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Playtest (A5E) Level Up Playtest Document #17: Journeys

Welcome to the 17th Level Up playtest document. This playtest document contains an abbreviated expression of the game’s Journey rules, which form an important part of the exploration pillar of play.

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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Faolyn

(she/her)
Fair enough. hehe its sometimes comical how the mechanics and flavor interact, ultimately when you go for a simple model that is inevitable, you can't account for everything, but it does lead to some real oddities.

DM: "You all see a flowing river along the way"

Player1: "Oh, I will go refill our waterskins". Rolls survival and....fails.
Player1: "Oh cruel world! Why is pushing a sack of leather into a pool of water so difficult!"
I was thinking about that, and decided that if the players are actually going through the effort of roleplaying out hunting and gathering, or busking, or writing up a chronicle, or whatever, then they get the reward for doing so--a Supply, some extra gold, the bonus on rolls. But this doesn't count as performing the Journey Action because those are background events.

Meaning, the players can spend a half-hour or however long in real-time RPing an action, or they can relegate it to the background.
 

Reynard

Legend
Fair enough. hehe its sometimes comical how the mechanics and flavor interact, ultimately when you go for a simple model that is inevitable, you can't account for everything, but it does lead to some real oddities.

DM: "You all see a flowing river along the way"

Player1: "Oh, I will go refill our waterskins". Rolls survival and....fails.
Player1: "Oh cruel world! Why is pushing a sack of leather into a pool of water so difficult!"

Player2: "Ok I guess I'll fill the water skins then"
DM: "Oh...um....well only 1 person can forage....sorry"


Now as the DM in this case, I probably wouldn't call for a check, and just give them the benefit of a standard hunt and forage. But then your in the situation where I would expect most regions that aren't barren wastelands to have rivers and lakes....because, that's how nature works. So that leads to the scenario where the players are basically getting a forage in for free, and supply is meant to be more scarce than that.

If I'm overthinking this...I'm really not, I can already see the gears turning in my players heads as they try to milk the system for everything its worth.
A failed roll could mean something else, though. Sure, you fill your waterskins but you picked a bad spot and the water (you find out a couple miles on) is undrinkable.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think a failed roll is more likely to result in problems like finding tainted water, toxic berries, or even getting bit by a baaaad insect that perhaps causes you to burn a supply between the vomiting & diarrhea. A fantasy world includes options for magical parasites & all manner of stuff riffing off things we have like that tick, flesh etaing bacteria, brain eating amoebas, manchineel trees, poison fire coral, box jellyfish blue ringed octopus, , bullet ants, Dendrocnide Moroides/suicide plant, & so many others.Oregon trail style death is unlikely

Out of curiosity, I was wondering how common rivers are in the world, at least in the "nice parts of the world fertility wise". The answer, pretty darn common. Here's just one example, you can barely go half a day in most places and not hit some flowing body of water. The US was even more. So probably in my headcannon I will assume supply is really just food, and water is covered by the land. Only in the barren wastes will water truly be a factor, which is already covered in the region descriptions.


This got me curious so I did some digging. For comparison here is one of semitropical florida alongside a population density heightmap of the US
1619727695688.png


population density.jpg
[
1619727695688.png
Most of the state would probably be grassland marsh urban & open roads, I couldn't find a map of our manmade drainage canals but most of the populated areas are in places you'd probably have trouble walking more than an hour or two without hitting one or the ocean
 

Reynard

Legend
If you have ever watched shows like Alone or Naked and Afraid you know that potable water is rarer than you think and bad water is potentially deadly. Calling a failed roll a "can't find safe water; want to chance it anyway?" is better than "you failed to fill your canteen."

That said I don't think D&D works particularly well as a survival game and if Level Up isn't dramatically changing that aspect it probably isn't worth worrying too much about.
 



Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
If you have ever watched shows like Alone or Naked and Afraid you know that potable water is rarer than you think and bad water is potentially deadly. Calling a failed roll a "can't find safe water; want to chance it anyway?" is better than "you failed to fill your canteen."

That said I don't think D&D works particularly well as a survival game and if Level Up isn't dramatically changing that aspect it probably isn't worth worrying too much about.
You're definitely right that D&D doesn't work as a survival game... but I don't think that's really the -point- of the Journey System.

Think of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You've got the One Ring at the start of the game and you have to get it to Mount Doom. 5e D&D has travel times, some weather effects, vehicles, and random encounters. You could kind of develop a campaign that hits the same beats as the Fellowship of the Ring and such.

But with the Journey System, you've got a much -deeper- ability to do that campaign. Different conceptual regions with Social and Exploration encounters added to the encounter table, a simple method of tracking food and water, like Frodo and Sam in their last days of near-starvation as they struggled, exhausted/fatigued/striferidden, up the slope of Mount Doom itself.

It makes for a deeper, richer, story. And a deeper, richer, world.

And it doesn't -just- work for the Journeyquest style of adventure. Imagine a West Marches game where each Hex you explore gets to be a different tier and land type based on the ones around it. Where the party's Ranger spends the travel time "Scouting" to tell you what the 3 forest hexes to the Northwest, West, and Southwest are in Journey Terms (Deep Feywood, Gentle Feywood, and Deep Feywood) so you can make an appropriate decision about which path to take.

Also I definitely like the "Can't find Safe Water" risk thing. Especially with D&D's various diseases as options. Then again, the spell "Purify Food and Drink" probably still exists, so "Can't find Safe Water" becomes "Found Water!" which means there's no chance to fail...

Might be best to let the DM drop the "Safe" water thing in specific regions/storypoints.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
You're definitely right that D&D doesn't work as a survival game... but I don't think that's really the -point- of the Journey System.

Think of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You've got the One Ring at the start of the game and you have to get it to Mount Doom. 5e D&D has travel times, some weather effects, vehicles, and random encounters. You could kind of develop a campaign that hits the same beats as the Fellowship of the Ring and such.

But with the Journey System, you've got a much -deeper- ability to do that campaign. Different conceptual regions with Social and Exploration encounters added to the encounter table, a simple method of tracking food and water, like Frodo and Sam in their last days of near-starvation as they struggled, exhausted/fatigued/striferidden, up the slope of Mount Doom itself.

It makes for a deeper, richer, story. And a deeper, richer, world.

And it doesn't -just- work for the Journeyquest style of adventure. Imagine a West Marches game where each Hex you explore gets to be a different tier and land type based on the ones around it. Where the party's Ranger spends the travel time "Scouting" to tell you what the 3 forest hexes to the Northwest, West, and Southwest are in Journey Terms (Deep Feywood, Gentle Feywood, and Deep Feywood) so you can make an appropriate decision about which path to take.

Also I definitely like the "Can't find Safe Water" risk thing. Especially with D&D's various diseases as options. Then again, the spell "Purify Food and Drink" probably still exists, so "Can't find Safe Water" becomes "Found Water!" which means there's no chance to fail...

Might be best to let the DM drop the "Safe" water thing in specific regions/storypoints.
Yeah, in LotR the journey is the adventure. We want to support that, and also support folks who just want to quickly give some flavour to the travel between two places.
 

Reynard

Legend
You're definitely right that D&D doesn't work as a survival game... but I don't think that's really the -point- of the Journey System.

Think of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. You've got the One Ring at the start of the game and you have to get it to Mount Doom. 5e D&D has travel times, some weather effects, vehicles, and random encounters. You could kind of develop a campaign that hits the same beats as the Fellowship of the Ring and such.

But with the Journey System, you've got a much -deeper- ability to do that campaign. Different conceptual regions with Social and Exploration encounters added to the encounter table, a simple method of tracking food and water, like Frodo and Sam in their last days of near-starvation as they struggled, exhausted/fatigued/striferidden, up the slope of Mount Doom itself.

It makes for a deeper, richer, story. And a deeper, richer, world.

And it doesn't -just- work for the Journeyquest style of adventure. Imagine a West Marches game where each Hex you explore gets to be a different tier and land type based on the ones around it. Where the party's Ranger spends the travel time "Scouting" to tell you what the 3 forest hexes to the Northwest, West, and Southwest are in Journey Terms (Deep Feywood, Gentle Feywood, and Deep Feywood) so you can make an appropriate decision about which path to take.

Also I definitely like the "Can't find Safe Water" risk thing. Especially with D&D's various diseases as options. Then again, the spell "Purify Food and Drink" probably still exists, so "Can't find Safe Water" becomes "Found Water!" which means there's no chance to fail...

Might be best to let the DM drop the "Safe" water thing in specific regions/storypoints.
That's all true, and the journey rules from The One Ring and Adventures in Middle Earth that obviously inspired the Level Up ones are a great addition to the tool box. But that wasn't the discussion you responded to. The question was "how do interpret a failed roll when the GM calls for a check to fill the canteen." Now, that's a dumb time to ask for a check in the first place, but let's assume that was what the module required. You have to be able to interpret a sensible result, of which "you couldn't open your canteen" is not a member of that set.

The real question with journeys is "does this group want that to BE the adventure." The Lord of the Rings movies, as an example, don't focus on the journey. My wife jokes that those films are all walking, but most times the walking is all aerial shots and epic score. We zoom back down when something interesting happens -- orcs attack or we encounter some bit of exposition on the road." That's closer to the traditional D&D encounter check system (with the caveat of a skillful GM that can make the die rolls disappear into their narrative). I think the goal of a journey system is to make having to cross the river interesting in an of itself as an activity the players engage in, rather than just a thing the GM narrates.
 

Reynard

Legend
Yeah, in LotR the journey is the adventure. We want to support that, and also support folks who just want to quickly give some flavour to the travel between two places.
That's really only true for Sam.and Fredonia after the company splits. Aragorn's story is about something else.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
One of the problems I see is the fact that there is a difference between "comfortable" travel times and quickest possible travel times. Unless pressed, most groups of people will choose comfort. If pressed, they might go far more faster than normal. I'm not sure how to represent this as players don't notice things like comfort and thus always choose to go fast.

I also think as the journey gets longer the average per day will settle down to the comfort level eventually. You can't go full bore peddle to the medal forever.

Also the larger the group the slower it goes. So a caravan might only go 12 miles per day because there are hundreds of people including children in that group in some cases. Whereas five people along will travel faster. So size of group matters a lot. Armies for example move incredibly slow compared to small groups.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
One of the problems I see is the fact that there is a difference between "comfortable" travel times and quickest possible travel times. Unless pressed, most groups of people will choose comfort. If pressed, they might go far more faster than normal. I'm not sure how to represent this as players don't notice things like comfort and thus always choose to go fast.

I also think as the journey gets longer the average per day will settle down to the comfort level eventually. You can't go full bore peddle to the medal forever.

Also the larger the group the slower it goes. So a caravan might only go 12 miles per day because there are hundreds of people including children in that group in some cases. Whereas five people along will travel faster. So size of group matters a lot. Armies for example move incredibly slow compared to small groups.
You're not wrong! That's why I use Overland Difficult Terrain a little differently than what is used in combat. Instead of 100% or 50% I use a 25% breakpoint system!

Open Roads/Shirelands travel is 100%. Forest/Hills is down to 75%. Traveling through a Desert or Marsh reduces your movement to 50%. And then Mountainous regions or otherwise very difficult to pass terrain knocks you down to 25%.

Is there Inclement Weather strong enough to impact travel? That's another 25% off.

Big groups or lots of people who need help? 25% off.

Certain things can offset the speed loss. Magic items to alter the weather or something similar? You ignore that 25%. Your army well trained to march in formation? 25% big group penalty is also gone.

It's not -perfect-. But it does a decent job of approximating harshness of terrain or climate and the difficulty in organizing large groups.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
That's all true, and the journey rules from The One Ring and Adventures in Middle Earth that obviously inspired the Level Up ones are a great addition to the tool box. But that wasn't the discussion you responded to. The question was "how do interpret a failed roll when the GM calls for a check to fill the canteen." Now, that's a dumb time to ask for a check in the first place, but let's assume that was what the module required. You have to be able to interpret a sensible result, of which "you couldn't open your canteen" is not a member of that set.

The real question with journeys is "does this group want that to BE the adventure." The Lord of the Rings movies, as an example, don't focus on the journey. My wife jokes that those films are all walking, but most times the walking is all aerial shots and epic score. We zoom back down when something interesting happens -- orcs attack or we encounter some bit of exposition on the road." That's closer to the traditional D&D encounter check system (with the caveat of a skillful GM that can make the die rolls disappear into their narrative). I think the goal of a journey system is to make having to cross the river interesting in an of itself as an activity the players engage in, rather than just a thing the GM narrates.
The Lord of the Rings movies are not the Lord of the Rings. Which is much closer to the Journey System than the movies could hope to be.

There are 11 CHAPTERS before Frodo meets the Nazgul at Hilltop. Most of which are focused on traveling around the Shire on the way to the Prancing Pony, stopping at various farms and houses, and eventually getting captured by Barrow-Wights (Don't worry! Tom Bombadil saves the Hobbits and gives them Magic Daggers before they ever meet Strider).

The first book -ends- with Frodo reaching a safe-haven on the back of Glorfindel's horse.

The Lord of the Rings is a quintessential Journeyquest, where the travel is the big focus of the story. Not the set-piece big battles that Peter Jackson wanted to see.

Heck, the part of the Hobbit where the Battle of the Five Armies happens? Bilbo gets knocked out pretty much out of the gate and the book skips to him waking up in the aftermath! Because the adventure is the journey, the paths taken.
 

Reynard

Legend
The Lord of the Rings movies are not the Lord of the Rings. Which is much closer to the Journey System than the movies could hope to be.

There are 11 CHAPTERS before Frodo meets the Nazgul at Hilltop. Most of which are focused on traveling around the Shire on the way to the Prancing Pony, stopping at various farms and houses, and eventually getting captured by Barrow-Wights (Don't worry! Tom Bombadil saves the Hobbits and gives them Magic Daggers before they ever meet Strider).

The first book -ends- with Frodo reaching a safe-haven on the back of Glorfindel's horse.

The Lord of the Rings is a quintessential Journeyquest, where the travel is the big focus of the story. Not the set-piece big battles that Peter Jackson wanted to see.

Heck, the part of the Hobbit where the Battle of the Five Armies happens? Bilbo gets knocked out pretty much out of the gate and the book skips to him waking up in the aftermath! Because the adventure is the journey, the paths taken.
I think you mistook me. I was just using the Jackson films as an example. I'm well aware of the differences between the book and the films.

But to go on with your example: what do you have to do in he Journey rules to make the pace of such a story fun and interesting for the players while maintaining their agency? How do you make crossing the river fun in a way that isn't just a "traditional" encounter -- because a GM can certainly put "river crossing" on their random encounter chart and deal with is as a complex skill challenge or whatever. What are the journey rules FOR, in play, at the table, that is different than the traditional way of doing it.

With TOR/AiME, it created a broader abstraction that turned the entire thing into a skill challenge with consequences. It was a more narrative tool designed to provide context and depth while still moving is along to the next location. It's a great tool, but it isn't designed to make journeys the centerpiece of the game -- it's designed to make them shorter and more interesting.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I think you mistook me. I was just using the Jackson films as an example. I'm well aware of the differences between the book and the films.

But to go on with your example: what do you have to do in he Journey rules to make the pace of such a story fun and interesting for the players while maintaining their agency? How do you make crossing the river fun in a way that isn't just a "traditional" encounter -- because a GM can certainly put "river crossing" on their random encounter chart and deal with is as a complex skill challenge or whatever. What are the journey rules FOR, in play, at the table, that is different than the traditional way of doing it.

With TOR/AiME, it created a broader abstraction that turned the entire thing into a skill challenge with consequences. It was a more narrative tool designed to provide context and depth while still moving is along to the next location. It's a great tool, but it isn't designed to make journeys the centerpiece of the game -- it's designed to make them shorter and more interesting.
By gamifying the Journey.

Instead of HP determining your Journey's "Health" you're measuring supplies as an abstract value that can be gained and lost. Every day you expend -some- of your Supplies, though there are ways to reduce that loss, and to add more supplies to your stock. But there are also events which specifically, -explicitly-, target your Supplies rather than your HP.

Yeah, you can get into a fight against the Watcher in the Water to drive it back, but it's not just after your HP it's also trying to grab Bill the Pony and all the supplies on his back. A form of asymmetric encounter that standard D&D generally doesn't do much of.

By creating a separate set of stakes (Journey Supplies) you can change the narrative function of the Journey Encounters away from standard D&D Fights. Suddenly a group of bandits on the road aren't -just- a combat encounter, but a Journey Encounter which can cost you supplies separate from your HP. And failing a Complex Skill Challenge to cross a river might mean losing supplies rather than a party member.

And once the food runs out, you're stuck gaining stacks of Fatigue which slow you down and make it even harder to find more food. Better hope you're near your next safe haven to get rid of those levels of Fatigue, 'cause tossing up a camp on the side of the road and chowing down on a boar the Ranger hunted won't remove those levels.

And if you're starving, and didn't get enough on the hunt to feed everyone..? DRAMA at the Table! Someone has to go hungry while everyone else eats.
 

Reynard

Legend
By gamifying the Journey.

Instead of HP determining your Journey's "Health" you're measuring supplies as an abstract value that can be gained and lost. Every day you expend -some- of your Supplies, though there are ways to reduce that loss, and to add more supplies to your stock. But there are also events which specifically, -explicitly-, target your Supplies rather than your HP.

Yeah, you can get into a fight against the Watcher in the Water to drive it back, but it's not just after your HP it's also trying to grab Bill the Pony and all the supplies on his back. A form of asymmetric encounter that standard D&D generally doesn't do much of.

By creating a separate set of stakes (Journey Supplies) you can change the narrative function of the Journey Encounters away from standard D&D Fights. Suddenly a group of bandits on the road aren't -just- a combat encounter, but a Journey Encounter which can cost you supplies separate from your HP. And failing a Complex Skill Challenge to cross a river might mean losing supplies rather than a party member.

And once the food runs out, you're stuck gaining stacks of Fatigue which slow you down and make it even harder to find more food. Better hope you're near your next safe haven to get rid of those levels of Fatigue, 'cause tossing up a camp on the side of the road and chowing down on a boar the Ranger hunted won't remove those levels.

And if you're starving, and didn't get enough on the hunt to feed everyone..? DRAMA at the Table! Someone has to go hungry while everyone else eats.
I like that a lot -- although I have found that it is very difficult to get folks to care about things like discomfort and hunger for their PCs unless there is a powerful mechanical component to the state. In my own cobbled together "journey as skill challenge" system, the consequences are usually measured is rests, resources expended and in the case of big failures or trouble, levels of exhaustion. The idea is that if you do well on your journey, you arrive at the adventure site rested and ready to go. If you do less well, it means you haven't had a long rest and you expended some resources, and so on. It's not perfect and it requires buy in (players that accept the consequences rather than just saying "o we take a long rest at the dungeon door") so I am very interested in seeing what the final Level Up system looks like.
 

Stalker0

Legend
A failed roll could mean something else, though. Sure, you fill your waterskins but you picked a bad spot and the water (you find out a couple miles on) is undrinkable.
This is certainly one way to do it, and probably a good way to go in a pinch. But if worldbuilding is a big thing for you, then this has other problems.

Okay so the river water was undrinkable. So....that means the river is undrinkable. So why is the river undrinkable, is someone poisoning it, is there a large population upstream befouling it? Because rivers aren't "just undrinkable", most free flowing rivers are pretty clean unless something is messing them up.

So you have this "schrodinger's skill check". If I pass my survival check, the river is safe. If I don't, its now a befouled river from some terrible people upstream....which means it will need to stay befouled to maintain the narrative.

For some people that maybe completely fine, even interesting. Others may not like that a check affects the world in such a strong way.
 

Reynard

Legend
This is certainly one way to do it, and probably a good way to go in a pinch. But if worldbuilding is a big thing for you, then this has other problems.

Okay so the river water was undrinkable. So....that means the river is undrinkable. So why is the river undrinkable, is someone poisoning it, is there a large population upstream befouling it? Because rivers aren't "just undrinkable", most free flowing rivers are pretty clean unless something is messing them up.

So you have this "schrodinger's skill check". If I pass my survival check, the river is safe. If I don't, its now a befouled river from some terrible people upstream....which means it will need to stay befouled to maintain the narrative.

For some people that maybe completely fine, even interesting. Others may not like that a check affects the world in such a strong way.
I think you are overthinking it. The water the PCs gathered is undrinkable, probably because where they took it out was a little inlet where the water was more still and something foul had crept in (maybe animal waste, maybe a dead fish, whatever). The point is saying that the PCs failed to gather drinkable water doesn't mean you have to rewrite your whole setting.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Okay so the river water was undrinkable. So....that means the river is undrinkable. So why is the river undrinkable, is someone poisoning it, is there a large population upstream befouling it? Because rivers aren't "just undrinkable", most free flowing rivers are pretty clean unless something is messing them up.
It could also be that you managed to scoop up a bunch of silt that got stirred up in that area, or it has a bunch of insect/fish/frog eggs in it, or giardia*, or there's a dead animal right there polluting that section of water and you didn't see it when you got the water. There can be lots of things that are messing up the water without it being the result of deliberate evil-doings. It can even that you lost your waterskin or accidentally punctured it on the rocks.

---

*Which makes me wonder how LU is going to handle diseases and parasites during travel, or if they're planning on doing that at all.
 

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