by Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 8 January 2019
Journey Away crossed my radar when a few associates on Twitter began sharing it to signal boost it. Seeing it pitched as a “non-challenge based RPG”, I was intrigued, and seeing what seemed to be a lighthearted setting to go with it inspired me to drop the money to back it.
While it was a little later than expected, the PDF has finally arrived, and as promised, I’m delivering a review.
Journey Away is pitched as a “non-challenge based RPG”, revolving around the players playing as “ordinary folk who have decided to leave their hometown and go see the wonders of the magical world they live in.”
==What You Get==
Upon delivery, backers were sent a 25 page PDF, consisting of the covers (2 pages), title/credits (1 page), rules and setting (20 pages), and finally the character sheet (1 page). A print-on-demand option will be available on DriveThruRPG in the near future.
One thing I like about Journey Away is that lighthearted, JRPG feel. This isn’t a world on the brink of destruction, but rather one that begs to be explored and enjoyed. Everything from the art (which is lovely) to the setting to the gameplay mechanics all reflect this very theme, and it does it well.
From an appearance standpoint, I felt it all meshed well together. The artwork doesn’t distract from the text, and the text itself is large and easily readable. The color choices for the background and font play up on both readability and maintaining that lighthearted feel of the game, which, after some of the books I’ve recently read, is a blessing.
Sadly, “happy good-feeling JRPG” is not enough to save this game from my critical eye.
For starters, I find the price point for this game is far too steep. Backers at the PDF level paid $10 for this title, and those who wish to purchase it on DriveThruRPG will be paying $15 for this. For just 25 pages, 21 being actual game material (not including scattered art, at least two images being half a page of larger), that’s quite the pricetag to pay considering the number of other games you can pick up a PDF for in the same price range will much more content. The expected page count wasn’t listed within the campaign, so seeing such a short product upon arrival for that pricetag just irked me, especially considering how Harder They Fall was under half this price with almost as much core rulebook content (and other PDF extras, like cards).
Considering this also has a POD option, I’m a bit worried that it would get lost on the shelves of anyone who collects games like I do…
I also feel that the game itself is rather lacking in actual game elements. On one hand, I like the idea that it’s non-challenge based, in that you aren’t going out and rolling against a set difficulty or slaying everything you find. On the other hand, I feel that the game itself is trying to be a shared storytelling experience with the dice just thrown in without having a good way to do so.
Specifically, characters are created with Aspects, and then they are assigned dice (d4 through d12), based on how important they are to the character. Thing is, there’s no real guidelines, so you could technically have a string of d8s down the board if you can argue it.
Which brings up how the dice are used. After a scene is set, if something interesting can happen, the player gathers up a dice pool based on which Aspects can be used. The GM puts together a pool of 2d8, plus factors (environment/weather, for example), plus anything from the PCs sheet that could be used. Both pools are rolled, then results are compared die-by-die, with the “winning” side determining if it’s a Boon (PC wins) or Complication (GM wins).
At this point, one player (not the one rolling!) decides which Boons are available, while another player decides the Complications. Traveling through the woods could lead to Boons such as finding a boat, seeing a lucky magical bird, stumbling upon a fairy, or even simply finding a tasty fish for that night’s dinner. Complications could include getting lost because you were distracted by a cute animal, falling into the mud, or the boat is missing its oars.
Complications also don’t have to be inherently “bad.” One of the book’s examples is using a complication to find a treasure map, which then leads you all to decide if you are going to pursue the treasure (and delay your arrival to your destination) or just continue on. That’s it. No real repercussions, just a potential change of direction.
All said and done, the GM seems to just set the stage and arbitrate rules, with the onus of the storytelling resting on the players and how they want to approach things. You’ll need a solid group to play this right, and at that point, why even have a GM? Why do you even need a full RPG for this? It becomes a shared travel story in a magical world without any of the elements beyond whimsy, and I’m not sure if the game is enough on its own.
As much as I hate doing it, I am giving Journey Away a dried out single bun.
The game has a light-hearted feel full of whimsy, and is a great way to cut one’s teeth on joint storytelling without resorting to conflict for everything. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and it could be a great tool to help with storytelling in general. I could also see it being a nice tool to help creative kids get into gaming, but it’s not directly marketed that way (like Power Outage is).
Sadly, that’s all it has going for it. The game tries to be open ended but doesn’t offer much in the way of guidelines, and with how the roll mechanics are put in place, it makes me wonder why dice and a GM are even needed. The lack of a conflict mechanic leaves examples presented within the book open to interpretation (like getting the oars back from the monkey), leaving players to their own devices and little else. I feel it’s less a game and more a storytelling experience, but at that point, why pay $15 for it when you can get one-page games with better mechanics and guidelines like Honey Heist or Everyone Is John for free?
If you stretch it, I can suggest Journey Away to anyone that needs a storytelling tool that uses dice, is kid friendly, and teaches concepts about shared storytelling. Otherwise, give this a pass and spend your $15 elsewhere…unless the price drops. I could see myself paying $5 or less for this, but not the full $15. If anything, I’d suggest getting a Powered By The Apocalypse or related game (like Blades in the Dark or City of Mist), one of the Fate products (I still stand by Dresden Files Accelerated), Tales From The Loop, or Kids On Bikes before jumping at this, as each has similar storytelling potential with better structure, more content, and still in the same price range (most expensive being Tales From The Loop at $25; the rest are between $5-$20 on DriveThruRPG as of this writing).
Journey Away was created by Jacob Kellog, founder of Purple Aether Games and a credited Starfinder/Pathfinder content creator. You can purchase Journey Away on DriveThruRPG for $15 for the PDF, and a print-on-demand option is coming soon.