Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The New Exploration

In a land far, far away...
I've been thinking about my next campaign for a little while now, and I think I want to run a shared campaign.

I've noticed that people in my circle of players are often willing to play D&D, but finding a time when a specific group of players can meet regularly has been challenging. As you know, I run monthly games for multiple groups, with the effect of usually having a game or two each weekend. If I try for something more consistent week-to-week, the players either get burnt out, or have things start coming up that force us to schedule less frequent games.

So, my current idea for a solution is a shared campaign, a bit like the West Marches campaigns. It would allow for me to utilize my large pool of players, and the players could "lead expeditions" based on their interests. Because I wouldn't have to worry about getting the same players every week, I could actually run the games on a weekly basis. And once I get a decent head start on building out the map they are exploring, I might even be able to run more traditional narrative campaigns simultaneously.

But this means there have to be rules for exploration. And as I've discussed before, D&D isn't really the best at non-combat things. However, I think the travel rules I've used in the past ended up being a bit too heavy-handed for my players. So, it's time for a new system!

Exploration Rules


Imma climb that thing
The exploration system is based on a hex grid. Each hex is 6 miles, according to the "Kingdom Scale" of the DMG (pg. 14). The players should begin by clearing out a single hex and establishing it as a base of operations. This can be handled before the campaign if preferred.

The base counts as Settled Territory. Settled Territory is easy to travel through and contains NPCs and services, but requires resources to create and can be attacked by monsters.

At the beginning of the exploration, the map should be mostly blank, or occupied by Unknown hexes. The following geographical features could be visible at a distance, and should be added to the map at the beginning of the exploration. They count as Discovered hexes. If these features are obscured by a larger feature, they should not be added.
  1. Towns and Cities within 1 hex of the Base. Adding these is discouraged, to allow players freedom to explore the wilderness.
  2. Large Ruins or Castles within 1 hex of the Base (which should correspond to adventuring sites on the Discovery Tables, see below)
  3. Rivers and Lakes within 1 hex of the Base.
  4. Oceans within 2 hexes of the Base.
  5. Hills and Forests within 2 hexes of the Base.
  6. Mountains and Volcanoes within 5 Hexes of the Base.

Every Hex has the following properties, which become known to the players as soon as the hex is discovered:
  1. Status: A hex can be Unknown, Discovered, Conquered, Settled, or Pillaged.
    • Any hex that has not been entered or does not have a visible feature in it is Unknown.
    • Any hex that has been seen or entered is Discovered.
    • When a hex has its random encounter and discovery tables completely revealed, it is considered Conquered. A Conquered hex can provide resources.
    • A Conquered hex can be Settled by providing the right amount of Resources.
    • A Settled hex can be Pillaged by an enemy force, requiring further Resources to restore.
  2. Discovery Time: The amount of time it takes to discover or explore the hex. For open areas such as grasslands, hills, or coasts, this is one day. For more complex areas such as mountains, forests, or the Underdark, this is two days. More than two days is extremely rare.
  3. Danger Ranking: The amount of HP required to pass through the hex. If a character cannot pay the HP to pass the hex and remain above 0 hit points, they must wait until the next day or return to the base. If multiple hexes are traveled through on a single day, the character must be able to pay the HP cost for all hexes and remain above 0 hit points to complete the journey. HP guidelines are given below:
    • Settled/Conquered Territory, Completely Barren lands: 0 HP
    • Open Frontier, Basic Wilderness: 5 HP
    • Dangerous Frontier: 10 HP
    • Enemy Territory: 15 HP
    • Forbidden Wilderness, Hostile Environments: 20 HP
    • Actively Patrolled Enemy Territory: 25 HP
    • Hostile Environments with Enemies (such as the Abyss or the Hells): 50HP
  4. Supply Cost: The amount of gold required to pass through the hex. If a character cannot pay the gold to pass the hex, they begin to starve. Use the starvation rules on PHB pg. 185. If multiple hexes are traveled through on a single day, the character only has to pay for the hex with the highest gold requirement. Gold guidelines are given below
    • Settled/Conquered Territory: 1 GP
    • Forests, Coasts, and other resource-rich regions: 2 GP
    • Grasslands, Swamps, Oceans, and other places where food is harder to come by: 3 GP
    • Tundras, Mountains, the Underdark, and other regions with few resources: 5 GP
    • Deserts and other barren regions: 7 GP
  5. Resources: Once a hex has been Conquered, it can begin providing resources for the players. There are three types of resources: Food, Construction, and Defense. These are outlined in greater detail below.

Your objective: spoil this unspoiled land!
Additionally, each hex has two tables associated with it: a random encounter table and a discovery table.

The Random Encounter Table should have a number of entries based on how complex the terrain of the hex is. This is similar to the Discovery Time property. If the terrain is more difficult to explore and easier to get lost in, there should be more entries on the table. Grasslands and Coasts should have the fewest entries, usually 4 or 6. Complex areas such as mountains and forests can have 10, 12, or more. I like to keep them linked to a particular type of die.

The table begins with only one type of entry: "Become Lost." Whenever the HP cost is paid for the table (that is, whenever the hex is traveled through), one of the "Become Lost" entries should be revealed to the players, as they encounter or see signs of that creature. Entries should be revealed in order, so harder-to-find encounters will show up last.
When the players wish to start an adventure in an adventure site, they must roll on the Random Encounter Table. Note that this is the only time the table is rolled on - when the players are travelling or discovering new areas, they simply pay the HP cost and learn a new entry on the table.

If the "Become Lost" entry is rolled, that means the players can't find the adventure location they wish to explore, and must spend another day's worth of GP to camp out in the hex. The random encounter table can then be re-rolled, or the players can move on to a different site.

The Discovery Table is a list of potential locations that could be explored as an adventure, such as ruins, towers, villages, dungeons, etc. This list will always have 12 entries on it, but not every entry will actually be an adventuring site.

A group can choose to spend a day in a hex exploring it. The first day they explore a hex may be a partial day if they travel through other hexes to reach the hex they wish to explore. However, they must end they travel in a hex to count it as explored.

At the end of a day of exploration, the group rolls a Discovery Die. All entries on the Discovery Table that are less than or equal to the value of the Discovery Die are then revealed to the players. The die starts as a d4 and increases in size (to d6, d8, d10, d12, then d20) each subsequent day spent exploring the hex. Each day, the gold and HP costs must be paid for the hex.

Most of the entries on the Discovery Table should be "Nothing." The DM is encouraged to add a few flavorful encounters in place of these, such as finding the grave of a fallen warrior or a particularly shady apple tree. However, each Discovery Table should have 2-4 adventuring sites.

These adventuring sites are where the players will recoup their gold, clear out monster lairs, and gain experience. They should be ranked on the Discovery Table according to how well-concealed they are. A large Ruin or abandoned castle might be ranked at 1 or 2, while a Wizard's Secret Tower or a Deep Underground Portal might be 11 or 12.

Additionally, it is wise to place signs around the adventure site that indicate what level of difficulty a player exploring the area can expect to face. I would divide these up by level, since at low levels the group will have a lot of trouble with a challenge even 1 level above their current party level. This could even be related to intelligence.

  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of wizards, magical monsters, magical locations, and spells if their Intelligence (Arcana) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of humanoids, significant ruins, legendary objects, and weapons if their Intelligence (History) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of mystery-solving locations if their Intelligence (Investigation) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of beasts, plants, caves, hunters/druids, and poisons if their Intelligence (Nature) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.
  • A character can accurately determine the danger level of undead, desecrated areas, fiends, elementals, fey, and unholy creatures if their Intelligence (Religion) bonus is equal to or greater than the player level the threat is built to challenge.

So if you design a natural cavern built for characters of level 4, a character would need a +4 on their Nature check to know how dangerous it was. Otherwise, you would simply tell the players that this site is dangerous, but they have no idea how dangerous.

This does mean the players might find adventuring sites that are far too high or low for them. Encourage your players to seek challenges equal to their skill level, and leave those adventures for other groups of explorers.

Let us not go to the mountain of dragons. 'Tis a silly place.
Once the Random Encounter Table and the Discovery Table have been completely revealed in an area, the area is Conquered can begin producing Resources. There are three types of resources: Food, Construction, and Defense.

Each hex produces 1 type of resource. A forest might be good for logging, hunting, or might contain some primordial magic that wards the area from attack. A mountain could be home to flocks of birds, have good stone for building homes, or have a mine which produces iron for swords and armor. The DM determines which of the three categories the hex produces.

At the DM's discretion, a hex may produce 2 of a particular resource. Perhaps the fish of a particular lake are enchanted and never seem to run out. This should be an extremely rare situation, however.

The players can use these resources to expand their settlement or create new settlements. Every Conquered hex is assumed to have at least one small village or homestead in it. To create larger settlements, the players must Conquer adjacent hexes in certain amounts.
  • A town requires 2 Food, 2 Construction, and 2 Defense resources
  • A city requires 5 Food, 3 Construction, and 3 Defense resources
  • A metropolis requires 10 Food, 5 Construction, and 5 Defense resources

Thus, if the players were able to Conquer six hexes, all in an adjacent group, they could build a town on one of those hexes, preferably the most centralized one. The settlement only occupies 1 hex, but its influence can be felt in the villages and homesteads that occupy the other hexes. A hex with a settlement in it is considered Settled Territory.

Of course, the player's home base can be expanded in the same manner.

A Settled hex can be attacked by monsters. Unless the players are present in the settlement's influence area, they will generally hear about the attack on the second day of the battle. A messenger will likely come to the group by horseback, requesting aid. Each PC that participates in the battle counts as 1 resource for the settlement.

Monsters that attack settlements have one stat: Siege Points (SP). If the PCs wish to engage the monster directly, they can use its stats in the Monster Manual. Otherwise, play out the battle using the following stat guidelines. All final values should be rounded down to whole numbers.
  • Gargantuan creatures have 1 SP per 25 HP in the MM
  • Huge creatures have 1 SP per 50 HP in the MM
  • Large creatures have 1 SP per 100 HP in the MM
  • Medium creatures have 1 SP per 200 HP in the MM
  • Small creatures have 1 SP per 500 HP in the MM
Thus, a single Ancient Red Dragon has 21 SP. Meanwhile, a goblin hoard of 1000 Goblins (at 7 HP each) would  have 14 SP. Each day, a monster deals damage to a settlement equal to its Siege Points.

A Settlement defends itself with its resources. Each point in Construction reduces the damage taken by a settlement by one. Each day, the monster takes damage equal to the remaining defense points of the settlement. The settlement and the monsters deal damage at the same time, then the SP and resources are deducted afterwards. 

PCs can count as any of the resources by healing/feeding the wounded, reinforcing the walls, or striking back at the enemy. If a Settlement reaches 0 Food resources, they begin to starve, and can no longer deal damage. with their Defense resources.

Any resources lost in a battle by a settlement can be reclaimed at a rate of 1 resource per week, as long as the settlement survives the attack. If the settlement was reduced to 0 resources (not including those provided by the PCs), it becomes Pillaged.

A Pillaged Settlement loses all of its resources. The Random Encounter Table for every hex influenced by the settlement becomes unknown again, and should be repopulated by the DM to include the monsters that destroyed the city or their servants. The random encounter tables will have to be re-explored to reclaim the resources they provide. Additionally, each resource Hex becomes "Enemy Territory", with a Danger Ranking HP requirement of 15. The Pillaged Hex becomes "Actively Patrolled Enemy Territory" with an HP requirement of 25.

Logistical Rules


Dangit Brent, we got lost in the Plane of Eternal Torment again.
On a given day, a group can travel through up to four hexes if they have been discovered. Discovering a hex ends the day of travel, and counts as the first day of exploration.

When they characters finish adventuring in an adventure site, they all gain 1 Encumbrance point. A character can carry Encumbrance Points equal to their Strength score divided by 3. Of course, a particularly weak character can give their point to a stronger character if necessary.

If a character's encumbrance point limit is exceeded, their speed is reduced by 10 feet, and they can only travel through 3 hexes each day. If a character's encumbrance points exceed twice their encumbrance point limit, their speed is reduced by 20 feet, they have disadvantage on attacks, ability checks, and saving throws using Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, and they can only travel through 1 hex each day.

The following items can increase a group's encumbrance load:
  • Carriage: Can hold 3 Encumbrance points. Requires 2 animals. 100 GP.
  • Cart: Can hold 1 Encumbrance point. Requires 1 animal. 15 GP.
  • Sled: Can hold 2 Encumbrance points. Only viable in snow or sand. Requires 2 animals. 20 GP.
  • Wagon: Can hold 2 Encumbrance points. Requires 2 animals. 35 GP.
  • Heward's Handy Haversack: Can hold 2 Encumbrance points.
  • Bag of Holding: Can hold 3 Encumbrance points.
  • Portable Hole: Can hold 4 Encumbrance points.
The following animals are available to pull these vehicles. Animals must pay the HP requirements of the hexes they pass through, and cost gold each day to feed:
  • Camel: 15 HP. 2 GP/day in hot climates, 4 GP/day in other climates. 50 GP to buy
  • Donkey/Mule: 11 HP. 2 GP/day. 8 GP to buy.
  • Elephant: counts as two animals. 76 HP. 10 GP/day. 200 GP to buy.
  • Draft Horse: 19 HP. 2 GP/day. 50 GP to buy.
  • Riding Horse: 13 HP. 1 GP/day. 75 GP to buy.
  • Mastiff: 5 HP. 1 GP/day. 25 GP to buy.
  • Pony: 11 HP. 1 GP/day. 30 GP to buy.
  • Warhorse: trained as a combatant. 19 HP. 4 GP/day. 400 GP to train and buy.


If the players are able to travel by flight, they pay only half the HP cost of each hex they travel over. The speed of travel can be greatly increased in this manner, depending on the speed of their flight.

If the group has a ranger in favored terrain or a character with the Outlander background, and they roll "Become Lost" on the random encounter table, they may re-roll the random encounter. They must keep the new roll.

When entering an adventuring site, the following spells can affect the random encounter roll. The character must then enter the adventuring site having spent those spell slots.

  • Augury, Divination, or Commune: re-roll the random encounter. You must keep the new roll.
  • Find the Path: ignore the random encounter roll and find the adventuring site
  • Pass Without Trace: If the random encounter was a creature, you may re-roll the random encounter. If the new roll is "Become Lost", you instead find the adventure site. Otherwise, you must keep the new roll.

A ranger in favored terrain or character with the Outlander background has the Supply Cost of traveling reduced by 1 GP, to a minimum of 1.

Characters that can cast the following spells can lower their Supply Cost, to a minimum of 1. The amount lowered per casting is listed below. On the day the group enters an adventure site, the character must pay the full Supply Cost for the day or enter the adventure site without those spell slots.

  • Goodberry: reduced 1 GP, limited to 1 per day (Yes, I'm nerfing it. Yes, I have to.)
  • Locate Animals or Plants: reduced 1 GP
  • Locate Creature: reduced 1 GP
  • Create or Destroy Water: reduced 5 GP, can be distributed
  • Create Food and Water: reduced 10 GP, can be distributed


When a character is exploring an area, they can use the following spells to automatically reveal certain items on the Discovery Table. If the character chooses to enter an adventure site that day, they must do so having expended those spell slots.

  • Arcane Eye: by sending the eye upwards, you reveal all sites ranked 4 or lower on the table, provided it is visible from the sky
  • Divination: pick a single number on the table. It is revealed to you.
  • Commune, Commune with Nature: pick three numbers on the table. They are revealed to you.
  • Contact Other Plane: pick five numbers on the table. They are revealed to you.
  • Legend Lore: If there are any adventuring sites in this hex suitable for characters level 7 or higher, they are revealed to you.
  • Find the Path: When you cast this spell, name a specific adventuring site. No matter which hex it is in, the site is revealed, and you know which hex it is in. The hex still has the Unknown status.


Other Rules


Do not attempt
This is mostly for my own reference, so I can plot out the proper trajectory of these campaigns.

Characters should start at level 1. They level up based on the number of adventuring sites they explore.

  • An adventuring site should have at least 2 experience points in it.
  • 1 is generally for fully exploring the site.
  • 1 is for finishing the quest associated with the site. This could be solving a mystery, finding an item, uncovering history, or slaying a nasty monster.
  • If a character completes an adventuring site that is of a much higher level than they are, they earn 1 extra experience point. This generally means at least 3 levels higher.
  • If an adventuring site is particularly extensive, or requires 2 or more major goals, an additional experience point may be available for completing it.


A character needs 4 experience points to level up from level 2-4. A character needs 8 experience points to level up to level 5 or higher. I don't plan on playing past level 11, because any character will basically be unstoppable at that point.

Characters should have an exploration guild, adventuring guild, or some sort of organization they can join. Characters should at the very least want to explore and join this organization. Each character level should correspond to a rank within the organization.

Monsters should drop loot. This loot can be crafted into magic items. If a player is looking for a particular item, try to include a monster lair that can translate to that item. Encourage players to look for particular items. Use the item lists in Xanathar's Guide to show the player's what is available.

Also, the players can find craftspeople in the wilderness, as travelers, hostages of monsters, or hermits. These craftspeople can occupy settlements and provide services to turn monster loot into magic items. Remember, master-crafting an item with magic requires a powerful wizard, so the wizard needs a good reason to not want to explore.

Settlements should also be a place where downtime activities can occur. players that aren't playing will have free time as characters, and they should be encouraged to do downtime and gain skills. Proficiency in Smith's tool could save the group a lot of money. Also, remember that downtime costs 1 GP per day unless the character is working a job for an NPC.

A settlement should have the following goods available for purchase:

  • Village/Basic Base of Operations: Anything in the PHB worth 25 GP or less
  • Town: Anything in the PHB worth 100 GP or less, magic items worth 50 GP or less
  • City: Anything in the PHB, magic items worth 100 GP or less
  • Metropolis: Anything in the PHB, magic items worth 200 GP or less


Gold, gems, and valuable art objects should be found at adventuring locations. In particular, an NPC at the Base of Operations should be interested in buying old relics to give the players a source of income.

An adventuring site should have the following properties:

  • Takes approximately two hours to explore and clear.
  • Begins with a random encounter outside the site.
  • Features 2-3 other combat encounters, or 1 simple and 1 complex combat encounter
  • Can replace any of the combat encounters with social encounters.
  • Should reward each player with approximately 25 GP per level of the site


Hostile monsters should have territories, where they are present on the random encounter table and the HP requirements are higher. These territories can be cleared away by the players, but upsetting the power balance will likely lead to other monsters pillaging settlements.

Recurring enemies and larger mysteries around the area can provide an overarching plot for the group. Additionally, new items can appear on discovery tables as the group faces new enemies or discovers new methods of exploration (such as a castle entirely in the ethereal plane). Old adventuring sites can occasionally be reclaimed by monsters, but for the most part a cleared site should stay clear.

I want to use a Slack Channel to encourage role-playing and character development. Characters that get played infrequently, or are played once and abandoned, can remain in the channel as "townsfolk." I'm still trying to work out how to offer group rewards for interacting with NPCs and each other on the channel.

#settlementgoals
Well, that's about all my thoughts, dumped out onto a page. I'm going to run it by my players and get some feedback, then update this article with any changes or suggestions. I might reformat it as well, since I don't know if the layout is as intuitive as I think.

Thanks for reading!

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