18 July 2020

The Joys of Emergent Gameplay

Whew, okay, PhD done.  Now I can write and generally have a life again.

I've started a campaign with my homebrew about three months ago (over Zoom, thanks to the plague).  Nominally it's playtesting, though realistically I'm happy enough with it at this point that I'm fine just running it as a game, with anything useful in the way of playtesting data that comes up being a bonus.

It's a sandbox campaign because what initially drew me to old-school D&D was the idea of having a less GM-intensive game I could run.  Games I ran for about 20 years were all quite plot-based, which required extensive prep, and as I grew busier with real life (and increasingly felt like I'd hit a rut in terms of the sort of plots I generated), the attraction of just creating a world and letting loose a pack of adventurous, active players seemed more and more appealing.  I'm blessed with a great group, so I knew I could count on them to take charge once I explained to them the basic concepts of old-school and sandbox play.

I've seeded numerous megadungeons in a post-apocalyptic landscape, which gives me all sorts of opportunity to have ruins everywhere and for civilization to be rare pockets amidst a vast, untamed wilderness.  I've decided to make it a hexcrawl for the wilderness portion, as I've worked up a set of hexcrawl mechanics I'm quite happy with, but it's really up to the players if they want to head into the wilderness and wander around or make for the dungeons.

So far Greg Gillespie's Highfell has had the greatest appeal, but there's been a decent amount of wilderness exploration, if only at times to find the dungeons the rumours are telling them about.  In one such case, while roaming through the forest an encounter came up.  Rolling on my random encounter tables, I got a small pack of werewolves.  The Reaction Table said they were neutral/uncertain, so I just had them shadow the party.  The group has rapidly understood that they don't have to fight everything they encounter (the first time they encountered gnolls at night that just wanted to share their campfire was I think the key moment in bringing this concept home).  So they ignore the werewolves and eventually they go away.

In terms of hex features (random items, unusual terrain, etc that show up in a hex besides your usual random encounter rolls), I've stocked my hexes by plundering every hex crawl I can find and taking the ones that meet my standards.  I feel a hexcrawl feature has to be a) memorable and b) interactable on some notable level--features that are just neat but would lead a player group to puzzle over them to no effect are just frustrating and time-consuming, actually discouraging exploration and experimentation (because no one wants to pixelbitch their way through a game week after week).  So I selected for those two attributes.  While I've taken some material from Isle of the Unknown, most of my features are drawn from John Stater's work, who is a hexcrawling machine.  I started with his Hex Crawl Chronicles series for Frog God Games, but he also usually includes a very hefty hexcrawl in each issue of his NOD Magazine, which I strongly recommend: there's something like 150-200 hexes per issue, all of varying themes (Africa, Persia, Dark Elves, etc; there's two free issues to download at the link if you want a sample).  I've got a base list of just over 100 features culled from all this.  I haven't seeded more than handful on my campaign map ahead of time (the ones whose effects would be obvious, and thus would have some news of them spreading, so I can seed rumours to go with them).  I just roll D100 and see what comes up.  As such, I usually don't know what's coming any more than the players do.

The day after their werewolf random encounter, a couple of forest hexes away, I roll up this as a hex feature:

The valleys of this hex lead to a wooded plateau where is situated a natural rock formation that resembles a howling wolf. This place is sacred to the wolves of the region, who gather here on full moons to howl their praises to their deity. Encounters with packs of 3D4 wolves occur in this hex on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6, and at full moons one finds upwards of 120 wolves, 60 dire wolves and 30 worgs baying around the rock formation. During these moon gatherings, the Wolf King appears enthroned on the rock formation, selecting especially fine specimens of wolf with which to breed. Visitors can approach King Wolf safely if they affix a spike of lupine flowers (they grow liberally in the lower valleys of the hex) to their clothes and keep their weapons sheathed. If these adventurers can beat King Wolf at a contest (hunting down the largest deer) he provides them with a wolf-shaped charm that grants the wearer the ability to track by scent (75% success).

They notice all the releatively fresh wolf spoor in the area and so decide to be cautious and not mess with the shrine.  As they don't have enough movement to leave the hex, they camp nearby for the night.

I roll randomly to see what day it is.  I don't have a D30, so I just roll D20 and decide that if I get a natural 20, it's a full moon (which percentage-wise isn't right, but full moons last 1-3 days depending on how you're counting, so whatever).  Natural 20 it is: the moon rises in the sky and I start chuckling.

They're surrounded on all sides by wilderness and so I decide that wolves are going to be coming from all directions: that many predators aren't living in a single six-mile hex.  So I tell them as they set watches for the night that they hear howls, then more howls in a different direction, then yet more somewhere else: dozens and dozens of howls.  The party quickly puts two and two together regarding the moon and that shrine they passed earlier in the day, but also those random werewolves from the day before, which of course were just a random encounter and had nothing to do with this.  A frantic debate ensures as to whether they will try to hole up with an ample fire, climb trees and try to hide, or run like hell: they eventually choose the latter.  It's a tense nighttime run, but they make it out.

A couple of weeks later the party is in the area again.  They're smart enough to give the wolf shrine a wide berth, but there's still random encounters, and lo and behold, a couple hexes away in the woods I roll up werewolves again.  Now, the encounter tables I've made are 3D6 tables, and werewolves have only a 2.77% chance of showing up, but here we go again.  And again I roll a neutral result for reaction.  The wolves are just shadowing them again, not moving closer.

Turns out 026.009 is werewolf country.  Who knew?  Certainly not me.

At this point the party is wondering what the hell is going on.  Did they do something wrong at the shrine?  What are these wolves up to?  And I'm loving it.  I press them as to what they're doing, and one member decides he's just going to solve this mystery by approaching them and hoping not to die.  Another reaction roll is made: a 12, so highly favourable this time!  He's not supper and instead the werewolves actually like the approach.

No need to go into the rest of it in detail: it's all on-the-spot improv on my part, as I have to come up with a reason why these wolves keep shadowing them, how they connect to the shrine, what it meant for the party to have been at the shrine and fled in the night, and so on.  In short, I decide these are greater werewolves, favoured servants of the Wolf King with control over their bestial nature and able to roam around freely without succumbing to bloodlust.  The party welcomes them and gives them meat, and I decide their approach and successful escape on the night of the full moon has impressed the wolves.  I state that the party are now known as Wolffriends: if I roll any wolves or werewolves as random encounters in the general area (i.e. in the Wolf King's domain), the encounter will automatically resolve favourably for them, with no replacement roll made.  One player volunteers to accept the "blessing" of lycanthropy, thinking that he'll be able to be a fully conscious and controlled werewolf like the five they've just met, but a bite later he learns that he's just cursed as a normal werewolf with no powers at all until the full moon rises, at which point he's a crazed killer, and much laughter is had (and much discussion of logistics of subduing the player when the moon rises; they're only second level and poor, so Cure Disease isn't available).  At this point they don't know about the Wolf King, and frankly I don't know how he fits into this either: that's something to figure out in a future game.


I wanted to write about this because I couldn't stop grinning after the game.  I never would have written any of that on my own ahead of time, and had no plans for this area other than "monster-infested forest": it all came about as the result of random rolls on tables and player reactions to such.  Looking at the odds, we have:

2.77% chance of the first werewolf encounter
1% chance of that hex feature coming up
5% chance of it being a full moon
2.77% chance of another werewolf encounter
2.77% chance of those werewolves being friendly

Taking those odds into account, we have a 0.00000106269665% chance of all that coming together.

Assuming I've done my math right (never a given), that's about 1-in-94 million odds (and that's not even including the other two reaction rolls I made, each of which included chances for instant-hostility and thus made the event even more unlikely).  You're more likely to be hit by a meteor (1 in 700,000 chance, apparently).  You're more likely to die from being a left-handed person who tragically misuses a product designed for the right-handed (1 in 7 million chance, apparently).

One of the key reasons this all worked out, apart from the randomness, is that I don't reveal my rolls as distinct steps.  That is, while for me there's a fixed order to things--the random encounter check, and then the hex feature check--the players don't have this systematized view.  They don't know what I'm rolling at any given time, because I'm not declaring "okay, here's the random encounter check", etc.  As such, they don't know that roll X is for a random encounter and thus has probably no greater importance, while roll Y is for a hex feature and thus is probably more lasting in its effects.  Without such knowledge, they have no reason to mentally discard the werewolf encounters as "just encounters".  I also don't treat them as such when speaking to the players, if I can think of something at the time: I try to make them colourful, even just a bit (I don't tend to bother with unintelligent creatures: stirges don't have deep emotional motivations).  In this case, the werewolves weren't "result 6-8: neutral/uninterested", they were "hanging back and shadowing the party, keeping largely hidden in the trees".  The overall effect is that for the players, everything matters, and thus it all has the opportunity to meld together into a cohesive narrative.  While only one of the three wolf encounters was a hex feature (the wolf shrine) and so meant to "matter", to the players any of them could have been, and so they're all treated as such.  And by playing it loose like that and working to tie things together, they all did wind up mattering.

Overall, I had a great time, the players seemed to have enjoyed it, that area of the map has been shaped in ways I never anticipated, and gameplay has been meaningfully affected going forward both in the area (a shrine appears, Wolffriend status achieved) and from a wider perspective (one player is a werewolf now).  All thanks to the alchemical magic of random rolls, improv, and player reactions.

2 May 2020

Across the Clones - Encumbrance

In a previous post I examined how the old-school TSR rulesets tackle encumbrance, by taking an assumed equipment baseline and seeing how a PC would look like in each edition covered in terms of burden levels.  As a follow-up, I'm going to examine a series of retroclones and see how they tackle the issue.

As I anticipate doing this sort of old-school and OSR rules dichotomy for multiple mechanics, I thought I'd pick a base set of clones and return to them again and again.  As such, we have:
  1. Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS)
  2. Astounding Swordsmen & Sorcerors of Hyperboria (ASSH)
  3. Blood & Treasure 2nd edition
  4. Basic Fantasy RPG (BFRPG)
  5. Crypts & Things Remastered
  6. Fantastic Heroes & Witchery
  7. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  8. Swords & Wizardry Complete
As our guinea pig, we're using our friend from the previous post, Ricky the Burdened.  If you recall, he carries:

Leather armour, dagger, longsword, shield, backpack, bedroll, one week’s iron rations, full waterskin, tinderbox, belt, clothes, hard boots, two large belt pouches


ACKS uses an encumbrance system rooted in the UK's stone measurement.  1 stone weighs 14 pounds (6.35 kilos).  Everything is measured in terms of stones.

ACKS encumbrance

There are three burden levels, with Strength being irrelevant.  An interesting element of the system is how much coinage it lets you carry: 1 stone = 1,000 coins.  Following the old-school standard, many games make coins enormously heavy, and while pretty much everyone recognizes that the old-school coin weights of 10 to the pound were far too heavy from a historical perspective, some justify this by saying that it makes it an interesting and useful challenge to recover coinage and thus gain XP.  Using traditional rules, the 14 lbs of a stone would get you only 140 coins.  To take an example, in BECMI, the most generous old-school system, you're going to be able to stagger around at best with 2,400 coins, and even then your speed drops by 87.5%.  With ACKS, with nothing else on you, you can carry 5,000 coins and not even hit the first level of encumbrance.  It's a huge change to gameplay.

In leather armour, Ricky the Burdened would be at 6 stone, just into the first level of encumbrance.  However, he doesn't have much of a cushion before bumping into the next burden level: just two more stone: adding chainmail would put Ricky there (-50% move).  However, that one stone left in the current category means 1,000 coins, which again is far more generous in that regard than any other system.

ACKS uses about 71 coins to the pound.


ASSH follows a broadly 2nd ed AD&D setup: variable encumbrance based on Strength, with the system of measurement using pounds.  However, it doesn't go anywhere near as silly in terms of the number of burden categories as 2nd ed does.  It also allows a slightly greater unencumbered load than 2nd ed (e.g. Str 3 unburdened in 2nd ed is 5 lbs vs ASSH's 10 lbs, while Str 18 unburdened is 110 vs 125), and a noticeably greater one at maximum encumbrance (e.g. Str 3 max burden is 10 lbs vs 30 lbs, while Str 18 unburdened is 255 vs 375).  There are two burden levels (-25% and -50% movement).  It's less penalizing in terms of movement rates than most systems, but adds an Armour Class penalty at both burden levels (-1 per), also unlike most systems.

ASSH encumbrance

In this system, Ricky at Str 12 would be unencumbered with leather armour, and at the first level with chain.  At Str 17, he'd be unencumbered no matter which armour he used.  This matches 2nd ed AD&D, though his burden level effects are slightly different (-25% Mv and -1 AC for ASSH, vs -33% Mv for AD&D 2nd ed).

ASSH uses 100 coins to the pound.


BFRPG encumbrance

BFRPG sticks out in its fixed racial categories: a Halfling just plain carries less, regardless of their Str value: about 20% less.  However, halfling armour is 1/4 the weight of any other race's armour.  Additionally, it only has one burden level, which allows for up to roughly 2.5 times your unencumbered weight value.  Like B/X and BECMI, the armour your wearing is the major determinant of your burden level.

As you can see, the burden rates aren't fixed: they depend on what armour you're wearing, so that the one burden level effectively becomes three different levels (well, five technically, but only three are mechanically distinct).  Someone with no armour and someone with plate move at different rates, even if carrying nothing else.  You also add the raw weight of armour when calculating your load (which is where the halfling's armour weight savings comes into play).

I'm not sure I see the value of having a separate set of rules just for halflings, even as I readily acknowledge the realism factor.  At the same time, I don't see the value in halflings, so this could be just me.

BFRPG uses 10 coins to the pound.

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition

Blood & Treasure encumbrance

B&T's system is also a variant on 2nd ed AD&D.  It hews pretty closely to that edition's weight capacities: a little more here, a little less there, depending on the Str value.  However, it chops down the burden levels, just as ASSH does: just two (-33% Mv and can't run [x4 move], and -50% Mv and can't jog [x2 move]).  In this system, Ricky would have the same base burden levels as ASSH, whether Str 12 or 17, and whether leather or chain armour.

Blood & Treasure uses 30 coins to the pound.

Crypts & Things Remastered

The Table of Contents for C&T is quite bad, but its encumbrance rules can be found on page 16.

Crypts & Things encumbrance

C&T goes for pounds.  It uses a variant of the B/X miscellaneous equipment rule in that whatever random stuff you have always weighs 10 lbs.  Otherwise, it's three burden levels: -25%, -50%, and -75%.  Neither Strength nor armour has any effect.  It's an unusual approach, in that it adopts the more precise pound standard, but then proceeds to abstract a lot of the remaining bits that would benefit from such granularity--not necessarily a bad idea.  The lack of Strength modifiers quite annoys me, though: that Raistlin carries as much as Throthgar the Destroyer is a bad ruling, IMO, especially considering C&T is a sword & sorcery game, where brawn should have greater prominence.

Under this system, Ricky is going to be unburdened in leather (25+30 pounds) and lightly burdened in chain (50+30 pounds).  At 25 pounds, only S&W out of the clones has leather armour weigh this much.

As you can see above, C&T uses 10 coins to the pound.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

FH&W encumbrance: click to enlarge

FH&W goes for both the granular Str and pounds measurement of 2nd ed and the burden level adjusted by armour of B/X, BECMI, and Crypts & Things.  It also has the greatest role for encumbrance in the system: you absolutely do not want to be burdened in this game.  The "Dice rolls penalty" listed at the bottom applies to attacks and damage both.

Annoyingly, you have to refer to the armour section to get the armour burden values, and no page references are given: you're just told to go to the appropriate chapter, which is bad in general and especially so in a book of this size (armour is on pages 64-65).  Uniquely, the speed reduction provided by armour (which is always either 0 or -33%), does not stack with encumbrance: if you already were slowed that much due to the weight you were carrying (which includes the weight of your armour), then you don't get the armour penalty on top of that.

Under this system, Ricky is going to be unburdened at Str 12 in leather, but hits the first burden level in ring mail (the closest equivalent to the typical +5 AC chainmail of most systems; 40 lbs).  Considering the penalties of being overweight, this is a bit disappointing, but then again, many characters wearing mail would have a higher Str.  At Str 17, our other assumed Str score, you'd be fine even in mail, which is the case for all games with this sort of Str & lbs-based system.

Like 2nd edition, FH&W uses 50 coins to the pound.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Probably the best known encumbrance system, LotFP uses a unique points-based system that abstracts everything.  I think it's a great base concept, but could certainly use some tuning.  In particular, once again, Strength does not affect your carrying capacity.  In a system like this it's particularly odd, in that the Str modifier could easily give you free items or free points or modify the number of points before burden levels kick in: I don't understand how that could have been missed or passed up.

LotFP encumbrance: click to enlarge
There are three burden levels, with speed reduced at each as usual (-25%, -50%, -75%).  You can get some strange artifacts as a result of this system: you can carry ten longswords or 1,000 coins and get the same encumbrance level.

In this system, whether at Str 12 or Str 17, Ricky is at the first level of encumbrance (weapon plus 11 or less points of stuff) regardless of whether leather or chain is worn.  Or at least, I think so: the way armour interacts with encumbrance here is not worded the best (worn metal armour is worth points per the top, but worn armour doesn't count for encumbrance purposes per the second footnote, so I dunno).

Coins have no individual weight in LotFP per se, since weight isn't tracked in real-world units; 100 coins = 1 item point.

Swords & Wizardry Complete

This system has a bewildering host of variants and subvariants, but Complete is the main version, and the one Frog God Games plans to support going forward, so I'll be focusing on it.

S&W Complete encumbrance
The pounds standard, three burden levels, Str modifies your capacity: simple and straightforward.

In this system, even at Str 12 Ricky is unburdened in leather (though as with C&T it's a hefty 25 lbs here).  In chainmail (50 lbs) he hits the first burden level.

S&W uses 10 coins to the pound.


System summary; burden assumes Str 12 score

Overall, the main thing that leaps out at me is that there's a decent variance in terms of measurement systems, but the gameplay effects are very similar.  Every system here abandons the old-school coin measurement standard for something new.  Using our test-case PC, Ricky the Burdened (assuming Str 12), whether we're using pounds, stones, quatloos, or what have you, we see that he usually starts out as unencumbered (usually just barely), but about a third of the time he's at the first burden level, and the overall result of being burdened in any way is that he's slowed down.

That having been said, what that means exactly varies from system to system, sometimes notably so.  ASSH's first burden level is very generous in terms of movement lost, but makes you easier to be hit, which no other system does.  ACKS gives you mountains of room for coinage, even if you'll be limited in trying to load up on almost anything else: it's the most conducive to hauling in the amount of coin you'll need to level up, especially at high levels, which I think is a big mark in its favour even if the rest of the system doesn't particularly stand out.  FH&W has you wanting to avoid a burden like no other game: having even the first one is practically a death wish, reducing your average damage by almost 50%.

Creating this overview, combined with looking back over the discussions I've read or had on encumbrance systems in the past, has made me realize something interesting: the general mindset around designing OSR encumbrance systems is centred on a) what the best unit of measurement is; b) overall item granularity; and c) what a coin should weigh.  The most common item in favour of an encumbrance system is "how easy is it to use?", which is why LotFP's is so commonly recommended.  What does not come up, oddly enough, is "What sort of gameplay are we looking to create here?"

  • What should be the system's base measurement unit?
  • Should your average adventurer start already burdened?
  • Should Strength matter?  If so, how granular do we want to get with that? 
  • Should armour have a special burdening effect, separate from its weight?
  • How many burden levels are needed?  When do we want burden levels to kick in?
  • How much burdened weight should you be able to add on top of the unburdened weight?
  • Very specifically, how much pure coinage do we want an adventurer to be able to haul around?
  • What penalties do we want burden levels to grant?
  • If movement penalties are granted (a universal assumption), how severe should they be at each burden level?

Most everyone agrees on a base pair of principles: 1) old-school D&D had encumbrance as part of resource management and if we're copying those games then we need that too, and 2) encumbrance should be in general bad and in particular slowing.  Perhaps that surface unanimity has prevented much of a deeper look at the subject.  Obviously, a lack of design notes on the systems covered above hinders an analysis of what the overall goal of each system above, if any, was.  Each differs in various ways, but it's not clear if a specific goal or set of gameplay effects was intended from the start.  I suspect in most cases there wasn't.  I think reasoning from principles (what do I want to achieve) rather than from obligation (okay, I need to have this in there) is going to get you a better ruleset, even if the foundation of any OSR ruleset as a whole is essentially going to start with the latter.

I'll make one more post on the topic where I consider my own system in light of what I've covered.

1 May 2020

Making Wilderness Play Meaningful - A System

Hot Springs Island: a great hexcrawl
So as I covered in my previous post, which examined the history of wilderness exploration in D&D, I'm looking to create a decent rules skeleton to facilitate a hexcrawl-style game, with the ultimate goal of having my players actually want to play in the wilderness (hence the "meaningful" part of the post title).  In short, the existing D&D rules for such are vague (in a frustrating way, not in a freeing way), time-consuming, and not condusive to actual exploration.  Here's what I concluded I wanted:

  1. An elegant hex-based system for tracking overland travel.  No trying to mash hexes and miles together.  It needs to cleanly integrate mounts, weather, terrain, fatigue, and encumbrance with a base method of everyday travel.  Getting lost should be easy to adjudicate.  Overall, the first reaction of players and DMs when the wilderness map is brought out must not be a groan of dismay.  Ideally, there will be meaningful player choices available even at this stage.
  2. Interactions and effects not already present in dungeon play.  For example, dungeons have the hunt for traps and secret doors, things that generally don't feature in wilderness or urban play.  Hunting and foraging is a wilderness example, though ideally we're going to have something more interesting than "fending off starvation".  Weather is a similar one.  Random encounters, already a staple of D&D, need to fit in to whatever new is added.
  3. Player-facing mechanics.  As this is going to be offering a new style of play (or, more accurately, facilitating an uncommon and old style), it needs to be presented to the players rather than reserved for DMs, so that players have the rules in front of them to prompt them to go exploring, but also so that the choices made while exploring can be informed ones.

#3 doesn't really need to be covered here, as it's simply a matter of making sure that the players have access to whatever rules you come up with, rather than walling them off behind the DM screen.  I've put these in my players handbook, and so they can consult them and plan around them.

Fundamentally, I want a better adventuring experience at the table, and also have no desire to increase granularity or simulationism.  Of course, the latter two might translate into the former for some, but not for me.  As such, some might feel my system is bare-bones, but for me it gets to the heart of what I see wilderness play should be: moving overland with a minimum of rules hassle, giving players the means to find cool stuff while doing so, and giving them meaningful choice in it all.

An elegant hex-based system for tracking overland travel

In my previous post I expressed my admiration for OD&D's system of hex-and-points based travel, despite it requiring the Outdoor Survival boardgame to use.  This is one of those cases where, I think, original D&D got it right and AD&D, in the quest for more rules and more granularity, went astray.  Since my primary goal is to play a hexcrawl anyways, let's go back to that.  Using hexes and points as the foundation of the system in a stroke gets rid of the awful miles vs. hexes interaction problem (again, see here for a recap).

First we need to set a hex scale.  Outdoor Survival used three-mile hexes.  OD&D used five-mile hexes.  However, I'm going to standardize on six-mile hexes, thanks to this seminal post over at the Hydra's Grotto.  The scale is reasonably common, and works well.

Now, for a moment here we have to switch to miles per day of travel, solely for the purpose of establishing a baseline of how far a group can travel each day.  Assuming open ground and no major obstacle, OD&D allowed characters to cover 15 miles per day, while 1st ed AD&D went for 30 miles per day.  B/X, BECMI, and 2nd ed AD&D all went with 24 miles per day, which became the standard that's carried on right through to 5th edition.  As 24 is a power of 6 (and 30 is going to be a bit high as a base due to some other modifiers I'm adding in later), it's going to work well with our six-mile hexes and so I'm going to stick with what is generally expected.  With our baseline established, we can ignore miles from here on out.

With the scale chosen, that gives a walking, unburdened party the ability to cover 4 clear hexes a day.

Click on any image to enlarge

Simple enough, I think, with a six-mile mountainous hex taking the better part of a travel day to navigate.

Next, we need to allow for environmental variance.  I don't want to get bogged down in a thousand subfactors here: in the same way that all terrain falls into three base categories, I'd like only a handful of modifiers to the above.

So if it's hard to see and/or hard to move, the rate slows.  If there's extreme heat or cold, it also slows.  A frozen, snowy mountain would be less than six miles a day (though if it was the dead of winter I'd just say mountain travel was impossible, as classically when winter came many mountain passes closed altogether and people could be stuck up there all season: this just covers blank-slate, first snow on the mountain-type situations).  Alternately, good roads can boost your travel rate to 30 miles a day.

Encumbrance is noted at the end of the above chart.  It needs to be covered, but this is trickier in that there's a lot of different encumbrance systems out there, and so we'll need to keep things simple if we want the mods to easily port over to whatever system is being used.

What Light, Moderate, and Heavy means is something you'd have to define yourself, but the matching Combat Speed penalties should give you a guideline.  For AD&D, they could translate to heavy, very heavy, and encumbered loads.  For B/X, they match up neatly to leather armour, metal armour, and metal armour plus treasure.  For BECMI, it would be the second through fourth burden categories, which have the same combat move percentage penalties.  For LotFP, they translate straight across to light, heavy, and severe encumbrance.

We also have to consider mounts.  I've not made these a massive speed boost, as I'm assuming long-distance travel rather than short dashes: you have to be careful not to ride them to death or break their legs.  As such, a lot of these look similar.  Much of what will distinguish a mount will be its encumbrance capacity, which I've cut off because again, people probably have their own rules on that.

I'm assuming in the worst terrain (the 3-point hexes) you'd have to walk your mounts, so they won't help you race through the jungle or mountains.

The main advantage to this system is that there's almost no tracking travel across hexes.  That is, you're either in one hex, or the next.  At most you'll have one fractional hex per day (the one at the end of the day, when you might run out of points for the day before making it to your next hex).  For example, if you want to enter a woods hex (2 points) but only have 1 point left, then you spend the 1 point and call it a day, and pick things up the next morning.  No more making marks, say, every 1.43 hexes per day (e.g. 3.5-mile hexes, with a speed of 5 miles per day in the mountains on heavy horses) or whatever.

Lastly, I wanted some player choice available even here.  I suppose what mount to buy is sort of a choice, but it's not quite what I had in mind.  I'm thinking the basic dilemma in the desire to push on/go faster, vs. the desire to move at a normal pace or even slow down and be extra cautious.

Force marches are of course a travel staple.  Procedurally there's rarely a need for speed, but when a curse or lethal disease kicks in or it's a race against time against the grimlock hordes, rules for extreme haste are valuable.  With a forced march on clear terrain, a unit can cover up to 30 miles a day, 36 if good roads are present.  This is well within the realm of the possible: the American 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in late 1942 covered, in a three-day forced march, 136 miles with full equipment (Ambrose 141; about 45 miles a day).

Regarding the note on fatigue: I have my own separate fatigue system that defines what light or heavy fatigue is.  Like encumbrance, I'm presuming you can define what those labels mean yourself rather than me trying to shoehorn yet another new system into this post.  The gameplay effect is that, assuming you're fresh, you can force march for up to two days (fresh to light fatigue on day one, light to heavy fatigue on day two).

The cautious march is the more unusual choice.  While I found the in-depth hexcrawl rules presented on the Alexandrian blog to be far too in-depth for my liking, the idea of the cautious approach was one that appealed to me, and so I salvaged it for my own ruleset.  How this ties into random encounters I'll get to later.

Interactions and effects not already present in dungeon play

Fundamentally, all I want my wilderness rules to really do is to be a process smoothly funnelling cool stuff to the players.

Most designers, content with AD&D-style wilderness movement, tend to place the meat of their hexcrawl system here.  I think a lot of systems go wrong with this by trying to make the system itself be the source of entertainment, when the content you encounter as a result of the system is really what best serves as the heart of things.  D&D's dungeon exploration rules are, at their root, quite simple: they aren't in-depth on their own, but they facilitate the distribution of in-depth content (traps, rooms, encounters).

What's worse is that designers often try to make the system be the content by creating a lot of procedural realism.  That means weather, watches or other segmentation of the day, hunting, fishing, foraging, crafting, disease.  For the most part that's not what I'm interested in, and if you are you might want to check out things like the Forbidden Lands system.  In my experience, such things become their own minigame but do not, through their results, make players want to actually do something wilderness-related.

As for what I do like along the above lines, disease I see as a generic system item--valuable, but just as likely to show up in sewers or dungeons as it is in the wilderness, and so not really belonging (just) here.  Fatigue, which starvation and other deprivation fits into, I see in the same way.  Weather is good, but this is going to be long as it is and so I'll possibly look at that at a future date.  Crafting I dislike on a purely conceptual basis: I want an adventure game, not a crafting one.  Hunting and foraging is simple enough.  B/X has rules for it, and they're bad.  Foraging works well enough, but hunting gives you only a 1 in 6 chance of finding just 1D6 days' rations (where each feeds one person for one day) and you can neither travel or rest that day.  This is obviously a losing proposition for any party.  For all that people say B/X and BECMI are identical, they aren't: BECMI corrected that, and that's largely the version I use (not included here).

Finding Your Way

Here's how you make your way from hex to hex.

Fieldcraft is something from my homebrew: it translates straight across to "is a ranger" or "has the appropriate Survival skill".  (As an aside, I often use a D12 rather than a D6 for things like this, because I like how it gives greater granularity than a D6 while still being easy to roll, easy to read, and maintaining compatibility with anything originally designed to use D6.)  The base odds of getting lost are on average lower than the traditional rules: B/X gave you a 33% chance per day of getting lost in a forest (one of the more common terrain types); in AD&D it's a 70% chance, and being a ranger didn't help with this unless the DM said they were familiar with the area you were in.  Here, assuming you cover four clear hexes or two woods hexes in a day with no ranger-like aid, a day's travel results in about a 30% chance of getting lost at least once, which I felt was enough.  It's very easy to raise, whether as a whole or just for select terrain types--just a matter of raising the terrain modifiers--if you prefer the more punitive old-school rates.

So, enter a hex, make a check.  For most of the old-school systems, getting lost requires a table and/or determining degrees off-course: far too fiddly for what I'm aiming for.  Inspired by the system found in The Treasure Vaults of Zadabad, I've changed it to a time waster (it consumes hex points) and a potential monster generator.  If you get lost, you make a navigation check to find your way.  As each navigation check requires a random encounter roll, wandering aimlessly through the wilderness may result in you stumbling onto more monsters.  There's a clear cost involved, but it's mechanically very easy to resolve: no tables to look up or protractors to consult for degrees off-course.


Okay, you've made your navigation check and all is well.  Now what?

In the classic hexcrawl, it was assumed that you just found whatever was in a hex once you entered it.  In part this annoys me because of the lack of realism, but the main issue is that it doesn't give much in the way of depth to a hex.  A six-mile hex is big: plenty of room for obscure things buried in the corners.  I want a system that makes the game world feel like there are all sorts of hidden wonders out there, awaiting only a dedicated party willing to risk the time and chance of battle to find them--one willing to explore.  Having every oddity leap out at you the moment you arrive doesn't give me that.

With this system, as a GM you'd classify each hex feature as one of two types: overt and hidden.  Overt are the classic type: enter the hex, find the thing.  Hidden features are your lost cities and hidden caves and clearings and bandit lairs: the stuff it takes time and effort to uncover.**  Having the two types allows you to really make your world feel layered, while preventing the player perception that everything is in a bizarre kind of stasis, lying around solely in wait for them.

By default I have hidden features automatically found if the players make the effort to search, with the assumption that not all hexes will have such a thing.  This can be easily modified via a quick added roll for certain features to represent especially well-hidden items (or perhaps an increased search cost representing especially difficult-to-search hexes).  However, my general belief is that if the players have invested the time and are willing to risk the extra encounter roll, you might as well just give them the hidden feature.  This approach makes even more sense when you consider that hex content is almost always written assuming the Judges Guild method of automatically being encountered.  As such, it's generally not "you find a holy avenger +5 lying in a field" or whatnot that deserves being strongly siloed away, as that sort of thing would in a dungeon.  At most I would institute a known but otherwise secret roll of "you find any hidden feature on a 2+ on D6": just enough to add a touch of uncertainty to the process, while making it the vast majority of the time worthwhile.

Random Encounters

And then comes the last part.  You need to have this all tied into the random encounter system, to reflect the types of terrain you're using but also so that player choices are meaningful.  Slower pace equals less monsters.  Time spent searching equals more monsters.

Again, note that it's a D12, not a D6

The rougher the terrain, the greater the chance is of finding monsters.  On the other hand, if you have a ranger, it doesn't eliminate the dangers (we want to avoid a 5th edition-like scenario where having a ranger removes all danger and uncertainty from overland travel), but it certainly mitigates them.  Assuming no other modifiers, having a ranger means that you go from a 33% chance of an encounter in a mountain or swamp hex to a 25% chance; in a woods or hills hex you go from a 25% chance to a 16.5% chance.  What makes a hex "safe" or "especially dangerous" is up to the GM (as is the specific dangerous modifier).  Neither modifier is meant to be used regularly, but it gives some flexibility in shaping the tone and hazards of the wilderness; it also makes things overall less mathematically predictable.  Information hinting that a given area is safer or more dangerous can be given to the players ahead of time through rumours, general tavern chat and the like (e.g. the areas nearest your home base town / keep are patrolled by the local militia and so are generally safer, while X forest is known as the home of the Bonegnasher orc clan and so is an especially risky visit).

As for camping, you can light a fire at night, which allows you to see your attackers if ambushed, but also makes that ambush a bit more likely (though with something like wolves I'd automatically adjust their reaction roll to "not interested" to reflect their fear of fire and probably end the encounter).


Below is the entire thing in two pages, as a PDF (remember: Fieldcraft = is a ranger / has the right Survival skill):

Simulacrum Wilderness Exploration Rules

This has been a longer post than I intended, but I didn't want to split this part over multiple ones, and I find rules posts useless without a solid grounding in the theory behind them, so one can understand why the designer's choices were made and better see how the rules will play out.

**After coming up with this I was pretty impressed with myself, until I saw afterwards that the Necropraxis blog had done the exact same thing back in 2013, the only difference being "obvious" features rather than overt ones.  As my version saves two letters, it is clearly the objectively superior choice.