Saturday, 14 August 2021

Wilderness Paths

Here are some lightweight rules for finding paths through the wilderness. There are lots of different wilderness exploration rules, focusing on all sorts of things like weather, food, or getting lost, but these rules focus on finding better paths over time.

For these rules to be useful, you need three things:

  • a wilderness map divided into regions
  • reason for the adventurers to cross through the same area many times
  • resource constraints that make shorter, safer paths worth finding

An ideal situation would a West Marches game where the party is heading out from a central point over and over again. Finding better routes through the familiar areas close to home pays off in the long run, enabling them to speed past problems they faced early on.


Divide the Map into Regions

The regions on your map could be hexes, or just named areas of a more freeform wilderness map. It doesn't really matter, as long as they're big enough that there are several paths through it.

This doesn't take a large region, even the classic six-mile hex of forest or other rough terrain is large enough that you could cross it many times and still miss points of interest.

When you blaze a trail..

When the party first crosses a region (perhaps en route to a more distant landmark), roll 4d6 in order. Each die represents a leg of the path through the region.

d6This part of your path is ..
Hazardous. Your path takes you to, over, or through a dangerous obstacle like a steep cliff, a swift river, a ravine, noxious plants, treacherous terrain (bogs, pits, sharp), and so on. Every time you come this way you must deal with it.
Circuitous. Switchbacks, curling pathways through dense forest, along the banks of a winding river. The path will take you there, but it takes extra time. Perhaps instead of only a day to cross this region, it takes two.
Occupied. Your path goes directly past a lair, through an often used hunting ground, within sight of watchful sentries, or along a regularly patrolled track. This may not be the only encounter you have in this area, but every time you come this way, you risk meeting whoever or whatever lives here.
Terrain-specific. Deserts expose you to the elements, forests confuse you or slow you, mountains force up steep climbs or across windblown glaciers. Wherever you are, this part of your path is quintessential of the terrain type.
Direct. This part of the path is straighter and easier going than usual. Save yourself some time. Perhaps instead of three days to cross the region, it takes only one.
Secluded. A sheltered gully, a disused trail, a hidden pass—whatever it is, nothing else seems to come this way and your progress is hidden from view.


Travel Time

Blazing a trail through tricky terrain takes twice as long as travelling along a previously used, known path. Depending on the scale of your regions, it might take four days to cross a region (eight while blazing the trail).

Example: Mossgrove

Two days from Fair Riot is a swampy wood the locals call Mossgrove. They had no advice on how to cross the swampy forest, and so the party must forge its own trail. The dice: 4,1,2,2. Terrain-specific, hazardous, and then a double result of circuitous.
  • The western edge of Mossgrove wood is knee-deep water over soft loam. Leeches and gnats harry you as you trudge aimlessly through the algae-streaked waters. There's absolutely nowhere to rest.
  • A half day from there, the water deepens and the bottom turns to soft, sucking mud. Everyone risks getting stuck; ponies and heavily laden adventurers risk sinking completely.
  • Beyond the quagmire is a labyrinth of dry mounds, riven by deep, muddy streams. Picking a path through here that keeps your boots dry is endlessly winding (you may even have looped a few times), taking 2 days longer than you'd expect.

There must be another way..

Each time the party cross a region, they can choose one of the paths they know, or blaze a new one. If they forge a new one, roll 4d6 again and interpret the result.

If the party just wants to detour around one part of a path roll two replacement dice to represent what they find on the detour. Maybe it's better, maybe it's worse!


Example: Avoiding Mossgrove Quagmire

On their return through Mossgrove, the party decides to see if they can find away around the quagmire. After two days of travelling through the maze (the eastern two legs of the original path), they roll two dice: 1, and 3. Hazard, Occupied!

This is even worse! On their third trip, they roll 1 and 3 again (I'm doing this as I write). It's not until their fourth trip, that their attempt to find a way around the quagmire pays off with a roll of 4 and 6. Their best path through mossgrove is now:
  • Knee-deep leechwater with nowhere to rest
  • {Detour}
    • Slow going between closely spaced, mossy trees
    • A secluded route around the edges of the quagmire (perhaps around a tar-smelling bog where few animals tend to come)
  • Two days of circuitous travel through the labyrinth of streams

Guides

If you have a guide who knows the area, randomly roll the path using 3d6 instead of 4d6. Not only is it shorter, but they will be able to warn you of any hazards or occupants ahead of time.

These rules are Mosaic Strict.

3 comments:

  1. This is one of the hard parts of making a pointcrawl. Glad you wrote this up, makes it a little easier.

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  2. This is really great (and it also maybe hints that ALM is back in development? Hope springs eternal...). Thanks for putting this together!

    This sort of percolated in the back of my brain, and I think I accidentally reverse engineered it. Or...retro-engineered it, if this isn't how you got to it. Either way, it's useful to something I'm chipping away at designing, and I've got a follow-up question.

    If you're using a hex map with subhexes at a 1:4 ratio, then each leg is a subhex. Assume that the first attempt is an attempt at as-the-crow-flies navigation, crossing the hex by traveling through 4 subhexes, each with a trait.

    Trying to sneak around one of those traits adds two more traits because you have to _hit more subhexes_, each with their own traits. With hexes, the shortest possible detour is 2 different hexes (1 hex N vs 3 NW, N, NE).

    So here's the next problem I'm trying to solve: IF (and it's a big if, I suppose) one accepts this hex/subhex model, how would one go about finding a better route _within_ a given subhex? Trying to replace a trait, or perhaps mitigating its effect?

    Easy enough to say "you can't, this is where it's gamey and abstracted", but at the scale you use in your example, 4 days to cross, that's probably something like 60 miles across, with subhexes that are 15 miles across. 15 miles is a really wide range! A lot of easier trails could be hiding in a 15 mile hex...

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    Replies
    1. Here's what I'd do. When you enter a region you've been through before, you can choose to follow a known route or blaze a new trail. For each route you've already found in that hex, roll an extra die. Take the lowest result.

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