Starforged on a Camtono of Iron

In the vein of Bill’s The Veil on $20 a Day thread, I figured I would give my own rundown of Starforged. Starforged uses Ironsworn as a basis, but makes several improvements on that system based on observations of the creator and the player base, as well as other changes to gameplay and core assumptions to fit the space travel theme of the game. If you haven’t read Ironsworn before, go give it a look. It’s free.

The Basics

  • You are a spacebound hero sworn to undertake perilous quests for a displaced humanity. You explore uncharted space, build bonds with those you meet in your travels, and unravel the secrets of a mysterious galaxy. This game was inspired by Firefly, Star Wars, the Mandalorian, Alien, Dune, and the Expanse and can be used to tell stories like those (though not necessarily those stories).
  • The Setting is called the Forge, a cluster of space that humanoid has retreated to after the Fall (what caused that fall is determined during Session Zero along with other truths). It consists of four areas: The Terminus (the most populated and explored region of the Forge), the Outlands (the borderlands of the Terminus where settlers have set up scattered settlements on whatever habitable planets they could find), the Expanse (the largest section of the Forge, almost completely unexplored save for some isolated settlements, disconnected from the settled regions of the Forge), and the Void (the vast gulfs of nothing outside of the Forge, difficult to travel and barren save for a few isolated stars).
  • You play as Ironsworn: driven, competent, though imperfect individuals who have chosen to travel the stars of whatever reason you decide upon. The default setting assumes your character is human, but other than that you have free rein to decide who and what your character is and what being an Ironsworn means beyond “someone who swears vows and sees them through.”

Your Character

  • Each character has five stats which are used when rolling dice: Edge (quickness, agility, and prowess at ranged combat), Heart (courage, willpower, empathy, and loyalty), Iron (physical strength, agressiveness, and prowess at close combat), Shadow (sneakiness, deceptiveness, and cunning), and Wits (expertise, knowledge, and observation). These stats range from +1 to +3.
  • You also have several Conditions which track how your character is doing: Health (tracking your physical well being), Spirit (tracking your mental well being), Supply (tracking your available resources, shared between the entire group), and Momentum (tracking how well things are working in your favor, either spent to negate a bad roll or to hinder a good roll). Most conditions have tracks that range from 0 (bad) to +5 (great), while Momentum ranged from -6 (very bad) to +10 (very good).
  • These conditions can further be altered by Impacts: statuses which either prevent your conditions from being raised (such as Unprepared) or otherwise signify a long term detriment (such as Indebted). Each impact lowers your Maximum Momentum and lowers where your Momentum resets to after it is used.
  • In addition to stats, your character will start with three assets: special bonuses which represent companions, equipment, or special skills your Ironsworn has. For instance, your Ironsworn may be Augemented with advanced prosthetic or other mechanical enhancements, or they may be a Diplomat skilled as resolving disputes. These do many things from giving numerical bonuses to rolls, preventing major failure on certain rolls, or otherwise alter the rules of the game. These fall into five major categories: modules (which alter your starship in some way), support vehicles (which are vehicles you use in addition to your starship), companions (allies which assist you), paths (natural talent and learned skills of your Ironsworn), and deeds (Special assets which your Ironsworn must accomplish prerequisites, such as Face Death and live, before you can purchase them. You cannot start the game with these assets.).
  • Any gear not covered by Assets (above) provides narrative benefits. It enables you to make moves where that gear is important, or perhaps allows you to avoid the risky nature of a move altogether. The game recommends listing a couple of pieces of gear which would make sense for your character to have, but not necessary for game play.
  • Finally, you have three Legacies which track your accomplishments within the Forge: Quests (completing vows), Bonds (making friends), and Discoveries (exploring the unknown). Each time you fill a box on one of these Legacies, you receive 2 XP (used to upgrade your assets or to purchase new ones).

Launching Your Campaign

  • The game has a prescribed Session Zero in which the group determines several Truths about the setting to make sure everyone is on the same page and to inspire their characters. However, the default assumptions of the game are these (copied from the test document):
    • This is a perilous future. Two centuries ago, your people fled a cataclysm and settled a distant galaxy they call the Forge. This is a chaotic place full of dangers and mysteries.
    • This is a lonely future. With some possible exceptions (which you’ll identify as part of your own truths), humans are the only known intelligent life in this galaxy. Others once lived here, but only ruins and derelicts remain to mark their legacy.
    • This is a diverse future. There is a vibrant mix of people and cultures among the humans of the Forge.
    • This is a far-flung future. Settlements lie scattered and often isolated from one another. Your starship can travel at faster-than-light speeds, but it’s ponderously slow at a cosmic scale.
    • This is an unexplored future. Discoveries await. Even in settled regions, much of the Forge is unknown and uncharted.
    • This is a retro-future. Envision the technology you commonly interact with as only slightly advanced over today’s real-world technologies—or even a step back in some ways.
    • This is a scavenged future. It’s decaying, gritty, and used. Resources are scarce, and the people of the Forge cobble together what they can.
    • This is an unjust future. Within the Forge, those in power hoard resources, control technologies, and impose their will on others through force or cunning. Life can be harsh for those who lack influence.
    • This is a hopeful future. Despite these challenges, hope remains. Your sworn vows are a manifestation of that hope.
  • The Truths comprise of 14 different categories, each of which comes with three default options but can be answered however the group decides. These categories are: The Cataclysm, The Exodus, Communities, Iron, Laws, Religion, Magic, Communication and Data, Medicine, Artificial Intelligence, War, The Precursors, Lifeforms of the Forge, and the Horrors. Many of the default options also come with Quest Starters to inspire the group about what those options could look in game.
  • Once the Truths are determined, the players can then start to make characters. This involves envisioning the characters we wish to play, selecting assets, and setting your stats.
  • Next, the starting sector is created. This is done by determining a starting region (as above, either the Terminus, the Outlands, or the Expanse) and then creating a number of settlements depending on which region is select (many for Terminus, few for the Expanse).
  • Finally, the players decide upon their inciting incident: something to start the game off. There have been many suggestions in the Truths section above and probably some interesting ideas came up during character creation. If not, there is a table of random choices (there is always a table).

Gameplay in Depth

  • The core mechanic of the game is roll a single d6 plus a stat (your action die) against 2d10s (the challenge dice). If your action die exceeds both challenge dice, you have a Strong Hit (unmitigated success). If your action die exceeds one challenge die but matches or is lower than the other challenge die, you have a Weak Hit (mixed success). Finally, if your action die matches or is lower than both challenge dice, you have a Miss (a failure of some sort). If the challenge dice match, some sort of twist has occurred, either an opportunity (on a success) or a complication (on a miss) in addition to any other effects. No matter the number of bonuses you have on a roll, your action die’s final value can never exceed 10, meaning a double 10 on the challenge dice will always wreck your day.
  • Additionally, you will be tracking several Progress Tracks throughout the game. These tracks are a single row of ten boxes you fill in to advance towards a goal. Your Legacies (above) are Progress Tracks, as are your Vows. When completing a particular task, you will roll the challenge dice (as above) but use the number of marked boxes in place of your action die. This similarly allows for Strong Hit, Weak Hit, and Miss results. Generally you can do this whenever it makes sense in the narrative or whenever you want to.
  • Much like PbtA, Starforged has moves which may call for a roll of a particular stat (or an option of stats depending on the approach taken) as well as results for Strong and Weak Hits as well as Misses. Moves also may have no attached roll and may ask you to do something (such as marking the Impact Unprepared when your Supply condition reaches 0). These moves fall into several broad categories: Quest Moves (pertaining to swearing vows and fulfilling or forsaking them), Adventure Moves (a general category for anything that could happen at any time), Fate Moves (generally fulfilled by the GM when one is available), Connection Moves (pertaining to making and maintaining relationships with NPCs), Exploration Moves (handling traveling throughout the Forge), Combat Moves (for combat), Suffer Moves (telling you what to do when you suffer a particular sort of setback), Threshold Moves (for when something really bad happens, like death or desolation), Recover Moves (for when you need time to deal with suffering setbacks and generally require you to retreat back to a friendly settlement), and Legacy Moves (for when you fill a box on your Legacies tracks or someone new tracks up your character’s quest in their stead).

At this point, I’m sure folks have questions because I’m horrible at explaining things. Ask away.


So this sounds very cool and very systematic and very thought out and very processed and hits all the right SF buttons for me.

My question / concern is the game play, because it sounds… too much of all those sounds, reminding me a bit of some of the things about S&V that I found irksome. So… how does it play?

I have a combination of questions and previous experiences with Ironsworn. Mostly the questions here are “is this still how it is?”

  • I played IS with two other people, one of whom was GMing. What we found out very fast was that typical GM prep was meaningless, because the dice would try to steer you in their direction and there were enough specific moves to make that there was always the chance of this happening. Do the revised moves still work that way, e.g. “complete a journey” can just tell you “you fail, so the princess is in another castle”?
  • Here’s a screenshot of the stock moves, from Roll20. Has this list been shortened or unified, or is it still pretty much this?

  • What support is there for online play, or would we be doing this manually? I had a hard time keeping track of the basic moves even with Roll20’s assistance
  • Do you recommend doing this GM-less, or do you think it’d be better GMed?
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While I can only speak from my own experiences, I think it plays quite well. There is a core gameplay loop, but it being “swear vow > work at vow > pick up other vows (optional) > work more at vows > complete some vows > repeat” might feel better than S&V’s “downtime > mission > downtime ^ nebulous freeplay that encompasses everything” loop. For more details with it in play, I recommend taking a look at Doyce’s and my solo games. Certainly won’t be a 1:1 comparison between solo play and a traditional GM play, but it should at least give you some ideas.

I 100% agree with this, though I have found that playing this has lead to my GM prep in all games since then being less “prepare encounters and scenarios” and more "write down questions about the PCs that interest me (for instance, using our Masks game as an example “what is Joey willing to give up to return to be a normal kid”) and then using the rolls to insert those questions into the game where they make sense (“Joey rolled a miss and must face a startling revelation? Sounds like a cool place to insert my question in some form!”).

Let’s break out a couple of these moves and figure that out (these are going to look very familiar to anyone who knows Ironsworn, but I’m doing this more for folks like Dave who don’t know Ironsworn as well). When undertaking that journey, Starforged uses either the move Set a Course (if we’re undertaking a known route, which we will setup a couple during the beginning of the game and make more as we progress) or Undertake an Expedition (if we’re out making our own way)…

When you follow a known route through perilous space or across hazardous terrain, roll +supply.
On a strong hit, you reach your destination and the situation there favors you. Take +1 momentum.
On a weak hit, you arrive, but face a cost or complication. Choose one:

  • Suffer costs en route: Make a suffer move (-2), or two suffer moves (-1).
  • Face a complication at the destination: Envision what you encounter (Ask the Oracle if unsure).

On a miss, you are waylaid by a threat along the way, and must Pay the Price. If you survive, you may push on safely to your destination.

When you trailblaze a route through perilous space, journey over unexplored terrain, or survey a mysterious site, give the expedition a name and rank.
Then, for each segment of the expedition, envision your approach. If you…

  • Move at speed: Roll +edge
  • Keep under the radar: Roll +shadow
  • Stay vigilant: Roll +wits

On a strong hit, you reach a waypoint. Envision it (Ask the Oracle if unsure) and mark progress per the rank of your expedition.
On a weak hit, you reach a waypoint and mark progress, but must also choose one.

  • Suffer costs en route: Make a suffer move (-2), or two suffer moves (-1).
  • Face a complication at the waypoint: Envision what you encounter (Ask the
    Oracle if unsure).

On a miss, you are waylaid by a crisis, or arrive at a waypoint to confront a dire threat. Do not mark progress, and Pay the Price.

If we’re Undertaking an Expedition, we’re doing the whole Progress Track to see how far we are on our journey. Once we decide to see if we’ve made it to our destination (could be we’re only at 4/10 progress marked or 8/10), we use the Finish the Expedition move:

Progress Move
When your expedition comes to an end, roll the challenge dice and compare to your progress. Momentum is ignored on this roll.
On a strong hit, you reach your destination or complete your survey. Mark a reward on your discoveries legacy track per expedition’s rank: troublesome=1 tick; dangerous=2 ticks; formidable=1 box; extreme=2 boxes; epic=3 boxes.
On a weak hit, as above, but you face an unforeseen complication at the end of your expedition. Make the legacy reward one rank lower, and envision what you find (Ask the Oracle if unsure).
On a miss, your destination is lost to you, or you come to understand the true nature or cost of the expedition. If you recommit to the expedition, clear all but one progress box, and raise the rank by one (if not already epic).

So looking at the Finish the Expedition move, I can see that being interpreted as "you fail, so the princess is in another castle” but it could mean a lot more. Could be that you’ve reached a point in space where your jump drive would be dangerous so you have make the final leg at subluminal speeds (meaning you’re recommitting to the expedition). Could also mean that you reach your destination and it is surrounded by an orbital blockade (meaning you’ve come to understand the true nature or cost of the expedition) and so you have arrived but cannot reach your destination until you figure out what to do about the blockade (which doesn’t necessarily mean more Exploration). All are questions of context and what’s most interesting at the time.

The moves are slightly different in places (no Turn the Tide combat move anymore, none of the delve, rarity, failure, or threat moves have explicitly been ported over, but a lot of folks are using them regardless in the playtest because they add a lot to the game). That being said, there are a lot of moves (8 pages with an index in the playtest packet). Luckily, much like PbtA, this is certainly a game where if you forget a move exists in the moment, the game fails gracefully (meaning you could probably play like 80% of the game off of just Face Danger and still have fun).

There is a custom Starforged character sheet that’s been added to Roll20. I don’t think it’s been made public yet, but I have access to it.

With this many players, no I would not recommend doing this GM-less. Having a GM to facilitate gameplay, replace the envision and Ask the Oracle, and keep track of all the moves is probably the best here. That being said, I don’t think I’ve explicitly said I wouldn’t mind running this for a while to see what folks think (though I think I implied it), but I will now.

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My impression continues to be “There’s a table and roll for everything, and you will be doing a lot of that,” all the way down to name selections That may be because of the solo gameplay in the posts, though (along with a desire to work the game system as a test, vs more natural accomodation if running in a group for fun).

I think I’m game to give it a go, esp. if …

I’ll touch base with Margie to confirm.

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I will totally admit that for my solo run, I rolled for everything I love random tables and how they can spark some inspiration in a void. With a group of players, there would probably be less of that (though a non-zero amount), seeing as how you now have other people’s thoughts, ideas, and jokes to spark inspiration.

It also doesn’t help my random table addiction that people made cool tools like 0RACLE.

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I think my big fear here isn’t that we’ll forget the moves, but that we’ll get sucked into over-analyzing them, e.g. “I could just roll this but I have an asset that will give me a bonus but only if I spend supply, which is shared so I wanted to ask everyone if that’s okay, and on the other hand we might want to save it for later…”

That tendency + lots of moves = molasses game pace

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Not going to disagree because analysis paralysis is a thing, but I feel like it both is going to be an issue no matter what game we play (if it’s not “which move to be rolled” it’s going to be “what action do I take” and that’s the same thing really).

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