The Slog

This is a hack for Pathfinder tests.

It makes Pathfinder table-oriented, like Haggler is. Then it uses different tables for different regions to create the feel of moving from region to region.

The rule text is in a googledoc here:


Oh yeah, commenting is enabled, please feel free to comment in that google doc.

The Slog
Many journeys can be handled with a simple Pathfinder test, using the factors listed for the Pathfinder skill. For more complex journeys that cross multiple regions and have potential for many interruptions and twists, we use the Slog.

Slogs are unpredictable at best, requiring as much luck as skill. There’s often a fork in the path where a seasoned traveler may choose the lesser of two obstacles.

The GM divides the the journey into “Legs”, one for each region that the journey passes through. Each Leg requires a Pathfinder test, using the standard factors for Pathfinder. However, instead of the normal rules for overcoming obstacles, the Pathfinder test results modify the roll on the regional Slog table.

Legs should reflect the route the players are planning to take (if any). For example, if the players have the opportunity to circumnavigate a dangerous forest region, they might be faced with a choice between a short journey factor through the Forest or a long journey factor through Countryside.

During a Slog, the Grind advances normally. Slog table results will frequently result in additional tests, twists or conflicts, which do not count as progress in the Slog. Only Pathfinder tests that augment a Regional Slog table roll count as progress toward the destination, whether or not the test was successful.

Once the Pathfinder has made a test for each Leg of the journey the Slog is over and the player characters arrive at their destination.

A Fork in the Road
After the player tests Pathfinder, the GM rolls on the regional slog table. If the Pathfinder test is passed, the player may choose from their actual result on the region’s slog table or the next highest result. The GM gives the players a hint as to the nature of the two paths, without describing the roll result directly, and then the pathfinding character chooses his path.

If the Pathfinder test is failed, the GM subtracts the Margin of Failure from the roll result on the region’s journey table.

The benefit of a mount is that you may use the mount’s nature on rolls against the Pathfinder Obstacle. You may tap your mount’s nature for your roll by spending a point of Persona, in which case you may add your Mount’s nature to your Pathfinder skill. Other means of conveyance, such as wagons and riverboats, have specific interactions with the type of terrain, typically an additional factor from hauling all that loot through overgrown wilderness.

Regional Slog Tables
Each Leg of the Slog has a terrain type: Countryside, Desert, Forest, Mountains, Steppe, Swamp, Tundra, Wasteland, Jungle, etc. Special regional areas totally deserve their own custom tables.

Table results are one of four types as well: People, Monsters, Nature and Weather. These categories interact with certain Slog table results and skill applications, for example: the Weather-watching application of the Survivalist skill allows the party to “hunker down” and ignore Weather results if they passed a test with an equal to or greater than the obstacle of that weather type. A well-timed Circles test could get you out of trouble with People that take an interest in your party.

Countryside (People 3, Monster 3, Nature 2, Weather 3)
2 Weather: Hurricane or Blizzard
3 Nature: Famine - factor in all tests to find or prepare food and water until end of Slog.
4 People: Your enemy has dealings in the area, and you discover this at the moment they interfere with your plans.
5 Monster: An Ogre demands the plumpest of your comrades shall become his next meal.
6 Nature: Roads overgrown, factor in next Pathfinder test.
7 Weather: Miserable Rain Showers. Ob 3 Health test or be Exhausted.
8 Monster: A band of lizardmen is attacking a wealthy merchant’s caravan!
9 People: You encounter a Friend on the road! She’s headed to the closest settlement to your destination, and as long as she has business there you may rely on her for aid as normal.
10 Weather: Excellent weather - If you have no conditions become Fresh.
11 People: Battlefield - A big confrontation took place here recently. +2D for all Scavenger tests.
12 Monster: Fairie Circle - Capricious sprites will taunt you but then grant a boon.

Forest (People 2, Monster 3, Nature 3, Weather 3)
2 Monster: Run afoul of a powerful monster (Might greater than party)
3 Weather: Storms or Hail. Truly awful weather, Ob 5 Health test or be Sick.
4 People: You stumble into a Bandit trap!
5 Nature: Forest Fire! No time to run, make an Ob 5 Survivalist test to seek safety.
6 Monster: Hungry animals stalk you, will attempt to ransack your provisions, avoid direct combat.
7 Weather: Miserable Rain Showers. Ob 3 Health test or be Exhausted.
8 People: A band of gypsies curses the Lawful, seduces the Chaotic, and fleeces the Unaffiliated.
9 Nature: Lost - You may not use your map until the next passed Pathfinder test.
10 Monster: A weary band of goblinoids, laden with spoils from a recent raid, stumbles unaware into your path.
11 Nature: You find a shortcut, take +1 on the next Slog roll, or earn one check if this is the last leg of the journey.
12 Weather: Excellent weather, if you have no conditions become Fresh

Mountains (People 1, Monster 3, Nature 4, Weather 3)
2 Nature: Avalanche!
3 Monster: A powerful monster (higher might than the part) takes notice.
4 Weather: Blizzard!
5 Nature: Only one way down. Dungeoneer Ob 4 or party is Afraid.
6 Monster: A predatory monster of roughly equal power decides to make the party lunch.
7 Weather: Snow.
8 Nature: Above the treeline - Factor in all Scavenger, Cooking and Health tests due to high altitude
9 Weather: Clear day.
10 Monster: You find its lair full of loot, but you need to act quick before it returns.
11 Nature: Spectacular view - +1 on ALL subsequent Slog table rolls.
12 People: Encounter the hermitage of a wise Guru. Relieve the Angry or Afraid condition.

A journey for next week’s game offers several options. Below are three obvious routes, although it is possible that the players will devise their own. This is using Randy M’s awesome map for Torchbearer, btw.

Going straight through the mountains is one roll:
• a Long leg (2) and would require blazing a new trail (4) = Total Pathfinder Ob 6

Another route requires three rolls:
• South on the road is a Short leg (2) along a well-traveled road (1) – Ob 3
• East through the Forest is a Short leg (2) Infrequently used (2) – Ob 4
• Then East over the Mountains is a Short leg (2), Infrequently used (2) – Ob 4

The longest route goes along all well-traveled roads and waterways:
• South Short through Mountains (2) Well traveled (1) – Ob 3
• South Short through Forest (2) Well traveled (1) – Ob 3
• South through Mountains (2) Well Traveled (1) – Ob 3
• West along the River to Elfland Long (3) (1) – Ob 4
• North to Rothel through the Mountains, Long (3) (1) – Ob 4
• Nearby to Morgul Pass Ob 2.

Unless they really want to earn a bunch of tests for Pathfinder, there’s not really a compelling reason to take the well-traveled route. The direct route is a guaranteed failure, but because the journey works like the Haggle table, they might luck out… presuming the fail by a margin of 4 or more, a really lucky roll could still result in a fairly easy journey. Of course, monsters or foul weather are much more likely… if someone thinks to wait for good weather, though, they might neuter those likely results!

I’m excited by the potential of this system and I’m psyched to use it. It gets the players to make meaningful choices on the very pretty map that Randy M made for us.

It works!

We playtested last night, as I introduced an adventure site that was a significant distance from the party’s location. So, we busted out the overland map, and the players discussed their options. They came to their own conclusions about having basically the three options outlined in my previous post. If you’re following along at home, we’re starting from the caves in the middle north of the map (we have a little Keep drawn in up there) and the destination is to the west; that castle-mountain and coniferous forest.

The players chose the road south to forest, then west and over the mountains, because they don’t really have enough Pathfinder dice to succeed at the Ob 6 short journey blazing a new trail through the mountains.

First Leg: Mountain Road.
Leaving town Fresh, the Party’s pathfinder had a lot of dice to bring against the Ob 3 test (a short journey by road). The test was passed, the Slog result was 9, so the player had the following choice:

• A “scenic route” that would let them enjoy the best of the weather (the admittedly uninspired “clear day” result)
• Or… A path winding into the low warrens where they would be less likely to be spotted (and thence to find an abandoned lair.)

They chose the low road with a little goading (“You have a pretty good feeling about both of these options”). I described a short footbridge where, as they passed over, they caught a glimmer of something in the sunlight. Treasure! They very cautiously lowered an adventurous member to retrieve the gold – almost in good idea territory if not for one rambunctious team member making it riskier – and retrieved part of the loot cache. But since they failed the roll for the climb, a twist appeared in the form of a troll. At this point I was content with the scope of the encounter so I let them flee with a pittance of the treasure, and the troll could not give chase beyond the shadows beneath the bridge.

Second Leg: Forest Trail
Next, they had to make their way through the forest, where the road was somewhat overgrown (short journey, overgrown, Ob 4). To make matters worse, their chief navigator had become exhausted (I forget how), and so was two dice down from their initial roll. They decide to let someone else take a shot at navigation. Impressively, (and with helping dice) they managed to muster three successes, for a margin of Failure of one. There is no Fork in the Road for them to choose, and the dice come up 6-1, a Forest Fire!

I described the eerie orange glow at sundown, coming from the the east. They weren’t sure what to make of it at first, but when they started to see wildlife, predators and prey alike, fleeing west. The table calls for a survivalist 5 test (which I busted down to 4 out of pity) but nobody in our sad little party has the survivalist skill. The Party Leader chose to Double Tap his nature, generating more than enough successes as the party took shelter in a creek and waited out the fire till morning.

Third Leg: Mountain Road
Back down to Ob 3, the players luck out and roll three successes on three dice! Not only that, the Dice come up 11. There’s a Fork in the Road:

• A path winding up along the cliff face and obviously granting a commanding view of the entire region (or as one player put it, an “assassin’s creed eagle” over there)
• A little trail winding up to a stilted hut.

The navigator, who’s a bit of a wild card, insisted on visiting the hut, where they met with the Guru and had a spiritually uplifting experience. This was a welcome, serene break from trolls and fires.

Some time later in the session, the players happened upon the description of Guides in the Hiring Help section, and they became very excited at the prospect of bonus dice on Slog rolls.

Playtest Thoughts
Obviously there are some weak items on the table above… they need to be fixed to be more evocative. Also, considering the function of the “Fork in the Road” rule, each entry really needs a line of “box text” to telegraph to the players the kind of encounter they can choose from without reading the table result outright. Come to think of it, that would be nice to have for Camp and Town rolls, too!

The approach of rolling Pathfinder and the Slog table once per “region” manages to evoke a hex crawl without actually resorting to hexes. You can use much more artistic maps, and on top of that you can show these maps to the players so they can plan out their route. The Fork in the Road rule works really well to add another layer of meaningful choice when you’ve passed your Pathfinder test; you can be choosing from the better of two bad options, the better of two GOOD options, or trying to sort out the good from the bad. That’s something you’re often doing in a hex crawl as well – finding a balance between ease and efficiency when picking your route, then choosing the more harmless of two equivalent hexes to pass through based on the available information.

So, right now I’m considering this method a success. It captures the old hex crawl feel, but through abstraction and choices, which is how Torchbearer should be. The Haggle-style table is a great way to inject some randomness into results while keeping skill rolls important. The Mouse Guard-style classification (Mice, Animals, Nature, Weather) makes it feel less like a “wandering monster” table, and also takes the sting out of tracking weather in a simulationist fashion.

Pretty soon we’re going to have to deal with mounts and wagons and the like. Any thoughts on those?

To my mind, a Cart is a Backpack on wheels, no more. Maybe some rules around time to access stuff outside of Camp or Town Phase, with a ‘packing list’ style of inventory tracking, like slots in a CRPG (On Top Of Stack, 1 Action; Under 1 Item, 2 Actions if item on top is dropped to ground, 3 Actions if returned to cart; etc.). Or perhaps including #-of-hands/weight as adds to the number of Actions (or even Tests of Strength…?).

Mounts, on the other hand, could be really ripe and fun!
[li]+1s on certain terrains (e.g., a horse on road or countryside; a camel on desert)
[/li][li]+1 Ob on certain terrains (e.g., an oliphaunt with a howdah on marshy terrain)
[/li][li]+2s on ALL terrains, if a flying mount, but -2s in extremely bad weather (thunderstorm or worse)
[/li][li]Endures grind alternately with rider (e.g., first grind, mount is Hungry; second grind, you are; third grind, mount is Exhausted; etc.)
Like that… Just interesting benefits or penalties to existing system, in exchange for cost of mount and feeding/watering it (good use for that donkey with an 8-slot Backpack!).

Duly noted!

Maybe it’s just fond memories of Oregon Trail – a spiritual precursor to Torchbearer if ever there was one – but I do feel like wagons deserve a special penalty. Maybe like backpacks have; wagons as backpacks and carts as satchels, or something like that.

Some excellent ideas there, I am going to chew on them for a while.