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D&D 5E Rewarding Overland Travel

BookTenTiger

He / Him
In another thread on the Exploration Pillar, I came up with the idea of using rewards instead of consequences for Overland Travel. I had a little free time, so I worked up a system!

Reward Instead of Cost

The idea of this system is to replace the consequences of a Random Encounter during the Overland Travel portion of the Exploration Pillar. When exploring a dungeon, the characters are naturally curious, wanting to know what's behind locked doors, inside trapped treasure chests, or beyond the monsters because there are rewards: treasure, quest goals, etc. On the other hand, I've found that many Overland Travel systems rely on a series of costs: rations, water, encumbrance, exhaustion, HP, HD, and so on.

The problem is that characters are really good at mitigating costs. In my own group, we wanted to play really crunchy 5e so we studied up on the rules of encumbrance, rations, resting, and so on... Then the Druid cast Goodberry, two characters had the Outlander background, the Goliath Barbarian could carry everyone's stuff (and everyone), and my own wizard quickly got Rope Trick. We quickly mitigated the costs of survival in the wilderness.

I propose flipping this on its head. Instead of a chance for a cost, Random Encounters should always have a chance for a reward.

These rewards can be trivial: fresh food or water, a bit of lore, some healing potions... but the encounters will now reward player curiosity and drive characters to explore more!

The Simple Solution: Roll for Rewards, not Dangers

My usual Random Encounter table is made up of a big list of monsters and environmental risks, with a smaller list of friendly or neutral NPC's or natural wonders.

I think this should be flipped! DM's should be rolling on a table of Rewards first! Then, the obstacles and risks can be decided.

Now just a note: I don't think this is appropriate for Dungeon Exploration. Dungeons already have a balance of rewards and risks planned out in advance. This system is meant for Overland Travel.

How It Would Work

Theoretically, a DM would add this system to whatever they are already using for Overland Travel. If you keep track of rations and water, great! If you have characters take on levels of Exhaustion, great!

The DM would also decide how often Random Encounters occur. Maybe they roll three times a day (that's what I do, Morning, Afternoon, Night). Maybe once a day. Maybe there's one encounter per journey.

When a DM decides there will be a Random Encounter, they roll on the following tables, or just use them for inspiration. Please note that these tables don't provide rules, just flavor. A DM is invited to deviate from these ideas, or just use them to generate other ideas. In other words, a cliff doesn't have to be a cliff. A Glyph of Warding doesn't have to be a Glyph of Warding.

The first table a DM uses is the Rewards Table. This creates a reward for whatever Exploration will follow. These rewards should be adjusted to the environment; while low-level characters will be glad to find a source of Fresh Water, for a 14th-level character that source of Fresh Water in the 82nd Level of Hell might have healing properties or allow them to cure Exhaustion levels.

Once the Reward is rolled, the DM then rolls on the Obstacles and Signs tables. The Obstacles Table generates an idea for what is preventing the characters from immediately accessing the reward. The Signs Table generates ideas for what catches the characters' notice in the first place. Keep in mind more clues and signs can be found, such as finding out what enemies are near, or what risks lie in wait.

Overland Travel Tables

Encounter Reward (1d6)

  1. Treasure (1d4)
    1. Coins, Gems, and Art Objects
    2. Magic Item (common)
    3. Magic Item (uncommon)
    4. Useful Tools, Supplies, Weapons, or Armor
  2. Resources (1d4)
    1. Food: hunting grounds, wild fruits and vegetables, or stored rations.
    2. Fresh Water: natural spring, ancient fountain, or stored bottles
    3. Magic Materials: adamantine, mithril, or material components
    4. Potions: healing potions, holy water, or alchemist's fire
  3. Knowledge
    1. Information (1d6)
      1. about a local enemy (resistances, vulnerabilities, motivations, etc.)
      2. about a local settlement (secrets, alliances, thieve's guilds, etc.)
      3. about the current quest (secret doors, traps, treasures, etc.)
      4. about a treasure (reroll a random encounter with a Treasure Reward)
      5. about a shelter (reroll a random encounter with a Shelter Reward)
      6. about a shortcut (reroll a random encounter with a Shortcut Reward)
    2. Source (1d4)
      1. a hunter, turncoat, spy, adventurer, traveler, or hermit
      2. a tome, map, journal, scroll, or sign
      3. a mosaic, carving, statue, song, or legend
      4. a ghost, devil, talking animal, or awakened plant
  4. Alliance (1d6)
    1. Helpful expert
    2. Enemy with information
    3. Merchant with goods for sale
    4. Local politician or nobility
    5. Important guild representative
    6. Traveler with knowledge (reroll on the Knowledge Reward table)
  5. Shelter
    1. Lookout tower
    2. Deserted village
    3. Fortified outpost
    4. Secure cave
    5. Abandoned temple
    6. Crumbling castle
  6. Shortcut (1d4)
    1. safe (no encounters)
    2. dangerous (characters will encounter enemies; roll on the Enemies Obstacles Table)
    3. difficult (characters will encounter natural obstacles; roll on the Natural Obstacles Table)
    4. magical (teleportation circle, flying rug, etc.)
Obstacles (1d4)
  1. Natural Obstacle (1d6)
    1. cliff or gorge
    2. avalanche or fallen trees
    3. storm or exposure to the elements
    4. thorns or thick vegetation
    5. biting insets or poisonous pests
    6. thick fog or toxic miasma
  2. Dangerous Enemies (1d4)
    1. easy encounter
    2. medium encounter
    3. hard encounter
    4. deadly encounter
  3. Difficult to Locate (1d4)
    1. far away
    2. in a labyrinthine location
    3. purposefully hidden
    4. known only in legend or song
  4. Magical Barrier (1d4)
    1. magical traps
    2. illusionary terrain
    3. glyphs of warding
    4. desecrated territory
Signs (1d6)
  1. Gossiping Travelers (1d20)
    1. thieves
    2. merchants
    3. brigands
    4. hunters
    5. herbalists
    6. smithies
    7. sages
    8. bards
    9. captured enemies
    10. couriers
    11. soldiers
    12. knights
    13. exiled nobles
    14. caravanners
    15. mercenaries
    16. priests
    17. weary travelers
    18. cartographers
    19. toll takers
    20. bridge builders
  2. Traces or Tracks
    1. old coins printed with the symbols of a long dead kingdom
    2. monstrous footprints
    3. footprints of hungry or thirsty beasts
    4. traces of fresh water or food
    5. signs of a recent battle
    6. signs of a battle from long ago
    7. torn pages from a book
    8. footprints from the indigenous population
    9. footprints of enemy scouts
    10. wagon wheel tracks
    11. torn bit of a banner
    12. footprints of a unique mount
    13. caravan tracks
    14. footprints of a roosting beast
    15. an ancient, overgrown road
    16. footprints of travelers
    17. broken branches and twigs leading in one direction
    18. footprints of outlanders, purposefully covered up
    19. an abandoned campsite
    20. lots of blood
  3. Corpses (1d12)
    1. thieves
    2. monstrous guards
    3. travelers with fresh food or water
    4. beasts with fresh food in their claws, mouths, or bellies
    5. slain enemies
    6. slain adventurers
    7. a sage with blood-spattered notes
    8. couriers
    9. guards wearing the sigil of a noble house
    10. roosting beast
    11. caravanners
    12. a local hermit
  4. Documents
    1. a treasure map
    2. a journal entry
    3. a song
    4. a lost letter home
    5. a hand-drawn map
    6. a merchant's itemized list of supplies
    7. a tome of lore
    8. a lost painting
    9. a letter of scholarly inquiry
    10. a scroll sealed with a signet ring
    11. an order signed by a knight
    12. an intercepted letter of political import
    13. written directions on a scrap of parchment
    14. a letter from a guest
    15. a charcoal sketch
    16. a coded letter
    17. an ancient traveler's tale
    18. a star map
    19. a will
    20. a wanted poster
  5. Signs and Carvings (1d12)
    1. a hand-carved sign
    2. codes carved into trees and rocks
    3. an old, cracked wooden sign
    4. the carved sigil of an old merchant house
    5. statues of legendary heroes
    6. signs carved in an enemy language
    7. sigils of important factions carved into trees or stones
    8. the word HELP, BEWARE, or DANGER quickly slashed into an old stump
    9. statues of an ancient ruler forgotten to time
    10. an overgrown archway that once stood over a common road
    11. signs naming a village that no longer exists
    12. carvings into overgrown cobblestones of horses or other common animals
  6. Magical Signs
    1. ghost
    2. programmed illusion
    3. consecrated ground
    4. trickling stream of holy water
    5. magic mouth
    6. animal messenger
    7. alarm spell
    8. glyphs of warding
    9. spirits of the former inhabitants of a lost village
    10. wandering animated objects
    11. druid signs
    12. unnatural changes to the environment

Two Examples: Low-Level and High-Level

I'm going to create some examples of Random Encounter using this system, using imagined adventures for a 2nd-Level Group and a 14th-Level Group.

Encounters in the Witchwoods (2nd Level)

The first example will be a 2nd-Level Group traveling through the Witchwoods to a big dungeon called Blind Bear Hollow, a series of caves beneath the roots of a gargantuan oak tree. As a DM, I've sketched out some ideas of what the Witchwoods are like: a big tangle of trees, branches, and briars. There are goblins and worgs who work for a nearby hag. It'll take three days for the characters to reach Blind Bear Hollow. There's a 10% chance for a Random Encounter, which I roll three times a day.

Encounter 1:

On the first afternoon I roll a Random Encounter! I roll a Reward, Obstacle, and Signs.

Reward: Shortcut (safe - no encounters)
Obstacle: Dangerous Enemies (hard encounter)
Signs: Signs and Carvings - statues of an ancient ruler forgotten to time

While traveling, the rogue scouting ahead sees the statue of some ancient queen, worn smooth by rain and time. It's standing above the entrance to an old tomb. The characters will find out that this tomb is a shortcut, a tunnel beneath a series of hills with a thick growth of trees. It'll cut a day off their travel. Using a Random Encounter Generator, I create a Hard Encounter: a Goblin Boss, two Goblins, and a Wolf. These goblins have set up a camp here, and don't like intruders!

Encounter 2:

The next evening I roll another Random Encounter. So once again I roll a Reward, Obstacle, and Signs. Here's what I get:

Reward: Resources (potions)
Obstacle: Magical Barrier (desecrated territory)
Signs: Corpses (caravanners)

The group notices corpses of caravanners near a big gnarled tree. When they approach, they all have to make Wisdom Saving Throws or become Frightened of the tree! The Wizard uses an Arcana check to recognize the area around this tree is Desecrated. The cleric makes a Medicine check and finds out these caravanners died of fright! The Barbarian gets buffed up with some Saving Throw bonuses and charges in. In the hollow of the tree they find a few Healing Potions, brewed by the local hag. Meanwhile, the Cleric starts rituals to cleanse the souls of the caravanners and bury them away from the evil tree. And the rogue searches around for where these people left their cart... maybe there's something valuable!

Encounter 3:

On the way back out of the dungeon, the characters again head towards that useful Shortcut! Luckily they drew it on their map. I roll a Random Encounter on the morning of their last day in the Witchwoods...

Reward: Resources (magical resources)
Obstacle: Natural Obstacles (thorns or thick vegetation)
Signs: Magical Signs (glyph of warding)

On the final day, the group is passing through some very thick briar patches, hacking and slashing, when they come upon a clearing that looks like it was hit by a tornado! On the far side of the clearing is a massive thicket of dry, thorny vines. At the front of this thicket, the vines have been curved and shaped into an odd glyph. This a Glyph of Warding, set by the local hag to protect some valuable magical materials inside the thicket. If a character approaches too close, the triggered Glyph casts the spell Dust Devil! Inside the thicket, the characters find three leather bags with 50 gp worth of Ruby Dust in each, perfect for the now 3rd-Level Cleric's Continual Flame spell!

Encounters in the Fractured Lands (Level 14)

A group of 14th-level characters is traveling in the Fractured Lands, an area torn apart by planar forces. They're heading to a kingdom of Genasi who live on a floating bit of earth above the arctic sea. I'm imagining the Fractured Lands as a series of volcanoes, but each erupts with a different element: fire, cold, acid, lighting... This is a long journey, two full weeks, and the characters are most likely flying around. Because of the elemental forces, the characters must make Constitution Saving Throws three times a day or take on a level of Exhaustion (max: 3). I don't want to interrupt the journey too often, so I roll for Random Encounters once a day.

Let's say during the journey they have three random encounters...

Encounter 1:

Reward:
Shelter (deserted village)
Obstacle: Dangerous Enemies (medium encounter)
Signs: Traces or Tracks (footprints of an enemy scout)

The group's ranger finds footprints of half-dragon scouts emerging from a cave in the nearby obsidian cliffs. This cave leads to an underground abandoned village, now home to a camp of four half-red-dragon veterans. The cave keeps the village protected from the exhausting heat of the volcano, allowing the group to rest without having to make Constitution Saving Throws!

Encounter 2:

Reward:
Knowledge (of a local enemy from a hunter, turncoat, spy, adventurer, traveler, or hermit)
Obstacle: Magical Barrier (magical traps)
Signs: Gossiping Travelers (bridge builders)

This is a high-level area, so those bridge builders are not ordinary! In fact, they're celestials, building a Planar Bridge that will eventually allow other celestials to use the Fractured Lands to journey to different planes. They tell the characters that there's a local Hermit, a Deva who prefers to live in the Fractured Lands, and who is an expert on the Fiendish Dragons who are the most powerful enemies in the territory. However, they should be careful, they hear he's surrounded his abode with magical traps! Using a Random Trap Generator (thank you, internet!) I develop a Lightning Coil Trap, and I like the idea of the Hermit living on a Lightning Volcano, trapping and using the lightning for strange planar experiments! If the characters get through the trap, the Hermit will tell them of the Resistances and Vulnerabilities of the various Fiendish Dragons who rule over the Fractured Lands.

Encounter 3:

Reward:
Alliance (enemy with information)
Obstacle: Difficult to Locate (purposefully hidden)
Signs: Signs and Carvings (signs naming a village that no longer exists)

While flying about, the characters start to notice odd floating cobblestones, and finally a sign floating in mid-air, held aloft by a propeller! It points to an old floating Modron City that long ago was destroyed by an eruption from an Acid Volcano below. However, in the direction the sign points, the characters notice a big, unnatural storm cloud, just floating there. It turns out one of the Air Genasi Pirates (enemies of the kingdom they're traveling to) was injured in a recent attack. They've hidden themselves inside a big summoned storm cloud. If the characters can locate the Pirate and give them healing, they'll give the characters a token of gratitude, which will be useful in any future encounters with Air Genasi Pirates!

Conclusion: Rewarding Exploration

My hope with this system is to create opportunities that reward players for exploring more, rather than focusing their efforts on mitigating costs.

So what do you think? Would this be useful?
 

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I've tried doing things like this & logically it should work but there are a few unique problems 5e creates. The biggest stumbling blocks I see this running into:
  • As you noted carrying capacity is so high that it might as well not even exist as a limitation in the rules so resources and such are pointless... then there is goodberry create food/water outlander etc.
  • Skills are so simplified that anything adding to one thing adds to a ton of things & gets very powerful very fast.
  • Bounded accuracy & unsupported "optional" magic items gives you as the gm zero room to scribble in cool little things players might care about.
  • Everything above ensures that no matter what or how much money players gain from exploration you as the GM still have zero room to scribble in cool little things or magic items players might care about when they go shopping. It's a vicious cycle of simplified to let you fix it yourself with so many parts of the system fighting you that you simply can't fix it and still be playing 5e
 

Faolyn

Hero
I've tried doing things like this & logically it should work but there are a few unique problems 5e creates. The biggest stumbling blocks I see this running into:
  • As you noted carrying capacity is so high that it might as well not even exist as a limitation in the rules so resources and such are pointless... then there is goodberry create food/water outlander etc.
  • Skills are so simplified that anything adding to one thing adds to a ton of things & gets very powerful very fast.
  • Bounded accuracy & unsupported "optional" magic items gives you as the gm zero room to scribble in cool little things players might care about.
  • Everything above ensures that no matter what or how much money players gain from exploration you as the GM still have zero room to scribble in cool little things or magic items players might care about when they go shopping. It's a vicious cycle of simplified to let you fix it yourself with so many parts of the system fighting you that you simply can't fix it and still be playing 5e
I'm not sure what shopping (or bounded accuracy) has to do with finding stuff while exploring or while shopping. Especially when you consider there are probably dozens of websites and tons of books that contain huge lists of trinkets, treasures, weird objects, and minor magic items that can be found. Not every item has to give you a bonus to something to be cool.
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
You've left home with a wilderness-focused party, so I would anticipate they're awesome in the woods, but there are still things to consider...

Outlander
An outlander can forage, navigate, or focus on watching for danger while traveling. They can't do all three, which is an important consideration

Goliath Barbarian
Carrying capacity is limited by the containers you carry on your person. Common sense and realism affords that you wear a backpack (which only holds 30 lb. of equipment), you strap a bedroll and a rope to it, you carry a waterskin (which only holds 1/2 a day's water), you maybe carry a pouch or component pouch (which only hold 1or 2 lb. of equipment), and you carry two or three weapons.

The goliath's powerful build is useful when you're pushing, dragging or lifting, but also when you have an unconscious ally that needs to be thrown over someone's shoulder, or a treasure chest to carry out of the dungeon. It's not for turning the guy into a pack mule.

Druid
Goodberry is a good spell. Sucks to be taxed with having to prepare it all the time, of course, but spells are a resource just like any other.

Wizard
I'm unsure what rope trick does for you in this example?

As for your proposal...

I love Dungeon Masters who tinker! Although there's nothing stopping anyone from simply populating their random encounter tables with more scenery, advantageous finds, and benign encounters. You can use the rules as written to do just that.
:)
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
How about just giving them XP for seeing new things as they explore? More for unique / first time they encounter something (in example their first elf settlement), somewhat less for "new" things (say a different human town along the river), and less for typical things (say another midlands village that they've seen many of). You learn by exploring and seeing new things. Just set up some experience rewards, keep track of what they pass through and hand out the experience when they have time to consider what they've seen. You could vary XP by level, race / ancestry, background, class etc.
 

Bolares

Hero
The problem is that characters are really good at mitigating costs. In my own group, we wanted to play really crunchy 5e so we studied up on the rules of encumbrance, rations, resting, and so on... Then the Druid cast Goodberry, two characters had the Outlander background, the Goliath Barbarian could carry everyone's stuff (and everyone), and my own wizard quickly got Rope Trick. We quickly mitigated the costs of survival in the wilderness.
This is my main problem with 5e's exploration. It's so easy to make exploration cost free. I had to change how outlander and some other stuff work in Tomb of Anihilation so the survival aspect of it wasn't completelly negated by minimal character choices.
 


mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
This is my main problem with 5e's exploration. It's so easy to make exploration cost free. I had to change how outlander and some other stuff work in Tomb of Anihilation so the survival aspect of it wasn't completelly negated by minimal character choices.
Can you expand on this? What did you change about outlander's wanderer feature, or other things you mention?
 

Bolares

Hero
Can you expand on this? What did you change about outlander's wanderer feature, or other things you mention?
I had 2 outlanders, one druid and one ranger. They all deal in absolutes. One always finds food, the other never gets lost.... I talked with my players and made them very good at it (advantage in foraginf and double the proficiency when navigating) but not automatic successes.
 

Makes travel way less onerous, though I'm sad that rolling a 2 is a 50% chance of boredom I'd just chop those two off and let resources be interesting resources.
 

I had 2 outlanders, one druid and one ranger. They all deal in absolutes. One always finds food, the other never gets lost.... I talked with my players and made them very good at it (advantage in foraginf and double the proficiency when navigating) but not automatic successes.
So you managed to talk them into making their foraging ability worthless? Advantage is basically the norm in 5e.
 


mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
I had 2 outlanders, one druid and one ranger. They all deal in absolutes. One always finds food, the other never gets lost.... I talked with my players and made them very good at it (advantage in foraginf and double the proficiency when navigating) but not automatic successes.
If you'll allow...

Dehydration and exhaustion are major concerns in the jungles of Chult, and outlanders in the adventure were not able to find fresh water using their wanderer feature because the land did not provide for it.
It was possible to make the water found in the rivers or on the ground safe to drink by boiling it, but a pot weights 10 lb. (which is 1/3 the capacity of a backpack) and you can only boil 1 gallon at a time.
Don't forget that outlanders focused on foraging are not focusing on noticing threats.

You would've traveled through coastal, jungle, mountain, swamp and wasteland terrains. You're only protected from being lost while traveling through a ranger's favored terrain (assuming the ranger focused on navigation).
The outlander's wanderer feature is based on memory, so their navigation is not guaranteed. Their benefit is that if your party got lost and happened to re-enter a hex they'd previously passed through, the outlander would be able to recognize that. That doesn't mean they know where to go next (but does assume they at least know the direction of the hex you just came from).
 

Yora

Legend
Nice tables to quickly generate sites that can be seen while traveling through the wilderness to a destination.
But what does it add to the game to randomly roll if and when the players come upon of these? What is the gain compare to determining them in advance and putting them down along the party's path?
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
How about just giving them XP for seeing new things as they explore? More for unique / first time they encounter something (in example their first elf settlement), somewhat less for "new" things (say a different human town along the river), and less for typical things (say another midlands village that they've seen many of). You learn by exploring and seeing new things. Just set up some experience rewards, keep track of what they pass through and hand out the experience when they have time to consider what they've seen. You could vary XP by level, race / ancestry, background, class etc.
I think that's definitely a viable idea. I tend to use Milestone leveling in my games, so I think the characters would need different rewards.

One neat thing would be to add "natural wonder" to the list of rewards. When the characters come upon a really big waterfall, or a massive mudpot of prismatic colors or something, they get Inspiration!
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
Can you expand on this? What did you change about outlander's wanderer feature, or other things you mention?
The Outlander feature is:

You have an excellent memory for maps and geography, and you can always recall the general layout of terrain, settlements, and other features around you. In addition, you can find food and fresh water for yourself and up to five other people each day, provided that the land offers berries, small game, water, and so forth.

This, and other powers like Goodberry or the Goliath's carrying capacity, make it difficult to create a fun system using consequences like reducing rations or relying on endurance.

Let's say I have an Overland Travel system in which I keep track of rations and water. One character with an Outlander in the group would provide for everyone, making it so that there is no consequence for travel.

But in this thread I'm saying... that's a good thing! The Outlander should be able to provide food and water, because that's the background they chose!

So I think Overland Travel should focus on rewards of travel instead of consequences. You can still implement the Food and Water cost, but now introduce new cool things in the landscape, like shelters, lost travelers, statues, etc. And I guarantee you, if you have the characters follow deer tracks to find a clearing where giant deer graze, the Outlander in the group is going to bring that into the narrative to explain their background feature!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Makes travel way less onerous, though I'm sad that rolling a 2 is a 50% chance of boredom I'd just chop those two off and let resources be interesting resources.
This is just an idea for a list. If I were using it in a campaign, I would adjust it both to that campaign and the environment. It some, it may be far more likely to encounter enemies. In others, resources might be super rare.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Nice tables to quickly generate sites that can be seen while traveling through the wilderness to a destination.
But what does it add to the game to randomly roll if and when the players come upon of these? What is the gain compare to determining them in advance and putting them down along the party's path?
I mean, what's the point of any Random Table? Sometimes it's fun to roll in advance and plan ahead, and sometimes it's fun to see what the dice give you in the middle of the adventure!
 

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