deep Wilds to the west, where Etana must pack up and head to next for help. 

And that is where I will leave my Ironsworn story for now. I am not a big reader of fantasy lit, so I struggled to develop plot points but leaned on the significant number of Oracles that Sean Tomkins provides in the game for inspiration. I don’t know if I will return to this one, but if I do, you will see the continuing adventures of Etana here.


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