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Review: Forge Horizons, by Michael Elliott

Forge Horizons is a supplement for the Ironsworn: Starforged role-playing game. It is a bundle containing three distinct expansions:

Personally, all three aspects were what pulled me to buy this product. Especially the first and the second were something I was already having on my mind when I accidentally stumbled upon Forge Horizons.

Episodic gameplay

The first section of the book introduces a simple set of rules on how to start and stop playing Starforged with reduced hassle and overhead. To me personally, this is the most important and valuable part of this document. It cuts away a heavy feeling of burden, anxiety and obligation I was having when I first tried playing vanilla Starforged.

Forge Horizons describes how to jumpstart a session of the game having completed only the Character creation phase, skipping the overhead of picking the World Truths, of building a starting Sector, and even of defining the Background Vow. Instead, it provides a few simple oracles for quickly setting up the stage with a randomized inciting incident. You get some location backdrop, a bunch of actors, and a way to spark some interaction growing between them. This part makes a great use of references to the core Starforged oracles where appropriate.

Finally, having this setup be called episodic adventures puts me in a frame of mind where I find it easier to allow myself wilful discontinuity in gameplay. It makes me think of classic science fiction shows like Star Trek, X-Files, etc. - in how their episodes were small and loosely connected. This gives me mental license to not worry about the burden of consequences of decisions my character makes in the game. Because - I can always just decide to “end the episode” when I’ve had enough! The curtain falls down, credits roll. And nobody says the next episode has to start immediately afterwards; to the contrary! The rules give us a brand new location, a brand new set of actors, a brand new inciting incident. Our Hero is still alive - so they probably somehow resolved their issues from the end of the last episode. How did they do that? Who knows! They’re a Hero after all - they have their heroic ways! Maybe we’ll learn a bit later, get a peek behind the veil - or maybe not! For now, we’re totally fine to keep it under a convenient shroud of understatement.


The second section of Forge Horizons provides a set of oracles for populous city-planets. In my eyes, this helps to make the world of Starforged feel bigger, and more evocative of the worlds of Star Wars and similar fiction. The rules for constructing an “ecumenopolis” trigger when, while rolling for a normal planet, a double is rolled (a “match”).

The oracles for a megacity form a functional set/sequence, in a similar fashion as the ones for a normal planet in base Starforged. I haven’t used them yet myself; after initial glance, they look interesting, though on the other hand, I feel like they could be slightly richer and bigger. Also, I’d love if there was some gentle, evocative guidance on how to actually dive deeper into such cities. Even a megalopolis will never be completely uniform, with a variety of very different zones and societies. Maybe there could be a way to somehow shoehorn the Settlement oracles from base Starforged to help define areas in an “ecumenopolis”? Just in case, should I find out I need a bit more, I can always try pulling some extra oomph from the free book of “Stars Without Number”. Worst case, the rules for “ecumenopolis” should work as a really nice mechanism for smoothly grafting small bits of material from that resource into Starforged.

Machines, Horrors, and Precursors

The final section of the book is currently the one that seems somewhat disappointing to me personally. This opinion may change for the better in the future if I try to actually use them: the oracles are actually quite rich, big, and interesting. The one thing I personally found a big let-down, is that the “supernatural horrors” are assumed to be humanoid. I’m a huge fan of the lovecraftian style of horror (a.k.a. “cosmic horror”), where the scary is otherworldly, alien, wildly unfamiliar, and often humongous in scale. To me, this feels especially fitting for space adventures, where the protagonist often encounters cosmic-scale objects - planets, nebulae, stars, galaxies - and the vastness of space is their “normal”. In such a setting, I’d love to be helped to generate some weird monsters of “unspeakable” scale, shape, and composition. Making all “supernatural horrors” be only mutated humans feels strangely limiting, reminding me somewhat of slapstick, B-grade movies. Especially if both the Machines and Precursors oracles in the book actually do include much more varied sizes and forms. The one thought I’m having at this stage, is that I could try mixing the Creatures oracles from Starforged with some bits and pieces from the Horrors oracles in Forge Horizons - the “Supernatural powers” one seems to me the most universal and inspiring in this area.


Overall, I heartily recommend the Forge Horizons supplement. The Episodic Adventures rules it introduces are simple and transformative to my personal experience with Starforged. The “Ecumenopolis” mechanics are something I look forward to play with in the future, and maybe further tweak on my own. The final set of creature oracles is not something I am currently especially excited about personally, but the whole book is already amazing and well worth the price for me even when not considering them at all.

(Buy Forge Horizons on: itch.io, drivethrurpg.)

🌿 budding — contents of this article got classified among maturing works that I have spent considerable time and energy cultivating but have not finished. They are teenagers who have outgrown their seedling status and may someday grow into ripe.
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