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Blog (A5E) Let’s Look At Exploration in Level Up

One of our primary goals with Level Up is to expand and fully flesh out the game’s exploration pillar. There are various ways we’re doing that: we’re giving all characters exploration knacks themed to their character class, we’re making a few tweaks here and there to spells and abilities which interact with that pillar, and we’re writing new journey rules.


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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

tetrasodium

Hero
Supporter
the encouragement for DMs to think in degrees of success.
This is an important thing to note. 5e is really bad at providing a rules framework for the gm to do this kind of thing & go off script making more advanced gm skills like winging things on the fly when players do the unexpected off script than it should be for a newer gm to pick up those skills. That's made worse because an experienced gm playing at the table can't even point at a set of rules and explain how they use them for winging a situation that might seem too much for the newer gm trying to get their bearings.
 
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GreekGeek

Villager
This update I think was the best thus far and the one that convinced me to bite the bullet when the KS comes out. I would like an address to the Goodberries problem (I do not like that spell at all).

What I would like would be some more granularity in the supplies. Nothing major but food/water and general supplies would be enough for me. I would prefer a differentiation between the rope and pulleys I was forced to leave behind in the chasm, the pitons that block the door compared to the spoiled food in the desert or from the pests and the nutrition that we ave to carry for the PCs, animals, followers.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Nah. Low complexity 4e skill challenges worked fine for exploration. The system was built around everything being a skill check so it functioned. The main issues was large parties, high complexity challenge, or lack of creativity of the DM or players.

That last one is the key. Out of "getting lost", animal encounters, and minor natural hazard, people are creative on wilderness encounters. So freeform wilderness encounters without some natural knowledge is quickly boring and predictable.
"The system was build around everything being a skill check" - if by system you mean the skill challenges, that's correct and that's the problem. It ignored all of the other resources at your disposal. If by system you mean 4e, then you are forgetting AEDU and magic items at the least. Either way, this is a problem.

And "Nah" doesn't disprove that the math was bad and it didnt' do what it was supposed to. Here's a couple of links for you:


As for your last point - I think we're in agreement that the concept of challanges is a good thing. Just that the 4e system was a poor mechanical subsystem for them.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
"The system was build around everything being a skill check" - if by system you mean the skill challenges, that's correct and that's the problem. It ignored all of the other resources at your disposal. If by system you mean 4e, then you are forgetting AEDU and magic items at the least. Either way, this is a problem.

And "Nah" doesn't disprove that the math was bad and it didnt' do what it was supposed to. Here's a couple of links for you:


As for your last point - I think we're in agreement that the concept of challanges is a good thing. Just that the 4e system was a poor mechanical subsystem for them.

The AEDU system, especially the U, was also built around skill checks. That was the point. Skill challenges, powers, rituals, magic items, where all based around skill checks.

The math being not as tight as it should have been doesn't matter since O5E and A5E use different math and number philosophy entirely.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The AEDU system, especially the U, was also built around skill checks. That was the point. Skill challenges, powers, rituals, magic items, where all based around skill checks.

The math being not as tight as it should have been doesn't matter since O5E and A5E use different math and number philosophy entirely.
Again false.

Say we have an exploration challange. And a character can fly. Useful for navigation, scouting, and traversing challenging terrain. Yet not a skill check, and no existing mechanical hooks to work into the challenge.

Can a DM ad hoc it? Of course, like they can ad hoc everything. Will different DMs who never met be consistant in how they handle it? Unlikely.

There are a huge amount of abilities, items, and utilities out there that do not modify a skill check. Please, engage with reality with your claims.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Say we have an exploration challange. And a character can fly. Useful for navigation, scouting, and traversing challenging terrain. Yet not a skill check, and no existing mechanical hooks to work into the challenge.

And you see. That's the core issue.

In D&D, the assumption of PCs having access to fly is level based.

Therefore an exploration challenge that is negated by flight is not of the appropriate level of the PCs if they have flight.

And that's my core issue. Most D&D players and DMs don't known what a mid level or high level exploration challenge is. Often, low level challenges are thrown at high level PCs and then people say "Magic negated it all anyway. Exploration is boring."

Now if you have magic winds and devil dust that forces ability checks to remain airborne or to see past your fingers, it would be appropriate for a mid tier party.

But info like that has to be provided since the D&D player community has been proven to not come up with it on their own.
 

tetrasodium

Hero
Supporter
And you see. That's the core issue.

In D&D, the assumption of PCs having access to fly is level based.

Therefore an exploration challenge that is negated by flight is not of the appropriate level of the PCs if they have flight.

And that's my core issue. Most D&D players and DMs don't known what a mid level or high level exploration challenge is. Often, low level challenges are thrown at high level PCs and then people say "Magic negated it all anyway. Exploration is boring."

Now if you have magic winds and devil dust that forces ability checks to remain airborne or to see past your fingers, it would be appropriate for a mid tier party.

But info like that has to be provided since the D&D player community has been proven to not come up with it on their own.
It depends on what the pc is trying to fly over & your right that's important
  • There is a pit/canyon with a long fall..
    • wooo... done meh
  • There is a canyon/pit with an unchecked growth of Risian iceshard flowers known for being beautiful, fragile, and extremely lethal in part due to their direct link to risia
    • eek... PC with nature: how will these react to bob casting fly & carrying us over the pit one by one
      • GM: Your not sure, but planar infused plants are known to have rather violent reactions to the presence of certain spells & magic items crafted with ties to opposing planes... it's all very much cross your fingers & pray in a lot of cases
  • There is a field with well patchy blighted grass resulting from the sort of breakdown you see when a field has been mined with certain types of wards
    • Caster: Are those wards triggered by walking over/near them or are they more active hunter killer stuff?
      • You've heard of both kinds & they can get fairly elaborate depending on who made the & why... There has been a lot of war in the area
  • There is a ditch with war snake burrows in your way
    • eek: what do we know about war snakes after using our skills as a party?
      • GM: You all are pretty sure that their bottomless appetite explains the general sparseness of wildlife in the area... They hunt through all sorts of senses, are known to have spells grown into their skin for protection stealth & other stuff like invisibility. Really they are nasty pieces of work from expert magebreeders... it depends on how pure they are
      • pc's: Pure?
      • GM: Yea like how many generations since they were released & what they bred with since
  • A pit caused by a planar manifest zone?
    • PCs:eek lets investigate the manifest zone to see where it is, where it connects to & so on.
  • There is a canyon, just a canyon.. oh yea cannibal halflings are headed your way
    • PCs: how many?
    • GM: Like a whole tribe, you know what they want.
  • there is a creek radiating blight into the environment around it, probably from the age of demons with that check bob.. it depends on which demon overlord caused the blight & how but you'd need to get closer & with your 23 int you are pretty sure that is less than entirely safe
edit: It's easy to make environmental challenges meaningfyl to higher levels by adding more stuff as the players chase a rabbit hole. Unlike the quantum ogre though PCs with useful skills they can leverage in creative/relevant ways wind up feeling awesome for being able to do some cool things with their skills.
 

I have a question. Are these 50 exploration challenges only obstacles, or do they also include other types of encounters? Because not everything you meet on your travels needs to be negative after all.
 

Hey!
#First Post.

Just read the exploration article. It looks great. I really like The One Ring & Forbidden Lands, so bringing this to exist in D&D sounds fantastic.

Very minor point - I think you should have an "edge case" side ox that states if a critical success/failure is less good/bad than a normal one, then the normal one applies...e.g. If you have 7 or less supplies losing half could be not as awful as loosing 1d4 of them!
 

Corrosive

Adventurer
I have a question. Are these 50 exploration challenges only obstacles, or do they also include other types of encounters? Because not everything you meet on your travels needs to be negative after all.
Yeah, but those other things aren't exploration challenges.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
And you see. That's the core issue.

In D&D, the assumption of PCs having access to fly is level based.

Therefore an exploration challenge that is negated by flight is not of the appropriate level of the PCs if they have flight.
That's not true, either. Most of the time flight is a resource. Using up a resource is a valid reason to have the challenge. The PCs get to decide whether to use up the spell slot(or more than one depending on the challenge) or find another way.
 

Garmel

Villager
I'm glad to see "create food" will be tougher to use and can't automatically save the party. I hope teleport will be nerfed so that high level adventurers will have to do exploration as well.
 

tetrasodium

Hero
Supporter
That's not true, either. Most of the time flight is a resource. Using up a resource is a valid reason to have the challenge. The PCs get to decide whether to use up the spell slot(or more than one depending on the challenge) or find another way.
aarakocra(sp?), some sorcerer bloodline stuff, winged boots, etc. There are a ton of ways to get flight in 5e that are effectively no cost. Part of the problem is 5e's absurd oversimplifications in a lot of cases too. Take the winged boots. .

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I'm not including 4e because I don't even know where to begin finding them but feel safe in saying that they probably weren't at will 1-240 uses of 1min-4hr flight broke into 1 min or longer segments without even needing an action cost to activate it
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everything from magic items that recharge at the end of the day to things like this reinforces 5e's deeply rooted attempt to dial the opportunity cost form so much of the game down to "One sec, I think I've got a penny here" levels.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
aarakocra(sp?), some sorcerer bloodline stuff, winged boots, etc. There are a ton of ways to get flight in 5e that are effectively no cost. Part of the problem is 5e's absurd oversimplifications in a lot of cases too. Take the winged boots. .
3 isn't tons and one requires the DM to give it to you. Another requires that the DM allow the race into the game. That can hardly be counted on.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
That's not true, either. Most of the time flight is a resource. Using up a resource is a valid reason to have the challenge. The PCs get to decide whether to use up the spell slot(or more than one depending on the challenge) or find another way.
Like I said, it level based.
The issue is not when you get fly (5th level), it's when you arehigh enough level to bypass issues easily (11th+ level)

I'm not including 4e because I don't even know where to begin finding them but feel safe in saying that they probably weren't at will 1-240 uses of 1min-4hr flight broke into 1 min or longer segments without even needing an action cost to activate it
1 move action of flight
That's it. :LOL:
And you had to be level 13.:LOL:
 

tetrasodium

Hero
Supporter
3 isn't tons and one requires the DM to give it to you. Another requires that the DM allow the race into the game. That can hardly be counted on.
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The problem isn't using flight as part of the solution, the problem is the attitude of "Most of the time flight is a resource. Using up a resource is a valid reason to have the challenge.". Sure there are cases where that means not casting another fireball or something, but there is no reciprocity & if it was solved by a single step that's not much different than an obstacle solved by "ok.. so I open the closed door then look into the next room since it's closed" levels of yawn inducing problems to solve. I listed a bunch of ways to dial up an environmental challenge off the top of my head earlier but the cornerstone for all of them was that there was not a single hurdle that needed bounding & generally the immediately observable information was imperfect or obviously lacking critical details. If using a "resource".

A bunch of those examples I gave could be helped along with flight(perhaps with lower DCs or expertise dice for other stuff), but it should never be the only step in the chain because it's reactive & boring akin to "you are attacked by vampires, roll fight" then resolving it in a single interaction. An exploration challenge shouldn't just be a "boring*" excuse to drain resources because it gives your players a chance to be proactive in using their skills & abilities to competently do something dramatic. If that means the party spends five twenty or more minutes engaged in competence porn that the gm is making up plausible things on the fly it's going to be an experience they remember more than the time they spent an entire session using healing word & wackamole tactics to kill yeenagau from sheer boredom at the end of descent into avernus. Not only will they remember ithat time they were awesome, but when they tell the story to others in the future it will be an awesome story that people want details on. The important part of an exploration challenge is the "challenge." DMG 261 has about a paragraph on "noncombat challenges", but without guidance for breaking an impossible challenge down into smaller more level appropriate
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it's just an arrow pointing at a DIY section of the system that doesn't really even have off brand ikea furniture level guidance for the GM & players to be on the same page with. exploration challenges should be enjoyable & maybe even exciting rather than just an excuse to drain resources

* Boring as fate uses the term over & over again.
 

Faolyn

Explorer
The problem isn't using flight as part of the solution, the problem is the attitude of "Most of the time flight is a resource. Using up a resource is a valid reason to have the challenge.".
That attitude isn't a problem. It's impossible to plan for every contingency and that's before the players come to mess things up. Using your examples: you have to assume you have a flying race in the party, or an artificer, or that the DM gave out winged boots or another flying magic item. If none of those are true, then who cares? You get your encounter.

And what if one of those is true? Well, there are still ways to deal with it. There's guards with bows or flying creatures that are hunting or territorial. Or you can take some of ground-based hazards and reskin it as an aerial hazard. For instance, quicksand: use the rules for it, but reskin it so it's actually a powerful wind vortex that either sucks a character somewhere dangerous or "drowns" them in wind so powerful that they can't breathe.

Depending on the type of challenge, you could simply say that flying isn't the way to get it. For instance: a shrine to a god of strength or something similar is on top of a pillar of stone. Only someone who free climbs the tower using only their own strength can get the blessing of the god; flying, teleporting, using a spider climb, even just using ropes to help you ascend, is cheating.

And let's say that it's some minor thing--the players need to get from A to B, and a cliff or chasm is in the way. OK, let them fly. This isn't an encounter, it's flavor text used to breathe some life into their journey. No biggie.

You could ask to make Str or Dex checks or something (because of high winds or rocky protrusions or angry but otherwise mundane birds they have to dodge around, etc.), and on a bad roll, they drop some supplies. They could either waste time going back down to retrieve the supplies (while dealing with whatever is on the ground), or they could press on--and if there's a time crunch, this could be a dilemma.
 

nomotog

Explorer
My thought is how interesting will it be to have the same challenge twice? You can have 5 encounters with goblins and have them all play differently, but if you have five encounters with overgrowth will that get redundant? You might need a system to add more a verity to a challenge?
 

Faolyn

Explorer
My thought is how interesting will it be to have the same challenge twice? You can have 5 encounters with goblins and have them all play differently, but if you have five encounters with overgrowth will that get redundant? You might need a system to add more a verity to a challenge?
It's all in the description, really. Describe one moving mindlessly, like it's trying to find something to latch onto and grow up on. Describe another like grasping hands or tentacles, moving with malicious intent. Describe a third like slithering snakes, filled with animalistic hunger. It helps to differentiate them in the player's minds and make the encounters different, even if they're mechanically the same.
 

tetrasodium

Hero
Supporter
My thought is how interesting will it be to have the same challenge twice? You can have 5 encounters with goblins and have them all play differently, but if you have five encounters with overgrowth will that get redundant? You might need a system to add more a verity to a challenge?
I wrote up most of this as a reply to a different post but yours is more constructive & I think it helps answer your question. Look at what was said earlier, the players are presented with a situation & the gm adjudicates how actions the players devise themselves work towards a solution. How much effort the players need to put into ultimately clearing the challenge be it resources or table time is something that should be fluid & up to the gm. Obviously a higher level challenge would need more than a lower level challenge just as higher CR monsters require more to best than a lower level one. As to the challenges I noted that suggested the presence of one or more creatures.... I never suggested that fighting them was an option leading anywhere but a tpk or a certain death spiral of the doomed condition for trying to fight through in environmental/exploration challenge obviously not just an encounter so a bad enough failure could be declaring what/how much the party lost getting away. A big keyword for answering "how interesting will it be to have the same challenge" IMO is in the terms used. Specifically "exploration challenge" rather than something more static like exploration obstacle or whatever.

There are something like 50 challenges I think got stated earlier & we only have two examples, both of them are "1st tier exploration challenges" Lets take the first as an example to start with
"

Pests

1st tier exploration challenge

Challenge 1 (200 XP)

A nasty horde of bugs has broken into your supplies, and it’s eating them all up! You’d better get rid of these things quick.

Suggested Solutions

  • DC 14 Nature check to locate a tastier treat to lure the pests away.
  • DC 16 Animal Handling check to drive the pests away from your supplies.
Critical Failure: Lose half of your supplies to the pests.

Failure: Lose 1d4 supplies to the pests.

Success: Lose 1 supply while removing the pests.

Critical Success: Remove the pests without losing supplies.
"
It doesn't say what kind of pests you as the gm threw at the players & they haven't tried to find out yet. Maybe the first tie it's just mundane insects & a party of tier1 characters are equipped to fairly trivially handle it. Lets say you used that in a previous campaign & want to spice it up so you report "at the end of your long rest rolls dice bob you notice the ration you took off the mule's cart is chewed open & half eaten"..
  • Bob and the rest of the party don't know why or what happened so need to do some investigating. Being the kind an benevolent gm you areyou point out to Rob the rogue that he notices a faint glow coming from between the slats of one of the supply crates.
    • "Oh god... our supplies don't normally glow... why are they glowing... omgwtfbbq!!11!!!11`12" -> No they do not, that's new & probably an issue. Thrag & you get the feeling this might be up your alley & Dawn you aren't sure.(yea I positively suck at names to the point my players have been known to suggest better ones if I'm not pulling from the pages at the back of xge)
    • Thrag the firemage orc wizard & Dawn the treespeaker druid decide this is a job in their wheelhouse but Thrag is soft squishy & fragile so wants anybody else to be next to the cart when the glowing crate gets opened. Dawn wants to be near Thrag when the crate is opened in a place also far away from her... but she has the nature(treespeaking) skill & specialization so feels like she can burn an Nth level spell slot in conjunction with her nature skill to convince a nearby tree to quickly grow in such a way that it tears open the crate, GM agrees & explains that if "someone" uses her strength to pull the branch down so it remains in contact with the crate it can be done with that spell slot but will depend on the treespeaking roll.
    • Varia the elven warrior has a player with eyes that light up when Dawn asks about the branch and has it described as being extremely sturdy & not an easy task because as a warrior she has athletics(brute) as a skill/specialization & a class feature to bump the expertise die again. Both Varia manges a spectacular roll on her use of brute strength to force that tree branch where Dawn said it needs to be but Dawn kinda flubs her roll & only get a like a 6 after all the mods...
      • Tension.... the players are terrified & the gm isn't helping by describing how the tree branch starts growing slowly in ways that are making Varia struggle more intently than expected because the branch is pushing itself away from the crate rather than growing into the lid... "are you sure about that bob? Your going to jump on that branch & see if it helps Varia instead of breaking or flinging things out of place?.."
    • Bob decides better & everyone lets out a sigh of relief when the branch finally grows in through the lid of the crate allowing Varia to lift the lid by carefully letting the branch lift back where it was but with it's new friend the lid. More importantly Thrag is willing to get closer to the crate after a few minutes to see what new horrible thing is glowing inside. Thrag sees some rats with pink glowing heads... "well... how much work do you want to put into counting them & from how close?... Yea.... ballpark guess as a level 2 wizard is like a hundred or so but you remember one of the senior professors at the arcanix having a magebred rat familiar with the same glowing exposed brain matter you see but as a firemage you never took any of his classes... Yea with that roll you do remember something about the classes run by Mordain the fleshweaver, he taught some real bleeding edge stuff related to magebreeding that was rumored to cross some legal lines back when that freshman class got turned into those.... things"
    • .....
  • By now the players are pretty sure their supplies are infested with cranium rats & at level 3 they are quite certain they can't take on a hundred or more no matter how many swarms or individuals that adds to... The important question is the matter of what is a tastier treat for all those cranium rats?.. as the GM I don't have a clue & sure hope the players come up with a plausibly interesting one but silently figure it involves a living creature unless they come up with better
  • Players start a fight?... thump thump thump six cr5 cranium rat swarms are on the field & the gm starts out by saying "immediately you realize this was probably the worst thing you could do....
Want to use it again? Maybe a slime or pudding is in there & they spend the bulk of their time luring it away rather than opening the crate because nothing is glowing. Don't think of the exploration challenges as a checklist so much as a starting point, ask yourself if the player action is plausible & if the thing they are interacting to was made by someone who would plan for such a thing, how it would react and so on... Feel free to hurt the PCs if they flub things but be sure to explain how effective their safety precautions were when they get hurt a little :D
 

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