My Experience playing Ironsworn in Co-Op Mode (Why you should try it!)
All images were taken from the Ironsworn core rulebook with permission from its creator
So, after getting some time playing Solo Ironsworn I managed to convince two of my friends to try it out. I would finally be able to try out the Co-Op mode of play. To be honest, I believe the GM mode goes a bit against the whole concept of the game, and didn’t catch that much my attention. On the other hand, the Co-Op mode was the one I was really looking forward to trying out. I need to give a shoutout to my friends Cristian and Nahuel for coming into the game and play around 6 sessions together.
Where can I get the game?
If you enjoy the game, make sure to follow its game designer Shawn Tomkin on Twitter @ShawnTomkin. He is now creating a new supplement for Ironsworn to play space-themed games! Another great way to know more about his creations is to enter the Discord server. I’ve even received answers from him in there when I didn’t fully understand a ruling in the game.
A brief idea of what Ironsworn actually is
Now that I have a better grasp on the rules system, I believe I can give a better description on what the game is about, both from the Solo perspective and the Co-Op one. I will be focusing on the multiplayer part of the game in this article as I’ve already written a whole article about how the game works in Solo mode. What’s more, having to condense as much information as possible in just a few paragraphs to make an elevator pitch for my friends will make this whole process a lot easier.
Ok, let’s sum up the game in as few words as possible: Ironsworn is a game about people reaching a new land and having to discover/live in it. You play as a human in this Viking-themed game with a whole set of abilities. This game creates a sandbox for you to create your character and run a campaign with some friends. You as a party or individually create your own objectives, but the core idea is that you remain together, be it as a clan, as family, or just a group of friends exploring the lands. Some people (the Firstborn) lived here before you arrived. You can determine if you want to start your campaign when your clan first arrived, or centuries after that when civilizations have grown. You set your own difficulty to the game through a list of mechanics. You play to have fun and create a compelling and memorable story.
As a group, your character and your friends’ will travel together and share resources. However, all of you individually have your own Health (the equivalent to hp), Spirit (what some other games call sanity), and Momentum. Momentum is one of the most important and predominant parts of the game. It’s pretty much what one would expect from reading it: The momentum tracks how well you are doing in-game. When you succeed at something, most of the time you gain momentum. Having a high level of it means there’s a high chance you will continue to succeed. The moment you roll badly, you can decide to burn it, resetting the momentum level you had. Just as you would expect, low momentum is something you don’t want to have, and once you are stuck with it, it takes some effort to increase its number again. You’ll be gaining, losing, and burning momentum all the time during the game.
Once we’ve talked about that we need to get to the important stuff. Let’s start with Progress as it is that what the whole game revolves around. When you set an objective, be it helping a farmer, traveling from one place to another, killing a monster, or trying to fulfill an epic prophecy you start doing progress in it. Every time you get closer to completing it, you make progress. You can have your own personal Progress in something or one you share with your group. How do you know how much progress you are making, and when you do it? That’s where Moves come in. They are a mechanic in the game that appears in the form of a series of cards. These basically say “If you are trying to do this, roll that, and depending on the result do one of the following things”. Once you set yourself to do pretty much anything in the game, you look through the Moves and do whatever it tells you to do. They often involve rolling some dice to determine the results. One very common example is to advance in your quests, marking progress. Thus, the game consists of jumping from one move to the next while narrating the results. However, this is also used to track combat, explore areas, or interact with people. Once you understand how those two things work, all the rest are just variations of them. Know that the fact that the whole game revolves around two mechanics makes it simple, but it allows a huge amount of depth.
You came to this article specifically to understand how the game plays co-operatively. Let’s stop talking about mechanics and go to the fun part. As a group of Ironsworns, you set your own missions. Are you a Monster Hunter (in this game called a Slayer) looking for a dragon to hunt? You can set that as your objective. If your group agrees to it, they can too swear a vow saying they will help you accomplish it. If you believe that’s a thing your character can or would want to do on their own, ask your other players if they would mind if you play a solo session on your own before you meet again in which you can go hunt the beast. The fact that this is a GM-less game allows for these kinds of opportunities to take place. While it is better to go as a group you can decide to have your own personal adventures between sessions.
Another thing I ended up enjoying was creating a single journal of our travels with my friends, written from our character’s perspective. Once at the beginning of each session we would roll to see who got to tell the story of what transpired during the session from their point of view. This not only created a log of our story but was also a way to better get to know our characters by writing in their voice. This is something that we came up with, which I didn’t see written in the rules. I do recommend very much doing it with your friends.
I could talk quite a lot about the oracle, but I did a pretty great job doing so in the Solo article, so this time I will only explain the basics for those who didn’t read it. Then I will continue to explain why I added the oracle as a subsection inside “Playing Co-Op” instead of as its own thing.
The oracle is a series of tables located on the rules you can roll on whenever you need to determine what happens next in the story. This is to be used only when you don’t know of anything that could happen next, or the possible things to happen are extremely broad. In a way, this table works similarly to those inspiration dice that have images you need to interpret. You ask the oracle a question, roll on one of the tables that make the more sense and interpret the result.
What is it that is so great about the oracle system when playing Co-Op? When playing Solo, it is just you trying to interpret the rolls, and whatever you decide is the final result. However, when you are playing with a group of friends, every roll on the oracle tables becomes a moment in which you all brainstorm what the result could mean. One may come to an idea only to have it further developed in a better way by some other person. This creates extremely imaginative stories that will be extremely difficult to come out from a single brain. The same thing happens when worldbuilding with other people in this game. The world we came with is far more complex than the one I created on my own when playing solo.
Our Co-Op Experience
In order for you to see the awesome kind of stories you can build and play with this system, I’m going to tell you a brief tale of Delkor, Gandalf and Sendra:
Delkor, Gandalf and Sendra had a great voyage before them. They’ve already sworn to the Ironmongers (the leaders of a tribe) they would reach Gamanna, the elven land to uncover the true powers of the iron. While Gandalf was a firm believer of its magic, Delkor considered all behind the iron and the runes inscribed in them superstition. Sendra came with the two looking to protect them and discover great beasts to hunt in the way.
Upon long travels with Delkor as the wayfinder the three Ironsworns came upon a raider trying to deal a killing blow to an elven explorer. When all seemed lost to the raider, he grasped his second wind, broke one of Sendra’s swords, and ran away, sticking a handaxe on the elven’s neck on its way. The battle was lost, and the hostage was killed. Luckily, beyond the loss of honor, the elf carried a map of the zone with them indicating where the elven village of Sumaris was hidden. Sumaris was located on a long-forgotten battleground between the Firstborn and some previous raiders. The spirits of the dead came back to live within the zone, catching the attention of the nearby elves, who went to protect and live with them in this swampy region. When the adventurers went to the place seeking help they were denied entrance by their leader, only letting them in if they brought one the raiders alive to use as a hostage.
The three Ironlanders accomplished their task at hand, battling against dangerous giant spiders on the way. Once they came back to Sumaris, a dangerous festival involving the spirits was taking place in there. This meant they wouldn’t be able to spend the night in it. After some rest, the three of them decided that the best plan for the moment was to go look for Khoz to forge a new sword for Sendra. Khoz are giant rhino-like creatures that eat scraps of iron. These tiny pieces of iron are then what grows on their front to take the form of one big iron horn. Magnificent creatures to be sure, but also extremely dangerous and valuable. Therefore, our intrepid group of adventurers traveled east in search for them.
One day east, the “circle” as the inhabitants call it of Raven’s Hope laid. It was an incredibly big village with much more people in one same place the three of them had ever seen. The Ironmonger Indirra presented herself to the three adventurers and pointed towards the place Khoz were last seen three days northeast. It was time to travel again. Halfway there, a desolate part of the forest appeared next to a small hill. Not even birds were in the area. Among the silence, a great figure came from a cave. It was a bear full of scars and marks. Legend told it was the one that ate all animals in the area. Now it has come for the three adventurers, and there was no other option but to fight. Some heavy damage was dealt to the bear. Suddenly, in a furious rage, it charged over the wounded Delkor who had been maimed in a previous encounter. Delkor went down. Serious wounds marked the whole back of the bear by all the attacks Gandalf and Sendra made. Nothing was enough to take down the beast. Sendra went down as well, leaving only the wounded Gandalf fighting for survival. Both the beast and him were at the brink of death, but Gandalf sure knew he wouldn’t survive another deadly bite or scratch. When the bear went to deal the killing blow on Delkor, Gandalf took Sendra and retreated.
A great partner was lost along the way. A deadly creature had taken him. It was now two Ironsworns traveling together. Tail between their legs they limply returned to Raven’s Hope for medical treatment. That bear would go down… I SWEAR UPON THEE OH ALL MIGHTY IRON.
Just so you know, Delkor was my character. That means that’s the second character I create for this game and goes down. Again, that’s pretty far from the norm. It’s just that in that last encounter we all rolled poorly. On the good side, it did create an extremely interesting plotline. This exploration story became a tale of revenge against a powerful bear of past tales. This, the town of Sumaris… They would never have come up on my own by just rolling on the oracle table. It was the brainstorming experience amongst my friends that helped create it.
While playing Ironsworn Solo can be a great experience when you have no one to play with, co-op in my opinion makes the game even better. The sole aspect of being able to throw out ideas between each other until you come with the perfect one for the story creates something magic in the game. Even if you are with one other person, be it your SO, sibling, parent, or someone else, I suggest you give this game and game mode a try. If all this I wrote wasn’t enough to convince you, read this heartwarming tale I saw not long ago on credit sharing their tale and how much it impacted their life.
Well… We’ve read quite a lot about my stories in Ironsworn. Now I want to read about yours! Share some great memory or story you played co-operatively in Ironsworn in the comments below! It might spark some inspiration to some other reader or give a better idea of what the game could be about.
If you liked this
Looking to learn more about the game? In case you didn’t notice with all the links I dropped along this article, I wrote a separate one telling you the reader why you should try out Ironsworn’s Solo mode. You can read it by clicking RIGHT HERE