Perilous Journeys Fantasy RPG – An Examination, Part One

*This post is one post made from a series of posts found at my other blog, The Semi-Retired Gamer.*
 

Before I begin looking at Perilous Journeys I feel it is important to explain my experience with Lejendary Adventures.  I stumbled across the Lejendary Adventure players manual in a FLGS one day and immediately purchased it after I noticed the name “Gary Gygax” and skimmed through the book.  I was pretty excited because it looked like a simple and straightforward skill based game using percentile dice for resolution.  Unfortunately, I just did not “get it” at all.

 

I made multiple attempts at character creation and never went further with the rules.  My biggest problem was that I came away with a different understanding each time I read the rules.  I agree with others about the language or writing style being biggest stumbling block to understanding the LA system.  I disagree about the use of nontraditional role-playing terms.  I have no problem understanding that Avatar is equal to player character, Order is basically equal to class, and on down the line with the rest of the terms.  I believe the use of these unique terms is a plus and helps set the tone as something different from the previous work of Gygax.

 

I am no stranger to the works and style of Gygax.  I read and understood the AD&D works, Cyborg Commando, and Dangerous Journeys. After reading through the character creation process in LA repeated times I grew very frustrated with the rules.  At first they seem pretty simple to follow but using them left me utterly confused.  I downloaded the quick start and that seemed to help a little but I was unable to bridge the gap between the quick start and the core rules.

 

Ultimately, I came away from the LA rules disappointed.  I got the impression that a smooth rules-light game was waiting to be discovered with the rule book. I also felt that the writing style did not facilitate the understanding of the rules.  I must point out that this is not a dig against Gygax.  I am just saying that the rules as presented did not work for me.
As a quick aside, I just wanted to point out that I thought it was interesting that both Arneson and Gygax stepped outside the realm of D20 based gaming and explored percentile based games with Adventures in Fantasy and Lejendary Adventure.  

 

How did I find Perilous Journeys?  I frequently check the threads at Dragonsfoot; specifically, the General Discussion, AD&D, Workshop, Lejendary Adventure, and Simulacrum Games forum.  I was checking the forums one day and came across this thread bringing attention to a new game with a design similar to LA. After a download and a little investigation of the rules, I decided to bring attention to this game by taking a closer look at it in my blog.

 

Basic Details
I am taking a look at pdf version of the Perilous Journeys core rule book.  The document is black and white with illustrations and weighs in at 129 pages.  The artwork does a good job of capturing old school adventuring and there is an overall absence of dungeonpunk characters and monsters found elsewhere.  That gets a big thumps up from me because I really dislike a lot of the modern art in 4E.  I assume the only thing missing from the pdf version is the front and back cover. The cover of the print version is displayed below.

 

Preface
The preface states several important things that form my impression of where this game is headed with the rules.
  • PJ is a skill based game that attempts to mimic the feel of OD&D but not the mechanics.
  • PJ has streamlined and flexible mechanics that will not hinder play of the game.
  • PJ has broad skills that allow the customization of characters.

This sounds an awful lot like what I heard about LA but that is a good thing.  If Perilous Journeys delivers for me in the ways that LA could not then I will be a very happy gamer.

 

Terminology
The next section is a list of the common terms used in Perilous Journeys.  Usually I just quickly skim through these in other rule books to see if anything unfamiliar catches my eye.  I actually read every one of these definitions and found them very satisfactory in their explanation of the respective term.  The terms and labels used in Perilous Journeys should be familiar to most people who have played just a few role-playing games.  The few new terms are explained in a clear manner that causes no confusion to the reader.

 

Introduction
Two things caught my attention when reading the introduction of the character creation chapter of the rule book.  First, the beginning characters created with this system are not weaklings and the power level is one that is “appropriate… for characters that would be adventuring in a dangerous world”.  Some might argue that the “OD&D feel” mentioned in the foreword of the rule book is not in agreement with this.  I disagree with that view.  The characters in both games just begin at a differing level of power.  Second, the rules ask each player to come up a somewhat fleshed out character concept before character creation begins. It is even pointed out that this concept should be more than just “warrior” or “thief” but should include details on personality, abilities, how the character was trained, etc.

 

The Character Creation Steps
There are 14 steps to creating a character in the Perilous Journeys rules.  Some of the steps are either optional or do not apply to every character due to choices made in other steps.  It may sound like a lot of steps but – I am happy to say – the steps are clear without any confusion to the reader.  Unlike Lejendary Adventure, I am 100% confident that I understand the steps and can actually create a character.  In fact, I am tempted to once again pull out my Lejendary Adventures book to see if I can make any more sense of those rules.
 
Races
Players have 8 races to choose from in the Perilous Journeys rule book.  Four of the races – Dryad, Fomorian, Lurikeen, and Wild Elves – offer a wider variety of chooses for the player.  Some might be wondering why the Wild Elf is simply not listed as a sub-race of the Elf.  After a little examination, it is clear that the two races are quite different from each other.  A simple sub-race listing would not work in this case.Each race entry is laid out in an easy to follow format.  First, there are some introductory remarks about the race that includes physical details.  Second, the generation of the Core Attributes is covered in detail in this section.  Players have two options here – a point based method or a points plus random rolls method; both methods seem viable but the choice of method is up to the GM. Third, this section covers the selection of Abilities (commonly called skills in other games) for the character being generated.  Humans are free to choose anything but the non-human races have abilities that are excluded – they can never learn them – and others that are restricted – they can not begin play with these abilities.  Fourth, the race entries end with Racial Traits that are other capabilities such as immunity, special hearing, special vision, etc.
 

Character Customization
After the selection of race, your character can be customized with the selection of edges, flaws, and contacts Edges are basically advantages while flaws are basically disadvantages.  Contacts are NPCs the character knows that may be able to give assistance to the character.  This section is where I run into my first issues – one minor quibble and one somewhat irritating inclusion – with the game system.

 

I just do not “get” the open eyes edge.  I understand that the character can sleep with his eyes open but I just wish there was a little more guidance on this one.  Is the character harder to surprise?  Does the character wake up quicker?  I am not sure BUT I am also not too concerned about it because it’s not a deal breaker at all; not even close.  On the other hand, I find the inclusion of the gas edge to be irritating and somewhat of a mood killer.  Yes, I know it is a game and we are all just trying to have fun here.  Maybe it is just me but I would rather it not be included – not because I think it is offensive or anything like that.  I always seem to game with somebody that will take something like that and just try to be as goofy as possible with it.  I admit that the irritation with that flaw may entirely be just me; besides, I can always outlaw it in my games.

 

Other than those two issues, this section is well done.  There seems to be quite a bit of variety without bogging down with a bunch of rules covering every little circumstance and exception.

 

Back To The Good Stuff…
Unlike Lejendary Adventures, I have no confusion over the determination of the first ability of a character.  It is simply the ability with the highest score generated during character creation.  I knew that much from LA but was unsure of when and how to determine all of the point additions to the ability score.

 

Abilities are similar to skills in other  games.  There are 38 abilities to choose from during character creation. The abilities serve several purposes in Perilous Journeys.  First, each ability grants bonus points to one of the  core attributes when it is chosen.  Second, each ability is linked to a core attribute and can not be increased over the score of the score attribute without using extra points to do so. Third, each ability also generates a selection from the equipment lists: low, middle, high, and magical.

 

The Professions and Guilds
With this post, I am looking at the professions and guild system of Perilous Journeys.  The explanatory introductory paragraphs hold a lot of promise.  Simply put, professions are similar to orders in Lejendary Adventures or classes in D&D. The guilds represent an association of like-minded individuals that offers training and looks out for the interests of the members.  Perilous Journeys is really flexible in the application of this concept for the benefit of the game.  For instance, it is typical to have a thieves guild or an assassins guild in a fantasy game but Perilous Journeys points out that you can have a criminal organization with members of various professions working in one guild together; such as thieves, assassins, and bandits in a criminal guild as mentioned in the rule book.  Basically, guilds give a little bit of structure to these organizations but the players are not bogged down in a bunch of rules that try to cover every little detail of the organization.

 

The GM is left with the responsibility of creating and detailing guilds and similar organizations for the campaign. This should not be a difficult process because it should just involve a name of the organization and the professions that are part of the organization.  The only other details that are necessary are any NPC members of the organization.  The GM really needs no more information than that.  The rules cover how to qualify for a profession and it is straightforward – the character must have the required first ability to be admitted as an apprentice.  To qualify for full member status, the character must have a rating of 50 in the first ability and 20 in the other required abilities.

 

There is one drawback to belonging to a profession or guild.  The flexibility of creating any type of character is sacrificed for the benefits of guild membership. The guilds provide training at a greatly reduced  or no cost, professional materials, etc. but also require the player to make certain decisions to belong to that guild. The choice is in the hands of the players and it is a fair trade-off.  If the player chooses to not belong to a profession and guild then the listings can be used as guidance during character creation.

 

The Professions
There are 13 professions detailed in the rules; technically, there are 15 because there are 3 builds of Cleric detailed depending on what gods the character follows. The explanation of the professions is simple to follow since the entries are split into four sections.  First, there is a small description of the profession.  Second, the social class recommendations for the professions are listed.  Third, The first ability of each profession is listed.  Fourth, the final section is a list of 3 or 4 required other abilities for that profession.  The professions seem to offer a lot of variety and I think players will be happy with the selection available.  If a player should desire a profession not covered in the rules then it should be no problem to either re-skin one of the existing professions or use one as a guideline for detailing a new one such as a Witch.  I must point out that I don’t feel any essential professions were overlooked in the rules; I was just using the witch as an example.

 

Guilds

The professional associations and unions of Medieval Europe inspired the guild rules of Perilous Journeys.  The actual historical guilds were devoted to crafts such as masonry or carpentry.  These craftsmen banded together to provide aid to members and protect their craft.   In contrast, the guilds in Perilous Journeys represent associations of skilled adventurers that provide benefits to their members; namely, aid and training.

 

There is usually only one guild of each type per location because the guilds typically do not like competition in their area.  Guilds will take action to ensure their monopoly.  Some of these actions are legal and some are illegal.  There are exceptions to the Guilds strongly protecting their monopoly.  For instance, in large cities there are often several types of fighter guilds.

 

There are 13 guilds corresponding to the 13 professions in the Perilous Journeys rules.  The term “guild” is actually a generic label and will not be used for every profession.  For example, clerics will belong to religions, cavaliers would probably be part of a chivalric order, enchanters might be in orders, and guilds of other professions could be labeled differently as well.  The important thing to remember is that membership in any of these organizations is covered under the guild rules.  All guilds will conduct their organizational business in a guild hall.  Of course, other labels will be appropriate according to profession; for example, cavaliers will likely meet in keeps, clerics might gather in monasteries or temples, bandits meet in camps, and shamans could meet in circles or groves.

 

Characters have two options when they join a guild.  First, the character can join during the character creation process by simply spending design points.  There is no quest or monetary requirements for joining in this manner; it is assumed to happen prior to play.  Second, the character can join at a later time by fulfilling any quest requirements and paying any monetary dues associated with being granted the rank they are qualified for in the guild.

 

Advancing in the guilds is measured by competency in the required abilities (skills).  These abilities are the same as the abilities for the professions; one ability is the primary ability while the others act as supporting abilities.  There are three ranks for each guild and they are apprentice, journeyman, and master.  Each one of these ranks has three levels attached to them.  Advancing through the levels requires spending money and experience points.  There are benefits associated with each level advancement such as gaining a point in each required ability, upgrading armor, add 2 points to a core attribute, etc. These benefits are listed in a master table that must be consulted for level gains.  While all guilds use the same table, it is customized for each guild and there is enough variety that you will not be building the same character time and time again.  Training is also available to non-guild members but it will be more expensive and more restrictive in what will be taught.  It may seem that guild membership is taken for granted with these benefits but characters that are not in a guild are free to advance in and focus on the abilities of their own choosing.

 

That is a quick summary of the guild system used in the Perilous Journeys game rules.  I think they are one of the best set of rules for these types of in-game organizations because they are short (5 pages), elegant in execution, and really are all you need.  In other words, you are not required to search through a never-ending chain of supplements trying to find the perfect prestige class, advanced class, kit, etc.  All of the rules you need for guilds are in the core rules themselves.  I correspond with the author, Jamie Hardy, on a pretty regular basis and I have been privileged enough to be given a sneak peek of the second edition draft of some of the Perilous Journeys rules sections.  There are changes in many areas but I have not been given the guilds section yet.  I hope that section is just expanded with examples of official campaign world specific groups instead of being altered in a mechanical way because they are near perfect in their present form.

 

***Coming in future Perilous Journeys posts: Spells, Game Play, Advanced Combat, Creating Professions, Magic Items, and Monsters.***