I've been continuing work on my Jorune: Evolutions ruleset. Recently I've been working on wilderness exploration rules. One thing I've been thinking about, spurred on by some of Gus L's recent dungeon theory, is how different the role of "the map" is in wilderness exploration and dungeon or adventure site exploration. The size of the hexes means that the kind of navigation of a concrete space involved in dungeon crawling doesn't apply. There are some approaches to wilderness exploration that chase that level of concreteness by using "zoomed in" sub hexes that allow one to establish a more concrete topography, or that abandon hexes altogether, using a ruler to map movement across a fairly detailed map. Personally, this doesn't work for me for two reasons.
The first is that it makes the construction of the map a daunting task. I now need to not only assign a type to the hex, and stock it with features, but construct sub-hexes with detailed topography and geography that allow me to locate those features in the hex. This basically ensures that I will never be able to prep a sizable map.
But this is connected with a second issue about the point of navigating space. Why is the navigation of space interesting in a dungeon crawl? Having read Gus' reflections and run many years of location-based adventures in the retro-game style, I can think of three reasons. These don't apply to every location-based adventure in the mode of dungeon crawl, but I think the best feature all of them.
- Players engage in meaningful choice vis-a-vis navigation of the space as part of an economy of risk and rewards. They decide whether to push further at risk of random encounters, or whether to turn to the left towards the ominous clanking sounds, or whatever it might be. It sustains meaningful choices.
- Another way the navigation of space matters to dungeons is the way factions inhabit the space. We might think of this is the social dimension of space in the dungeon. Factions operate in different areas, which they often "hold", and they have interests in other areas, some of which opposing factions might hold, or which are otherwise inhospitable. This means the players enter into a current unstable equilibrium or conflict space that is intimately connected to the spatial layout of the location. People in one part of the space want things from other parts of the space, and the players can interact socially with this nexus of often opposed desires.
- Another thing is that in a good dungeon, space is part of a puzzle to be solved. One figures out how to get from A to B optimally, for example, finding a quick way to lower levels, or learning how to directly access some place that could previously only be reached laboriously, or finding the way into some sub-level or hidden area. This is a satisfying achievement.
But I think you can capture a decent amount of it if you lean in to the abstraction and "zoomed out" scale of wilderness travel. To get 1. you need to some regular way to represent risk and rewards trade-offs in wilderness exploration. In the dungeon this is provided in part by wandering monster checks, which happen at the level of the turn (or every 3 turns). It's important that it happens per unit of movement so that there's a tradeoff with exploring the map and hazarding encounters. In the wilderness you want something similar.
So it's better if you don't have 1 check per day, but rather a mechanic that says: want to explore another hex? OK, roll the encounter die then. Similarly, it would be good to build in other choices that the parallel the dungeon like the choice whether to "search" for "hidden" features, i.e. explore the interior a hex in exchange for hazarding encounters. It's also good if you have mechanics for forced marching that require you tradeoff extra movement for acquiring exhaustion.
Similarly, it's good if you have an encumbrance system that forces choices about what to carry, with rations and acquired loot being the obvious things about which you must make tradeoffs with adventuring gear. So you'll need rules for starvation and foraging too. It would be good to build in some choices about when you start looking to make camp, and probably about how good a camp you can get set up.
Number (2), the social dimension, is easy. What we want is a hexmap as a social space of factions in opposition that want things from other places on the map. This is less a matter of rules and more about hex stocking. But we'll certainly want to use reaction rolls for wilderness encounters and have explicit rules about parlaying to make that option salient to players.
Number (3), about space as a puzzle to be solved is harder in a "zoomed out" wilderness map. What could it mean? Do we introduce a system of easy travel from some hexes to other hexes? Shortcuts built into the flow of the hexmap? That might work. But in this post I try something different instead, leveraging something unique to wilderness travel, namely mechanics about getting lost, to create an economy of known landmarks to navigate by. By creating archipelagos of landmarks to uncover in a sea of wilderness, the party can learn through exploration how to create routes from one destination to another and make tactical choices about movement.
Instead of aesthetically pleasing maps that mix a medley of different terrain types, the system in this post works best for the exploration of discrete wilderness regions that is a single base type of terrain. Mirkwood Forest; The West Trinnu Jungle Lands; The Mermist Swamp. Hexes are differentiated not primarily by terrain type, but rather by landmarks that are treated as icons on the map. Furthermore, this is not a system for traveling across friendly lands or for one-shot journeys from point A to point B. It's written for play that begins and ends in a safe home base, from which multiple sallies into the perilous wilderness can be made, so that learning the terrain over time has major advantages for the group. It also will work best with a shared electronic map resources like Hexographer or Hex Kit that allows for easy placement and deletion of hexes, although you could certainly make it work with a few sheets of blank hexpaper too.
A lot of the rules here are widely used. The innovation, I think, comes mainly in terms of the use of landmarks. But someone has probably already thought of something similar, so feel free to link below. Note that these rules presuppose 2d6 stat and skill checks, with a max positive modifier of +2 and max negative modifier of -1.
The gear you carry on a mission is a resource. Jorune: Evolutions uses a slot based encumbrance system that tracks how many significant items you are carrying. It is important that you list items on your character sheet in the order of accessibility, with lower numbers being more accessible than higher numbers.
Clothing, jewelry or knick-knacks, and your pack do not fill slots. Armor, on the other hand, does occupy slots: (Light 2 , medium 4, heavy 6). Small items of the same kind can be bundled in 4s. Each brace of ammunition counts as one slot. Large or bulky items occupy two (or more) slots.
- 10 + Str Mod + Size Mod items or fewer: unencumbered
- 11-15 + Str Mod + Siz Mod items: encumbered
- 15-20 + Str Mod + Siz Mod items: heavily encumbered
- Thombo/Horse: 20 Slots Unencumbered/21-25 Slots Encumbered/26-30 Slots Heavily Encumbered. Carrying a Rider=10 Slots.
- Bochugon: 40 Slots Unencumbered/41-50 Slots Encumbered/51-60 Slots Heavily Encumbered. Carrying a rider=10 slots.
Encumbered: Reduce travel movement by 1 hex. -1 to physical stat checks, physical skills, and combat rolls. Make a stamina check after a day of travel. On a 6- acquire one level of exhaustion (§2.7)
Heavily Encumbered: Reduce travel movement by 2 hexes. -1 to physical stat checks, physical skills, and combat rolls. Test stamina at -1 after a day of travel and at the end of each combat in which the character participates. On a 6- acquire one level of exhaustion.
All travel is represented by movement across a hexmap representing a wilderness region to be explored. Travel speeds are measured in hexes. There is base travel speed depending on your method of travel. Note that everyone must employ a certain mode of transport to benefit from the higher travel speed. Travel speed is not variable by terrain type, since we assume a single base type of terrain. In regions where movement is easy, hex sizes are assumed to be larger (3 miles). In regions that are harder to move through, hex sizes are assumed to be smaller (1 or 2 miles depending on how hard the terrain is).
Base Land Travel Speeds:
- On Foot: 5 Hexes
- Bochugon: 5 Hexes
- Thombo: 6 Hexes
- Horse: 7 Hexes
- Encumbered: -1 Hex
- Heavily Encumbered: -2 Hexes
When the party has exhausted its movement on foot, the party may choose to continue pushing further. For each hex the party moves into, each character must test stamina or acquire one level of exhaustion. When mounted, the mounts make the check instead of the humans. For each exhaustion check after the first, roll a wound check for the mount to see if it dies.
To recover a level of exhaustion, you must camp and have access to whatever can address your condition (sleep, food, etc.). Upon wakening test stamina. On a 7+ remove a level of exhaustion. Some forms of exhaustion, including exhaustion from wounds, cannot be recovered through camping.
- Flora or Fauna
Hex Features and Landmarks
Exploring a Hex
- Flora or Fauna
Each day the Sholari makes a secret survival skill check for the relevant wilderness type to see if they get lost using the wilderness survival skill of the mission member with the highest score. This is a 2d6 check modified by skill level in the relevant type of wilderness (untrained -1/trained +0/skilled +1/master +2). On a 6- they become lost. Since no one starts higher than skilled, and since becoming a master in a skill is not easy, this means that people will often get lost. (This is an intentional design choice that emphasizes the importance of uncovering landmarks, more on which shortly.)
If lost, the Sholari will dice to see in which hex of the day's travel the party goes off course. The Sholari will then roll 1d6 to see which way the party moves out of that hex. (Note there is a 1 in 6 chance that becoming lost has no ill effect if they end up moving in the intended direction.) All further moves after that point reorient the hexfaces so that the erroneous direction is treated as the intended direction.
The party can definitively realize it is lost in two ways. The first is by succeeding at a survival skill check for a new day after camping, representing the fact that they realize they were not quite traveling in the right direction the previous day. The second is when the party fails to reach a known landmark they expect to reach along their intended route. At this point the party may move using the regular hex key with any moves they have left from their current location and try to find their way back to terra cognita.
When the party enters a hex with a landmark they have previously discovered they stop being lost. As long as they have not been lost for multiple consecutive days, the party will be able to reconstruct their movements, and the Sholari may now tell the party the hexes the party moved through while lost on the normal map, and will place any landmarks they discovered along the way on the map.
If the party wishes to camp in the wilderness, the mission member with the highest wilderness survival skill rolls a check for the group in their effort to find a suitable camp site. In inclement weather, this check receives a -1 penalty. For the result, consult the following table:
- 6-: Uncomfortable camp: Party takes disadvantage on their grit roll and receives -1 on stamina checks to recover from exhaustion.
- 7-9: Suitable camp: Party rolls for grit in the morning as usual.
- 10+: Choose 1
- Comfortable camp: Party rolls for grit (hp) with advantage in the morning and receives +1 on stamina checks to recover from exhaustion.
- Hidden camp: As a suitable camp, but the party does not check for an encounter during the night.
Hunting and Gathering
At the cost of one hex move, and a roll of the travel die, the party member with the highest survival skill may test survival to hunt and gather. If the terrain is lush they may add +1. If the terrain is barren -1.
- 6-: the party comes up empty handed
- 7-9: one half the party (rounding up) need not consume rations for the day
- 10+ no one in the party need consume rations for the day
Starvation & Dehydration
Rationing spreads the check to more people but gives a bonus to the check corresponding to the number of people with rations.
- Two people splitting 1 ration: each checks stamina at +1
- Three people splitting 2 rations: each checks stamina at +2
- Four people splitting 3 rations: each checks stamina at +3