Sunday, May 8, 2011

Roughing It - Wilderness Travel System

Ninja Edit: Download the Attrition Calculator spreadsheet from the side bar to the right and look at this post for the system in it's final/current form.

Zzarchov has a great house rule for handling the rigors of wilderness travel:
"I use more abstracted rules than this, basically boiling down to you take damage as you travel and heal slowly while going through the wilderness without creature comforts ... as well as different terrain types having different "Miles per day" ratings.  This leads to two things: 1) an increase in taking the longer route if it passed through civilization, roads and inns; 2) No more 'rushing through the wilderness', the bean counters came out and 'frontier living' was replaced with carefully planned expeditions."
Let's shamelessly steal the idea. It feels like the perfect abstraction that highlights the contrast between traveling through civilization and wilderness without bogging down into a level of detail that would detract from the evening's fun.

Essentially, every hex of wilderness (at the macro scale, roughly speaking 1 hex = 1 league = 1 day's travel on foot) will deal X hp of damage per day as it is traversed. Roads, settlements, proper provisions, the right clothing, and such will all reduce the damage taken. This damage is applied to everyone traveling, including animals. The damage abstracts all negative aspects of travel, such as animals foundering and an increased chance of disease.

Tally the following adjustments to find the total damage taken per hex traveled. Select one value from each column of the following table:

Terrain type is highly abstracted and can be expanded to fit more thorough hex maps. Climate uses the five main definitions of climate according to the Köppen-Geiger climate classification. Season is a temporal factor, so after every hex has been populated by terrain and climate type, the DM will have to throw in season as well. Likewise with roads; roads could also be defined as major roads (such as Imperial highways or Reichsstraße), maintained roads between towns, and trails that are only maintained by foot traffic. However, the road modifier would not apply to the entire hex, rather only if the party was traveling along it.

The following situational modifiers are applied on the fly and are not part of a hex's intrinsic HP penalty.

This provides a backbone for an abstraction to cover overland travel. An enterprising DM can calculate the HP loss value for each hex on their map and have a valuable resource for gameplay. More situational modifiers can make the calculations more robust if needed. Feel free to chime in with any suggestions on adding more entries to either table.


  1. Sounds interesting. I'm not sure whether it will be regarded as nitpicking, but the basic idea is cool. It surely adds a more "simulaitonist" feel to the game. For which ruleset are those HP values calculated?

  2. In particular, I use AD&D/LL as my base. Houserule also puts death at -Constitution value, so a few hp of damage doesn't wipe out your entire crew of hirelings and retainers. At negative HP values, characters would take penalties to their actions but are not comatose until they get near their limit.

    You could tweak these in any direction if your rule set supposes more or less base HPs.

  3. I like this line of thought. My one concern is whether or not I like "We can't go to that hex. My 1 hit point mage will die along the way."

  4. Yea, this system would require tweaking if you have 0 HPs = death, unless you want the game to be REALLY gritty at first level. You could change the hp loss to some sort of stat loss or penalty to action roll, than maybe convert X penalties to Y HPs.

  5. I have just uploaded this excellent suggestion to the Links to Wisdom wiki.

    IMO, keep to hit points, that's what they are, a score of survivability.

    My suggestion is two fold.

    I think a saving throw should be allowed to avoid the damage each day. Death ray? That's what saves do - last chance. Also means character luck and skill also come into play. I allow Wisdom a bonus to all saving throws (will and wiseness) which seems appropriate for avoiding travel damage. I will rescue the maiden no matter what and I was wise enough to wear decent shoes.

    Secondly, I think you need to beef up the ways characters can protect themselves. eg what of a mother carrying a 1hp baby - yes travelling is dangerous in the wilderness but not certain death within one day of being off the trail in mild winter. eg high quality winter clothing -1.

    This idea is really very good as it should make the 1 hit point mage think twice about going into the forest without resting for a few days to regain hit points.

    It makes rest and rest stops, including and especially inns very important - and that can only be good.

  6. Where did Zak S first post about this topic? Can you recall? I can't find it using search on his blog.

  7. Ok I will add the link when the wiki is back online...

  8. This system is designed for use with a houserule that says death does not occur at 0 HP. Hence, even a 1 hp (N)PC does not die after 1 day's travel. As Hps reach into the negatives, all stats are reduced by 1. As I said above, if you play with 0 HP = death, you have to tweak how this works.

    Ultimately, it forces people to travel on established roads and during the right seasons if they want to travel long distance. Why else are people moving more than 25 miles in the 17th century? Trade, warfare, pilgrimage that's about all I can think of off the top of my head. And all those types of long distance travel are best done overland on roads; any army that travels off road in the winter in Eurasia deserves to attrition down to nothing.

    At the worst, a trip to a market town not more than 1 to 2 day's travel would only inflict a handful of HPs, just enough to tire out a 1 HD commoner (maybe -2 hp) and require a few days rest before making the return trip. It works very well.

    I don't think saving throws are a good idea and seem like just a knee jerk reaction to PC peril. Long term survivability is less about luck and more about preparation. I don't want player running into the wilderness thinking they can get lucky and beat the odds. Mechanically, saving throws will have little impact anyway. At lower level, the chance to save is very low and once you progress through levels you will have enough hps to trek across the Sahara. Thankfully, this system will still keep high level PCs honest by impacting their retainers and animals and will still have an impact, even if that means burning through low level healing to keep NPCs in good shape.

    Feel free to houserule it further, there is plenty of room to have spells interact with this (endure elements), class abilities or skills, etc.

    And this is Zzarchov's suggestion.

  9. This is intriguing.

    On the one hand, I don't really like the idea on principal. I'd like my players to be able to subsist entirely in the wilderness if they so choose. And this would seem to punish them for doing so.

    On the other hand, wilderness travel is difficult to track. I've struggled with the issue myself, and this solution is an elegant one.

    Very cool. I will need to ponder.

  10. I've retained the same concept, but refined the mechanics further in later posts. Check out what I've written in May 2012 (or the tag "Attrition") for a much more elegant solution without the use of arbitrary table look-ups.