Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Kick The Map's Ass

Ok so +Scrap Princess just put up some ways to make Navigation more interesting here and I don't think I can do better than her by a damn sight but I went off and looked at pictures of flesh eating bacteria after that and let Navigation percolate in my brain and now I've got this idea....

To reduce play to yet another false dichotomy I hate hate hate, the people who often tell me they hate D&D hate it because it's a game about combat and killing and when I say no it's really a resource management survival game they say no I hate those too. Usually in other games that rebrand the abstractions common to D&D or have them rotate on an axis of stronger player agency (here to read looser resource management) they like these elements fine; to them D&D has just come to mean fighting and losing when they instead like winning at, say, social interaction, farming, or believing in dragon Jesus.

This is often down to bad experiences, I think? Because the most successful D&D campaigns I've been in, the most satisfying nights, are the ones where we've one the day not because of how many HP I have or how much damage I do or how many spells I can cast of what level and how much extra special bullshit I can do per turn and whether I was able to choose the size of my hit dice or modify my racial traits or oh shit get me a cup of salt water let me check my d8 blah blah blah. It was always the nights where we succeeded or failed and sometimes lived or died based on how smart I am. No, that's the wrong word because I'm a big dummy dumb. How fast I think, then. How quickly I can react. To an extent the force of my personality. People talk about D&D like you need the kind of system mastery that is being Batman when in reality any old schmuck can play D&D as long as they're willing to fuck up, adjust on the fly, persevere, and try to make the proceedings more fun for themselves and others at every opportunity. You need to Spider-Man this game.

All of this is to say that there's not a gradient with overland travel, you can either be granular or you can waive it off. If you do nitty gritty then players are at the mercy of a lot of d6 rolls, usually ones the DM is making. When that's not the case and someone has a Navigation skill or Nature or has a map (but can they READ the map? If tying a knot is a proficiency then map use is a proficiency, something everyone can do but something some can do better than others. Don't think so? Set someone down to untie a not who doesn't know how it was tied, and give someone who's lost a map and tell them to figure out where they are, not always but OFTEN this will prove a frustrating exercise for all) then it's either going to be a moot roll just to make sure you don't botch or there will be some magic or local bullshit that makes the roll useless anyway. Or else it'll come back to being the same as waiving it off.

So back to the top, there are a lot of people who see D&D as a game about killing but I see D&D as a game of exploration and discovery and, yes, survival, sometimes in the Martian/Cast Away sense and sometimes in the survival horror sense. Or both at once which....I'm kind of sleepy right now, so, The Edge? The Grey. That kind of thing.

What if I could satisfy the killmaster players who just want to fight something anything GOD while trying to provide a more active opportunity for engaging the explorer-survivor players beyond beating a DC or me rolling a 2?

I want to try something: the journey as stat block.

HD is d12. They have a number of HD+1 equal to the number of days you would have to travel by horse to get there. AC keys off off terrain features (base is open grassland, forested is leather, extreme climate is chain, plate is hilly/rocky terrain, and shield bonuses take everything to the next level, forest to jungle, rocky hill to mountain, so on). How populated and civilized the region is affects the penalty to Morale saves, on a 1-3 pt. scale.

So for every day of overland travel you have to make two "attacks" against the trip's AC. You can designate a navigator to make one, every time, and then the other players take turns. The navigator can use whatever they have, tracking abilities in their class, Nature or Survival skills, preternatural racial bonuses, whatever, and make their roll with that. They do their Hit Die in "damage" to the trip's HP. Otherwise, the other party rolling has a choice to make. They can make their roll and add either their Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma bonus to the roll, and nothing else, BUT a successful roll by the second only does ability score modifier damage, and using an ability for the roll makes it ineligible. E.g. you can make a Charisma roll to beat the defense of the trip, keeping up morale, but your damage can then only be your int bonus or wis bonus.

Every time the navigator misses, the trip heals 1d12, and can improve its HPish value over its starting value. Every time either the navigator or her second misses, you instead roll on this table:
  1. Lost
  2. Lost
  3. Lost
  4. Lost
  5. Lost
  6. Lost
  7. Lost plus Storm
  8. Lost plus Encounter
  9. Lost plus Ambush (Encounter with Surprise)
  10. Lost plus Hazard
  11. Encounter
  12. Encounter
  13. Encounter
  14. Ambush
  15. Ambush
  16. Ambush
  17. Storm
  18. Encounter plus Storm
  19. Hazard
  20. Hazard plus Storm
If you get Lost then whatever number you rolled to get that result is added to the trip's HP, and you have to make a Rations check. You also have to make another attackish roll.

If you hit a Storm, you are -2 to your next roll against the trip's AC, as well as any Rations checks you make next round.

If you have an Encounter this could go good or bad for you like Encounters normally do. Maybe it's a peddler. Maybe it's a dracula.

If you have an Ambush this is definitely a dangerous encounter and they have surprise on you. Morale save for retainers.

If you encounter a Hazard then this is like a trap situation in a dungeon just a natural feature, mudslide or wildfire or loose rocks or tearing thorns, whatever. Do whatever you do to avoid traps here. Morale save for retainers.

If you are traveling between civilized places, or are within 5 days ride of a civilized place, you are assumed to have rations. If a Rations check is forced, make a simple roll of 10+ with a penalty for every day of travel. ALL of you. Everyone who fails is out of food, but as long as one person still has Rations then you all have Rations. If you meet a peddler you can rekit up for around 25g, and if someone in the party goes Foraging then they can "heal" you some Rations for every successful check to forage, but every foraging check success or failure heals the trip 5 HP.


If my players are in the wilderness and they need to find their way they are near a major town or are going somewhere specific, usually a dungeon, monster, or other major town. Because of this and the big money dump GP/XP hauls confer, they rarely need to worry that much about how much food they're carrying, because they're practically coming straight from the grocery.

Additionally, if you have a big crazy hex map, and your party is wandering a well mapped territory, and especially if you link your Players a big map and say "here's where you are and where you're going," then to some extent your wilderness is a much more known quantity. You may find them crossing multiple types of terrain, or they may pass lots of little villages to hide in and resupply, in which case this won't be that useful to you.

Finally, your party may not be in any damn hurry and may not be going anywhere particular other than "You said there were trees so those trees MUST be where we're supposed to go, so I vote trees." In this case finishing the trip is kind of a nonsense concept and so is getting lost. Track rations closely and accurately and see where they're going with this.

It MIGHT work, then, for isolated travel situations, like ground travel rules for my birds, or in a place like Doublecrossroads where any shithole town is almost a week's ride off and it's mostly unpopulated ever changing wilderness and trackless desert in between.

Work in progress.

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