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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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.
 

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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

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
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

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
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

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
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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