The Whole Truth(s)
Part of the brilliance of Ironsworn: Starforged is that it walks you through a session zero experience you might otherwise overlook when playing solo. (Hopefully those you playing in the cooperative or guided modes are doing a session zero?) I’ve read too many accounts of solo players who created a character and then were left stuck as to what to do next. Had they done the prep a GM would typically do with a group through a session zero the options to move forward would have been much clearer. Of all the things Ironsworn does well, I think this is probably the most brilliant one.
The activity that does most of the “session zero” heavy lifting is called “Choose Your Truths.” Going through the truths exercise will help you clearly say “this is in” and “this is out.” It establishes all kinds of “fiction” that is critically important in a game that leans heavily on you knowing the fictional state of the game world inside and out.
Many players I see seem to jump right into the 14 categories that you are intended to interact with:
- Communication and Data
- Artificial Intelligence
What concerns me is how little discussion I see of the “default truths” and many of these are doozies when it comes to your game world. In some ways it is great that Starforged wears these on its sleeve in a “this is the universe of The Forge, take it or leave it.” For many of us though, we are wanting to use Starforged to emulate a popular media property or even have different ideas of what, to steal a Traveller community phrase, “In My Forge” means. I think the back of the book should have had a supplemental exercise to help you set the “default assumptions” or dials of the setting.
Let’s review the Default Assumptions (Page 81) and better understand what they imply for your game world:
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.
I understand that this is the schtick of Ironsworn setting as well but what if you want to play in the world of Mindjammer? There’s been no cataclysm or mass migration event - instead humans have been slowly and methodically expanding and exploring the space further and further out from the core. A cataclysm implies a certain set of post-apocalyptical tropes that you may not be interested in exploring at all.
This is a lonely future. With some possible exceptions (that 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 mysterious and perilous vaults remain to mark their legacy.
This assumption rules out thriving sentient aliens that your PCs will interact with. I think it is a curious omission for a game that already features an extensive set of oracles for effectively generating aliens (“creatures”) that could be just as diverse as those in Farscape, Star Trek, or Star Wars.
This is a diverse future. There is a vibrant mix of people and cultures among the humans of the Forge.
This is pretty standard science-fiction fare with the exception of some very dark science-fiction that explores what happens when bioengineering sexists/racists/fascists get their way. You might want to grapple with those problems in your universe though and again it feels like something that should have a dial.
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.
We’re tossing highly-populated sci-fi settings out the window here: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Mindjammer, Star Wars, etc. We’re also introducing FTL which can be problematic if you want the far-flung nature of The Expanse but without the jump-drives.
This is an unexplored future. Discoveries await. Even in settled regions, much of the Forge is unknown and uncharted.
This assumption seems to be result of the cataclysm - civilization migrated here with the shirts on their back and not much else. It would have been nice to have a dial between “everything is a scouting mission” and “well there’s the unknown regions over there if you want to go exploring but I’m going to stay right here on my planet with over 1 billion humans living on it because there’s plenty of challenging work to be found.”
This is a wondrous future. The Forge is a galaxy of ancient mysteries, spacefaring creatures, startling phenomenon, and other marvels.
Pretty standard “this is space operatic sci-fi” assumptions. You might want to de-emphasize this assumption if your game is more about *punk (cyber, solar, noir, etc) themes.
This is a retro-future. Envision the technology you wield as only slightly advanced over today’s real-world technologies—or even a step back in many ways. Resources are scarce, and the people of the Forge must cobble together what they can.
I think the popular media term for this is Cassette Futurism and I’m all-in but someone might prefer the technology mind-fuck that is Mindjamemr where even your gun may have strong feelings about whether or not they’d like to engage in combat.
This is an unjust future. Those in power hoard resources, control technologies, and impose their will on others through force or cunning. Others must stand against these forces of imperialism and oppression.
A mostly universal sci-fi trope, even across a wide variety of settings I’m aware of. What happens when you use “good” technology for “bad.” There is certainly sci-fi that plays down this trope but even the utopia of Star Trek is challenged every few episodes or so.
This is a hopeful future. Despite these challenges, hope remains. Fulfilling your sworn vows is a realization of that hope.
While I love this truth I feel like whoever wrote it must have been playing on a day where the dice were uncharacteristically in their favor. Still I’m thankful Starforged didn’t ship as yet-another-“grimdark” RPG even if The Forge is trying very, very hard to be all “dark and edgy” (cataclysms, chaos, emptiness, voids) like your best friend in High School.
If you are going to customize the Truth’s exercise (and thus “The Forge”) you have to start with peeling these default assumptions back because they feed into every one of the 14 Truths you will pick in the next phase (and many of the assets and oracles.)
I personally wish Starforged had shipped with those tools out-of-the-box because the default setting of The Forge is so highly opinionated that I imagine it alienates some players who were hoping to explore other sci-fi themes. To be fair to the game, it is often very easy to re-flavor many of these assumptions (“FTL”) into something that works better for your setting. Some though, like the “lonely, human-centric future” are harder because the concepts are built directly into settlement generation oracles. I don’t think it is impossible to re-skin Starforged but providing a small chapter or section on things to consider would have been most welcome.