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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

nomotog

Explorer
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
My first thought on readying the pest encounter was being annoyed it was described as generic pests, so yea I can very easily see DMs making different pest variants. Maybe it's birds, maybe it's rats, maybe magical scabs. Each one unlocking slightly different methods of solving it, or punishment for failing.
 

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My first thought on readying the pest encounter was being annoyed it was described as generic pests, so yea I can very easily see DMs making different pest variants. Maybe it's birds, maybe it's rats, maybe magical scabs. Each one unlocking slightly different methods of solving it, or punishment for failing.
The next one talking about a dispel DC to give a bonus to allies doing other stuff comforted me on the initial reaction to the pests solutions looking very locked door by another name with a boring one & done solution since it showed there was at least some plan for them to be more involved. @Morrus giving a little detail on how they play out back in post #31 helped a lot too unless I completely misunderstand what's being explained... so now I'm more curious about the planned sort of difference between tier 1 2 3 etc exploration challenges.
 

Banesfinger

Explorer
Won't urban adventures make supplies a moot resource? Players can just walk a few blocks to pick-up food, or find a warm tavern.
Yet, exploration would still be applicable: explore the baron's castle, the sewers, etc; with plenty of exploration encounters: royal garden with thorny vines, scaling city walls, submerged sewer grates, etc.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Won't urban adventures make supplies a moot resource? Players can just walk a few blocks to pick-up food, or find a warm tavern.
Yet, exploration would still be applicable: explore the baron's castle, the sewers, etc; with plenty of exploration encounters: royal garden with thorny vines, scaling city walls, submerged sewer grates, etc.
The journey rules are not the entirely of the exploration pillar. So yes, you would be engaging with the exploration pillar there but you wouldn't be using the journey rules.

Exploration challenges can be used any time. Journeys are just one example of where you would use an exploration challenge.
 

Banesfinger

Explorer
The journey rules are not the entirely of the exploration pillar. So yes, you would be engaging with the exploration pillar there but you wouldn't be using the journey rules.

Exploration challenges can be used any time. Journeys are just one example of where you would use an exploration challenge.
OK, so some Exploration Challenges have more at stake than just Supplies? Great!
 


turnip_farmer

Adventurer
Nice to see exploration having so much attention. How are you planning to keep this part of the game relevant and fun in high levels with magic easily avoiding travels and lack of supplies? Are there other aspects not yet presented?
Seems to me this is hinted at in the descriptions given. At higher levels you can gloss over travel between Townsville and Cityton; but they use the same sort of mechanic which worked at lower levels for mundane travel to represent travel between planes of existence; or something like that.

At least, that's what I would hope for.
 

Iapetus

Explorer
And, inconveniently, food spoils in extra-dimensional spaces, so that bag of holding can carry treasure, but it can’t carry supplies.

Yay!

Critical Failure
Failure
Success
Critical Success

I love the variations of success. I think this could be built out even more, but maybe not in this game...
Is it ever mentioned in the posted articles or documents how a Critical Failure/Success is defined?

On a related note, I find just rolling a 1 or a 20 to be more boring than having it be based on a margin above or below the target number (DC), but I've also found when I tried adding it to my 5e game that 5e was not balanced to account for someone getting a critical success whenever they beat the DC by 10 and so on. At higher levels Fighters & Barbarians could end up doubling their damage dice on most attacks
 

rules.mechanic

Craft homebrewer
Is it ever mentioned in the posted articles or documents how a Critical Failure/Success is defined?

On a related note, I find just rolling a 1 or a 20 to be more boring than having it be based on a margin above or below the target number (DC), but I've also found when I tried adding it to my 5e game that 5e was not balanced to account for someone getting a critical success whenever they beat the DC by 10 and so on. At higher levels Fighters & Barbarians could end up doubling their damage dice on most attacks
I don't think we know yet for A5E. There have been a few different discussions of it in the forums. I like degree of success/failure and my groups have used a few different versions of it. DC/AC +10 is fine so long as all rolls, and so all characters (and monsters), can benefit from it - HP feel too high at higher levels anyway. You may want to use max damage rather than doubled damage to limit the extremes though.
 

dave2008

Legend
Is it ever mentioned in the posted articles or documents how a Critical Failure/Success is defined?

On a related note, I find just rolling a 1 or a 20 to be more boring than having it be based on a margin above or below the target number (DC), but I've also found when I tried adding it to my 5e game that 5e was not balanced to account for someone getting a critical success whenever they beat the DC by 10 and so on. At higher levels Fighters & Barbarians could end up doubling their damage dice on most attacks
Easy way to combat that, give monsters +1 AC for each tier above 1:
Tier 1 = +0 AC
Tier 2 = +1 AC
Tier 3 = +2 AC
Tier 4 = +3 AC
Tier 5 = +4 AC (CR 21-25)
Tier 6 = +5 AC (CR 26-30)
 

rules.mechanic

Craft homebrewer
Easy way to combat that, give monsters +1 AC for each tier above 1:
Tier 1 = +0 AC
Tier 2 = +1 AC
Tier 3 = +2 AC
Tier 4 = +3 AC
Tier 5 = +4 AC (CR 21-25)
Tier 6 = +5 AC (CR 26-30)
Or link with proficiency bonus (see DMG for converting CR to PB) and can consider applying to PCs too. We have used something similar as a Defence modifier, although it scales -2 AC to +2 AC for CR/levels up to 20.
 

ART!

Hero
Is it ever mentioned in the posted articles or documents how a Critical Failure/Success is defined?

On a related note, I find just rolling a 1 or a 20 to be more boring than having it be based on a margin above or below the target number (DC), but I've also found when I tried adding it to my 5e game that 5e was not balanced to account for someone getting a critical success whenever they beat the DC by 10 and so on. At higher levels Fighters & Barbarians could end up doubling their damage dice on most attacks
I kind of don't have a problem with that. I mean, arguably that's what high level characters should be doing. Maybe they do max damage if they make the roll by 10, and double damage if they make it by 15, or something.
 

Wayfarer

Explorer
I too have a concern about fatigue, etc., recovery while camping out. Having spent a chunk of my twenties guiding urban youth and young offenders through protected wilderness in Ontario on 10-day long canoe trips, I certainly found no issue with resting well in the back country. (I probably have never been fitter either!) While inclement weather can be a problem, generally I found it more restful away from city noise and light. I don’t think it’s very realistic to say characters can’t recover as well as at an inn. Especially as inns can have their own challenges, like noise, pests and security worries. We took precautions against the ever-present bears, but otherwise supplies were our only real concern. One thing I found is that, with my particular ‘clients’, we only covered about 15 km (+/- 5km) per day, so maybe travelled distances have to be shortened if recovery is to happen?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I too have a concern about fatigue, etc., recovery while camping out. Having spent a chunk of my twenties guiding urban youth and young offenders through protected wilderness in Ontario on 10-day long canoe trips, I certainly found no issue with resting well in the back country. (I probably have never been fitter either!) While inclement weather can be a problem, generally I found it more restful away from city noise and light. I don’t think it’s very realistic to say characters can’t recover as well as at an inn. Especially as inns can have their own challenges, like noise, pests and security worries. We took precautions against the ever-present bears, but otherwise supplies were our only real concern. One thing I found is that, with my particular ‘clients’, we only covered about 15 km (+/- 5km) per day, so maybe travelled distances have to be shortened if recovery is to happen?
I might counter that by saying on a youth hiking trip you might have gotten tired from walking, but you likely never suffered fatigue as we define it in the game - injuries, exposure, hunger, illness, real exhaustion. We define it as the sort of thing where you’d be radioing for an air ambulance!
 

Faolyn

Hero
I too have a concern about fatigue, etc., recovery while camping out. Having spent a chunk of my twenties guiding urban youth and young offenders through protected wilderness in Ontario on 10-day long canoe trips, I certainly found no issue with resting well in the back country. (I probably have never been fitter either!) While inclement weather can be a problem, generally I found it more restful away from city noise and light. I don’t think it’s very realistic to say characters can’t recover as well as at an inn. Especially as inns can have their own challenges, like noise, pests and security worries. We took precautions against the ever-present bears, but otherwise supplies were our only real concern. One thing I found is that, with my particular ‘clients’, we only covered about 15 km (+/- 5km) per day, so maybe travelled distances have to be shortened if recovery is to happen?
To be fair, you weren't likely to be attacked by undead, evil fae, or murderous lycanthropes while resting in the wilderness of Ontario.

I might counter that by saying on a youth hiking trip you might have gotten tired from walking, but you likely never suffered fatigue as we define it in the game - injuries, exposure, hunger, illness, real exhaustion. We define it as the sort of thing where you’d be radioing for an air ambulance!
Is this going to replace D&D exhaustion, or be used in addition to it?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Is this going to replace D&D exhaustion, or be used in addition to it?
Exhaustion has been replaced by two tracks -- fatigue and resolve (the latter is not its final name). These can be combat effects, cost of failing exploration challenges, influence of evil magical rings, and more.
 

Faolyn

Hero
Exhaustion has been replaced by two tracks -- fatigue and resolve (the latter is not its final name). These can be combat effects, cost of failing exploration challenges, influence of evil magical rings, and more.
Sounds good. I'm looking forward to you guys revealing more about resolve. The word has a positive connotation to it, so I can see why you aren't fully decided, if it's more of a negative-mechanics thing.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Sounds good. I'm looking forward to you guys revealing more about resolve. The word has a positive connotation to it, so I can see why you aren't fully decided, if it's more of a negative-mechanics thing.
Yeah, that’s why the name isn’t final.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
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.
So much magic makes such 'level appropriate' challenges increasingly contrived, and then of course there is teleport. Ultimately 5E et al are superhero games, not fantasy as you will read it in 99% of fantasy genre novels. So yes, this creates entirely valid problems for DM's who have a lot of experience reading and watching normal fantasy stories, but not the superpowered munchkin version of ultra-high fantasy D&D is.

Flight for instance makes Lord of the Rings a pointless story, likewise Lightning Bolt in Game of Thrones, Meteor Swarm in any fantasy movie you care to name outside of a Manga saga, and True Ressurrection kills any gripping tale of life and death. Sure, a DM can throw in yet another thing which negates flight, attacks you in the air or forces you never to take off - but how many versions of this can be crowbarred into a game until the ever more unlikely parade of corner case one-off flight negating events become utterly ridiculous?

Don't blame sotrytellers for the failures of the fantasy system - ergo that it gives truly powerful abilities at relatively low level and makes no effort to advise on how to make overland and exploration adventures interesting despite the fact the Wizard, Sorcerer and Druid can make like a reconaissance drone every day...

Actually - just take low level ressurection out of the game, remove flight and long range teleportation altogether and hey presto - exploration becomes interesting again...
 
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Stalker0

Legend
Actually - just take low level ressurection out of the game, remove flight and long range teleportation altogether and hey presto - exploration becomes interesting again...
5e does address a lot of this. Fly in 5e is short duration (10 minutes), requires a very high level cast to get your party flying....and mostly importantly, is extremely dangerous to use because of the concentration.

If you take damage (or deal with a high wind or something) and fail that concentration check....you fall and take falling damage.

Teleport Circle is very intentionally limited, so that DMs have a lot of control on where this spell can get you, or whether such circles even exist in their world at all.

Now revivify I completely agree with you, it was the first houserule in 5e I made to remove that spell. Raise Dead is bad enough, but a spell that can just pop you back up like death never happened (and its already hard enough to kill 5e characters), yeah no thanks. Would love a levelup take on that one ;)
 

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