D&D 5E [Let's Read] Vault 5e: Uncharted Journeys

Libertad

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The Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook has described the RPG as supporting three pillars of gameplay: combat, exploration, and social. In reality, two of those pillars are vestigial in function and only one is holding up the mass of game rules. There have been various attempts at expanding the non-combat aspects of gameplay to be more meaningful and involved, and one of the more notable takes was Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle-Earth. Although many tropes of Tolkien became endemic to D&D, a truly authentic Middle-Earth experience was not like the dungeon-crawling epics of mages and murderhobos, so large portions of the 5th Edition rules were either cut away or changed to be more in line with the book series.

The Journey system was one such new rule, an involved mini-game that turned traveling into an extended aspect of gameplay complete with its own choices, risks, rewards, and encounters with effects that persisted beyond the Journey itself. It was a novel idea, although the system had some flaws. One of the six classes, the Wanderer, was tailor-made for making Journeys easier to the point that they were vital to a large aspect of gameplay in a manner similar to how trap-detecting Thieves and healer Clerics functioned in old-school D&D. There’s also the fact that doubling proficiency in Survival made it easy for the party Guide to generate only positive effects and encounters, with negative ones becoming a distinct rarity. As I was the Wanderer in a 2 year old AiME campaign with Expertise in Survival, I can attest to this via personal experience.

Although Tolkien’s 5eified world is now being published by Free League, Cubicle 7 had the essence of a great exploration-focused system on their hands, one which they sought to turn into a sourcebook of its own for D&D in general. DId they succeed or did they fail? Only one way to find out!

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In spite of being nearly 300 pages long, the core mechanics of the Journey system are surprisingly brief. All the better to introduce to players so that they won’t feel overwhelmed, which I feel is a good thing. The bulk of Uncharted Journeys has DMing tools for generating the contents of the Journey.

Roles are basically the special responsibilities which PCs can take before undertaking a Journey, and are divided into four types: the Leader, who is in charge of coordinating the group and providing morale, the Outrider who goes ahead of the group to scout for safe routes and threats, the Quartermaster who is in charge of gathering and maintaining supplies, and the Sentry who keeps watch of their surroundings for danger. Each Role has a unique Role Ability which they can use once per Journey, and they can select from around three skill or tool proficiencies to roll for Group Travel Checks. Group Travel Checks have every PC roll, usually to determine the outcome of an encounter based on total number of successes or failures. Roles are strictly for PCs, although there are options to get NPC Hirelings to fill in a vacant Role under the Preparation section of Chapter Two.

As you can imagine, Uncharted Journeys favors larger parties over smaller ones: parties with less than 3 PCs can have a character occupy up to 2 Roles, where their “secondary role” rolls related checks with disadvantage but they can use both Role Abilities. For parties with more than 4 PCs, up to two PCs can occupy each Role (but only one can make use of a Role Ability), where one makes relevant checks with advantage representing helping hands.

The Leader’s special ability lets an ally reroll a failed ability check or saving throw once per party member, and their Group Travel Check choices are predictably socially related such as Persuasion, Insight, Performance, or Musical Instruments.

The Outrider’s special ability allows the player to roll for determining an Encounter type; the DM also rolls, and the player chooses which type to select. Their Group Travel Check choices hinge towards ranger-style options of Nature, Survival, or Cartographer’s Tools.

The Quartermaster’s special ability automatically activates at the beginning of a Journey, giving them a number of d6 Supply Dice equal to their proficiency bonus that they can use to add to an ally’s ability check during the Journey. Their Group Travel Checks are tool-centric, being Athletics (they can choose Constitution or Strength rather than the default Strength), Blacksmith’s Tools, Leatherworker’s Tools, Cook’s Utensils, or Brewer’s Supplies.

The Sentry’s special ability is similar to that of the Quartermaster’s save in that they generate Focus Dice which add to the result of a saving throw or initiative check. Their Group Travel Checks hew closer to the Roguish side of things, being Perception, Stealth, or Disguise Kit.

While Uncharted Journeys mentions that some classes will be better-suited to certain roles based on likely ability score bonuses and proficiencies, things are still pretty broad. Only the skill checks mandate a specific ability score, so a high-Charisma Bard with a Disguise Kit can make for a surprisingly good Sentry, and the Quartermaster can be either a bulky porter or a keen-eyed bartender. With the right use of doubled proficiency a Bard, Rogue, or someone with the right feat can excel at a certain Role.

The Journey rules make a pretty drastic change to one of the core assumptions of 5th Edition. Namely in that they alter how and when you can take short and long rests during the Journey. Rests during a Journey aren’t your typical 1 hour and 8 hour increments, but instead can be done only at appropriate times. This represents the tiring nature of regularly traveling for days or weeks on end, even if the party technically gets regular sleep. A short rest can only be done once, albeit doing it automatically adds an additional Encounter, which may not necessarily be a bad thing as Encounters can range from the beneficial to detrimental. A long rest cannot be performed during a Journey unless an Encounter specifies they can.

Thus, characters during a Journey have an alternative means to refresh their rest-based class features between Encounters. Typically speaking they can spend 1 Hit Die to regain a single use of a short rest refresh class ability, and 2 Hit Die to recover a single use of a long rest refresh one. Spell slots are an exception, in that you must spend a number of Hit Die equal to the spell level of that slot. There are some exceptions in this system: a Monk’s ki points re regained on a 1 for 1 basis with Hit Die, a Paladin’s Lay on Hands refreshes 5 hit points per Hit Die, and Warlocks must spend Hit Dice equal to the level of their spell slots given that they always cast their magic at their highest level. There’s no mention of how Sorcery Points interact with this system, though. I can’t imagine that regaining them all for 2 Hit Dice is intended, for that will be really cheap.

Overall, I like the spending of Hit Dice in that it gives a new use for something that isn’t always used evenly. PCs who are often guarded by other party members or can easily avoid harm will appreciate more uses to spend this resource.

The alternative rest-based mechanic is something I’d need to see in play to accurately judge, although it looks like it can work as only really unlucky parties on the longer Journeys are going to generate more than a few combat-focused Encounters. My biggest concern is that several abilities, notably those of magic items, have refresh rates based not on rests but rather by the cycle of day and night. As “per day/until next dawn” abilities are on par with long rest abilities, this may cause such features to be more powerful during a Journey than they otherwise would be. But overall I’d say it’s a more reasonable step away from how overland encounters are done in default 5th Edition, where a single encounter may happen during a day allowing PCs to feel much more powerful in blowing through their resources. This was a pretty big problem with encounter balance in the Kingmaker adventure path for Pathfinder, I remember that much!

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This chapter covers the rules for what happens before, during, and after a Journey. Journeys are separated into three Stages: Setting the Route determines the origin and destination along with Distance and Difficulty; Prepare has each PC do special tasks to ease the burden and gain benefits to use during the Journey; and Make the Journey generates the Encounters during the Journey along with the outcome on Journey’s End. Technically that’s four steps, but who’s counting?

Set the Route is pretty simple: the Distance ranging from Short to Very Long determines the default number of Encounters, which can be modified by the party doing an initial Group Travel Check. A table is provided based on distance and travel time in imperial units, although this is relative and the book calls out other uses based on the context of the area and endeavor. For Example, a Journey entirely in a Great City may be anywhere from going to the next neighborhood (Short) to going from one end of the city to the other (Very Long). The Journey Difficulty sets the universal DC for the various tasks and challenges involving Encounters during the Journey. The DC is 10 by default (and cannot get lower than this) and further modified by Weather and Terrain, both of which have modifiers ranging from 0 to +10 each. Traveling on a well-maintained road under clear skies and comfortable weather can make the Difficulty as low as a 10, but adventuring in a region with constant volcanoes, earthquakes, and deadly storms can be a tortuous 30. There are ways during the next step to lower the DC, or raise it on unlucky rolls.

Prepare is where the party assigns Roles and chooses from a table of 15 Preparations. Each Preparation is a DC 13 ability check involving an appropriate skill or tool. 4 Preparations have negative consequences for failure, such as increasing the Journey Difficulty by 2 or imposing disadvantage on all ability checks for that PC during the first Encounter of the Journey. The Preparations are pretty broad, such as Brew Tonics which can give each party member advantage on Constitution checks and saves for the Journey’s duration or until they fail such a check/save, Prepare a Feast allows each party member a one-time ability to not gain a level of Exhaustion when they’d suffer one during the Journey, and Procure Mounts can give each party member an animal which can allow them to substitute Wisdom (Animal Handling) checks in lieu of one of the three physical checks/saves during the Journey’s duration based on whether the mount is strong, agile, or rugged.

4 specific Preparations can reduce the Journey Difficulty, usually by 2 although one bears special mention. Chart Course requires a Cartographer’s Tools check which can reduce the Journey Difficulty by 5 on a success. Unlike the other 3 it has consequences for failure in increasing it by 2. Having a mapmaker during a Journey can be very useful, but miscalculations can make things harder. PCs can all take a Long Rest before starting a Journey, although PCs can forego this and gain a level of Exhaustion in order to perform 2 Preparations. I wouldn’t recommend this unless they have an ability to ignore or heal Exhaustion given that’s a pretty punishing condition to have.

Most skills can be used for Preparation, with the outliers being Acrobatics, Deception, Intimidation, Medicine, and Perception. I can understand Acrobatics being a bit limited and Perception is already a useful and common enough skill, but it feels odd that Deception and Intimidation don’t get much play for social-based stuff, and Medicine is a shoe-in for Brew Tonics.

The tool checks are pretty broad as well. They include Brewer’s Supplies, Cartographer’s Tools, Chemist’s Supplies,* Cook’s Utensils, Herbalism Kit, and any kind of Gaming Set. There are no Musical Instruments, although I imagine that the Leader Role covers this for group checks. And strangely, while there are Preparations for mounts, vehicle proficiencies don’t have options by default. However, Uncharted Journeys does cover this in their Open Waters section, where Navigator’s Tools and Water Vehicle proficiencies can be used for certain Group Travel Checks. The book’s one step ahead of you on this! Sadly there’s no rules for traveling through space or really weird planes of existence like the Far Realm, but as this isn’t a DM’s Guild product I can forgive the authors for this.

*Presumably alchemist’s supplies.

Make the Journey is pretty short, as specific encounters cover the final chapter which occupies the majority of this book. After Preparations are complete, the Journey has 1-4 Base Encounters based on Length, and the party makes a Group Travel Check based on the Journey Difficulty. Depending on how many members of the party succeeded or failed (based on more or less than half, not specific PCs) they can get anywhere from -1 to +2 to the Base number. The DM then determines the Encounters based on what Region(s) the party is going through, each of which has their own unique Encounters. There are 12 different Encounter Types which are determined via rolling a d12, and each Region (save Open Waters which is a special case) has a unique d10 table for each Encounter Type. As there are 16 Religion types in this book, that amounts to nearly 2,000 results!

If for any reason the PCs have to abandon the Journey mid-way, such as taking too many casualties or resources drained from Encounters, there are rules for this. Generally speaking this is a bad thing that imposes penalties and calls for a Constitution save as though they made an Arrival detailed below, although the consequences for failure are worse in suffering Exhaustion and even losing remaining hit dice. If a PC is killed, kidnapped, or otherwise taken out of commission long-term then the party suffers a Catastrophic Failure which immediately ends the Journey and everyone automatically suffers a level of Exhaustion.

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Journey’s End is the final stage, and occurs when the party reaches their destination after completing all of the Encounters. This is known as an Arrival, and each PC rolls a Constitution save but can add the Quartermaster’s Constitution or Intelligence modifier to their own result. Success gives them temporary hit points equal to their level, while failure imposes a level of Exhaustion. If the entire party succeeds they all gain Inspiration, but lose Inspiration if they all fail. The Sentry rolls a number of d12 (minimum 1) equal to their Wisdom modifier for an Arrival table, and takes the highest result. The Arrival table gives a general description of the circumstances the PCs find themselves in, with higher results giving more relative safety. For instance, 1-2 has an Unforeseen Danger where hostile creatures are aware of the party’s arrival and have one round to prepare before they’d normally roll initiative, 10-11 is Relative Safety that grants them the opportunity to take a Short Rest, and 12 or higher is Safety that lets them take a Long Rest. Unlike Encounters, the circumstances of dangers are based more on the DM’s discretion and what they have planned for the destination in question.

Additionally, the DM can give out Rewards to PCs for completing a Journey. These can be narrative rewards such as allies or fame gained as a result of the Journey’s Encounters, short-term bonuses such as Inspiration or advantage on Role-based abilities for their next Journey, or even a table of Experience Points to give out based on the Journey Difficulty!

Thoughts So Far: Uncharted Journeys does a good job in turning the exploration pillar of 5th Edition into an involved process on its own. There’s enough variety in Roles and Preparation activities to make it so that most character concepts can contribute in a positive fashion. Additionally the rules themselves are easy enough to copy-paste and hand out to PCs, with even the Preparation actions being a few pages at most. So much of the system can be boiled down to “roll an ability check/save” that it should be easily absorbed by non-newbie D&D players.

There is still some risk involved in Journeys even for non-combat encounters, as will be detailed later: notably in the expenditure of Hit Dice, levels of Exhaustion, and disadvantage on certain rolls to reflect the taxing nature of long-distance travel through hell and high water. I do like this element of risk, although given how Exhaustion works this can lead to a “death spiral” effect as even the first level imposes disadvantage on all ability checks. My main criticism of the Journey rules is that they’re not ideal for 3 person parties, which pretty much mandate a Hireling to avoid disadvantage on rolls for the absent Role.

Another thing that comes to mind is the interfacing with certain magic spells and the Journey rules. While Journeys can take place over a long enough period of time to end the duration of most spells outside of Encounters, I can see the party mage with Guidance casting it on PCs during Group Travel Checks and perhaps even Preparation rolls if they’re the kind of rolls that don’t have to be made immediately. Furthermore, there’s no mention of how Procure Mounts interacts with PCs who already bought or have their own mounts. Then there are higher level spells: can Control Weather be used to lower the Journey Difficulty for an Encounter if it makes the weather calmer, for instance?

There’s so many spells out there that I don’t expect the book to have an answer for all of them, and due to how rest works PCs will still be expending valuable resources, but it’s still something I would’ve liked to see the book elaborate on. I will give Uncharted Journeys one thing: by altering the Rest system it solves the Goodberry problem of trivializing “survival-based” adventures and campaigns. As even Short Journeys can take two days to a week, the idea of casting the spell every day to feed the whole party isn’t something that can be casually done in this system. Maybe at higher levels when the party has Hit Dice and spell slots to spare, although I feel that at 3rd and 4th Tiers having a good amount of food is a trivial pursuit.

Join us next time as we cover interesting people and places to stumble upon in Chapter 3: People Along the Way and Chapter 4: Ancient Ruins!
 

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Libertad

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While the Journey Encounters chapter has plenty of scenarios to generate NPCs, the result of the sheer volume means that they’re described in very brief terms. People Along the Way is designed to flesh them out, hewing to die table chart generation of traits accompanied by general advice: use the flora and fauna listings for the Region Types along with time of day to set the scene; dividing NPCs into general types of Locals, Villains, and Strangers, with the last being more wondrous and bizarre characters that can be useful for expanding on your setting beyond the adventure’s immediate confines; and how to handle game balance for Journeys if NPCs decide to join the party as traveling companions. This last part is pretty brief, saying that they shouldn’t outright make rolls for the PCs but providing advantage to the PCs can make them feel helpful rather than dead weight.

The chapter gives us 12 Sample Encounters, which provide a location, background of the NPC(s) in question, and a general description of what they’re up to. They include things such as a dragonborn teacher testing to see how well her young students can live off the land, a gnome scavenger sifting through the ruins of a manor he claims once belonged to a mighty mage, and an elderly halfling praying at a shrine to turn around his fortunes after being forced to flee his hometown.

The tables are good enough, although this chapter’s brevity combined with the very generic information makes it less useful than the others.

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As People Along the Way dealt with fleshing out NPCs, Ancient Ruins involves fleshing out…not generic locations, but ruins specifically. Uncharted Journeys takes the assumption that the setting is a typical fantasy one, where many elder species built great works before falling to disaster and now their legacies dot the wilds of the world.

This chapter divides ruin creation into 5 steps: Who built it? How old is it? What was it originally? What does it look like now? What is it used for now?

The first two steps are pretty short and rely heavily on die tables and generation. We have brief write-ups on the more common kinds of fantasy races and monsters and what they’re likely to incorporate into their art and architecture. Interestingly dwarven ruins are on average older than elven ruins, owing to the former race’s knack for lasting durability, and giants are presumed to be an elder race on par with dragons so the ages of their ruins range in results by millennia and not decades or centuries as is common with the others.

What was it originally? is the longest and most significant section, with a d12 table of Purposes that come with unique results and rewards. Each Purpose has sample Points of Interest that provide treasure or some kind of benefit for PCs who manage to find or overcome the ruin’s obstacles or defenses, with the DC equal to the Journey Difficulty. Some interesting results include an Archive with Forbidden Knowledge that contains a spell scroll of Very Rare rarity, an Inn with a functional hearth that can let the party take a Short Rest and earn Inspiration by using the time to reminisce on their past, and a Place of Worship whose Sacred Ground can restore one use of Channel Divinity to a Cleric engaged in prayer.

What does it look like now? is a simple d6 table of the ruins’ general outer appearance and how it got beaten down by the test of time (or how it’s been restored from new occupation), while What is it now? is a d12 table giving general descriptions of groups who may be using it today, such as animal-intelligence monsters infesting it as shelter or a curse holding dark powers imprisoned within its walls.

Thoughts So Far: These two chapters are more flavor-based than the prior two’s hard crunch. The NPC and ruin generation isn’t anything we haven’t seen in other “DM Advice” products on the market, although the Ancient Ruins do have the benefit of Points of Interest which can impart useful benefits for PCs willing to delve into them. However, Ruins aren’t generated as the result of Journey Encounters by default, so they’re the kind of things a DM may make from inferred descriptions of said Encounters. But even then, as they don’t have tools for generating an entire mini-dungeon’s worth maps and threats* they can’t be used on the fly like the other features of this book. And probably shouldn’t, given how limited rests are during Journeys.

Join us next time as we cover the final and largest section of the book in Chapter 5: Journey Encounters!
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

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Thanks for doing this. Financial constraints stopped me from backing the Kickstarter campaign, but this is a must-buy when the PDF/book combo is available. I recently ran a pretty mediocre (IMO) caravan adventure and have two different long journeys coming up in two different campaigns and would really like a better way to run them and this looks ideal for my purposes.
 

Libertad

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The first four chapters were but a mere quarter of Uncharted Journeys. The remaining 235 pages (discounting things like KickStarter backers and the OGL) are given over entirely to the different Region Types and the Encounters therein.

There are 16 Region Types, and 11 cover common terrain such as Forests, Mountains, and Open Waters which correspond almost identically to the terrain types for monsters. The remaining five cover more geo-political or supernatural places, such as War Torn Lands and Wild Magic Lands. I will note that three of these latter types feel ideally built for certain official 5th Edition campaigns: Haunted Lands is quite appropriate for Ravenloft (particularly Barovia and other gloomy Transylvanian-inspired places), Hellscapes is an extraplanar Journey like that of Descent Into Avernus, and Lands of the Fae brings to mind The Wild Beyond the Witchlight.

Each Region Type starts out with local flavor to make it come alive: Weather that is common to the region, Flora and Fauna to describe surrounding plants and (usually non-hostile) life forms, Local Inhabitants for the types of people who live off the land, Points of Interest that serve as neat local features that aren’t tied to Encounters, and Possible Journeys which serve as adventure hooks for the Region. Each Region also has its own tables for each of the 12 Encounter Types, although Open Waters bears its own special mention due to the changes involved with maritime travel. Encounter Types cover a wide range of functions, and only a minority involve guaranteed combat: A Chance Meeting or Fateful Encounters has the PCs meet fellow travelers, with the latter focusing on more unusual or momentous NPCs who serve as inspiration for recurring plot hooks; A Bump in the Road involves some non-combat difficulty or hazard that can tax the party’s reserves, and Needing Assistance is similar save that it’s NPCs who are in trouble; Natural Wonders, A Dark Place, and Old Memories can have the PCs come upon wondrous and/or disconcerting scenes that can affect their spirits and morale; Hidden Reserves and A Place to Rest give the party opportunities to get their bearings in the form of rest and/or resupplies; and Danger Afoot, Monster Hunt, and A Deadly Fight are encounters that are the most likely to roll for initiative.

Every Encounter Type calls for one or two checks, either to resolve it or see who has the upper hand when initiative is rolled in the case of the combat-related ones. Some are individual rolls, usually Role-related, and others have the entire party participate as a Group Travel Check. Sometimes a PC with the appropriate Role can replace another PC’s result with their own, reflecting how they are optimally suited to handle that Encounter by filling in for the weaknesses of their teammates.

Success on an Encounter imposes some kind of reward even in cases where there’s nothing to be materially gained: for example, Natural Wonders calls for a group Wisdom save, and if at least half succeed the party gains advantage on their next ability check or saving throw, and if they all succeed they gain Inspiration instead. Conversely, nothing happens if at least the party fails, and if all of them fail they feel overwhelmed by the vastness of nature in losing Inspiration and have disadvantage on their next saving throw! Some Encounters can even alter or add future Encounters, represented by helpful NPCs giving the party directions (or offended ones leading them into danger). Only Fateful Encounter has no built-in mechanical consequences, where success imparts some form of secret information from the NPC, and failure means that the party doesn’t learn the secret.

The book also throws a house rule our way: as Inspiration is given out or lost for a few of these Encounter Types, the DM can make an optional rule where gaining/losing it further affects a PC’s morale in more drastic ways. Gaining Inspiration when you already have it grants temporary hit points equal to your largest hit Die, and vice versa for when you’d lose it but don’t have it. In the latter case this is more of a psychological drain and can’t kill a PC or reduce them below 1 hit point.

Sadly it is in this chapter that errors in regards to spelling and grammar are most apparent, and judging by the version up on Drive-Thru RPG these mistakes still persist. Although they aren’t omnipresent, I have spotted things such as two periods instead of one or an NPC or monster entry that hasn’t been bolded when that process is the default in this book. A few monsters are mislabeled, like mentioning pteranosaurs rather than pteranodons, or giant anaconda instead of giant constrictor snake, and some to my knowledge don’t exist in the basic rules or more popular monster manuals such as Monks (just monks) and Zombie Knights.

Something to note about the combat encounters: there are no results fixed by Average Party Level, and the book doesn’t list the Challenge Rating for NPCs and Monsters nor precise numbers. The intent is to allow the DM to better tailor the encounter to suit the party, and the authors also go by the adage that the world shouldn’t alter itself to be fair to the PC’s abilities.

I’m not sure how to feel about this. While the book does mention that running from a fight is possible (in fact, Monster Hunt has a group travel check for avoiding the monster rather than pursuing it), as the death of a PC can lead to a Catastrophic Failure it is something I feel should have some forewarning. That being said, a good amount of the encounters I witnessed hew to the lower end of the CR spectrum, centered mostly around Tier 1 and 2 parties with only a rare few higher than 10.

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There’s too many for me to do all 16, but I decided to compile the CR list of the first two Region Types, split between the 3 combat-risk Encounter Types:

Coasts

Danger Afoot: Sahuagin (½), Guards (⅛), Mimics (2), Specter (1), Weretigers (4), Druids (2), Blood Hawks (⅛)
Monster Hunt: Pteranodon (¼), Giant Octopus (1), Violet Fungus (¼), Swarm of Quippers (1) and Giant Shark (5), Plesiosaurus (2), Hydra (8), Giant Constrictor Snake (2), Kraken (23)
A Deadly Fight: Wights (3), Will-o-Wisps (2), Giant Crabs (⅛), Zombies (¼), Archmage (12), Storm Giants (13), Water Elementals (5), Ghasts (2), Aboleth (10), Merrow (2), Merfolk (⅛), Blue Dragon Wyrmlings (3)

Deserts:

Danger Afoot: Orcs (½), Dust Mephits (½), Mage (6), Bandits (⅛), Monks (N/A), Giant Scorpion (3), Giant Centipedes (¼), Mummies (3), Bandit Captain (2), Mimics (2)
Monster Hunt: Ankheg (2), Giant Snake (¼ or 2), Manticore (3), Young Blue Dragon (9), Roc (11), Doppelgangers (3), Wyverns (6), Zombie Knights (N/A)
A Deadly Fight: Young Blue Dragon (9), Scorpion (0) and Giant Scorpions (3), Blue Dragon Wyrmlings (3), Bulette (5), Lamia (4) and Jackals (0), Mage (6) and Invisible Stalker (6), Shield Guardian (7), Veteran (3), Gladiator (5) and Zombies (¼), Paladin (N/A).

So there’s only one monster which can approach Tier 4, the Kraken, and it’s less a direct fight and more “attack the kraken tentacles that made it onto land and are menacing shipwrecked survivors.” In the Storm Giants’ case it’s two giants who are fighting each other as part of a contest and the party ends up between them in the “arena.” So even in the harder fight’s cases the authors took care for outmatched parties to have some kind of way out.

Furthermore, the overall feel of encounters posits a rather high-magic world, or one that cranks up the supernatural wonder of the worlds of D&D a bit, albeit not to a ridiculous extent. For example one of the Bump in the Road encounters for Great Cities involves a stone giant construction crew tearing up the road to rebuild it. And in Grasslands, one of the Dark Place encounters has the party come upon the titanic corpse of a dead Tarrasque, possibly causing fear of something bigger and deadlier out there that slain the legendary beast. Notice that I said "a dead Tarrasque" and not "the Tarrasque." Several encounters of various types in War Torn Lands have local armies making use of magic and monsters to wage war, such as a Shield Guardian retrieving the bodies of dead soldiers as a Chance Encounter or magical land mines as a Bump in the Road.

These aren't constant or the norm and certain elements can be changed on the fly by the DM, but as I know that there are some campaigns which have restrictions of various types (Dragonlance being low-magic, nonhumans being shunned in pre-5e Ravenloft, etc) this may be something to consider.

I will cover several regions in very brief terms. This review would never end if I were comprehensive, so instead I’m going to showcase some of the more flavorful and interesting Encounters along with local color.

Coasts are the last frontier where the land meets the sea. Strange things washing up on shore, pirates prowling for hapless people to rob, old shipwrecks holding treasure, marshy deltas home to thick plant life and camouflaged predators, and tidal caves which can have all sorts of things lurking in their watery depths. A Chance Meeting may have the party come upon your cliche message in a bottle, Hidden Reserves may have them stop on by at a sea-themed spa run by a succubus and incubus couple offering seaweed bath and salt exfoliation treatments, a Dark Place may have a trio of sadistic eagles who laugh like people and torture screaming fish to death in front of the party, and a Fateful Encounter may have the party come upon a dragon turtle who unknowingly holds a foliage-filled island on its back containing buried necromancers.

Farmlands may be well-settled, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous or prone to conflict and intrigue. Those who harvest the earth’s bounty can be found in virtually every civilization, and even those who don’t farm may be attracted to the ample food stores. Cozy villages emitting hearth smoke on chilly nights, stables containing creatures both mundane and fantastic such as hippogriffs and wyverns, wagons of farmers headed to town to sell their produce, and wary treants hiding among the borders of the forest to ensure that not one inch is taken over by agriculture are some potential sights. A Bump in the Road may include a maddened water elemental bursting out of a stone well and thoroughly soaking everything nearby, the party the party may come upon a Natural Wonder of beehives and mushroom patches presided over by a friendly werebear and wereboar couple, an inn’s resident bard may challenge the party to a singing duel in a Place to Rest, and a Deadly Fight may pit the party against a cursed Knight in rusty armor who babbles incoherently.

It is easy to take Grasslands for granted. Their wide plains can let you spot people from far away, they’re often associated with “beginner level” encounters in video game RPGs, and they don’t feature as prominently in Western folklore as darkened woods or monster-filled caves. But they too can be home to dangers all their own, from nomadic clans engaged in blood feuds to scarcity of resources pushing predators to desperate measures. The land itself can turn deadly during the dry season, for lightning can ignite brush fires. Griffons and axe beaks sail the windy fields, and huge herds of grazing animals ward off predators with the threat of a legion of horns and hooves. Sticky tar pits with safe mounds and corpses of creatures serving as the only safe way across may be a Bump in the Road. A small mountain among the steppes home to the shrines of various deities may serve as a Natural Wonder for those to take in the serene surroundings. The remains of smashed buildings and propellers scattered across the landscape may be Old Memories of a wondrous village that once soured through the skies. And fields covered with webs from Phase Spiders may encourage a Monster Hunt, for their webs are said to have magical properties and the corpses cocooned may have loot for the taking.

Great Cities are those marvels of civilization, countless humanoids and other intelligent beings packed within walled complexes of glass, metal, and stone. Home to thousands and even millions of souls, the metropolises of fantasy worlds are packed with lifetimes’ worth of stories. Rain patters on shingled roofs, gathering into streams and drains. Packs of feral animals and vermin rush between the innumerable dark and tight corners on the hunt for food. The city’s nobility frequent a fancy restaurant adorned with a fountain in front, their jewelry and colorful fabrics shining in the sunlight. The PCs may have a Chance Meeting with a tiefling feng shui artist having a panic attack over the “street’s flow being all wrong.” A young pixie being raised by a human family may be Needing Assistance as she is overwhelmed in playing against her larger schoolmates in a local sports game. The party may head out on a Monster Hunt as someone accidentally planted Violet Fungi among the tenements at night.

Lands of the Fae can take many forms, from enchanted forests to storybook towns, but their uniting element is that the fey, and not mortalkind, rule here. Fluffy clouds in pink, blue, and yellow hues fly close enough to the ground to touch. The land itself rumbles as a sleeping turtle that is part of the landscape shifts positions. Sprites riding giant owls act as the region’s aerial mailmen, and an ice cave may be home to someone with sculpted furniture and floating lights for a chilly yet functional residence. The PCs may learn of Old Memories from a heavy book full of captivated fairy tales dropping out of the sky in front of them. The Natural Wonders may include unusual things such as a sky of utter black whose stars rise from the ground, gradually forming a pictographic story of two friends turning into foes. A dwarf and his partner may be Needing Assistance as some mischievous sprites stole the latter’s mouth and stuck it to the belly of an elk. A goose’s golden egg may have Hidden Reserves when it is smashed, for it contains a single casting of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion.

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Open Waters is slightly different from the other Region Types on account that it (usually) takes place on a ship or some other maritime vehicle. The Roles are renamed to more nautical titles (Leader becomes Captain, for example) but the Role Abilities and Group Travel Checks remain overall unchanged although certain encounter types can make use of new things like Water Vehicles for tracking or avoiding a creature during a Monster Hunt. The biggest changes are that tables are grouped differently: they are primarily different bodies of water such as an Archipelago, Frigid Oceans, or Lakes. Each has d10 results for each Encounter Type save a Place to Rest or Fateful Encounters. There are no Fateful Encounters, for oceans are vast lonely places, and resting can be done on a boat by default. However, the size of the boat determines what kinds of rests can be taken, and choosing to rest can impose penalties when the PCs end up sleeping through the beginnings of Encounters, causing checks to auto-fail or enemies automatically getting surprise on the party.

There aren’t default descriptions of Weather, Flora and Fauna, and the like which feels a bit of a letdown, but I imagine that the authors didn’t want to take up too much room and also due to the variety (and also uniformity above-water) of aquatic terrain. PCs venturing Beneath the Waves may come upon a Natural Wonder of a merfolk metropolis made of coral. A party venturing through seemingly Calm Seas may have a Deadly Fight on their hands if they mistake the mimics on an empty galley for treasure chests. A Chance Meeting may happen in Jungle Rivers as a friendly herbalist gathering plants is actually an assassin on the hunt for deadly poisons.

Underground is a region which virtually every adventurer is going to be acquainted with in due time. The subterranean realms of D&D settings aren’t just dark caverns full of strange life, but are entire civilizations of cities, tunnels, crevices, and vents filled with deadly monsters and wicked creatures who never saw the light of day. Pale cave shrimp float lazily in pools of water. Bioluminescent fungi illuminates drifting dust passing through the air in wonderful hues. Svirfnbelin work crews direct a summoned earth elemental to build a way for their settlement. A local Bump in the Road may be a rapidly growing patch of red moss that dissolves and consumes natural materials such as leather or wood. The party may come upon a Natural Wonder as they feel an omnipresent tremor and roar that reveals they had been traveling inside an enormous worm which has just been killed by something even larger. They may need to find a Place to Rest in stranger conditions, such as an embassy populated by intelligent yet friendly giant centipedes eager to swap stories about the surrounding Underdark.

War Torn Lands are those places where people are ordered by more prominent individuals to throw themselves against the enemy in wave after bloody wave. War is a terrible thing, even if waged for the most just causes, for it robs soldiers and civilians alike of the right to live in peace with a guaranteed tomorrow. Fields of slaughtered dead attract scavengers, from rats and ravens to looters and flesh-eating monsters. Refugees with nothing to lose walk across the land in tired masses, with no destination in mind save to escape the violence. Invading soldiers build pillared statues of their war horses for some unknown objective. Spies pose as servants of little consequence in claimed fortresses where officers consult each other on plans and plots. Villagers trapped in a city on fire may Need Assistance from the PCs if they hope to escape. It goes without saying that there’s Danger Afoot, for even centaurs and sprites seeking to not get involved may take up arms against the soldiers felling their trees for timber and mistake the party for invaders. Even where lives are not immediately threatened, death and wickedness is present in Dark Places as the PCs come upon a group of Shield Guardians breaking down the foundations of a slaughtered town to burn the evidence so that none may know their owners’ crimes.

So that’s a brief covering of about half the Region Types. Still, I think I gave a good overview of the wealth of material to be found in Uncharted Journeys.

Thoughts So Far: While individual Encounter Types may not be long in word count, their volume combined with the imaginative and inspirational potential of many of them serves as a great generator for events, people, and fights that will be immediately interesting to many gaming groups. As I mentioned before, Uncharted Journeys has a few Region and Encounter Types that may not be suitable for all campaigns, particularly ones that aren’t high magic, but given that D&D is meant to be a world of fantastic possibilities I feel that is a better option. It’s easier to “scale down” such material rather than having to “scale up” from material that goes for a more “realistic” or low fantasy flavor.

Another thing to note about the Encounters, as well as the overall Journey system, is that its high emphasis on ability checks encourages options that benefit skill-user types. Stones of Good Luck, a Divination Wizard’s Portent, Guidance and Bless spells, and other things that can modify or reroll d20 results will be highly prized for games using the Journey system. And in terms of being a fair tax on party resources, having only a third of Encounter Types necessitating the rolling of initiative makes it closer to a “puzzle-heavy dungeon” for overall lethality. Getting 3 combats on a Journey isn’t going to be common save for longer Journeys and less-lucky parties. Presuming that such encounters are fair (or give the opportunity to flee from powerful enemies) I don’t foresee such Journeys turning into taxing slogs.

Overall Thoughts: Uncharted Journeys is a strong showing for Cubicle 7 and a clear upgrade from its ancestor rules in Adventures in Middle-Earth. It expands the Exploration pillar of 5th Edition into a worthwhile mini-game of its own. One that can generate many interesting encounters for gaming groups without coming close to running out of material and thus does a great job in keeping Journeys feeling like new experiences. The new rules are relatively short and simple enough for gaming groups to absorb upon a casual reading, and barring the wonkiness of some spells it manages to avoid the One Class/Skill to Rule Them All that made AiME’s Journeys so easy to trivialize. This sourcebook can be a fun addition to virtually any campaign that has the PCs traveling through new lands, which makes it applicable to the vast majority of settings out there.

That being said, I do have my criticisms. This book needs another editing pass to clear up grammar and spelling issues; even in the table of contents you can spot an inappropriately capitalized and misspelled “Open WatersS.” More precise language on some class features and spells such as Sorcery Points can be elaborated on, and while short the third and fourth chapters feel more like filler content. But these weak points aren’t enough to bring the whole of Uncharted Journeys down, leaving it with high marks overall.
 


Libertad

Hero

They're an official monster, if that's what you mean. I'm pretty sure they're new to 5th Edition, as I haven't seen them previously.
 

I love this book. I used the classes from the original book before and the whole book in another game... but the updates are all cool, and I can hardly wait to see this in use.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero

They're an official monster, if that's what you mean. I'm pretty sure they're new to 5th Edition, as I haven't seen them previously.
No, they've been an official monster for a while (they might go back to the 1E MM2). I just can't imagine why.
 


pukunui

Legend
I'm going to be the lone voice of dissent and say that I found this version to be somewhat disappointing. I liked the idea of AiME's journey system. While it was a bit wonky and required some work to disconnect it from Middle Earth, it was nevertheless fairly simple and easy to use once you got the hang of it. I feel like they've made the system unnecessarily more complicated with this generic version. I particularly dislike the spend Hit Dice to recover abilities mechanic.
 

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