I am in the process of writing my modular, micro format, Into the Odd Hack – called Rove. I have been coming up with concise and practical – at the table – rules for things I have never found satisfying solutions for.
One of those things is travel. I think my unwritten rule for travel is to simply avoid doing it if you can. If it’s not interesting, doesn’t serve a purpose or isn’t the point of your game, why do it? Players just arrive at the entrance to the dungeon, just outside the town, etc. Job done!
But if the need for some sort of survival/travel arises – can I have rules I could whip out and run with on the fly? (TL;DR Yes i can and here they are)
So let’s explain my design goals and constraints:
- Map independence – I don’t want to have to rely on hexes, a properly scaled map, a fully mapped point crawl, etc. But I don’t want to exclude them either. These rules should try to accommodate all.
- Quick & Practical – I don’t want a multi-step procedure I have to follow. It must be simple and quick. It should feel like combat in ItO games – you find out the results of the players choices quickly. That doesn’t necessarily mean deadly. Unlike combat you can’t avoid travel with clever positioning.
- Short, concise, modular – The design goals of Rove.
Quite quickly I came up with 3 core tenants of wilderness travel that I needed to fulfil, each relatively independent of each other but could be used in some combination:
- Travel – The actual movement part.
- Survival – Not dying along the way.
- Obstacles – Things that make it difficult getting there.
So my first constraint – the map problem. I think you can do away with issues of distance and travel times. They can be abstracted like they are in combat. Not important, but its part of your job as the Referee to try and remain consistent. When players travel, they do so between two points, that is all the rules need to cover at a fundamental level. As long as players get interrupted at semi-regular intervals with some game mechanics – you are good. So the first rule:
Distant. Exact Travel times & distances are unimportant but should be fairly consistent. (Roughly equal points on a map, a hex on a grid, 6 miles, etc)
Wherever I have run travel – the main problem I have is meshing the rules and my players desire to problem solve around them – like I want them to do with combat. They want to find a shortcut, travel at night, travel a more direct route, etc. Unless the map itself has been designed with this in mind I never find good way of tackling that mechanically. I tried to do this in the Will of Rot with the Rottwood getting in the way a bit but its not easy and I don’t think I succeeded.
So How about a sort of push your luck mechanic? A depleting resource of the potential travel you can do every day. You can go slow and steady and have a fairly hassle free time, or you can belt it and maybe hit more challenges. This way the players desire to problem solve can be funnelled into a discussion about what is worth risking.
What I settled on was a depleting dice pool that you roll each time you travel. You use the dice pool to determine if your attempt the travel was successful, your chances of which decrease as the dice pool depleates:
Travel. When Characters travel to a Distant location, roll 4d6. If the total is ≥7, they make it there unhindered. Reduce the number of dice rolled by 1 for each consecutive roll per day. Sleep restores Travel rolls to 4d6.
Delay. If the total is <7, the Characters are waylaid by an Encounter or something else, determined by the Referee.
Every day the players have 4d6 to start with. Your rolling to beat 6 and each subsequent roll your more likely to fail and get waylaid by something. I think these probabilities are just right! Your almost guaranteed to succeed your first roll of the day, then that drops off slightly to a 9 in 10 chance which is still pretty good. But then you have a sharp drop off to just over 50%, a gamble, fairly close to that sweet 70% chance that feels “fair” to our monkey brains. Great! I am happy.
So what delays the characters? Again, I want to be loose but give my advice. It’s ultimately down to the Referee who will have context to inform them, but generally it just needs to be a new or different challenge for them to overcome instead:
Encounter. Can be an Enemy, Hazard, non-hostile NPC, etc. It should in some way challenge or disrupt the Character’s progress.
With just what I have covered so far – you have a simple push your luck game for the players to engage with. Do they risk a roll on 2d6 or just setup camp already? If the area is dangerous, they could go very slowly and only move once a day. Perfect opportunity to push a time pressure on them somehow to make that choice difficult!
But we can keep going. We need another level for the risk averse and another for the bold and stupid:
Mounts. When Travelling on horseback or equivalent, begin each day by rolling 5d6 instead.
Forced March. When 1d6 would be rolled for Travel, Characters can forgo Sleep and instead roll 2d6 again.
Now we have a reason for horses, you basically can travel twice a day effectively risk free. So twice as fast (sorta?). And if you really want to, you can wander around in delirium. Maybe worth the risk if players are running for their lives from something nasty in the night.
The only other thing missing for me is navigation. What if the players are going somewhere they don’t have a map for, or can’t see where they are going? I still think this is another trapping of common tropes. Generally Characters have a map and can discern direction. Getting lost generally isn’t fun or interesting. The interesting parts still are what happens along the way, the encounters, the locations, etc. So satiate my need for “complete” rules, I think its still useful to have something for if the Referee does deem it relevant or important.
Navigation. It is generally assumed Characters have a map and can discern their heading. If not, when Travelling one Character makes a Focus Save. On a failure they stray: Roll d8 for direction: 1;N, 2;E 3;S 4;W 5;NE 6;SE 7;NW 8;SW
Darkness. Makes Navigation harder. Always require a Focus Save, with Disadvantage for Characters with no map or direction.(Focus is WIL or the mental stat basically)
Onto survival. ItO does have its own rules for this in the form of being Deprived where you cannot Rest effectively and thus regain HP. However that does not incur compounding detriments which I think should be a feature. If your out in the wilderness there should be tension when you get down to those last few rations.
Hunger. When a Character goes a day without a meal, they lose 1 Might.
Thirst. When a Character goes a day without water, they lose half their Might. After 3 days a Character is Dead.
Might being Rove’s STR from ItO or your “real” health. This way you can push past hunger if you’re out of supplies, but you risk being an easy meal for some beasty should you come across one. Also I only separate hunger and thirst because I like the idea of Players being stuck in a desert and being far more desperate to search for water than anything else. In most other environments I would probably treat them as one.
Sleep. When a Character goes a day or more without at least a few hours of sleep, their Saves suffer Disadvantage.
I think sleep should be relatively optional. Plenty of times I have run games where players explicitly want to push on into the night and I don’t want them to be immensely dis-incentivised from doing so. I certainly want it to be the risky option though.
Lastly I wanted to simplify supplies. What I settled on is a fairly common pattern (I was inspired specifically by Into the Wyrd and Wild here). I expect players to track supplies but it should be straightforward. Very little actual accounting to do, just tallying really. I toyed with separating foraging and hunting, but if the Referee wants players to roll on an wildlife chart to discern exactly what they find that’s their prerogative. The results would effectively be the same – you get more supply. Also, like in my desert scenario, you may just not be able to find food/water easily.
Supplies. All the food, water, etc, a person needs to survive for one day in the wild. 1 Supply = 1 Day = 1 Gold (G).
Hunt/Forage. Counts as Travelling. If the total is ≥7, Characters find 1 Supply each. <7 and they have an Encounter. May not be possible in all environments.
Finally we have problems the players face along the way. This is absolutely driven by adventure context here for the specifics of what the players come across.
Hazards. Environmental problems for the Characters to overcome. (Cliff edge, river rapids, quicksand, landslide, etc.)
I do want a way to distinguish mountains from plains, but I don’t want a list of a million different terrain types and their disadvantages. Specifically in my games also I like having weird scenery with specific effect (See The Will of Rot again). In general there are two types of terrain: It’s easy so it doesn’t matter, or it slows you down:
Difficult Terrain. If the terrain is difficult to traverse (mountains, swamp, etc) Delay occurs on Travel rolls <9 instead.
Now difficult terrain just nudges players to slow down and have more dice to roll during Travel. But regardless its now more likely your guna come across something along the way; monsters hidden in the reeds or crumbling cliff faces.
To end off this section, just my advice on weather. Like with all obstacles, it should only be included if its going to create some problem for the players to solve. If the adventure already has enough of that, it can be forgotten I think.
Weather. Depends on environment and terrain, but should only be included if it can present some challenge to the Characters. Example:
Roll d6 each day:
~ 1-3: Mild and uneventful.
~ 4-5: Torrential rain; Difficult Terrain.
~ 6: Freezing fog; Darkness & open water freezes solid.
And that’s it! I have put it together in a business card format like all Rove rules will be:
I have tested it a bit and it seemed to work how I had hoped. Quick to use, straightforward and hopefully covers 90% of the circumstances you are likely to come across as a referee.
If you end up using these in your game, let me know. Id love to hear how they worked out. Likewise if I have missed something glaringly obvious to you I want to know!
Until next time,