Once, many generations past, they say humanity owned the world. Bronze-clad armies clashed as they marched in the name of imperial might. Silken-clad merchants flourished as they traded all manner of goods across land and sea.
Then the Dark Times came.
No one knows where they came from; black tapering pillars, broad as a large man and twice as tall, they seemed to absorb the very light around them. Where they appeared, the land became overgrown with a dark and twisted wilderness while beasts and men were corrupted into maddened monstrosities. Eldrich horrors stalked the nights and strange new creatures hunted the wilds.
Civilisation collapsed as the corruption spread until only a number of fortified strongholds survived as the lights of civilisation. Beyond their walls, monsters roam the Darkwilds, while the remnants of humanity live a vicious, primal existence in the outer reaches. Few dare venture into the heart of the darkness.
Few except the Ironsworn, bearers of the one thing the darkness fears; iron. Iron burns through the corruption with a cold fire and its discovery and use are what allows humanity to fight back against being entirely consumed.
They swear oaths upon the iron and set forth into the Darkwilds.
This is intended as a pinned post to gather all the information about my games set in the world of the Darkwilds during the Dark Times (yes I had a hard time coming up with a single title for it!)
This is set in an early iron age era world where humanity is reduced to pinpricks of light in the darkness, but have over the past few centuries been reforging civilisation and expanding, fighting back against the ever-encroaching Darkwilds and the horrors within.
Truths about the World
The Ironsworn system encourages you to establish some “Truths” about your world. The standard world of Ironsworn takes place in a Nordic low fantasy world, with a number of variable options to adjust things like the level of magic and civilisation. You are, however, encouraged to hack it to suit your own world and it is very flexible in that regard. I have followed this convention here, though with some changes to the categories to better suit the world I’m building through these stories.
The Old World
Once, vast interconnected empires spanned the world. Trade flowed from ocean to ocean and land to land. Mighty empires rose and fell, bronze-clad armies clashed and silken-clad merchants flourished. No one knows how it happened, but when the first black pillars appeared, the corruption spread throughout the lands, the Dark Time began. The tapering pillars, as broad as a large man and twice as tall, are so black they seem to absorb the very light around them. When one would appear, the land for great distances around would become twisted and dark. Beasts and people would become corrupted monstrosities and eldritch horrors stalked the nights.
Civilisation collapsed with the spread of the corruption until only a number of fortified stronghold cities survived as bastions of civilisation, in areas that became known as Ironlands. Beyond their walls and borders, monsters roam and the other remnants of humanity live a vicious, primal existence in the outer reaches of the Darkwilds. Few dare venture into the heart of the darkness. This land was once well traveled and cared for, but has fallen to ruin and wild destruction except in those areas around and between the city-states, maintained at great cost in life and resource. The Darkwilds are replete with the ruins of dead civilisations, their vaulted ceilings overgrown, their stone halls now trod by inhuman horrors.
When the Dark Time came iron was rare. Iron from fallen stars was the main source and it was soft and weak. A few enterprising individuals learned the means of smelting iron but it was a secretive art, not widespread. When the Dark Time came, bronze weapons fared poorly against the twisted monstrosities and ghastly horrors, and without the international trade networks there was no way to source the precious time needed to make more. However, iron burned the monsters with a cold fire and soon those peoples who learned the secret of iron were able to fight back. Bright spots in the Darkwilds arose, city-states with access to iron pushed out into the twisted landscape and reclaimed lands for humanity. Bronze is rare and not as valued as it once was. Copper is widely available and used for a number of metal wears. Iron and access to iron mines is the single most vital resource for every existing state.
Ironlander civilisation consists of heavily fortified independent city-states surrounded by well-patrolled farmlands. People known as “Burners” maintain the borders and keep elevated roadways connecting settlements clear by slashing and burning the ever-encroaching Darkwilds, protected by the “Ironguard”, warriors armed with iron weapons to ward off the evils that lurk beyond the clearings.
Around the edges of the Darkwilds roam the Forsaken. These tribes of humans are the outcasts and remnants of long fallen civilsations. They are the descendants of those humans who were touched by the darkness but survived the madness and corruption that turned so many into abominations. Nevertheless, they are a wild tribal people, considered semi-feral and usually hostile to the encroachments of the “Ironlanders”. They have been known to raid the Ironlands for supplies and weapons to aid in their survival in the deadly Darkwilds.
Each city-state has its own leaders and governance. Given the harsh conditions and need for strong coordination, many are ruled with an iron fist by powerful leaders, though some operate under republican forms of government or under a ruling council. Each city-state sends a representative once a year to the Iron Council, a forum where the various states discuss matters of great import and coordinate the defence against the Darkwild. War is rare as resources are too focused on survival, but it is not entirely unknown for two states to go to war. It is usually brief and results not in conquest so much as a bending to the victor’s will, or extracting tribute, though such behaviour is generally frowned upon by the rest of the Council.
An independent group called the Order of the Iron Bond, often referred to colloquially as “Iron Priests”, travel the Ironlands acting as diplomats, arbiters, judges and officiates for the various societies without being strictly beholden to any one state.
There are rumours of other civilisations out there, far into the Darkwilds, but contact with them has been lost since the early Dark Times.
Defence and Military
The Ironguard are the soldiers, typically deployed to the borders of the wilds to protect the Burners or to the farmlands as patrols. The bulk of the forces are made up of Bastions with large iron-rimmed shields, short iron swords and iron-tipped spears. Their armour is typically leather and copper, but some few veterans and officers are Ironclad in iron armour. Wardens are lighter warriors, well suited to scouting, skirmishing and ranged warfare.
Binders are a special type of Ironguard, that seek out and deactivate the black pillars, though many die or lose their minds in the process. To do this they must bind its circumference in iron while resisting the madness and corruption. They are usually expert trackers and rangers as they spend much time alone searching for the pillars, before returning with a larger force to bind them when needed, as they are often well-defended in areas of dense wilderness and full of strange monstrosities.
Darkwalkers are those who channel the dark energies into powerful ritual magicks, though protect themselves heavily with iron accoutrements to attempt to nullify the corrupting effects of this. They tend to dance closer to the edge of sanity than most. Usually, they are a Binder or Ironguard who has spent too much time in the proximity of pillars and formed some uncanny connection to the darkness. If they do fall to the corruption, often their own iron will start to burn them with the cold fire and a Darkwalker removing their iron is a worrying sight for all. Often they are accompanied by a companion armed with an iron dagger, ready to take action if they appear to be going too far into madness and corruption.
Magick is rare and dangerous, but those few who wield the power are truly gifted. To wield it is to flirt with madness and at any time the corruption could consume them. Mystics connect with the dark energies through the use of rituals to channel their power and those touched by it see it as a gift and a curse and are viewed with suspicion and awe by all.
While some still believe in the old gods, most believe the gods, if they ever existed, are either entirely evil or have since become corrupted or killed by the same forces that beset the mortal world. Humanity stands alone in its fight against the darkness. All you can believe in is human ingenuity and cold hard iron.
Peoples, Beasts, Monsters & Horrors
Much of humanity has been twisted into horrific monstrosities, maddened ghouls reduced to their most base aspects and fiercely protective of the dark wilds and the black pillars. Sentient races, ones thought merely myths now exist throughout the wilds. The pale, lithe, fickle people with the decorated wooden masks are named Elfin by many and may help or harm passing humans as the whim takes them. The Giantfolk, three or four times the size of a human, roam by themselves or in small family groups. They are a quiet, thoughtful people but terrifyingly destructive when their wrath is provoked. Some tell tales of others, of the blendings of beast and man, though bestial or human-minded none can yet say.
Monstrous beasts stalk the Darkwilds, both corruptions of old-world beings and strange unearthly creatures. Stories of primordial forces deep in the wilds abound, of ancient animals grown huge and terrifying, of monstrous creatures, wyrms, wyverns and entities of elemental fury that once belonged to a time of ancient myth. The Darkwilds are vast and terrifying and the Ironlanders have only scratched the surface of what could be in the depths of the darkness.
The Darkwilds are home to many strange horrors, even the dead do not rest easy amongst the corruption. When night falls the people retreat from the borders of the wilds lest they become victim to those that stalk there away from the light of day. At night horrifying screams echo across the fields and keening wails haunt the sleep of those who live close to the edge of things. Those who spend nights in the wilds speak of the need to keep constant alertness, and to keep a ring of protective fires burning all through the night, though even then only the hardiest of people can survive there.
The following are ongoing stories taking place in this world, as told using the Ironsworn RPG system.
The Journal of Althas Binder
Althas Binder sets out on his first solo mission.
A brief interlude for Althas Binder.
3. In Defence of Cryptwood Watch
Undead horrors assault a border settlement as Althas Binder visits.
Althas Binder delves the depths of an ancient tomb to put a stop to the horror.
More adventures in the Darkwilds will appear here in future…