Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Noodling With Travel

Sorry, but like Brian from The Breakfast Club, I'm going to go ahead and pat myself on the back now.  I've said before that I am always getting new ideas.  Last night, laying in the bathtub (like Archimedes, my electrons fire when wet), I came up with a doozy.  And I think it's slashing brilliant.

A little history, first.  Last week I posted about breaking camp, where Zzarchov produced the astounding idea of travel causing damage.  He did not post his system, but on Sunday Anthony posted a fair effort at stealing it (Anthony's words, not mine).  Once upon a time, that would have been good enough for me, too ... but nowadays I find myself looking at traditional tables and seeing them for the stale systems they are.  This is not to disparage Anthony.  I was thinking, as he posted his format, of drawing up something exactly like it.

Not now, however.  I have something that I am certain goes one step better.  I am hoping even Anthony and Zzarchov will think so.

The two problems I see with the traditional format are these.  1) the very same argument I made about things with one hit point dying in the wilderness; and 2) that very tough, high-level characters are not going to be upset by 1 to 6 hit points damage per day.  Yes, if there are a lot of followers and so on, that could mount up, but the party I run presently can easily heal 60-80 hit points a day.  So as long as they take care to protect the lower levels with vardo and so on, they can mount up for weeks at a time with little trouble.

Now, James said something that got stuck in my head, the finally latched onto my watered skull last night: "Damage could be a % of max hit points with a ceiling instead of an objective value ..."  And suddenly I knew what was needed.

Consider, then, the following table, conjured just a few minutes ago:

Days equals the total number of days the party is travelling.  The Base Damage adds 0.1 damage per day of travel.  The Weather Description can be entered as pleasant, unpleasant, severe or harsh, and each particular description provides a modifier.  The Route can be a road, a carttrack, a trail or none at all.  Again, each sort of route provides a modifier.  Finally, the base damage is multiplied by the Weather Modifier and the Route Modifier, producing a final result.  This result is rounded down, giving the total damage for the journey.

Now, I haven't sat down to calculate out the specifics of what kind of weather applies to what modifier.  Pleasant weather would be fair and clear, 5 degrees (celsius) near body temperature, with a minimum of wind.  A mixed rainy day, or a day colder or warmer, or a stiff wind might be unpleasant.  A steady drizzle or falling rain, a very cold day or a hot day, and a slashing wind, these might be severe.  And a combination of the above, with any of them being pronounced, would be harsh.  Of course, the DM might just use what feels best, or might get definitive.  At the moment, it doesn't matter.

To get a feel for this, let's describe an 8-day journey.  Let's presume a party starts on a road, turns onto a carttrack, then onto a trail, and finally jumps off into the wilderness for a day.  At that point, they turn back and head to town:

Now, here is where things get interesting.  On the first day, its a bit chilly and the party feels stiff and uncomfortable ... but they're on a road, and overall they feel no special effect from the environment.  The second day, the base damage climbs to 0.2 (I'm rounding the figures off, the exact number is actually 0.196), but the weather is pleasant and the carttrack is easygoing.  Again, no appreciable effects.

With the third day, as the party slips off the carttrack and onto the trail, the sky spatters rain and the day is a bit worse.  The trail is slippery and by the end of the day people feel the going has been harder.  But still, there have been no appreciable effects.

So they cut right into the wilderness.  Now here it gets interesting.  It doesn't matter if its a forest, a mountain or brushland.  Some consideration might be made for the plains, treating them as a kind of endless trail.  What's important is that the distance covered per day determines how hard it is to cross a particular hex, not what's in that hex.  A jungle may allow for 2 miles of travel per day.  A mountain highland, 3 miles per day.  A forest, 5 miles per day.  In any case, take note how multiple days can add up.

The fourth day, the weather is pleasant, so even though the route is hard, they don't mount up any appreciable effects.  And let us say they plunder a goblin camp at the end of the day and start back.

The fifth day, things turn sour.  Working their way back through the same trackless environment they fought the day before, the weather turns severe and they begin to feel the effects of five continuous days of journeying.  They all suffer a point of damage, which they deal with fairly quickly.  Things will get better, they think, as soon as we get out of this wilderness.

Unfortunately, the sixth day a major storm grips the land and the weather gets positively icy.  The base damage climbs only a little bit, but the effects of the harsh weather and the trail take their toll.  Everyone takes three damage.

Thankfully, the next day the weather clears and they get onto the carttrack.  But the previous days effects do not magically go away.  The party is exhausted, beaten down from the trip and the weather (it's the seventh day of trekking, after all), so even though now they are getting back into civilization, their bones hurt and its troublesome even to move.  They might even be suffering from mild ailments and sinus symptoms.  They all take another three damage.

Finally, the eighth day, they get back on the road.  The weather is pleasant again, and the road lowers the amount of damage back down to two.  Thank god that night the party will be back in town.

I see a lot of ways this could be mitigated.  Certain characters could be immune to certain weather effects, or the modifiers for them (kept separately, which is easy to do on excel) reduced very slightly.  A particular spell or strategy could reduce the increase in base damage, or the reverse - if the DM really wanted to emphasize how tough the journey was.  By noodling around with the numbers, all sorts of mitigating circumstances could be accounted for.

Most of all - and here is the true genius of the system - the amount of time the party was away from civilization would be critical.  Moreover, since the climb in the system is steady, higher level characters would really feel the effects after three weeks, even if the weather was wonderful.  Mungo Park eventually losing all his men in the African interior, indeed.

And yet, at the same time, any zero level with 1 hit point could safely wander away from home for two or three days, and expect to come back safely.

This is the best idea I've had in ages.


  1. I agree, this is a better implementation since it takes into account time as well.

    I think the last step would be something to bring the cumulative damage back down to 0. Maybe finding an out of the way homestead, or an obscure shrine or pilgrimage site, wayside inn, etc and staying for a few nights will reset the damage and the party can go back out into the wilderness again.

  2. Yes, I can certainly see that. I saw 'civilization' as the ultimate zeroing effect, but a night at a homestead might reduce the base 40%, a warm, dry cave might reduce it 20%, etc.

  3. I'm definitely going to have a go at this methodology. I think I will retain the general concepts I used before like climate classification, topography, and season and convert them into decimals rather than focus on weather generation. I do see the benefit of generating daily weather for gameplay (and will do so), but I might keep the hp damage separate and a little more abstract. Off I go!

  4. Maybe afterwards we might conspire to fit it on the wiki?

  5. Certainly. If you want to delve deeply into specific temperatures, precipitation levels, etc, that link to climate classification on my post has all of that spelled out. I don't know if you looked at it, but the 5 classifications I used are just 1 level, the official paper breaks those down into many more levels with specific environmental conditions attached to them. Personally, I am going to keep it light and just focus on the high level classification.

  6. Heck. I'm thinking about how the a cheap inn reduces the daily increase to 0.08, a fair inn to 0.06, a costly inn to 0.04 and a luxurious inn to 0.02. If the town is then considered a "road" and no other change is made, the calculation never actually comes to a halt ... it just racks up or diminishes endlessly, like a Sims Bar.

    The low-level elements fascinate me. How much improvement does a decent shave offer? A bath? The possibilities are endless.

    I know, I know. Endless grittiness.

  7. Actually, I imagine the bath and a good shit would do wonders if you consider disease and illness as a part of HP loss...

  8. If I read your last comment correctly, Alexis, each day on the inn reduces the factor based on quality, yes?

    I'm going to praise this the best way I know how. I'm going to work on implementing it immediately. My party might next be veering into an underground wilderness of sorts, so I'll be rationalizing the effects of prolonged travel underground in a D&D game and will offer that up in some forum (perhaps on my blog and then the wiki if it passes muster)

  9. Yes ... I had meant that the better inns added less new penalty (adding 0.08 for a cheap inn instead of 0.1) each day, and not referring to it as a modifiers.

  10. Ok, I need to fiddle with my multipliers, because after a 10 day journey through a forest along a trail during winter in a cold climate, characters are taking 174 hps of damage...


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  12. Something that would get a high level party's attention would be negative modifier for certain sorts of actions resulting from travel. Anything strenuous would be effected by poor conditions and exhaustion. I am thinking to hit/damage, a thief's climb walls, bend bars lift gates etc. If the PC's have force marched their henchmen for three days in a torrential downpour, sleeping rough and nothing to eat but hard tack and water there ought to be a morale modifier as well.

  13. Travis,

    The problem with adding more and more modifiers is that the arithmetical progression of the system as described so far already increases at a very fast pace. 3 damage quickly becomes 5, which becomes 8 and 13, then 21 and 34 ... and the next thing, you have Anthony's 174 damage per day.

    What's needed are modifiers that reduce the arithmetical progression. The assumption ought to be that the progression as described already takes into account the things you suggest ... and that smart party behavior reduces the effects of the wilderness.

  14. Be careful about the magnitude and amount of factors. Even just 1 or 2 factors at a high magnitude (like 1.4) are enough to generate ridiculous damage. I started with the harshest climate conditions at a factor of 1.5 and that quickly became untenable. Also be wary of the sheer number of factors, even about 5 of them at 1.1 will have a similar affect.

    You have to balance the amount of factors you use and their magnitude along with mitigating factors (<1.0).

  15. I'm sure you have either a much more complicated system or have stopped using this entirely. I know at one point you had a weather system that meshed well with it. Anyway, I'm taking this idea and tweaking it for my own purposes while I tinker with rules. One of the good ideas, if minor, that has come out of this blog.


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