D&D General Exploration How I Do It

Zardnaar

Legend
Over the years I have been a sponge when it comes to absorbing obscure D&D nuggets of information
And I often reread older material for enjoyment and looking to mine it. Helps having 400-500 D&D items and a pile of PDFs.

It seems I may make heavier use of the exploration pillar than a lot of groups. I use elements I have picked up over the years from multiple sources. No D&D written word taught me it's just something I've instinctively figured out.

This doesn't mean I'm great at it but I'll add some things here and you can make your own judgements.

Suggested Inspirational material.

X1 Isle of Dread
X6 Quagmire
X7 War Rafts of Kron
B5 Horror on the Hill
Night Below pt I Evil's of Harranshire
LMoP
Tomb of Annihilation
Curse of Strahd
Savage Tide AP early modules (Sasserine, travel to Isle of Dread, Isle of Dread)
Kingermaker pt 1&2 especially Stolen Lands (Pathfinder)

Various Dungeon magazines espicially adventures set in a jungle or forest or aimed at Druids, Rangers, and Barbarians pre 3.0.

Quests of Doom 5E 1&2 various adventures.

Video Games
Seven Cities of Gold, Sid Meiers Pirates, Assassins Creed Black Flag, Origins, Odyssey, Baldurs Gate 3.

Key to successful exploration.

1. Encourage PC exploration in adventure design. Get them involved.

2. Reward PCs for exploring just like social and combat Pillars. Loot, magic items and xp.

3. Incorporate World building elements. Eg if you're exploring not Italy you're going to find not Roman ruins. Tie this to ancient languages or whatever.

Suggest Rewards/Incentives.

1. Experience points. Award experience points per hex explored, landmarks found, discoveries and use of class abilities that are relevant. If you're using milestone levelling ex hex, landmark or anything else that is significant levels you up once you complete enough mini milestones. This is a art form but generally I do 100-300xp per hex in older editions depending on the size of the map, edition and how fast I want the PCs to level.

In 5E 25-50xp per hex per level, landmark. Roughly 1 session to hit level 2. 2 more to hit level 3 and every 3-4 sessions after that. Ymmv of course.

2. Magic Items. Sprinkle a few minor items around in non obvious places. Eg in the starting town, village or whatever out a painted statue in the town square of a knight or whatever. It's sword is a +1 sword. If the PCs miss it drop hints later or outright have an NPC tell them. Espicially if the NPC has been aided by the PCs.

3. Landmarks.

Award xp same rate as a hex if they find a landmark. This stacks with the hex itself. The landmark can be an obvious geographical feature eg hill, mountain, river an ancient road, statue, strange rock, tree, milestones, menhir, standing stones or whatever. If the PCs are moving at mapping pace they find it automatically if they're rushing perception checks. If it's big and obvious eg a mountain success is automatic barring things like thick fog.

4. Mapping. If the PCs have been hired to explore said area award xp for mapping the area. If the PCs draw a decent map award xp. Or abstract it for each 25% they explore and maybe an intelligence or wisdom check base DC 10. Higher the roll more accurate the map us more xp/gold.

5. Side quests. Sprinkle NPCs around that want various things. Might be an elven statue, monster parts/eggs/feathers, a map drawn, landmark or location found. Mostly the sodequests should be for things they're doing anyway. Eg if they're looking for a ruined aqueduct in the desert an NPC artifice with addiction to not Roman's ruins wants to examine it once located.

6.Tie the landmarks, random encounters, NPCs etc to whatever main quest they're doing. If they're looking for Netherese ruins for example that collapsed tower is netherese. That old border marker Netherise. Don't over do it But the occasional reference ties things togather. That Netherese dungeon of Doom they're looking for is the ultimate goal just throw in little reminders aling the way.

7. Factions. If you're using them the various factors have campsites, forts, bases and hide outs scattered around. Some have NPCs wanting stuff of course (see point 5).

8. Random encounters. They don't have to be hostile can also include NPCs who want to find the PCs, need help or want things. They also don't have to be "random" but give the illusion of them being random to move the plot forward, challenge the PCs or just blow off steam if they want a combat. Once again don't over do it eg north red dragon, South red dragon, east red dragon.

9. Reward creative use of class abilities. The Ranger ability that let's you travel faster in the wilderness? Got used in one of my games rescuing refugees. Xp rewarded per refugee rescued.
Cut through a forest and swamp bypassed the hobgoblins looking for them.

10. Lower DC or grant advantage on relent classes, archetypes or backgrounds. If wilderness based Barbarians, Druids, Rangers enedit. Clerics if you find a ruined temple, warriors a fort etc.


Attrition is mostly a waste of time in 5E either supplies or grinding them down over 6-8 encounters. Treat exploration as it's own thing in terms of xp or whatever. Sprinkle in combat and social encounters along the way. The big combats should be the nastier planned encounters and locations. Old school attrition doesn't work.

Current Version.
Castles and Crusades
Theme. Ancient Greece Fate of Atlantis.
Hexcrawl lvl 1-3.
Xp awarded for. Hexes, landmarks, role-playing, combat, 1xp per gp, magic items, missions/sidequests.

Location. Pilgrims landing Phocis, magical Greece 432 BC approx. Delphi is very close by.

Landmarks. Mount Girona, Mt Parnassus, Delphi, Cave of Corycian

Basic idea. Hexmap over the area, 3 miles to the hex. 200xp (each) per hex explored (slow due to terrain). Bandits have been raiding Pilgrims heading to Delphi.

Sidequests via NPCs. Bounties on bandits, retrieve stole items, defeat tuskgutter, locate Daughters of Artemis, capture Stag Lord's lieutenant dead or alive, retrieve Spartans shield.

Main quest. Discover who's been supplying the bandits and intimidating the Oracle of Delphi. Don't offend the God's.

Long term Main quest. Locate Atlantis.
 
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aco175

Legend
Sounds like there is a lot of good ideas here. I like the MCDM video where he talks about promoting exploration by granting a reward and telling the player with a index card. If the player knows that solving the riddle of the sphinx grants a +2 to history checks involving that country, then they will be more apt to work on it when on other missions and happen to be in a town with a library or such.

There also seems to be a lot more work developing this pillar for the DM listed. I think it would be worth things and make a better game, but a lot of DMs only have time to work on the things for next week.
 

Warpiglet-7

Satan’s Echo Chamber! Muhahahaha
Over the years I have been a sponge when it comes to absorbing obscure D&D nuggets of information
And I often reread older material for enjoyment and looking to mine it. Helps having 400-500 D&D items and a pile of PDFs.

It seems I may make heavier use of the exploration pillar than a lot of groups. I use elements I have picked up over the years from multiple sources. No D&D written word taught me it's just something I've instinctively figured out.

This doesn't mean I'm great at it but I'll add some things here and you can make your own judgements.

Suggested Inspirational material.

X1 Isle of Dread
X6 Quagmire
X7 War Rafts of Kron
B5 Horror on the Hill
Night Below pt I Evil's of Harranshire
LMoP
Tomb of Annihilation
Curse of Strahd
Savage Tide AP early modules (Sasserine, travel to Isle of Dread, Isle of Dread)
Kingermaker pt 1&2 especially Stolen Lands (Pathfinder)

Various Dungeon magazines espicially adventures set in a jungle or forest or aimed at Druids, Rangers, and Barbarians pre 3.0.

Quests of Doom 5E 1&2 various adventures.

Video Games
Seven Cities of Gold, Sid Meiers Pirates, Assassins Creed Black Flag, Origins, Odyssey, Baldurs Gate 3.

Key to successful exploration.

1. Encourage PC exploration in adventure design. Get them involved.

2. Reward PCs for exploring just like social and combat Pillars. Loot, magic items and xp.

3. Incorporate World building elements. Eg if you're exploring not Italy you're going to find not Roman ruins. Tie this to ancient languages or whatever.

Suggest Rewards/Incentives.

1. Experience points. Award experience points per hex explored, landmarks found, discoveries and use of class abilities that are relevant. If you're using milestone levelling ex hex, landmark or anything else that is significant levels you up once you complete enough mini milestones. This is a art form but generally I do 100-300xp per hex in older editions depending on the size of the map, edition and how fast I want the PCs to level.

In 5E 25-50xp per hex per level, landmark. Roughly 1 session to hit level 2. 2 more to hit level 3 and every 3-4 sessions after that. Ymmv of course.

2. Magic Items. Sprinkle a few minor items around in non obvious places. Eg in the starting town, village or whatever out a painted statue in the town square of a knight or whatever. It's sword is a +1 sword. If the PCs miss it drop hints later or outright have an NPC tell them. Espicially if the NPC has been aided by the PCs.

3. Landmarks.

Award xp same rate as a hex if they find a landmark. This stacks with the hex itself. The landmark can be an obvious geographical feature eg hill, mountain, river an ancient road, statue, strange rock, tree, milestones, menhir, standing stones or whatever. If the PCs are moving at mapping pace they find it automatically if they're rushing perception checks. If it's big and obvious eg a mountain success is automatic barring things like thick fog.

4. Mapping. If the PCs have been hired to explore said area award xp for mapping the area. If the PCs draw a decent map award xp. Or abstract it for each 25% they explore and maybe an intelligence or wisdom check base DC 10. Higher the roll more accurate the map us more xp/gold.

5. Side quests. Sprinkle NPCs around that want various things. Might be an elven statue, monster parts/eggs/feathers, a map drawn, landmark or location found. Mostly the sodequests should be for things they're doing anyway. Eg if they're looking for a ruined aqueduct in the desert an NPC artifice with addiction to not Roman's ruins wants to examine it once located.

6.Tie the landmarks, random encounters, NPCs etc to whatever main quest they're doing. If they're looking for Netherese ruins for example that collapsed tower is netherese. That old border marker Netherise. Don't over do it But the occasional reference ties things togather. That Netherese dungeon of Doom they're looking for is the ultimate goal just throw in little reminders aling the way.

7. Factions. If you're using them the various factors have campsites, forts, bases and hide outs scattered around. Some have NPCs wanting stuff of course (see point 5).

8. Random encounters. They don't have to be hostile can also include NPCs who want to find the PCs, need help or want things. They also don't have to be "random" but give the illusion of them being random to move the plot forward, challenge the PCs or just blow off steam if they want a combat. Once again don't over do it eg north red dragon, South red dragon, east red dragon.

9. Reward creative use of class abilities. The Ranger ability that let's you travel faster in the wilderness? Got used in one of my games rescuing refugees. Xp rewarded per refugee rescued.
Cut through a forest and swamp bypassed the hobgoblins looking for them.

10. Lower DC or grant advantage on relent classes, archetypes or backgrounds. If wilderness based Barbarians, Druids, Rangers enedit. Clerics if you find a ruined temple, warriors a fort etc.


Attrition is mostly a waste of tine in 5E either supplies or grinding thrm down over 6-8 encounters. Treat exploration as it's own thing in terms of xp or whatever. Sprinkle in combat and social encounters along the way. The big combats should be the nastier planned encounters and locations. Old school attrition doesn't work.

Current Version.
Castles and Crusades
Theme. Ancient Greece Fate of Atlantis.
Hexcrawl lvl 1-3.
Xp awarded for. Hexes, landmarks, role-playing, combat, 1xp per gp, magic items, missions/sidequests.

Location. Pilgrims landing Phocis, magical Greece 432 BC approx. Delphi is very close by.

Landmarks. Mount Girona, Mt Parnassus, Delphi, Cave of Corycian

Basic idea. Hexmap over the area, 3 miles to the hex. 200xp (each) per hex explored (slow due to terrain). Bandits have been raiding Pilgrims heading to Delphi.

Sidequests via NPCs. Bounties on bandits, retrieve stole items, defeat tuskgutter, locate Daughters of Artemis, capture Stag Lord's lieutenant dead or alive, retrieve Spartans shield.

Main quest. Discover who's been supplying the bandits and intimidating the Oracle of Delphi. Don't offend the God's.

Long term Main quest. Locate Atlantis.
good post. A few thoughts;

I agree attrition is not likely to be the challenge in 5e. However for me, roughly tracking rations and marking off ammunition does make things feel more grounded. YMMV, of course!

What I recently concluded
I think my is what you are saying too: the new sites and interesting finds are where it is at. If I was a kid playing old Gygaxian, I was excited by the room or landscape descriptions…and weird things to interact with.

We probably hand waived some foraging and so on. One continent crawl we did was led by an old 1e barbarian. We may have used wilderness survival guide. Little bit.

So with what u describe and what I have concluded, the feeling of travel and the things along they way trump actually foraging and so on.

In my kids’ game, I have made sure to have weird and interesting being to interact with along the way…in addition to the murderous bugbears guarding the bridge and spoiling for a fight!
 

ilgatto

How inconvenient
(...)
1. Experience points. Award experience points per hex explored, landmarks found, discoveries (...).
3. Landmarks. Award xp same rate as a hex if they find a landmark. This stacks with the hex itself.
(...)
Brilliant! Can't believe I didn't think of this myself - which probably means that I ain't great either. :)
I've been running a hexcrawl/exploration campaign for some time now and I'm instantly going to implement these awards.
The party's just been transported to the legendary Land of Qaf. Alien scenery, scorching desert heat, flaming red and purple skies, no water, burning prairies, red nomads, towers occupied by great demons and fiery faces, the red sun never setting (not quite sure about that yet), so I might just start with awarding the higher number you suggested!
 

grimmgoose

Adventurer
I just do the 5-room dungeon, but outdoors. Sort of. Basically, a linked set of encounters that can be adjusted with Random Encounter rolls.

I still spend hours making a hex map with forests and rivers and mountains, but honestly - that's just for me, because my players don't care (outside of the initial, "oooh, this is cool!") They take the quickest path to everything, unless you throw something shiny in their faces.

Best bang for my buck though is just a series of linked encounters.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Very good food for thoughts...

Especially the "no attrition" remark, although we could actually talk about it, as it is in fact quite a complex topic...

On one hand, I think focusing on the benefits of good exploration is totally a good idea, without the need to feature attrition costs such as traps, hazards or wandering monsters if you don't like them. On the other hand, you can use them all without making them feel like attrition, if you make the cost most tangible and dramatic.

Few people would say they like a trap or hazard that does 1d6 of damage. It is annoying as much as it is underwhelming. The cost itself is actually not necessarily negligible for a 1st-level character (could be half their HP) but if it happens when the party is on a day's fresh start, the HP cost might end up easily converted into a spent spell slot to provide the needed healing.

But what about a trap or hazard which, if faced recklessly or carelessly by the party, can result in temporarily losing a PC? What if the traps causes a few levels of exhaustion, turns your speed to 0, drops one of your ability scores to 1, or affects your action economy in case of a battle? What if the hazard results in losing all your rations, or a single important item you're carrying? That is still attrition in a sense, if it doesn't kill anyone or straight cause a quest's failure, but the cost is high enough to potentially make the continuation of your adventure harder.

Perhaps, a good adventure/campaign design approach might be, to pair a significant risk with a significant gain. In free-form exploration maybe eschew costs altogether other than the passing of time, while in quest-oriented exploration, offer sometimes multiple paths, some with low-risk/low-reward, others with high-risk/high-reward.
 

bloodtide

Legend
I add lots of rewards....the idea that PCs get rewards for doing tasks. And Experience is only one thing.

A fun one is the story rights. This is things like a character writing a book about the area they explored. It is a great downtime activity any character can do. The PC can then sell the book just for gold...or use it to get something from a sage type. Artwork is also something that can be sold. And PCs can make songs and such too. This can also make the characters famous.

Another fun one is to add magical places...the 3.5E Touchstone idea. That having a connection to a place gives you some type of magic power.
 

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