Nick Pournaras – Journey Playtest

Journey Playtest

Setting: Wrack (homebrew)

Locale: Fields of Grey

Length: 4

Physical form: Spirit of a devotee of the Ones Before, and a lone, unnamed traveller

Destination 1: Natural-Mineral

Salt Cliffs

Travel

The traveller carries the holy symbol of the Ones Before. He doesn’t seem to recognise its meaning or significance, but he treats it with respect and care. He also doesn’t know that it used to belong to the spirit now following him. He simply found it when he came across the remains of the spirit’s body and took it. Now, the dead priest goes where the traveller goes, not out of malice and with no intention to haunt him, but because that symbol is all that reminds him of who he was. And he is terrified of forgetting and becoming just another shade, attacking passersby out of confusion and anger for the living.

The two travel for days through the white-grey sands. The traveller looks weathered by the cold and sand carried by the wind, but the spirit feels a primeval sense of wild, untamed peace, like some sort of spiritual presence has its home here, and feels safe and blissful in the whipping wind and shifting sands. He’s unsure if this feeling is because of another spirit of a deceased mortal, one of Those Before, or the spirit of the land itself. He wonders why he can sense it, whether it’s because of the spirituality he had in life, before he met his end, and if the traveller can sense it too. If he does, he shows no signs of it.

Arrival

The horizon shifts and raises in angles strange to the ones the two were used to seeing. The flowing irregular curves of the dunes give way to rigid, cracked earth and compact minerals which the millenia stacked, compressed and shaped into cliffs that tower over the sands, casting a long shadow, like a wall of tall, hunchbacked men in robes of white. The salt in the cliffs glitters and shines in the traveller's eyes. The spirit is awash with a feeling of timeless disregard for the world of mortals and the living. The land takes no notice of people and their schemes. It simply is.

Exploration

1: Important, size(already described)

2: Emotional, inhabitants/where they live

3: Surprising, presence and scale of flora or lack thereof

4: Important, what is at the top if you look up (skipped, couldn’t think of anything better than “the sky”)

5: Important, how has it changed over time

2: Unspeakable sorrow comes over the spirit, like a blast of harsh wind. As he follows the traveller closer to the salt cliffs and as he starts walking up the sloping spine, spirits of deceased mortals emerge from the bottom of the cliff, out of the bed of salt, and grasp at the air with questing hands towards the pair. Their collective despair mingled with feelings of pride and honour, and all together they overwhelmed the spirit, as the history of these people crept upon his unliving consciousness. All of them, victims of suicide who jumped to their deaths rather than be taken as slaves by an army of thieves, raiders and slavers who ravaged the land, subjugating weak and isolated communities. Among them, women still cradling their young in their bosom, having made the difficult choice for them. The choice between a life of servitude and a noble death as free people.

3: The bottom of the cliff bursts to life in bold splashes of red. Flowers grow in the cracks between salt formations, patches in the vague shape of a blood splat. The traveller pauses to take in this strange sight, yet as the spirit watches him on the edge of the cliff looking down, he can’t help but think the man lucky that he can’t see the spirits at the bottom, among the flowers. To the traveller, this field might even seem beautiful, lacking this grim context.

5: On the way down, the traveller slips on a formation protruding from the ground and almost loses his balance. Looking down, he sees that what he tripped on is not salt, but stone, and it seems unnaturally summertrical and sharp. Digging around the protrusion, hoping for an artefact he can sell off, he realises the stone is the top of a massive sword buried under the sand and salt. Unable to dig any further, he decides to descend the cliff and move on, yet when he makes it to the bottom of the cliff he turns back to face it and can see more protrusions in the cliff face. The position and shape of the stone suggested the vague shape of a human with a raised hand, presumably holding the sword he tripped on in his raised hand. The spirit could not know what he was thinking, but it seemed to him the traveller looked disappointed he could not uncover the statue in its full majesty. The two moved on from the Salt Cliffs then.

The Salt Cliffs are imposing and beautiful. The red flowers at the bottom are a one of a kind natural occurrence. Must come back with a digging crew, there’s a whole statue under the sand!

Destination 2: Historical

The White Gate

Travel

After stopping at an underground settlement on the way here, the traveller paid for a yat pack beast, strong animals of the desert which the locals use when venturing on the surface of the desert. He rode it westwards, spirit in tow. Days pass in the cold and wind before anything other than grey sand is seen.

Arrival

Finally the horizon breaks and a straight white line lifts slowly. The traveller leans forward on the yat, trying to discern the sight in front of him. The spirit can already see it: The White Gate. A long, towering wall extending from one rocky hill to another, miles across, brilliant white with a gate in the middle.

Exploration

1:Supernatural, strange. Artifacts of landmarks/physical adornments of historical significance.

2: Emotional. Events memorialised and how long ago they took place.

3: Surprising. Person from the Locale interacting with this place as a memorial or with reverence.

4:Important. People or powers that protect this place from time and other damage.

5: Supernatural. How people in this locale feel about this place.

6: Surprising. What would you see if you stood in the center and looked up ( skipping, the answer is once more “the sky”)

1: As the yat moved closer to the gates, the traveller notices that the shapes he could see from afar in front of the walls are people. But he investigates closer and realises they are not alive, but rather simply resemble live people. Warriors, soldiers, fighting a losing battle against an invisible enemy. Yet their form is unnatural, their skin as if glittering marble, yet soft to the touch. They do not move. They all pose in various expressions of struggle and war, some attacking, some in pain, some yelling orders. Their armour is unlike anything the traveller or the spirit recognise. The spirit can feel their consciousnesses like a trickling stream, barely audible but definitely there. He wonders what it would feel like to be any one of them, and if they know they are trapped. Maybe it’s like sleeping. Or maybe they are aware of the other soldiers somehow.

2: The spirit wonders how long the soldiers have been trapped here for. Their uniforms look foreign. He knows little of warfare or armoursmithing, but to him, they look old. He feels a faint pang of sadness for them as he thinks of the families and friends that died with the passage of time without being able to see them again, maybe without the chance to even say goodbye.

3: The sight of the traveller drawing his sword from its hilt draws the spirit out of his reverie. He had been startled by a sound that the dead priest now noticed to have come from a local, a young boy, kneeling in front of the wall by a patch of posters glued in a busy cluster near the bottom of the wall. They are all drawings of people, men and women of different ages. The traveller sheathes his sword as he notices the boy shrink as if preparing to bolt. He puts his hands out, palms outwards and tries to reassure the boy. They have a brief and guarded conversation. The boy has come to pay homage to his ancestors' memorial. He says it's a family tradition, that the woman who fought in this field is his predecessor, hailed as a hero in his family. When the traveller asks the boy where his family is, he points at the wall. Or rather, through it. The traveller and spirit both look at the wall, then towards the gate. It is ruined and collapsed but the sheer size of it together with the fallen debris made it impossible to simply walk through. The traveller would have to climb. To the spirits' surprise, the traveller gestures for the boy to follow him.

4: Together, they find a place in the wall that looks less steep and easier to climb. The man produces a grappling hook from his pack and ties a length of rope to it, tossing it above him. It takes him a few tries to get the hook to catch, but when he tests the rope it pulls taut and steady. The two slowly climb the wall this way, while the priest watches over them, knowing he can’t intervene if anything happens, but feeling a sense of duty to do so anyway. As they scale the face of the wall, the surface of the stone darkens progressively. The boy explains that people make a pilgrimage to the White Gate to maintain it and cover it with a fresh coat of limestone, but they dare not scale it to take care of the top.

5: He goes on to explain that the people of his tribe feel that this place has a power, that it preserves the armies that fought here because it loves them and doesn’t want them to die. That it simply waits for the tribes to discover a way to break the soldiers out of stasis so they can be with their people again.Eventually, they two make it on top of the wall and the traveller digs the hook between two stones and tosses the rope down on the other side, descending the wall with the boy following suit. They leave the White Gate behind them as the boy leads the man through the sands towards his people.

The soldier statues of the White Gate are unsettling. There clearly is magic at work here, and together with the history of this place and the people, it’s like walking through time.

Destination 3: Individual

Alma

Travel

The way to the village of the boy’s people is uneventful and quiet, which is a more than welcome respite from the harsh wind and stinging sand. The temperature is more comfortable on this side of the wall it seems. On the way there, the boy mostly speaks at the traveller, and tells him about what he usually does everyday and what life is like with his tribe. The traveller, though seemingly uninterested, politely listens and does not interrupt.

Arrival

A few hours of travel with usual stops for the boy to get his bearings are enough for the group to reach the tribe. The people make their home in a network of caves, well hidden from every direction unless someone is standing right in front of the mouth of the cave, in a depression in the dunes. The boy leads the traveller deeper in the cave until it is too dark to see. The spirit can however make out the shape of the cavern still, with no sign of life. Eventually, hand in hand, the boy stops in his tracks. He has his other hand on the cave wall and he clearly felt something to make him now fumble around in the dark up and down the cave wall. The traveller simply keeps holding his hand and waits for him to finish whatever he’s doing. The spirit sees the boy pick up a torch from a pile hidden in a crevice behind a stalagmite and, after some more feeling around, finds the hidden flint and steel wrapped in cloth. With the torchlight now guiding them, the boy lets go of the travellers hand and leads him and the priests’ ghost through criss-crossing tunnels, stopping in front of a steep rise that seemed to be a deadend, until the boy purses his lips and emits a low, wavering whistle. Responding to the sound, two people, a man and a woman, both armed, appear at the top of the rise and look down to the pair. A short exchange and an explanation later, the are being pulled up with a rope by the guards and allowed into a yawning cavern, big enough that the ceiling could not be seen. There, huts of stone and yurts of some sort of carapace circle a bonfire and various workbenches and storage containers. The boy leads the man to a woman sweating over a hand powered mill. A pile of mushrooms and lichen lie next to her. He introduces her as Alma, his sister and watcher.

Exploration

1:Supernatural. What this person ate most recently

1: The two converse in the dim torchlight. The man explains how he found the boy and asks for supplies. The woman questions his origins and his reasons to travel alone in a land as dangerous as this. The man is economical with his answers, but he does not lie. He seeks to return to his home, but cannot do so until he has completed his pilgrimage. As they talk, the spirit of the priest watches the woman, examining her strange garments, and as he does so, the woman looks up and meets his gaze and holds it. She explains to the man that a ghost is following him, which seems to unsettle him. She goes on to explain the spirit does not mean him harm. All the while, the dead priest listens on, stunned that a mortal can see him, but unable to communicate. When the man questions the authenticity of her words, she opens her mouth and shows him her yellowed tongue. She explains that the moss that grows in the deep reaches of this complex has many psychotropic properties, one of which is spiritsight. She agrees to part with some of it with the man in exchange for a wineskin he offers her, from the last settlement he visited. He sits down and chews on the moss before swallowing it down, and after a few moments of looking around his gaze stops on the ghost of the priest. He recoils and the woman takes his arm and sits him back down. A brief explanation of the spirits’ peaceful nature is all that’s needed for the man to gingerly accept the situation. He pockets the rest of the moss and is offered to stay the night before moving on.

Alma is one of the Yehuti. She watches over a little boy. They live in a village built in a hidden cave network where moss that allows you to see the dead grows. I was being followed by a ghost! Thankfully peaceful though.

Destination 4: Individual

Uduku

Exploration

1: Emotional. Special ornamentation the person wears

2: Important. How the person feels about the future

1: The traveller leaves the Yehuti cave behind and sets off to the north, to the border of the Fields of Grey. It takes him a few days of travel during which the temperature rises and forces him to go through his stores of water. Exhausted, he arrives at a canyon. He can’t see a way through, and to go around would mean he dies of thirst before he makes it across. So he starts walking up the canyon one morning, with the spirit of the priest of the Ones Before just behind him. After a day of climbing, his body starts to fail him. He can see the top of the canyon, but he simply cannot find the strength to go on. He finds a cave on the side of the canyon to hide in, and he sets down his pack and sits on the ground. The spirit wanders around, looking for any sign of water or life, any way to sustain the traveller. He visits a number of caves and crevasses before he finds one that goes deep, where moisture gathers on the walls. He returns to the traveller and the traveller recoils. In his hand is the moss Alma gave him.

He maintains his composure this time and examines the spirit closer. He notices the embroidery on his ghostly robes. His brow furrows and he tosses a stone at the spirit, furious, with no result. He shouts at the spirit angrily, about how it is his cult, his people who are to blame for the decline of his home town. How they came and poisoned the mind of their previously just ruler and turned him into little more than a slavedriver and a tyrant, paranoid of losing his wealth and status. The ghost makes no indication he is angry, he simply points out of the cave. As soon as the traveller calms down, he decides to follow the ghost to the deep cave, and greedily collects the moisture from the walls. After he quenches his thirst, and when his temper has cooled, he asks the spirit why his cult did what they did, and what their goals are. The spirit looks around as if lost in thought, then gestures deeper in the cave.

2: The man produces a torch from his pack and lights it before going forward. The cave didn’t go in much further, but the man finds a makeshift altar here, barely bigger than a footstool, and dark blue dust in a wooden bowl set aside. The cave floor was also different here, it had a blue tint to it. The ghost gestures to the dust and the man picks it up. Following the ghosts’ gestures, he spreads some of it around himself in a circle, then sets the bowl down. Still following the ghosts’ instruction, he then lights the dust on fire and extinguishes his torch. The dust burns for a few seconds, then quickly dies down. A moment passes in absolute darkness and silence before the dust starts to glow weakly with a light blue-green hue around him, and as his eyes adjust, he can see the cave walls faintly lit by the glow. The ghost starts gesturing widely and at the start the man isn’t sure what he’s trying to say, but then he notices the dust moving in patterns and shapes, like strangely shaped snakes on the stone. The dust forms letters, then words. They tell of how the ghostly priests’ cult was taken over by a madman consumed with the idea of power and dominion and how taking over the man’s town, as well as many other settlements, was simply the start to his complex plan to impress the Strangers who came here with their gargantuan Ziggurats and caused the cataclysm that left the world mutated and dead, in an attempt to join them and be granted the secrets of their race and magic. As the dust shifted faster and faster, the words told of how the traveller could use the symbol he found which used to belong to the priest to join the cult as a new member and take down the Archpriest from within, and that the spirit of the priest would help him with his knowledge of the cult and ghostly sight. The man slowly realised that he had misunderstood his pilgrimage, and that he could not return home as a townsman after revenge, but that he had to lie and cheat his way into this cult, and probably do horrendous things to his fellow townspeople, for long enough to get close to the Archpriest, before he can take his revenge for good and save his people. He clutched the idol tightly, trying to come to grips with this new revelation. He asked the spirit his name, but when he turned around, he could no longer see him. The moss was wearing off. When he looked at the ground again though, the dust had moved again to spell it.

‘Uduku’

The priest is of a time before the cult became what it is now. He has shown me what I must do. I don’t know if I trust him, but if I don’t, I have nothing left. My destination is the same, and yet it could not be more different.


Reflecting

The flowers arranged in patterns resembling splashes of blood was a strange and beautiful sight. And whenever I think of the buried statue my heart longs to be back there, to dig it out and stand in front of it and take it all in.

Yet when I close my eyes, there are only two things I see. Alma, holding out the yellow moss to me, and the ghost of Uduku, with his pensive, hollow gaze, pointing down at the dust around my feet, and that horrible revelation of my destiny. I know what I must do.

Notes

The second version of Journey came to me after the completion of the 3rd Waypoint, so the first Waypoints still follow the format of the 1st version of Journey.

  • Does my form need to have intelligence? Could I have chosen an item as my form?

  • Is my starting point a Waypoint? Do I write about where I start or start writing while on the road to my first Waypoint?

  • It might be helpful to take the example Journey at the end of the document and break it up and put each part after the explanation of each mechanic/procedure in the book. I, like some other people, learn a lot better by examples, and it would be good to give an example of every new concept or process right after explaining it.

  • It was a great idea to make the card suits optional since some of the times I felt the context they gave to the Aspects were strange or unfitting

  • Some of the Aspects were “what would you see if you stood there and looked up” and a lot of the time the answer is “the sky” I don’t know if I misunderstood the Aspect, but I found those ones strange

  • The second version seemed to have changed the term Destination into Waypoint, yet some parts of the book still refer to Destinations.

I highly enjoyed using Journey to discover some of Wrack, the world I am writing for a new RPG I am about to host. My natural instinct was to write things out closer to a story/novellisation rather than bullet pointed lists, which is why it took considerably longer than maybe expected (and way more than an hour). In the future I would approach this with more of a note taking, bullet point list state of mind, just to get what  Journey can offer me faster, though that approach might mean I lose out on the more nuanced feelings and thoughts of my Form. I am likely to use Journey again in the future to flesh out my worlds!

I had more notes and constructive feedback to suggest but I was happy to find that they were already addressed in the second version, which means our thinking of how we’d like Journey to turn out aligned! Huzzah! Finally, I hope you find these notes on Journey useful, and let me know if you want me to clarify anything else about my experience with it. I look forward to Journey’s release!

-OddCore/Nick

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