Friday, November 4, 2016

Notes on Wilderness Movement

The wilderness is problematic 

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on Book of Fiends, a Seven Voyages of Zylarthen/OD&D reimagining of the Fiend Folio. Among other things, it's going to have some great art.

In the process of working on it, I've been diverted into also exploring some other paths. Book of Fiends will include a number of "additional" spells - OD&D spells not included in the original Zylarthen.

Many of these spells were originally "Druid" spells from Eldritch Wizardry. Since some of these concerned weather, I've been rethinking weather rules and designing an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the weather.

In turn, since weather can sometimes affect movement, this got me to think (or rethink) wilderness movement rules.

Here are some propositions/proposals:

1. In virtually all of the old school iterations of D&D as well as the clones, the value of horses for long-distance wilderness movement has been overestimated.
In all of these systems (including Zylarthen) horses move at up to double or even triple the speed of men. This is unrealistic. Over long distances, men move about as fast as horses. You can impel a horse to move faster for a day or two but then you'll have to rest it. So, if you're doing, say a week or a month long trek through the wilderness (where you can't switch horses at the next Pony Express stop), a horse isn't going to help you that much.

2. Extra encumbrance doesn't detract from long-distance movement as much as it does from short-distance movement. Soldiers have been marching with heavy packs since long before the middle ages. If they weren't wearing heavy packs they would be faster, but not that much faster. Marching with heavy packs is what soldiers do. And if they can do it, adventurers should also be able to do it. So, systems that base wilderness movement on short distance movement (based on encumbrance) are underestimating wilderness movement.

3. For the above two reasons, all wilderness movement through clear terrain should have the same base value - perhaps 15 to 20 miles a day. Various things could give bonuses or penalties. For example  if you have a certain type of horse, then you can double movement for one to three days as long as you rest it for one to three days. If you're unencumbered or lightly encumbered, you get a +1 or +2 on movement. Mules get a bonus over harsh terrain. And so on. But the base move stays the same, subject to terrain.

4. Having just one base move (with possible bonuses/penalties) is also preferable for reasons of simplicity.

5. If you're going to have weather events affect movement, keep in mind that weather might be already implicitly "baked in" to some terrain modifiers. So, for example, you move slower in mountains partially because of storms and the wind. You move slower in deserts because of the heat. Jungles are daunting, partially because of the frequent torrential rains, etc. If you want to have weather affect movement, then you might need to scale back on some movement penalties due to terrain itself.

6. You can make an interesting game out of fractional movement speeds. If you have a map with 30 mile hexes and the base move of the party is, say, 20, then instead of decreeing that the party moves 2/3 of a hex each day (and making little dots on your map), have them roll a 13 or better (2/3 of 20) each day on a twenty-sided die. Success means they leave the hex. Failure means they stay. This inserts a bit of chance and die-rolling drama into wilderness movement. And of course, for every day that they stay in the wilderness, they make one or two more wandering monster checks. Let the players roll them... They will want to get out of the wilderness as quickly as possible!

Criticism, comments or advice would be appreciated. Cheers!


  1. Cool post. Bunch of comments following.
    1. Possibly True with one horse, but if you multiple horse per rider the situation changes as they can change to fresh mounts.

    2. Yes extra encumbrance does detract from long-distance movement when you consider the impact of fatigue on speed of travel and thus overall distance. Maybe not to the scale often given relative to short distances travelled but it does effectively slow yuo down. I've hiked the same route with a light pack and with a heavy pack and it was a very different experience.

    5. Weather effects aren't hardbacked into the terrain. Jungle is genuinely difficult to travel in because of the underbrush, if it is a high-growth jungle with little underbrush there is little genuine distance sightign which also cuts down on quick travel. Mountains are more difficult to thru and take longer becasue you have to worry about falling off, there are darned few straight lines, and steep slopes can be fatiguing going up or down. I've messed about in low mountainous terrain and even there if yuo aren't on a well traveled trail or off trail you often catch yourself doubling back if you don't feel like a serious climb.

    6. Sounds neato.

  2. Thanks! Due to comments by you and others on Google+, I might be evolving into a compromise position. :) One thing that I think is difficult to simulate is "comfort." Just because something is unpleasant doesn't mean you can't do it or (perhaps) do it almost as well. No one wants to go hiking while wearing armor but player characters do it anyway. They also tend to sleep in their armor.

  3. I like this number 6 idea very much. I think I might adapt it for the point-crawl map for my new game.