Travel as Oregon Trail

I’ve been trying to think of a way to run a journey overland in my game (motivated by picking up Adventures in Middle Earth). I don’t think it’s super interesting to play a normal D&D game out over weeks of travel time (after all: “We keep going in the direction we’ve previously decided to go” seems to cover pretty much everything). We’re introducing a system precisely because we want to have a machine to spit out the results of travel; if we were willing to use the normal adventuring rules, we’d just use those. If the most interesting thing that the system can give us is “you aren’t lost today, and you make your camp in a site which is ambushed that night by 3 black bears. Roll for initiative, you party of twelve level 10 characters”, I don’t think we’ve accomplished much.

These rules assume my long rest houserules; you can’t long rest while roughing it and can only long rest one night in seven anyway. So depletion is a real risk, and it lasts with you until you make it to the end of your journey.

The procedure: Travel is broken down into weeks and days, which are themselves the basic unit of resolution until something goes wrong, at which point the game zooms into an appropriate resolution for what went wrong. Use the usual rules to determine pace, hours marched per day, terrain difficulty and so on.

Each day:

Each day, the expedition leader makes a Wisdom (survival) check against a DC based on terrain:

  • DC 5 (grassland, meadow, farmland)
  • DC 10 (artic, desert, hills, open sea with clear skies)
  • DC 15 (forest, jungle, swamp, mountains, open sea with overcast skies).

On a success, the group continues on that day, taking appropriate precautions and making good time. On a failure, resolve a Travel Mishaps (see below). And side note: instead of making that check, consider using the Mob Attacks chart (DMG page 250) in order to quickly collapse a number of days down to just the exciting ones. This does mean that a trained ranger can take journeys of fixed lengths without mishap — is that so wrong?

Regardless, each character not proficient in Survival consumes one ration.

Travel Mishaps

First, figure out the weather (DMG page 109). This won’t affect the difficulty of daily travel (that roll includes compensating for the weather), but will affect resolution of the remainder of the travel mishap.
Since weather is based around interesting values being 3/20ths of the total space, we can make a 3d6 roll:

  • 1 colder, 2-5 normal, 6 hotter;
  • 1-4 no wind, 5 light, 6 strong;
  • 1-4 no rain, 5 light rain/snow, 6 heavy rain/snow).

Random things that could go wrong:

Delayed: The party loses 1d10 hours of travel time.
Lost: The party is lost, having spent the last 1d10 hours going in the wrong direction, and has disadvantage on Wisdom (survival) checks until one is succeeded (at which point they have regained their bearings).
Hazard: There is an unforseen obstacle (rockfall, flooded brook, lost bridge, etc); it must be overcome either by engaging a solution around it or traveling 1d10 hours around it. Overcoming likely requires a DC 10 Strength (athletics) or Dexterity (acrobatics) check from each character, with a penalty of 7 (2d6) damage from a fall on a failure.
Someone is poisoned: Any character eating foraged rations is exposed. Those failing a DC 10 constitution save take 6 (1d12) poison damage and are poisoned for 24 hours.
Someone is diseased: Any character drinking foraged water is exposed. Those failing a DC 10 constitution save acquire Sewer Plague (DMG p 257)
Supplies are destroyed: Each character loses 10 lbs of rations to animals and spoilage.
Rust, rot, and ruin: Each character must make a DC 10 Intelligence saving throw; those failing: Each armor, weapon, or shield is at -1 to attack, damage, and AC (per rust monster). Each scroll or potion has a 50% chance to be destroyed. Each spell in a spellbook has a 50% chance to be destroyed.
A monster is spotted
A monster ambushes you
Tracks are discovered
The weather shifts unexpectedly
The party is delayed

d% Result Effect
01-25 Delay 1d10 hours of travel wasted on delays, detours, etc
26-30 Confusion Disadvantage on future Wisdom(survival) checks until one is succeeded to navigate; party travels 1d10 hours off course each day until then.
31-40 Injury Pick Strength(athletics) or Dexterity(acrobatics). Each character failing a check against the terrain DC takes 7 (2d6) damage from the travel, but cannot be reduced below 1 hit point as a result of this damage. If it has rained in the last week, the check DC is +5 and the damage is x2.
41-50 Disease Any character drinking foraged water must succeed at a DC 11 constitution saving throw or acquire Filth Fever (DMG p 257). If it has rained in the last week, the disease is Sight Rot instead (DC 15).
51-60 Rot Each character must succeed at a DC 10 intelligence saving throw or else lose 50% of their rations, potions, and scrolls. If it has rained in the last week, the DC is +5 and the damage is 75%.
61-70 Ruin Each character must succeed at a DC 10 intelligence saving throw or else their arms and armor are at -1 (per rust monster). If it has rained in the last week, the DC is +5 and the damage is -2.
71-80 Abnormal Weather Heat wave or cold snap for 1d10 hours. In arctic or desert environments, treat as delay.
81-90 Inclement Weather Precipitation (or heat wave, in desert)
91-99 Storm Snowstorm, thunderstorm, duststorm
00 Powerful storm Blizzard, hurricane, tornado, downpour (desert)

About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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