D&D 5E [+]Exploration Falls Short For Many Groups, Let’s Talk About It

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Okay so if you love exploration in 5e and think the idea of adding more meat to it is silly, that’s valid, but it ain’t what we are here for.

I want to talk about exploration as a pillar of the game, what that means, how it falls short for each of us, how it can be expanded on while staying within 5e design aesthetics, and what we hope to see in revised core books.

  1. Exploration isthe part of the game where you are being physically challenged, and challenged in terms of problem solving and related stuff, that isn’t combat. It includes travel and wilderness survival, but it is also a lot more than that.
    1. I think it’s important to separate action-by-action exploration challenges like finding and disabling traps or parkouring around some temple ruins to solve a 3d puzzle, from wilderness survival and travel, because I think they have different needs
    2. It’s also import IMO to note that all of point 1 is what the designers meant early on when talking about 3 pillars, and this is part of why these discussions often end with ppl talking past eachother.
    3. I propose Survival and Exploration for the purposes on this discussion.
  2. Exploration fails (for me)to lead to interesting challenges IME because there just aren’t that many things for the PCs to leverage to create chaos, like there is with NPCs, and D&D style Travel and survival have always been very boring to me. A game that gets Survival in travel right, for me, is The One Ring. Rest structures don’t help, with it feeling like harsh adverserialism to make up new rules like having to make checks to be able to get good rest, and ending journeys with hit dice and other resources spent.
    1. Exploration (parkour and traps and investigation) fall short less for me, but I do find that in some campaigns I’d like to have more structure (although I usually prefer just action resolution and the DM and Player conversation as what drives the action)
  3. Exploration could be very interesting and engaging in more cases. For survival, it could be done with better travel rules that cause you to use resources (more later) and end the journey with those resources spent, making resting in the wild/on the road less restorative than resting in comfort and safety, and handing narrative reins to the players at intervals amidst the journey or other survival challenge. For Parkour and Traps, I think that something like a skill challenge but with a success ladder does the trick.
  4. Exploration in the revised core has me very curious to see what they do. I think Bastions give a sort of “vibe” they might be aiming for, but I think they are very aware of how lacking many groups find exploration in 5e. I think that the UA thing of giving skills a little more specificity might help (if they keep it lite), I think we will see travel rules that speak to what they’ve learned but that aren’t going to be ambitious, and I think we might see some optional rules out front and center and expanded on, along the lines of a normal short rest on the road gets you less than the default, along with benefits to sleeping in safe places, or the Ranger making a well hidden and cozy bivouac to rest in, or spending healing resources at the end of a rest (meaning they aren’t regained by that rest), stuff like that.

So, what do you think? Do you have wildly different answers from me?
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
And speaking to what I brought up above, my thoughts for exploration challenges:

Finding, investigating, and disabling, a trap, is 3 tasks. Now imagine that instead of a set damage and save DC, the trap was worse or less brutal based on 3 or more skill checks.
Or parkour-ing around a bunch of obstacles to reach a thing about 50ft of movement away. The GM could make it a Challenge, stating that you need to make 3 checks, one each of Acrobatics, Perception, and Athletics. DC is set with a modified d10 roll, let’s say +3.

3 successes: You get there in one smooth set of moves, completely bypassing difficult terrain and maybe get a little extra distance or not have to use any extra action economy when you normally would to get there

2 successes: You get there but it costs your BA and you take a little damage from recklessly throwing your body at stone obstacles.

1: you get no more than a strict reading of your abilities would allow. Choose to ignore some of the difficult terrain, climb and jump quickly, or spend the turn making a perception check to map a route and get advantage next turn.

0: You simply fail

Something vaguely like that. I’m failing a bit at conjuring a better hypothetical.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Exploration fails because it isn't explain what it is as a game mechanic and purely placed on the DM side in a disorganized manner.

To me there are 5 types of exploration challenges
  1. Discoveries. Things the party can find
  2. Wonders. Things that add new information and experience to the party
  3. Routines. Things that consume resources by existing
  4. Hazards. Things that make the process harder or harmful
  5. Obstacles. Things that block a path
A thing can be multiple. A spike trap can be a Discovery (finding the trap) and a Hazard (trap spikes you if it goes off). Sheltering from a storm can be Wonder (learning about the storm), Discovery (finding shelter), another Wonder (learning about the shelter), Hazard (the storm causes exhaustion or damage or loss of resources), and Obstacle (the storm blocks a path).

The problem is everyone likes and dislikes different types. Some people come in desiring to disable hazards and obstacles. Other find them boring. Some love the lore in Wonders and Discoveries. Others ignore lore and therefore don't care for nonviolent versions of them. Routines are just devise.

I think D&D has to do a better job of outright calling out what types of challenges there are to players and let them have a clear conversation with DMs with which ones they enjoy to compromise.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Exploration fails because it isn't explain what it is as a game mechanic and purely placed on the DM side in a disorganized manner.

To me there are 5 types of exploration challenges
  1. Discoveries. Things the party can find
  2. Wonders. Things that add new information and experience to the party
  3. Routines. Things that consume resources by existing
  4. Hazards. Things that make the process harder or harmful
  5. Obstacles. Things that block a path
A thing can be multiple. A spike trap can be a Discovery (finding the trap) and a Hazard (trap spikes you if it goes off). Sheltering from a storm can be Wonder (learning about the storm), Discovery (finding shelter), another Wonder (learning about the shelter), Hazard (the storm causes exhaustion or damage or loss of resources), and Obstacle (the storm blocks a path).

The problem is everyone likes and dislikes different types. Some people come in desiring to disable hazards and obstacles. Other find them boring. Some love the lore in Wonders and Discoveries. Others ignore lore and therefore don't care for nonviolent versions of them. Routines are just devise.

I think D&D has to do a better job of outright calling out what types of challenges there are to players and let them have a clear conversation with DMs with which ones they enjoy to compromise.
More transparency and upfront clarity in the rules is definitely an all around much needed improvement for 5e. On that I agree 100%.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I also agree that different groups, players, and I’d add situations and adventures, benefit from different approaches to exploration, and having them spelled out, with the simplest and most ”rules lite” as the game’s default, would help.

Some people want to make a group check, each with an ability score modifier and (hopefully) skill appropriate to thier role, know the stakes, resolve the mechanical consequences (lost resources or whatever) and then montage the challenge. That’s valid.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
More transparency and upfront clarity in the rules is definitely an all around much needed improvement for 5e. On that I agree 100%.
It's not even rules clarity.

5e should tell you what the skills do.
Leave adjudication and resolution of the skill to the DM.
But make a list of what each skill does in order for players to feel informed of their options.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
More transparency and upfront clarity in the rules is definitely an all around much needed improvement for 5e. On that I agree 100%.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely. Obscurantism is a selling point: by not telling people what things are for, you don't piss off the (extremely) vocal minority who believe that being told what something is for is identical to being told that it can't do anything else. If your goal is to stay within 5e design aesthetics, then obscurantism is an unavoidable stumbling block.

As for the actual thread topic, I agree with Minigiant that a big part of the problem is that it defaults to the least-game-like form of "gameplay": "DM decides." When essentially the entire process, from beginning to end, is "one person weighs the factors and then says what happens," there's...really no gameplay. It would be like if you took gridiron or association football, removed all of the rules, and then said everything had to be decided by a referee weighing the relevant factors and declaring a result. There wouldn't be a game anymore, and nobody would be interested in watching nor playing it.

In order to have gameplay challenges that are worthy of the name, you have to have gameplay more textured than "convince the referee that my plan works." You need player goals, tools to achieve those goals, clarity about how and why an adjudication is made, and steps/processes of resolution. In simple terms, you actually need a system to engage with, rather than a big empty nothing.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
I've put it front and centerline one of my campaigns atm. And in previous campaigns.

Mostly it's about risk/reward. I Give you exp per person per hex. At low levels explore a few and level up no combat required.

Also hide magic items in non obvious places that are a head of the curve for their levels. Philosophers stone in cesspit, magic sword hidden behind a fireplace.

Helpful NPCs with sidequests. Remember speak with plants and animals. That strange ox.......

Also mix it with social. Generally I don't have magic item vendors. Occasionally they might sell sonething though. If PCs have put the effort in.

Ranger ability to lead people through terrain fast? Early 5E refugees avoiding dragons and goblins. Experience points awarded per refugee. Few social checks tgey might join your settlement.

Find a landmark. Award xp. Map a region. Xp and rewards from who paid you.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
This is an area that I have been thinking about a lot, though I have not reached any definite conclusions. I more or less completely agree with @Minigiant's post above.
The big issue with the current system is that it is vestigial and also undermined by other game elements. It does not have to complete procedures, what the DM need to have in place to make it work and the kind of record keeping needed to make the old school logistics base exploration work.
Then there are all the elements that D&D has accumulated to bypass that kind of exploration, e.g. everything from goodberry to bags of holding and ranger survival features.
All of this needs to be addressed in the rules/DMG.
Then discuss alternative ways to abstract time other than strict accounting (May be a dice pool for time with rules to roll for random events as die are added). Similarly for supply.
Then look at one or two alternative approaches to the same issues. Like an extended skill challenge system or something like Cublicle 7's Journey system.
 

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