Monday, November 26, 2012

Exploration System

Over the last few posts I've explored some of the issues folks have with exploration.  So, enough griping -- let's take a stab at a solution.  This is my idea of a system that tries to address some of the issues with overland adventuring which can be plugged into WhiteBox or some other similar system.

One Watch or March = 8 Hours
3" of character move = 1" on the map = 4 miles (or a bit over a league)
Map Used = Any 1:250K scale map, such as a USGS 1 deg x 2 deg map or a Military Joint Operational Graphic

Each 8 hour Watch or March is broken into four actions which the character may take in any order.

Minor Action:  Minor actions are administrative tasks which taken little time to accomplish but do require some attention, thought, and effort.  An example would be a tasking taking around half an hour either all at once or in several smaller chunks.  They typically (but not always) do not have any chance of failure.  Specific examples include but are not limited to:

  • Breaking (departing) camp; one person can break camp for a small group.
  • Preparing a hot meal for a small group.
  • Significant changes to the order of march for any hirelings, henchmen, bearers, or pack animals.
  • Mark unusual area on the map.  The area can then be returned to without having to search for it.
  • Gather and purify water from readily available source (stream, lake, reservoir, etc).  You do not suffer any attack by thirst this turn.
Move Action:  Move actions take up substantial time.  About half the eight hour turn is spent on movement.  To determine a character's movement speed on the 1:250K map, take their speed and divide it by three.  For example, a character at 9" move will cover 9/3 = three inches on the map.  The party moves at the speed of the slowest individual.  Apply the following cumulative modifiers:
  • Inclement Weather:  Reduce base move by 25%
  • Extreme Weather:  Reduce base move by 50%
  • Night, Fog, or Other Reduced Visibility:   Reduce base move by 50% (unless mitigated)
  • Crossing Significant Contour Lines (up or down):  Movement Costs x 2
  • Crossing Stream:  Movement Costs x 2
  • Any off-road movement (with wheeled vehicles only):  Movement Costs x 2
  • Forest, Marsh, or Other Difficult Terrain:  Movement Costs x 2
  • Extremely Difficult Terrain:  Movement Costs x 3
Example of Play:
  • A party is moving at 9" during a sunny day.  They cover 3" on the map (9/3; 12 miles) when walking down a well-worn path.
  • If they decided to depart the path and move through the forest, then they would cover 1.5" as forest moves cost double.
  • If the movement through the forest is also night time movement, they would cover just under an inch (0.75" or about 3 miles to be precise) as their base move would be reduced by 50%.
  • If the nocturnal movement through the forest was also up a hill, movement is reduced to 0.375" on the 1:250K map.
Optional Rule:  "All or Nothing" Fractional Movement
Some groups may dislike measuring out fractions of an inch on the map.  In this case, determine how many sixths of an inch the group is entitled to move.  Roll a six sided die.  If the die is equal to or less than the number of sixths to be traveled, the group moves a whole inch.
Example:  After calculating all modifiers, our nocturnal forested hill climbing adventurers can cover 0.375", or about 2/6 of an inch.  They roll a die.  It comes up 2, so they can move an entire inch.  If it had come up 3-6, then the group would have stayed in place with no movement at all.
Optional Rule:  Trading Move Actions:  Instead of moving, a character may trade their move action for a minor.  After taking the minor action, roll 1d6 (1 = move action expended, 2-6 = move again!). 
Standard Overland Action.  Each character gets one standard action per eight hour period.  Much like movement, this is an action that takes several hours of time to complete.
Standard Overland Action Resolution.  Any action involving uncertainty below is resolved by rolling 1d6+ABILITY SCORE modifier (this is predicated on a White Box style +1/-1 modifier system).  The target number is 5 unless modified by terrain or circumstances. 
Special Case -- Fighters & Demihumans & Name Level Characters.  Fighters who have names (PCs and key NPCs) roll twice and take the best result.  If a fighter rolls doubles, immediately add one to the roll (indicating success on as low as a pair of 4s); if they succeed, then they gain bonuses as well.  Elves roll twice like fighters in wooded terrain, halflings roll twice in hills, and dwarves roll twice in mountains.  Finally, any name level character rolls an extra die when on their own claimed stronghold's land (a name level fighter would thus roll 3d6 on his home turf, taking the best result).  In the rare event that a character rolls triples, add two to the pips shown before checking for success or failure.  For example, a name level fighter who rolls 3-3-3 has an adjusted role of 5 (3+2).
  • Double March.  Move your speed again.  Characters who do not have names (hirelings, red shirts, mounts, etc) can only use this action unless some other rule allows (for example, some monsters or specific types of NPCs or classes of soldiers may have some other special ability).
  • Force March (STR).  Take a second move.  Instead of using your normal move, your base speed equals 3d6+STR inches (roll only 2d6+STR if at 6" or less).  Characters with bonus dice roll them and retain the best three (or two, for those at 6" or less).  This can be done to improve the overall speed of the group.  For example, a heavily burdened character at 6" move can Force March in order to try and keep up with fleet of foot lightly burdened comrades at 12" move.  Assuming the laggard rolls at least a result of six the whole group moves at 12".
    Doubles (can only be claimed by those entitled to bonus dice):  Increase everyone in the group's base move by 3".  This bonus applies only once even if multiple people force march.
  • Forage (WIS).  The character searches for food and water sources while on the move.  Success indicates food and water found for the day for one person and that character doesn't suffer any attacks from thirst or hunger.  Doubles:  Locate sustenance for the a number of people equal to the number of pips shown + WIS.
  • Hide Tracks (WIS).  The number rolled is the TN for anyone to follow your tracks.  Doubles:  Add +1 to the number of pips shown.  No other effect.
  • Overwatch (DEX).  The character provides security by conducting overwatch, skirmishing ahead or to the flank of the party and checking likely ambush spots.  If the party is not moving, then it represents a watch post being manned.  Success indicates that the chance of surprise for the whole party is reduced by 1/6 (does not stack with multiple individuals on overwatch).  Doubles:  If the party is not surprised during an encounter, take an extra combat round of action before anyone else can act.
  • Look for Trouble (INT).  The character scours the area for anything unusual such as a lair, signs of a strange monster, a dungeon entrance, or a forgotten temple. This skill can also be used to look for a specific hidden item or area.  Compare the die roll to this table:
    0:  Something terrible, awful, and baneful.
    1-2:  Negative terrain feature or hostile random encounter
    3-4:  Neutral terrain feature or random encounter
    5-6:  Helpful terrain feature or helpful random encounter
    7+:  Critically helpful terrain feature or positive random encounter

    Doubles:  No special effect other than improving the roll by one.
  • Navigation & Cartography (INT).  If the group is traveling in uncharted lands with no map, then the character makes one which is correct in all essential details with a success and the group navigates with no problems.  With failure, in uncharted lands the group moves one map inch (4 miles) in a random direction due to being lost; halve the distance in rough terrain.  Doubles:  Add a terrain feature to the map...  How convenient to stumble across a stream/path/clearing/cliff/sheltered campsite/abandoned hunting cabin just when you needed one!
  • Easy Does It (CHA).  The character takes it easy, using frequent breaks to stay fresh, unfatigued, and protected from the elements.  Gain a 1d6+CHA bonus to Survival Class until the start of the next turn, and everyone else in the small party gains a +2 bonus (does not stack).  Doubles:  Gain an additional +1 bonus over the pips shown.
  • Make/Find Camp (INT).  The character looks for a perfect campsite then sets up a protected shelter with all the creature comforts in the right spot.  With success, all members of the group gain a +3 bonus on Survival Class so long as they remain stationary.  This check is not cumulative if multiple characters succeed.  Doubles:  Gain a +6 Bonus.
Full Turn Action.  This action consumes all time and precludes any actions other than a single minor action.
  • Rest (CON).  Gain a 1d6+CON bonus to Survival Class until the start of the next turn.  Regain HP and spells per your edition's rules.  If sleep is interrupted, there is a 1/6 chance to lose rest for each hour awake, modified by +/- CON.  For example:  A character stands watch for three hours.  There is a 3/6 chance that they will not have a restful night.  With a +1 WIS modifier, there is a 2/6 chance they will not have a restful night.
  • Thorough Search (INT).  Make a Standard Overland Check.  Any hidden items (TN based on concealment of item) within a one inch map square (4 NMx4NM) are revealed.  If multiple individuals search the same area then pool all their dice together and take the best result.  Any "x2" terrain modifier or "-50%" movement modifier increases the TN by one.  Restricting the search area to 1/2" square grants a +1 bonus.  Restricting the search area to 1/4" grants a +2 bonus.  Doubles, Triples, Four-of-a-Kind, etc:  Consider the result to be a 7/8/9, etc.
  • Adventure.  Any delve into the dungeon or other similar lair is assumed to take a full 8 hour overland Watch.  Even if the group goes into the lair, skirmishes a few monsters then withdraws after just a few minutes, the remaining time is assumed to be spent donning armor, preparing gear, conducting inventories, counting treasure, binding wounds, etc.
    House Rule:  Count up the number of hours spent adventuring.  Roll 1d6.  If the d6 result is greater than the number of hours then the action is not expended.

Exposure, thirst, starvation, disease -- these historically have been the bane of all explorers.  And thus they are the bane of explorers in our system as well.  Just as melee combat features foes clad in iron, exploration brings its own challenges.  Players should see the environment itself as a significant adversary which tries to kill them every turn (every eight hours).  Just as the players get a chance to take actions, so does the environment.  While the environment is usually random and uncaring, it can sometimes be manipulated for good or ill by powerful beings with their own agenda...

Character Defenses & Survival Class (SC).  Just like foes try to hit a character's "armor class" to inflict injuries, the environment challenges a character's "survival class."  Survival Class and Hazards attacking it are rolled on a D6 sc rather than a D20.

Survival class has a base of 10, just like AC, but can be boosted or penalized by equipment and actions.
  • Constitution Modifier:  Apply bonus or penalty
  • Cloth or Leather Armor:  +2 SC against Exposure
  • Oilskin Parka (1 stone):  +2 SC against Exposure in inclement or extreme cold/wet weather; can be worn over armor (except plate)
  • Boots (1/3 stone):  +1 SC against Exposure
  • Wide Brimmed Hat (1/6 stone):  +1 SC against All Hazards.  Cannot be worn with helm.
  • Fur Hat (1/6 stone):  +2 SC against Exposure in extreme cold conditions.  Cannot be worn with helm.
  • Survival Kit (1 stone):  +3 SC against all Hazards.  What's in it?  Who knows, but it sure helps keep you alive.
  • Pocket Survival Kit (1/3 stone):  1 SC againt all Hazards.
  • Tent (1 stone):  +3 SC against Exposure in inclement weather
  • Tier:  +1 against all Hazards per every three levels (Level 0-2 = 0, Level 3-5 = +1, Level 6-8 = +2, etc)
Attack.  The environment will try to inflict harm.  Each of these "foes" attacks each character each turn in the wilderness.  The baseline attack is 1d20 + 1 per tier (every three levels) above the first.  All confirmed hits do 1d6 damage per tier of the environment.
  • Exposure & Fatigue.  Exposure & Fatigue strikes every Watch/March at +3.
  • Bonuses to hit:  Constant Bonus (+3), Inclement weather (+3), Extreme Weather (+6)
  • Thirst.  2/6 chance to attack each Watch/March.
  • Bonuses to hit:  Inclement Hot weather (+3), Extreme Hot Weather (+6), Raining (-3).
  • Starvation.  1/6 chance to attack each Watch/March.
    Bonuses to Hit:  Character Force Marched this turn (+3)
Example:  The PCs are adventuring in Sunshine Meadows, which is just a few miles outside a small sleepy starting town in an environment much like that of Jolly Olde England (Tier 1).  It has been cool and drizzly (inclement weather).  Each character gets hit with a Fatigue/Exposure Attack at +6 (+3 constant, +3 inclement weather), a Thirst Attack at -3 (rain), and a Starvation Attack at +0.  If any attacks are confirmed hits then the characters suffer 1d6 damage per hit.

Example:  The PCs are adventuring in the rocky barren hills outside Snurre's Lair, home of the Fire Giants and a suitable adventure locale for name level characters with challenging terrain (Tier 3 territory).  They are moving quickly along on an exposed, barren, windswept hillside in a choking volcanic landscape.  They suffer a Fatigue/Exposure Attack at +8 (+2 Tier, +3 constant, +3 terrain), a Thirst Attack at +5 (+2 Tier, +3 Hot Choking Weather), and a Starvation Attack at +5 (+2 Tier, +3 Force March).

Preventing Damage.  Characters have a few tools to avoid these hazards.
  • "A Good Offense:"  Just like it is viable to take out foes before they can grind you down, characters should take pre-emptive action to remove the threat of environmental hazards.  With a minor action, characters can gather water from a terrain feature shown on the map such as a river and remove the threat of thirst.  Foraging, a standard action, can remove the threat of both thirst and starvation.  The Weather is harder to control, but characters should try to avoid negative modifiers by seeking covered terrain in bad weather.  
  • "A Good Defense:"  Proper outdoors gear (boots, hat, and clothing, survival kit) grants a +7 bonus to SC against Exposure, the most dangerous Hazard.  Such an outfit is like being in Chain Mail with a Shield for outdoor exploration hazards.  Finding and making camp, a standard action, grants a +3 bonus to groups which remain stationary, which stacks with protection provided by a tent (+3).  Resting, a Full Action, grants an additional ~4.5 point bonus as well.  A properly equipped team in camp should be able to ride out most storms.
  • Consuming Supplies.  After having a hit assessed but before damage is rolled, players can consume expendable supplies to cancel any damage.  Remove one stone of water or of food to totally negate the hit from thirst or starvation, respectively.  Once the hit is confirmed, however, this option is gone. There is no option to do this for exposure damage, making pre-emptive action critical for fatigue and exposure threats.
  • Lodging in Civilization.  Lodging in an inn or similar accommodations negates any environmental threats except in the most extreme or unusual of conditions.

Each Watch/March, there is a 1/6 chance for a change in the weather.  If it is time for new Weather, consult the procedures below.

To generate totally new weather at the start of the adventure (or if you've forgotten the old weather), roll 3d6, discard the highest and lowest results and compare to the chart below.  If it is time for a moderate change then set one die out with the current result already showing and roll two new dice as well, then apply the same procedure.
  • 0:  Heat Wave (extreme weather)
  • 1:  Dry & Hot (inclement weather)
  • 2-3:  Sunny
  • 4:  Cloudy
  • 5-6:  Rainy (inclement weather)
  • 7:  Stormy (extreme weather)

    Example:  It has been rainy and the DM determines it is time for a change in the weather.  He puts out one die reading "5" as it is currently rainy and then rolls two more dice.  The results are "3" and "5."  One of the 5s and the 3 are discarded -- the rain continues!
Optional Rule -- Seasons:  In Winter, discard only the lowest result and retain the two highest.  Boxcars equals a result of "stormy" (7).  In Summer, discard only the highest result and retain the two lowest.  Snake eyes equals a result of "heat wave" (0).  Note that without this rule extreme weather will never come up except by DM fiat.  With this rule and the above weather patterns, one can expect a day or two of extreme weather each season, representing a terrible hurricane, nor'easter, or drought.
Optional Rule -- Climate:  Modify the table above for extreme climates.  For example, the volcanic area around the Fire Giant King Snurre's hall should have a higher distribution of extreme hot weather.  Alternatively, the DM can add or subtract "one" to all results.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I found an interesting threat about D&D Next/5E on Enworld regarding exploration rules.

Apparently 5E has identified three core game tasks:  combat, exploration, and interaction.  The problem is that the game has historically focused on different pillars (I'd argue OD&D on Exploration and later editions more on Combat).

The thread identifies a few problems with exploration type tasks or skill challenges (whatever you want to call them).  I distilled them down into a few key points here and added a few of my own.

  • Participation -- Only Weakest Matters.  Historically exploration tasks are dominated by the LEAST capable member of a party.  It doesn't member of four of the PCs have sneak checks of plus three million if there's a stinky dwarf in plate mail clunking along.  In all editions I've seen this mitigated by either (A) copious amounts of spells (i.e. the wizard casts invisibility, fly, and silence on the dwarf...) or (B) "Team Sneaky" (the 100% elf & halfling party in 1E, a bunch of optimized characters for 3E or 4E, etc).  Even more simply, having a 12" move is irrelevant if there's a 6" move person trundling down the trail with you.  This is different from combat -- every D&D party that wants to someday have Sleep figures out how to keep the pointy hat wizard (useless in combat) alive for at least a little while in 1E.
  • Participation -- Only Strongest Matters.  Alternatively, some exploration tasks are capable of being handled by one PC (example -- climb a cliff to affix a rope for everyone to climb).  Then everyone else is pretty much irrelevant.
  • Lack of mechanics.  1E had a good number of mechanics for exploration but they've kind of dropped off.  Without concrete mechanics, player skill exceeds character niche in importance.
  • Lack of dynamism or two parties.  In a fight, the orcs swing back.  In exploration, the environment rarely gets a vote.  Who has honestly cared if it rained in an RPG?  This makes things very static and unsatisfying.
  • Risk/Reward problems.  Often exploration is harshly punished.  "Thou shalt not split the party!" is a hard learned lesson of 1E.  It also neuters the scout types.  Meanwhile, poor exploration often results in resource sapping random encounters.  The incentives need to be set up properly.
  • Details...  and irrelevant details.  Sometimes there is a huge emphasis on exploration related logistics.  I remember spreadsheet upon sheet for 1E adventuring parties tracking food, water, etc.  Sadly, once casters reach level X, various needs become irrelevant.   Create Water?  Create Food?  Heck, at some levels, you even get Airy Water (create Air).  Once the cleric has Create Food & Water the fiddly starvation rules are goneskies.  Likewise, "Knock" makes rogues fairly irrelevant for many tasks.
Up next:  some ideas to address these issues.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Still Around... Kind Of

Hello readers,

Sorry for my long and unannounced absence.  I have been very busy with real life.  I have not had the chance to do much gaming, either.

I am still tossing around some ideas for games and may get around to some posts here.  However I'm pretty aggressively scheduled from a work point of view so we'll see what happens.

In any event just wanted to briefly check in.