Pacing in the Wilderness

Eye of the Wyvern is a wilderness adventure, and I thought that I would talk about the differences in pacing when running a wilderness adventure.

The Plot-Driven Adventure

Firstly, it should be noted that there are several different types of wilderness adventure. Eye of the Wyvern is an event-driven adventure, where the party moves from one encounter to another by the decisions they make. It’s a rather simple linear adventure, as most of the encounters are sequential. In between such encounters, you have routine tasks like setting up camp and keeping watch.

In such adventures, the pacing is often one significant encounter each day, with the party at nearly full strength, allowing them to be slightly tougher than you might find in a dungeon environment. This significant encounter might not just be during the day though, as night time encounters, and planned campsite ambushes might also be possibilities. Alternatively, there might be fewer, weaker encounters, which the PCs can be expected to overcome whilst travelling in the wilderness.

The Road Trip

Similar to the plot-driven adventure, you might have the journey or road trip. Typically, these adventures don’t necessarily focus on the wilderness, instead having the PCs move between sites of interest such as settlements and adventure locations. In such adventures, the party might have random encounters in the wilderness on their journey, but the chances of this vary, and sometimes GMs will skip these encounters entirely, especially if the journey is part of an adventure.

For example, Wrath of the Minotaur had the party move through the wilderness to the Tomb of Alaxus, but there were no encounters along the route. The journey was covered by a cut-scene, and the adventure focused more on exploring the tomb.

The Cut Scene Journey

The GM might also use this approach when moving the party between adventures, such as from their starting town to another settlement that serves as the start for their next adventure. Once again, the journey may be handled by a cut-scene rather than worrying about random encounters.

When PCs do have random encounters in the wilderness, these are often stronger than when in the dungeon, as it is often assumed that the random encounter will be the significant encounter for the day. It should also be noted that quite often, the GM will use a “status quo” approach to wilderness encounters, where the encounters are not necessarily scaled to party level, and that the party will be able to run from any overpowering encounters. This often makes wilderness encounters much more dangerous than dungeon encounters.

The Hex Crawl

A final type of wilderness adventure is the exploration, often referred to as a “hex crawl” adventure. In these adventures, the party is exploring the wilderness much like they would a dungeon. However, where as a dungeon often confines the party to specific routes, wilderness exploration typically allows the party the freedom to explore in any direction, barring any natural features that the party either cannot or will find difficult to overcome.

For example, in an adventure where the party has to explore the wilderness, they will sometimes find the area they get to explore confined by land-based obstacles like cliffs and mountains, or water-based obstacles like rivers and seas. Such obstacles may be crossed with preparation, however, like getting a ship to explore the ocean, but these can often be an adventure in itself.

In terms of encounters when exploring, besides possible random encounters as above, the party will typically comes across sites of interest. These sites could be simple encounters, or may be settlements or dungeons that the party can explore and replenish supplies. These sites will often become the significant encounter of the day, otherwise an empty hex might have a random encounter.

Hex Crawl in The Vale

We haven’t currently had a “hex crawl” adventure in the campaign, especially as the players have tackled adventures throughout The Vale already. As such, the Vale is pretty much explored and mapped, although the could easily be other sites of interest hidden within.

It should be noted that the exploration adventure has fallen out of favour over the past decade or so, as it can be tedious and repetitive to explore any wilderness hex by hex. Plus, such adventures often only take place on the fringes of settled lands, and quite often campaigns focus on more populated areas, especially if they focus on intrigue and politics, rather than exploration. It can take a LOT of work to prepare a wilderness exploration adventure, and even more work to justify it within the context of a campaign. Instead, the plot-driven or road trip adventure types are often used instead, as they are easier and quicker to apply and justify within a campaign.

Wilderness Pacing

Ultimately though, whatever type of wilderness adventure you are having, it’s often the case that the party will have only one significant encounter per day, and this typically translates to only one or two significant encounters per session.

On the Level

After several months of gaming and character changes, my players have finally gained a new level of experience with their party. Although we will be switching to a new party consisting of the other four PCs for our next adventure, I decided to let my players have the pleasure of leveling up their current party before ending the session.

You might be asking why I did this. The answer is simple: leveling up the characters is a promise that we will be returning to these characters in the near future. I still intend to let the players choose which characters go on which adventures, so it might not be in the following adventure based on what the players decide, but it will be within the next few adventures.

I didn’t let the players level up the party of Zanthar Rex, simply because I don’t know if these characters will ever be used again. They make great backup characters should there be any fatalities or a Total Party Kill, but I have no real plans of future adventures for them at this point.

As for the Escapees from Zanzer’s Dungeon, I do intent to have the players return to this party, and to explore Stonekeep. However, this will be long in the future, as both myself and my players will have gotten more experience in the campaign, and with D&D itself.

It’s fairly easy to justify this long, extended break – the party were ordinary townsfolk before being kidnapped, and it was through their ordeals in Zanzer’s Dungeon that they learnt whether they can fight, whether they could cast spells, or whether they had an aptitude for stealthiness and thievery. Their faith was tested, as they made do with what they could readily learn and practice. They found some of the tools they needed, but they hadn’t completed the training that other adventurers received, and thus whilst it’s safe to assume that they will remain adventurers for a while, they aren’t necessarily prepared to explore Stonekeep at this time.

Classes and Leveling

So, what does gaining a level actually mean? Well, for now, the main benefits of gaining a level is that they get tougher, and more able to survive their adventures. This means they gain more hit points, and their saving throw bonuses increase. All adventurers gain these benefits, although how they improve their saves and how many extra hitpoints they gain is determined by their class.

In all cases, on becoming 2nd Level, the saving throw bonuses they get increase by +1, for a total of +3. This means that Elanna and Thordar, as fighters, increased their Fortitude saving throws by +1, whilst Michifer and Thaddeus, as a Cleric and Mage, both increased their Will saving throws by +1.

Likewise, upon becoming 2nd Level, each character gains another hit die worth of hit points to their maximum. The fighters both got +1d10 extra hit points, whilst Michifer got +1d8 hp, and Thaddeus got +1d4 hp. They also got to add their Constitution modifiers to hit points, and with all characters having positive modifiers for Constitution, the player were guaranteed a reasonable amount of extra hp. This would be the first time the players rolled for hit points, as their characters were all given pregenerated hit points at first level.

Finally, classes often get bonuses to their abilities at 2nd level. This caused a number of issues as class abilities have not been fully developed at this point, largely because of the significant difference between 3rd edition and previous editions. In Third Edition D&D, the D20 system was the result of a major overhaul, meaning that most classes and abilities were essentially rewritten, and version 3.5 resulted in yet more, albeit less drastic, changes to classes and their abilities.

Leveling Fighters

Fighters have always been bottom of the barrel when it comes to abilities, simply because they focus on doing something every class can do, but doing it very, very well – fight. In 3rd edition, Fighters would be able to specialise in various styles, so they might be strong melee damage dealers, agile archers, or highly defensive protectors of the rest of the party. But the core of the character is simple – they hit things, and they do it well.

Thus, Fighters get a +1 bonus to attacks in combat. The idea of Base Attack Bonus hasn’t been covered yet. Prior to 3rd edition, all characters had a THAC0 of 20, and thus did not get any bonuses to attacks. However, even in Basic D&D, Fighters increased their fighting ability the fastest, so a +1 bonus to attacks is a reasonable ability for now.

Leveling Spellcasters

Spellcasters like Clerics and Mages were defined very much by their spellcasting abilities in every edition of the game. However, it seemed like every version of D&D not only varied how spellcasting worked, but also what characters could cast spells, when they could cast spells, and how they advanced in their spellcasting. However, at 2nd Level, the easiest approach is to say that they to prepare and cast an extra 1st level spell.

For Thaddeus, this was simple, as his spellbook contains two spells – sleep and magic missile. This means that Thaddeus can choose to prepare one of each spell, or to prepare two of either spell. Spell choice is still important for spellcasters, but right now, the focus is on preparing the right spells in balance, as this is a key aspect of any mage character. Just as fighters can specialise in what weapons they use and how they fight, spellcasters get to choose whether they want to be prepared for anything with a general spread of spells, or whether they tailor their spell selections by focusing on preparing certain spells multiple times.

For Michifer, this is a little more complicated. Clerics have to prepare spells, but they have access to every spell provided by their deity, immortal, or philosophy. Given the sheer range of spells in the game, this can be a lot of spells for the cleric to choose from. However, since it’s up to the GM to provide said list of spells, I can choose to limit the spell list to certain spells. In Wrath of the Minotaur, I limited Michifer to cure light wounds spell simply because this is the most critical spell any divine caster can learn, and helps keep the party alive.

However, with an extra spell slot and a potentially wider spell list, 2nd Level Clerics get to start defining how they operate in the party. Will they be battle medics and backup fighters, or will they their magic more extensively to support the party or hinder their enemies?

What About Rogues?

Luckily, with Niles not being in the party, I wouldn’t have to think about the role of rogues and what they get at 2nd level just yet. Over the various editions, theives and rogues have changed their abilities quite extensively, and is still the issue of some debate over the roles they should play in the party. This covers a lot of stuff that I am not quite ready to incorporate into our games just yet…

Maps Can Be Art Too!

I am actually writing this article more ahead of time than I normally do. Typically, I write one supplementary planning article and one session recap a week, but as I mentioned previously, the lack of planning needed in many modern multi-session adventures might impact this schedule.

In this case, I actually decided to skip ahead a week and share something that I have been working on. Online Tabletop Roleplaying often requires a lot of map making in advance, as it’s a lot harder to sketch a quick map mid-game when the players decide to do something random (or for that random encounter in the wilderness some adventures like to use). As such, practice drawing maps can often be worthwhile, as it allows you to learn new techniques and experiment with new ideas.

As such, I have spent some time over the past few weeks drawing maps. More specifically, recreating the maps from modules B1 – In Search of the Unknown and B2 – The Keep on the Borderlands.

Both of these modules are classic adventures from basic Dungeons and Dragons, which although initially generic, were later adapted for the D&D Known World in an adventure compilation B1-9 – In Search of Adventure.

Both modules have the priviledge of having been bundled with various editions of Basic D&D – B1 with the BX edition of the Basic D&D Rulebook released in 1981, and B2 with the BECMI edition of the Basic D&D Rulebook released in 1983. These two rulebooks would serve as the foundation of the rulebook released with the New Easy to Master (Black Box) Edition of Revised D&D, released in 1991. The only difference between Basic D&D and Revised D&D would be that Basic D&D covered levels 1 to 3, and Revised D&D covered the levels 1 to 5.

Because of this unique fact, B1 and B2 are probably among the best known modules in D&D history for anyone who has been playing for more than 25 years. B2 was so popular, in fact, that it would see  a revised version for D&D’s silver anniversary in 1999 with Return to Keep on the Borderlands.

If you don’t know, I am a fan of Inkwell Ideas’ Hexographer and Dungeongrapher software, which are ideal for creating simple maps. It has a great feature to allow you import a map for tracing, and when you are done, you have the option to export the results in PNG format, which makes them suitable for most online tabletops, such as Roll20.

But enough from me, I want to share these maps with you. They aren’t magnificent works of art, but they do have a certain charm, and are ultimately practical rather than artistic.

First, the Caves of Quasqueton – Level 1, from B1 – In Search of the Unknown:

Next, the Caves of Quasqueton – Level 2, also from B1 – In Search of the Unknown:

For comparison, here’s the original map in module B1 that I used to trace for the second level map, as those caverns were an absolute pain to map:

That’s B1 – Search For the Unknown covered, let’s move on to the maps for B2 – Keep on the Borderlands. Firstly, the Keep itself:

Next, the area map for Keep on the Borderlands, followed by the map I used to trace the wilderness:


Finally, we have two maps of the Caves of Chaos. The first is the overground map of the area. Here, I used the letter O to mark cave entrances on the map, although these can be hidden if used in a game:

Next, we have the map of the underground. Here, the yellow lines represent the cave entrances:

And to put the last two maps into context, here’s the original map that I used to trace the Caves of Chaos. In the module, both the overground and underground maps of the Caves of Chaos were combined into a single map:

So there you have it, my version of the maps, and the original version for those maps that I decided to trace for some reason. Those maps I didn’t trace directly, I created by measuring the distances on the original map from the reference material.

More Toys For The Boys

I didn’t really do much that was noteworthy in terms of planning last session, because sometimes, the party just go slower than expected, or the adventure is designed to take place over multiple sessions. It’s quite interesting to see the difference between a one-shot “five-room” dungeon adventure, and a normal multi-session adventure in terms of scale of planning. God forbid that I create a mega-dungeon for my players!

That said, having covered the party’s preparations to explore the Tomb of Alaxus in the previous session, I did spend some time updating the Weapons and Armour tables with prices, so that my players could consider upgrading their equipment between adventures. After all, they might decide that the need something a bit more beefy for their encounters in due course.

Both the Weapons and Armour lists hadn’t been updated since the tutorial part of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon saw the party of escapees find their first equipment after defeating Jerj. This was just after the players chose the classes of each character, which was needed to define their starting proficiencies, and therefore what weapons and armour they could actually use. This would see Fighters end up as absolute tanks, whilst demonstrating just how weak early Mages were.

It was nice to be able to add some new toys to the mix, although I believe that apart from a few more daggers for Thaddeus, the party were more interested in exploring their new recruits with further adventures. Seeing as I hadn’t done much else this week, I figured that I would show off the updated Armour and Weapons lists, as well as the new Equipment list. Don’t worry so much about the prices, D&D economy evolved over time…

Armour

The full updated Armour list is shown below:

Armour Price Proficiency AC Bonus
Padded Armour 4 gp Light Armour +1
Leather Armour 5 gp Light Armour +2
Ring Mail 100 gp Light Armour +3
Scale Mail 120 gp Medium Armour +4
Chain Mail 75 gp Medium Armour +5
Banded Mail 200 gp Heavy Armour +6
Splint Mail 80 gp Heavy Armour +6
Plate Mail 600 gp Heavy Armour +8
Shield 10 gp Shield +1

The entries that have been shown in italics are the new entries from Wrath of the Minotaur. The adventure added a range of new Armour from AD&D 2nd Edition, some of which didn’t neccessarily make it into 3.x or later editions, but I felt like including it.

Padded Armour is form of armour made from layers of padded clothing, slightly thicker than normal wear. It’s a simple and cheap armour, but has equally poor AC bonus to go with it.

I always thought that Ring Mail was a type of Chain Mail, that was made from rings of metal joined together in a much looser weave than Chain Mail. Turns out, I was wrong. Ring Mail is actually a form of Leather Armour that has rings of metal embedded into it. This makes it a variant form of Studded Leather Armour, so I used the AC for Studded Leather to represent Ring Mail.

Scale Mail is similar to Chainmail, except that rather than chain links woven together for protection, small steel plates are linked together, forming protection like the scales of a fish.

Splint Mail and Banded Mail are both forms of Chain Mail with sheets of plate metal on top, giving it better protection. However, with Banded Mail, the sheets go horizonally around the wearer in bands, whilst in Splint Mail, they go in vertical strips down over the body of the wearer from the shoulders. Unlike Plate Mail, these metal strips do not overlap in any way, so don’t provide the same degree of protection.

There are some anomalies here that I am working on. For example, with Leather Armour only costing 1 gp more than Padded Armour, why would anybody choose, let alone pay for, Padded Armour. Why is Scale Mail less protective than Chain Mail, yet of greater cost. And why would anyone choose Banded Mail over Splint Mail if they both give the same protection? I think a lot of these issues will be answered at a later time when more aspects of the game come into play.

Weapons

The full updated Weapons list is shown below:

Weapon Price Type Proficiency Damage
Knife 5 sp Melee Simple 1d4 Slashing
Dagger 2 gp Melee/Thrown Simple 1d4 Piercing
Club Melee Simple 1d4 Bludgeoning
Mace 8 gp Melee Simple 1d6 Bludgeoning
Quarterstaff Melee Simple 1d6 Bludgeoning
Spear 1 gp Melee Simple 1d6 Piercing
Morningstar 10 gp Melee Simple 1d8 Bludgeoning
Shortsword 10 gp Melee Martial 1d6 Piercing
Handaxe 1 gp Melee/Thrown Martial 1d6 Slashing
Flail 15 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Bludgeoning
Warhammer 2 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Bludgeoning
Battleaxe 5 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Slashing
Broadsword 10 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Slashing
Longsword 15 gp Melee Martial 1d8 Slashing
Halberd 10 gp Melee Martial 1d10 Slashing
Greataxe 20 gp Melee Martial 1d12 Slashing
Greatsword 50 gp Melee Martial 2d6 Slashing
Sling Ranged Simple 1d4 Bludgeoning
Light Crossbow 35 gp Ranged Simple 1d6 Piercing
Shortbow 30 gp Ranged Martial 1d6 Piercing
Longbow 75 gp Ranged Martial 1d8 Piercing

As above, the entries in italics are new entries that have been added or amended from Wrath of the Minotaur. These entries help round out some of the missing gaps from the weapons list, including several from AD&D 2nd Edition which didn’t make it into later editions.

The Knife is a cheap, single-bladed dagger. More of a tool than a weapon, it’s a cheap option for melee. It’s single blade means that it’s not balanced for throwing, and causes slashing, rather than piercing, damage.

The Quarterstaff was available in D&D, but never featured in the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and therefore was omitted from the original list. It’s essentially a long, two-handed stick, which is an improvement over the single-handed Club.

The Morningstar is basically a Mace with a heftier, and spikier, head. It’s still essentially a bashing weapon, but causes greater damage than the Mace.

The Flail is essentially a Mace that has a length of sturdy chain between the head and the haft of the weapon. This allows for greater damage when used, but requires more training than a Mace or a Morningstar does.

In D&D, the Battleaxe is a two-handed axe, that does more damage than the Handaxe. In AD&D 2nd Edition and later editions, the Battleaxe becomes a sturdier one-handed axe that cannot be thrown in combat, unlike the Handaxe. The two-handed axe weapon becomes the Greataxe. This gives those who prefer axes a viable, more powerful, weapon choice that sits between the Handaxe and Greataxe.

The Broadsword is a sword with a wider blade. The removal of the Broadsword in D&D 3.x has been somewhat contentious, as the Broadsword is an iconic weapon in fantasy games. Longswords were often seen as weapons for more agile fighters, with slightly greater reach and parrying ability. From 3.x, the Broadsword was classed as a Longsword, with no differences between the two. As such, I included it again simply because I am a fan of the humble broadsword in my games…

Equipment

Finally, here’s the new Equipment list to examine:

Item Price
Backpack 2 gp
Belt Pouch 1 gp
Blanket 3 sp
Bucket 5 sp
Chain, Light (per foot) 3 gp
Chest, Small 2 gp
Chest, Large 1 gp
Candle 1 cp
Chalk 1 cp
Firewood (per fire) 1 cp
Flint and Steel 5 sp
Glass Bottle 10 gp
Holy Symbol 25 gp
Holy Water (per vial) 25 gp
Ladder (10′) 5 cp
Lantern 12 gp
Map Case 8 cp
Mirror 10 gp
Mule 8 gp
Oil (per flask) 6 cp
Paper (per sheet) 2 gp
Parchment (per sheet) 1 gp
Piton 3 cp
Rations (per week) 3 gp
Rope (per 50 feet) 1 gp
Sack, Large 2 sp
Sack, Small 5 cp
Thieves’ Tools 30 gp
Shovel 5 sp
Wine Skin (per Skin) 2 sp

Not exactly mind-blowing, but this has been the mainstay of adventuring equipment since the first days of D&D. Although the 10-foot Pole got dropped to the wayside in favour of the 10-foot Ladder. Still, if you really need a 10-foot Pole or two, you can always break the Ladder in half. Of course, do it wrong and you will end up with two 5-foot Ladders…

Gaining Experience

There has been some grumbling within my group over the use of several starter sets to create the campaign that we are playing set in the Vale. Mostly this is about the characters – they don’t seem to gain experience and grow, and it doesn’t seem as if their actions have any meaning to the campaign setting.

I can see where my players are coming from, the game has been going on for about a year, and in that time they have played three different sets of 1st level characters, often with the same composition of Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Mage.

Admittedly, some of this has been because of interruptions in our gaming schedule – including a three month hiatus when Sian and I were unable due to having foreign house guests with us. But even so, I can see why they might be getting a little confused.

The point is that I wanted to combine several starter sets together, because of various reasons. I wanted to use Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon because of the tutorial nature of it’s adventure – ordinary villagers escaping from a wizard’s dungeon. I wanted to use Have and the Vale because it is a simple yet well designed tutorial setting. Finally, I wanted to use the 3rd edition D&D adventure game because I still consider 3.x to be the simplest system, but capable of easy customisation. Not only does this mean three different starter sets, but also meant gaming across three different editions, and that can be quite the challenge for players and GMs in it’s own right.

The problem with starter sets is that they focus on simple, low level play, as they are a teaser often to encourage groups to purchase the full rules and supplements. They typically feature the same four basic classes, as these all provide the basic functions which are deemed neccessary for a decent party for the relevent editions.

A significant issue is that the low-level focus means a low-level limit. The Basic D&D game set provided information for levels 1 to 3. The Easy to Master Revised D&D set provided information for levels 1 to 5. Some starter sets also decide that the pregenerated characters should be higher level, often 2 or 3, as this makes them less fragile and more heroic for newer plays. All of this equates to a small window of growth, within which to squeeze everything.

This doesn’t make it impossible though, especially when you add the fact that many sets often include extra characters. This can make it more confusing than just playing a single party, but it does allow for more adventures, and a better campaign storyline that focuses more on what happens during the adventures, than what happens with the PCs.

This doesn’t mean that the PCs won’t advance. They will, and it’s no secret that I am a big fan of the milestone system, if only because it saves the maths involved in trying to keep track of experience. This puts me in more control of how and when the characters advance.

Now, I know that my players would prefer to have just one (or two) characters that they can level up, because they can get more into the role, but that’s just one way of telling the story.

I do have a plan on how I want the story to progress, and the adventures are simple enough that there’s not a lot of branching to deal with. I will give the players some control – mainly, which PCs to use for which adventures, but with some requirements, because I know that without them, they will want to stick with the same PCs, without even taking into consideration the level window of the campaign.

As an added bonus, there’s plenty of PCs to use as a back up should things go wrong. It can be annoying to lose a favoured character, but with a back up, it’s not so vital that they have to be revived, and even then, restoring a character can become an adventure in it’s own right.

Ultimately, this may not be the type of game that my players are used to in Dungeons and Dragons, telling the type of stories that revolve around a single set of characters. Rather, it’s an ensemble cast telling the story of an area and it’s past. In addition, the game is telling a story of D&D through time, and how it has evolved.

But mostly, it’s me pulling the strings and tying everything together in a way that I hope my players will ultimately enjoy, that isn’t just about characters gaining levels and getting stronger…