I wish I had the time to work up a decent set of modifiers or perameters that would create an environment vs. players damage system that would make me happy. These things get like a piece of gristle and I can't let go. But then, new angles come up and I recognize that not rushing into creating a system is sometimes a good thing. Here's the new angle for today, and this too comes out of that Kohima book I'm grinding through rather slowly (it isn't light reading).
Let's look at it from a wargamer's perspective. I played wargames before D&D, and both wargames and RPGs tend to suffer from some of the same assumptions. Let's consider the map below:
|Site of the largest tank battle, ever.|
In most wargames, roads provide double the movement speed for units moving from hex to hex. In other words, while it may take one full move to go straight east from Belgorod, it also takes one full move along the road from Belgorod to Oboya. This also means that it takes 4 moves to go from Belgorod to Staryy Oskol through Kursk (8 hexes) and 4 moves to cut across country from the bend in the road north of Belgorod, following the black arrows, to where you can meet with the road again.
Some games get 'complex' in that they would differentiate between the height of hills in the first hex of the black arrow east of the Belgorod road (the reader will note that the corner of the hex reads 895 feet) and the next hex along the black arrow route (377 feet). This drop in elevation might mean that the black route was slightly slower, and that therefore the road through Kursk was still faster.
What I have never seen in a wargame, however, are rules that argue that attempting to go overland had a chance of actually bogging down the unit so that it couldn't move at all for several days. And I have also never seen any rules that suggested the unit coming out of the rough country (the black arrow route) emerged at half its combat strength. And yet this is what would be proposed by a D&D rule regarding damage from travel.
Consider larger units in the game than just the character party. The fighter, cleric and mage devise a strategy by which the main body of the player's army, led by the cleric and the party's hired officers, will attempt a cautious assault upon the castle gates with catapults and siege towers, mostly to draw the enemy's attention. And meanwhile a hundred picked men under the fighter - with the mage along for support - will move through the dark swampy forest and over the mountain spur above the fortification and flank the weaker defenses from the rear. A simple glance at the castle will show that there are less men posted there, the walls are not nearly as high and there are no ballistae mounted on the towers there. Obviously, the castle defenders do not expect an attack from there.
Why not? Are they just dumb? Surely a child could see that was the direction from which to attack - at the castle's 'Achilles heel.'
Ah, but is it? Perhaps the builders of the castle were no so dumb after all. When the flanking group finds their strength wittled down by freezing water and hundreds of nips from normal sized rats and mid-sized centipedes; and when they find themselves tearing up their hands and boots on the naturally sharp rocks during the ascent of that spur; and when they find themselves losing men from slips and falls from the upper slopes that are covered with dew when the picked men try to make the climb at night; perhaps this won't seem like such a good idea. Don't imagine a group of daring men emerging from the unwatched side and quickly cutting through the 'weak' defenses like butter. Imagine a group of torn, bleeding remnants who, after crossing the wilderness to reach the castle, have half their hit points or less, with dead and weakened companions scattered over the land where they've just come.
There's another rule I have been considering. If a party were to move through a given wilderness hex (or any hex without a road), it follows that the second time they moved through that hex circumstances will have slightly changed. First of all, they would have found better routes by trial and error already ... so they ought to move faster. And in finding the routes, they ought to take less damage. In fact, every time they move through a given wilderness hex, their time and their circumstance ought to improve. Oh, certainly, there's a point where it couldn't get better, and they would still be subject to the weather, but it should still improve.
In our little scenario of the flanking group above, how many lithe bowmen familiar with the terrain would it really take to screw the party, but good? Defenders would know the rocks, and would know just where to set up ambushes, who knew when an attacking party was bound to get trapped between the deep bog and the soft ground where running towards a group of three or four archers was practically impossible. It wouldn't take anything to pin them down when the party came to a certain point on the far side of the spur. The defenders would have names for every feature, and would say to one another, "They'll have to climb their way up over Finn's drop, or climb through Kelly's defile. If they're fool enough to do the latter, we'll have Ransom and Troy pin them down when they round Leggim's bend, and drive the back end of their group west from Oram's roost. We won't last long, we'll have to back out after they scramble up the slope that's there, but Davie and Dan can dodge into Galick's cave. They'll never find it, as we all know." (Laughs all around) "We'll get four or five of them for sure. Then we can back up and when they go over the ridge near Wavel's Grave, we'll set off the traps."
And so on.
A group of defenders who knew the wilderness well would make life hell for a group of interlopers who knew nothing about the country. Even with a guide leading them, that guide would have to be someone who knew the country well - and the guide would then be known very well to the defenders. If the guide really knew the country, he'd know enough to tell the party, "Don't do it, you fools, they'll kill half of us before we'd get there." Or the guide would have enough larceny in his heart to know when to keep his head down at the bad bits, and when to disappear with the party's money. Otherwise, the guide's chest is going to be the first target aimed for by the defenders ... without much pity, either.
There are a lot of angles on this rule than what I've seen. It's more than merely travel. It's attrition, too.