Starforged is a TTRPG game with a focus on narrative and is very well designed for (not only) solo play. This post is the first in a series of my play reports. Let’s see which stories are going to unfold.
This article is Part 1 in a 2-Part Series.
- Part 1 -Starforged: Valentin Sikorski (Sessions 0+1)
- Part 2 -Starforged: Valentin Sikorski (Session 2)
There are never enough hobbies for Josef. In particular, I enjoy revisiting the hobbies I had and left in my younghood. Recently, I dove into the world of Pen And Paper adventures, or tabletop role-playing games, if you say so. Most of that is theoretical: reading through interesting game systems and settings (oh my god, they’re so many interesting systems out there!). I have a little bit of real-world play as well. Nevertheless, today I would like to focus on solo play. I have only recently noticed that it is a thing to play TTRPG on your own. And when I read Ironsworn rules, I realized I am indeed interested in trying it out. Maybe only if the setting was a bit more interesting, like steam punk, sci-fi or something alike.
Well, Starforged, a Sci-Fi version of Ironsworn was released last Friday (digitally). Both games are made by Shawn Tomkin and they are amazing. Really, everything about the games is great. Design, execution, art. Perfect. They are worth every cent (and the original book of Ironsworn is even free to download).
I don’t really want to waste space and time by describing what the game is about. There are plenty of sources which are going to do a much better job at that. If you don’t know the game, I suggest reading at least the information on the website to have a rough idea before proceeding. Maybe watch an actual play video or something along those lines, I do not plan to go into explaining how the mechanics of the game work.
I am eager to explore the game and the stories it could help to create, though. I figured I could write down some kind of play report, maybe a journal of the character as they go through the campaign. I am not going to attempt to write high-quality prose because that requires a lot of effort and focus. But I’ll try to make it at least a little bit readable.
This post contains first two sessions:
- Session 0: a preparation for the actual game, which is a game as well
- Session 1: my first, clumsy session. It’s in a way a prologue and the interesting stuff starts in the next session.
The first part is all about preparation setting, starting sector and character.
“Truths” are facts (or at least, wide spread believes) about the universe the story is going to take place in. My truths are chosen as follows (note that the text of the truths is copy&pasted from the game rules and shared under [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license], they are created by Shawn Tomkin)
We fled the ravages of a catastrophic war. Over millennia, we consumed resources and shattered lives as we fueled the engines of industry, expansion, and war. In the end, a powerful foe took advantage of our rivalries in a violent bid for power. Fleeing the devastation, we assembled our fleets and traveled to the Forge. A new home. A fresh start. In this final war, we were set upon by self-replicating nanomachines
Mysterious alien gates provided instantaneous one-way passage to the Forge. In the midst of the cataclysm, our ancestors found a strange metal pillar on our homeworld’s moon. A map on the surface of this alien relic detailed the deep-space locations of the Iron Gates—massive devices which powered artificial wormholes. With no other options, the Exodus ships fled through the gates and emerged here in the Forge.
We have made our mark in this galaxy, but the energy storms we call balefires threaten to undo that progress, leaving our communities isolated and vulnerable. Starships navigate along bustling trade routes between settlements. We’ve built burgeoning outposts on the fringes of known sectors, and bold spacers chart new paths into unexplored domains. But this hard-earned success is threatened by the chaotic balefires, intense energy anomalies which cut off trade routes and threaten entire planets.
Iron vows are sworn upon totems crafted from the enigmatic metal we call black iron. Black iron was first forged by a long-dead civilization. Some say it is a living metal, attuned to the hidden depths of the universe. Remnants of this prized resource are found within ancient sites throughout the Forge. It is resistant to damage and corrosion, but can be molded using superheated plasma at specialized facilities. The Ironsworn carry weapons, armor, or tokens crafted from black iron, and swear vows upon it.
Laws and governance vary across settled domains, but bounty hunters are given wide latitude to pursue their contracts. Their authority is almost universally recognized, and supersedes local laws. Through tradition and influence, bounty hunter guilds are given free rein to track and capture fugitives in most settled places. Only the foolish stand between a determined bounty hunter and their target.
Our faith is as diverse as our people. Many have no religion, or offer an occasional prayer out of habit. Others pay homage to the gods of our forebears as a way of connecting to their roots. Some idealize the natural order of the universe, and see the divine in the gravitational dance of stars or the complex mechanisms of a planetary ecosystem. And many now worship the Primordials—gods of a fallen people who once dwelt within the Forge.
Supernatural powers are wielded by those rare people we call paragons. While not magic in the truest sense, the abilities of the paragons are as close to magic as we can conjure. These powers are born of Magitech augmentations.
Communication and Data
Information is life. We rely on spaceborne couriers to transport messages and data across the vast distances between settlements. Direct communication and transmissions beyond the near-space of a ship or outpost are impossible. Digital archives are available at larger outposts, but the information is not always up-to-date or reliable. Therefore, the most important communications and discoveries are carried by couriers who swear vows to see that data safely to its destination.
To help offset a scarcity of medical supplies and knowledge, the technicians we call riggers create basic organ and limb replacements. Much was lost in the Exodus, and what remains of our medical technologies and expertise is co-opted by the privileged and powerful. For most, advanced medical care is simply out of reach. When someone suffers a grievous injury, they’ll often turn to a rigger for a makeshift mechanical solution.
We no longer have access to advanced computer systems. Instead, we must rely on the specialists we call Adepts. Our computers are limited to simple digital systems and the most basic machine intelligence. This is because: AI was outlawed in the aftermath of the machine wars. The Adepts serve in place of those advanced systems. They utilize mind-altering drugs to see the universe as a dazzling lattice of data, identifying trends and predicting outcomes with uncanny accuracy. But to gain this insight they sacrifice much of themselves.
Those few with the ability to pay can call on the Legion—a guild of professional soldiers—to defend or expand their holdings. The rest of us are on our own. The Legion deploy skilled fighting forces and well-equipped stasrhips on-demand. But their service always comes at a dire cost, and the members of the Legion are mercenaries who hold no loyalty except to the highest bidder.
This is a perilous and often inhospitable galaxy, but life finds a way. Life in the Forge is diverse. Planets are often home to a vast array of creatures, and our starships cruise with spaceborne lifeforms riding their wake. Even animals from our homeworld— carried aboard the Exodus ships—have adapted to live with us in the Forge
Over eons, a vast number of civilizations rose and fell within the Forge. Today, the folk we call grubs—scavenger crews and audacious explorers—delve into the mysterious monuments and ruins of those ancient beings. Incomprehensible technologies, inexorable time, and the strange energies of the Forge have corrupted the vaults of the precursors. Despite the perils, grubs scour those places for useful resources and discoveries. But some secrets are best left buried, and many have been lost to the forsaken depths of the vaults.
Put enough alcohol in a spacer, and they’ll tell you stories of ghost ships crewed by vengeful undead. It’s nonsense. Within the Forge, space and time are as mutable and unstable as a flooding river. When reality can’t be trusted, we are bound to encounter unsettling phenomenon.
Starting sector is called Corvux flux and I’ll just share the map here. The interesting or important details should appear in the narrative. The map is taken from Stargazer. It’s amazing an web tool for playing the game, check it out.
The sector trouble as randomly rolled:
Prophecies foretell an imminent awakening of dreadful power.
The connection in the sector is Julio Cordova (he/him). Data dealer (criminal). Haggard and shifty. Insightful, secretive. His goals are gain knowledge and protect a place. He lives in the Prism Station among a community of salvagers. Extracts information from salvaged vehicles and finds a buyer. He is quite clever and able to connect dots, so often he uses the information he founds to get more valuable data and so on. He is a regular client, and mainly uses the services of a data courier, but sometimes he even asks for some “data mining”.
I chose the assets. Starforged has a random table for names, but I used it only for the call sign. The name itself is from much bigger name tables from another TTRPG game Stars Without Number. Some of the details which helped to shape the characters are based on dice rolls.
- Chosen assets: Courier (path), Infiltrator (path), Glowcat (companion)
- Name: Valentin “Whisper” Sikorski
- Pronouns: he/him
- Backstory prompt:
He is the sole survivor of an attack or calamity.
- Look: Average height, subtle figure (slim, fit, not muscular). Short dark hair. Brown eyes.
- Act: Quiet, reserved, introverted.
- Wear: Black cargo pants, practical pouches on the belt (can carry basic equipment around). Heavy, high boots. Long-sleeved black turtle-neck. Black tactical jacket when appropriate. Small backpack for additional gear.
- Additional gear: A concealed handgun. Pendant from black iron with an image of an augmented dolphin.
- Starship: Orca
Inherited from a relative or mentor(and they
Found it abandoned in perfect condition)
Removable plate decks provide access to hidden storage, and
Ship is powered by an ancient precursor device.
I did detail the background a little bit more, but there’s still room for discovery left. It’s not necessary to know every detail. But the following is inspired by the random rolls for backstory of the character and the ship, spiced with chose truths.
- Member of the Courier guild. The job is to transfer information captured and encrypted on small devices called data cubes.
- Swears his vows on a circular pendant made of black iron with an image of an augmented dolphin. It’s a sign of the Courier guild. It was a gift from a mentor.
- As a child, he was the sole survivor of attack or calamity. He was saved by Yelena “Rook” Volkov (she/her), a young data courier. She practically raised him and taught him the way of the Courier Guild.
- At some point, she mysteriously disappeared.
- Her ship, glowcat Jones and the job are now Valentin’s.
His background vow is: Figure out what happened to my mentor Yelena Volkov.
Valentin’s companion, Jones the Glowcat as drawn by my beloved partner Anna Marklová (instagram).
Actual play journal - Session 1
My regular client Julio Cordova asked me to pick up and bring a data cube for him. The sender is to be found at the Glimmer Outpost and the payment is to be delivered by me. Julio was pretty secretive, as he tends to be. He dropped a few remarks about the data cube containing “interesting intel” and “being a little bit hot”, though. And he did mention that this is something he stumbled upon when he was trying to get the information I desperately seek: any clues about what happened to Yelena Volkov, my lost mentor.
I certainly don’t know if I can trust him or if he is just manipulating me. And I am surprised he says he trusts me. We did some business together and had no trouble. But I wouldn’t say we have some huge trust among us. One needs allies in this world. Let’s try to bet a little bit on our relationship. We’ll see where it goes.
In the end, data delivery is my job. As a proud member of the Courier Guild, I make my living by moving information around.
I swore an iron vow to get him the data cube.
Picking up the package - Karn
As soon as I jump out of the drift and see the vibrantly colored ice surface of Karn, the whole ship shakes under an explosion. Several alarms sound and warning lights blink. A mechanic voice sounds from speakers:
“Warning, hull breached. Warning, hull breached.”
We are losing air quickly, I have to say focused. Don’t panic and do one after another: take my vac-suit, save Jones and then find and seal the breach.
I carefully put my suit on, focusing on long deep breathing. I take Jones and close him in his sealed transport crate. It’s made for those purposes. He is safe until I fix the problem.
The breach was a small hole. It seems we were hit by a piece of space rock the size of a human fist. Must have been pretty hard and fast. Normally, such an object shouldn’t cause such damage.
I am no engineer and sealing a breach in a hull just with a basic welder here, in the field is not the easiest. But I manage to do a good enough welding job to patch the small hole. Quickly, the ship builds up the internal pressure again and alarms go off. I can take off the suit and release Jones.
“I am glad you are fine, Jones”, I stroke the cat, it purrs and vibrant shades of green pulsate through its fur.
Landing at the Glimmer Outpost went smoothly. Orca now rests in one of the many public hangars of the city. Most of the city is built underground and inside rocky cliffs. The surface of the planet is covered by icy glaciers of various vibrant colors and they are not the best base to build a city.
Now to the job. The contact is Kiri Braddock, a local smuggler. She should have the data package for us and expect an appropriate payment, thankfully provided by Julio. I took Jones with me, he can be useful when dealing with people. We found ourselves in the dirty part of the city around docks.
“Should be the right area to find a smuggler, shouldn’t it?”
It’s loud, full of noises, smoke and sweat. Rough cargo haulers and local miners are mixing in a big cocktail with all the travelers that are stopping by.
I do the leg work and ask around where to find Kiri Braddock.
Asking around yields important information: Kiri is doing her business usually in a nearby pub, but she is not around at the moment.
Several sources confirmed she traveled to Karma Station- a big hydroponic multi-farm on the orbit of a desert planet Dykuma. It’s rumored she had very important business there. I have considered waiting, but Julio insisted this matter needs to be resolved quickly. The intel might lose its value over time.
Let’s embark on another journey. Our supply levels are good, there is no reason to wait.
As Orca ascends the atmosphere, I enjoy the vibrant auroras over Karn. Jones entertains himself by reproducing their mesmerizing colors on his fur.
I don’t know a safe passage to Karma. We’ll have to figure out, how to sail the drifts there.
Trying to assess the best path, we sail the drift for the first time and reach an anchorage. The light in the ship dims as the power is drained to charge the e-drive for the next jump. Something feels odd. According to the navigation instruments, this didn’t really help us to get to our destination. This wasn’t the right drift.
Suddenly something hits the windshield of the cabin. It’s a VAC suit. Damaged. A cracked visor reveals a skull of a long-dead body.
The sleeve of the suit moves. The head turns towards my direction. The jaw of the skull opens and closes a few times. Jones’s fur flashes red. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Is this one of the horror experiences some of those spacers tend to talk about when drunk?
Closed eyes, few deep breaths, open one eye. And it waves back to me. I squeeze Jones so firmly that he hisses and runs away. I keep my eyes closed. This cannot be real.
When I finally open my eyes, the dead body is only a dot in a distance. I am starting to doubt what I saw. My hands are still shaking.
I watch the e-drives indicator and hit jump as soon as it’s ready. Let’s get the hell out of here.
This drift was good, we are getting closer. Still shaken keep stroking Jones, it calms me down how he purrs. Once the e-drive’s power gets back put, we jump again.
Another jump, getting closer. I fix dinner for me and Jones, while the drive is recharging. This is taking much more time than anticipated and it’s taking a toll on our fuel and rations.
We are almost there. But as we jump to the waypoint we find ourselves in a dense nebula cloud. Partially covered by the stardust, a ship hails us.
“Orca, prepare to be bearded. The easiest would be to cooperate, nobody has to be hurt.”
It’s an old harvester, a huge ship. Usually used for fuel excavation. This one is modified and armed. Crude skull&bones painting covers its hull.
“I am sorry, big ship, we have some comm trouble, I haven’t got your message. The rest of our fleet is here in a minute, I am sure they have comms in a better shape and are happy to talk to you.”
Trying to get some time, I quickly plot a course deeper into the cloud, hoping to be able to hide until the engines are ready.
Taking an opportunity of a more dense wave of start dust, I quickly start the engines and move away. The maneuver is jerkier than I anticipated and the sudden force catapulted my coffee kettle. It flew over the cabin and with a loud bang crashed into my skull.
“I like my coffee strong”. I shake the pain off and focus on evasive maneuvers through dust clouds. Thankfully, the pirates lost my track.
I feel in my bones, that this must be the last jump.
Finally, we can see this big station build from many slowly rotating cylindrical platforms. Huge, orbital greenhouses shimmer in the light of the nearby star.
“Whisper to Karma. Orca on approach to Karma, kindly asking for a docking port.”
“Karma to Whisper. It’s quite busy around here. We are in the middle of harvest and our docking positions are currently overwhelmed. I don’t think we have a place for you. What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I am here on official business as a member of the Courier Guild, picking up a package from a person which should be currently present at the location.”
Let’s not tell them that we are gonna be delivering stolen data.
“Ok, Orca. We have one place for similar purposes. But you’ll have to pay extra for the stay, given the circumstances. I hope you have a good budget for expenses. Dock at 11-0-1 and make it quick”.
“Well Jones, this quick pickup got a bit expensive. But the way back should be easier since we now know which drifts are the right ones.”
This article is Part 1 in a 2-Part Series.
- Part 1 -Starforged: Valentin Sikorski (Sessions 0+1)
- Part 2 -Starforged: Valentin Sikorski (Session 2)