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Optional Travel Rules

In many campaigns, travel is handled in one of two ways. The first way involves rolling an underwhelming, often under-cooked random encounter or two that parties effortlessly crush.

Unless, for some reason, they roll the one result with the random red dragon that they probably would have heard about when they encounter those friendly elves before. The other method is that travel is completely glossed over when it’s narratively inconvenient.

Neither of these options seem particularly interesting from a worldbuilding and table engagement point of view. A massive, biome shaking threat like a dragon shouldn’t be relegated to a random chance and the idea of fighting a handful of low threat enemies seems trivial when you consider that the party will regain all of their limited use resources immediately after the fight.

That’s where the improved travel rules come in. Travel has the potential to be an incredibly interesting, engaging, and important part of a campaign that can be so much more than how the most popular roleplaying game around has handled it over the course of its decades long history. This alternate ruleset will tax player characters in ways that they are not prepared for. It will place importance on the act of travel, pathfinding, and setting up camp without being overly complicated.

Roleplay the Journey

It is vitally important that everyone at the table remember that these rolls are not just a series of silent die rolls made to fill a quota. Success and failure should be met with appropriate, in-game reactions from both the player characters and the environment itself. Failures should lead to interesting, compromising situations where the unity of a party can be tested and either solidified or fractured. GM’s should find interesting ways to describe the world the party travels through: the difference between various campsites, how a forgotten backroad has a different atmosphere and mystique than that of a well-traveled trade route, the way the harsh storm from the night prior has given way to the gentle din of a drizzle.

These evocative moments help the world feel alive and can give players goosebumps in what would otherwise be an unremarkable roll.

If you’re just rolling dice because you feel like you have to then perhaps glossing over travel that is not directly connected to the plot would better suit your playstyle and that’s okay!

Travel and Time

These rules are left intentionally vague in terms of distance and length of time. Some groups might want a single set of rolls to cover a single day, while others might be interested in filling a week or a month with a single group of results. Some campaigns might establish that a given trip will be rolled for daily while the next, much longer trip the party undergoes will use weekly rolls. This is perfectly fine and the flexibility of these rules is more than capable of handling such changes, even within a single campaign.

Travel Rules

Inspired by the excellent travel rules from other roleplaying games, especially Ryuutama, these alternate travel rules are broken down into three, interconnected checks: Travel, Orientation, and Camping. Travel Checks cover the actual, physical act of moving from point A to point B, Orientation Checks are made by a single character to ensure the party is heading in the right direction and does not get lost, and the Camping Checks cover setting up the camp site, securing food, preparing meals, and the sleep quality each character gets.

Taking cues from Powered by the Apocalypse games, these rolls have tiered levels of success and failure instead of the binary results that are common in d20 games. What this means is that even if someone rolls under the DC of a check they can still partially succeed with some complications. Similar to Savage Worlds, if a character rolls exceptionally well they don’t just succeed, they do so with benefits. These thresholds are set at +5 above and -5 below the DC of the skill check, with a normal success and a normal failure filling in the middle. Each result is described in greater detail in the sections detailing the alternative travel rules.

These rules also modify how long rests work.

Characters no longer recover any Hit Dice or long rest class features during a long rest. Instead, characters who succeed at Camping checks have the ability to recover “resources.” A resource refers to any class feature that requires a long rest before it can be used again. In the case of spell slots, the character can recover all uses of a single spell level as a resource.

Travel Check

The Travel Check is the first check and is made by all characters. It is a Constitution saving throw with a DC set by the Terrain DC and the Weather DC Modifiers listed below. A Dungeon Master should make sure to highlight the nature of a given area and the weather’s challenges and natural splendor.

Travel Checks are a fantastic time to describe the setting, allow for some light chit-chat between party members (such as briefly touching on an ongoing point of drama), or to let characters reflect on previous events.

Travel Check Results

Depending on how someone rolls, they will each experience a different outcome.

Succeed by 5 or Greater: The character is invigorated and recovers one Hit Dice.

Succeed: The character is challenged but overcomes. They suffer no change.

Fail: The character is tested and loses one-fourth of their maximum Hit Dice (rounded down, minimum 1).

Fail by 5 or Greater: The character is exhausted and loses half of their maximum Hit Dice (rounded down, minimum 1).

Orientation Check

Once all characters have rolled a Travel Check, it’s time for an Orientation Check. Such rolls usually occur during downtime where characters are taking a small break. One character is chosen to make the Orientation check, which is an Intelligence (Cartographer’s Tools) check with a DC set by the Terrain DC and the Weather DC Modifiers listed below. A second character that is proficient with cartographer’s tools can assist the primary character, giving them advantage on their roll.

Orientation Checks might have a character cresting a hill, climbing a tree, consulting the stars, and double checking their map and compass. If a character is assisting, it is also a great time for a small moment between the two.

Orientation Check Results

Depending on how the navigator rolls, they will experience a different outcome.

Succeed by 5 or Greater: The character find a faster route. The party either increases their travel speed by one-fourth during the next leg of their journey, or all characters have advantage on their next Travel Check. This bonus is chosen by the character, not the GM.

Succeed: The character plots an average route. There is no change.

Fail: The character plots a poor path. The party reduces their travel speed by one-fourth during the next leg of their journey.

Fail by 5 or Greater: The character plots an abysmal path. The party reduces their travel speed by onefourth during the next leg of their journey and they have disadvantage on their next Camping Roll.

Camping Check

At the end of a leg of travel, characters set up camp.

This is typically the responsibility of one character, while the others stand guard, perform other duties, or help in negligible ways. The primary character makes a Wisdom (Survival) check with a DC set by the Terrain DC and Weather DC Modifiers listed below. A second character that is proficient with Survival can assist the primary character, giving them advantage on their roll. Alternatively, a character proficient with Cook’s Utensils can assist instead by preparing the food.

Camping Checks represent several hours of downtime. Gathering firewood, food, fresh water, taking shifts on watch, setting up tents and bedding, struggling to light wet wood, and sharing a drink around the campfire are all great, little ways to create ways to show of the party’s dynamics. Perhaps a fighter struggling to light wood feels overshadowed by a wizard who ignites the timber with the snap of their fingers, a previous argument or confession of love permeates the campsite, or a ranger who just wants some alone time while gathering wood cannot shake the character assisting them on their roll.

Camping Check Results

Depending on how the character setting up camp rolls, they will experience a different outcome.

Succeed by 5 or Greater: The camp is set up expertly and the food is delicious. All characters recover half their maximum Hit Dice (minimum 1), one resource, and gain the benefits of one Beneficial Travel Condition, presented below, for an appropriate amount of time as determined by the GM.

Succeed: The camp is comfortable and the food is tasty. All characters recover one-fourth their maximum Hit Dice (minimum 1) and one resource.

Fail: Something goes wrong. The tents collapses, the food isn’t good, or another minor inconvenience. All characters lose one Hit Dice and gain one Negative Travel Condition, presented below, for an appropriate amount of time as determined by the GM.

Fail by 5 or Greater: Things go catastrophically wrong. All characters lose one-fourth of their maximum Hit Dice (rounded down, minimum 1) and gain one Negative Travel Condition, presented below, for an appropriate amount of time as determined by the GM.

Losing HD You Don’t Have

If a character suffers a Hit Dice penalty that would bring them to less than zero, the character has zero Hit Dice and gains one level of Exhaustion, regardless of how many Hit Dice the failure would have taken from the character. Each time the character would lose Hit Dice in this way imposes an additional level of Exhaustion. This Exhaustion is reduced by one level each time the character recovers Hit Dice, regardless of the amount of Hit Dice recovered.

Alternatively, 48 hours rest with food and water inside of a settlement recovers all of a character’s Hit Dice and removes all levels of Exhaustion.

Biome Difficulty

The DC of the above rolls are set by the terrain’s natural difficulty and the current weather. Choose the terrain’s DC and modify it with the severity of the current weather, as shown below.

Terrain DC

Walking through a rolling field is a very different affair than scaling a craggy mountain or wading through a swamp. How difficult the terrain a party is traveling through determines the DC of all three checks. Rather than listing every possible type of terrain, a GM will instead determine the difficulty on their own and place terrain into any of the following loose categories. This benefits groups that have normal campaign settings while still allows groups with bizarre or irregular environments, such as aquatic campaigns, to determine the Travel Roll DC just as easily as anyone else.

Gentle Biome (DC 10): A gentle biome can be anything from even grasslands, temperate wastelands, or lightly forested areas. Gentle Biomes almost never count as difficult terrain.

Moderate Biome (DC 13): A moderate biome covers the vast majority of terrain. Forests, bogs, rocky areas, and even small mountains are all potentially moderate biomes. Moderate Biomes sometimes count as difficult terrain.

Harsh Biome (DC 15): A harsh biome is one where life is difficult and threats abound in all forms. Mighty mountains, deep swamps, damp jungles, sweltering deserts, and more are all examples of Harsh Biomes.

Harsh Biomes almost always count as difficult terrain.

Weather DC Modifiers

The difficulty established by the Terrain DC is always modified by the prevalent weather. After all, hiking through a forest is one thing, hiking through the same forest during a torrential downpour is another. It is important to note that Harsh Biomes, such as deserts, would not receive a modifier for typical weather, such as high heat. A snowy mountain during a blizzard or active snowfall, however, would still be modified appropriately.

Neutral Weather (+0 DC): Clear and cloudy skies have no impact on travel difficulty.

Inclement Weather (+1 DC): Gentle rain, moderate wind, light fog, or unreasonable temperature are all examples of Inclement Weather.

Harsh Weather (+3 DC): Powerful rain, strong wind, snowfall, deep fog, and drought are all examples of Harsh Weather.

Severe Weather (+5 DC): Exceptionally rare, Severe Weather covers things like hurricanes, wildfires, and blizzards.

Travel Conditions

Some results, specifically those tied to Camping Checks, grant the party a group wide condition.

Some GM’s might prefer to assign individual Travel Conditions based on a certain character’s actions or personality. This is encouraged but the default issues, such as hunger, often affect a group as a whole rather than on an individual level.

These conditions are temporary and usually last for at least one full encounter or leg of travel.

Positive Travel Conditions

The following are beneficial conditions a character might benefit from.

Lucky

The creature finds something interesting or of minor value.

Well Fed

The creature rolls a d4 any time it makes a saving throw and adds the roll to the result of its save.

Well Prepared

The creature’s overland travel speed increases by one-fourth.

Well Rested

The creature rolls a d4 any time it makes an ability check and adds the roll to the result of its check.

Negative Travel Conditions

The following are detrimental conditions a character might suffer from.

Forgetful

The creature accidentally loses an important piece of equipment. They suffer disadvantage on their next Travel, Orientation, or Camping check as chosen by the GM.

Frazzled

The creature only recovers half of the spell slots they normally would when recovering a resource.

Hungry

The creature rolls a d4 any time it makes a saving throw and subtracts the roll to the result of its save.

Paranoid

The creature sees danger around ever bend. They reduce their overland travel speed by one-fourth.

Tired

The creature rolls a d4 any time it makes an ability check and subtracts the roll to the result of its check.

Worn Out

The creature loses one of its current Hit Dice.

Using a Hex Map

For campaigns using hex map adventuring, adopting these alternate travel rules is a quick and simple affair. First, determine how many hexes a party travels in a given day. This is something that you’ve more than likely determined already. Some groups might travel only a single hex while others could go as many as four or five in a single long rest.

Next, determine how often you want to roleplay travel scenes and how difficult you want to make things for your players. The more often they have to roll to potentially lose Hit Dice and suffer Travel Conditions the more difficulty they will have.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Travelcraft Good Traveling Rules for 5e Copyright 2020 BestPalBrigade Author(s): Kyle Carty, Kathryn Carty