On the Nature of the Journeyman System

I’m getting ready to run a new Navah campaign using Journeyman, my gaming system. So people are starting to ask again what Journeyman is about, and that is a difficult question to answer. Journeyman is a system I’ve built up since the early 1980s. I started with D&D and then went to AD&D, which was great as a player, but as a DM was too restrictive for me. I fell in love with RQII, but the combat took forever, so I went to COC, and decided that I wanted to add a stronger magic system to it, something more like D&D. That was the origin of Journeyman, and since then there have been a lot of changes.  

Inspired by the Sorcery for RQ article in White Dwarf, I began to build a magic system based on three magic skills: Perception, Domination, and Body Control. I wanted magic that was more powerful than RQ, but not as powerful as AD&D, because that was built for war-gaming and tended to destroy the worlds I was building. As a longtime martial artist (SCA, fencing, tkd, hkd, iaido, and others), I wanted a “realistic” combat system, so I researched the kinetic energy of weaponry and the damage that weapons did to the body. I read a lot of the Journal of Forensic Science over my lunch breaks. Eventually I got a system that was fast and bloody. How fast? About 20 minutes for a large melee (compared to about 40 minutes for D&D and 3 hours for RQ2). How bloody? Bloody enough that players tend to avoid combat if they can, which is exactly what I wanted. I also have Ph.D.s in U.S. History and American Studies and because of that, and the many wars and atrocities that I’ve had to teach about, I wanted people to realize that combat was a bloody and dangerous thing best avoided. I went to a d10 based system to ease the burden of math (there’s a lot of math and physics behind the magic system). I’m not sure that was the best choice, but it works for me. And I don’t have d20s rolling off the table any more! I got better at mapping and used Fractal Terrain to build a world, Navah. Then my wife & I created a city and character generator for the system, that allowed us to detail every NPC out there. I am very fortunate to have a wife who not only is skilled at computer programming, but also loves to game, and actually was willing to do this in her off time.  The world of Navah continues to grow, and that’s the pay-off for me at this point.

Along the way, there were all sorts of influences from other games. D&D led to make the magic system strong. Stormbringer influenced that as well. COC made the monsters scarier, and Ars Magica informed the development of magical covenants. Thieve’s Guild (which few people know these days) shaped my early urban adventures as much as did the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser series. Gamma World, EPT, and Blackmoor helped me justify the use of ancient technologies, and Pendragon got me thinking about personality traits, which I now use for all my NPCs (and sometimes for the PCs). EPT, Jorune, and Traveler‘s Animal Encounters made me work harder on creating a solid ecology, which led to a differentiation between the mundane world of Navah and the realm of Faerie that lays just next to it. The new RQ influenced me to use basic weapon sets based on culture, and D&D5e had a nice background system. There’s a lot of other influences, but that should give you an idea of where I’m coming from.

I want my players to be actors, to play a role, and I’ve learned a lot of that from my current players. But I still appreciate the old D&D mentality of planning one’s moves with some care, although I don’t like taking too long with that. It is a fantasy after all! 

We’re finishing off a COC campaign right now, so the next Navah campaign will start on Roll20.com around June or July 2019, and by then I hope to have much more online about the game. If you’re interested, the game details will be at https://app.roll20.net/lfg/listing/20439/navah You can also ask questions here if you like.

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COC: The Tomb of Nophru-Ka

The party decided to kill the Byakhee. Reginald approached it with his Holland & Holland elephant gun, while Billy used his camel to hold the lassoed horror down. As Reginald took aim, it launched itself from the ground, trying wrench free. Reginald blasted its left arm and wing, and also took off the back of its skull. It dropped, and Reginald fired again, making sure it was dead. It melted into an execrable ooze that ruined the last twenty feet of Billy’s rope.

The party then headed west for the oasis of Mogharah (now, Moghara Lake ), where they found the lake dry and the well nearly so. Gabriel went down the rope, and fell the last eight feet. He dug out the well, they refilled their water sacks, and then had a choice — head south and then east in a roundabout way until they reached the Nile and went downriver to Cairo, or head northeast to the old Greek monastery and the east to the Nile and upriver to Cairo. The monastery was closer, so they headed east, though they were not sure it was still there. The map they used was quite old.

They followed the escarpment east, and first Billy and then Gabriel were knocked unconscious when their camels fell on the various declivities they had to cross. Their wounds were stabilized, but Sir Reginald took them a day out of their way in the wrong direction before his error was discovered.

They finally reached the Paromeus Monastery, where some thirty monks resided. The monastery was very old, having been established in 335 AD. The monks took in the adventurers and over the next few weeks healed them. Those who were able-bodied helped on the monastic farm.

Before they left, Adrian Galanis, an ancient monk, called them to him. “You have encountered great trials and will face greater still in your journeys. You have suffered much. One comrade died in Europe, at least in spirit. Another fell to his death. A third was carried off by horrors untold.” They recognized the deaths of Endeavour, Roger, and Joyce. “And a fourth burned to death in his home.”

“Wait, what?! Who is the fourth? Are you talking about Jonathan Putnam?”

“I don’t know the name, but he lived in Boston, yes?”

The party was shocked to hear of Putnam’s death in this manner. The old man continued, “You must persevere, and you must succeed. If you fail, the world will end and only the faithful will be saved, and only in the next life. To aid you, we give you these three sacred items. This bag (a small leather bag) will hold anything you put in it. When you wish to remove things, just call for them, but never put anything living in the bag. Only call for the things you put in the bag, for though the bag has been used before and contains many things, some of those things are tainted and unholy.” He gives the bag to Reginald.

“Next, the bone pipe (a small tube) can be used to call for help, but again, use it only when you have to, for its use is dangerous to the profligate.” Billy reaches forward, and the monk gives it to him.

“Finally, we have the holy hand grenade. It is very old, so it may not work, or it may go off with little provocation. Handle it carefully.” He very specifically gives it to Gabriel, as he believes that particular and exceptional sinner is the most expendable.

The party then headed east to Wardan (وردان), where they caught a ferry up the Nile. They took their doughty beasts with them, rather than selling them in the famous Imbaba camel market. Once in Cairo, Ray used half of his remaining cash to finance an expedition, purchasing camels and supplies, and hiring guides and twenty-five diggers. The party telegraphed Putnam, but received no answer. They were also joined by Dr. Annabelle Stewart, who had been sent by Putnam two months ago to aid the party with medical assistance.

Together they returned to the tomb without incident, and dug their way in. A clay crocodile greeted them at the entrance, and as they proceeded further in, they found two more. Continuing, they found two large doors with the tomb seal broken. They opened the doors and found Nophru-Ka’s tomb. Inside was a huge basalt sarcophagus, various funerary objects, and four Sobeki (crocodile-headed guardians) statues, and a partially mummified body in modern Arab clothing.

As the forward members entered the tomb, two of the clay crocodiles burst open, revealing mummified human guards with mummified crocodile heads sewn onto them. Ray was watching the rear, and was the only one not surprised (though Billy knew this was going to happen). He attacked, and got in one good punch with his brass knuckles before a spear entered his chest and his legs were clawed to bits. He died quickly and bloodily. Reginald, Annabelle, and Angie formed a firing line and shot the creatures to pieces, while Billy held a light and Gabriel slipped into the tomb to investigate. Gabriel noted that the dead man had been shot in the back of the head, and removed a number of coins from his pocket. Then he began to read the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the back wall.

The party searched the tomb and found a secret compartment with several scrolls. All but one crumbled at their touch. Gabriel read the last one, and learned Dismiss Dhole as a result.

The party stayed at the tomb for 2 weeks. The sarcophagus was too heavy to lift, but the tomb was a safe space to avoid the nightly Byakhee attacks. Gabriel translated the hieroglyphics, which told the tale of the death of Nophu-Ka. Angie worked to restore the sanity of two of the characters. And Reginald noticed Gabriel flipping a coin and grabbed it. It turned out to be a Yemeni coin, and Gabriel admitted robbing the dead man. The party resolved to return to Cairo to conduct library research on G’harne and Yemen.

Here’s the figures for the Sobeki statue and mummy.

Sobeki (Crocodilian guard) statueSobeki Mummy

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COC: Lassoing a Byakhee; Joyce is Lost

Three new characters joined the party — Gabriel Moreau (a French aristocratic criminal), Ray Sinn (a boxer and disgraced U.S. Marine), and Sir Reginald Humphrey (a stuff British big-game hunter). They left Prof. Galloway’s camp and travelled to the Well of Nophru. All but Ray entered the well, while Ray held the rope. Roger Leach was the last one down, and something cut the rope as he descended. He fell over ninety feet and died. Down in the well, the other characters recovered his shotgun, and explored, finding three dead bodies (Prof. Felix Fuda, Hargrove Thorpe, & Richard Bloch). Fuda had fallen like Roger, but had only broken his leg. The party searched their bodies and found an elder sign necklace, a .22 automatic, and a double barrel .22 derringer. They found no other injuries on the men, who seemed to have died of starvation, and were then near mummified by the dry air in the cave. As a sandstorm came up outside, Ray decided to join them below. His rope was again mysteriously cut, but Ray made his Luck roll and was only damaged (though quite badly). The party explored and found a secret sliding stone door that the other party had not. They next found a potential exit, but it was blocked by sand.

Joyce was the first to see the terrible vision in the great room, but all soon saw at least part of it. Joyce was greatly reduced in sanity. The party saw a cave forty feet above where they saw the vision, but were unable to climb and several party members were injured in the attempt. They then spent a day carving handholds in the soft sandstone, and Gabriel was able to climb up, where he found a faceless stone sphinx statue covered with hieroglyphs. He translated them, and thereby learned the spell Call/Dismiss Beast.

The party left the cave after realizing that the sandstorm had cleared the exit. Reginald’s horse and Ray’s camel were gone, but the rest of the beasts were still there (luck rolls).

The party went back to Prof. Galloway’s camp, but Ray and Gabriel turned the camp against them when both were discovered trying to search Galloway’s tent, on two separate occasions. The party decided to seek the Tomb of Nophru and headed north without a guide. Miraculously, they found their way to the tomb’s location, but the entrance was buried under so much sand that they could not dig their way in. Rather than ask for Galloway’s help, Ray and Gabriel decided to steal shovels from Galloway’s camp. Ray was caught but fought his way free. Then Ray and Gabriel attacked the two guards watching the truck. Ray grappled with his guard and was stabbed for his effort. Gabriel used the sentry elimination techniques he had learned in the trenches and slit the other’s throat, before aiding Ray and stabbing the second guard to death. Inside the truck, they found nothing. They returned to the location of the tomb.

Meanwhile, the people at the tomb were being attacked each night by Byakhee, which tried to drive the camels away. After Ray and Gabriel returned, the party waited for that night’s attack, getting the drop on the five Byakhee who attacked. Billy lassoed one of the Byakhee, and Ray then beat it into submission. Several camels were attacked, and Joyce was carried off screaming. Gabriel dug into the sand as a Byakhee attacked him, narrowly avoiding Joyce’s fate. Joyce’s screams faded into the night as the four Byakhee fled. Ray and Billy tied up their captive Byakhee, whom Billy named “Cary.” They plan to return to Cairo with “Cary” and get more supplies.

Ray SinnGabriel MoreauSir Reginald Humphrey

Above: Ray, Gabriel, and Sir Reginald.

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COC: Some minis

I made up a few more minis for the Call of Cthulhu campaign. For the travel map, I added a steam engine, a Ford tri-motor airplane, and a truck from the First World War.

Steam locomotive and tender.

Ford Trimotor with TWA markings

Truck from the First World War

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COC: Nyogtha, and the Valley of the Winds

The party returned to Cluj-Napoca to purchase another shotgun for Roger, to find a translator for the various German items they had found, and to send another pointless telegram to Jonathan Putnam.  Afterwards, they return to Deva, where Angie McQuinn, Endeavour’s daughter, joins them. A brilliant psychoanalyst, she views her father’s belief in the unnatural as just another manifestation of the twisted and neglectful mind.

The party returns to the Castle, and finds it apparently abandoned. They recover a framed Islamic quotation on the Baron’s bedroom wall, and then descend to the catacombs, where they discover a cache of Russian weaponry from the platoon that John has been hunting. They find an ancient noisome pit. When Billy drops a skull into it, they don’t hear a bottom, but then Nyogtha arises from the pit, driving Joyce further into madness and even damaging the rockhard mind of Angie.

The party successfully flees, and takes a train to Paris and then to Roma, where they fly to Cairo. From there, they hire two guides, Hasham and Youssef, to take them to Galloway’s dig in the Valley of the Winds. Unbeknownst to them, their guides are tied to the Brotherhood and are taking them to die. The party names their camels Walter, Cathy, Macron, and Sandy and begin their painful trip (none are skilled at riding camels). A group of desert bandits led by Kemal Asham stop them on the third day, disarm them, tie them up, and shoot their guides. All comply but Roger the Egyptologist, who quite rightly steadfastly insists on the rights of guests or diyafa (hospitality), for which the nomads are famous. Unfortunately, Kemal is not in the mood. He has been ordered to kill the Americans outright, but it is against his nature. He has no desire to arouse the British in Cairo to hunt him down, and besides, he intensely dislikes and distrusts the person who ordered him. He interrogates the male members of the party, separating the women into another tent where they are left undisturbed but unarmed. Roger refuses to tell Kemal much, but Billy, whom Kemal initially believes to be an idiot, spills his guts and tells the bandits an amazing tale of ghouls, vampires, and the like. As a result, he gains their admiration if not their friendship, and enjoys an evening of ribaldry around the fire. Meanwhile, Roger and Angie rage quietly. After the encounter with Nyogtha, Joyce has acquired a deep fear of the dark, and Angie has her hands full keeping her under control.

By morning, Kemal has decided to rebel against his orders and sends the party to Galloway’s camp guided by Yacoub Hesmal. Then he breaks camp and heads for the deep desert, hoping that the Americans will destroy both his enemy and his plans.

The party eventually arrives at the camp, where Joyce notices that Galloway’s native assistant Katif seems more surprised than the rest to see them.

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COC: Assault on the Castle

After returning from Cluj-Napoca, the party found the little town of Deva in terror. A week or so after they had left, a carriage from the castle flew through town, driven by an “om negru,” which Sveja translated as “a dark man.” The town also came under assault of the wolves, and two children had been killed. The party, now rearmed with sword (Billy), shotgun (Roger), and blowtorch (John), looked for the wolves to see if they could help. Sword and .38 proved ineffectual, and even Evan’s direct hit to a wolf’s head at point blank range made no impact. They could not be harmed by normal weapons. Roger’s right thigh was savaged before they made it safely into the inn, where they waited for Lazlo’s visit on Saturday. Lazlo proved untalkative, which was highly dissatisfying to the party. They began to discuss finding Jan Savechik’s grave and, in sotto voce, recovering any heathen artifacts he may have taken with him. Billy engraved an elder sign on the door of the tavern in order to test whether the wolves would be repulsed by it. When it became clear to the innkeeper Drobne that this would entail leaving the inn door open for the wolves, he exiled the party to the barn, where they enscribed another elder sign on the door. This time, they did not test it.

The party then made two forays into the graveyard to find the tombstone of Jan, but discovered there was none. In order to question the cardinal, Roger went to the inn, only to find it locked and three wolves pursuing him. He blasted one of the window’s shutters with his shotgun, but was only able to crawl halfway in. As the wolves closed in, Drobne pulled him angrily inside and reinforced the window with several chairs. Roger then questioned the cardinal, who affirmed that Jan was interred in the Christian manner, but that he had no grave marker. This befuddled Roger, and he returned carefully to the barn. He hoped to take some of Drobne’s delicious sausages with him, but the innkeeper refused him.

Now without food for a day and a half, John convinced the party to attack the castle. After all, there was food there.  They attacked the lowest arrow slit shutter with a crowbar and climbed inside one by tortuous one. Once inside, they realized that the first in could have simply open the door, something that Joyce had considered but that the men had not heard. They found the kitchen and ate heartily, though the sight of pastries terrified Roger, a memento of their previous incarceration by the Baron.

They began exploring the apparently abandoned castle in earnest. John found a secret panel and entered it so quickly that no-one saw where he went. On his own, he explored the tower and its secrets, gathering a book he could not read, an elder sign, two bottles of a golden liquid, and other items of interest. The party moved on and eventually found the Baron’s bedroom, although they did not find his secret library. Roger was horrified by the book on torture he found, so he loaded himself down with the weighty tome. They did not take the time to explore the great library in the dining hall.

The party rejoined on the stairs from the third floor, and Roger decided to try one of the bottles. He sipped at the contents and froze. Unmoving but unharmed (apparently), he was encased in some transparent unbreakable material. The party carried him along, returning to the Baron’s bedroom. There, John found the secret library and Joyce joyfully pushed past him and gathered up a number of items, including volume 1630s and 1920s of the Baron’s private journals. She found an 1860 map of Egypt, with two spots marked as “Well” and “Tomb.” She recognized it as being near a dig that her colleague Prof. Holloway had undertaken. They then continued their explorations, with Roger being carried between John and Billy. Roger came back to himself, unharmed, at the top of the stairs.

They discovered the monstrous Karl Stolze and some woman dressed like Cleopatra in the west wing. They immediately attacked Karl, though he showed no aggression. John shot him several times in the groin with a .38, Roger blasted him with the shotgun and shredded his left thigh, and Billy stabbed him several times in the chest with his rapier. Karl fell to his knees. The woman attacked the party screaming at them to stop, but they only threatened to kill her as well. She fled into her bath. John questioned Karl as to the location of his master but all Karl could tell him was that the Baron had gone to America. Roger had reloaded his shotgun and decided to finish him off. Karl was able to grab the shotgun when Roger tried to execute him, and turn the weapon on his attackers. Karl was an awful shot, and the party managed to dodge out of the way. Karl crushed the shotgun in his bare hands. Roger dodged by him after the woman, but found her gone. Searching, he found a secret panel and followed her into the portrait gallery, while Karl crawled after him and John and Billy continued to damage him. John blew a bit of his skull off, but Karl kept coming. At the end of the gallery, Roger ran into Yerkzy, Jerzy, and Lazlo. Roger retreated and managed to dodge both Yerkzy and Karl as he ran past him again. The party fled back to the barn, pursued first by Lazlo and his flunkies, and then by wolves. They barely made it back to the barn. They determined to return to the castle and kill every living thing next time.

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COC: Knock Knock Knocking on the Castle Door

The party is joined by Roger Leach, another archaeologist sent by Putnam and Prof. Fuda to aid the adventurers against the Baron.

At first, they reconnoiter the gorge. Joyce falls and badly bruises her derriere on the rocks, but Endeavour finds a secret door. They explore the antediluvian tunnel only to be stymied by an unpassable iron door. Billy decides they should just go to the front door and knock, which they do, to their sorrow.

The Baron and his servant Karl greet them and the Baron gives them a tour of the castle, at first having them give Karl their weapons. They go to visit the wine cellar and the Baron reveals that it is instead a prison and orders them to enter. They resist, and an invisible tentacled monster forces Joyce, Roger, and Billy into the cell, knocking Joyce unconscious, driving Roger temporarily insane, and breaking Billy’s right leg. Endeavour empties his .32 into Karl’s chest, but Karl is unmoved and tosses Endeavour in the prison cell as well.

The Baron then reveals himself. “I am older than I look, older than any of you can imagine. I was born in Germany, in Franken, years ago, and I brought my people here to build this castle. I have had many many names, and no one now knows my true name. You have heard some of my names — Rattenfänger von Hameln, Herr Frankenstein, etc. But you are Americans and uneducated. Let me explain. I am the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I am Dr. Frankenstein. Vlad Țepeș is but a servant. I am terror and you will come to know me well. You will not enjoy the experience. Or you can serve me — the choice is yours. It matters little to me.“ He then leaves for some pastry before torturing the party to death.

Karl returns and with the aid of the invisible creature, puts Billy into the torture room and straps him down. Then he comes for Endeavour, but Endeavour manages to slip free. Karl chases him through much of the castle, until Endeavour comes to the Baron’s bedroom, surprising him. He shoots the Baron in the leg and then makes the mistake of giving a speech and making threats. The Baron casts a spell and falls dead, but a tendril of… something.. floats towards Endeavour, who fires round after round into it. To no avail. The tendril touches Endeavour and his spirit is lost. The Baron has a new body.

 The Baron is angry though, and returns to the dungeon to torture Billy. Billy makes his luck roll, and Karl comes in. The Baron is even angrier with Karl and takes him to another room to punish him, but only after breaking Billy’s other leg with a sledgehammer. At this moment, Joyce uses the time proven method of slapping Roger into sanity, and the the NPC John Kopeche frees them both. They free Billy and flee.

Again, they make their luck rolls and the Baron decides not to pursue, but instead to carry forward with his main plan. 

The party travels to Cluj-Napoca to save Billy. The doctors there do their work well, and he heals over the next six weeks. The party does more Library Research, and buys more weapons. Next time they will bring dynamite.  Sooner or later, it always comes down to dynamite.

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