Travel, Fate Core Style – Part I

Travel has been a staple of roleplaying games for a very long time. A lot of gamers who cut their teeth on BECMI or similar have fond memories of exploring wilderness hex-maps, figuring out travel times, and resolving random encounters. I don’t know about anybody else’s groups, but in ours the wilderness expeditions were often a large part of the adventure before getting to the dungeon/lost temple/whatever.

What often got lost in those heady early days was the reason for travelling in the first place, as we quickly set about figuring out travel times, setting up watch schedules and rolling for random encounters. It became a task we did by rote, like calculating encumbrance or tallying gold pieces. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong way to handle travel, but there wasn’t a lot of support for other alternatives either.

Fate Core has the means to support not just one or two different ways of handling travel, but pretty much as many variations as any given table should need. The only thing the GM has to do is know why the characters are travelling and how important the journey itself is. The answers to those two questions will lead to the best technique for handling the travel itself. A lot of the time, it will be evident that it’s not the travel itself that needs to be resolved, but the things that happen during travel. Luckily it’s very easy to slide up or down the Fate Fractal to handle whatever level of detail needs to be addressed.

Travel As A Challenge

As anyone who has ever set up even the most benign-seeming trips can attest, they can quickly turn into a nightmare.  These situations mean a single Overcome action won’t cut it, because covering the distance from point A to point B isn’t the real challenge – it’s everything else that’s complicating the trip.

Let’s say the PCs need to get halfway around the world to some location to obtain some McGuffin. They need to do it without tipping the bad guys off as to where they are going, and they can’t arouse suspicion once they get there. Finally, they have to use two forms of travel – say fly into the country and then arrange for a car or boat or something to get them there. The GM breaks the challenge down to:
  1. A Resources roll to get transportation.
  2. A Deceive roll to throw the bad guys off of their trail.
  3. A Contacts roll to get hooked up with the proper documentation.
  4. A Drive roll to successfully get to the final destination.

The same steps can be applied to typical fantasy wilderness travel: the characters have to endure the rigors of trip (Physique), properly navigate (Lore), avoid danger (Notice) and possibly even be able to find food, water and shelter (Resources or possibly even a second Lore roll). In this case, the rolls have more to do with the actual travel than the preparations, but it’s the same general idea: the outcome or the purpose of the travel is more important than how the characters got there.

Travel As A Contest

This one should be pretty self-evident: the travel is a race. It’s essentially not much different than when two characters are both rushing for the same sword, or the same door, or to get to King first to rat out the other character. The exact method they are using isn’t nearly as important as the overall goal of the race and the potential complications for failing the contest. Many times each leg of the contest will look a lot like on of the steps in a travel challenge. So in our Challenge example, let’s say that there’s a Nazi bad guy that is trying to get there first (I’ve been watching Zero Hour…stop judging me). He’d just be rolling indirectly against the PCs to see if he can get enough victories to win – by finding out where the PCs are going, trying to trip up their getting there, and finally getting there first.

Travel As A Conflict

Here’s where things get interesting. How can travel be set up as a conflict? The best answer I can think of is, “When the trip is trying to hurt you.” An easy example would be a storm threatening an ocean voyage. The storm might be given a skill that could be used to attack the boat. Exposure, dehydration, hunger, even distance are all things that can be used against the characters. In addition to resisting or defending against these elements, the characters may even have the ability to mitigate or otherwise eliminate the threat.

Other Techniques

The three methods above aren’t the full extent of how the Fate Fractal can be leveraged to add some variety to travelling. In the next installment, I’ll be going over some more specific implementations that make use
of different rules elements.

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