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Pathfinder 2E Exploration mode discussion

!DWolf

Explorer
Exploration mode is one of the best features of PF2e for me: a turn based mode for exploring the environment! So I figured I would start a thread about it so people will talk about it (hopefully I get some discussion on this very niche topic :) ).

Some starter thoughts:

1. While listening to actual plays I noticed that people actually name the exploration activities that they are using (I.e. they are going to take the ‘scout’ action) while I don’t think my players even know the name of the activities at all: they describe to me their actions, I respond with any limitations or request for clarification, and I choose what action that they have taken (sometimes I have several options to choose between). Does anyone else do it that way?

2. For the OSR people/old timers. Did AD&D 2e have a similar mode? I know it had ten minute turns in combat (as opposed to its one minute rounds), but did it have them out of combat? Was this dropped from the line at some point or am I just misremembering things in my advanced age?

3. I find that exploration mode works well with explicit time pressure. For example the tide is rising and when the water gets too high the ship you are salvaging will be broken apart. Then I put an water rising tracker on the table and when it reaches certain levels I have bad things happen (I stole this from the forbidden island board game btw). Does anyone else have any scenarios/hacks like this where they think exploration mode really shines?

4. What games do you want to run that do interesting things or you think would highlight the mode? Personally I want to run a conversion of the warhammer adventure “Rough Night at Three Feathers” since I think that it would really help with both timed events and spotlight management. I also want to run a race to a lost city with mechanics roughly similar to those in the dungeon #176 Cross-City-Race adventure (except totally different - I just like the structure of the race). Speaking of Cross-City-Race adventure, I think it would be really fun to play in pathfinder 2e.
 

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Retreater

Legend
Gee, I don't know. I'm running an Adventure Path (Age of Ashes, if you're interested, and we're almost done with Book 2). Here's what I've found about exploration mode.
1) characters that are trained in something make the checks way too easily.
2) even if checks are failed, it bogs down the game with complications that ultimately don't matter. [because healing outside of combat is free with a skill check.]
3) if you let a worse consequence happen - like the dread ritual takes place because the characters took too long to stop it, for instance - congratulations, you've ruined the adventure path.
Granted these might only be problems in this AP, but I am getting really burned out on the system, which more or less is functioning only like a set-piece-encounter to set-piece-encounter skirmish game, even more than 4e.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I’m running a sandbox *crawl. It started out as a hexcrawl, but it’s currently a dungeoncrawl (due to exploring a megadungeon). It could turn into politics and intrigue if the party ever decides what it wants to do about its relationship with Orctown (or the factions in Orctown force the issue).

I’m using a modified exploration mode where turns have explicit times. You can see a copy of my exploration procedure here. There’s urbancrawl stuff, but it’s untested (and probably needs heavy revision).

Wilderness exploration is based heavily on The Alexandrian’s hexcrawl stuff. The idea for group activities comes from Hexploration, but I don’t feel that Hexploration is actually very good for sandbox play. It’s too steeped in the GMG’s conception that a sandbox is a way of letting players decide how they go about approaching the story and not as an open-ended activity in its own right.

Dungeon exploration is broken down into turns with regular wandering monsters checks. Note that these are wandering monsters done right. If the check succeeds, I don’t just spring a fight on the PCs. What it means is something showed up in the dungeon, and it’s having an effect on the environment. There might be gray oozes on the ledge above, or a necromancer moved into the dungeon while you were away (or flying snakes are inside a bloated corpse, feasting).

I find that this is the single biggest thing that creates time pressure. If the PCs spend too much time resting, then they risk losing ground in the dungeon or having the environment become less favorable. The same goes for spending too long away. I roll to restock when they’re gone (though that’s mostly just ad hoc). Anyway, my PCs worry quite a bit spending too long resting, so they’ll often only spend a bit of time healing and either live with having lower hit points or use magic or consumables to top off.

1. While listening to actual plays I noticed that people actually name the exploration activities that they are using (I.e. they are going to take the ‘scout’ action) while I don’t think my players even know the name of the activities at all: they describe to me their actions, I respond with any limitations or request for clarification, and I choose what action that they have taken (sometimes I have several options to choose between). Does anyone else do it that way?
I do both. My players have a bad habit of not being very explicit about their intentions, so I’ll get the exact action. I also do it in the hope they’ll be less boring than having 75% of the party just standing around looking out for monsters while one of them investigates something.

2. For the OSR people/old timers. Did AD&D 2e have a similar mode? I know it had ten minute turns in combat (as opposed to its one minute rounds), but did it have them out of combat? Was this dropped from the line at some point or am I just misremembering things in my advanced age?
I can’t speak to AD&D, but I know OD&D and B/X have dungeon exploration procedures. B/X, or rather Old-School Essentials, was a big influence on my dungeon exploration procedure. D&D just eventually stopped including exploration procedures. It makes some sense when you consider that it was also transitioning away from open-ended play to story-driven play.

3. I find that exploration mode works well with explicit time pressure. For example the tide is rising and when the water gets too high the ship you are salvaging will be broken apart. Then I put an water rising tracker on the table and when it reaches certain levels I have bad things happen (I stole this from the forbidden island board game btw). Does anyone else have any scenarios/hacks like this where they think exploration mode really shines?
Not a hack per se, but it works great for doing an old-school dungeon crawl. I can have my dungeon turns and old-school stuff, and it works using a structure that’s part of and supported by the system we’re using. That’s really fantastic.

4. What games do you want to run that do interesting things or you think would highlight the mode? Personally I want to run a conversion of the warhammer adventure “Rough Night at Three Feathers” since I think that it would really help with both timed events and spotlight management. I also want to run a race to a lost city with mechanics roughly similar to those in the dungeon #176 Cross-City-Race adventure (except totally different - I just like the structure of the race). Speaking of Cross-City-Race adventure, I think it would be really fun to play in pathfinder 2e.
I’d really like to get my urbancrawl stuff fleshed out. The Alexandrian did a little bit on urbancrawls, but aside from the idea of layers (which I’ve already incorporated), it doesn’t have a lot to say definitively on moving about them. I’d love to use exploration mode so my players can navigate and interact with Orctown the way their characters do. There’s something about showing them things through their own eyes instead of just telling them about it like some trivial that makes it more impactful (e.g., because of the balance of power has shifted, and now a new faction controls an area, and you can see its influence changing the area’s character).
 

!DWolf

Explorer
Gee, I don't know. I'm running an Adventure Path (Age of Ashes, if you're interested, and we're almost done with Book 2).

I am only passingly familiar with book 2, but I believe it involves social encounters with elves and then a hex-crawl?

Here's what I've found about exploration mode.
1) characters that are trained in something make the checks way too easily.
2) even if checks are failed, it bogs down the game with complications that ultimately don't matter. [because healing outside of combat is free with a skill check.]

I’m guessing that you’re in the hex-crawl portion of the game since this is one of the top hexcrawl complaints!

I don’t know the specific details of the module - but most crawls involve infrequent random encounters and most people have no clue how to do a random encounter (they just have them burst out of the bushes and attack) and so the games end up a slog filled with meaningless fights. Is this correct for the module?

3) if you let a worse consequence happen - like the dread ritual takes place because the characters took too long to stop it, for instance - congratulations, you've ruined the adventure path.

I have found that hexcrawling and time constraints don’t actually work that well together: the hexcrawl wants you to take a lot of time to fully explore stuff while the time constraint is telling you the opposite. The key in this situation, I think, is that the hex portion should be hidden from the players (they see the map without the hexes) and all the interesting locations linked by the “three-clue-rule” from the Alexandrian. This gets rid of the “explore every hex mentality” and focuses the party on moving through an interesting local. You then spice up the trip between the locations with correctly done random encounters (that is each pays attention to fundamentals like foreshadowing, motivations, giving the characters agency by letting them use their skills to bypass or otherwise interact with the encounter, integrating the encounter into the environment/narrative, consequences of the encounter, etc.). In a published module you can even use set encounters in nearby hex’s as “random” encounters! The ideal I strive for in kingmaker is that the players can’t tell if the encounter was part of the prewritten story or not.

Granted these might only be problems in this AP, but I am getting really burned out on the system, which more or less is functioning only like a set-piece-encounter to set-piece-encounter skirmish game, even more than 4e.

I like the exploration mode precisely because it address this problem. It lets players make interesting decisions between the set pieces (usually dungeons in hexcrawls) and, once in the set pieces, lets you make interesting decisions on how you approach each encounter.

Edit: I am assuming that the objective of the entire adventure is to stop the evil ritual, not just a section of the hexcrawl.
 
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Retreater

Legend
I am only passingly familiar with book 2, but I believe it involves social encounters with elves and then a hex-crawl?

That's right. The elf encounters lasted one session, followed by a pretty sloggy hexcrawl. There are a few minor encounter sites that are unrelated to the adventure, a "mini-dungeon" (for want of a better term), and 8 encounters that need to be completed before getting to the end goal. There are no encounters or clues that lead to the 8 encounters that need to be completed. So it is explore check, survival check, repeat. For weeks of campaign time. Fortunately one of the players took a spell that leads them to the most direct path to the 8 encounters, so they didn't have to explore each hex.

The hexcrawl is essentially set up like a very bad dungeon. Like a central room with eight branching paths with no clues to tell them where to go before ending up at a locked door that says: "no, you must complete the 8 other rooms in this module before you proceed".

I’m guessing that you’re in the hex-crawl portion of the game since this is one of the top hexcrawl complaints!

I don’t know the specific details of the module - but most crawls involve infrequent random encounters and most people have no clue how to do a random encounter (they just have them burst out of the bushes and attack) and so the games end up a slog filled with meaningless fights. Is this correct for the module?

There is no guidance for random encounters provided. I guess the GM just needs to create it. Instead, the extra page count is dedicated to a treatise on the jungle elf culture the party interacts with for one session. Failing the survival check causes disease, which can be easily overcome. It takes a critical failure to trigger a random encounter.

I have found that hexcrawling and time constraints don’t actually work that well together: the hexcrawl wants you to take a lot of time to fully explore stuff while the time constraint is telling you the opposite. The key in this situation, I think, is that the hex portion should be hidden from the players (they see the map without the hexes) and all the interesting locations linked by the “three-clue-rule” from the Alexandrian. This gets rid of the “explore every hex mentality” and focuses the party on moving through an interesting local. You then spice up the trip between the locations with correctly done random encounters (that is each pays attention to fundamentals like foreshadowing, motivations, giving the characters agency by letting them use their skills to bypass or otherwise interact with the encounter, integrating the encounter into the environment/narrative, consequences of the encounter, etc.). In a published module you can even use set encounters in nearby hex’s as “random” encounters! The ideal I strive for in kingmaker is that the players can’t tell if the encounter was part of the prewritten story or not.

Yeah. I scanned the hex map into Roll20 and used fog of war to hide the unexplored hexes. A PC was guiding the group with a spell that allowed him to find specific features, so I would "ping" the general area they needed to head. Eventually it just became "okay, this session you arrive at Area 3 - roll Initiative."

Edit: I am assuming that the objective of the entire adventure is to stop the evil ritual, not just a section of the hexcrawl.

Yes. Like Tomb of Annihilation (which, granted, was done much better), the object is to "get through this jungle as fast as you can, complete the quest which is harming our allies, and get the hell out."
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Your experience sounds a lot like mine when I ran Kingmaker back when it was released. Kingmaker wasn’t quite as egregious as what this sounds, but you basically had a map that was sparsely populated with encounters, and the PCs had to scour over it looking for them. Our procedure was to list out a sequence of hexes, and then I would check them all for encounters. That experience is why I so strongly dislike player-known hexes. The procedure in my current game is player-unknown and works pretty well (for us, anyway).

If you’re still at the hexploration part, I’d look to drop clues to the various encounters around the map and in areas the PCs frequent. Given them rumors or things they can discover that they need to go explore in some direction rather than just having them randomly stumble into that thing. That won’t fix the other issues the procedure has, but it should at least help you get through it and make the process feel a bit more organic.

I’d also like to expand on what !DWolf said on random encounters. You can make the encounters themselves more interesting, but you can also use them as a form of content generation. If you roll e.g., trolls; maybe the PCs encounter some trolls to fight, but perhaps instead they find troll tracks that lead to another hex where the trolls have built a camp and are trying to set up operations in the area. Depending on the random encounters table, you might be able to use this as a way to drop clues pointing the PCs in the direction they need to go to he module.

This also goes for dungeoncrawls. You can use the wandering monsters table as a prompt to decide how the inhabitants of the dungeon are moving about it and use that to keep the dungeon dynamic and dangerous (rather than as something static than can be cleared out). Again, that’s one of the key things I do to make resting have an opportunity cost in dungeons without just randomly hammering the party while they rest (because that’s lame).
 
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This is speculative on my part, since I haven't had the opportunity to really delve into hexcrawling but I've done a lot of research. It seems to me that a time crunch could work for a hexcrawl, but with the caveat that it should be a small part of the overall campaign, and should involve locations the party has already uncovered. I'm planning a nautical hexcrawl that involves an archipelago, where one of the many possible adventures to be had is that the players (adventurers/treasure hunters/ pirates is kind of up to them) might uncover (or trigger) an ancient evil that intends to raze a particular port city.

They might ignore it and let the port be destroyed in a location-in-motion kind of way, or they might try to book it there to save the place, either is fine. But if they do decide to try and save the port city, they'll have to sail between the location where they make the discovery and the port city, presumably using their discovered knowledge of the intervening hexes (e.g. what possible obstacles could slow them down) to plan and execute a route.

I could also see a time crunch that encompasses the campaign, but where the goal is abstract-- "the tournament of adventurers will take place 1 year thence! Be ready." which provides a deadline where the many explorations and adventures the party has are contextualized by needing to become the people they need to be to enter the tournament and come out victorious. I'm partial to looting the West Marches structure, and would do this by letting the map be unknown... but let rumors act as pointers toward possible major dungeons and the like. So the adventurers might decide to try and find the sword of the legendary king Abelsarf, and to that, they make for his ancient keep, said to be infested by undead.

Using the hexcrawl structure, they know its supposed to be to the west, so they begin traveling in that direction, talking to locals in hexes with villages in them, encountering other obstacles. But they could have taken up one of the other rumors-- its all about providing them with information they can use to make 'invest' their time and about optimizing what time they are spending as best they can. Any diversion could be a waste of time... or a sudden opportunity to move closer to their goal.
 

!DWolf

Explorer
I’m using a modified exploration mode where turns have explicit times. You can see a copy of my exploration procedure here. There’s urbancrawl stuff, but it’s untested (and probably needs heavy revision).

I actually use something similar to your wilderness procedure for running one of my non-crawl exploration games! It’s a prewritten island adventure that I modified to use the procedure. A couple of things I did different was that one of the features of the adventure were monster-lairs that were placed around the island. I kept them and when I roll a random encounter I check to see if there is a monster lair nearby and if so they encounter the monster - if they kill it then I cross off the lair and that part of the island becomes a little safer for them to travel through (since I treat lair encounter rolls on the encounter table as nothing). The original adventure set it up so the lairs are basically clustered by type and since I heavily foreshadow, this had the (unintended) effect of making the characters very cautious when traveling through certain regions - like the feeling of dread is palpable. Just wish I could figure out how to replicate the effect in an actual horror scenario (well to be fair it is supposed to be a haunted and cursed island - so it is on theme).

Dungeon exploration is broken down into turns with regular wandering monsters checks. Note that these are wandering monsters done right. If the check succeeds, I don’t just spring a fight on the PCs. What it means is something showed up in the dungeon, and it’s having an effect on the environment. There might be gray oozes on the ledge above, or a necromancer moved into the dungeon while you were away (or flying snakes are inside a bloated corpse, feasting).

I find that this is the single biggest thing that creates time pressure. If the PCs spend too much time resting, then they risk losing ground in the dungeon or having the environment become less favorable.

I always wanted to run an old school mega dungeon like this. Couldn’t get interested players though.

I do both. My players have a bad habit of not being very explicit about their intentions, so I’ll get the exact action. I also do it in the hope they’ll be less boring than having 75% of the party just standing around looking out for monsters while one of them investigates something.

Now that you mention it, my players tend to all sort of split off and work on different tasks. I think they learned it from my 1e kingmaker campaign where I routinely force the characters to handle crises on opposite sides of the kingdom in the same turn and so the characters routinely split up (I gave everyone the leadership feat for free to facilitate this).

I can’t speak to AD&D, but I know OD&D and B/X have dungeon exploration procedures. B/X, or rather Old-School Essentials, was a big influence on my dungeon exploration procedure. D&D just eventually stopped including exploration procedures. It makes some sense when you consider that it was also transitioning away from open-ended play to story-driven play.

Excellent article. I read the Alexandrian mostly back when I was running Chronicles of Darkness games (three clue rule, node based scenario design). Should probably go read his other stuff as well.

Not a hack per se, but it works great for doing an old-school dungeon crawl. I can have my dungeon turns and old-school stuff, and it works using a structure that’s part of and supported by the system we’re using. That’s really fantastic.

I agree :) :)

I’d really like to get my urbancrawl stuff fleshed out. The Alexandrian did a little bit on urbancrawls, but aside from the idea of layers (which I’ve already incorporated), it doesn’t have a lot to say definitively on moving about them. I’d love to use exploration mode so my players can navigate and interact with Orctown the way their characters do. There’s something about showing them things through their own eyes instead of just telling them about it like some trivial that makes it more impactful (e.g., because of the balance of power has shifted, and now a new faction controls an area, and you can see its influence changing the area’s character).

I can see the appeal. It gives you sort of street level view of life in the city. I kind of want to try it, though I would probably not actually run an urban crawl per se but rather a city based narrative adventure with urban crawl trappings - sort of like kingmaker but for a city.
 

!DWolf

Explorer
This is speculative on my part, since I haven't had the opportunity to really delve into hexcrawling but I've done a lot of research. It seems to me that a time crunch could work for a hexcrawl, but with the caveat that it should be a small part of the overall campaign, and should involve locations the party has already uncovered. I'm planning a nautical hexcrawl that involves an archipelago, where one of the many possible adventures to be had is that the players (adventurers/treasure hunters/ pirates is kind of up to them) might uncover (or trigger) an ancient evil that intends to raze a particular port city.

They might ignore it and let the port be destroyed in a location-in-motion kind of way, or they might try to book it there to save the place, either is fine. But if they do decide to try and save the port city, they'll have to sail between the location where they make the discovery and the port city, presumably using their discovered knowledge of the intervening hexes (e.g. what possible obstacles could slow them down) to plan and execute a route.
I have done similar, though less nautical, things with my kingmaker game that have ran quite well. As long as the time pressure is localized and not fighting against the central theme of the adventure, time pressure isn’t a bad thing. It’s a bad thing when the goals of taking your time and using random encounters/elements to build narrative (the central premise of the hexcrawl) are in conflict to the time-pressure provided by the overarching narrative. If they are in direct conflict you will constantly hear the players say things like ‘why are we doing this, when the world ends in x days’ or ignoring the end of the world thing to systematically explore a swamp that is nowhere near the location they need to go to stop it. Hopefully, that makes sense.

I could also see a time crunch that encompasses the campaign, but where the goal is abstract-- "the tournament of adventurers will take place 1 year thence! Be ready." which provides a deadline where the many explorations and adventures the party has are contextualized by needing to become the people they need to be to enter the tournament and come out victorious. I'm partial to looting the West Marches structure, and would do this by letting the map be unknown... but let rumors act as pointers toward possible major dungeons and the like. So the adventurers might decide to try and find the sword of the legendary king Abelsarf, and to that, they make for his ancient keep, said to be infested by undead.

Using the hexcrawl structure, they know its supposed to be to the west, so they begin traveling in that direction, talking to locals in hexes with villages in them, encountering other obstacles. But they could have taken up one of the other rumors-- its all about providing them with information they can use to make 'invest' their time and about optimizing what time they are spending as best they can. Any diversion could be a waste of time... or a sudden opportunity to move closer to their goal.

I think that tournament isn’t really much of a time pressure and more of an event or character motivation. And while it could work with a hexcrawl structure, if you want to heavily focus on the tournament and prepping for it, the concept would probably be better served with a different structure. But if you just wanted to do a traditional hexcrawl and were using that as an initial motivation I think it would work.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I actually use something similar to your wilderness procedure for running one of my non-crawl exploration games! It’s a prewritten island adventure that I modified to use the procedure. A couple of things I did different was that one of the features of the adventure were monster-lairs that were placed around the island. I kept them and when I roll a random encounter I check to see if there is a monster lair nearby and if so they encounter the monster - if they kill it then I cross off the lair and that part of the island becomes a little safer for them to travel through (since I treat lair encounter rolls on the encounter table as nothing). The original adventure set it up so the lairs are basically clustered by type and since I heavily foreshadow, this had the (unintended) effect of making the characters very cautious when traveling through certain regions - like the feeling of dread is palpable. Just wish I could figure out how to replicate the effect in an actual horror scenario (well to be fair it is supposed to be a haunted and cursed island - so it is on theme).
I don’t call it out in my procedure (since that’s behind-the-scenes stuff, and this is part of the house rules document I provide to players), but random encounters are content generators. When I roll a lair encounter, I add that to the key for my hex map. This helps keep travel always interesting (because there’s always a chance you’ll discover something new). In theory, that’s in addition to having every hex keyed. In practice, keying my map is still a work in progress. I have most of the area around the NE peninsula keyed, but I got lazy due to the dungeoncrawl that broke out, so I lapsed on keying it regularly before getting back on it over the last few weeks.

If I wanted to let PCs make a hex safer, I look at adding some kind of hex-clearing procedure. I’d probably make it VP-based. Every hex starts at 0 Safety Points (except for ones with existing settlements), and as you do things like clear lairs or institute patrols, the SP for the hex goes up. After some period (e.g., a week or a month), the SP would decay due to the encroachment of the wilds beyond your area. If you really wanted the area around your city to be very safe, you’d need to establish patrols and outposts in the frontier to ensure that was the case.

I always wanted to run an old school mega dungeon like this. Couldn’t get interested players though.
I use that procedure for any kind of dungeon. It just so happens we ended up in a megadungeon. It’s not a big one. There’s only five floors, but the second floor has multiple sub-floors, and one of those sub-floors has sub-floors. There are also a handful of factions, which my PCs have managed so far to avoid completely on accident.

I can see the appeal. It gives you sort of street level view of life in the city. I kind of want to try it, though I would probably not actually run an urban crawl per se but rather a city based narrative adventure with urban crawl trappings - sort of like kingmaker but for a city.
There are a couple of things here. On one hand, I want to have a travel procedure for settlements because I want to reinforce an immersive style of play. Instead of just “you go to town and sell 37000 longswords you looted”, it’s the players describing how they load up their cart, travel the road into town, down past the enclaves and the warehouses to the crafting district where Hammer Joe makes shop, and how he looks up from his anvil to greet them, but his expression turns to dismay at the damage the PCs want to do to the town’s sword economy.

The Alexandrian’s stuff is focused more about adding depth to your settlement. Essentially, the idea is you build your settlement out of layers. The specifics are a bit underdeveloped. My understanding is you have your gazetteer at the top, and a layer right below it of the default information people know. Below that, you have layers for the different factions, events, and threats. At the very bottom, you have a layer that represents hidden information. As the PCs engage with the settlement, you pull from different layers to create conflict and conspiracies and so on.

It’s pretty neat stuff, but I haven’t seen any good examples of it in practice. I’ve not had a lot of time to go into detail with the nearby settlement (Orctown), but it’s something I want to explore and try to find a way to organize in my notes. That way, once my PCs do start getting themselves involved in local politics (unintentionally or not), I’ve got a toolbox I can use to make cool stuff happen.
 
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kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I have done similar, though less nautical, things with my kingmaker game that have ran quite well. As long as the time pressure is localized and not fighting against the central theme of the adventure, time pressure isn’t a bad thing. It’s a bad thing when the goals of taking your time and using random encounters/elements to build narrative (the central premise of the hexcrawl) are in conflict to the time-pressure provided by the overarching narrative. If they are in direct conflict you will constantly hear the players say things like ‘why are we doing this, when the world ends in x days’ or ignoring the end of the world thing to systematically explore a swamp that is nowhere near the location they need to go to stop it. Hopefully, that makes sense.
I pretty much agree with this. You can do it, but make sure to include rumors about the evil event in the default rumor tables, so the PCs have an opportunity to learn about the problem and decide what to do about it (if anything). If they do decide to get involved, that will pivot the campaign away from a pure hexcrawl, but the hex map will still be useful for adjudicating travel. Additionally, in that case, you’ll want to make sure there are enough clues (rumors, etc) scattered about to keep them working towards the right goal.
 

dave2008

Legend
Exploration mode is one of the best features of PF2e for me: a turn based mode for exploring the environment! So I figured I would start a thread about it so people will talk about it (hopefully I get some discussion on this very niche topic :) ).

Some starter thoughts:

1. While listening to actual plays I noticed that people actually name the exploration activities that they are using (I.e. they are going to take the ‘scout’ action) while I don’t think my players even know the name of the activities at all: they describe to me their actions, I respond with any limitations or request for clarification, and I choose what action that they have taken (sometimes I have several options to choose between). Does anyone else do it that way?

2. For the OSR people/old timers. Did AD&D 2e have a similar mode? I know it had ten minute turns in combat (as opposed to its one minute rounds), but did it have them out of combat? Was this dropped from the line at some point or am I just misremembering things in my advanced age?

3. I find that exploration mode works well with explicit time pressure. For example the tide is rising and when the water gets too high the ship you are salvaging will be broken apart. Then I put an water rising tracker on the table and when it reaches certain levels I have bad things happen (I stole this from the forbidden island board game btw). Does anyone else have any scenarios/hacks like this where they think exploration mode really shines?

4. What games do you want to run that do interesting things or you think would highlight the mode? Personally I want to run a conversion of the warhammer adventure “Rough Night at Three Feathers” since I think that it would really help with both timed events and spotlight management. I also want to run a race to a lost city with mechanics roughly similar to those in the dungeon #176 Cross-City-Race adventure (except totally different - I just like the structure of the race). Speaking of Cross-City-Race adventure, I think it would be really fun to play in pathfinder 2e.
I haven't the chance to play PF2e yet, but as I DM the exploration mode options was on of the things I was think about porting to my 5e games. I would be interested in hearing how it works. Thank you for starting this thread.
 

!DWolf

Explorer
I don’t call it out in my procedure (since that’s behind-the-scenes stuff, and this is part of the house rules document I provide to players), but random encounters are content generators. When I roll a lair encounter, I add that to the key for my hex map. This helps keep travel always interesting (because there’s always a chance you’ll discover something new). In theory, that’s in addition to having every hex keyed. In practice, keying my map is still a work in progress. I have most of the area around the NE peninsula keyed, but I got lazy due to the dungeoncrawl that broke out, so I lapsed on keying it regularly before getting back on it over the last few weeks.
My adventure is set on an island that I eventually want the pcs to leave so I need my random encounters to exhaust content. You of course are running a proper hexcrawl so you want to add content.

There are a couple of things here. On one hand, I want to have a travel procedure for settlements because I want to reinforce an immersive style of play. Instead of just “you go to town and sell 37000 longswords you looted”, it’s the players describing how they load up their cart, travel the road into town, down past the enclaves and the warehouses to the crafting district where Hammer Joe makes shop, and how he looks up from his anvil to greet them, but his expression turns to dismay at the damage the PCs want to do to the town’s sword economy.

This is extremely similar to what I want to do: specifically my players are going to stop briefly in a city on the way to somewhere else. There they will probably need to engage in local politics, gather supplies, do research, hire hirelings, and the rest of the usual stuff. But I want to make the city come alive both descriptively (which I can do) and mechanically (which I’m not so sure about). The later is not strictly necessary but I feel that the underlining exploration mechanics set the tone for a game. My current plan is to build an actual, if small, urban-crawl but only run it for a short time before the players have to head out into the wilderness again (probably leaving many hooks unexplored). Hopefully, if my plan works, switching from content reducing to content generating encounters combined with giving them more hooks than what they know what to do with, will result in a stark contrast between the two sections: giving my players a sense of the city simply through the change in mechanics.

And if we ever get that far; I want to switch up the mechanics again to basically a race through the wilderness with multiple competing factions. This one is still a long ways away so I haven’t thought about it throughly. It will probably involve victory points.

Then finally, I am going to finish with a mega dungeon. That’s my plan anyways. Sorry I sort of rambled on.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Then finally, I am going to finish with a mega dungeon. That’s my plan anyways. Sorry I sort of rambled on.
No worries. Always interesting to see what people are doing. 😄

Good luck with the megadungeon! I’m having fun with mine, but I sometimes wonder I bit off a little too much. However, I totally don’t want to back down or cut corners just to make it easier to write everything up. Now if only my floors would stop getting larger every time I design the next one … (Part A of the 2nd floor has 45 keyed areas. Part C is looking like it’s going to have 60 or so). 😅
 

!DWolf

Explorer
I haven't the chance to play PF2e yet, but as I DM the exploration mode options was on of the things I was think about porting to my 5e games. I would be interested in hearing how it works. Thank you for starting this thread.

Your welcome:
There are many ways in which exploration mode is used. I use it for overland travel and local area exploration, switching between the two and encounter mode dynamically. Exploration mode has basically a mechanical interface for switching to encounter mode that works pretty well.

Let me give you an example of how it works in practice for me. The players are F, V, D, Sh, and Sc. They have recently reached safety from a strange skull headed monster in a hunting lodge. This is a horror themed game.
GM: okay next turn, you only have about 6 turns before sunset, you have secured the door, and the snow is still falling, what are you going to do? (I go around the table from me clockwise)
F: I am going to head upstairs and see if anyone is there and make sure all the windows are secure.
V: I’m going to use detect magic.
D: I’m going upstairs with F so he doesn’t get killed again.
Sh: I’m going to go to the kitchen and see what supplies there are, and try to get the fires going if there is any wood.
Sc: I’m going to look at the books in the library to see if they have any information on the snow monster.

I then go through and resolve the actions in the most interesting order for me. I might, for example, start with V who detects magic from the library, then transition to Sc and resolve his action in the library (interacting with a research subsystem most likely). If necessary I drop into encounter mode: lets say, for example, that F and D find a creepy doll upstairs that is actually a monster. When that happens I look at the exploration mode actions that hook into the encounter mode and choose the most appropriate one. They are probably Searching so they get free seek actions to seek, potentially spotting it before it attacks. If they call for help I will let the other characters enter the combat if I think they can hear them or if they retreat to them. Once combat is over I transition back to exploration mode.

Travel mode is basically the same, except turns are longer and the party tends to stick together more. Behind the scenes I have a hex based movement system setup so I can easily determine how far the party travels (they don’t know about the hexes) and if anything interesting happens. If something interesting does happen, they find a mangled and frozen corpse for instance, I switch down to local area exploration mode.

Note: I am omitting a lot of narration here, this is just the bare bones structure. I generally try to limit discussion based on turn length - overland I allow a lot, while area exploration I allow less.

Edit: added note and joke.
 
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kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
Today was the first time we got to do overland exploration in about ten sessions. Actually, looking at some old notes in roll20, it’s probably closer to twelve or more sessions. I’m posting because I wanted to follow up on the house rules I posted.

The wilderness exploration stuff went pretty well. I had a mistake in my notes, so I used old (too high) random encounter DCs, but it otherwise went fine. The party went northeast after spending some time in town, then they ended up wandering east before doubling back along the coast to the west (because they ran into a swap to the east and decided that was too scary). Framing it as a kind of (group) exploration activity was a little confusing at first, but the players caught on quickly.

We had one moment where we needed to zoom in a bit. I’d rolled a random encounter with a brontosaurus. It was in the middle of a badlands, and I failed my roll for it to be undead, so I decided just having a fight with it would be stupid. Instead, they found a wounded one. For that, we just switched right over to standard exploration activities. The transition went pretty naturally (with my rolling wandering monsters every two turns like normal).

One guy was scared something was going to happen, so he hid (Avoid Notice) before deciding to stay behind his shield (Defend) when he came out of hiding. The wizard had his familiar his familiar fly around (Scout). The champion tried to figure out what’d critically injured the dinosaur (Investigate). Eventually, the champion healed up the brontosaurus, and they got on their way, but not before the wizard’s familiar caught a glimpse of a creature with glowing eyes watching them from a tunnel a little ways off.

We also did a bit of urbancrawling. The party started out wanting to learn more about the area where they were going to explore, but I ended up just winging it. I think the timescale I have in my notes is too long. However, keeping things at the PCs level while they traveled the city (even if it’s just a montage as they know where they’re going) let me reveal little details as they went. That’s great for helping make it seem more real.

I was really down on it when I first heard about it, but exploration mode is easily one of my favorite parts of the game. It integrates so well with an old-school way of running the game, and it lets us still get all the benefits of the system for doing exploration stuff.
 

!DWolf

Explorer
Thanks for the update! I too ran a game today (my jungle game) and it worked much better than last time which was dominated by a severe level fight made extremely difficult by very bad rolls and poor tactics. This time the party did much better with the wizard annihilating a severe encounter pretty much by himself in three turns (he did 46 combined damage with a widened burning hands and finished the job with a couple of produce flames, the rest of the party joked that he just needed them to carry his stuff) and another severe encounter saw the party use their lore skills (labor lore to shore up tunnel bracing and creating a winch system to act as a crude elevator) and player smarts (one of the fighters correctly deduced the entire structure of the mini dungeon from a single clue - which was actually erroneous as he had mistaken ghoul claw marks for giant rat claw marks) to greatly reduce the difficulty. Then the cleric just explode a ghoul with a critical disrupt undead while the fighters murderated another- I was actually worried about killing a character in this one because it took place in water and paralysis + drowning + cave ins could’ve nasty, but only one of the fighters actually took any damage and he aced every save.

Some things I noticed:
  • I recently listened to a GREAT GM video about pacing where he advised switching gears every 20-30 minutes or so to keep things interesting. I found this worked very well with switching between travel mode (3 to 4 hour turns), 10 minute exploration mode (or rp mode when there was no danger), and encounter mode. The game never stagnated as the different modes kept things fresh (contrasted with the last session which was dominated by a very long fight).
  • We didn’t play in our usual room which was being remodeled and I couldn’t see a clock in the other room (for fortune points and to know when to wrap up the session) so I had one player remind me periodically of the time. At the same time the most common question during travel mode was what time was it (so they could decide when to retreat to their base camp). I figure next time I will make a little freestanding dial with all the watches on it and charge a player with keeping it updated. For the night modes I can even put who’s on watch on it.
  • 1 minute and 10 minute exploration mode are great for keeping up tension: the players see that there is something important because time is being tracked and they know that combat could be just around the corner. I have a ‘horror narration’ style I use when things get spooky, but I didn’t think to combine the two until after the session. I defiantly will next time.
  • For feedback the players told me that they like all the decisions they get to make in exploration mode. Made my day :)
  • I feel that I am not getting enough jungle flavor, for next time I am going to retool the random encounter system to add flavor encounters (screeching monkeys, insect clouds, strange bird songs, etc.) to try and bring out more of the environment.

We also did a bit of urbancrawling. The party started out wanting to learn more about the area where they were going to explore, but I ended up just winging it. I think the timescale I have in my notes is too long. However, keeping things at the PCs level while they traveled the city (even if it’s just a montage as they know where they’re going) let me reveal little details as they went. That’s great for helping make it seem more real.
What timescale are you using? I’m designing an urban crawl for the next part of the adventure and I was thinking of using two hour turns.
I was really down on it when I first heard about it, but exploration mode is easily one of my favorite parts of the game. It integrates so well with an old-school way of running the game, and it lets us still get all the benefits of the system for doing exploration stuff.
I am less old school than you but I totally agree with this. To me it feels like they really got what makes games fun to run for me and gave it some mechanical support.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
I recently listened to a GREAT GM video about pacing where he advised switching gears every 20-30 minutes or so to keep things interesting. I found this worked very well with switching between travel mode (3 to 4 hour turns), 10 minute exploration mode (or rp mode when there was no danger), and encounter mode. The game never stagnated as the different modes kept things fresh (contrasted with the last session which was dominated by a very long fight).
Hmm, neat. I’m kind of curious how my sessions break down. There’s a good bit of back and forth, so it doesn’t feel like the pacing is too bad.

We didn’t play in our usual room which was being remodeled and I couldn’t see a clock in the other room (for fortune points and to know when to wrap up the session) so I had one player remind me periodically of the time.
In-person gaming? I’m envious. We’re stuck on roll20. 😭

At the same time the most common question during travel mode was what time was it (so they could decide when to retreat to their base camp). I figure next time I will make a little freestanding dial with all the watches on it and charge a player with keeping it updated. For the night modes I can even put who’s on watch on it.
What’s your travel procedure like? You described using several different timescales, so do the PCs not have a good idea how long they’ve been traveling?

I feel that I am not getting enough jungle flavor, for next time I am going to retool the random encounter system to add flavor encounters (screeching monkeys, insect clouds, strange bird songs, etc.) to try and bring out more of the environment.
I’m a big fan of random encounters as content generators. 😃

What timescale are you using? I’m designing an urban crawl for the next part of the adventure and I was thinking of using two hour turns.
I’d call it prototypical at this point, so there’s no formal timescale (just winging it). Based on how things went yesterday, somewhere between ten and twenty minutes would work. What I have in my posted procedure is way too long. I don’t think I’ve ever actually used it.

I am less old school than you but I totally agree with this. To me it feels like they really got what makes games fun to run for me and gave it some mechanical support.
Yup, though I feel I should add that I’ve never actually played a D&D prior to 3e (other than Baldur’s Gate). 😂

I never got into the 3e balance culture stuff (just not really plugged into it at the time), so it’s just not a thing I really care about. I ended up being pretty heavily influenced by blogs like Grognardia and (of course) the Alexandrian. My current exploration procedure has some OSE influence, and Apocalypse World is the source of my agenda and principles.
 

!DWolf

Explorer
What’s your travel procedure like? You described using several different timescales, so do the PCs not have a good idea how long they’ve been traveling?

Maps: I have two maps; the first is a keyed map with a hex grid on it and the other is a large map with an outline of the area.

Watches Each day is divided into eight watches of 3 hours each. The last three watches are night watches and the third watch is too hot for characters without heat resistance to do anything.

Random encounters: I roll these for five days prior to each session. 1d12 per watch. 1 = random encounter, roll 1d6:
  1. Lair (trigger nearest monster lair, if lair already cleared then no encounter.
  2. Lair
  3. Clue (point to nearby location of interest)
  4. Monster (uses chart in module)
  5. Monster
  6. Camp (DC 10 flat check, adjusted for camp concealment rating)
Travel speed: Travel speed is based on how people are traveling. Traveling on a trail is base speed (6 hexes per watch), through the jungle is half speed (3 hexes per watch). Traveling cautiously or trailblazing is also at half speed (cumulative to 1.5 hexes per watch, round up of necessary).

Expeditions Each day the PCs start at camp (usually base camp).
  1. The PCs decide if they want to go on an expedition or stay at camp. The characters of absent players always stay at base camp.
  2. The players tell me their travel plans and how they are traveling.
  3. I look at the hexmap and determine how far they get until they find something interesting (Random encounter/Keyed hex). When that happens I downshift into encounter (10 min or 1 min depending on the proximity of danger) or rp mode.
  4. when the encounter is over we go back to travel mode.
  5. at the end of the day the characters either made it back to base camp or must camp in the jungle.

The issue that I am having is that when I move things on the big map, I only indicate the passage of time once (when something interesting occurs) and I am quite bad at indicating the time when I reset the scene in step 4. I figure using a wheel will visually indicate to the players the passage of time as they travel and also remind me to mention it when I reset the scene.

Yup, though I feel I should add that I’ve never actually played a D&D prior to 3e (other than Baldur’s Gate). 😂

I never got into the 3e balance culture stuff (just not really plugged into it at the time), so it’s just not a thing I really care about. I ended up being pretty heavily influenced by blogs like Grognardia and (of course) the Alexandrian. My current exploration procedure has some OSE influence, and Apocalypse World is the source of my agenda and principles.

AD&D 2e was my first game (I actually bought the Monsterous Manual first because I liked the pictures - the invisible stalker picture is a classic btw) but I didn’t play that much of it. Picked up shadowrun 2e (on a trip to Seattle!) and that was the game I most played (also 3e), from there I transitioned to Eclipse Phase, Chronicles of Darkness, etc. I only got back into fantasy (and started really GMing) when I moved across the country and couldn’t find a game to play other than pathfinder 1e. My travel procedure is a result of me looking at the book and a lot of trial and error and listening to a lot of how to gm videos to pick up modifications and tips.
 

kenada

Adventurer
Supporter
The issue that I am having is that when I move things on the big map, I only indicate the passage of time once (when something interesting occurs) and I am quite bad at indicating the time when I reset the scene in step 4. I figure using a wheel will visually indicate to the players the passage of time as they travel and also remind me to mention it when I reset the scene.
Thanks for sharing. It helps contextualize. 🙂

At first I wondered whether the (presumably) small hexes are enough of a bookkeeping hassle that they were distracting you from conveying e.g., how long they traveled, but if your travel speeds are already hex-based, then maybe not.

Visually depicting watches reminds me of the tension dice thing Angry GM does. You preroll your random encounter checks, so just dumping them in a dish or whatever for the players to see wouldn’t really work, but maybe there’s a way of tying it all together. That could just be what you’re proposing: having a visual flag of the current watch.

One thing that has helped me develop the habit of communicating how far the group has traveled is having a player who likes mapping. He keeps his own hex map, which is similar to mine but not exactly the same (since creating a 1:1 copy is a non-goal). If I don’t convey how they far they traveled, I’ll get asked. Of course, on roll20, we’ve presumably lost the physical mapping, but the habit remains.
 

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