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.