Friday, 19 February 2016

Travelogues: other little bits

There's a few bits of thoughts about travelogues that I wanted to get down, but don't really fit in. These just relate to the kinds of things that characters might contend with when travelling, which don't necessarily get much attention in mechanics designed for a more adventuring style of play, but which might offer some opportunities for interest.

This depends to some extent on the nature of the journey. Is the travelogue genuinely through actual wilderness, with never another human in sight bar perhaps a hunter or hermit? Or is it, more plausibly, through a succession of towns, villages and farming communities, with breaks of perhaps a few weeks across entirely unsettled regions? If the latter, are they unsettled because they're utterly inimical to life (in which case, a bad choice for travel), because they're full of monsters (a different kind of challenge), because they're actually occupied by wandering communities like hunter-gatherers or roving herdspeople, or because they're reserved for use by powerful nobles (in which case gamekeepers and soldiers are to be expected)?

All the following is just bits of ideas I've had.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Travelogues: trouble on the road

Random encounters from wandering monsters are the classic hazard, but more mundane problems are the mainstay of travelogues.

What I'd like to do is have a probability system for testing for different categories of hazard, adjusted to account for the players' decisions about how to approach the journey. For example, if they're hustling they should be more likely to rush into unsafe terrain and slower to notice creeping hazards, like strange gases or sunstroke. If they take time to examine and maintain their carts and tack, they should be less likely to suffer malfunctions.

Basically I think I'd like to have a "how do you spend your time and energy?" decision. You can travel at absolutely full speed, which makes all kinds of problems more likely to arise: walking into danger, exhaustion, injury, spoilage, accidents and so on. You can take excellent care of your mounts and gear, but travel slowly and use up both food (in travel time) and resources (for maintenance). So you're deciding what your priorities are.

Travel pace

I think (based on my mate's requirements) what I'll suggest is that each day has six 4-hour blocks, and you can choose how many to spend travelling. Those you don't, you can use for downtime activities. Travelling for more than 8 hours beyond this counts as Forced March, no matter in which order you do things!

Travel speeds, and their bonuses and penalties, are otherwise as in the DMG.

Okay, I've pretty much run out of subsystems now, so I need an actual main system... curses.

Right, let's have a stab at this.

The basic idea is much like the random encounter roll, except without monsters. There will be several rolls made each day (or whatever period), with various modifiers, to determine whether anything unusual happens.

I'm probably going to change that because I think it's too faffy on reflection, but let's take a look anywway.

Event Rolls

There are five categories of random events: Travel, Health, Gear, Animal and (of course) Encounter.

Each roll is a 2d10. All rolls are modified by party Morale.

Travel rolls gain a +5 bonus if anyone successfully Planned.

Gear rolls gain a +5 bonus if anyone successfully did Maintenance.

Animal rolls gain a +5 bonus if anyone successfully did Animal Care.

Characters roll Health individually, modified by their Health.

I'm not going to work up actual tables here because I suspect this model is just too faffy. Essentially, it would be low rolls resulting in serious problems, and high rolls resulting in either nothing or some small benefit (such as faster progress).

Composite Rolls

In this somewhat simpler model, there's just one roll to determine whether the notable event of the day is good, bad or indifferent. A secondary roll determines the type of event (such as Travel, Health etc.) and its effects are then calculated.

Roll 2d10 (modified by Morale) for the day's events to determine whether things go well or badly. Then use the highest of the two dice to determine the type of event that occurs. The DM is responsible for deciding exactly what has happened and (where appropriate) framing it as a challenge for the PCs.

If the group is forced marching, they suffer an additional -5 penalty on the roll.

Events allow rolls to avoid their effects. Activities performed in downtime and current status modify these rolls.

  • 4 or less: Calamity! Something has gone seriously wrong. The party will make little or no progress today, and may suffer lasting effects.
  • 5-7: Problems. Something significant goes wrong, and requires considerable effort to deal with.
  • 8-10: Minor setback. The party will lose a little time, energy or patience.
  • 11-15: Steady progress. There are no particular problems today.
  • 16-17: Good going. The party makes better progress than expected.
  • 18+: A stroke of luck!

Use the highest of the two dice faces (the Type Die) to determine the type of event from the chart below. For example, if you roll 4+7=11, the Type Die is a 7. If an event isn't appropriate (for example, the party has no animals with them) use the other face. If that also isn't appropriate, it's a Travel event.

Most events allow an Avoidance Roll to ignore the effects - only one character may make this roll, and in most cases the DM determines which. If the Avoidance Roll is successful, the DM narrates the issue that arises, but the party manage to overcome it without any significant difficulty: they pick a safe path through the marsh, fend off illness, notice the damaged reins in time to avoid an accident, and so on. If not, the party must deal with the issue in-game.

One further point: for some events to be meaningful, we need to assume that waving hands and chanting isn't a solution to everything. This is because with very little else happening, clerics can cheerfully cast cure spells all day. D&D's hit points are a handwavy mixture of stamina, resolve and physical injury. The simplest thing is to assume that, while clerics can easily heal battle wounds or virulent diseases, they can't do much about low-level illness or the time wasted when someone gets hurt. Maybe the gods just don't consider it serious enough? Injuries and illnesses still take time and exhaust the afflicted.

  1. Animal event. Something happens involving one of the party's mounts, pets or pack animals. The event can be avoided with a successful Animal Handling roll (DC 20 - Type Die), with advantage if the party did Animal Care last night.
  2. Health event. The party member with the lowest current Health is unwell or injured. The event can be avoided with a successful Constitution save (DC 20 - Type Die), with advantage if the character received Healthcare last night. If the unHealthiest party member is already afflicted by a Health event, choose the next unHealthiest.
  3. Hostile encounter. The party encounters active antagonists, ranging from petty thieves to bandits to vicious monsters depending on the scope of the event roll. This is handled like any other encounter and there is no avoidance roll.
  4. Gear event. There is a problem with some aspect of the party's gear (or, on an excellent roll, their equipment helps them progress faster than expected). This can be avoided with a successful Perception roll (DC 20 - Type Die) with advantage if the party did Maintenance last night.
  5. Travel event. The broadest category! An issue arises with the weather, roads, navigation, terrain, natural hazards, other travellers, local residents, the authorities, or perhaps the party simply find something interesting to investigate along the way. The DM should choose an appropriate avoidance roll, typically Survival or a social skill (DC 20 - Type Die).
  6. Health event
  7. Animal event
  8. Gear event.
  9. Travel event.
  10. Travel event.

A Hostile result isn't necessarily a combat. The party might choose to lay low while a raiding horde passes by, or plan a way to pass through a spider-filled forest without alerting the creatures. The difficulty of the challenge should reflect the event roll result - a Problem shouldn't be bypassed with a roll and no real loss of time.

But how does all that work?

Okay, how's this supposed to work? Here are some suggestions.


  • 4 - A mount is badly hurt - it trips and injures a leg, sinks into a bog, is poisoned by a roadside plant, develops infected sores from poorly-fitted tack, or is attacked by an animal in the night. The party might choose to abandon the creature and keep going (redistributing possession as necessary), or stop travelling for the day while they rescue, tend and reassure it.
  • 5 - A loud noise, strange animal or other surprise sends the pack mules racing off into the forest. The party will need to hurry to round them up, once they get their own mounts under control... and there are plenty of places for a mule to disappear.
  • 8 - A horse is unusually irritable and badly-behaved after weeks of travel. The party are slowed down as they struggle to keep it moving as they want. An Animal Handling roll won't deal with this problem, because that's what the AH avoidance roll represented - they've had their chance.
  • 11 - The horses feed from a cluster of strange herbs, and spend the rest of the day twitching and whinnying, but it has no serious consequences.
  • 16 - As the party rests, a grazing animal wanders aside and reveals a hunter's track, which proves to be a useful shortcut through a difficult area.
  • 18 - a ranger's companion bounds aside from the path, leading them to a suspicious patch of fresh-dug earth. A few minutes' digging reveals a small iron-bound chest containing silver pieces and a magic scroll.


  • 4 - The route through the hills proves a mistake when the weather worsens, leaving the party slipping on wet scree and struggling against violent gusts. A pack of supplies is lost when a party member nearly falls from a narrow ledge. (Mechanically that's probably going to be food, but it could include some party gear as well. The DM might allow an attempt to find and recover it, but that should be a long and difficult task)
  • 5 - The party enter a farmstead to ask for news and buy supplies. Instead, they find a secluded religious order who are angered by the intrusion, and by something about the party. The zealots order them off their land, and all the farms across this valley belong to the same unwelcoming group. It may not be possible to travel through this valley at all.
  • 8 - after a shortcut through a thicket, the party are constantly plagued by insects, due to the lingering scent of certain leaves. Their progress will be slowed and patience frayed unless they find a way to escape the flies.
  • 8 - a large band of bandit-hunting soldiers orders the party to halt for interrogation (Persuade or Bluff avoidance roll to quickly convince them to move on). A lengthy search and questioning delays the party and potentially inflicts some minor damage.
  • 11 - unstable stepping-stones plunge someone into a stream, but thankfully nothing is lost.
  • 11 - the party are forced to detour when they find a landslip has wiped out the cliffside path they hoped to take, but manage to make up lost time.
  • 16 - A break in the trees on a hilltop offers the party a splendid vista of the landscape ahead, helping them plan the rest of their journey. They gain the benefits of journey planning for the next 1d3 days without spending downtime.
  • 18 - The party encounters a band of wandering traders who are glad of some company. The traders can provide skilled Maintenance and give them advice about the route ahead. The party have a friendly contact in the next settlement they visit.


  • 4 - the party member is afflicted by food poisoning, and completely helpless. Even with magical healing, they will be too weak and exhausted to travel or pursue downtime activities. They can only engage in absolute necessities (i.e. they can still do combat if necessary). They cannot act in downtime until they make a successful Con save (DC 12-days elapsed).
  • 5 - the party member wrenches a knee on unstable ground, and can only move slowly. The party's progress is reduced today.
  • 8 - a fever affects the character's senses, so they see and hear illusory threats, and act erratically. The party must decide how to respond.
  • 11 - a slight headache from the biting wind makes minimal difference to the journey.
  • 16 - whether fresh or exhausted, the character feels unusually clear-headed and focused. Their attentiveness helps the party avoid difficult ground and push rapidly on with their journey.
  • 18 - food the party gathered proves to be especially refreshing, and after the meal they all feel in good humour. The party's Morale increases by 1.


  • 4 - A broken wheel leaves a cart useless. The party must choose whether to make long, difficult repairs (a challenge planned by the DM) or abandon the cart where it lies. If they have a spare wheel, they must hoist the cart (a dangerous job) and try to fit the new one.
  • 5 - Vermin have found their way into a pack, chewing the bag and eating supplies. The party loses 1d4 daysworth of food.
  • 8 - Cooking gear is damaged by poor packing. Unless the party has spares, someone must burn a downtime slot to fix the gear or rig up alternative cooking options.
  • 11 - A poorly-fitted sadly leaves someone saddle-sore, but otherwise fine.
  • 16 - The expensive telescope someone insisted on bringing allows you to spot a broken bridge up ahead, and the brigands apparently lurking nearby. You can take a different route and make good progress, or you could attempt to confront the bandits.
  • 18 - you have exactly the obscure item you need to earn the gratitude of a passing wizard, who offers you a warm welcome at her well-hidden tower. The party can rest and feast well tonight, and has the chance to obtain some minor magical supplies.

That seems more or less workable to me?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Call of Cthulhu Scenario Tag Cloud

I think this is pretty self-explanatory? It's a tag cloud of all Call of Cthulhu scenarios published professionally, but not magazines because I forgot them and can't be bothered to redo it. Sorry.

created at

Travelogues: downtime activities

So, what about those downtime activities? Let's review.

New downtime activities

Discussions with my mate are looking like downtime might be spend in blocks of four hours in his campaign, which is fair enough. Let's assume that as the basis for now; DCs below have been adjusted accordingly.

There are basically two types of downtime activities here: essential and optional. It's pretty much essential (at least on longer journeys) to forage for food and water, and so these activities are relatively easy. The other activities give characters an opportunity to prepare and reduce the chances of something going wrong in future, but gaining these benefits is more difficult.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Travelogues: health

We're coming to the end of the subsystems for travelogues (thank goodness), and having thrown out some ideas about rest, food, morale and maintenance, I'm going to move on to health.

Health isn't a big part of most roleplaying games, particularly combat-adventure games like D&D, where there's a ferociously-handwavy zone of "either stabbed in the kidneys or badly bruised or forced to make a sudden dodge, we're not sure" around injuries and where diseases only exist as things that kill you quite quickly and probably turn you into a monster. That's fair enough. Head colds and carpal tunnel syndrome don't fit well with that brand of fantasy.

Nevertheless, travelogues do feature health as a concern. Characters worry about bad food, or getting poisoned by careless foraging. Bad weather makes them worry about chills, and marshes or infected wounds cause fevers. People and mounts alike twist ankles, grow footsore, and are afflicted by noxious miasmas.

Like Morale, I think Health will be mostly a tracking thing, tied into random encounters. Unlike Morale, this will be tracked individually. I know fantasy characters do differ in their stoicness, but I feel like it's specific characters that are ill during travelogues (thus burdening the rest of the party) while overall mood is typically more of a party thing. Also, having the entire party sick just feels wrong.

As per usual, I'm basically making this up as I go along.

Travelogues: Morale and Maintenance

Okay, so I've had an initial stab at the resting and foraging aspects of a travelogue, although I'm starting to think I planned on too small a scale. Never mind, onwards and upwards, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

There are four more broad submechanics I think are relevant here:

  1. Maintenance, in a broad sense: taking care of your animals, vehicles, gear and supplies en route. This is relatively straightforward on short journeys between towns or treks out to dungeons, but gets harder with long spells under constant strain and with little opportunity for professional care.
  2. Health. This isn't often considered in dungeoneering (because it wouldn't be much fun, presumably) but long journeys are very taxing, and wilderness journeys offer lots of opportunity for illness and accident. These are in the source material, so let's try to offer something along those lines. I'm not intending to make this a major feature, but more of a stick: plan your journey, take sensible precautions, otherwise you'll get ill. This should help encourage players to maintain food supplies, spend time searching for water, and shelter in poor weather.
  3. Morale. Journeys are tiring, and long treks across country can be dispiriting even for hardened warriors. If things are going well, morale is high; if things are going badly, morale is low. Taking steps to recover morale helps in the long run but can have short-term costs.
  4. Incidents on the journey, which are essentially random encounters, but expanded to fill a whole range of problems, challenges, hazards and opportunities. Incidents will be informed by at least the Maintenance and Morale subsystems, because it makes sense that (for example) your cart is more likely to lose a wheel if you haven't been keeping it in good repair.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


Wow, it is so much harder to do post series building up systems from scratch when you actually have enough work to keep you busy at your day job.

I'm still working on the Travelogues (although discussion with my mate suggests I've aimed too small-scale for what he had in mind) but my brain is pretty frazzled from concentrating and task-switching all the time. Although I'm not going to complain about a job that actually keeps me busy, an advantage of my previous job was not having to concentrate a lot of the time, so I could design game stuff in my head while moving books around or whatever. Here my workflow looks more like this (looks like an exaggeration, actually a simplified summary):

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Travelogues: foraging and food

Last time, I talked about possibly extensions to the resting mechanics for D&D 5e. Now, time to consider another important aspect of any holiday quest: cuisine.

As usual, this is being spooled off the top of my head here, so expect some pretty rough edges. There are also aspects I'm building to align with mechanics I vaguely intend in later parts of this series, so... I'm sure it will be fine.

Eating and Foraging

The Outlander feature will just make a mess of this vital aspect, which I'm not up for. It's not just that, either. According to the rules:

A character needs one pound of food per day... A character needs one gallon of water per day, or two gallons per day if the weather is hot. (PHB, p.66 in Basic Rules) and on a successful [foraging] check, a character finds 1d6+Wis modifier pounds of food, then repeat the roll for water (in gallons).

This means that on average, given that the DC for foraging will tend to be 15 in most kinds of wilderness, you can probably assume that at least one person in a party of four will roll a 15 and gain on average 4 pounds of food and water. In other words, most of the time this just isn't going to be an issue.

I think interpretation is key here. The foraging rules allow foraging when you're travelling at a normal or slow pace. Thing is, the travel rules are very vague about how pace works. They don't tie you down to committing a day, but nor does foraging take any actual time. It seems very much like you can just (by RAW) travel at normal pace for no more than an hour (assuming the DM is at least determined enough to limit you to 1-hour blocks) while foraging enough to feed you all for a day, then move fast for the rest of the day.

My version will be different.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Travelogues: more granular resting rules

Recently a friend mentioned that he's thinking of trying to do a D&D game that's more in the style of a lot of brick-thick fantasy novels. Which is to say, a large proportion of the pagecount will be devoted to travelling around. Specifically, he doesn't just want to do the kind of nominal journeys that often feature, which are mostly encounters interspersed with occasionally making camp or fording a stream. He wants the journey itself to be prominent. As so often, our discussion led to me saying I'd go away and maybe write a blogpost.

My instinct is that if you want travel to feel real (something you can get your teeth into in a game), you're going to have to pay attention to some things that games tend to (reasonably) gloss over for the sake of adventure, as well as digging out the D&D wilderness rules. Specifically, I think you need to make logistics important. Thinking back on the travel stories I've read - which includes a lot of autobiography, not just fantasy - a lot of the interest and drama and tension comes from the mundane details.

My idea, therefore, is that you probably want to de-emphasise the classic problems of "we are constantly attacked by monsters" and start worrying about things like food supplies, shelter, fatigue, rust and corrupt law enforcement.