4E Failure stakes for a travel Skill Challenge

darkbard

Explorer
In short, I wish to reflect the dangers of travel in a "Points of Light" setting in early Heroic tier via the Skill Challenge mechanic and not simply color. Even though the PCs travel along a road, and so there is little to no chance of getting lost, when they must spend the night or extended periods outside the safe havens of civilization, they take risks. Travel between points of light is a risky venture!

It's easy enough to imagine complications for microfailures--lost healing surges, combat encounters with wild beasts, bandits, etc.--but would you help me brainstorm possible stakes for failing the SC entirely? I presume a "fail forward" ethos, and so simply not arriving at their destination or getting lost is off the table. What could serve in their place?

I believe such stake-setting is usually best negotiated intra-group, but indulge me here with some possibilities to present to the PCs.
 

lockyreid1

Villager
For travel I prefer to use the alternative. Instead of failure stakes, I would reward them for doing well.

Examples:

Doing well in the SC allows them to take shortcuts, or quickly bypass conflict, allowing them to arrive in town a few hours earlier, and get a head start on the next part of the adventure. Maybe they arrive just in time to be able to talk to the duke before he retires for the evening.

Doing well in the SC allows them to have additional time for exploration during the travel. Maybe they have time to find a shrine, or talk to another traveler, gaining important infomation about their destination? Where as if they are failing the challenge they don't have time to stop and check these out.

For non dangerous travel stuff I definitely prefer to accept that they will arrive in their destination unharmed and without random encounters, but doing well should give them a bonus or two.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Is this Heroic Tier? I'm just going to assume so. If you could provide the Character Themes, I could come up with some specific stuff based off off that.

Heroic Tier generically:

Hopelessly Lost!

Perhaps wicked fey constructed an illusory road so they took a wrong turn at Albequerque and stumbled through a Crossroads into some terrible parallel (and very dangerous place in the Feywild. Level +2, C3 SC to find their way back.

Sinkhole Shenanigans!

Like the above except the earth opens up abruptly, swallows them into the pitch black Underdark, and completely immovable rubble has them stuck. They have to find another way out. Level +2, C3 SC to find a way back to the surface.

Stumble Upon a Lair

Oops. Very difficult Solo encounter with lots of Challenging Terrain, Minion Parasites that feed on the creature's leftovers, and Hazards that the creature is immune to.

Flash Flood!

Maybe they're adjacent to a river. A 100 year storm erupts and the river floods horrifically. Animals panic and stampede upon the PCs. They're separated. The trees in the forest are surly, living things...and don't appreciate being climbed upon...especially when they're soggy from the rain. Level +0, C1 SC and failure means being half-drown and attacked by Pneumonia (Level +2 Disease).

A Dire Bear's Favorite Meal

A Satyr (Minion - make that clear) is under attack by a Dire Bear and her cubs who are especially excited by Satyr flesh. He probably has an Encounter Power Recharge 6 that lets him use his pipes to get a +4 bonus to Defenses. If the good guys can keep him alive, they can have a Companion Character (Leader - with some kind of Trait that Buffs, an At-Will Rider that Buffs, an Encounter Power Minor Action that Heals).

Uncover an Unwanted Truth

Something relevant to one of the PCs' Themes.

Someone precious is captured and there is a terse ransom letter.

Someone they thought they could trust is implicated in something terrible.

An ancient, terrible omen is scrawled on a moss-covered rock right before their eyes. The Elder Primal Spirits have been betrayed by the people of the region. For 1 year, verdant, fertile lands will yield a crop that only kills...the creatures of the forest will thirst for human and demihuman blood.
 

pemerton

Legend
As I've often posted about, I find doing overland travel well a challenge (of my GM skills!), including in 4e.

The issues I have with some standard approaches are:

* Extra combats can be boring, and I don't like boring as the penalty for failure;

* Getting lost or similar stuff can have the same problem of being boring;

* Fatigue or similar sorts of numerical penalties can produce a death-spiral type effect upon arrival (the "can" is deliberate - this isn't inevitable, but is an issue I've had).​

In 4e in particular there is also an issue with making a harder combat the consequence of failure - a harder combat gives more XP, and so isn't any sort of penalty, and depending on the context may be more enjoyable/interesting than an easy combat - so why gate it behind failure?

Here are some things I've had success with (in 4e and BW):

* Upon arrival, the fictional situation is different from what was expected/hoped for (eg after a desert crossing, the first well has been fouled by an enemy);

* Getting lost or something similar changes the fictional circumstances of arrival (eg the PCs arrive on the other side of the river/gorge from where they need/want to be);

* Resources are depleted - this can include not having been able to take an extended rest while travelling due to non-restful conditions.​

With depleted resources, there is the potential for death spiral but in 4e at least I think that limiting access to resources works better as a type of penalty (if only because it makes the players sweat a bit more while not actually death-spiralling them given their depth of resources, at least above very low levels) than does imposing numerical penalties to actions, which can start to destabilise the maths.

Ultimately I think that, in the context of 4e, having the fiction change in some adverse/undesired way is generally better than mechanical penalties or hurdles. (In BW it's different because while penalties can produce a death spiral they can also make it easier to get checks at the difficult needed to improve character abilities - whereas there is no analogue to that in 4e.)
 

Myrhdraak

Explorer
I think that the problem is more related to the rest & recovery rules of 4th Edition. If you change the extended rest rules - so that an extended rest only work in a totally safe environment such as an inn where you do not have to have any guard duty - you are going to have a very different game. While doing overland travel and sleeping in the wild, you only regain 1 healing surge, and if there is any interruption, you do not regain any healing surges. You are going to find that the players will be more cautious when doing overland travel. It will also allow you as a DM to build more interesting overland travel challenges. Some rituals that can warn of enemies, or create safe environment, suddenly have a very high value.
 

darkbard

Explorer
Is this Heroic Tier? I'm just going to assume so. If you could provide the Character Themes, I could come up with some specific stuff based off off that.

<snipping out a bunch of useful stuff>

Uncover an Unwanted Truth

Something relevant to one of the PCs' Themes.
Yes, Heroic Tier, currently level 2.

The PCs, builds and goals:

Half-Elf Vestige Warlock of the Raven Queen, Ghost of the Past, Vistani heritage; a lesser grandson of House Markelhay (hereditary rules of Fallcrest in Nentir Vale), former student of Kalarel, who turned out to be a betrayer.

Beliefs:
 I am willing to pay any price to obtain the information I seek.
 Like my ancestor Vistan, I will learn to travel the pathways between planes.
 I will seek out and destroy the rising cults of Orcus.
 I will claim the ancestral sword of House Markelhay as my own.

Drow Cleric of Sehanine|Warlord/Assassin, Secret Apostate; cut off from her home of Erelhei-Cinlu with two dozen kinsmen in the surface world, she had a religious experience and conversion to Sehanine; was captured by Kalarel and her kinsman was sacrificed in the ritual to open a rift to the Shadowfell. Slain in a fight with Kalarel's reincarnation as a wight, Sehanine intervened and saved her soul in return for her agreement to stop the slavetaking of Wood Elves by her former Drow kinsmen in the Harken Forest, thus necessitating travel to that locale.

Beliefs:
 I will rescue my kinsman from the Shadowfell.
 I will not allow that selfish Warlock (above) to distract me from my goals.
 I will displace drow culture’s worship of Lolth with that of Sehanine, the Moon goddess.

Religious Orthodoxy:
As the goddess of love, moon, and trickery, Sehanine’s teachings are simple:
 Follow your goals and seek your own destiny.
 Keep to the shadows, avoiding the blazing light of zealous good and the utter darkness of evil.
 Seek new horizons and new experiences, and let nothing tie you down.

Halfling Rogue, Son of Alagondar (refluffed as Lowtown in Fallcrest), a childhood friend of the Warlock, recruited by a mentor figure in rescuing the Warlock from Kalarel.

Beliefs:
 If you can’t hold onto your possessions, you don’t deserve them.
 My Warlock friend needs a keeper, and I’m the one who can do it best.
 No one needs to know I seek a greater purpose in my life.

(This character is less fleshed out than the others.)

Half-Orc Ranger/Cleric of the Twins Erathis-Melora, Sentinel Marshal (refluffed as mercenary company remnant of the fallen Empire of Nerath, the Last Legion), half-brother to the Warlock.

Beliefs:
 I seek to restore the heir to Nerath’s throne.
 I will brook no injustice.
 I will sacrifice myself for the greater good.

Religious Orthodoxy:
As the goddesses of life, justice, and the balance between civilization and wilderness, twins Erathis and Melora’s teachings are simple:
 Work with others to achieve your goals. Community and order are always stronger than the disjointed efforts of lone individuals.
 Defend the light of civilization against the encroaching darkness.
 Protect the wild places of the world from destruction and overuse.
 Hunt aberrant monsters and other abominations of nature.

As I've often posted about, I find doing overland travel well a challenge (of my GM skills!), including in 4e.

<snipping a bunch of good and useful stuff to address this larger point>

Ultimately I think that, in the context of 4e, having the fiction change in some adverse/undesired way is generally better than mechanical penalties or hurdles. (In BW it's different because while penalties can produce a death spiral they can also make it easier to get checks at the difficult needed to improve character abilities - whereas there is no analogue to that in 4e.)
I agree wholeheartedly. I suppose this helps me narrow my question further: in what interesting ways might the fiction change as the outcome of failure in a SC representing travel in this way? I was loath to post too many specific detail in the OP because I want to think about this issue more generally rather than just in the context of this one particular impending journey, but I reckon the details I provided in response to Manbearcat's inquiry above do address this particular instance.

If you change the extended rest rules - so that an extended rest only work in a totally safe environment such as an inn where you do not have to have any guard duty - you are going to have a very different game.
Definitely. For this new game, we have implemented the house rule that PCs can only level or take an extended rest in a point of light or sanctum of some sort (the latter deliberately vague to allow this to develop from the fiction).

Thank you, one and all, for the help here already; so much of it will prove useful!
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
I don’t have the time to commit to reading through each of the PCs right now, but I will afterwhile and give you some PC-centric stuff to consider.

My time is short, but I’m going to take a brief moment to disagree with @pemerton on a few things as this is probably the only TTRPG issue we discuss where there is daylight between our views.

1) A game like Dogs features significant wilderness trekking, but the premise of the game is exclusively about what happens in the Towns. Consequently, travel in between is fast forwarded and treated as a collective time for reflection upon what just transpired in the prior Town.

Although you can certainly play D&D in a similar vein (site based adventure and social conflict), and plenty do, I definitely feel that something can be lost with the perilous journey being fast forwarded. I feel like this is particularly true in a PoL setting (like 4e, BtW, DW, etc).

a) A lot of the themes and tone connect to and come from the wild.

b) Without firsthand experience of the encroanching, suffocating “darkness” of the wild, the encircled, unique “light” of civilization will invariably be muted. Perilous journey through that darkness is a strong (when done right) way to enhance the juxtaposition.

c) When done well, there is a diversity of obstacles and conflicts that can’t be reproduced elsewhere (which will tie into PC archetypes).

2) On gating excitement and more XPs behind failures, I have a few thoughts.

- I don’t look at Failure in 4e as a penalty for the players. It’s a penalty for the PCs in that it brings about some adverse condition that they would rather not have to deal with. So failure should definitely produce as much excitement as possible! In fact, I would go so far as to say that Failure in 4e is more exciting than Success because the situation changes more dynamically...meanwhile it isn’t so punitive so as to engender “turtling.”

- With XP in 4e being merely a pacing mechanism for content escalation (via PC growth), however the XP rolls in, it rolls in! C’est la vie!

3) While Heroic Tier PCs are certainly less robust to perturbations of the Action Economy and maths when compared to their Epic counterparts (where 4e maths starts to shutter toward 24 or so...but it doesn’t matter as PC scaling is occurring on different axes to make up for it), they’re still quite robust to smaller perturbations (especially with Themes and Backgrounds). So yes, you have to be cognizant of the prospect of death spirals when using things like the Disease/Condition Track and/or gating Rests behind gamestate/fiction conditions, a skilled 4e GM and players (especially skilled ones) should do just fine.

4) I’m confident that pemerton could easily develop his repertoire of wilderness obstacle/conflict handling if he chose to (even if he hasn’t been an outdoorsman in his life). Social conflict, wilderness conflict, urban conflict, physical conflict is all about pressure points and relevant tropes. Once you know those and become practiced, they’re all the same in terms of GM-side creativity!
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In short, I wish to reflect the dangers of travel in a "Points of Light" setting in early Heroic tier via the Skill Challenge mechanic and not simply color. Even though the PCs travel along a road, and so there is little to no chance of getting lost, when they must spend the night or extended periods outside the safe havens of civilization, they take risks. Travel between points of light is a risky venture!

It's easy enough to imagine complications for microfailures--lost healing surges, combat encounters with wild beasts, bandits, etc.--but would you help me brainstorm possible stakes for failing the SC entirely? I presume a "fail forward" ethos, and so simply not arriving at their destination or getting lost is off the table. What could serve in their place?

I believe such stake-setting is usually best negotiated intra-group, but indulge me here with some possibilities to present to the PCs.
You don't tell us why they're making the trip, or what degree of urgency is involved, or whether you've any pre-set plot ideas; but my first thought would be that if they completely blow the travel SC you could have them stumble into a different adventure entirely than whatever it was they expected....something they're perhaps not as prepared for. Example: if they were geared up for an urban adventure at the end of their journey, have them stumble into a situation focused on wilderness and-or dungeoneering and see what they do with it.

Just a thought...
 

pemerton

Legend
Some rituals that can warn of enemies, or create safe environment, suddenly have a very high value.
Most of my 4e play has been at levels/tiers well above [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION]'s, but rituals to allows safe rest - since upper paragon, that's been Hallowed Temple - are valuable to the players/PCs, because as a general rule I take the view that "resting" in the Underdark or the Abyss doesn't enable any sort of resource recovery.
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION], looking at your PCs one possibility that occurs to me is this:

* Failed checks on the way cause the PCs to be lost/delayed, and the PCs notice that shadow are pooling more heavily/dusk is falling earlier;

* Overall failure means that when the PCs arrive at their destination, the shadowfell has already started to encroach on the town/homestead/other civilisational element that the PCs were heading to.​

[MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] - your advocacy of new tricks to this old dog is noted!
 

darkbard

Explorer
On the one hand, I'm looking for ways to expand my current experience and thinking about how to utilize SCs for travel in general. On the other hand, this is going to come up in the next session or two for this particular scenario as the PCs travel from Winterhaven, to which they are now retreating after defeating Kalarel and his attempt to open the rift to the Shadowfell, to Harken Forest, where they wish to address the geas (purely fictional, no mechanics here) placed upon the Cleric to halt the activity of the Hunter-Spider Drow as outlined above.

My thought as GM was, in what ways can I press against the PC's beliefs that build off the already-established fiction? Since the Cleric's rough backstory is derived from the setting's group of surface Drow, and Sehanine, as an enemy of Lolth, would naturally wish to (1) combat any activity of Lolth's followers and (2) protect the Wood Elves, who hold her in high esteem, this presents the Cleric PC with some interesting choices with regard to her longterm goal of converting Drow to the worship of Sehanine. Further, it presses against the Ranger's beliefs in "brooking no injustice" and "protecting the lights of civilization against encroaching darkness" (e.g. Wood Elves versus being enslaved by Drow).

Conveniently, canon Nentir Vale material (which serves well in this case, though none of us feel beholden to adhere to it) places Fallcrest halfway along the road to the Harken Forest, where this Drow activity occurs. So the PC discussion has already involved an ad hoc agreement that the Warlock will agree to fight the Drow in return for the others' aid in stealing his family's ancestral sword, which, presumably, resides in Fallcrest. (Of course, the Half-Orc also belongs to said family, and his feelings about the matter have yet to be addressed....)

I don’t have the time to commit to reading through each of the PCs right now, but I will afterwhile and give you some PC-centric stuff to consider.

[...]

Although you can certainly play D&D in a similar vein (site based adventure and social conflict), and plenty do, I definitely feel that something can be lost with the perilous journey being fast forwarded. I feel like this is particularly true in a PoL setting (like 4e, BtW, DW, etc).

a) A lot of the themes and tone connect to and come from the wild.

b) Without firsthand experience of the encroanching, suffocating “darkness” of the wild, the encircled, unique “light” of civilization will invariably be muted. Perilous journey through that darkness is a strong (when done right) way to enhance the juxtaposition.

c) When done well, there is a diversity of obstacles and conflicts that can’t be reproduced elsewhere (which will tie into PC archetypes).
I think you are already aware that your and my aesthetic sensibilities have significant overlap in such matters, and so I am grateful for whatever time you have to give in consideration of this. In this game in particular, our "session zero" talk rated PC interest in the Perilous Journey quite high!

Most of my 4e play has been at levels/tiers well above [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION]'s, but rituals to allows safe rest - since upper paragon, that's been Hallowed Temple - are valuable to the players/PCs, because as a general rule I take the view that "resting" in the Underdark or the Abyss doesn't enable any sort of resource recovery.
As I've discussed in posts over the years, my players have never shown much interest in Ritual Casting ... until now! Recently, the Warlock player has been very intrigued by the Planeshifter PP and the fictional tie-ins between the Vistani and travel between planes. There is a feat called Vistani Pathfinding which focuses on rituals of the travel variety, to boot!

[MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION], looking at your PCs one possibility that occurs to me is this:

* Failed checks on the way cause the PCs to be lost/delayed, and the PCs notice that shadow are pooling more heavily/dusk is falling earlier;

* Overall failure means that when the PCs arrive at their destination, the shadowfell has already started to encroach on the town/homestead/other civilisational element that the PCs were heading to.​
Excellent suggestions! I had already begun reviewing monsters of the shadow variety to this purpose for possible implementation in microfailures for the SC.
 
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Is this Heroic Tier? I'm just going to assume so. If you could provide the Character Themes, I could come up with some specific stuff based off off that.

Heroic Tier generically:

Hopelessly Lost!
Doesn't really work in the sense that the concept is that the party DOES eventually arrive. At the very least the consequences of the SC must be other than "don't find their way back". Of course there are a number of possibilities there, too many to enumerate!

Sinkhole Shenanigans!
See above, escape in some form must be a given.
Stumble Upon a Lair
Encounters in 4e tend to be rewards, in an XP/treasure sense, and ones that are not really connected to the main narrative kinda suck.
Flash Flood!
This is better, in the sense that it falls into the 'arrive with less resources' genre. The PCs presumably survive (at least most of them) but suffer some more or less dire wear and tear along the way.
A Dire Bear's Favorite Meal
This one falls more into the "get a reward, or not" genre, which also works fine in that it avoids any issues of needing to 'fail forward'.
Uncover an Unwanted Truth

Something relevant to one of the PCs' Themes.

Someone precious is captured and there is a terse ransom letter.

Someone they thought they could trust is implicated in something terrible.

An ancient, terrible omen is scrawled on a moss-covered rock right before their eyes. The Elder Primal Spirits have been betrayed by the people of the region. For 1 year, verdant, fertile lands will yield a crop that only kills...the creatures of the forest will thirst for human and demihuman blood.
I don't see these as CONFLICT per se. That is, in HoML terms they would probably happen as an interlude, an RP sequence not involving mechanics (interludes can still be tied closely to character aspects of course, they are 'scenes', just not ones where gains and losses happen). Obviously they could be elaborated into encounters/adventures where things play out.

Frankly, I prefer the 'interlude' solution for a lot of these things. Make it a travel montage. The party struggles against the almost non-existent roads, trackless wilderness, harsh weather, hungry and dangerous fauna (and flora), etc. However, their arrival at their destination is not in doubt in a narrative sense, and the scene is merely transitional story-wise. The PCs are now in Sunderhaven, not Har, and they probably need to restock on trail food...
 

darkbard

Explorer
Frankly, I prefer the 'interlude' solution for a lot of these things. Make it a travel montage.
I can see why you might feel this way, and the interlude, or "color," is certainly one way to handle it. (If I may presume, perhaps this is how [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] usually handles such details in his game? As he suggests above, this may not be one of 4E's mechanical strengths.)

Nevertheless, as all players concerned want the experience of travel to be a dangerous proposition (both with regard to the events tied to the PCs and to the stakes for the players themselves), I feel, with [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION], that something vital might be lost in glossing over these affairs (sometimes).

EDIT: Let me add, the interlude should absolutely be implemented in many cases. For example, I imagine this is how the PCs' current situation will play out (though actual play will see if this holds true). They have just finished a sequence of tough fights and SCs against the beginning nemesis, during which one PC technically lost her life (reduced to negative bloodied value) but then was raised by the intervention of her goddess (for reasons I detail above). So when our next session begins, I imagine that unless the players indicate otherwise, their return to nearby Winterhaven (an hour or two away) will play out as an interlude, hopefully with some interesting color integrated by me as GM that could always be developed further into an actual mechanical encounter (social, combat, SC) if the players take it that way.

In this case, it should feel like retreating to safety, a point of light, and so there are no stakes.
 
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As I've often posted about, I find doing overland travel well a challenge (of my GM skills!), including in 4e.

The issues I have with some standard approaches are:
* Extra combats can be boring, and I don't like boring as the penalty for failure;

* Getting lost or similar stuff can have the same problem of being boring;

* Fatigue or similar sorts of numerical penalties can produce a death-spiral type effect upon arrival (the "can" is deliberate - this isn't inevitable, but is an issue I've had).​

In 4e in particular there is also an issue with making a harder combat the consequence of failure - a harder combat gives more XP, and so isn't any sort of penalty, and depending on the context may be more enjoyable/interesting than an easy combat - so why gate it behind failure?

Here are some things I've had success with (in 4e and BW):
* Upon arrival, the fictional situation is different from what was expected/hoped for (eg after a desert crossing, the first well has been fouled by an enemy);

* Getting lost or something similar changes the fictional circumstances of arrival (eg the PCs arrive on the other side of the river/gorge from where they need/want to be);

* Resources are depleted - this can include not having been able to take an extended rest while travelling due to non-restful conditions.​

With depleted resources, there is the potential for death spiral but in 4e at least I think that limiting access to resources works better as a type of penalty (if only because it makes the players sweat a bit more while not actually death-spiralling them given their depth of resources, at least above very low levels) than does imposing numerical penalties to actions, which can start to destabilise the maths.

Ultimately I think that, in the context of 4e, having the fiction change in some adverse/undesired way is generally better than mechanical penalties or hurdles. (In BW it's different because while penalties can produce a death spiral they can also make it easier to get checks at the difficult needed to improve character abilities - whereas there is no analogue to that in 4e.)
Lets think about this in terms of "play to see what happens". In that paradigm, arrival at the destination cannot ever be seen as a given. In fact in a truly 'story now' mode of play there is no destination. Thus, in those terms, [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION]'s question becomes literally incoherent; that is, a game built to work that way is incoherent with his stated scenario.

I don't want to sidetrack the thread, its clear enough that he's got some sort of 'scripted' play going on in which the GM has already constrained the outcome to arrival at the planned destination. However, it can be interesting to contrast the different techniques and see how their fundamental play architectures lead to different game experiences.

So, in my story now HoML campaign, the PCs might strike out towards a remote destination across the 'darkness' of the world. If the player's stated interest is focused strictly on some element which has been narratively constrained in previous play to require the PCs to be at that remote location, then arrival there should be a given and any costs involved should be seen as 'stakes'. It might, thus, be appropriate to challenge the players, "how badly do you really want to do X, are you willing to pay N amount of resources to do that?" This would play out in HoML as an SC, most likely. It would necessarily have the constraints in that case similar to darkbard's outline in the OP.

The form of said challenge would then be one where passing would allow arrival with resources intact, and failure would not. The players could choose to pay for successes (an option in HoML that is missing in 4e) and get some kind of 'middle path' where they spend a bit but most likely less than failure would cost.

The challenge COULD also take some other forms. It could be something like a sacrifice, choose between success and you lose your loyal henchman, or failure if you save him, that sort of thing (again, this could be a dilemma brought on by failure, you can 'turn it into success' at a cost). A reward scenario could work too, again with possibly some sort of compromise or extra cost element potentially involved (let the fey steal the child, get their help).

What all these have in common is really their focus on elucidating how the PCs story evolves, what choices they make, and how those choices lead to different possible story outcomes. Remember, there is no fixed script which requires arrival at the destination either! It could be that events along the way lead the PCs down a different path, or maybe the players decide that their goal isn't worth the cost. Maybe they turn back, or maybe they arrive much later or with different goals.

I find it interesting that you can't really necessarily tell which set of techniques are used to play out a narrative after the fact.
 
I can see why you might feel this way, and the interlude, or "color," is certainly one way to handle it. (If I may presume, perhaps this is how [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] usually handles such details in his game? As he suggests above, this may not be one of 4E's mechanical strengths.)

Nevertheless, as all players concerned want the experience of travel to be a dangerous proposition (both with regard to the events tied to the PCs and to the stakes for the players themselves), I feel, with [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION], that something vital might be lost in glossing over these affairs (sometimes).

EDIT: Let me add, the interlude should absolutely be implemented in many cases. For example, I imagine this is how the PCs' current situation will play out (though actual play will see if this holds true). They have just finished a sequence of tough fights and SCs against the beginning nemesis, during which one PC technically lost her life (reduced to negative bloodied value) but then was raised by the intervention of her goddess (for reasons I detail above). So when our next session begins, I imagine that unless the players indicate otherwise, their return to nearby Winterhaven (an hour or two away) will play out as an interlude, hopefully with some interesting color integrated by me as GM that could always be developed further into an actual mechanical encounter (social, combat, SC) if the players take it that way.

In this case, it should feel like retreating to safety, a point of light, and so there are no stakes.
Yeah, when the players interest in the whole idea of "the dark wilderness as opposed to the points of light" is high, then it wouldn't really make sense to make travel in the wilderness merely an interlude. Certainly not as a habit. The retreat to Winterhaven could work fine that way of course, there's nothing wrong with simply describing the trip in a few words, especially since it is a return across terrain already experienced once (I assume, unless your adventures actually started 'in media res' to so to speak).

So, I think you definitely want to frame some kind of scene during, or compromising the whole of, the subsequent journey to Fallcrest. You could do lots of things. Maybe the trip has grown so dangerous that some merchants want to tag along. Are they actually good guys or not? What sort of responsibility for them, and for upholding decent civilized standards of behavior, will the PCs take? Obviously some casualties make a cheap way to underline the dangers of travel, but those could also lead to complications! Maybe a dying merchant makes a last request "take this talisman to my daughter in Rockhome!" or something. Will the half-orc take up that cause? These are only a few things that popped into my mind, its a rich vein. You could mine many westerns for 'man against nature' themed material!
 

darkbard

Explorer
Lets think about this in terms of "play to see what happens". In that paradigm, arrival at the destination cannot ever be seen as a given. In fact in a truly 'story now' mode of play there is no destination. Thus, in those terms, [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION]'s question becomes literally incoherent; that is, a game built to work that way is incoherent with his stated scenario.

I don't want to sidetrack the thread, its clear enough that he's got some sort of 'scripted' play going on in which the GM has already constrained the outcome to arrival at the planned destination.
I think you misunderstand me, or perhaps I have misrepresented myself. I have no script in play, as GM, though I am speculating about potential scenarios and their range of outcomes. However, the players have expressed intent which will surely play out as action declarations, and I wish to honor a fail forward mentality in engaging those declarations.

Now, certainly, PC actions, successful or not, may change the direction of the current fiction, but there is nothing about player-facing principles that works at odds to a fail forward framework. Story Now, to me, does not indicate a lack of goals or destination; instead, it means destination is determined through player exploration of their characters and that mechanics, rather than GM-scripted plot, determine how and if the PCs achieve those goals.

Essentially, what you are suggesting is that "play to see what happens" and fail forward are at odds, and I do not believe that must be so.
 
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pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION], [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION] - interesting discussion!

If the players declare that their PCs are heading for X by striking out through the wilderness, then we have intent and task. It seems that there are several possible ways this can unfold at the table.

(1) The GM simply says "yes" and narrates the arrival, perhaps with a bit of travel drama laid on top. Ipso facto there can't be anything of significant cost here. This is how most travel in my Prince Valiant game, and some of the travel in my 4e and BW games, happens.

Cortex+ Vikings is a bit different, because the PCs tend not to have a particular destination in mind, and the travel is punctuated by me dropping in appropriate action scenes (this actually gives it more of an "Arthurian wanderings" feel than Prince Valiant, where we use the map of Britain on the inside cover of the Pendgraon hardback that shipped as part of the PV kickstarter).

(2) A version of (1) where the GM "bargains" with the players - you arrive fine, but knock of XYZ, where that might be money, rations, healing surges, etc. I'm sure I've done this in 4e but can't recall an occasion at present. Traveller also lends itself to this - where XYZ is purchase of a high passage - but in my game the PCs have only ever travelled using their own starship.

(3) Successful arrival is put at stake, and so some sort of check has to be made. What counts as "successful" is pretty crucial here. It may require fleshing out the intent behind the task.

If what's at stake is arrival per se, then maybe the stakes are whether or not the PCs arrive at all!

But if "success" means arriving on time, or arriving at a refuge, or arriving so I can reconnect with my loved ones, then it seems that the stakes might be some sort of threat to those things - arriving late, or failing to prevent a "Scouring of the Shire" situation, or loved ones being under threat (which could be as simple as, say, a drought).

In 4e, a complexity with these sorts of stakes is that it's not always straightforward to frame them into a check. Whereas some systems have (say) a relationship stat which would factor into a check where the intent is to reconnect with loved ones, 4e tends not to have that sort of thing. So it would make sense to try and make sure stakes, stats/mechanics and resolution framing are all well-aligned.

Obviously there's a lot more that could be said, and lots of possibilities, but I think I've got enough for a post!
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Doesn't really work in the sense that the concept is that the party DOES eventually arrive. At the very least the consequences of the SC must be other than "don't find their way back". Of course there are a number of possibilities there, too many to enumerate!

...

I don't see these as CONFLICT per se.
Just going to use these two pieces to bridge into a quick post.

I don't agree with either of these positions above.

1) I'm not sure why your thought is that there is a preconcieved endpoint to [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION] 's game here. I don't see anything in the lead post that implies that.

2) If there is a preconceived endpoint (the group will travel from x to y and arrive unscathed in n time), then its pointless to treat the travel as an Action Scene. Just treat it as a Transition Scene, depict the journey cogently, and move the game forward to the destination.

But that seems pretty anathema to the conventions of PoL!

Further, in a PoL travel scenario, travel conflict would broadly be "does this obstacle or this series of obstacles (a) complicate travel thematically and (b) convey the conventions/tropes of PoL." If the answer is yes to both, then you have conflict that is coherent with the game's premise.

Finally, my thoughts on travel in RPGs dovetails perfectly with The Perilous Wilds expansion for Dungeon World (and these are the journey rules I use in that game and the principles I use for pretty much all games):




Journey

When you travel by a safe route, through safe or dangerous lands, indicate your destination on the map. The GM will tell you how long the trip takes, and what—if anything—happens along the way. When you reach your destination, choose someone to Manage Provisions (a move) to determine how many rations were consumed over the course of the trip.




Undertake a Perilous Journey

When you travel through dangerous lands, and not on a safe route, indicate the course you want to take on the map and ask the GM how far you should be able to get before needing to Make Camp. If you’re exploring with no set destination, indicate which way you go.




Then individual party members assume the roles of Navigate, Scout Ahead, Manage Provisions (each with their own set of objectives, complications, choices, consequences) between each Make Camp (where folks will make a Stay Sharp/Take Watch moe) move until your reach your/a destination.




If darkbard is telling me/us that the road isn't a "safe route" or the lands aren't "safe", then I agree that the conflict of the "perilous journey" should be played out using the conflict rules (in 4e's case; the SC).
 

darkbard

Explorer
If darkbard is telling me/us that the road isn't a "safe route" or the lands aren't "safe", then I agree that the conflict of the "perilous journey" should be played out using the conflict rules (in 4e's case; the SC).
We decided to use the default map of the Nentir Vale as the starting point of our game because it allows for easy implementation of the DW principle to "draw maps, [but] leave blanks": there is enough of an outline for each PC to establish roots and connections to the implied setting but lots of room for change, additions, and so on. We very much like what Ron Edwards has to say on setting-centric Story Now play here. ( [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] has talked about his own similar implementation of the central region of the Greyhawk map.)

It is because there is a clear and obvious road between Winterhaven and Fallcrest (and then Harkenwold) marked on the map, our assumption is that getting lost from said road (one of only two true roads in the Nentir Vale) is probably pretty silly, barring some significant circumstances (a blizzard, being driven off the road a great distance, and so on).

Nevertheless, though the road is obvious, our desire is that travel on the road is not safe and that travel between points of light (even along marked routes) is perilous.

nentir_vale.png
 

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