Journey: Basics

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Here, we'll attempt to cover the basics of Journey. For learning the game, this is the best place to start.

At the end of the section, there will be a glossary, where all bolded terms will be defined. If you need to look up a term, that's the place to do it.

The Core Mechanic

Table 1-1: Dice Pools
Rank Dice Pool
0 0
1 1d2
2 1d4
3 1d6
4 1d8
5 1d10
6 1d12
7 1d12+1d2
8 1d12+1d4
9 1d12+1d6
10 1d12+1d8
11 1d12+1d10
12 2d12
13 2d12+1d2
14 2d12+1d4
15 2d12+1d6
16 2d12+1d8
17 2d12+1d10
18 3d12
19 3d12+1d2
and so on...

Before we can really get into the basics of the game, we have to discuss what is known as the core mechanic. The core mechanic is the method you use as the basis for attempting actions in-game; it is used for a wide variety of things, and thus an understanding of how it works is essential.

The core mechanic is to use a dice pool, add up all the dice and any modifiers, and compare it to a target number (TN), which may or may not be known.

The primary manner in which you advance your character is by improving the dice pools for specific aspects of your character. If you want a hardy warrior, you may improve your character's dice pools for Strength, Vitality, and his combat skills; if you want an enigmatic noble, you may improve her dice pools for Charisma, Wisdom, and her social skills.

All dice pools in Journey follow the same progression of advancement, as per Table 1-1: Dice Pools.

If you have any amount of ability or training with a skill, your base dice pool with that skill is 1d2. If you decide to focus on that skill or attribute, or train or study to improve it, it improves one step at a time, following the progression above.

Some skills or other abilities may allow you to call upon other skills or attributes, either to add their dice pool to the skill's dice pool, or to even allow it to replace the skill's dice pool entirely. Something called upon to add its dice pool to what is being rolled, or to replace what is being rolled entirely, is called a root. Individual skill or ability descriptions explain whether or not you can add to or replace the skill's dice pool with the root's dice pool.

In general, all rolls made for actions involve the relevant feature's dice pool and it's root's dice pool. In some instances, you will be asked to roll only the feature's dice pool, without the root; this is called a simple dice pool.

Reading XP Cost Expressions

Nearly every aspect of your character can be improved in Journey, and doing so is done via experience points (abbreviated XP). XP costs are always listed in this fashion: X + Y/rank. To increase a feature's rank, you must have XP towards it equal to X, plus an additional Y XP for every rank you have (so if you have 2 ranks in a feature, your XP towards that feature must be X + Y + Y).

Sidenote: To calculate the XP cost of a feature for any given rank, use the following formula.

C(T) = (T * X) + [(sum{0, T - 1} * Y]
C(T) = (T * X) + [(sum n, n=0 to {T - 1}) * Y]

C = total cost
T = rank
X = base cost
Y = rank cost

The Three Rules

There are three basic guidelines that shape the rest of Journey's mechanics and gameplay.

Always Round Down

Whenever performing a mathematical calculation, always round down at every step. Some games use guidelines that vary when or why you round up or down, but Journey is complex enough without that particular headache thrown into the mix. If you ever wind up with a number that requires rounding - whether it's the result of a calculation, or the middle of one - round it down.

Tie Goes to the Initiator

Journey is all about opposed dice rolls, which can make some amount of headache for determining who wins in a tie. The resolution to this is simple: whoever initiated the opposed roll wins on a tie. If you perform a skill check against a static TN, you are the initiator, so you win on a tie; if you try to make an attack, your Sword skill is opposed by your target's Dodge skill, and you win on a tie. The best way to envision this is to say that the target is setting the TN for your roll, and to remember that you only need to roll equal to a TN to succeed at a task.

You Can Always Take Average

No matter what the situation, whenever a roll is called for, you can choose to take the average result. This takes no extra time and can be done under stress. Rolling dice is an indication that your character is trying something new, putting a new twist on an old trick, or otherwise somehow extending beyond his intuitive understanding of the skill in question; taking average means that your character is relying on previous knowledge and experience, doing things the way he or she has done them in the past.

Creating a Character

The first step is to create a character. For sake of the writer's sanity, we'll avoid going over such things as "what is roleplaying" or "how to come up with a character concept" for the time being; we'll get right into the thick of things.


First and foremost, you need to select a race. Race here is not meant in the same way as it is used in normal conversation; here, perhaps a better word would be species. Races include humans, but also include fantasy races such as the lynae, the sidhe, the thran, the isci, the dwarves, the nephilim, and the faerie.

Race determines a good deal about your character. It modifies your starting attributes, which we'll get to in a moment; it also determines some basic things about your character's personality. Your race may also give you access to special abilities, grant you bonuses to skills, or perhaps other benefits.


Once you have selected a race, you should choose a culture. Culture grants you benefits and drawbacks, such as additional skills, access to culture-specific abilities, and possibly also drawbacks. Some races have cultures specific to them (faeries, for instance, must choose to be seelie or unseelie in addition to another culture).


Once you have selected a race and culture, you can determine your character's attributes. Attributes are the core of your character; they determine your basic ability in several different areas.

There are nine attributes, each divided into three aspects and three facets. The three aspects are Physical, Mental, and Spiritual; the three facets are Power, Skill, and Endurance.

These parts of your character are described in more detail on the Attributes page.


Either before or after you determine your attributes, you can determine your personality.

Optional: Background

If you would like, you can also determine your character's background. This can be as simple or as complex a step as you like, and is not entirely necessary.

Your LM can also opt to implement the optional Backstory system, which generates a backstory for a character: the events that happened prior to the start of the game. Your character's Backstory may give you benefits that you wouldn't otherwise have gotten, but may also result in a character winding up not exactly how you expected - such is life. If you opt to use the Backstory subsystem, you do not create your character with standard starting experience; intead, your background grants you XP.


All other aspects of your character are known collectively as features. Features are divided into several categories, each with its own general rules.

Features are where you make your character stand out; they are what define your character's abilities.

  • Skills are the major feature of a character. A skill allows you to do things above and beyond what other people in the world may be able to do. While some skills can be attempted with no training or experience, there are some things you must be taught before you can even attempt to get them right. Skills suffer from decay, a concept which is important later on in your character's life.
  • Talents are not as numerous as skills, but they give more definition to your character. You either have a talent or you do not; having a talent often gives you several benefits, or has wide-reaching effects.
  • Feats are similar to talents, in that you either possess them or not. Feats, however, represent specific actions or abilities your character possesses that are above and beyond what other people are capable of. Feats are different from talents in that they are tied to a skill; to improve your ability with a feat, you must improve the skill it is tied to.
  • Traits are similar to skills, but do not suffer from decay. Traits represent aspects of your character that he does not necessarily actively improve, but which improve with time or simply experience.
  • Specials are somewhere between traits and skills in terms of how they function. Specials tend to have a limiting factor, usually a skill, that sets a cap to how high their rank can be; in addition, specials do not suffer from decay directly, but if the skill they are tied to decays, any specials higher than that rank are treated as that rank until the skill is restored to its former rank. The term "specials" is used to refer to any class of features that isn't one of the others; things like spells and maneuvers fall into this category.

Character Roles

In Journey, characters generally fall into one of six general categories: warrior, explorer, sage, adept, artisan, or mediator.

You do not choose a role, other than by virtue of acquiring specials - in general, a character is only considered a member of a role if they have acquired a special or two related to the role. Thus, while Tom could wield a sword, he is not considered a warrior unless he has mastered some of the finer arts of wielding such a weapon.

It is entirely possible for a character, in his or her lifespan, to achieve high levels of mastery in any number of these roles - and likewise it is also possible for someone who was once considered a master in her field to be reduced to a novice through lack of practice.

Role Descriptions

The following are general descriptions of the five roles and their purpose in the game.

  • Warrior. The role of the warrior is clearly to be a combat-oriented person. There are a wide variety of approaches to combat, and even your choice of weapon has a serious impact upon how you approach combat. The warrior can be fulfilled by the walking tank; a character who is lightly-armored but knows how to use a shield ridiculously well; a dual-axe wielder who goes berserk in combat; the dextrous fencer; or the dude who uses the biggest chunk of vaguely-sharp metal he can find. All of these are legitimate approaches to the warrior type, and all are mechanically viable.
  • Explorer. The explorer's purpose in Journey is to assist the group in getting from point A to point B. This could be as simple as knowing the lay of the land and being able to traverse it, or it could be as complicated as being familiar with traps and knowing how to open locks. In essence, the explorer seeks to help the group get where they are going, regardless of what is in the way. The inventive burglar, the cunning ranger, the seasoned sailor - these are all examples of an explorer.
  • Lorist. The lorist's role in Journey is quite a bit different than in other games. A lorist generally chooses to focus on one force, such as magic, psionics, or divinity, and gains access to specials that are expressions of that power. The disciplines - which are thematic groupings of "spells" - that are available and quite varied, allowing for a wide variety of different possible kinds of lorists. Want to be a mage who focuses on putting barriers into place, or a priest who slings holy flame? Both are incredibly viable concepts. Unlike the other four roles, the lorist's main thing is versatility: a lorist can choose to focus and essentially replicate another role, though she goes about it in a vastly different way, being able to do some things better while other things are simply beyond her; or, she can choose to be a generalist, assisting the group in any of the other four capacities while not really excelling in any, but making up for lack of depth with unmatched breadth.
  • Artisan. Unlike many other fantasy games, Journey is not a game in which one can find improved gear off of the fallen; instead, the equipment of the vanquished must be turned into raw materials which can then be fashioned into usable gear. While NPCs may be available who can do this, they reach reasonable caps, and so it is helpful to have an artisan along. The artisan's primary role in a group is to maintain the group's equipment and to provide new gear when materials become available. However, artisans are also capable in other ways, such as understanding architecture and traps and also useful against mechanical foes. Artisans are also useful to assist in a group's ability to procure money, which - in Journey - is something of a big deal.
  • Mediator. The fifth and final - but certainly not least - category in Journey is the medatior. The game has a rather extensive social interaction system, roughly comparable in complexity and options to the combat system, and so if it makes sense to have a warrior around to handle combats, it makes sense to bring a mediator to handle social situations. As with combat, there are many ways to approach social interactions, and so your mediator can be anything from a high-and-mighty noble to a quick-witted trickster or anything in-between, and - again - the differences between these concepts are expressed in mechanics, so that it feels like there is a difference between the two.

Deprecated Roles

  • Rogue. Was originally going to have all the rogue-y skills. Rogue-specific skills are now considered to be general and not necessarily tied to any specific role.
  • Sage. Was originally going to have access to all kinds of knowledge. Sage skills are now considered to be part of the other roles.
...the journey of a thousand miles...
...begins beneath your feet...
Players Fundamentals Cover · Introduction · Basics · Tokens · Advancement · Metagame
Universals Attributes · Traits · Skills (Old: Skills) · Species (Was: Races) · Cultures
Subsystems Lifepath · Roles · Exploration · Combat · Social · Crafting · Ethos
Disciplines Overview · General · Warrior · Explorer · Lorist · Artisan · Mediator
General Equipment · Alchemy Items
LMs Engine Engine
Setting Cities · Terrain · Timeline
Creatures Monster Disciplines · Threat and Aggro · Bestiary
Designers Design Notes Ideas · Playtests · Task Resolution · Group Composition · Some Better Than None · Dice Calculator
Meta Navigation Template · Development Codes (Red, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Elements)
Deprecated Mechanics · Classes · Social Combat · Spells · Prayers · Orations · Talents