This is our system.
Our system, let me show you it.
This game is not easy to learn, nor is it easy to master. You will undoubtedly spend a good deal of time devising your first character, and you should go into that endeavour with the understanding that that character may very well not last five minutes at the game table. This - I feel - is a good thing, and if you'll allow me a moment of your time to wax philosophy (I have a degree in philosophy, after all!), I will explain why.
In the modern world, too much of our lives is easy. Too many things are handed to us on silver platters; too many things come to us prechewed and tasteless. If you look at the current (as of this writing) iteration of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game, you will see a game that is easy to learn and easy to play. It is a good design, don't misunderstand; but it is missing something. I could be witty and say that it isn't true to its past, or that it lacks soul; but those statements are subjective or inflammatory. We need something more concrete.
The truth is that the game is too easy. Character creation is easily accomplished in moments; while the threat of character death is there, it requires terrible luck or terrible gamemastering - after all, the possibility of a poorly-made character has been removed. A hero right out of the gates, is what your character is, and you are given all the power and glory associated with that title. Sounds fun, right?
But you haven't earned it. It is a hollow title, meaningless, and the endeavours made in such a game are pointless. Light entertainment, at its best. No thinking required, no difficult decisions to make. Perhaps I am painting the game in an unfair light, but that is how I see it, and having given myself permission to speak freely and wax philosophical, that is what I choose to share with you.
Journey is not these things. It is a dirty, rusty, misshapen thing. It is complex and convoluted, intricate and involved (my editor is giving me bonus points for alliteration!). Your first character, as mentioned, will take some time to create, but you will feel a greater connection. His or her survival will be all that much more important to you, and the fragility of characters is part of design: heroism is truly heroic, in Journey, and when someone calls you by that title, your - and perhaps your character's - sense of worth will be that much greater.
Gaming is not something simply walks into and out of without thought. This is not a game of Monopoly or Risk. This game demands your attention, your vision, your imagination. It demands your heart, your mind, and your soul - but in exchange, it will teach you to reach beyond your bounds, to explore new ideas, to imagine the world as it could be.
Sounds daunting, doesn't it? And well it should; this is no light endeavour you are about to embark upon. If you are seeking cheap thrills or light entertainment, then I suggest you go and pick up a copy of the world's most popular roleplaying game, where you will be handed a character that gives you little reason to worry and requires no emotion, no vision, no heart on your part. You will have fun for a time, almost assuredly... but when you have slain your thousandth orc, perhaps you will be interested in more engaging fare.
When that time comes - if it is either now, or ten years from now - your Journey awaits you.
To best understand the soul of what Journey is, one must have some amount of knowledge regarding the community and history of tabletop roleplaying games. Here, I will try to explain in as few and as simple words as possible.
One of our friends - who knows next to nothing about TTRPGs - explained it to another friend as this: Journey is numbers put to life.
And it is precisely that. An extremely basic core mechanic, paired with an extensible and modular rules-construction system, and given a firm mechanical footing from which an individual or group can build, provides a solid footing on which any real-world action can be placed and given sense and context. The swing of a sword, the casting of a fishing line, the forging of a horseshoe, the heated argument to defuse a tense situation - every one of these is or can be represented within Journey, and with relative ease.
The core of Journey, the soul of the machine, is the concept of simulation. Within this system, decisions are not made based upon what "makes for a better story," nor are they made based on the idea of what "makes for a better game;" no, instead, logic and reason dictate the flow of play and the construction of the ruleset. When a decision must be made, either here in the guidebook or at the table, the ultimate question is thus - what makes sense?
Games that approach rules from such a vantage point are often accused of being too "realistic" - after all, why should we bother dealing with realistic thermodynamics and fish populations when there are dragons afoot? We would be foolish to argue that we can make realistic assumptions about dragons, of course, and we by no means are doing so; instead, what we argue for is internal consistency. If there are dragons, what can they reasonably do? What are the impacts of the presence of such creatures on ecosystems, on civilization? We can accept men that can reasonably wield swords as tall as themselves, who can summon forth balls of flame with not one iota of flammable material, who can call upon their deities to heal their allies and consistently have their petitions answered - but we demand that they make sense, that these things are not tossed about, that their ramifications on society and physics and everything in-between be thought of and handled appropriately. If men can leap across twenty-foot chasms, if they can peer into the thoughts of others, then the world must be able to account for these actions.
Modularity, abstraction, tunability, extensibility, simplicity. These are the five pillars upon which Journey design is based, the premises from which all systemic decisions are made, the driving factors behind the entirety of the architecture, to achieve these goals and produce a usable, functional system that does not become massive tome after massive tome. It is these five factors that, when combined, give rise to the easy-to-use yet powerful engine that forms the heart of Journey.
- Modularity: Journey is heavily subdivided into a multitude of subsystems, each of which mirrors - to a certain extent - the others; certain core assumptions regarding mechanics are similar across all subsystems. The engine can accept any number of the subsystems and interact with them, as well as allowing the subsystems themselves to interact. In the core engine, no assumptions are made regarding which of the subsystems, if any, are utilized.
- Abstraction: The world is a complicated place, and we would be fools if we thought that we could achieve a system that can fully simulate all of its complications. Not only that, but even if we could, it would undoubtedly be incredibly unwieldy - no one wants to spend five hours determining the weather for a five-mile stretch of land for the next ten minutes of time in-game. Thus: abstraction. Complex processes are distilled into simple formulae, minor variables are assumed to cancel out, allowing us to achieve "realistic enough" results.
- Tunability: Not all players or gaming groups will want the same thing out of the system. Some may be happy with an incredibly simple, rapidly-resolved combat system, while another may want nothing but combat. It is our belief that the amount and detail of mechanics for a subsystem represent how much importance it holds for the user, but we wish to make no assumptions regarding the sort of game you wish to play: as such, all subsystems in Journey are tunable, allowing a group to decide just to what level of depth a particular system will be handled.
- Extensibility: We cannot write a rule for every situation, for if we did, our rules would be huge encyclopediae full of mostly-useless information. We can, however, construct a system that allows a group to build rules on the fly, which are consistent with what is already written, that yield reasonable results. We cannot give you all the tools to handle every situation that arises, but we can give you the tools to build the tools you need.
- Simplicity: Last but not the least of our concerns is simplicity. A modular, abstract, tunable, extensible system is all well and good - unless it requires you to pore through hundreds of pages to understand, or waste half-an-hour looking up rules to resolve a single action. Ensuring that Journey remains user-friendly and easy-to-use is another important aspect, something that we achieve through keeping our subsystems consistent and utilizing a single, universal action resolution mechanic.
There is an important corollary to the goals of Journey, which is really only necessary for those who have played other TTRPGs before; however, it is possible that some players might fall under its jurisdiction, as well.
In many other games, combat is the be-all and end-all of the gaming experience. The world's most popular roleplaying game, for instance, relies heavily on combat, with almost all of its "computational" power going towards it. Players of that game may want to rush through things not related to combat, insisting on getting to the "action" or the "good parts."
This is not at all conducive to the playstyle we want to foster, not in the least.
In our minds, there is no singular "good part." There is no single kind of thing that crops up in a game that should be enshrined as the best or most important. Haggling with the shopkeeper over the price of rations, trading blows with gobbos deep in a mineshaft, and going out for an afternoon of fishing should all be treated (from the design perspective) with the same respect. No one action or kind of action is more important than any other.
You may feel inclined to disagree, and that is fine and totally understandable; this is why Journey is also tunable, so that you can modify the feel of the game and skip over what you consider the "boring parts." But understand that this is a conscious choice on your part, not ours. We fully encourage you, both as a player and an LM, to simply enjoy the experience that is roleplaying.
Because that is what simulationism is all about. It's not about the phat lewt or how many dudes you can kill in a round; it's not about trying to make statements about the world or trying to engender certain emotional states in your friends around the table. It's simply about immersing yourself in a world you can only visit in your imagination, and exploring whatever aspects of that interest you. It's not that you can't play a character all about the phat lewt, or one that preaches from on high their own philosophical views; it's that you should understand that these things should come as a natural result of your character, and not be pushed upon them regardless of the character as itself.
March 25, 2009
We have arrived at the stage of playtest viability.
This is not true for all aspects of the system; however, core combat subsystem functionality has been established. Three combats using the redesigned Journey combat engine have been run (the first live playtest since May of '08), and all three went splendidly. Due to the way combat was designed, rapid turn execution was found to be an emergent property: Journey combats, even with as many as six combatants, could be as short as a few minutes of real-time.
A few issues arose, but those were rapidly worked around. Designer intervention required was rather minimal. Due to lack of familiarity with the system, there were a few play mistakes, but nothing significant (ie, there was not one mechanic that was universally missed across all three test combats).
Character creation has been intensive and somewhat complicated; whether this is due to it being a new system or a systemic issue is yet to be determined.
Other subsystems, and expansion of the combat subsystem, are currently being worked upon, though I'm not willing to give an estimate regarding time until playtest viability of these other systems given the wild inaccuracy of past estimates.
March 28, 2009 Update: We are currently considering the possibility of having an ongoing playtest, either bi-weekly or monthly. Such a playtest session will enable us to continue testing of previously-established elements as well as inform us - the hard way - of what elements still require work. It will also shape where we work next, which may or may not be a good thing; it may force us to work out game elements that we've avoided specifically due to the work required, while it may also veer us away from some things that need further attention (ie, trauma).
- Current Ideas
- [Deprecated] Talents
...the journey of a thousand miles...
...begins beneath your feet...