Friday, August 13, 2021

Ironsworn: Wolf and Cat, log 1

 I recently started playing Ironsworn, and I think I'm going to post my game logs here.  


My character is Oddi Ice-Chosen. As a child, he nearly died after sinking beneath the ice of Bitter Lake. He was rescued by Kasju Frystgrotta, a Firstborn sorceress who invoked some ancient tradition to basically claim him as an apprentice for 12 years, and just took him away from his family. Kasju is his best friend, but she's also the cold-hearted monster that kidnapped him, so some component of that friendship is manipulative and Stockholm Syndrome-esque. About 10 sessions into the campaign I discovered (because Ironsworn likes to surprise you) that there's more to this backstory that I hadn't originally intended, so Oddi's parents actually shoulder a fair amount of the burden and blame for their kid being taken away. It's complicated.

Mechanically, Oddi's stats are:

Edge:3     Heart: 2    Iron: 1    Shadow: 1    Wits: 2

So he's fast and clever. His stats were actually a little different than that for the first few sessions, but I found that my original stats didn't really capture what I wanted the character to be. I'd accidentally made him stronger physically than intended, and worse with people. After a couple short sessions I realized that the fiction and mechanics were misaligned, so I swapped to the stat array above, and everything flowed much better thereafter. 

For Assets, I chose:

Path: Storyweaver - Oddi's head is full of myths, legends, folktales, and the secret teachings that Kasju has passed down to him. He tells tales and speaks in parables, and sometimes gets mechanical bonuses for it. It also means that I'm constantly doing little bits of world-building by inventing Heroes and Gods for my version of the Ironlands, which a hell of a lot of fun.

Companion: Cave Lion - His pet's name is Sammutisel, and he's a ferocious kitty.  

Ritual: Bind - Oddi knows how to invest the power of the moon in his enchanted wolf-pelt, which makes him much better at fighting and general speed and agility (aka Edge)... until I roll a "1" and the magic goes out of the pelt for the rest of the day, at which time things generally get painful. In theory, this could be combined with other pelts to gain boosts to my other stats, but early in the campaign I tried to get myself a bear-pelt and nearly died when I failed, so that may not happen again for a while.

His starting Vow is about a weird prophecy that was probably too abstract, and if I had to do it over again I'd chose something a bit more concrete and solvable. I'm like 16 (short) sessions in, and only have 1 XP at this point, so lesson learned: make your initial situation more actionable and straight-forward next time. None the less, I'm having a lot of fun.


The Ironlands are basically a low-fantasy version of Scandinavia, with the humans being vaguely-nordic / vaguely-viking, with a bit of magic and "here be monsters" scribbled liberally across the map. There's a system where you customize the world a little before play. Rather than lay out all the choices I made in that, I'll just list 2 elements that chose that I feel are most relevant to my tale thus far. 

1) I chose to make the monsters a little more rare than default, I think. My character's "mentor" is the Firstborn sorceress who saved his life and also kind of kidnapped him. She's a bit like Circe from the Odyssey. That style of rare semi-divine semi-monstrous witch-people is how I see the Firstborn in my version of the setting. There's ruins that suggest they were once more numerous, but I don't expect to end up in a village or city of elves ever, because I think there's probably a few dozen of them on the continent, all of whom are impossibly old and powerful. 

2) There are Iron Pillars of unknown origin scattered about the countryside, with poorly-documented supernatural qualities. This is one of the standard options for Ironsworn, and it seemed really neat to me. Some people fear the pillars, others swear unbreakable oaths upon them.


I wrote this before the first actual play session, just trying to get a feel for the character and his janky starting Vow. It's entirely scripted, and doesn't involve any actual gameplay. Here goes:

It begins with a vision. Oddi Ice-Chosen is in the room of fire within the ice, the steaming pit in the frozen cave. He is naked, leaning over the sputtering geothermal vent, Kasju Frystgrotta clutching his hair in her icy ancient talons to hold him back from plunging facefirst into the steaming hellhole. Tonight, they hope to see that which has been denied for 2 years and 10. Tonight, aware that their time together would soon be at an end, she rode him harder for a vision than ever before. This is not their usual sweat-session followed by a dance under the moon or a dip in the cool. This is prolonged staring into the mouth of the volcano and daring the gods to punish them for the audacity of wanting to understand. This recklessness has even Sammutisel wound up and pacing in the corner of the cave, growling, sometimes hissing back at the geyser-mist.

Oddi's mind is swirling and fevered, thanks to the fumes, and the blood. Thanks also to the boiled-root potions, and the heedless daring of the ritual. It starts with the same visions as ever before, the ghostly glimpses never in focus. The point of this, Oddi thinks, is to coax up more details of the Great Ruler, the mighty King that will one day unite all the Circles of the Ironlands against the Great Evil and usher in an age of prosperity. Oddi is not that Great Ruler destined to arrive. He was hopeful at first, feeling special and chosen, after his descent into the frozen depths of Bitter Lake. But as the visions accumulated over 10 years and 2, it became clear that his lot is the footnote of history. He is not the chosen king, but one day he will be the advisor to that Great Ruler. The wizard who helps to place His Majesty upon that Royal Pillar.

Always, the face of the Great King is obscured. The throne and crown upon the pillar are clear enough,  the baldachin that hangs over and surrounds them is vivid despite Oddi never having seen one with his physical eyes. He see the mighty army that marches at the Great Ruler's back, feel it's marching shake the earth. Meetings and maps, tales and advice, spells and suggestions -- a million tiny details pop randomly into clarity. but the Great King himself is always out of focus.

Tonight, despite pushing harder than before, the Great King still remains a distant image at the corner of the eye. Someone else is at the center of the vision tonight. A terrible soldier in strange armor lumbers into the main view. Dark and menacing, monstrous and inhuman, alien and ironclad. It has a strange sigil on it's shield, a painting of an open wound or a blood-shot eye, surrounded by flaking pallid flesh. Once or twice before he'd seen this warrior moving about a battlefield at the edge of a vision, seen at a distance or an angle its strange metal and too-detailed heraldry as it cuts down the footmen of the Great King. Oddi's face now red and feeling scalded from the mineral vent threatening to explode, he sees not the King at all, but only this foul and bloodsick warrior.

Most of the shields that Oddi has seen with his physical eyes are just simply painted. Quartered or striped, maybe marked with the runes of the people of his birth. The Bloodsick Warrior's shield is transformative. Limbs and organs painted so vividly they seem to be alive, like the shield itself is a disemboweled vampire in its pain-maddened death-throes and bloody thirst.  It kills and it feasts and even when bit by a hero's blade, the monster leaks new evils into the world. The shield is a warning.

Oddi Ice-Chosen gasps, the hot humid gout of musty air filling his head with fever-pain and images of entire Circles slaughtered. The Bloodsick Warrior leans back, coiling to unleash a body-shattering blow coming right at Oddi's head with its stolen blade. The hammered metal glints in the light from the ritual fires in the cave, or entire villages put to the torch in the dreamland. In that gleaming fire, Oddi Ice-Chosen suddenly knows that blade. It's a sword he hasn't seen in 2 years and 10. His father's sword. Oddi cries out, and Kasju lifts his almost molten body out of the fumes. He shudders and collapses into her frail-looking but anciently-strong arms, their sweating bodies pressed together until they stick. She of ice, he of fire, steaming where they couple.

"Home!" he gasps, and behind them the geyser sprays a deadly mist to the area where he had been just a few moments earlier. She rolls him over and presses her frost-cold almost-human brow to his. The vent sputters, a Cave Lion growls, and the Firstborn sorceress whispers that she longs to know what he saw. Her exquisite inhuman flesh always has a faint irridescent shine, which time spent near the vent intensifies. The moisture and residue, and poor lighting of this part of the cavern, completely concealed the tears in the corner of Kasju's eyes, so that even face-to-face, Oddi was unable to recognize them. In their more than a decade together, he'd never seen her cry.

"The family you took me from," he says, focused on his own pains and losses. "They're in great danger. The whole village, all of Forgotten Despair. I have to go help them, try to save my family." He rolls over and starts to stand up.

"Not so fast, my love." Purring like the Cave Lion that watches them the edge of the room, Kasju slides her long cold fingers along his neck, pressure more than a caress, but not what would normally seems like a threat either. To his tender heat-marked skin, her icicle claws are almost as sharp as Sammutisel's.  She pulls him closer and whispers in his ear "I told your family that if I saved your life, I would take you as my apprentice for 2 years and 10. That means you belong to me for 3 more days, and most importantly 3 more nights. Only when I'm done with you, can you go save your home."

 Session 1:

This is a really tiny first play session, coming as it did on the tail of character creation and that overwrought prologue.  Date: 7/26/2021. 

A few hours later, I, Oddi Ice-Chosen, pack up my belongings, and try to sneak out while Kasju Frystgrotta is sleeping. Sammutisel stalks me, the great cat knowing something is wrong.

Secure an Advantage. Strong. +2 momentum.  (Moves and die-rolls will generally be recorded like this in my log. Minimal rules baggage so the reader can understand what's happening if you're familiar with the game, but hopefully not too disruptive to the narrative. Name of the Move, then Strong Hit / Weak Hit / Miss as appropriate, and any interesting benefits or consequences. Then back to the narrative.)

I fool myself into thinking I'm getting out without Kasju noticing, 2 days before his apprenticeship is over, but she's well aware. I slip out of the cave, and down the trail a hundred yards to the clearing where an ancient Iron Pillar points to the heavens. A swearing post. Sammutisel comes loping out of the underbrush, getting ahead of me and cutting off the path that leads back to the village of my youth.  Thinking I've been caught and am about to be dragged back to the cave by the talons of cat or firstborn, I sprint to the swearing post. Getting there before anything can drag me away, I declare a Vow to the heavens "I promise I will fight to save the village of Forgotten Despair from The Bloodsick Warrior, the sword-stealer who bleeds monsters, or I will die trying! Now it's too late Kasju, you can't keep me here forever. Oath-breakers magic is tainted, so I'm useless to you if you don't let me go."

Swear an Iron Vow: Strong. +2 Momentum. I know I must head South immediately.

"Oddi, my love," she says sweetly as she steps out from a tree, with leaves dying in her hair and a wolfskin wrapped around her shoulders. "You were never my prisoner. We are both fate's prisoners. Go. Go to your parents. Go to Forgotten Despair, with my blessing. Do what you can for your birth-people. Sammutisel will go with you, to keep you safe, and help you save those that you can. And take this too," she says, removing the wolfskin cloak and exposing her opalescent Firstborn flesh, frost forming on it in the evening breeze. "Remember what you left behind, and think of me whenever you dance the moon's magic into it."

I take it. "Thank you. I will... miss you. You have been..."

"I am... And this is not goodbye, not forever. There are 2 more days of our contract. You can travel now with my blessing, attend your emergency and fulfill your vows. Know though, that the arrangements such as ours are not easily sundered. Not long after your family honor has been satisfied, fate will bring us together again for at least the 2 more days I am owed, and maybe the 2 nights as well if we are lucky."

Undertake a Journey from Frozen Cave of Zhan to Forgotten Despair. Formidable progress track.  Weak Hit: spend 1 supply. Get to a Waypoint.  

It's an exposed archway of rock that I can use as a bridge over the river. It's trickier than I remember, as I've always had Kasju with me when crossing it before, and she's so light on her feet. If I slip, it will be into water, but we are close to the rapids. I get out my vine rope, and tie it to the tree at the top of the cliff so I can't be swept downstream.

And that's as far as a I got in Session #1, just the first waypoint of my first journey. Nothing terribly exciting yet, but I was already hooked, and I did another short session the next evening, which I will probably blog here in a few days. And if you read my previous post where I was gushing about how this solitaire RPG feels like collaboration, you're probably reading this first session now and wondering what the heck I was talking about. This is just bad fan-fiction, nothing that special. True, this first session was just me scripting away, and kinda clunky because of that. The magic happens in later sessions, when the game jumps in to ruin Oddi's day and insist the narrative goes places I wasn't expecting. It's gonna emulate the hell out that GM.

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