Other Exploration Rules


I wanted to piggy back on my last post about travel.  If we did decide to keep travel, what travel-related rules/subsystems should Lost Worlds support?  I think I’d certainly need some overland travel speeds and rules for forced marching.  I’d probably want some rules for light and the impact of additional or insufficient light for travel.  But there’s a whole host of rules that seem like they’d go along with travel that I’m wary of.

Getting Lost

I can imagine adventurers, trekking out into the wilderness, getting lost ALL THE TIME.  I could see groups spending most of their day, or even days at a time, going the wrong way down a mountain and finding out that you have to double back.  But is getting lost, and then un-lost, ever actually fun?  On The Alexandrian, Justin posts some rules for exploring a hexgrid and includes some detailed rules for getting lost.  I admire that the system he’s using supports realistic travel, I’m not sure players are going to enjoy it, as opposed to all the other D&D that they could be playing at the table instead of being lost.  Even if you don’t get lost, just looking around a hex of nothing until you actually manage to find the lost tomb just doesn’t sound interesting.  Sure, there’s not really nothing in the hex, but as the GM and players, that hill and those trees, even the wonderful view from the rock outcropping – those things probably aren’t what the players brought their characters here for.  There’s D&D to be played, and hiding that temple is just slowing things down.  Of course, when the players walk directly there, they may wonder how it stayed “lost” for 1000 years, but then again, probably not.

Food & Water

I’ve given up trying to enforce rations and water skins.  Players never want to track it, and they don’t care.  I could see it being an interesting challenge in specific scenarios, like you’ve been dumped into the desert and you have one water skin between the four of you.  On the other hand, given the prospect of adventure and travel into the wilderness, this would in reality be the number one issue on the minds of the explorers.

Illness & Disease

This would also be a major issue with all that travel through the wilderness.  No hygiene, eating whatever you can find, sleeping in the outdoors.  While this would be another major, and dangerous, issue to actual exploration – I’m not sure having rules for coming down with Malaria is exactly what the players are looking for when they sit down to game.


I’ve considered a subsystem for generation of weather, but I have rarely had players interested in it (unless they were a weather mage).  I think varying weather can add some spice to encounters without taking a whole lot of effort to generate.  This is actually a system I could see adding, although I’m not really how sure I am that the players would care much about the extra work of including this with each day.

Item Breakage

That rope you’ve been carrying since level 1 is awfully sturdy!  You’ve used it to scale pits, tie up enemy hostages, brace your friend who was crossing a rickety bridge, etc.  Those boots?  Heck, your shield has been hit how many times?  By dragons teeth?  Unless there’s something special about an item, deterioration of items is just too much book keeping to be interesting, I think.  A number of computer RPGs, such as Fallout, include item deterioration, and make it a sub-game to keep items repaired.  The computer RPG has the luxury of making all these rolls and calculations behind the scenes, and even then, I’m not sure how fun that sub-game really is.


People went mad at sea.  Long voyages with no site of land.  Traveling by sea posed all kinds of risks, not the least of which was the morale of the ship’s crew.  I could see a group of players, traveling by ship, finding that the crew’s morale was putting their own lives in significant peril.  I like the idea of it as a one-time encounter, but this kind of sub-system may be too much for standard exploration rules.

Do any of these subsystems interest you?  Am I missing something related to travel you think should be included in the exploration rules for Lost Worlds?

10 thoughts on “Other Exploration Rules

  1. connorbros

    Recently, when I’ve been thinking about exploration, I’ve been less concerned with the ‘what the adventurers are doing’ and more concerned with ‘how it plays out’. What I’ve experienced is that, no matter how well thought out or realistic a system of exploration is, if it boils down to rolling and a handful of ‘obvious’ decisions (ie – keep watch, look for landmarks, be cautious, keep track of food, ultimately do the ‘smart’ thing), then it’s inevitably going to be bland for the players.

    I like the idea of exploration being turn-based with somewhat prescribed actions that players can take (with obvious room for creativity as always), and set consequences and end points. However, beyond that, you then need to make the actions and consequences compelling (perhaps by drawing on ‘real’ exploration like you’ve mentioned here), and have enough options that the players are not just ‘doing the right thing’, they’re gauging priorities and playing to their characters’ skills and style. A few ideas come to my mind drawing on what you’ve mentioned in this article, but what do you think of this sort of approach? Does it spark any kind of inspiration?


    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Sorry for the late reply. I think even a turn-based travel system, where nothing much ends up happening to them and they continue to take the same standard set of precautions, WILL be bland. I’d be interested to see how WotC proposes to mechanize this, but I think I’d rather something simple that can do three things: Add something unexpected to the mix (something random to provide inspiration to the game), give an area a unique feel, and mostly stay out of the way so that the player can find adventure.

      That being said, of D&D Next has some fantastic system for making travel interesting, that works for me and the group I game with, I’ll be the first to adopt. I think I already over-do travel though, and I think in Lost Worlds I want it to get out of the way of the adventure a bit more.

      1. connorbros

        I recently tried my own take on it for the first time with my group and it was kind of a hit (not without a couple flaws, of course). I think I sort of went the opposite direction – rather than just add a little something but not make a big deal of it, I decided to make it a big part of the action (probably depends on the kind of group you’ve got). Here’s the gist of it, and you’re welcome to comment. =) (sorry if this is a bit of a long reply – feel free to ignore most of it, just thought I would share details rather than be non-specific)

        I went with turn-based, and made sure that the stakes were clear – all mishaps, hazards, possible travel concerns were just framed as attacks on the party with appropriate saving throws. HP is always a bit nebulous anyways, so I was fine ‘wearing them down’ through actual damage (and nobody seemed concerned with the ‘realism’ of an hour under beating sun being a similar blow to a weapon). It became clear quickly that exploring dangerous territory (I wouldn’t use this for any random jaunt) could kill them just as surely as a monster encounter could.

        This also let me be pretty confident about the level of XP and treasure to award because I knew from average damage values and how many turns on average they had to journey what an equivalent difficulty of ‘normal’ encounter would be.

        Everybody got one action in addition to contributing to the group’s overall movement on their turn (which they could choose not to do in favour of taking on another action). The actions represented what that character did for the ‘turn’, which ranged from 3 hours in open but dangerous territory, to 1 hour in restrictive but outdoors territory, to 1 minute in dungeons (but out of combat).

        I gave them a list of prescribed actions which they could choose from. This list included things like adding to the overall speed of the party by trailblazing (str), scouting (dex), path-finding (wis) or navigating (int), venturing off a bit separate from the party to explore for more ‘random’ features, resting, or keeping watch for various hazards to prevent further attacks. Different actions required that the character take a different place in a general ‘formation’ (which was simply ‘front’ ‘middle’ ‘back’ and ‘away from group’), and different hazards attacked different points in the formation (a wild animal attack could come from behind, running into some naturally dangerous foliage only attacked the front, taxing weather conditions attacked everyone, to name a few examples).

        The players got to prioritise between speeding up, being cautious, stopping to rest, watching out for different sorts of hazards, coming up with solutions to unfavourable conditions, and setting out to just see what else might be out there besides ‘the goal’. Things kept moving and kept everyone involved because of the turn order and general balancing so that they wouldn’t be exploring on average for more than three or four turns before they either reached their goal or had to decide to rest or find another way. Everybody’s skills really played a reasonable role, a side of the characters which often just takes a backseat to combat-prowess in our sessions despite trying to have it be otherwise.

        Also, we had an actual adventuring day which rewarded the wizard of the party who tends to be more cautious with resources over the other wizard-like character who tends to blow spells all over the place and rarely expects to have much reason to not just take an extended rest. This was pretty satisfying (and the wizard-like character finally learned that he actually has at-will spells…)

        It accomplished most of what I wanted to, and people enjoyed it. Time will tell whether they enjoy it in general or as a one-off, and how I can improve it. Some of the actions needed a bit of tweaking, and overall I felt like it was better to be more flexible about the formation (for example, defensive players wanted to have fewer people up front, but also more people looking out for hazards, and I originally had these two things at odds, but it was mostly annoying for them, not interesting). I’ve also got a much better idea of how many hazards, how much damage, and how quickly they should be dealt with.

        I tried mixing this with a mapped dungeon, and they just didn’t mesh. As soon as the players had a concrete step-by-step map, turn order and aggregate actions/progress fell apart. I would like to experiment in the future with un-mapped dungeons (where I describe the overall feel, setting and layout, but not have a step-by-step map) and this system, along with a few key features, locations for possible encounters, and rooms of interest perhaps with more puzzle-y or roleplay elements after a certain amount of exploration has been accomplished.

        I was trying to do something that really meshed well with the overall D&D structure of HP, turn-based action, etc. (rather than be completely independent), and I think it did. It took a bit of explaining, which can often be the sign of a weak system (or a ‘game within a game’ which gets in the way of the adventure), but it didn’t seem to take long before the players really got it and got into it, and it was not easy to make simpler without losing a lot of the allure (I really tried). Got a few comments that it was far preferable to just ‘skipping’ travel altogether, which was great!

        Looking forward to seeing what you come up with, potentially in a much more mild exploration situation, such as cases where it’s a bit absurd to imagine the environment as attacks on the players, but as a possible alternative to just ‘quick travel’ (which is always still an option).


      2. JackOfHearts Post author

        Thanks for the write-up! I’m going to go through and pick out some nuggets from your post.

        I think what you are proposing puts A LOT of emphasis on travel, travel as an adventure. I think that can work IF that’s the where you want the action to be. The damage mechanic works well, I think, if you’re traveling through territory that makes sense to give damage, a desert, the arctic, maybe a swamp.

        I don’t think I’d want the damage to be generic. I like the flavor of having something like a quicksand encounter, or dehydration set in. I wouldn’t mind if players creatively came up with ways to avoid taking damage from such an encounter either. In the end, I think we’re talking about “salt to taste” with encounters in travel. Adding random/psuedo-random/themed encounters for traveling through an area adds just enough “spice” to the game to give it some flavor.

        It sounds like what you’ve done is make it an entire new dish, which could be good in its own right. You’d have to be careful about the portions of each though, or you could get bogged down in travel and never accomplish player goals. I think you could definitely make travel the main course now and then, and be very successful – I just don’t know how well that’s going to work all the time.

  2. Andy

    Honestly, I couldn’t even begin to read the navigation rules on that site you linked. It looks incredibly long and incredibly complicated. My first instinct was that playing with those rules would be my own personal hell. Maybe they’re amazing… I don’t know. Realism is an excellent ideal (especially in this setting) but to me that’s way too much for something that shouldn’t take up more than a few seconds of game time.

    My simple solution – A travel check should always be rolled to see how long it takes you to find somewhere/what pitfalls occur along the way. Different locations should be different travel check DCs depending on how hard they are to find (or whether there are mountains, lakes, etc). If the place is somewhere easy to find, maybe the penalty of rolling poorly is that you are fatigued when you get there. If it’s a place that is hard to find, maybe you get a +50% chance of a random encounter, or you catch a disease, or someone breaks their leg and gets a penalty until they have proper rest. But basically, one roll (travel check), one outcome (you (i) arrive safely, (ii) you arrive w/penalty). That keeps things moving but adds a little realism to it. Each place would need a different “outcome” chart, but that wouldn’t be too hard to create IMO (would be pretty interesting IMO and would add depth to the area you’re traveling in). After you roll your travel check, then depending on the outcome you could roll a random encounter check as well (potentially modified in some way by how successful you were at your travel check).

    Food and water is the worst. I agree with you 100%. Maybe running out of food and water could be a penalty on the travel check. Then it would be interesting to try and find more. Otherwise no. Don’t make me mark off a copper every day to eat. Boring.

    Illness and disease could be worked into the generic “travel check” above. This would allow you to introduce more flavor to the local area as well. If one certain area has a history of disease in their scary forest, you don’t want to roll a 1 on your travel check in that forest!

    Weather I like. I actually think it’s pretty important for a druid (if we’re retaining this, which I think we should). Although poor weather could help a thief sneak around better too. I also think weather helps add a lot to the scene/can set the mood. We could actually make the different classes differently affected by weather (assassins = bonus at night or in fog, sun cleric bonus when it’s very sunny). I like the options it opens up. We just need to keep the rules relatively balanced (small bonuses and penalties) instead of making fog completely nerf backstab, for example.

    Item breakage I don’t think it’s worth it. How would you track this for every item? In theory I think this is interesting as well. Maybe weapons have a chance of breaking on a critical failure? That’s about all I can see. Tracking rope deterioration will never work IMO.

    Morale – Again, add this as an outcome to the travel check if it is significant in a certain area. I don’t think it should apply in all areas and doesn’t need its own system.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      So two things here: Travel checks and weather.

      On travel checks: Should something always happen? Maybe not a monster/fight encounter, but maybe an encounter with a local inhabitant, inclement weather, items break, or disease breaks out?

      Also with travel checks, should “preparedness” matter? Length of travel?

      For weather: There are two ways about this I think: a multi-step chart that takes into account the geographic region type (jungle, temperate, arctic, desert, etc) and the time of year, and provides some way of generating weather quasi-randomly. The other is a big book, like an almanac, that provides a bunch of weather entries that would make sense one day to the next. I’ve considered using some old Russian weather reports for each day as the weather in KM.

  3. Andy

    I definitely don’t think something should always happen when you travel. I think you’d set (i) the likelihood of something happening and (ii) the variety of things that can happen by region.

    Preperation – I think a group of seasoned adventurers should always assume to be a base level of prepared (no modifiers). I’d be ok if there were modifiers in special instances. A bonus if a guy told you how exactly to get to the mysterious temple or a penalty if you had to leave immediately without preperation seems reasonable. No bonuses for random things like marching order, “paying very close attention,” having a rope in your hands or anything like that. Bonuses and penalties would be a rarity IMO to keep it simple and fast.

    I think you’d have to do something for length of travel (hexes or whatever substitute) with the idea that most easily traveled areas have very low DCs with success = nothing happens. I’m not certain on how this would work. Need to think about it more.

    I’m ok with either weather scenario. Both would work great IMO.

  4. wylliamjudd

    I designed/ran an RPG once where using magic was emotionally exhausting. This meant that you would become more volatile as you used magic, cry more easily, lose your temper more easily, etc. Each character had certain kinds of food they enjoyed eating, and certain activities they enjoyed, that could help them replenish emotionally. Keeping track of their rations was a joy for the players, as it essentially refilled their MP, and they were even interested in what exactly they were eating. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this system, but it did work well and made more realistic behavior more fun to play.

    As a more direct reply to this topic, I think that using exploration as a spice is useful for making the world more immersive. Just because it’s not the main dish, doesn’t mean you don’t use it. I love connorbros system for exploration. But if you don’t want travel to be the focus of play (even for part of the session), I think that you can do traveling descriptively. Characters getting lost is an opportunity to flesh out the setting. Like spice on food, you don’t want to overuse it.

    One more consideration is that if your system includes exploration based character options, then exploration must be a part of the game (not just of the storytelling, but of the game-play). In 2nd Edition D&D, lots of the skills were based on travel (can you make a fire?). These become absurd options if the players don’t have to use them. If you don’t want exploration to be a significant part of the game-play, you can’t include exploration based character options in your system.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Or, the powers need to be updated a bit. For example, maybe a woodland scout has special ability to have the GM reroll a single hostile random encounter check once per fast travel (if rolling for a random encounter while traveling to a known location).

      I think I’ll incorporate some more travel rules into exploration, but allow more fast travel once a place is discovered.

  5. Pingback: The Three Pillars | Lost Worlds

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