Ironsworn: Actual play and questions

Myself and a few old grognard gamers who’ve played together for 25 plus years (off and on) have started up a game of Ironsworn over the past three weeks. Quite fun, even while we make mistakes with certain Moves and rules.

I was wondering if anyone here has played, as I have a question about a specific aspect of combat that has come up for us in Ironsworn, but also is relevant to any PbtA based game.

The tl;dr version… how do you resolve combats of a single PC vs. multiple opponents that all have separate tracks? How do you represent the issue of “While focusing one attacker, a second or third gets their shot at you,” if the GM doesn’t roll?

More details below…

First, if you haven’t played, understand that basically everything in Ironsworn is resolved by a “Progress Track”… ten boxes that show progress toward defeating an opponent, making a journey, fulfilling a vow, etc. Each success you roll moves you along the track until you feel enough has been made to try and roll a defined Move to resolve that track, (End the Fight, Reach Your Destination, Fulfill Your Vow, etc.) The more progess you’ve made, the more likely you succeed at that progress move to resolve it. (Really should be called a resolution move, IMO).

Ironsworn allows combat to play out from a very abstract single roll resolving the entire fight, called “Battle”, down to assigning a different level of difficulty track for each individual opponent. I find the individual track method to be much more evocative and dramatic for combat, yet it honestly plays very quickly.

Only one issue. How to handle multiple opponents attacking a single PC. Since the GM never rolls against the PCs, fights are based purely on player rolls. This works fine in one on one fights… if I roll a Strong Hit, Weak Hit or Miss, this generates the back and forth of combat well. A couple strong hits in a row and I may dispatch a foe without sustaining damage… some weak hits or a miss, and my PC is injured or otherwise suffering in the fight. A few misses in a row and my PC could go down hard.

But in last nights game, my PC found himself up against two “revenants of the first ones” at the same time. Since both had their own track, it felt odd that I could simply fight one until it fell, then turn and fight the other. That feels completely wrong, since the other should be attacking me at the same time, not just waiting its turn.

Should there be an “ignore the danger” rule, that allows an extra attacker to simply deal damage while you fight the other guy? That is incredibly punitive in this system.

If above, there should be some kind of Move/rule for engaging multiple opponents at once, but this begs the question what kind of penalty would that be, and which track are you dealing harm to, first guy or second guy… both? All have issues.

It is possible to combine multiple similar foes into a “Pack” that has a single track (complete the track you’ve defeated all of them)… and that can work in some situations, but it tends to abstract the combat more and remove the cinematic, blow-by-blow drama that individual tracks allow.

Also, sometimes the fight isn’t against all similar foes, but multiple very individual and dramatically different foes. Making them a generic pack feels narratively off, as well.

Just looking for anyone out there who might play Ironsworn or a face similar combat questions in their PbtA game of choice. How do you resolve the multiple opponent question?


I played it solo across an Xmas holiday a year it so ago, to escape the in laws. I will respond more fully tomorrow … Have a game to run right now

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Likewise I’ve only played it solo, but yeah I’d just combine the two into one track - I think there are rules on this somewhere (it’s been a little while since I last read it), but I think I’d either just up the difficulty by a level, or just let it stay as it is, depending on how much more difficult you think it should be. You could keep them separate and just have the player occasionally Face Danger when the “unoccupied” opponent does something, but honestly I think this would just make the scene bloated and slow. I’d always aim for expediency over a need to make the game more “challenging”, and if it’s something you think overmatches the character severely, tell them as much and make the challenge about getting out alive rather than beating them.

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I think it’s in how you play out the Pay the price move. If you’re fighting off multiple opponents, and you get a weak hit or a miss and have to pay the price, that price can be a wide variety of things. It could be another attacker inflicting harm, it could be someone closing off an escape, it could be them securing an advantaged position, it could even be multiple people inflicting harm or conducting multiple actions at the same time or in coordination. The game gives you a large amount of freedom to create the fiction and determine the outcome

Using your example of fighting two revenants, you might try to Clash with one and miss, so now you must pay the price. Perhaps only now has your character realized they lost track of the second and it has moved behind them. As your character goes to strike the first, the second grabs the character, pinning their arms to their side and the first lunges to tear at your skin. You could play this pay the price out further and inflict harm to your character, or you could come back to this situation and attempt your next move.


This was basically how we adjudicated it. We a) did not require a new Enter the Fray for the second one showing up, since it wasn’t the PC initiating, b) if I made a Strong hit, it was ruled I’d accounted for both antagonists, weak hit the second guy got a shot in, miss… serious trouble.

I’m appreciating that those who have played are simply adjudicating based on logical intent of the game. Several rules in the book are quite clear on procedure, this just seemed vague enough that I thought I’d ask.

(Sorry… new to the forums… trying to reply to jonjongrim’s post, but it seemed to just add this to the main thread, rather than show reply threads)


I think the reply worked. I got a notification saying there was a reply. I suspect that is the difference versus threading or anything like that.

I was going to also mention that Shawn Tomkin (ironsworn creator) has an actual play podcast. I have only listened to the first couple of episodes and this situation hasn’t come up that I recall, but listening to him and his son play and talk about the moves can be enlightening. The podcast is Ask the Oracle.


I’m the GM of this game. I felt like it all worked out precisely as it should. Neil’s PC was up against 2 different foes, each had their own track.

DavidMorrison: Yes, I could have merged the 2 foes into one Track of a higher level. But I wanted to keep them on separate tracks, because other PCs might be able to take care of their opponents and come running to lend a hand. That didn’t happen, the other PCs got tied up, and because Kurth (neil’s PC) had some luck and rolls went his way, he was able to put one down before turning to the other. That felt no different than taking away all the hit points of one foe and then turning to the other. I think merging them into one track makes perfect sense for Solo play. And sometimes for group play.

IF the dice rolling had gotten just slightly more south, then I would have had the 2nd revenant move behind, just like jonjongrim suggested, and have that one “do the damage”. These foes were not the most dangerous or terrible foes compared to the PCs…but we’ve noticed in Ironsworn, combat can get really, really hairy with a bad roll or two.

From the GM’s POV, I thought the combat went pretty well and was flavorful and despite a fairly easy victory, it wasn’t a cheap victory… if that makes any sense.

This was only our 3rd session, I had done other fights as groups of bad guys and a couple of fights against very, very tough foes. These guys were meant as a precursor foes, and will ramp up to more dangerous (or more of them) as events in the fiction unfold. So I was quite happy with the outcome.

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Late to the party but basically what @DavidMorrison & @jonjongrim say.

The rules are strong in procedure - as you’d expect in s game designed with solo play at its heart - but like any mechanics with their roots in PbtA it all comes down to the fiction, first last and always. If you interpret outcomes through a lens of ‘what does this look like’, I don’t think your table will revolt.


I actually like the procedure in Ironsworn for the most part… I’m often left feeling many PbtA are too loosey goosey for my tastes. Much of Ironsworn is still very open to the fiction driving it, but there is structure to the mechanical resolution of things like combat I really like. My question was about one particular area that the procedure didn’t specifically cover. Through the suggestions here, I think we can adjudicate our own for our game.

I find the entire idea of an RPG for solo play very alien, and I struggle to get past that aspect to find the “how to play in a group” rules… but I’m glad that the desire for solo play enforced some structure and procedure that might not have been there otherwise.

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Hey, creator here.

You got a bunch of good advice from kind members of the forum. One approach that I use it my own games is to make positioning against multiple foes part of the overall threat and framing of the fight. So, if you’re doing well, you’re moving and keeping the foes in a spot where they can’t both connect with you. If not, you’re surrounded and overwhelmed, and you (or your GM) might lean harder on a heavier price.

It’s the basic PbtA ethos of moving from triggers (“they are trying to surround you; Face Danger”) to hard outcomes (“They’re all over you; Endure Harm and let’s call it 3 harm instead of 2”). It makes the fight (for you and your character) more complicated and dangerous because you might have to make extra interstitial moves to get in position, or to get out of a bad spot. It also helps create a feeling of something that is dynamic and in motion, without breaking out the grid and miniatures.

That said, there’s also the cinematic approach that prohibits bad guys from ever ganging up on a single protagonist :wink:

Thanks for playing!


Great to hear from the creator. Understanding your intent is important. I find it interesting with modern game design that the rule between where procedure/mechanics gives way to playgroup judgment (the fiction) isn’t always clear. Your intent could have been “ignore those details and play the tracks as written,” instead of “the details of positioning and framing the fight and the overall threat SHOULD come into play and may require Face Danger rolls, etc.”

In older game design the mechanics left a great deal of ‘story telling’ alone. By not addressing it, they made it clear (or more clear) the line between mechanics and fiction. Now, with many systems specifically driving the fiction in a particular way, the lack of them in certain instances can be more jarring.

And the answer doesn’t have to be complex. Your simple example of Face Danger and increasing Harm from a Pay the Price when facing multiple foes is just fine, showing how already defined procedures can be applied.

Very enjoyable game, by the way. I’m usually not a fan of fantasy gaming, owning to nearly 50 years of D&D skewing everything to cartoonish magic users and fighters and such. Ironsworn is the first game I’ve played that feels like the gritty sword and sorcery I prefer. Sinew and iron vs. the wild and forsaken… magic is dark, subtle, ritualistic and risky… a semi-historically based grounding of the culture and place. Good stuff!

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Thanks! And yeah, the game is sometimes a mishmash of explicit procedures and implicit handwavium. That’s on me. There’s certainly some modern narrative games that do it better.

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Hey all… an idea just popped into my head that I think is elegant and flavorful and simple for the “multiple enemies vs. a single PC” situation when each enemy has their own track.

“When facing multiple opponents where each one has their own Progress Track, a PC may spend 1 Momentum each round to reflect their constant active positioning in order to keep the enemies from cornering or surrounding them. If a PC doesn’t, or can’t, spend Moment (they are already at -6 Momentum) then no matter the result of their Combat Move, they automatically Pay the Price as the fiction supports. (i.e. the others attack and do harm from a blindside, etc.)”

I think that really could work. Momentum is an amazing resource to work with, and this fits thematically, requires no extra rolls, and provides a very dramatic feel. The longer the fight goes on, the more a single PC is getting worn down until, exhausted and backed into a corner, the enemy gets past her defenses!

My character nearly was killed by an Epic opponent (DEMON BEAR!) the first game, and went through the second at negative Momentum. It was helpful to reflect his injured ribs and generally “off his game” a bit even though he was healing up over time. He finally started getting back momentum in the third game… then had to spend it when pressed.

I love Momentum ( and the loss of it) to reflect long term endurance loss or exhaustion without being a cumbersome bit of book keeping, and without making the character useless. Low momentum just makes the character more vulnerable, and that is cool.

Anyway… wondering about opinions on this. Am I missing some ramification? Otherwise I think this could work very neatly.

It is also a simple, easy rule to ignore if you want the cinematic approach of never worrying about multiple enemies overwhelming the PC.