Swinging on a rope across a chasm, rappelling down a vast subterranean canyon in pursuit of a drow assassin, sliding down a ravine atop a mushroom cap, or wrangling a tentacled beast while in the cold caress of a Underworld river—combat is dynamic, and this holds true in a world where the ceiling is yet another potential arena for stalwart heroes to fight. Systemwise, a turn-based roleplaying game such as 5E does not necessarily manage to retain the fluidity and excitement of rapidly moving battles and high-octane chases. The engine presented is intended to be highly modular, allowing the GM to choose freely and mix-and-match components, depending on the requirements of the individual encounter and preferences at the table. Momentum represents having a certain trajectory and speed, with the exact speed contingent on the individual encounter’s requirements and framing.

Heroes are bound to utilize momentum in unexpectedly diverse and exciting ways while exploring the Lightless Abyss, and the following systems utilize momentum in a wide variety of situations. As a default, momentum is tracked by individual creatures, but in certain scenarios it may instead apply to entire vehicles, such as mine carts, boats, or even beasts. The context dictates the way momentum is tracked: by vehicle, by creature, by group of creatures, and so on, depending on the requirements of the GM and the scene.

As such, the system proposes two different, basic takes on making momentum matter. In both takes, the following are general, universal guidelines:


The Basic Rules for Momentum

  1. As a general rule, taking the Dash action makes you gain momentum.
  2. You lose momentum if you do not move at least 20 feet during your turn.
  3. When you have momentum, you can expend momentum to make a variety of different, tactical choices.
  4. In the simple method, expending momentum makes you not have momentum, OR
  5. In the complex method, expending momentum reduces your momentum points in your momentum pool by 1, to a minimum of 0 (which equates to not having momentum).

Beyond these basic guidelines, we have provided a selection of assorted variant rules that interact with the momentum engine. All components are designed to work in conjunction with each other, or on their own. Simple Method: Basic Momentum Suitable for games that enjoy quick and simple rules, this model proposes that you either have momentum or you do not have momentum. The process by which you end up having momentum is called gaining momentum. As a rule of thumb, regular movement means that you do not have momentum. When something like a swinging rope or a haphazard slide down a vast slope accelerates you or puts you in a dynamic position, you are treated as having momentum. While you have momentum, you can expend momentum as part of making an attack or movement, with the resulting effects depending on the context in which you make use of that momentum.

Complex Method: Differentiated Momentum

If you prefer your rules to feature some resource management, this model proposes that you have a momentum pool. Your momentum pool can hold up to three momentum points.

Each momentum point represents one category of acceleration, with the frame of reference depending on the situation in which the momentum is tracked. For example, if you are racing along a fast-flowing river, a momentum point may represent a different speed than when rappelling down a lightless chasm.

If you increase in speed, you gain one momentum point; gaining this momentum means you get one momentum point. You have momentum if you have at least one momentum point.

If you are slowed, you lose one momentum point; losing this momentum means you lose one momentum point. You have momentum, unless you have no momentum points left.

Expending momentum costs you one momentum point unless otherwise specified or determined by the GM.

Halting means that you lose all momentum points—slamming face-first into a brick wall, for example, obviously empties your entire momentum pool. As said, you are treated as having momentum as long as you have at least one momentum point.

Optional Rule: Retaining Momentum

While the basic engine is designed to allow for the retention of momentum via a simple comparison with actual movement speed, some GMs and groups will want a more player agenda-driven way to track whether or not you lose momentum. This optional action works in conjunction with both proposed systems to implement the retention of such momentum in your game.

  • Retain Momentum. When you are slowed to a movement of less than 20 feet per round, you may, as a bonus action or as a reaction to not being able to move far enough, retain your momentum until your next turn. This is known as retaining momentum. In the simple method of using momentum, if you do not move at least 20 feet on your next turn, your momentum is lost—you cannot just keep retaining momentum. When using the complex method of using momentum, if you do not move at least 20 feet on your next turn, your momentum is lost, unless you spend 1 momentum point as part of your decision to retain momentum—you slow down, but you manage to keep up some speed.

Momentum-based Maneuvers

Sometimes, experienced players want more options than trading blows, and traditionally in d20-based games we have the concept of combat maneuvers offering depth and meaningful choice each round. Of course, many of these choices represent story-type actions that will live long after the roll of the dice, especially if they are outlandish successes or memorable failures.

While 5E offers the full assortment of combat maneuvers, these are usually relegated to specific class features and a rudimentary coverage as variant rules, allowing new players to choose more straightforward options to learn the game. The following rules attempt to offer an easy-to-implement maneuver system that does not invalidate the already existing maneuver-based class options. The following options thus are deliberately designed to be slightly weaker than comparable class features. However, it should be noted that they provide more flexibility to both characters and NPCs; they can be considered to be an increase in power. They have been playtested extensively, and will not break the game.

If used in conjunction with classes and class options that grant a similar maneuver, use the maneuver featured by the class or class option instead. If there is no equivalent for a momentum-based maneuver among the options granted by the class option, just consider allowing the character in question to add their maneuver die or similar benefits to the respective momentum-based maneuver, or allow them to take a maneuver that is slightly better and does not require any momentum as a choice when gaining a new maneuver.

Using a Maneuver. Whenever you take the Attack action with a melee weapon, you can expend momentum to execute a maneuver. Subject to the GM’s discretion, some maneuvers may be executed with ranged weapons. If you employ the complex method of using momentum, you can expend more momentum points. See below for details.

  • Saving Throws. Some maneuvers offer the option to resist the maneuver’s effects with a saving throw. The saving throw DC is calculated as follows: Maneuver save DC = 8 + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice). If you are proficient with the weapon you execute the maneuver with, you also add your proficiency bonus to the maneuver save DC.
  • Complex Method. When using the complex method of employing momentum, you can expend more than one momentum point when performing a maneuver. For every momentum point beyond the first that you expend, you add +2 to the maneuver save DC to a maximum of +4. For example, a fighter barreling down a steep cliff, who expends all three momentum points when executing a maneuver, would increase the maneuver save DC by +4. This way of spending additional momentum points uses them up and does not grant any other benefits for expending momentum.
  • Golden Rule The GM is always right! When the GM rules that a specific maneuver makes no sense, like attempting to trip a giant snail or visually blinding a creature without eyes, it automatically fails—the GM know best!

List of Maneuvers

Appendage Disable. When you hit a creature capable of executing attacks with natural weapons (such as claws, bites, tentacles, and the like), you can expend momentum and choose to deal minimum damage. You choose one attack form of your target, such as a claw, a bite, etc. The target must then succeed on its choice of a Constitution or Strength saving throw. On a failure, the target may not use the chosen source of an attack form to make attacks on its next turn. Blind. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend momentum to attempt to blind the target briefly. The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or be blinded until the start of your next turn. The target or an ally of the target may use their Action to clear debris, slimy gunk, etc. from the eyes of the target, ending the blinded condition prematurely.

  • Cancel When a creature that is Large or smaller (and at most a maximum of one size category larger than you) charges you in melee while you have momentum, you may use your reaction and expend momentum to attempt to negate the benefits of the charge. If you do, make your choice of a contested Strength, Dexterity or Constitution check against the attacker’s choice of a Strength, Dexterity or Constitution check. On a success, you negate your choice of any benefits the charging character would have for charging you, or make the charging character lose momentum. On a failure, you are affected by the charge as normal.
  • Disarm When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend momentum to attempt to disarm the target, forcing it to drop an item of your choice that the target is holding. The target must succeed on its choice of either a Dexterity or Strength saving throw to hold on to the item, or you fling the item 15 feet away in a direction of your choice. Locked gauntlets and similar precautions may prevent being disarmed.
  • Grazing Feint. When you hit a creature, you can expend momentum and choose to deal minimum damage. The target must then succeed on a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, an ally of your choice has advantage on the next attack roll against the target, provided it is executed before your next turn.
  • Interception. When another creature damages you or an ally within your reach, you can use your reaction and expend momentum to reduce the damage taken by 1d4 + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice). If you do, you decrease your AC until the start of your next turn by the same result of the 1d4 roll.
  • Lunge When you make a melee weapon attack on your turn, you can expend momentum to increase the reach for the attack by 5 feet. If you do, roll 1d4, and decrease your AC by the amount rolled. The reduction lasts until the start of your next turn. If you’re using the complex method of employing momentum, you can extend your lunge even further (5 feet per momentum point expended), but at the cost of being wide open to attack, rolling 1d4 to decrease your AC per momentum point expended until the start of your next turn.
  • Momentum Dodge. As a reaction to being attacked, but before results are made known, you can expend momentum to gain a +1d4 bonus to your AC for the attack that triggered the reaction. If this bonus makes an attack miss, it misses you. However, until the start of your next turn, the uncontrolled movement implied by the use of momentum makes you easier to hit. Against all other attacks until the start of your next turn, you decrease your AC by the same amount you rolled on the d4.
  • Opening When you hit a creature, you can expend momentum and choose to deal minimum damage. When you do, roll 1d4; the target’s AC is reduced by the amount rolled on the d4 until the start of your next turn.
  • Purse-Cutter’s Assist. When you hit a creature, you can expend momentum and choose to deal minimum damage. If you do, the target must then succeed on a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, you create an opening that makes it easier to steal from the target, granting advantage on the first Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check to steal from the target. The target also has disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) to notice the theft.
  • Push When you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend momentum to drive the target back if the target is Large or smaller. The target must succeed on a Strength saving throw. On a failure, the target is pushed up to 10 feet away from you, in a direction of your choice other than the one from which you came. If you’re using the differentiated method of employing momentum, you The True Potential of Appendage/Shield Disable for the GM can push targets even further; for every momentum point beyond the first that you expend, you increase the distance you push the target by 5 feet.

A clever GM can base whole puzzle- or boss-encounters on the Appendage Disable maneuver, and make them very cinematic and rewarding to boot! Picture a massive, kaiju-sized hydra, or a gigantic kraken with rapidly regenerating tentacles, where the characters, in order to attack the vulnerable body, must “clear” a way by disabling the respective appendages! In the case of such a combat, consider foregoing a saving throw entirely for the monster.

In such a scenario, the main task would be for the party to find a way to get to the monster’s body and stay there—of course, the creature would potentially have a means to, say, bludgeon or swipe the characters away! The wizard can cover one side of the party’s approach with a wall of fire, while the rest of the party keeps the tentacles on the other side at bay, just as the last character dives towards the beast’s gaping maw to actually cause it some real damage! Of course, you could also design creatures with “shield-appendages” and the like, with each “shield appendage” being tied to, for example, a condition or energy immunity—disabling it negates that immunity form until the start of the character’s next turn! Implementation of this system not only enhances the options for players, it also allows the GM to create more complex and rewarding encounters.

  • Reckless Trip. When you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can expend momentum to attempt to crash into the target, knocking it and yourself down if the target is Large or smaller. The target must succeed on a Strength or Dexterity saving throw (target’s choice). On a successful saving throw, you only inflict minimum damage. On a failure, the target and you fall prone and you deal normal damage. Rush. When you hit a creature, you can expend momentum to temporarily render the target off-balance. If the target is hit by another attack before the start of your next turn, it must succeed on its choice of a Strength or Dexterity saving throw or be forced prone.
  • Rushed Parry. When a creature misses you with a melee attack, you can expend momentum and use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack at disadvantage against the creature.
  • Shield Disable. When you hit a creature wielding a shield, you can expend momentum and choose to deal minimum damage. The target must then succeed on its choice of a Constitution or Strength saving throw. Characters with locked gauntlets may, subject to the GM’s discretion, have advantage on this saving throw. On a failure, the shield’s bonus to AC and/or other benefit is negated for the next attack you or one of your allies make against the target, provided it is executed before your next turn.
  • Switch You can barrel into an ally, taking their place on their battlefield. Make a melee weapon attack against an ally and expend momentum. On a hit, you inflict your Strength or Dexterity modifier bludgeoning damage (minimum 1) to your ally (whichever is higher), and take their place. The ally may use its reaction to move up to half its speed without provoking opportunity attacks from any creature threatening the ally’s original position. Your movement into your ally’s former place also does not trigger opportunity attacks.

Variant Rules: Maneuvers without Momentum

It is possible to use the maneuver engine above without using momentum. The system is balanced so it does not eclipse the maneuver-based class options of 5E. Taking away the momentum requirement, however, will increase the options available to the party, and thus their overall power. In such an instance, it is suggested that the character must expend both their bonus action and reaction in a round wherein they use a maneuver. A GM should note that this makes it possible for the party to potentially disable all attacks of singular monsters. If this is not something you desire for your game, it is suggested to limit the ability to use Appendage Disable.

Variant Rules: Momentum, Tactical

Combat and Abstract 3-D Combat Options

Trying to depict the three-dimensional nature of combat while rappelling down a cliff, flying or swimming can be a challenge in the tabletop setting, particularly so for 5E, since the system aims to facilitate both theater of the mind and grid-based gameplay.

While there are many ways to depict three-dimensional combat, from using height-indicators to tokens, what might you do if you want to employ a simpler solution but still offer meaningful tactical choices and differences between combatants? Here are rules to help with an abstract, yet tactical system.

Merging Momentum with Initiative

Every creature or group of creatures involved in combat has a place in the initiative order, as determined by their Dexterity check. Forge Ahead. A creature may use its bonus action and expend momentum to increase its initiative by up to its proficiency bonus in the next round. Those creatures with a higher initiative have a tactical advantage over slower creatures.

A creature with a higher initiative count that has momentum may expend momentum as part of attacking a target creature with a lower initiative score to gain one of the following benefits:

  • Increase damage inflicted of one melee attack by 1/2 the difference between the initiative scores (minimum 1, maximum twice the attacker’s proficiency bonus). This damage is considered to be a modifier for the purpose of critical hits and is of the same type as the primary weapon damage of the attack. If the attack inflicts more than one eligible damage types, the more sensible damage type is chosen by the GM
  • Outmaneuver an opponent so the attacker is treated as though it had advantage on the attack roll for the purposes of Sneak Attack and similar abilities
  • Perform a “story stunt” or other narrative advantage agreed upon by the player and the GM
  • Perform a Momentum Maneuver.

Expending momentum this way changes your place in the initiative order to one below the target you attacked in the following round. Let us demonstrate this with an example:

1. A player character drow skirmisher (Initiative 20) attacks a funglet spore-cerer (Initiative 16).

2. The drow has used Dash and has momentum.

3. The drow attacks the funglet and decides to expend his momentum.

4. The difference between initiative scores is 4 (20 -16), which means that the drow could choose to increase his weapon damage by +2 (half the difference between initiative scores, and not more than twice the drow’s proficiency bonus).

5. Alternatively, the drow could attempt to use, e.g., Sneak Attack against the funglet.

6. As a third alternative, the player decides to initiate a “story stunt”; after a quick discussion with the GM, the skirmisher cartwheels into the funglet, sending it flying backwards 10 feet.

7. In the next round, though, the drow’s new place in the initiative order will be 15 due to the reckless assault, giving the funglet an edge…

Adapting Grid-Based Abilities

There are character abilities in the game that are clearly designed for use with a battle map and grid. While some of these can use the initiative/momentum merged optional rule above to trigger an effect, others may be passive or simply harder to mediate in the more subjective and abstract theater of the mind.

To make these abilities matter more, each such ability grants a +1 bonus to the initiative check. If the creature has such an ability and it is particularly potent (for example one gained at 12th level or above), then that creature gains advantage on the initiative check. The complexity of the base system means that reasonable interpretation by the GM, based on the conditions of the encounter and abilities in question, remains of utmost importance.

Abstract Range Categories

Sometimes when dealing with dynamic combat, you may want to employ an abstract array of range categories, particularly when dealing with continuous movement over greater stretches of space, such as when choosing increments that represent a longer duration and/or distance.

Moving Between Abstract Range Categories

Closing distance and moving from one abstract range category to another requires a Dash action. In order to catch up with a target of the approximate same speed, the creature has to have the tactical advantage (a higher initiative) and expend momentum, moving its initiative score to 1 below that of the target in the initiative order.

Table 5-1: Abstract Range Categories
Range Attacks Ranged Attacks Spell Range Approximate Distance
Close Any (melee, thrown, ranged, siege) Not modified As per distance 0 to 200 feet
Long Ranged & siege weapons Disadvantage As per distance 201 feet—600 feet
Distant Exceptional ranged weapons and siege weapons only Exceptions only Unlimited only 601 feet—1,200 feet
Extreme Siege weapons only Unlimited only Unlimited only 1,201 feet—2,000 feet

A Touch of Old-School: Segmented Spellcasting and Momentum

Now let us consider how momentum can help spellcasters.

At one point, wizard duels were more tactical, and even level 1 spells (or spell slots!) remained more viable at higher levels. This was due to the deceptively simple system called “segmented spellcasting.” With or without momentum, the following allows for an interesting way to make this time-honored concept work in conjunction with 5e, beyond the rudimentary, optional suggestions noted in the core rules. The basic idea is simple: the casting process of a spell takes time. All cantrips and any spell that may be cast as a bonus action or reaction remain unchanged; the same goes for spells with a casting time exceeding “1 action.” Any spell that has a casting time of “1 action,” however, begins the process of being cast when the spellcaster takes their action to cast the spell. In contrast to the regular assumptions of the system, the casting takes a number of initiative segments (hence the name, segmented spellcasting) equal to the spell’s level or spell slot used, whichever is higher—the spell only comes into effect after this delay. The caster is assumed to be casting all this time, which means that the caster may be interrupted until the spell’s casting is completed. The rules for concentration apply during the casting process. If the casting process is interrupted, the spell slot used to cast the spell is lost until the caster has completed a long rest. Warlocks do not lose their spell slots when their spellcasting is interrupted this way. After spellcasting this way, the caster’s new initiative score is equal to their old initiative, minus the spell’s level or the spell slot used, whichever is higher. If, at any point, a spellcaster’s initiative would decrease below -4 due to spellcasting, they set their initiative to 20 on the following round and do not get to act.

Here is an example broken down into individual events:

  • 1. A drow wizard (Initiative 15) is casting bane using a 4th level spell slot, targeting 4 creatures 2. The spellcasting process starts at initiative 3. The drow remains vulnerable to having the spellcasting process interrupted, until the process is completed at initiative 11 (15—the spell slot used, which here is 4) 4. After completing the spellcasting process, the drow’s new initiative score for the next round is 11.

Variant Rule for Initiative Decay Due to Spellcasting

Suddenly finding yourself at initiative 20, but losing an entire action can be rather nerve-wracking in combat. For a less demanding option regarding the caster’s tactics, consider the following variant rule: If, at any point, a spellcaster’s initiative would decrease below -4 due to spellcasting, they set their initiative to 10+1d3 on the following round. They get to act as usual on their new initiative score.

Implementing segmented spellcasting requires a few modifications, as follows.

All creatures with spellcasting or innate spellcasting should have the following option: Get Ahead. A creature can use its bonus action to increase its initiative score on its next turn, and only its next turn, by up to 1/2 its proficiency bonus (rounded down).

Sorcerers, as masters of flexible magic, should gain the following feature: Spontaneous Magic. At 1st level, you get 2 spontaneity points, and you gain more as you reach higher levels. These additional spontaneity points are equal to the sorcery points gained at each level. (This means that sorcerers start with 2 spontaneity points and have a second pool of points that is equal to their sorcery points + 2.) When casting a spell, the sorcerer may spend a spontaneity point to reduce the segments it takes to cast the spell by 1d4, to a minimum of 0 segments.

At 12th level, the die rolled increases to 1d6, and at 17th level, the die once more increases to 1d8. If a die rolled due to spending a spontaneity point reduces a spell’s segments to 0 this way, the spell is cast as per the standard rules, taking immediate effect. Note that this expenditure can prevent sliding down in the initiative order.

Warlocks, as beings that channel the magic forces of otherworldly entities, behave slightly differently, and should gain the following features: Controlled Magic. At 1st level, you gain a number of control points equal to your Charisma modifier plus the number of your spells known, as noted in the warlock’s Spells Known column in the class’s table. When casting a spell, you can choose to spend a control point to cast the spell without being subject to the decrease in the initiative order due to segmented spellcasting.

  • Body Fuel At 5th level, you may use your action to burn your soul’s resources to improve the interface with your otherworldly patron, replenishing your ability to swiftly control the mighty magic you channel. You regain a number of control points equal to twice your Charisma modifier. This can result in horrific visions, crippling feelings of being morally compromised, or similar strains upon body and soul that depend on the nature of your patron—usually, this means that you suffer 1 level of exhaustion. Subject to the GM’s discretion, madness, Colliatur Melancholia or similar effects may be substituted. You even suffer this effect when you would otherwise be immune to the condition in question, as your patron takes its due.

You must finish a long rest before you can use this feature again until you reach 10th level. At 10th level and 15th level, you may use this feature an additional time each (for a total of 3 uses at 15th level) before requiring a long rest to use it again.

Variant Rules for Get Ahead

Obviously, Get Ahead will allow spellcasters to increase their initiative to higher levels than usual. While this is balanced by the initiative decay that they suffer from in this system, some groups might consider the following two variants:

  • 1) Allow all characters to gain Get Ahead. This lets non-spellcasters benefit from the same bonus, but also will inevitably make spellcasters more subject to interruptions of their spellcasting, since non-spellcasters do not suffer from the same initiative decay.
  • 2) Cap the initiative score you can attain with Get Ahead at the original initiative score rolled. That is, a wizard rolls initiative, and for that combat, they cannot use Get Ahead to increase their initiative above the result rolled. This retains the importance of that first initiative roll and makes it more important, for better or worse.

If use of this feature kills you, your soul is consumed by your patron, and then nothing short of a wish or similarly powerful magic may return you to life. On the plus side, this ultimate sacrifice allows you to cast one final spell with a casting time of 1 action as part of using this feature, and the spell comes into effect immediately, regardless of how it would otherwise have behaved. All saving throws made against this spell are made at disadvantage, and all damage dice of such a spell, if any, are maximized.

Important Note. Segmented spellcasting works particularly well with the “Merge Momentum with Initiative” variant rules. When used in conjunction, Forge Ahead can be used as part of the same bonus action as Get Ahead. The benefits are cumulative. Note that Forge Ahead’s increase is static, while Get Ahead only applies to the next round! The consequences of implementing this system are myriad:

  • Low-level spell slots retain their tactical viability at higher levels
  • Casters are a little more vulnerable to being interrupted
  • Mage duels can become exceedingly tactical affairs, making these rules great for Player-versus-Player conflicts!
  • Initiative becomes pretty important for spellcasters
  • Spellcasters will slowly move down in the initiative order
  • Wizards will need to be more tactical than sorcerers
  • Sorcerers will feel more like volatile magical savants
  • Warlocks become quick and deadly blasters.


A chase assumes continuous movement, and thus it is often not feasible to track movement every round. The exciting pursuits and obstacles that determine success or failure of a chase are designated as increments. You can use tokens, chase cards, playing cards—anything you would like, to represent an increment.

At the start of a chase, determine any number of increments between the parties involved in the chase, and optionally, a total number of increments. Such increments may be right next to another in the game world, or miles apart—it depends on the context of the individual chase. A GM should decide on a general idea of what an increment represents regarding distance and time. This could range from using the default of the combat round, to long-term treks through a vast, subterranean wasteland. The distance and time between these increments is primarily important to track the duration of spells and effects that may help the characters navigate challenges.

For facility’s sake, it is assumed that creatures can do the same thing during an increment “round”, as they could during a regular combat round—after all, they will be busy running, swimming, riding, flying and so on.

The chase must have a goal. This goal may be fixed (like reaching the gates of a subterranean dwarven hold that offer safe refuge from slavering legions) or it may be a dynamic success condition (like shaking off a group of deadly and persistent hunters).

A chase ends when it reaches a fixed goal, or when a dynamic success condition is met; most commonly this is a minimum distance between the chasing parties, with the number of increments that represent the distance determined by the GM.

For example, a GM may determine that a drow hunting party loses track of the characters once they have managed to establish 4 increments between them and their drow pursuers.

Each increment of a chase should have at least two types of obstacle available to navigate. These are chosen by the GM, and can include, e.g., a chasm that needs to be jumped to a scramble through a claustrophobic tunnel. An increment should allow the players to choose between an easy and a tough obstacle. A creature reaching the increment can attempt a check to bypass a chosen obstacle, with the difficulty and nature of the check determined by the GM. As a rule of thumb, the tough obstacle should have a DC that is at least 5 higher than the easy obstacle, and a chance of inflicting damage or some other detrimental effect on a failure. Failing to pass any obstacle means that the creature is stuck on the current increment and does not progress to the next increment.

After failing to pass an increment’s obstacle twice, the character automatically progresses to the next increment—this may seem odd, but playtesting has shown that this is the best way to keep the entire party engaged even when they appear to have “failed” at a task. The penalty may be the change in distance between the party and its enemy. Succeeding at an easy obstacle allows the creature to progress to the next increment. Succeeding at a tough obstacle also allows the character or creature to progress to the next increment and to gain momentum and/or an additional bonus (Chases and Momentum).

A creature can forego progressing to the next increment and instead help another creature. This is treated as the Help action, and allows the helped creature to automatically bypass the easy obstacle, or to have advantage on a check made to bypass the increment’s tough obstacle. The assisting creature loses momentum if it has any, as it will be slowing down.

Remember, the obstacles chosen may represent anything from a grueling track through miles of sulfuric caverns to a quick jump over a fungal stalk, all depending on what the respective increment represents in the chase.

If using cards to represent increments, experience has shown that putting them face down on the table, and flipping them over at the end of a round where a character gets within one card of the increment results in the most dynamic chases. As an added benefit, when using momentum in conjunction with chases, this may result in characters reaching an obstacle without knowing what to expect, layering in a tactical element to chases (Chases and Momentum).

A second and rather simple expansion to chases renders them nonlinear—instead of picturing them as an abstract, linear sequence, more complex scenarios may prompt you to create branching pathways in your chases—in such an instance, taking the tough obstacle should lead the characters in one direction, passing the easy one in the other.

In the case of branching pathways, treat a failure to bypass a tough obstacle as if the character has progressed through the easy obstacle instead.

Without Momentum

When not using the momentum rules, succeeding the check to bypass a tough obstacle allows the character to skip the next challenge without requiring a check. The character can still attempt a check to progress an additional increment.

What Could Go Wrong?

Consult Table 5-2 for sample obstacles that are useful as chase challenges. (For DCs and alternate ideas, see Underworld Hazards.)

Table 5-2: Chase Obstacles
d8 Standard Easy Standard Tough Magical Easy Magical Tough
1 Shale-like scree that slides underfoot Rock-like scree that can twist an ankle or worse Sulfurous puddles that act like acid splash Tar-filled puddles coat feet and slow runners
2 Boulders with gaps big enough to slip through Boulders with gaps that you may get stuck in Icy boulders that act like chill touch if touched A sudden, violent air blast acts like wind wall
3 Rock slabs the size of large stairs, going up or down, block your path Rock slabs the size of huge stairs, going up or down, block your path A flint-strewn path that sparks like fire bolt fills the next 20 feet A bubbling lava flow shoots blobs like fireball for the next 60 feet
4 A gap roughly the width of four goblin strides is 30 feet ahead of you A gap roughly the width of four troll strides is 10 feet ahead of you Light reflection creating a diverting minor illusion is 30 feet ahead of you Light reflection creating a worrying major image is 10 feet ahead of you
5 A 30-foot-wide stream, five feet deep at most, with a smooth bed A 30-foot-wide stream, five feet deep at least, with an uneven bed Crossing an icy stream acts like ray of frost, but at least the bed is flat Crossing an icy waterfall acts like sleet storm, and the bed is uneven
6 A smooth, winding path through mushrooms no more than 5 feet tall A slick, root-strewn path through mushrooms no less than 5 feet tall Mushrooms that squirt the equivalent of poison spray if rubbed against Mushrooms that squirt the equal of stinking cloud if rubbed against
7 A 20-foot-wide lava flow with 7, above-surface, 12-inch stepping stones A 30-foot-wide lava flow with 5, at-the-surface, 6-inch steppingstones Metallic veins in the wall act like shocking grasp if rubbed against Metallic veins in the wall act like lightning bolt if neared within 5 feet
8 A 12-foot-long, 30-inch-wide span over a 20-foot-deep crevasse A 30-foot-long, 12-inch-wide span over a 100-foot-deep crevasse You run through an odd sensory distraction as if caused by druidcraft You run through an odd sensory display much like hypnotic pattern

Chases and Momentum

During a chase, momentum may be used as a resource to make the proceedings more exciting. In a chase, you do not get momentum by taking the Dash action, as everyone is assumed to be moving that way.

Instead, you gain momentum by succeeding on a tough obstacle and roleplaying plausibly how this helps you speed up or allows you to get further ahead.

You may expend momentum to bypass an increment, going straight to the next one. You have to decide to do so before attempting an increment’s challenges.

When expending momentum this way, the character accelerates beyond what would be safe. Subject to the GM’s discretion, this may lock the character into having to try to pass the tough obstacle of the increment they landed on after expending momentum. This should be used sparingly, and not on an increment that features branching pathways, as it can unduly slow the chase. Failing at a tough or easy obstacle makes you lose momentum.

Chases, Momentum, and Combat

An easy way to make chases more exciting is to substitute optional combats for some of the challenges. These combat encounters can be bypassed with the same momentum expenditure as usual for an increment, representing the respective character running from the creature. In order to avoid bogging down gameplay, combat encounters inserted into a chase should be resolved quickly, and since chases have a tendency to leave members of the party on different increments, the challenge of the creature(s) chosen should be suitable for a single character, and in any case should never exceed half the character’s proficiency bonus—the creatures are intended to be bumps in the road to quickly vanquish, not true combat challenges. If in doubt, choose creatures with low hit point totals.

If the character manages to defeat the creature within 1 round, they progress as though they had succeeded passing a tough obstacle. A character automatically progresses to the next increment after 2 rounds of combat, as she outstrips the combatant with speed and cunning. Of course, it is possible to insert proper combat encounters in a given chase, but the GM should ensure that the characters have a solid chance at defeating these encounters, and take into account that it’s likely that the party is spread over multiple increments. This is particularly important when an increment represents a longer duration and/or distance. Remember: slaughtering a wizard while his friends are minutes away and have to watch, is neither fair, nor fun, nor likely to win you friends.

For epic chases—for example the party evading a whole hostile army over multiple days—consult the Streamlined Survival Rules. They are designed in a similarly modular way and crafted to work seamlessly with the systems presented here.

Alternatively, such combat may be the result of failing a tough obstacle’s check—being stuck in the gooey strands of a predatory crustacean as a result of trying to shortcut through them, for example, may trigger a combat.

Similarly, a GM may decide that one or both of a given increments’ obstacles are “trapped”—this may mean that failing it can result in combat or being affected by a trap-like effect. It is easy to devise a scenario where choosing one obstacle over the other may necessitate an additional check, result in combat, and so on. For example, escaped hoyrall slaves running through labyrinthine hive-cities may well be faced with combat or even a dead end when taking a wrong turn…

Dynamic Movement: Running Combats and Vessel Momentum

A variant application of the momentum engine may be used when depicting moving battles, where the combatants and their vehicles/mounts/vessels keep moving, while the combat between participants rages.

In such a case, it is easiest to track momentum by each vessel or moving entity involved. Let us say, for example, that the party is hunting a dvergr slaver junk on the subterranean seas. The party has their own ship, and the dvergr slaver junk is another vessel. However, unbeknown to the party, the dvergr have hired a vestraadi mercenary riding atop an eyeless, giant eel as a bodyguard.

As we can see, the scene has three moving entities: the party’s ship, the dvergr’s, and the vestraadi mercenary’s eel. In such a case, it makes sense to track momentum for these three moving entities.

In another scenario, the characters, astride odd, jumping sentient fungi, are hunting a team of gitwerc occultists through the dense mycelia of a fungal jungle. Each character is astride their own mount, while the gitwerc have a wagon and several lizard-riders barreling through the subterranean biome.

In such a case, it would make most sense to track momentum separately for each character and NPC, with any gitwerc on board of the wagon sharing the wagon’s momentum.

Things become slightly more complex in mixed encounters that fluidly alternate between combat on a vessel level and on an individual level.

Momentum in such a context must be seen in relation between two physical bodies. For example, two beings fighting atop a dragon’s back may have momentum in comparison to those on the ground, but not when it comes to facing each other. They could crash with the full benefits of having momentum into those on the ground, but they don’t necessarily have momentum in relation to each other.

An easy means to differentiate between these frames of reference is to optionally call momentum that applies to a vessel or larger entity (such as a group of soldiers atop a howdah-bearing creature) vessel momentum, while momentum on an individual level is simply called momentum.

As a general rule, if a vessel or entity has vessel momentum, all beings atop it share this vessel momentum as momentum against targets not astride it. If the vessel or entity loses vessel momentum, the beings atop the vessel or entity also lose their momentum against targets not astride the vessel or entity at the end of the round where the vessel or entity lost its vessel momentum. This allows targets to employ the vessel momentum of crashed vessels or entities by lunging from it.

Depending on the context and nature of the entity, only the rider, the entity itself, and the driver, pilot, etc. can make the entity or vessel gain vessel momentum. Similarly, momentum as a result of vessel momentum of those atop a vessel, in relation to those not on board it, may only be lost when the entity or vessel as a whole loses vessel momentum.

As an example, no matter how many dvergr berserkers jump off a siege-skildpadder, the remaining berserkers atop it retain their vessel-granted momentum in relation to those not on board for as long as the armored colossus charges onwards unimpeded.

If a character that has momentum enters a vessel or entity that has vessel momentum, the character retains their momentum regarding the targets atop the entity or vessel as per the usual rules.

If a character does not have momentum, but enters a vessel or entity that has vessel momentum, the character gains momentum against targets that are not atop the entity or vessel, but unless the character manages to gain momentum atop the entity or vessel, they do not count as having momentum in relation to other targets atop the entity or vessel.

When used in conjunction with variant rules for merging of momentum with initiative, or for the segmented spellcasting rules, vessel momentum should NOT be treated as momentum for purposes of those subsystems, unless used by the vessel or entity itself.

For example, a dragon would very much be capable of benefiting from the vessel momentum it bestows upon its riders for the purpose of those sub-systems (for the dragon, it’s not vessel momentum—it’s just its own momentum!), while the beings atop the dragon could not use the vessel momentum granted by the dragon to affect their own spellcasting or place in the initiative order.

The Differentiated Method and Complex Scenarios

When using the differentiated method of tracking momentum, each vessel or entity has its own momentum pool.

If a character enters a vessel or entity that has vessel momentum, they gain momentum equal to the vessel or entity’s current momentum pool, but only with regards to targets currently not sharing the vessel or entity’s vessel momentum-granted momentum pool. If the character already had one or more momentum points, they may be used as normal against other targets atop the vessel, or the points may be added to the momentum points granted by vessel momentum, but only against targets not on top of it. This does not allow a character to exceed the momentum pool maximum of three.

The GM is the arbiter of whether the character has to spend vessel momentum or their own momentum first, depending on the scene. For example, Quickfingers Raleigh is pursuing some funglet drug-dealers that are riding atop a roughly spherical, tumbleweed-like mushroom-thing. He managed to cut off their escape route by sprinting towards the edge of a cliff, and then jumping atop their strange vessel.

The funglets’ mushroom-thing has a 2-momentum points vessel momentum. W hen Quickfingers jumps down, he himself has 2 momentum points in his pool. Ideally, he wants to smash the funglet leader from the mushroom-thing and cushion his fall with the vile funglet’s body. Raleigh’s GM has decided to use the momentum-based maneuvers variant rules, which is good news for Quickfingers Raleigh! Knowing that his momentum pool cannot exceed 3, and betting on the fungus-things’ momentum being greater than 1, Quickfingers expends momentum on a maneuver when he crashes into the funglet. As they now share the same vessel momentum of the tumbleweed fungus vessel, Quickfingers expends one of his own momentum points, reducing his momentum points to 1, to execute the maneuver. The GM rules that executing a maneuver as part of crashing down also entails the necessity to retain momentum, which Quickfingers does, reducing his momentum to 0. Being successful, he and the funglet drug dealer tumble from the weird fungal vessel in a flurry of limbs. Both the funglet and Quickfingers are treated as having the vessel momentum with regards to those on the ground, plus their previous momentum, if any.

The funglet was standing on the tumbleweed thing when Quickfingers suddenly crashed into him, so the funglet only has 2 momentum points—the sphere-thing’s vessel momentum—when crashing to the ground. Unless he has some trick that can keep him moving, cushion his fall, and retain momentum, this momentum will be short-lived and vanish upon impact.

Quickfingers, on the other hand, has retained his momentum on his own, adding the 2 momentum points of vessel momentum, for a total of 2 momentum points for the combat to follow, hopefully giving him a large enough tactical advantage to best the funglet once and for all!

Environments and Vessel Momentum

If the characters are piloting a svirfneblin ornithopter through the howling winds of Pandemonium, or if they are currently being swept away by strong currents, you can use the vessel momentum rules and have them automatically accelerate in relation to those not propelled forward by these environmental effects.

Streamlined Hexcrawling & Mapping the 3-D World

A map is a delver’s best friend! One of the most important lessons is to make every effort to obtain any existing maps that might aid you in your quest. And in cases where maps don’t exist, never fail to meticulously create your own as you progress through the trackless depths.

If necessary, one member of the delving party should be assigned to count footsteps so that a reasonably accurate measure of ???

Something omits to mention here, but is connected to his words about never trusting a map, is that it is vital to know what race was responsible for “counting footsteps” and “measuring distance” when basing actions on what has been recorded. The distance covered in 100 strides by a halfling, a dwarf, or a human vary greatly, and while a party may have been very happy to rely on one person to make its maps because all the members knew the relevant measurements, not knowing exactly how far those 100 strides represents may well get you killed if you blindly believe the incomplete information in the pitch dark.

Streamlined Hexcrawling Procedures

“Hexcrawling” denotes the most common form of wilderness adventure. The map of a wilderness region is presented with a grid of hexes, which the party traverses, uncovering new locations, enemies and wonders, a little bit like moving from room to room in dungeoncrawling, hence the moniker: hexcrawling.

Since each hex represents a larger stretch of environment than a single room, and since traversing a hex represents a longer stretch of time, experience has shown that it is prudent to provide a solid frame for this “zoomed out” form of adventuring and travel, as this avoids bogging down the gameplay in details, while still emphasizing the scale of the journey.

A type of environment, like magma tubes, fungal jungles, etc., is referred to as a biome. When traveling through the subterranean wilderness, each day of travel and/or exploration is divided into three phases of approximately 8 hours each. In each phase, the following procedure is suggested:

1. Choose Action. The party decides what to do from the list of hexcrawling activities.

2. Random Event. The GM chooses or rolls for a random event or encounter suitable for the biome.

3. Resolution. The random event and the action selected by the party are both resolved.


The party may engage in three of the following default hexcrawling activities in a single phase of the adventuring day, each representing an 8-hour period:

  • 1. Travel. Passing through a hex and into an adjacent one. On roads marked on the map, the party may travel through two hexes (three if mounted). Off-road, only one hex is traversed, and subject to the GM’s discretion, exceedingly tough terrain may require multiple phases to cross one hex. There is also a chance of getting lost while traveling off-road (Getting Lost).
  • 2. Explore. Looking for interesting features within a hex. If you want to roll a check to determine whether the main point of interest in an open hex is found, select an appropriate skill—Wisdom (Survival) makes sense most of the time, but Intelligence (Nature) or an appropriate background might also help—and set the DC to 13. Difficult terrain should increase the DC to 15 or even higher. For hidden points of interest, default DCs ranging from DC 18 to 20 have proven to be effective. In tunnel-centric hexes without branching paths and the like, the party should automatically discover the main location, while particularly honey-combed hives of strange insects may further decrease the chances of finding this point of interest. Retrace the Path. Looking for something that was previously encountered in a hex. The basic chance should be set at approximately DC 5, or DC 9 in difficult terrain.
  • 3. Interact. Staying at one location for some time (e.g. exploring a dungeon, settlement, or monster lair—basically “zooming in” on the adventure locale).
  • 4. Camp. Resting and sleeping.
  • 5. Forage. Hunt, fish, or otherwise forage food. You can deal with this with a simple check (same DCs as for exploring); for more detailed depictions, see the foraging rules and hunting rules if you wish to play the procedures.

Mapping the 3-D Underworld

Roleplaying games have a tradition of assuming a layered structure for the locations explored, and this is no surprise since mapping a complex tends to assume a two-dimensional paper. Hence, dungeons tend to be codified in layers, with clearly separated levels. Similarly, the civilized sections of the Underworld tend to be depicted very much like the surface world, with a clear floor and height differences focused on what is above. Plenty of gorgeous maps feature different elevations for different regions, often denoted with, e.g. “+10 feet” or similar indicators. There is, however, only so far you can go with this depiction without maps becoming very convoluted, time-consuming to draw, and busy. The challenge of presenting the true verticality of the Underworld has been perpetually vexing for most of the authors of atlases and gazetteers.

Imagine you want to depict a collection of huge sulfuric bloom chimneys, connected by a series of tunnels. You picture them as towers of negative space in solid rock, you can see all the connecting tunnels. But in order to map this complex in the traditional way, you’d have to draw maps for a huge number of “levels”, and then connect them—and even if you do this, actually using 10+ pages of maps at the table becomes cumbersome rapidly. Even if you are one of the gifted individuals who can soon draw isometric maps these are limited by their two dimensions as well. Keeping track of numerous connections in a highly vertical environment quickly becomes draining. This presents a serious problem that can limit creativity—and indeed, is probably one of the foremost reasons for the relative scarcity of modules and supplements that portray verticality in a rewarding manner.

As such, this chapter attempts to remedy that and give you a simple tool to draw a complex, interconnected 3-D environment on a 2-D paper, making a vast network of caverns with huge height differences in under half an hour, quicker with some practice.

The map we’re drawing will not be scaled, instead providing an overview of the respective connections for the GM—the goal here is to create an abstract map that lets you keep track of a plethora of connective passages at one glance, without losing track in what height they are. Each cave or region will be represented by a single hexagon, with a parallel line above and below it. Each side of the hexagon represents one of the directions. You can use squares (if you only want to track cardinal directions), octogons, or 16-sided polygons (if you want an even finer differentiation), but for the purpose of most games, hexagons will hit the sweet spot between being easy to draw and precise use. It also lets you use hex-paper as an added plus—and since many modules use hexes for wilderness exploration anyways, that has proven to be most convenient.

To reiterate: Each cave or region, regardless of its actual size, is represented by a line above, a hexagon, and a line below.

The line at the top represents the ceiling of the cave.

The line at the bottom represents the floor of the cave.

Each side of the hexagon represents one of the directions.

Let us say, we want to depict a connection from the Northwest of this cave to the floor of another cave. In this instance, the left-hand cave is at least in part above the right-hand one, as illustrated in Figure 2. This may seem obvious, but we get to the detail of just how much higher it is later in Figures 3 and 4.

When mapping your Underworld, you will not need to jot down the directions for each hexagon—they are included in Figure 1 and 2 for your convenience. In the following depictions, they are not explicitly noted: up is North, down is South.

You can connect any number of hexagons in this manner, allowing for a straightforward way to provide an overview of your Underworld.

However, there is still the issue of the relation between the vertical positions of the respective caves represented by a hexagon. Since there will not be that many different height strata for massive caverns, adding Roman numerals to the inside of a hexagon can be a quick and simple way to denote the stratum.

Think of each stratum as the rough equivalent of a dungeon level—each stratum could denote anything from a few feet to several miles, depending on what you require for your Underworld. See Figure 3.

If strata are used to track the position of caves in relation to each other, how do we differentiate between tunnels on different height levels inside a cavern? We can use Arabic numbers for height levels inside a given cave. First, we should establish a scale for what each height level roughly represents. You may do so for all caves in a region you’re mapping, or do so on a cave-by-cave basis.

So, for a chimney that is 120 feet high, it would for example make sense to have each height level represent approximately 20 feet for 6 height levels. Count up from 0, with “0” meaning that the tunnel starts in the floor and “7” meaning that the tunnel starts on the ceiling. A “1” height level would mean that the tunnel is within the first 20 feet of the chimney. A height level of “5” would denote that the tunnel is between the 80–and 100-foot height markers of the chimney, measured from the floor. See Figure 4.

If you retain the ratio of the height levels as a constant between two caves, as in the example above (i.e. roughly 40 feet height difference between the south exit of Cave I [3] and the south east entrance of Cave II [5], and the floor of Cave I [0] and the north west entrance of Cave II [2]) then you’ll maintain consistency of the relationship between the caverns.

If that seems like too much of a hassle or feels unrealistic, no problem—tunnels slope, wind, and go up and down; these can explain discrepancies between height levels. You can use indicators for tapered lines to denote the like, if you so choose.

To denote the distance a tunnel covers, you can simply write its length next to the line it represents. If you don’t want to maintain consistency between height levels and tunnel distance covered, any discrepancies can be explained by winding turns, etc.

Speaking of tunnels, not all of them are equal! The following notations are proposed but may be easily changed to what you consider to be most intuitive.

Regular Lines denote tunnels that are easy to navigate for Medium-sized or smaller creatures.

Thick Lines (e.g. with markers) can be used to denote massive tunnels that can easily be navigated by creatures of size Larger or greater.

Broken Lines denote tunnels that can be easily navigated by Small creatures but may be hard or impossible to navigate for Medium-sized creatures.

Dotted Lines denote tunnels that are hidden.

Lines with a Superimposed Zigzag can be used to denote dangerous tunnels. (The zigzagging looks dangerous!) Lines featuring short parallel, perpendicular crossing lines can be used to denote a difficult tunnel.

Alternatively, you can highlight the various paths in other ways: simply color-code the different types of tunnels, provided you have colored pencils on hand, or perhaps use the initial letter of the common size categories to indicate the largest creature that won’t have to squeeze through the space (or similar).

All of this may seem confusing at first, but once you have wrapped your head around it, mapping even vast vertical hive-structures with a ton of connecting tunnels becomes quick, simple and painless! For quick and painless use of height levels in combat at the table, you can smoothly and straightforwardly represent different height levels with the momentum-based variant rules for abstract range categories.

Getting Lost in the Underworld

The endless tunnels below are oftentimes a true labyrinth—rock is ancient, uncaring. It does not die, and its strata do not adhere to the rules of humanoid mortality, even that of the elves. The unfathomably ancient layers of stone provide no reason, no sense of direction, no compassion. To enter means to test one’s luck and straying from marked trails and subterranean trade routes presents a very real danger.

Becoming Lost

Whenever the party or a character strays, when magnetic fields hamper navigation via a compass, when the group falls into a deep chasm, when a distance on a map is misread and a wrong turn taken, they risk becoming lost. The first time the party wanders into an unknown region of the wilderness, every character can make a Wisdom (Survival) check—it is advised to have the GM roll these checks in secret. Any number of characters in an expedition can roll a check. However, each failed check negates one success, as the individuals quarrel about the correct way to go. The GM should provide hints in such cases and narrate that the characters disagree—the party then has to decide which way to go. You can use the Underworld hazard generator environmental hazard save DCs as a guideline, or set your own DC. It takes at least one more success than the number of failures to maintain the course and continue.

There are several factors that can influence the check. The modifications to the check are cumulative. The party does not know whether a source is reliable or unreliable unless they make sure via roleplaying.

Being Lost

The amount of time a party is lost depends on the respective biome, how treacherous the environment is, how labyrinthine the tunnels. A honeycombed subterranean hive is harder to navigate than a series of titanic caverns with landmarks. Oftentimes, a region will have a reputation for how dangerous and hard it is to navigate, and parties that do their due diligence in researching their destination before setting off (or meet a friendly local) should have an indicator of how perilous the area is. Regions can be thought of in categories. Modifiers can be added to these categories to further differentiate between regions.

Table 6-1: Factors Affecting Becoming Lost
Factor Modification
Reliable map +1
Unreliable map -2
Working compass +1
Compass not working (magnetic fields) -1
Proficiency with Cartographer Tools Only with a map (increases chances of determining map reliability) Proficiency in Wisdom (Survival) Only for creatures familiar with the Underdark
Proficiency in Intelligence (Nature) Only for creatures familiar with the Underdark
Local guide familiar with the region (reliable) Use guide’s check result, potentially automatic success
Local guide familiar with the region (unreliable) Possibly automatic failure/encounter
First-hand descriptions by locals (reliable) +2
First-hand descriptions by locals (unreliable) -2
Race familiar with long-range Underdark travel Advantage
Table 6-2: Being Lost
Region Time Lost
Civilization-adjacent 1d6 hours
Hunting grounds 1d2 x 6 hours
True wilderness 1d6 x 6 hours

ModifiersDangerous caverns+1d6 hoursVery dangerous caverns+1d8 hoursUtterly lethal+1d10 hoursFew return+2d6 daysNone return/Lightless Abyss+3d6 days—Infinity *

* While getting lost on the surface of a planet is eminently possible, doing so in the Underworld takes on a whole new perspective. There are regions of the Lightless Abyss from which truly none ever return, yet their deaths cannot be confirmed even when their soul is looked for with the most potent of magics. What happens to such poor benighted adventurers is beyond imagining for most people, but there are sages who remind us that the infernal workforce and abyssal armies aren’t always formed of the souls of miscreants, and that on thankfully very rare occasions warped living beings from the overworld are found as totems at the head of some mob, there to strike even greater fear into mortals than the demons and devils involved already do. And there are the things hidden below that transcend even the planar structures, where souls are truly lost, beyond the grasp of even deities, to some fate too unfathomable and horrid to contemplate.

Retracing the Path may help once the characters have become lost, but is unreliable—while the climate in the dark is more reliable than on the surface, there can be plenty of reasons why the party might not be able to retrace their steps. Becoming lost usually implies at least difficult terrain. The GM should feel free to modify the check to retrace the path by up to twice the amount by which the party succeeded or failed to do so before. Note that a failed retrace the path roll could be a reason for becoming lost; indeed, it could be THE reason for getting lost if the party loses confidence in its guide or its own abilities.

Each full day spent being lost requires each character to use an additional 1d3 units of stock, and decreases the mood automatically by one step if the party does not engage in Camaraderie, as being lost wears on both body and soul. Depending on the biome the party is lost in and subject to the GM’s discretion, this might also entail, e.g., disadvantage on saving throws to resist a condition, decrease the number of days before the onset of Colloid Melancholia, or entail additional rolls on Table 15-9: Call of the Lightless Abyss.

Regaining Your Bearing

When the characters manage to retrace their steps (Streamlined Hexcrawling Procedure) because they find a familiar landmark, meet a friendly NPC, interrogate an adversary, or find a recognizable adventure site, they end up in a location of the GM’s devising.


With appropriate gear, a party could make it much easier to retrace their path. Marking passages with chalk, scratches, bio-luminescent algae, and the like should make retracing the path all but guaranteed, but also takes up time. Doing so halves the speed of the party. Note, though, that malignant entities might wash off chalk, earthquakes and creatures traveling through rocks might make scratches unreliable, and using anything organic might attract predators and increase the likelihood of random encounters…

Streamlined Survival Rules

The Underworld in most fantasy settings encapsulates a vast variety of biomes, and, indeed, concepts. Most fantasy worlds are honeycombed by a subterranean set of caverns that would make Yucatan even greener with envy, with wondrous biomes of fungal forests, strange animals, and magic sustaining populations of vast civilizations. This is what, in the context of this site, we most commonly associate with the term “Underworld”.

However, there is similarly a realm where even subterranean civilizations end, and the mythical begins—whether the land of the dead, Hell or the Abyss themselves, or strange recesses hiding cyclopean ruins of elder beings—for there is a tradition of weird and truly hostile regions far below the surface, places that are entirely dangerous and inimical to life.

Whatever your world involves, these barely civilized or utterly savage depths are exceedingly inhospitable, where survival becomes a struggle that rivals the harshest deserts and mountain peaks of the surface world. We refer to these regions as the “deep frontier” to distinguish them from the Underworld.

As such, it may be prudent to re-examine the default rules for survival:

Food. A character has to consume one pound of food per day, and can opt to cut rations into half, counting such a day only as half a day without food. A character can last for 3 + Constitution modifier (minimum 1) days without food, and every day beyond that limit causes the character to automatically suffer one level of exhaustion. A day of normal food resets the count of days to zero.

Water. A character needs to consume one gallon of water per day, two gallons in particularly hot or arid environments. A character drinking only half as much water must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or suffer one level of exhaustion at the end of the day. In addition, characters with less than this reduced amount of water automatically suffer one level of exhaustion at the end of the day. Finally, characters that already have one or more levels of exhaustion suffer two levels of exhaustion instead.


These rules, while punishing regarding dehydration, do seem more applicable to more casual adventuring in, e.g., a temperate forest. If you have ever spent a day of hard, physical work without food, you’ll know how much strain that can cause on the system. The standard rules require the tracking of two resources (food and water), so they are not exactly that simple either.

The fixed DC to resist dehydration also means that truly sturdy characters can go for a very long time without water. For an exploration into a true wilderness, into the deep frontier, we propose somewhat harsher realities.

You Can’t Eat Coin

Precious metals and coins have no value in the true deep frontier, far beneath any form of civilization. You cannot eat or drink them, and they also won’t protect you from the harsh environment. It is important to bear in mind that such treasures only have value once an exploration makes it back to the Underworld.

Survival in the Deep Frontier and Similarly Harsh Environments

“You travel for some miles, crossing 2 hexes. Nothing happens. Mark off your supplies for the trip.”—and we skip to the encounter area. This can be just as dissatisfying as tracking every single ration, candle, and unit of lamp oil, which clearly will be annoying to some groups out there. Thus, we propose a simple abstraction that adds a bit of strategy to the exploration of the wilds, namely the notion of simply unifying these components under one term—stock. This may not necessarily be the most realistic way of handling things, but it speeds up gameplay and has been deemed enjoyable by even diehard simulationalists. In summary: One unit of stock costs 1 gp and weighs 1 lb.

One unit of stock is the equivalent of one day’s worth of food.

…OR One unit of stock is the equivalent of one day’s worth of water.

…OR One unit of stock is the equivalent of one day’s worth of lamp oil and similar materials to keep the dark at bay and rest comfortably. Characters with darkvision or comparable means to see in the dark will still require some necessities to rest and recuperate.

A character consumes 3 units of stock per day when engaged in serious exploration of the deep frontier or similarly harsh wilderness. Squeezing through cramped tunnels, climbing for hours on end and related rigors simply take their toll. The units of stock are consumed when the party is resting, after the results of finding a campsite, foraging, and so on are made known.

Failure to consume a unit of stock to satisfy one of the three needs (food, water, rest) results in the character gaining one level of exhaustion. Consuming the appropriate number of units of stock on a following day does NOT cure the level of exhaustion incurred.

However, since fantastic deeds by valiant heroes are a staple of the game, and since there should be a reason why high-level heroes venture deeper and farther, the characters have another option. Instead of consuming units of stock, they may “burn” one or more of their Hit Dice, drawing upon inner strength forged in the fires of heroics. A burned Hit Die is not replenished by finishing a long rest—it is a temporary reduction of the total number of Hit Dice available to the character. The character uses this reduced temporary maximum to determine how many Hit Dice are replenished upon finishing a long rest.

Then, upon returning to safer environments like civilization, as determined at the GM’s discretion, finishing a long rest will restore a single burned Hit Die instead of its usual amount of replenished Hit Dice. Long treks through hostile regions do require some time to recuperate from.

Burning a Hit Die is a decision that is made before units of stock are consumed, and each Hit Die is worth 2 units of stock, which is enough to satisfy most, but not all requirements for survival. A character can burn two Hit Dice instead, satisfying all three needs for survival, but this does mean that half a Hit Die’s worth of units of stock is effectively lost. The lone survivor who has at least some food, water or camping equipment will last longer in the wilds than those stumbling around without even the barest necessities.

For example, a 6th level character with 2 units of stock could decide to eat and drink (the units of stock were food and water) but will find that the source of light runs out. Alternatively, they could decide to drink and retain light, but will begin to starve. Either way, the character will incur one level of exhaustion. The character could also burn one Hit Die and consume one unit of stock, which, if repeated on the following day, will allow the character to stave off exhaustion for 2 days, but at the cost of only having 4 Hit Dice available until they have returned to safer environments and recovered from their ordeal.

  • Golden Rule As always, common sense is the guiding factor. If the party has found a cavern with soft and fluorescent moss everywhere, consider allowing them to forego spending a unit of stock to pay for the need for rest; a party camping next to a spring of fresh water doesn’t need to expend a unit of stock to pay for water. Did the ranger drag in a nourishing animal to feast upon while foraging? In such an instance, forego the requirement to spend a unit of stock for food.
  • Biomes should matter. Subject to the GM’s discretion, certain biomes will have effects that differ from traditional levels of exhaustion. Whether afflicted by Colloid Melancholia, Shroomitis, Hel’s Taint or other effects, there are plenty of means to keep the exhaustion component fresh and exciting.
  • The Toll on the Mind. Subject to the GM’s discretion, prolonged exposure to the truly wild and frightening deep frontier is not something that mortal minds handle particularly well. Table 15-9: Call of the Lightless Abyss is an example of how you can weave magical effects and madness together for a compelling roleplaying experience, one that will keep players as well as adventurers on the alert for signs of deterioration.

Benefits of this System

The system as presented offers resource-management gamification that does not slow down the playing experience. It makes certain wilderness regions truly dangerous…and it has another benefit. If you are interested in the notion of survival in a hostile environment mattering, you may have realized that in the fifth edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game, high level characters tend to become very tough. They start off as somewhat fragile, and at one point, become almost unstoppable superheroes.

While a part of this appeal is very much intended, literature is full of such superhuman heroes on daunting journeys into hostile regions, reaching their goal only by sheer determination when severely weakened. While the standard rules do not necessarily provide means to portray that, the combination of burning Hit Dice and exhaustion can simulate this very well.

It also means that the party has to play smarter, plan their resource-expenditure without requiring boring micro-management…and it has one less obvious, additional benefit.

Consider the following: the party stumbles upon a serene oasis, a comfortable cavern or the like, and then proceeds to ignore it, sensing a trap or that it’s “too good to be true”. As GM you know there is no serious reason for the players to choose such locales, as opposed to what their characters would want or need to do.

However, while many roleplayers go with what their characters would do, they do so as a sense of trepidation and annoyance remains. In some circles, this is called ludo-narrative dissonance, denoting a difference between the agenda of the player and the character. Well, this system provides a means to solve just that! “Sure, the moss is super-comfortable, and I really don’t want to spend a unit of stock, but it glows eerily—I tell you, something’s wrong here…” “Yep, and we’re 6 people, so using this place to set up camp may pit us against some enemies and not be exactly safe, but I’d rather do that than spend another day on the cavernous floor, running through our quickly dwindling stock!”

That strangely glowing water? The weird mushroom? The hours of arduous travel up to that point? Suddenly, not only the characters, but also their players have a reason to engage with these features!

The Hit Die burning engine also means that your high-level characters can really claim bragging rights for explorations that lower level characters could never hope to accomplish. It also allows for whole new types of campaign, where the characters slowly but steadily explore more and more of a foreboding and deadly, yet wondrous land, venturing progressively further from the safe havens of civilization.

Tweaking the System

An important note here is that the unit of stock system is intended for truly hostile environments. An easy means to present less punishing explorations is to simply reduce the consumption of units of stock per day. In most forests on the surface world, or in the fungal jungles of the Underworld, fuel and or water may well be common and easy to come by. Wandering a vast prairie full of bison-herds may mean that you will not go hungry anytime soon. The system’s simplicity is explicitly designed to allow the GM to fluidly adapt and tweak it spontaneously while playing in environments that need to be a little more meaningful to players and characters alike.

Even Simpler Resource Management. If the three units of stock per day standard is not to your liking and you are looking for something even quicker, consider making a unit of stock sufficient food, water and comfort goods/light for a day. It is easy to adjust the units of stock awarded accordingly.

Camping and Setting Up Campsites

As the majority of the Underworld and deep frontier are made up of tunnels, sprawling caverns, chasms and more, setting up camp is usually more straightforward than when exploring a system of long and winding tunnels as featured in some dungeons.

The following represents a series of optional, modular procedures to streamline setting up camp.

Finding a Campsite

The first step to camp is to find a location that suits the demands—ideally this entails: a floor that isn’t too uneven or sloped; enough space for the entire party to recline; a sufficiently low density of sharp rocks; dripping water that is only mildly acidic or alkaline; and an acceptable minimum number of similar hazards. Depending on the biome traversed, this may not be a trivial task.

Searching for a decent site to camp takes one hour and is assumed to be part of the events undertaken during that hexcrawling action when used in conjunction with the Streamlined Hexcrawling Rules presented earlier. A search may yield one, two, or more reasonable locations for campsites, with the degree of success determined by the result of a Wisdom (Survival) check, which is made by the character with the highest such value among those looking for a site (Table 7-1).

An incapacitated, unconscious, or otherwise impeded character cannot physically contribute, and thus only characters actually engaged in looking for a campsite are eligible to check. As GM, you may rule that an wounded-but-conscious Survival expert can give helpful advice, but otherwise looking after an injured character may impede the search. In some cases, the terrain makes camping impossible, or at least it does not yield a variety of options—long tunnels without nooks and crannies may mean that there are few-to-no suitable places. As always, the GM retains full control over how many campsites may be found.

The roll may be penalized by environmental conditions, with, say, particularly taxing environments imposing disadvantage on the roll. In such a case, disadvantage cancels advantage on the check. Subject to the GM’s discretion, the following penalties may be applied in addition to the above. These may or may not be cumulative, depending on the requirements of the environment and scene, and desired harshness of the camping experience.

  • Constant, dripping water, such as from stalactites: -1
  • Mist, spray, or fine dust: -1
  • Spore clouds or similar sight impediments due to smoke flumes and the like: -2
  • Darkness (search made by torchlight or impeded darkvision only): -2
  • Difficult terrain: -2
  • Total darkness without any light sources or ability to see in the dark: -4 or automatic failure

Upon finding a decent campsite, the GM should roll 2d20 and consult the Underworld Campsite Table for generic Underworld biomes; special bio mes might have different tables.

If the characters are not happy with the site they have found, they may decide to start searching anew, which takes another hour and

Table 7-1: Campsites Found Wisdom (Survival)
Result Campsites Found
1-10 No passable campsite; all have at least 4 issues of one kind or another
11-15 One reasonable campsite with fewer than 4 issues; others have 4 or more issues
16-20 Two decent campsites with fewer than 4 issues; the party may choose another Wisdom (Survival) check. Each repeat attempt, however, entails a cumulative -1 penalty to the resting penalty modifier when they eventually settle down to sleep.

Setting Up Camp

Once the party has chosen a suitable location to set up camp, there is a range of different activities that the characters may engage in.

Gathering Fuel. While stark caves usually don’t feature a lot of wood or traditional fuel for a fire, the Underworld is a complex place—from various fungi to the droppings of strange creatures, those knowing where to look can find plenty of sources of fuel. Each character who goes gathering fuel makes their choice of either a Wisdom (Survival) or Intelligence (Nature) check and compares the result with Table 7-2. As before, the GM may decide that a region simply does not offer a fuel source. A fuel source is sufficient to keep the fire burning for 1d6 hours. If a grittier approach is desired, the following modifiers may be applied to the duration the fire remains lit. Whether something constitutes “good” or “great” fuel is left up to the GM and the realities of the respective situation—a salamander’s blood or a particularly flammable mushroom, for example, would constitute examples of substances that could be considered to be good or great fuel.

  • Dampness: -1 hour
  • Wetness: -2 hours
  • Good Fuel: +1 hours
  • Great Fuel: +4 hours

Using a unit of stock automatically makes the fire burn for 8 hours.

Fetching/Collecting Water. From subterranean cities to vast fungal jungles, the Underworld features myriad biomes that ultimately require the presence of sufficient sources of fresh water—something that may no longer be true once the party ventures into the deep frontier. With plenty of stalactites and stalagmites and liquid dropping from ceilings, pools, and so on, it is assumed that it is not too hard to find water.

It is suggested that looking for water is automatically successful in the Underworld, provided the respective topography and biome is not particularly harsh, arid, or clearly a dead region. In such environments, each character that goes collecting water makes their choice of either a Wisdom (Survival) or Intelligence (Nature) check and compares the result with Table 7-3. As before, the GM may also decide that druids and rangers, as well as characters with appropriate backgrounds that suggest familiarity with the biome in question, may add their proficiency bonus to this roll. As before, the GM may decide that a region simply does not offer a water source.

A water source found in the Underworld suffices to slake the thirst of the entire party. In the deep frontier, each water source found suffices to slake the thirst of 1d3 characters per day. Water sources in such regions tend to be contended terrain or the lairs of creatures—thus having more than one to choose from is a big boon to subterranean explorers.

As a variant rule and subject to the GM’s discretion, a result of 20 on the die roll may result in an odd water being found—this is where you can use one of your strange magical effects tables. Using a unit of stock automatically slakes the thirst of a single character.

Table 7-2: Gathering Fuel
Wisdom (Survival) or Intelligence (Nature) Result Fuel Sources Found
1-10 No decent fuel
11-15 One decent fuel source
16-20 Two decent fuel sources
Table 7-3: Collecting Water
Wisdom (Survival) or Intelligence (Nature) Result Water Sources Found
1-10 No drinkable water; filtering and boiling may make it usable
11-15 One source of water
16-20 Two sources of water

Fire Building. Given the means of producing flame (such as a tinderbox, magic or flint) and sufficient fuel, it is assumed that a group of adventurers is capable of lighting a fire. Building a fire still takes time and effort and constitutes one activity of setting up camp. It should, however, be noted that in the caverns below, light has another importance—its unusual nature may keep certain creatures at bay, while luring in others, particularly if fire is used instead of, say, phosphorescent fungi to illuminate the campsite. Additionally, repeated camping in poorly-ventilated tunnels may result in thin air.

Hasty Foraging/Hunting/Fishing. Instead of devoting one whole phase of the adventuring day to hunting or foraging, the adventurers can designate individuals to forage during the setting of the campsite. Due to the limited time available, this imposes disadvantage on the check, although, as before, encounters and proficiency may modify this. Similarly, the biome may greatly affect the success rate of foraging.

Fireside Activities

Resting. A character who does not engage in ANY of the above activities, either to find or set up camp, optionally removes 2 from the resting penalty modifier.

If a further level of complexity is desired, one more restful activity may be undertaken by each character, including: Camaraderie. Time spent around the campsite with friends and fellows may lift the spirit and induce a more restful sleep. A character may attempt to entertain their comrades with music, song, jokes and so on—depending on the type of entertainment provided and the severity of the circumstances, this may require an appropriate check that be made at advantage or disadvantage. The DC of such a check should generally not exceed 20, unless in the direst of circumstances. Success indicates that the party has been inspired; the mood improves by one step. Failure may mean no benefits are gained or that the mood worsens by one step. When using the advanced resting penalty modifiers (see below), the sequence of mood-improvement steps is shown in Figure 6.

Cooking Given a fire used as a light source, cooking utensils, and ingredients, someone can cook a meal. It is generally assumed that characters can cook food that staves off starvation, but limited resources or bad luck while foraging/hunting may make this impossible. If the group is using a system of magic that features conjurable food, this is where meals are prepared. Having a good meal and being regaled by camaraderie may, subject to the GM’s discretion, allow a character to ignore the effects of a short-term madness for the following day. On the downside, cooking tends to generate delicious smells that attract predators, and should increase the likelihood of random encounters.

Remember, using a unit of stock automatically sates the hunger of one character.

Planning The party may discuss plans for the next day, which generally requires no check, although the GM may impose a resting penalty modifier for arguments, or can improve the mood if party members compliment ideas. As GM, you may wish to include similar restful activities of your own design.

Sleeping and Resting

After the merry- and decision-making of the day, the party settles down for a long rest to replenish their resources. Sleep, a vital component in most sentient creature’s lives, is often overlooked as a crucial factor. Mechanically, the 5th edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game uses short and long rests as a type of reset for the resources at the beck and call of the characters.

Particularly at higher levels, when the characters have a vast amount of power at their disposal that may easily be replenished constantly, this may run contrary to the desired experience of exploring harsh and legendary places where few, if any, mortals dare tread. As such, the following rules represent means to make rests both more exciting and relevant. These rules are particularly suitable for the exploration of dangerous environments where the “comforts” of above-ground adventuring cannot be guaranteed.

The following rules are designed to be modular—to be used in part or whole. Harsh environments and circumstances may impose a so-called resting penalty. This is a value that is generally negative and modifies the effects of a short or long rest. There are activities that decrease the total resting penalty but provide no other benefit.

In short—per default, in the Underworld, the resting modifier value usually denotes a penalty; to differentiate positive values further, we speak of resting penalty modifier to denote the individual modifier and use the plural, resting penalty modifiers, to denote the sum of modifiers, both positive and negative, that make up the total resting penalty.

Cheerful <-> Optimistic <-> Neutral <-> Discord <-> Enmity

Resting Penalty and Long Rests. A long rest usually replenishes all hit points a character has lost. For a slow depiction of how continued exposure to a detrimental environment can whittle away at health and resources, consider thinking of the maximum hit points a long rest can replenish as a kind of resource, and work with this process.

Subtract the sum of all resting penalty modifiers from the maximum hit points that a character replenishes upon finishing a long rest. This ongoing reduction should be cumulative. If, for example, a character has 27 maximum hit points, and takes a long rest with a -4 resting penalty modifier, the long rest only replenishes their hit points to 23.

Magic can still heal a character up to their regular maximum, but it does NOT reset the reduction of the maximum hit points replenished by a long rest. If the character then sleeps in a slightly more convenient location the next day and incurs only a -2 resting penalty modifier, the long rest now replenishes the character’s hit points to 21 instead (27 – 4 – 2). After this, the character stumbles over a healing fountain and is healed up to 25 hit points.

Alas, after a skirmish, the character is reduced to 18 hit points and has to flee. Finding only a really bad place to sleep, the character takes a massive -8 resting penalty modifier, which reduces the maximum hit points a long rest can replenish to a paltry 13 hit points (27—4—2—8); the character does not regain any hit points from the long rest, as their current hit points exceed that value. It is time to get back to civilization…

This reduction of the hit points healed does not reduce the maximum hit points of a character, but it stacks with, e.g., a vampire’s Blood Drain and similar features. This reduction only resets after the character has slept for a more prolonged time in civilized environments. As a rule of thumb, a week represents a good guideline, but for a more nuanced approach, see Advanced Resting Penalty Modifiers below.

Resting Penalty and Short Rests. For particularly harsh environments (such as in certain dungeon regions) or in the deep frontier, you may want to make short rests less effective as well. This modification may apply in certain environments where the application of the resting penalty to long rests makes no sense and vice versa. In such a case, determine the highest negative resting penalty modifier, and only said modifier, that the character incurred when last finishing a long rest, and subtract it from the hit points regained by spending Hit Dice during a short rest. This reduction is applied to every Hit Die spent, making them much less reliable.

Positive Resting Penalties. Unless the GM determines otherwise, managing to get a positive resting modifier can’t increase the hit points regained from resting.

Variant Rules for Resting Penalty and Short Rests. Positive resting penalty modifiers may apply their effects to short rests as well, partially or totally canceling out the negative effects of resting penalty modifiers. If a reward for the group for setting up a particularly well-fortified camp is intended, it is possible instead to make a positive resting penalty modifier enhance short rests and increase hit points regained from finishing a long rest. Excess hit points may or may not be retained as temporary hit points, depending on the preference of the GM. This would also encourage a GM to differentiate between the quality of rooms in an inn or the like as well while in civilization.

List of Resting Penalty Modifiers


  • Sleeping in an unsuitable site (such as on a failed roll to find a suitable campsite): -4
  • Location modifier: varies (see the biome’s respective table) Equipment
  • Bedroll: +2
  • Tent: +2
  • Sleeping in light armor: -4
  • Sleeping in medium armor: -10
  • Sleeping in heavy armor: Impossible; treat as -20. Subject to GM’s discretion, having a heavy armor-themed feat or class feature may reduce this penalty to -10 instead.

Advanced Resting Penalty Modifiers


  • For every hour beyond the first spent searching for a campsite: -1
  • Hasty Foraging/Hunting undertaken by character: -1
  • Resting while others establish campsite: +2
  • Not participating in a watch shift: +2
  • Awakening during the rest (per instance, not accounting for watch shifts): -1
  • Each encounter during the rest: -3


  • Disturbing sounds (strange murmurs, howling winds, whispering spirits): -1
  • Soothing sounds (waterfalls, burbling streams): +1
  • Disturbing sights (remains of a battlefield, resting in a haunted manor): -1
  • Soothing sights (meadows and glades, gorgeous colloid structures): +1

It should be noted that whether someone considers an environment soothing or disturbing is highly contingent on the character—necromancers probably wouldn’t be perturbed by sleeping in a graveyard, but may well find themselves looking over their shoulders in particularly pious cities. As ever, reward good, honest roleplaying.

Mood and Food

  • Cheerful: +2
  • Optimistic: +1
  • Discord (arguing, grudges): -1
  • Serious enmity: -2
  • Hearty fare (cooking a hunted/foraged food-source): +2
  • Meager rations (halved unit of stock or meager trail rations): -1
  • No food consumed: -2


  • Sickness (body or mind) or poison (per instance): -2
  • Less than half maximum hit points: -1
  • Substances used to aid rest and/or sleep (e.g. limited alcohol, mild drugs): +2
  • Substances used to induce sleep (e.g. excessive alcohol, soporific drugs): +4 (Such substances will have a detrimental effect on a character’s ability to fully function the next day unless countered or cured. Either the effect or required counter/cure matches the strength of the substance.)


  • Race suited to life in biome: +1
  • Race unsuited to life in biome: -2
  • Background suitable to biome: +1
  • Background unsuited to biome: -1


  • Druids, rangers or other wilderness-related class options with multiple years of experience regarding survival in the biome: +3

Resting Penalty Modifiers and the City

Characters will, more often than not, opt for a common room to share, since it makes ambushing the party harder. This is an option only very few people would prefer in the real world. When using the variant rule that allows for the use of resting penalty modifiers as a bonus, one can generate a particularly strong motivation for characters to get good rooms when recovering from extended trips into the wilderness. In such a case, subtract positive resting penalty modifier totals from the total reduction incurred to maximum hit point replenishment (Resting Penalty and Long Rests) when completing a long rest in such a room. Suddenly, it makes sense to have that royal suite for yourself!

Room Type

  • Stables: -4 (unless the character has a reason for not being bothered by animals, hygiene, etc.)
  • Common room or dormitory: -2
  • Room for 4 people: -1
  • Double: +0; (+4 if the occupants engage in pleasurable activity or specific camaraderie)
  • Single: +1

There Are No Seasons Below the Ground! While there are no serious seasons below the ground, this engine is intended to work above ground as well. As such, this section is provided for your convenience.

Season and Weather

  • Autumn or spring; no source of heat/campfire: -2
  • Winter; with a source of heat/campfire: -2
  • Winter; no source of heat/campfire: -4
  • Light rain or snow at any time: -1
  • Heavy rain or snow at any time: -2
  • Torrential rain, hail, blizzards, and so on at any time: -4

While the Underworld is seasonless in itself, it is subject to floods or drought just as on the surface world. Bear in mind that while the party may have been below ground for many months, and forgotten just what the weather can be like, excessive rain may eventually find its way down to them in the form of an unexpected flash flood, or rising water levels that cut off escape routes, and block commonly used tunnels, while prolonged drought may turn living caves into unexpectedly dead spaces.

Room Quality

  • Filthy: -2
  • Poor: -1
  • Normal: +0
  • Good: +2
  • Exceptional: +3
  • Royal: +4

While the Streamlined Survival Rules present quick and easy rules for fast resolutions of getting food and hunting harmless quarries, there are instances where you might want to play out the experience of looking for a given type of food to forage or hunt. As such, Chapter 8 presents the rules for foraging and hunting mini-games that seamlessly integrate with the other survival rules presented in this site.

Foraging and Hunting Rules


Foraging is resolved in a couple of simple steps. Over the course of a foraging attempt, the party will be acquiring Foraging Successes. Once they have gained enough Foraging Successes, the party has now reached the Target and may encounter it and/or harvest it.

It should be noted that the following rules work best for high-profile Targets; they should not be used to bog down the game in micro-management—after teaching the procedure with a mundane Target, it makes sense to otherwise use the standard foraging rules presented as part of the Streamlined Hexcrawling Procedure presented in this site.

The Underworld certainly offers its fair share of unusual and magic ingredients for which to quest. A foraging attempt as presented here assumes that the party has 8 hours per day to methodically forage for the Target. There are 4 simple steps to this procedure.

  1. Select Target.
  2. Determine Foraging Successes required on Table 8-1.
  3. Roll on Table 8-2 and consult the respective biome’s Foraging table, referencing Tables 14-1 through 14-4 as needed.
  4. Tally Foraging Successes: subtract them from the number determined during step 2, and repeat step 3 and 4, if required.

1. Selecting a Target. The GM, the players, or the demands of the story determine a Target to forage. For example, this could be a unit of stock in a particularly scarce desert, a story-relevant plant or insect, or something the party requires.

2. Determine Foraging Successes Required. The GM determines the number of Foraging Successes required to successfully catch up with or find the Target, using Table 8-1. This is a point value, and while a common healing herb may only have a value of one Foraging Success, requiring typically only a day to forage in a biome it occurs in, a legendary flower or magical fey insect may require weeks to track down and capture in a suitable condition. The old rule of thumb is true here: the rarer a Target is in a given biome, the more Foraging Successes will be required to get it. A mundane target in one biome can easily become a rare one in another setting.

3. Roll dice and consult the Modified Foraging Table 8-2. Each attempt to forage takes a whole 8-hour phase; the scarcity of the Targets foraged means that they cannot be found or foraged with Hasty Foraging as part of setting a campsite. The party rolls a d6 and consults Table 8-2. Minor and major complications are just what you would expect them to be; reprieves are lucky breaks for the party. Subject to the GM’s discretion, characters with a background in foraging the specific Target or that have advantage on the relevant skill make this roll for the party at advantage. Characters proficient in the relevant skill set required to find the Target may modify the result of this roll on the following table by +1, up to a maximum of 6. For every level of exhaustion (or similar conditions introduced in this site like hypothermia, shroomitis, etc.) a character in the party has, subtract 1 from the result on Table 8-2.


Collecting scarce goods, gathering magical plants, catching rare and poisonous bugs; each one is a Target worthy of an adventuring group. Hunting for an item may be difficult and harvesting it properly can be a dangerous prospect in its own right, even after the relevant Target has been found. The buildup of energy and strange forces fluxing through the realms below in particular can remain long after a fungus has been uprooted from its rhizome, for example, or removing an insect from a hive may set off a swarm reaction.

The method to determine if a harvesting attempt is hazardous is subject to the GM’s discretion, as there are too many possible Targets to present concise encompassing guidelines. Common sense is the guiding principle—Intelligence (Nature) and Wisdom (Survival) might be good candidates for harvesting plants or fungi, for example. Similarly, a suitable background might mean that the character is qualified to harvest the Target.

Hazards involved in harvesting a Target first need to be Identified and then may have to be Negated. Note that the skill or check rolled to Identify a harvesting hazard may or may not be the same as the one used to Negate the hazard’s effect—it may, for example, take Intelligence (Nature) to identify a property of the Target, but a Dexterity check using thieves’ tools to extract a gland without stimulating a blast of acidic spores from a fungus.

The Right Tools for the Job

A GM may rule that, in particular, an item with a major hazard requires a unique set of tools to harvest, or at least a specialized harvesting kit. For the purposes of being able to use new equipment, proficiency with similar tools will also grant proficiency with such specialized kits. Such a set of specialized harvesting tools applies its benefits to either only a single type of Target, or to a whole class, depending on the GM’s decision.

A specialized harvesting tool kit costs usually around 100 gp and weighs 5 pounds, but establishing the nature of the kit required for the purpose of dealing with particularly potent Targets may require a quest for the specialized or magical tools, or the materials to make them in the first place.

In order to present some guidelines as suggestions for the GM, the hazards potentially involved in harvesting can be thought of in just a few categories:

Minor Hazards

These are generally those with the least damaging or debilitating effects and are usually found as a feature of OR cost for the equivalent of a challenge 5 or less encounter. However, more powerful Targets may have multiple such hazards, including those devised for this category.

Type of Target Number of Foraging Successes Required Mundane (common herbs or fungi) 1-2

Table 8-1: Foraging Targets and Successes Required
Uncommon (quick-blooming or rarer herbs and fungi) 3-8
Rare (magical herbs and harmless critters) 9-19
Legendary (fabled, potent ingredients, such as the Winterflower) 20+
Table 8-2: Modified Foraging Results
d6 Foraging Result
1 Major Complication
2 Minor Complication
3 One Foraging Success, Minor Complication
4 One Foraging Success
5 Two Foraging Successes
6 Two Foraging Successes, Reprieve

Moderate Hazards

At this level, hazards are generally those with damaging or painful effects, and are usually found as a feature of OR cost for the equivalent of a challenge 6–10 encounter. Again, more powerful Targets may have multiple such hazards, including those devised for this category, but the mix will include minor hazards as well.

Major Hazards

This final level is reserved for those hazards with devastating and crippling effects. They are usually found as a feature of OR cost for the equivalent of a challenge 11+ encounter. Targets that have this level of hazard are probably things people tell stories about and hire troops of specialists for prolonged expeditions to retrieve them from inhospitable regions. Adventurers may find that a major hazard is surrounded by minor hazards, increasing the difficulty in dealing with it.

If you require a quick guideline to determine DCs to identify and negate the effects of hazards while harvesting, consult Table 8-3.

Table 8-3: Foraging Harvesting Hazard Difficulty
Hazard Identify DC Negate DC
Minor 10 12
Moderate 15 17
Major 20 22

For a comprehensive list of hazards, alternate DCs and sample damage values that you can use in conjunction with these rules, consult Underworld Hazards.

Sidebar: Backgrounds, Classes and Foraging/Hunting

The foraging engine was deliberately crafted without requiring any specialized commitment on the side of the player characters. The base rules are deliberately open, allowing for a modification of +1 on the result of the roll on Table 8-2.

If the GM wishes to make the backgrounds and classes of player characters matter more, there are a couple of additional ways to do so.

For example, a character with the hermit background who grew up in the Underworld, or a character who is proficient with the herbalism kit who is looking for a plant, fungus or herb, might be granted advantage when rolling on Table 8-2, taking the better result.

Another option is to allow a character proficient in Intelligence (Nature), Wisdom (Survival), and/or Dexterity (Stealth), who is familiar with the biome, automatically reduces a major complication to a minor complication, and a minor complication to no complication. If implemented, this emphasis on skill should go both ways, though: city-slickers might well have a harder time in the wilderness…


Hunting easy prey can be resolved with the Foraging Rules presented earlier. Similarly, if you prefer your game to be on the straightforward side of things, it is a perfectly valid strategy to resolve hunting a dangerous being with the Foraging Rules and then transition to a regular encounter. However, in contrast to stationary plants and rare alchemical ingredients, hunting involves trailing a creature that may well be able to devise counter measures.

As such, a more differentiated approach is presented below. For fishing and similar activities that are not clearly noted as foraging or hunting, use the rules that are most appropriate and conducive to your playstyle—foraging rules work better for harmless targets and also are preferable unless you just want a combat with an aquatic critter, for example.

The hunting rules presented are better suited if you want to depict a longer trek through hostile terrain and the confrontation with, for example, dangerous underwater creatures, culminating in a showdown with the quarry. With this in mind, the rules below account for modes of movement like swimming.

Before we get to that aspect, let us address the notion of how trifling mortals can track mighty beasts within a fantasy context in the first place—wouldn’t a creature with a higher speed or more modes of movement simply get away, no questions asked? This may be less of an issue in the confinements of the Underworld, but since there are vast caverns and oceans below, and seeing as the goal of this site is to present rules that extend their usefulness to as many contexts as possible, let us talk briefly about those concerns.

Science provides some interesting answers for us, answers that help within the context of retaining our sense of disbelief. Picture it—how could Stone Age humans track down and kill prey that arguably had more muscles, was faster and better equipped with natural offenses and defenses? The frightening concept, and one the author cherishes, is that of pursuit predation.

To put it bluntly, we humans are a kind of organic golem—nigh unstoppable in comparison with other animals found on our world.

Every part of our structure is arranged to allow us to outlast other “high-performance” animals—to tire them out, and then strike. Our brains allow us to devise strategies to not lose track of them, and so on. Our injuries also heal faster than pretty much all other animals of a comparable complexity, meaning we can press on when a quarry cannot. Coincidentally, this is something represented well in an exaggerated manner by the way Hit Dice are handled—and particularly with the resting penalty modifier mechanics, something you can further customize and rework appropriately, if desired.

Injuries that would be fatal to most animals only partially incapacitate us; even if, say, a broken leg is not treated with medicine (or magic in a game’s context), it doesn’t mean a human would die from it. We are also smart and social. We are able to use other creatures to carry us along and preserve our own energy for the final hunting act. In a fantasy game, this allows us to assume that most, probably all humanoid races have: a) similar physiologies and; b) analogous capabilities when it comes to withstanding sheer long-term strain. Sure, a cheetah may outrun us, but it will not do so for long before we catch up with it.

What most non-humanoid creatures experience when humanoids are hunting them is that those two-legged monsters show up on the horizon time and again. And again. And again. Until there is no more strength left to run away. Yes, this is genuinely scary. Exhaustion kills, and once more, 5th edition does have some great rules already in place that represent this rather well.

Applying this knowledge to how creatures in fantasy games behave, we can justify that the eventual success of long-term hunts by attrition is not only likely, but even makes sense in a fantasy game—and all without resorting to the tired “A wizard did it” explanation. Indeed, following the evidence of a hunt might induce fear in its own right, especially if the party is hunting the hunters, or it may give important clues about the hunters’ tactics.

Hunting, is, in its basic engine, resolved in a number of straightforward steps that are deliberately similar to foraging.

Over the course of a hunting attempt, the party will be acquiring Hunting Successes. Once they have gained enough Hunting Successes, the party has now reached the Quarry and may encounter it. It is at this point that the adventurers may attempt to slay, capture, follow secretly, or parlay with the creature in question.

It should be noted that the following rules work best for notable Quarries; they should not be used to bog down the game in micro-management—after teaching the procedure with a mundane Quarry, it makes sense to otherwise use the standard hunting rules presented as part of the Streamlined Hexcrawling Procedure. Within these suggested methods, it is worth remembering that the Underworld certainly offers more than its fair share of unusual magical creatures and characters to hunt or otherwise quest for, and they make for more interesting quarries that will challenge the players’ ingenuity as well as the adventurers’ skills and abilities. A Quarry’s methods will change depending on its environment, and so the party will have to think on its feet.

A hunting attempt as presented here assumes that the party has 8 hours per day to methodically hunt the Quarry. There are 4 simple steps to this basic hunting procedure.

1. Selecting a Quarry

There are many reasons a party might hunt Quarry. This could be due to the Quarry representing multiple units of stock in a particularly desolate system of tunnels, a story-relevant monster, a fugitive criminal, or something or someone the party needs to attain. In essence, pretty much any creature could be a viable Quarry, provided it is dangerous—or relevant—enough. These rules can, for example, also be used to track eloped lovers, thieves absconding with the fighter’s beloved magic weapon, or in any number of other scenarios.

2. Determine the number of Hunting Successes required using Table 8-4.

The GM determines the number of Hunting Successes needed to either successfully catch up with or find the Quarry. This is a point value, and while, e.g., a common critter may only have a value of one Hunting Success, requiring typically only a day to hunt in a biome it occurs in, a legendary white hart or intelligent skildpadder may require weeks to track down and capture it. As a general rule, the rarer a Quarry is in a given biome, the more Hunting Successes will be called for to catch it. Unique Quarries generally can be assumed to require more Hunting Successes.

If the GM wishes to represent the different capabilities of a given Quarry, consult Table 8-5 to further modify the Hunting Successes required. You can use a few, or all of them. Negative modifiers cannot reduce the Hunting Successes it requires to track down a Quarry below zero.

Table 8-4: Hunting Quarries and Successes Required
Type of Quarry Number of Hunting Successes Required
Mundane (Common creature for biome) 1-2
Uncommon (Uncommon or rarer creature for biome) 3-8
Rare (Magical critters) 9-19
Legendary (Mythical monsters) 20+
Table 8-5: Quarry Capabilities
Type of Quarry Property Modification to Total Hunting Successes Required
Quarry has the ability to regain hit points via some means or other. +1; unless particularly resilient Quarries are concerned, this does not stack with itself for the purpose of multiple abilities to regain hit points. Note that specific loss or an inability to heal (such as in the case of spell slots used up, damage that regeneration can’t heal etc.) means that the Quarry temporarily loses this bonus.
Quarry has an additional mode of movement (such as a flying or swimming speed) that the party also has access to. +1
Quarry has an additional mode of movement (such as a flying or swimming speed) that the party does not have access to. +1 to +5 (Subject to the GM’s discretion, this may well make hunting a given Quarry in certain environments impossible—hunting creature that can burrow through tunnels may be hard in honeycombed rock if the PCs can’t follow. Then again, they could well attempt to lure or herd the creature elsewhere. These bonuses only apply when the biome offers means for the Quarry to make use of them, and only if doing so would make sense to the Quarry. Seeing how slow burrowing speeds tend to be, for example, will mean that most Quarries that are unaware of being hunted won’t use them, unless doing so is in their nature or if an obstacle would stop them.
Quarry has an Intelligence score greater than 3. +1 for each 3 points of Intelligence greater than 3, minimum 1. Usually this bonus only applies when a Quarry becomes suspicious.
Quarry has an Intelligence score greater than the highest Wisdom or Intelligence score among characters in the hunting party. (It’s a good idea to take the bookworm wizard with you while hunting!) +5 (This is in addition to the bonus bestowed by high Intelligence.) This bonus usually only applies when a Quarry becomes suspicious.
Quarry has magical abilities that allow it to evade capture. +1 to +9; Depending on whether the party has means to track the Quarry regardless of, e.g., teleportation magics or the like, this may result in automatic failure of a hunting attempt. As a rule of thumb, use either 1/2 the Quarry’s challenge rating (minimum 1) or 1/2 the spell level of the ability in question (minimum 1) to determine the bonus to the Hunting Successes required. These bonuses only apply when the Quarry actually uses them, which usually requires the Quarry being alerted to being hunted.
Quarry is proficient in Wisdom (Survival) or Dexterity (Stealth) made to hide, but none of the hunters is proficient in Wisdom (Survival) + the Quarry’s skill bonus; can only be added once. Quarry has advantage on Wisdom (Survival) or Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide. +4 per such skill. However, this bonus may be canceled by a capable hunting party. Advantage on Wisdom (Perception) cancels the bonus granted by the Quarry having advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide, while the Quarry having advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks may be offset by the hunting party having a character that has advantage on Intelligence (Nature)* or Wisdom (Survival) checks.
Quarry is unfamiliar with biome. -10
Quarry lacks a sense that the hunting party has, such as, e.g., a Keen Sense of Smell. -5 per sense.
Quarry requires less sleep than 8 hours. +1 per hour of sleep it requires that is less than 8. The hunting party may attempt to temporarily ignore these and treat them as “suspended” additional Hunting Successes required if they pull all-nighters (obviously this will be tiring for the hunters). A common strategy is to use this tactic towards the end of a prolonged hunt. Note that an unaware Quarry usually does not opt to sleep the minimum amount of time, unless doing so would be a good representation of its nature.
Quarry is immune to exhaustion. +20 or even impossible, subject to the GM’s discretion. Since long-term hunts are a game of endurance, such targets may be nigh impossible to hunt down if they are alerted to being hunted.
Alerted (Table 8-5: Quarry Capabilities) Quarry attempts to run from the hunting party. + the Quarry’s challenge rating. However, for every day this is kept up, the Quarry gains an exhaustion level, no save. Most intelligent foes will attempt to stand and fight while they still can before being too weak to do so, provided they believe that they have a chance of success. Beasts and similar unintelligent creatures can often be hunted to death by exhaustion.
Quarry is hunted down, but not attacked. +1. The Quarry gains a single Hunting Success required and may or may not be alerted to the hunting party. Alerting a Quarry is a valid strategy to frighten unintelligent creatures and then attempt to hunt them to death by exhaustion.

* This is intentionally a representation of the advantages of intelligent, social hunters, as discussed above.

**Quarry awareness is a way for the GM to think about the Quarry.

  • Unaware The Quarry is not aware of being in danger. It goes about its business and follows its routine or furthers its plans.
  • Suspicious The Quarry is aware of something being amiss. It might seek to change regions, send forth minions to investigate or shore up its defenses.
  • Alerted The Quarry knows that someone is coming after it. It prepares for battle or tries to escape, according to its nature

3. Roll dice and consult Table 8-6.

Each attempt to hunt a Quarry takes a whole 8-hour phase; the scarcity of the Quarries hunted means that they cannot be found or hunted with Hasty Hunting as part of setting a campsite. The party rolls a d6 and consults Table 8-6 below. Subject to the GM’s discretion, characters with a background in hunting the specific Quarry, that are familiar with the biome the hunt takes place in, or that have advantage on the relevant skill make this roll for the party at advantage. Also, characters proficient in the relevant skill set required to find the Quarry may modify the result of this roll by +1, up to the maximum of 6.

Adapting the Hunting Engine: Urban Hunts and Hunting Player Characters

While primarily intended as a wilderness mini-game, the hunting guidelines presented here can be easily adapted to urban environments, espionage scenarios and more. The framework just needs minor retooling regarding the entries of its tables. It is similarly possible to cast the characters as Quarries, though this does require taking care with regards to the capabilities of the hunters that are after them! While this use of the engine was tested, it is designed to have a capable hunting party catch the Quarry. Knowing this, the GM should grant a party that is being hunted some means to escape, in case they are indeed cornered, but in general, hunting a party of player characters should require more Hunting Successes than monsters.

As a baseline, we suggest a required Hunting Successes rating equal to the party’s average character level, plus the highest unmodified highest Dexterity (Stealth) or Wisdom (Survival) bonus available to the party. The highest unmodified Dexterity (Stealth) or Wisdom (Survival) bonus also determines the maximum number of characters in the party. For every character beyond this maximum, the group becomes easier to track—subtract 1 Hunting Success required from the tally for every character beyond this limit. For every character below this maximum party member limit, the Hunting Successes required to track the party increase by +1 instead. Subject to the GM’s discretion, suitable abilities and magic may increase the number of Hunting Successes required. Traveling in small and mobile groups is indeed more efficient for staying out of sight!

If full implementation of the hunting rules presented here would make a hunt take too long for the demands of your story, consider implementing the units of stock rules for the Quarry as well—this will tire out the Quarry more quickly, and is most suitable for hunting humanoid prey. Obviously, requirements for comfort should be waived for most natural creatures, and plenty of beings will have an easier time surviving.

As such, a non-humanoid Quarry in such a context should only need to consume one unit of stock per day. If you need a quick guideline of how many units of stock that Quarry can carry at a given time, use the Quarry’s Strength or Dexterity modifier, whichever is higher (minimum 1). A Quarry can use the Hunt Quarry response (see below) to replenish its units of stock, provided the biome in question could yield sustenance for the Quarry.

Table 8-6: Modified Hunting Results
d6 Hunting Result
1 Major Complication
2 Minor Complication
3 1d2 Hunting Success, Minor Complication
4 1d2 Hunting Successes
5 1d4 Hunting Successes
6 1d4 Hunting Successes, Reprieve

Quarry Responses

Different Quarries react differently to becoming suspicious or aware of a hunting party on their trail.

In case you want to add something of a tactical edge to the responses of Quarries that are aware, here are some suggestions. Each Quarry Response corresponds to a whole day’s worth of Hunting, as per the Streamlined Hexcrawling Procedure.

Ambush The Quarry sets up a place to ambush the hunting party, which is surprised if the Quarry is successful. Since a hunting party is not necessarily concentrated in one place, the party should receive a check appropriate for the nature of the ambush to notice the ambush spot, though this check should be made with disadvantage, unless the hunting party has researched the Quarry particularly well.

If the Quarry manages to escape after a failed ambush attempt, its Hunting Successes required are set to a paltry 1; no positive modifiers applied.

Escape (Temporary). The Quarry adds +1d2 to its Hunting Successes required, but also gains one level of exhaustion.

Hunt The Quarry replenishes its units of stock it can carry, up to its maximum. Hunting Successes required to hunt down the Quarry are reduced by 1 due to the time the Quarry loses while hunting. Note that this only has an effect if the Quarry is subject to the unit of stock rules as well.

Lair (Temporary). The Quarry sets up a temporary lair. It takes at least two consecutive days to build, but then grants the Quarry a Lair Action of the GM’s devising (or from its own array of Lair Actions) suitable for the temporary lair. The Quarry may spend additional days setting up a temporary lair. It gains an additional Lair Action for every 2 days spent on establishing the temporary lair.

However, while the lair allows a Quarry to gain additional Lair Actions, the hunting party automatically accumulates +1d6 Hunting Successes per day the Quarry spends establishing its temporary lair. A Quarry can only have one temporary lair (unless the GM deems otherwise), and the established environment ceases to work as a temporary lair once a Quarry has abandoned it for more than 2d6 days.

Rest The Quarry rests, reducing its current exhaustion levels by -1. However, the hunting party automatically accumulates +1d4 Hunting Successes.

Scouting The Quarry attempts to scout the hunting party, gauging its power and abilities, and gaining knowledge about the pursuers. The more intelligent and cunning the Quarry is, the more it will be able to discern about the party and incorporate into its tactics.

Scouting the hunting party means that the Quarry risks being seen by the hunting party, which follows the usual rules to establish if and what happens.

Even if the hunting party does not notice the Quarry, the need for it to remain in proximity to the hunting party means that the hunting party automatically accumulates +1d3 Hunting Successes.

For sample hunting tables for exotic biomes, consult Chapter 14.

Why does Intelligence make a Quarry harder to hunt and not Wisdom?

The strength of humanoid hunting parties as opposed to physically-superior predators lies partially in the ability of hunting parties to outsmart prey. Wisdom traditionally represents both awareness and cunning, and force-of-will or stubbornness. As such, Intelligence seemed a better fit to the author. If you disagree, as always, you could easily use Wisdom instead—or combine them to make Quarries even harder to hunt down—it’s your game, and these rules are specifically designed to allow you to quickly and easily modify them any way you see fit.

Sustenance and Butchering

So, the Quarry has been hunted down, the battle, if any, fought and won. W hat hap pen s next with the body in front of the adventurers?

In a friendly place or less dangerous environment, this may mean that trophies are removed and brought back to a settlement, to the cheers of all. In the Underworld, or in any harsh environment for that matter, there may be a more pragmatic approach that needs to be considered, namely that a slain creature’s body has to be broken down by the victors.

There is an intrinsic and visceral adroitness to the process of cleaning a kill, one that most of us are aware of, but unfamiliar with, unless we have jobs or backgrounds in that field. Most cultures view it as a normal practice, while many have gone further and attach specific rituals and methods to the act. In some societies the operation is considered an art form—think fugu preparation—where a strict regime of sawing, cutting and delicate carving of skin, muscles and organs maximizes what can be taken from the body.

In a fantastic context, this holds doubly true, for the implicit idea is, of course, one of creatures suffused with magical energies requiring more skill, and the act carrying with itself an inherent risk. Crudeness and lack of ability may result in wasted resources, ruined body parts and spoiled components, in some cases potentially invalidating the entire hunt.

As written, the butchering rules can lead to roleplaying dark themes, including cannibalism. The practice is not confined to carnivores; many herbivores and detrivores end up eating their own kind, and it is thought almost all aquatic species cannibalize at some point in their life, for example. Cannibalism occurs not only if food is short but when resource-types are limited or nutritionally poor. It tends to promote the survival of a few individuals rather than large groups. As GM, ensure players are comfortable in handling such detailed and visceral themes instead of glossing over them. That said, declaring certain uses taboo is your perogative when it makes sense. Fun is more important that “being factual” at the table!

The obvious benefit from butchering the body of a slain beast would be the procurement of resources—that the adventurers have materials to eat for the night, fat to perhaps light a fire, and even acquire more esoteric goods that may be sold in the markets back in civilization.

As a basic rule of thumb, every 100-200 pounds of edible flesh requires approximately one hour to properly clean. This is a process that can be undertaken as an activity when Setting Up Camp. If playing with those rules, treat it as follows.

Cleaning a Body. You attempt to clean a body, which requires 1 hour per 100-200 pounds of flesh involved, with a minimum of 1 hour. The type of creature slain determines the skill used in the cleaning process (Table 8-7), but the GM can decide after discussion with the players.

For example, it makes sense that Wisdom (Survival) can be used for most creatures, but, e.g., an undead conglomerate of bodies may be better served by using Intelligence (Religion) or Intelligence (Arcana) instead; a swarm of fey animals animating a singular body may have the constituent creatures still alive, requiring a Charisma (Persuasion) or Charisma (Deception) check to make them disband their efforts to rejuvenate the weird collective.

If a character’s background would provide expertise in the ability to properly dismantle a creature, it is suggested to provide advantage on one or more rolls involved in the process. As said, it is left to the GM’s discretion to decide which skill is suitable for each creature. Any overlap in Table 8-7’s points is meant to stimulate debate.

Characters that are taught how to handle the dissection of a specific creature should be rewarded by the GM for their roleplaying—consider granting them their proficiency bonus to the check, doubling it, and/or granting them advantage on the roll, depending on your preferences and the quality of research in which the character engaged.

Table 8-7: Cleaning Process Skill Suggestions
Creature Type Suggested Skill
Aberrations, Elementals, Monstrosities Intelligence (Arcana)
Celestials, Fiends, Monstrosities, Undead Intelligence (Religion)
Fey, Monstrosities, Oozes, Plants Intelligence (Nature)
Beasts, Oozes, Plants Wisdom (Survival)
Dragons, Giants, Monstrosities Intelligence (History) (for mythic beasts)

The Process of Cleaning a Body

The process of cleaning a body is a simple one.

1. Choose the Type of Cleaning. The characters choose the type of cleaning to execute. An intricate and precise cleaning of the body will yield better results and more goods than a crude one but is more difficult to execute.

We suggest 5 levels of cleaning (Table 8-8), with the slain creature’s type dictating the skill employed, as discussed previously.

A character can choose to take their time—for every additional hour spent, reduce the DC of the cleaning attempt by one step on the table. Note that when cleaning a body as part of Setting Up Camp, each subsequent hour beyond the first imposes a cumulative -1 resting penalty modifier to the cleaning character. Similarly, a character can choose to halve their time required, but increases the DC required to execute the cleaning by two steps on Table 8-8.

Failure on the check to properly clean the body will spoil either half or all of the goods and items that can be derived from cleaning the body. Unless the GM is particularly cruel, it is suggested that still awarding half the goods is a good baseline. Unless intended as a high-risk reward, it is also suggested that the GM should award story-relevant items regardless of whether the party fails the cleaning check. There is one more aspect to consider: the GM may determine that, for example, extracting a dragon’s amygdala may require a Surgical Dissection—anything short of it just won’t do and will not yield the intended item. This is optional, but in the sample creature goods (Body Parts), it is denoted by the Minimum Cleaning Required line. The characters should be made aware of certain cleaning procedures being insufficient to extract certain components, if the players would not have an inkling themselves of the actions being insufficient.

The GM may decide that particularly small creatures, such as a parasitic, two-inch worm, require special extraction techniques for certain esoteric components and these processes mean a certain Minimum Cleaning Required level.

2. Determine the Danger in Cleaning the Body. Poisonous claws, acidic bile, dangerous parasites, blood infused with necrotic energies—a Quarry worthy of the adventurer group hunting for it may be hard to find, but butchering its body properly can be a dangerous prospect in its own right, even once the original Quarry has been eliminated.

Table 8-8: Types of Cleaning
Type of Cleaning Suggested Sample DC
Rudimentary Cleaning 10
Basic Butchering 12
Efficient Cleaning 15
Thorough Butchering 20
Surgical Dissection 25

The buildup of energy and strange powers fluxing through the realms below in particular can remain even long after an apex predator has been vanquished. The method to determine if a butchering attempt is a hazardous process is subject to the GM’s discretion as there are too many possible Quarries to present concise and encompassing guidelines. Hazards involved in butchering a Quarry first need to be identified, and then may be negated.

Note that the skill check rolled to Identify a harvesting hazard may or may not be the same as the one used to Negate the hazard’s effect—for example, it may take Intelligence (Religion) to identify that the removal of the pulsing heart from the undead worm is dangerous, but a Wisdom (Medicine) check to extract it without being subjected to a blast of necrotic blood. Alternatively, in this example, an Intelligence (Religion) check may reveal a means to temporarily suppress the dangerous energies.

In order to present some guidelines for the GM, the hazards potentially involved in butchering a creature be encompassed by a trio of categories: Minor hazards are generally those with the least damaging or debilitating effects and are usually found as a feature of OR cost for the equivalent of a challenge 5 or less encounter. More powerful Quarries may have multiple such hazards, including those devised for this category.

Moderate hazards are generally those with damaging or painful effects and are usually found as a feature of OR cost for the equivalent of a challenge 6–10 encounter. More powerful Quarries may have multiple such hazards, including those devised for this category.

Major hazards are reserved to devastating and crippling effects and are usually found as a feature of OR cost for the equivalent of a challenge 11+ encounter. Quarries that have this level of hazard are probably magical monsters and things people tell stories about and hire troops of specialists for prolonged expeditions to remove them from inhospitable regions.

Subject to the GM’s discretion, some creatures may be even more dangerous to harvest—in such an instance, consider using the Underworld Hazard generator tables. Theoretically, some components might even be severe hazards.

If you require a quick guideline to determine DCs to identify and negate the effects of hazards while cleaning and harvesting, consult Table 8-9 below.

For a comprehensive list of problems and issues that you can use in conjunction with these rules, consult Underworld Hazards.It should be noted that more thorough types of cleaning may present the party with more hazards—carving meat from a dragon’s flank is not difficult, but extracting its breath gland? Now that may get you roasted! The first may be a Rudimentary Cleaning that does not have a hazard, but extracting the gland? That clearly sounds like it requires Surgical Dissection and most assuredly is accompanied by a hazard! Similarly, there may be hazards that simply cannot be negated—no matter how good the PCs are, an undead creature’s flesh won’t be safe to eat.1. Apply the Type of Cleaning Chosen. Roll the associated checks to identify and negate hazards, if any, and roll the cleaning the body check based on the skill determined by the GM.2. Gain Goods. For every successful roll, characters gain the respective items. While the material gained is obviously contingent on the creature hunted and its size and properties, Table 8-11 suggests some general guidelines Table 8-9: Cleaning the Body DCs regarding benefits.Note that there are resources out there that list a variety of suggested magical effects for components of specific creatures—this system is specifically designed to be compatible with such resources. For mechanical effects, consult the Underworld Hazards.If you are not playing with the unit of stock rules, simply substitute whatever provisions work for your game.The GM should bear the size and nature of a creature in mind as well—a Tiny creature probably can’t yield more than 1d3 units of stock, while a massive dragon probably will yield more than 1d3 units of stock, even when only rudimentarily cleaned. An elemental creature may yield no units of stock, or at least some very odd ones.With this is mind, some random descriptions of general components will be helpful. Table 8-11 offers some deliberately broadly-applicable suggestions:

Table 8-9: Cleaning the Body DCs
Hazard Identify DC Negate DC
Minor 10 12
Moderate 15 17
Major 20 22
Table 8-10: Resources Gained from Butchering a Quarry
Type of Cleaning Stock gathered
Rudimentary Cleaning 1d3 units of stock
Basic Butchering 2d3 units of stock
Efficient Cleaning 3d3 units of stock, 1 uncommon component
Thorough Butchering 4d3 units of stock, 2 uncommon components, 1 rare component
Surgical Dissection 5d3 units of stock, 3 uncommon components, 1d2 rare components
Table 8-11: Random Components
d10 Random Uncommon Component Random Rare Component
1 An intact heart A heart that still occasionally contracts, particularly when another creature of its type approaches
2 An intact, wet tongue A fused ridge of teeth 3 A healthy amount of a bodily fluid Bile that consumes a certain material, but nothing else
4 Unscathed genitals or reproduction-related components, such as eggs. A sensorial organ that still shows signs of life: an eye changes color or triggers a nictitating lid; an ear twitches on “hearing” something
5 Unbroken, sturdy bones. Nervous tissue that clings to anything it touches
6 Clean and tough teeth, claws, mandibles or similar. A claw or similar appendage that can still grasp by shocking the nervous tissue
7 An unbroken skull A mineral-enriched bone or chitin that is hard as steel
8 A well-preserved hide, carapace, horns or similar A gland holding a fluid that prompts synesthesia when drunk; the characters “see” and “feel” things outside their usual sensory range
9 Healthy organs A brain emitting dulling, empathic impulses
10 Tight, well-trained tendons A vestigial twin, still alive. Subject to the GM’s discretion it may be saved
Section 15: Copyright Notice

Survivalist's Guide to Spelunking. © 2021, AAW Games; Thilo Graf, Doug Niles, Stephen Yeardley. Underworld Races and Classes © 2017 AAW Games LLC; Designers: Thilo Graf and Mike Myler

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