Travel Procedures: BoB, AiME, DW, Colverse, Angryverse, ZH

Travel and wilderness exploration in RPGs varies wildly from system to system. Social interactions were made almost without mechanics for generations, combat became strictly mechanised but travel and exploration are in some kind of limbo. For me it is understandable – each exploration mode should be linked to the campaign and setting. It depends on how the campaign is resolved, on terrain chosen, which things make sense for the adventure. Probably if it was strongly structured from the start in early versions of DnD and there was more then we’d have a lot of unification? Or not? Not me to judge. But let me just take a look at few procedures of overland travel and judge what could they achieve.

First thing I chose was the entirety of Band of Blades system – it is dark fantasy war drama about soldiers-survivors of great battle fleeing to certain keep before enemy armies could, in order to defend it through winter and buy some time for free countries on the east (https://www.evilhat.com/home/band-of-blades/). It is very specific but has concrete procedure for travel from location to location. The baseline is simple – there is limited time to travel through locations. You get from the start 27 “ticks” on a time clocks. Depending on how many missions you do in locations and how well you roll in between them time disperses. The best roll gives you 1 tick, the worst 5. Such hurry creates a tension. The overall way through the map is also set with two/three choices. You may choose longer road through mines to probably acquire more gear. You also have a choice between more wild territory or two cities. These are meaningful choices – going through the mines prolongs your trip and you cannot visit two cities on your way but get access to a lot of alchemical supplies. If you choose forest then you may be sure there won’t be too much assets to get on the way. On the other hand going through cities, even if more plentiful in resources makes you deal with all the community-wise problems.

In BoB there are other things to consider too. Not only your time is diminishing resource. There is also food for example which has to be replenished or else it will make Legion lose morale. And it’s abstracted in points, where 1 Food is enough to feed the legion for one increment of travel. There is no need to count it any other way – adventure don’t happen on a day-to-day basis – it cuts out all the uninteresting and mundane bits to get group straight into action meaningful for adventure. You have other expendable resources like horses and siege weapons. And in each designated location you have to make a mission of your choice, also in line with the campaign – destroy enemy supplies, help refugees, gather assets, hunt for some important enemy. The case is – this system is abstracted a lot to give players wiggle room – you don’t have to establish every part of the world only those relevant to the story. The case is – system is complex, and works for specific purpose and style of play. Any deviation from original concept – not needing to race with time, lack of corruption inducing alchemy, longer/shorter road would need to be seriously thought out to not break balance of it. Very nice for ready-to-go reflavoured campaigns but certainly hard to change for other uses. I imagine it as a part of larger campaign.

Then there is also Journey procedure from Adventures in Middle Earth (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventures_in_Middle-earth). I’m just hanging on this because once I tried to come up with something similar and then read it and I was crushed and disappointed someone did it earlier and better than me. How does it work? You take a look on the map, check where are you and the destination – distance between them informs of how many encounters will happen during travel. This system clearly implies you are going to travel from point-of-interest location to the next, from Shire to Bree, from Bree to Rivendell, from Rivendell to Moria and have adventures and interest to be in each of them. I think it is well designed for low magic epic fantasy of Middle Earth. The way through the world also inform of overall hardship and peril, so thinking of the best route might be a huge factor. When you decided where to go you roll for the starting situation – you may roll well and start adventure with lifted spirits or see some bad omens or just generally feel worse and it would impact rest of the travel. Then everyone has to assume a role. There is a Lookout, Hunter, Scout and Guide.


During such travel you also roll random encounters. They may be bad, like meeting one of strongest enemies in the world or simple hardships or even meeting one of three legendary wizards. During Journey party cannot rest to the full so their health and powers won’t be refreshed for every challenge and combat. Some events make you accumulate Shadow, the evil of the setting. It is advised for low level parties to go for short journeys to not accumulate too much exhaustion or Shadow. And after all this there is an ending roll, informing group about their arrival. It also may be more or less happy or exhausting. On longer journeys there will be more negative encounters, more bad things happening, PCs will be more worn out. Also depending on the roleplaying these encounters and travel parts it may take a really long real time. And it is to say again – because of the epic heroic character of the game and source material. It’s not a system for explorative hexcrawling in the lands around town-base. That’s the case – journey and the random events become part of the whole adventuring gig itself. The world of Middle Earth is huge and people will need to traverse vast spaces to get between locations. You may treat the journey as a way for roleplay and make a session out of it or treat it like part of procedure and do it for short time before and after remote adventure instead of handwaving travel and making quick montage. System works best when travels are far and more about getting from location A to B instead of wandering in wilderness to find something.

Next system will be a quick break. Dungeon World has a move called Undertake a Perilous Journey (https://dungeon-world.com/). PCs essentially fill in 3 roles – Trailblazer, Scout and Quartermaster. Each person makes a roll. Regular roll means it went as planned, high makes you lose less food, time and gives an opportunity to ambush foes. On a fail the other way around. It’s simple, overly simple, but gives an insight on consequences and stakes of travel.

Lets go with another one of the simple systems. Matthew Colville travel as a skill challenge (https://youtu.be/UvQ2JgZIjVI). It’s assumed you pack up as a group for a journey, so food, water, whatever. When on a journey there are two timers (clocks). Players come up with how their skills would help them on such travel. Something like “I’m so athletic it helped removing the log which blocked our road” or “My superior natural knowledge allowed me to recognize migrating birds which travel south at this season”. There are a few restrictions – can roll only proficient skills, no half-duck explanations, no player can use the same skill more than once, using some skills will be more difficult than others. Each failed roll ticks one timer. Each success ticks the other. If there are more successes – group succeeds but on the way they encountered obstacles – on 1 failure it’s simple encounter, quick puzzle, some resource drain like toll to pay. On a 2 the consequences are worse or there is more of them. If there are more failures than successes then travel was stopped. Maybe going through the mountains was too much for the group and they have to backtrack and travel through dwarven mines. In the background I assume would be all of the food/water/encumbrance stuff but this system serves the purpose of making travel fun and engaging without the resource management considering DnD is rather generous in providing tools trivialising it.

At this point let me point to another great internet designer/homebrewer – AngryGM (https://theangrygm.com/tension-on-the-road/). His Long-Rambling fanservice is hilarious yet digging through all his “Hurr Durr I’m so Angry” is a chore sometimes. Yet I will still advise to check on Scott’s work, he really is very insightful. Like, sage-level insightful. His base system for wilderness travel is also a system for keeping tension in dungeons and whatnot. I think the last iteration of it was called Tension Pool. In this system you have each day broken up into six 4-hour periods – Dawn, Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night, Predawn. You may travel with slow, normal and fast pace. Slow gives bonuses to checks and allows foraging. Normal gives disadvantage to foraging. Fast gives disadvantages to tests and you cannot forage. Each period of travel adds a die to the pool. When there are six dice in the pool you roll it and if there is any 1 – then in such day PCs encounter some complication to their journey. It is advised to keep half of possible complications as non-combat and change it according to environment – in hostile lands there would be more monsters. If I would port it to Glacier Exposure during winter and spring there’d be less combats and more hostile indifferent forces of nature like rivers and storms. Regular day-to-day travel means just rolling 6d6 for each day. Pace just changes navigation and survival rolls. But if the players do something risky – like travel during night hours, walking through enemy territory, sleeping in enemy territory and such then things change – every time period is a decision. You get full scope of the system – you can Add a Die, Roll Current Pool, Add a Die and Roll Pool, Clear the Pool or roll Full Pool. Which means you can roll a partial pool – 3d6 if they scream at each other in the Afternoon. Each Predawn you clear the pool by rolling all 6d6 and clearing it for the next day. Sometimes PCs are so reckless you just need to roll straight 6d6 without considering what’s in the pool. This system really serves to show tension and visible consequences of players actions but counting distance, food and other things is still needed. As long as players don’t do anything risky it just gives 2/3 chance per day for complication.

And since I come from the land of Warhammery love (really, for a long time it was most popular RPG here) lets finish with Zweihander (https://publishing.andrewsmcmeel.com/zweihanderrpg/). This system personally was too much for me to wield (too weak arms for such weapon) but it also has specific wilderness travel rules. You need to decide on the road to travel and divide it into stretches – short for a day to week of travel, medium for over one to two weeks and long for over three weeks. Each stretch need one, two or three toughness tests to check if travellers got some fatigue on the way. It is modified by how tough the terrain is, can be modified by weather and such. Each stretch has a danger level – from lack of thereof to highly dangerous like barbarian settlements or high mountain passes. Then there are three roles to establish – Guide, Survivalist and Scout. Each of these roles has to roll once during each stretch. The Navigation result tells how many provisions were used per day, criticals determine if the terrain for Toughness tests was worse or better, Survival check tells how well team could rest – how much fatigue they’ve been able to recover from, criticals tells if maybe there was less or more Toughness tests to make. Stealth test changes the danger of terrain and if crit – who gets surprise round in case of encounter. To check if encounter happens GM rolls Xd6 depending on danger level. There is also an option for PCs to choose to Make Camp during adventure which is occasion for healing and resting (prolonging stretch for a day) but is also opportunity to face regular perils and dangers of given place.

Most of these procedures for travel doesn’t work well in a void. Just as in Band of Blades you’d need to rip off setting material and add something from yourself you have to ADD something to EACH of them. Decisions to walk through harder/more dangerous terrain should have some incentives outside of the procedure. Why would you want to risk harder combats? To find something? Is the time/resource incentive even bigger than this risk? Also neither of these procedures (maybe besides very open ended Colverse and Angryverse systems) would work well with the crawly wandering exploration of a region. Most of them is for skipping boring bookkeepy bits of long-distance travel. 
Do YOU know some fun more or less abstracted modules for travel which could be ported to OSR?

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