The Explorer’s Guide to the Wilderness
The idea of travel between cities within the context of D&D is one that sees a lot of differing opinions. Some groups think it’s important to catalog every milliliter of water, every ounce of food, every pound of gear. They calculate fine details regarding location, DMs throw a random encounter at the party every hour, and more complications besides. Then there are some groups that hate all of that, and their DMs skip all the boring stuff with a “you travel for 5 days before reaching the town.” I, personally, like something a bit in the middle of those options; where travel is something that should be measured and take a reasonable toll on the party’s resources, but not necessarily something that should take up multiple hours of a session to calculate.
The Explorer’s Guide to the Wilderness lays out what I feel are simple rules for DMs who want to give their players more options when traveling between locations without bogging things down too much with extra crunch. It includes rules for navigating the wilderness, player actions during travel, and how to calculate random encounters.
The core to its system is in how environments are described; like monsters, environments have full stat blocks, including “ability scores” such as Navigation and Resources. Characters traveling through an environment must deal with the challenges presented by that environment, and make checks against the DCs listed in the stat blocks to succeed at certain tasks. The Guide includes sample stat blocks for common environments such as forests and hills, but DMs are encouraged to alter them as needed or create entirely new ones for the environments within their world. Finally, the last section offers alternate features and abilities for player options such as the Ranger class or Outlander background, which would otherwise trivialize the rules found here (and if they do that; why even run travel this way?).
My inspiration for this system comes from a few places; the UA on exploration and travel for one, which first introduced the idea of stat-block-based environments. Some of The Angry GM’s ideas for determining random encounters are also included here, though altered slightly to fit the system better and be a bit simpler to use. The goal is a rules-lite system that makes it easy for a DM to make travel mean something.
For example, say you’re running a game where the party is traveling through the forest. Pull up the forest stat block. Have someone roll a Navigation Check (Survival, that is) versus the forest’s Navigation rating of 15. If they succeed, great! They go in the right direction. Have everyone else make a Foraging check (again, Survival) and compare their result to the forest’s Resource rating of 15. Determine who found food based on who succeeded. Have people who didn’t find food spend some water and rations. Then roll a number of d6s based on the Encounter rating for the forest. If you get a 6, that’s a random encounter. Run those as needed. And then you’re done! That’s one day of travel complete. The group had to use their survival skills to find food, navigate through the forest, and may or may not have run into an encounter along the way. Do that for as many days as you need. Besides the time it takes to run encounters (which itself could be pretty quick; remember not every random encounter has to result in combat), days of travel can be completed in a few minutes while still having some weight and letting the more survival-focused characters feel like they have contributed usefully.
We hope you enjoy this latest work from the Arcane Athenæum’s collection!
Version 2.0 29Nov2018
The document has been updated with a new title page to conform to the Arcane Athenæum’s new style.
Version 1.0 14Sep2018
The link on page 9 of the document is wrong, it says thearcaneathenaum.org.
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Oh thank you, I’ll have that corrected.