On the Sunless Citadel Stroll

The Sunless Citadel.jpg
I've played a lot of adventures. I've never been able to easily find out what happens in an adventure without playing it. I've always wished someone talked about the adventures that they've been through, not so much a review, but a commentary. This. . . is that.

The Sunless Citadel

I had just moved to this city for the first time, and was back in college. I was working a terrible phone support job for an internet service provider, with weird and shady people. That redhead was named Scarlett, and that story is one for another time.

I spent all my free time at work getting little dribs and drabs of information about the new third edition of Dungeons and Dragons on Enworld. It was going back to the dungeon. Any race could be any class. Dungeons & Dragons things were miraculously still being published.

It was a heady time.

I ran this module for a group of friends, as my first experience running third edition. It was a well-designed linear adventure. The part nobody remembers is that there's an evil tree sprouted from a stake used to kill a vampire, protected by an evil druid, that blooms two evil fruits with seeds that create twig blights.

There's a couple of quick and minor encounters on your way into the valley, with enough distraction to lull the players into a sense of security. They checked for traps the first time, the second, and the third, but the fourth was a pit trap they walked into. Well done. The maps are pretty interesting and  although very linear, they at least nod to creativity, expansion, and multi-level adventure.

It's early in the life cycle, but the module clearly pushes a certain model of play, remember where the squares are, success is determined by checks (with a nod to some behaviors), and a strong board "game-like" feel and structure. It's easy to see how this eventually developed into the baroque Pathfinder, where the system itself handles all vagaries of play, being a precision model that answers all questions for the dungeon master. 

The Citadel Proper

Once entered, there's a magically locked door to the left, and the dungeon to the right.

The magically locked door is a sequence of chambers that only give the slightest nod to options. They can have the key, The knock spell (which requires a third level wizard in this first level adventure) or they can succeed at a DC 36 (!) Strength check. It's unlikely anyone would have a +16 bonus to their strength at first level. At the end you find a troll and some treasure.

Once you give up and go the way you are supposed to, you meet Meepo. Everyone remembers Meepo, he went on to some measure of fame. He only says two things:

"The clan's dragon. . .  we've lost our dragon. The wretched goblins stole Calcryx, our dragon!"
"Meepo don't know, but the leader does. Meepo take you to meet the leader, Yusdrayl, if you make nice. Grant you safe passage, if you promise not to hurt Meepo. May be if you promise to rescue dragon, leader make nice to you, answer your questions."

After this point, every adventuring group in the world pretty much teamed up with Meepo. He walks you through the Kobold sector. You can kill everything in these ten or so rooms, or follow meepo to the boss.

You could free some goblin prisoners on the way, but the adventure says you probably shouldn't. The goblins will lie and flee and double-cross players. See, the kobolds are the good guys and the goblins are the bad guys, and just go along with it.

The kobold territory consists of "Down the 60' hallway". Once that immense distance is traversed, they meat the Kobold leader, Yusdrayl. She gives a quest, retrieve the white dragon and offers the key to the earlier area, and she lets you know about the evil guy downstairs. She is standing in front of an altar with some minor magic items on it, and I've seen more than one party turn on the Kobolds at this point. Many don't, which means Meepo accompanies them on the rest of the adventure.

Even though there's a door that leads straight through to the goblin main encounter, they encourage you to go the back way, so you can adventure through the entire goblin section of the dungeon. The only way the shortcut is taken, is if the Kobolds are all killed.

You have several fights against rats and detritus. To get into the goblin area proper, you have to assault a small wall down a caltrop filled hallway. Once you get past that, you find some prisoners, including a 2nd level Gnome Fighter/Cleric named Erky Timbers who's super eager to join the party.

In a room adjacent to the main path, you can find the little tiny mini white dragon who likes it here. You'll have to fight him without killing him to bring him back to the kobolds.

Did you know they intentionally understate the difficulty of dragons in 3.x so that fighting them would always seem tougher than equivalently difficult monsters? Think about that. Monte Cook designed the rules so that players AND the people running the game would be surprised when the monsters were way more powerful than they said they were supposed to be, because they are dragons. Why not list them at their actual difficulty level? The answer to that is so that the difficulty would be a surprise to anyone who relied on those levels.

Then there are two large rooms that have lots of goblins in them (A 'main' encounter) with a shaft leading to Part II of the dungeon.

All this is fun and fine for an introductory module. People like to succeed and feel useful. There are optional side areas, but the adventure leads you by the nose. On the plus side, the fight with the hobgoblin boss takes place with a giant eighty-foot deep shaft in the middle of the room. 

There's a lot of text, too much, about attacks of opportunity. Don't forget attacks of opportunity! Nobody wants attacks of opportunity. Certainly not these goblins. No sir! They'll flank, but not if they have to take those attacks of opportunity. Memento Aoo.

Down a Shaft to Part II of the dungeon

The grove level is also basically a straight line. You can go north and head into the—undescribed in this module—'underdark'. You can go east and north, or you can head south which loops around to east and north. You follow the module from there straight to the end.

You fight some goblins, worms, one shadow, and skeletons; each area, another few opponents rush to kill you as you attempt to reach the 'boss chamber' at the end of the dungeon. After killing goblins guarding a gate, you stride forward into the penultimate encounter, and slay ten of the evil twig blights all at once, introduced two at a time.

The evil druid boss has some conversation options, mainly explaining everything going on. When the conversation options are exhausted, he exhorts you to surrender. When you predictable refuse you fight the boss, the tree, some more twig blights, and a few adventurers who came here earlier and failed, becoming slaves to the evil tree. Maybe the players can figure out destroying the tree will free the captured adventurers by killing them, allowing you to defeat them without chewing through their hit points?

It was fun, the fights in 3.0 were fun. It very much instilled the idea that dungeons are limited spaces and should be 'cleared' completely, extracting all the treasure and experience. I find that the games I play in are both more difficult and challenging in the sense that it's a lot less likely you'll survive a straight combat, and have enough and large enough spaces that exhaustively exploring dungeons doesn't occur.

Originally published 3/1/19

On the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh Stroll

I've played a lot of adventures. I've never been able to easily find out what happens in an adventure without playing it. I've always wished someone talked about the adventures that they've been through, not so much a review, but a commentary. This. . . is that.

The secret really is sinister.

It's the first Dungeons & Dragons adventure I ever played. My father ran it for me, my mother, and my brother. I've run it a dozen times myself, and found myself again among the halls of the alchemists house in my adult life more than a time or two.

It's one of the great reasons for its ubiquity. It's easy to put a 'haunted' house on a map. Let's take a stroll through the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.


This module is notable for being from "TSRUK", and contains a personal message from Don Turnbull.
So, American readers—if you find the text too flowery and florid or too plain and stilted, the structure of the language slightly unusual, the use of certain words apparently slightly offbeat, these are the reasons. Perhaps you will take solace in knowing that UK readers of all the other TSRÂȘ modules have the same reaction in reverse!
Is it an essential British trait that they would take a game about dungeons, and write an adventure about an old house up on a hill? The United States has no ancient buildings looming for a thousand years.

The Dungeon Master is instructed on personalizing the town, making it a base of operations for the players. Name the council, develop them as individuals, draw a map, design an inn, create local gods.

Then, there's the legend. The decrepit house sits up on the hill, once owned by an old alchemist around which nefarious rumors swirled. Now it's haunted—dilapidated and unwholesome. Ghastly shrieks and eerie lights emanate from within the dismal lesion marring the purview.

Spoilers for a thirty year old module, but hey, right? The house is a base of smugglers, led by an illusionist. It has a remarkable clear description of how to present the module and the core mysteries, without giving away too much.
It is paramount that the players are given no obvious clues, which would lead them to believe the house is not haunted; they must deduce the truth for themselves or simply stumble upon it. They might even wander around the house, finding a little treasure but never discovering what actually takes place there.
This module and the other two in the series are designed for thinking players. Those who tackle the adventures imaginatively and thoughtfully will not only obtain good rewards for their characters but will derive the satisfaction of seeing the various layers of the plot peel away as the real meaning of each clue is discovered. On the other hand, those who regard the House as nothing but monsterslaying territory will not only fail to unravel the secrets but will find their adventure dull and unsatisfactory; they may even lose their characters, for the smugglers, in the hands of a competent DM, should be more than a match for an unwary, careless party.
No munchkin hack & slash here! Only real role-playing.

In all seriousness, This is a well designed module. There are multiple layers to this mystery and it relies on player choice and initiative to assess what is actually going on, instead of just killing stuff because it's there. It's the kind of adventure where combat (should) happen(s) because there's an actual conflict, not just because you see something to kill. It clearly supports all the choices, with outcomes noted in the finale.

But that's not what you're here for.

What you are here for

You show up in town, ready for adventure. After taking lodging and shopping for a bit, you hear a legend about a haunted house up on the hill. If you decide to investigate, then you get introduced to a member of the town council, who has an interest in your decision to 'stamp out a local menace'. The council member makes no specific promises, but mentioned rewards—perhaps, say, something for doing a public service.

When the party sets out, they are accompanied by a slew of townsfolk, urchins, and hangers on. Amusingly, they retire shortly after the house pulls into view.

It sits atop a cliff, behind a 6' high stone wall, with a heavy ornate great. To the east is a well.with a softball pitch of a snake that has sleeping venom.

The house is obviously two stories, although there is a secret third underground "level", leading down to the coast at the bottom of the cliff. The house is laid out in a chunky upside down T. The front door opens into a big central room, with a staircase going up to a balcony you can see, with hallways leading to the west, east, and north wings.  It's a great vertical and non-linear space!

While exploring, you'll find rats, goblins, and other vermin as you would expect in any kind of standing structure. Tracks for observant players show some frequent foot traffic. Let's explore!

The stairs to the second floor hang over a passage to the east. These leads to empty and dilapidated rooms.  To the west lies the library of the alchemist, a study, and a trapdoor leading to the basement trapped with a magic mouth that says:
"Welcome, fools -- welcome to your deaths!" followed by a prolonged burst of insane and fiendish laughter.
The passageway to the north contains two events of note, there's a beat up "withdrawing room" which I assume is british for lounge. In addition to detritus there is a chimney. If examined, you find a loose brick, concealing a small chest, along with a spider that sets down beside you. The default poison causing 'enfeebling' for 1-4 days, rather than any authentic risk.

The other event of note is that when you take the first step to descend into the basement, there's a wicked howl of shrieking pain, triggered by a magic mouth.

The upper floor is unstable, and more than one player character has died by falling to his death through unstable flooring. Another deadly chamber lies to the west, with an unassuming closet, filled with a cloak covered in deadly yellow mold.

Upstairs to the east, lies unstable flooring and a very subtle clue, that I think frequently goes missed until later in the module. This is the room where the smugglers can see the approach of the ship and signal it. More interesting is Ned Shakeshaft, a prisoner who is actually an assassin. He's supposed to mislead them, in the interest of a merchant who profits from the smuggling operation.

You can reach the attic, and get attacked by stirges as your reward.

The Main Event

Eventually the characters man up and brave the depths beyond the magic mouth spells, and head down into the basement.

This leads to a very memorable encounter. There's a corpse on the floor in a suit of FULL PLATE MAIL! This is a great moment for your fighters, immediately before they die from the rot grubs infesting the body.

There's a secret door in the wine cellar, and sooner or later the party will encounter the smugglers, which include their illusionist leader, along with several gnolls. There's a great illustration of the illusionist, hitting a party with the color spray spell.

Having discovered the smuggling operation, the town council conceives of a plan, where you assault the Sea Ghost and end the smuggling operation once and for all.

The party has a number of options for assault, giving them the opportunity to strike in the dark, or engage in open combat aboard the floating vessel. A terse, exciting, and possibly deadly battle occurs on the deck of the sea ghost. Looting the vessel lets them discover a slew of prizes, not the least of which is a pseudo-dragon looking for a Wizard to bond with, and the fighter thief aquatic elf "Oceanus".

Once complete, a few days pass, until the council becomes curious why such primitive creatures as lizard men would seek the arms and armor from the forges of men? Is the town of Saltmarsh at risk of attack?

I guess if you want to find out, you'd have to play Danger at Dunwater, but that is a different tale.

You enjoying these posts? I'm depending on you to keep writing them. Come make some requests and get a ton of free stuff over on my Patreon! Originally published 5/2/19

On Ecology Completed

So that happened. 

Bestial Ecosystems created by Monster Inhabitation is out

I'm getting better at it. There was something off about the softcovers, so it'll be a few days on those. Amazon should go up by Wednesday if you'd prefer to get it from there. 

I'm an artist by trade, and there's some ink thing? When printing you can't have something too black or everyone complains. I mean, they complain because the printer vomits out black ink all over the pages. The annoying thing is that the normal black I use in illustrations is 'too black' so I have to go through and set all the images to a Japanese newspaper standard from 20 years ago.

I don't really understand what's going on, because I haven't done their job. I conceptually understand you want to send a color profile to the printer, but I'm just plodding along trying to make my way through the process as best I can. 

Oh, the book is so good guys. Tons of art. It gives me a sensation of brightness when I look inside because of the density of ideas. It's oh so very unlike any sort of monster manual than has ever come before.

Monster manual you say? Are you now realizing that the collection of Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual is complete? Did I write a trilogy of dark reflections examining the negative space of role-playing games? On Downtime & Demesnes is a player's handbook, Artifices, Deceptions & Dilemmas is a dungeon master's guide, and Bestial Ecosystems created by Monster Inhabitation is indeed a monster manual. They are a reflection, commentary, and guide to the rules of classic fantasy table-top role-playing games from the back of the stage. They provide new insights and ideas that are designed to elucidate unspoken laws and refresh forgotten knowledge. 


Pick up your copies today!

. . . 

That. That's what happened at the beginning when I said, so that happened.

Gosh, so it was fun. It was also a lot of work. I'll be posting my thirty or so illustrations on my insta over the next few weeks. I got to meet with and work with some incredible people while writing these books. I had two major professional releases in the space of time I wrote these books. The Tome of Alchemy by Frog God Games and In a Deadly Fashion from Lamentations are both available in print. 

It's . . .good? I don't feel any sense of stability, which as it turns out was symptomatic. Apparently I suffer from vertigo. This both explains why I always feel like I'm about to fly off the surface of the earth, AND all the walking into things. I'm going to be finishing the fulfillment of this Kickstarter over the next day or two, and then. . . 

Well, I don't think I'm going to quit just yet. As long as I can manage to keep doing this I will. It is getting easier over time. I'm getting better at it. 

Soon we talk about being free from Sin. You'll wanna be here for that.

On a Future Coming

 Hey all.

I've been busy writing. It turns out that when you write for a living, it's hard to write on a blog.

The good thing is, there's actual professional work coming out. 

First, I've written a funnel and a reimagination of the Palace of the Silver Princess. The funnel is currently free and in playtest! Some people seem to think that it's too deadly, but I'm interested in your opinion.

Check it out for free here: Palace of the Golden Princess Playtest.

Also, books have shown up in the American LotFP store. Now you can get In a Deadly Fashion without paying 40$ shipping. It's not only a mystery but a guideline on running mysteries. Find out the terrible horror that awaits in the dark corners of macaroni fashion. Death is the new black! You can check out it here! 

It's beautiful and I'm proud of it. 

I'm really glad to be working, and so I'd like to thank everyone for their support. It's touch and go at times, but it seems to be working out. 

This isn't all. Bestial Ecosystems is due back from the editor in about 7 days. It would have been earlier,

but my editor got COVID. He survived (unlike the six million-plus dead worldwide) but the recovery process from COVID is lifelong. Bestial Ecosystems Caused by Monstrous Inhabitation (BECMI) is the final in my trilogy of books, On Downtime and Demesnes, and Artifices, Deceptions, and Dilemmas. The trilogy was a huge project, taking two years. And I'm left with beautiful books, filled with amazing art, forming a system-neutral players handbook, dungeon master's guide, and monster manual. It's so amazing and I'm so proud. You can check out the first two here, and be sure to check out the new one when it releases in print in two weeks. 

Finally, my current project is something else. I've had a jewel that I've loved since it came out, and the keepers have let it become ruined by apathy and greed. I realized that I could take it, and possibly make something wonderful out of it. Instead of complaining about what bad actors are doing, I'm taking steps to make a better world, by making a game about, well. . . You'll see. 

Thanks for checking in, and get in on that playtest!

On Why Bother

So, anyone that updates a blog regularly is a writer. Regular updates to a blog equate in word count to a novel or two a year. So what is it that makes us bother?

I mean, if one were going to write for money, then there are plenty of more popular topics a writer could write on and possibly get enough views to use advertising, or even get a job for a major 'magazine style' website. So why write about D&D?

What I am about to say, makes me sound like a mad man.
I have no qualms about this, because we are all mad men here.
If you were not, you would not have come here.

Old school style role playing is a shamanistic pursuit. The realms we describe — all possible conceivable realms really — actually exist. In the real sense that they are a real place where real people live and breath.

We can view these realms as if through a glass darkly. If we gather in a group and collect our ritual objects, then engage in our formal structure of play while remaining free of intent to influence the events based on our pre-conceptions, then the fog clears. Our ritual, our dice, act as augers to view other realms. Through this process we gain strength, wisdom, and join with the universal spirit of life. Our lives are enriched. We become connected to universal myth.
So that's pretty much the reason why I do this instead of something else.

Originally published 3/2012

On the So-Called Wilderness

The seminal work on this topic is done by
Victor Raymond in Fight On #2 & #3
It's Citizen Kane all over again.

It says it right on the cover of Dungeons and Dragons Volume 3 of Three Booklets: "The underworld and wilderness adventures."

"The Wilderness:
The so-called Wilderness"

Those are the first five words Gygax wrote on the subject. Victor Raymond makes it clear that the phrase "The Wilderness" doesn't mean the actual wild, but all non-dungeon content—dangerous wilds and other civilizations and civilized areas—that the players might encounter.

But what about the wild? The planes of fairy and the unknown? The mythical wood? The archetypical wilderness that threatens civilization? The line beyond which the cartographer writes, "Here, there be dragons."

Nearly every adventure published for Dungeons & Dragons follows these hidden and archetypal guidelines in design, here we are just going to uncover them and make them explicit. Strap in.


People are breathing all the time, yet aren't really aware of it. There's this fundamental underlying structure to role-playing games, an archetypical truth, that we all know about yet remain unaware about.

Dungeons and Dragons is literally about taming the unknown. There's this central idea of a human narrative, where a person goes out into the unknown and retrieves knowledge and then returns. It's pretty central to the idea of us as a species, showing up again and again in psychology and fiction.

The basic structure of any role-playing game, is that players have a character. That character exists in a literal limbo, until the Dungeon Master utters a setting. Once within that setting (right after play starts) areas are delineated as adventure locations. I am speaking in categorical terms. An adventure location may be a scene, a conversation with a non-player character, or a cave entrance.

You are, sitting at the table, in possession a character, and several adventure options. You have an idea of your current (safe) location, which you leave to engage with the adventure option.

The adventure is fundamentally about exploring these unknown spaces. What's in the cave? What does this person think? You uncover the unknown. Literally. The majority of Dungeons and Dragons play is exploring dungeons, which are represented as darkness or blankness and then are filled in as we explore. What's more, you are given a score for this activity; (or alternately the activity allows you to acquire a score). When you return successful, this score allows you to become a better explorer of the unknown.

This is a fundamental human instinct.  We go absolutely bonkers for frontiers. How exciting is the boundary between what is known and unknown! And here's a whole game where the entire structure of play is focused on rolling back the frontier!

If you're wondering, that is why 95% of role-players are playing Dungeons and Dragons or some derivative thereof.

Hell, Gygax figured it out, wrote down his excellent system of handling this from his seat of understanding, and then it was immediately misconstrued and lost, ignored by almost all, leaving us to discuss endlessly what's going on with hexes, and coming up with iterations like pointcrawls.

Archetypal Assumptions

A lot of this work proceeds from the excellent guidelines and overview provided by Victor Raymond. I encourage you to read his articles in Fight On #2 and #3 on this topic. For now, let's have an overview of his key points.

First, the wilderness doesn't refer to the mythical wild, but rather all uncivilized AND civilized areas that are unknown to the players.

Second, barring travel through the wilderness, a topic well covered in AD&D, other styles of wilderness adventure mentioned by Gygax include "Exploratory Adventures" and "Clearing the countryside of monsters"

Third, 20 miles is given as the amount of territory a stronghold can keep clear of monstrous influence.

Fourth, don't treat the wilderness as generic. Think of it as a collection of places and conditions. No terrain is "Forest" or "Hills" It's old rotted oaks, with a matting of decaying leaves, or mostly bare hills, with steep sides covered in grass and moss.

This is the core of his analysis that we are going to build off of.

The first thing to note is that the idea of wilderness is adjacent to chaos. The original game had three alignments, because the original game was about the conflict between law, and the rise of civilization, versus chaos, the wilderness and the unknown. The players are almost universally lawful, because their very actions involve imposing order upon the world (by discovering new territory and killing monsters).

That is the Terminus Est. Dungeons are pockets of chaos that exist within civilized lands (usually close enough to be within the 20 mile range of safety). The Wilderness is the chaos beyond.

The third Original Dungeons and Dragons book outlines the entirety of adventure. You can adventure in the Underworld or the Wilderness.*


So, what use is this?

Concretely, D&D is a game, organized as a collection of procedures.

Designing a wilderness: This is covered in the article by Victor, but needs little description. You can generate a wilderness yourself, or use phenomenal online tools, or use pre-existing maps. This topic is extensively covered.

Travel to a destination: This is also very explicitly covered. This is where the wilderness rules for getting lost apply, wilderness encounter tables are used, and where hexmaps at a scale of 25-60 miles are useful.

An Aside:
This journey should often be structured as a resource management exercise
in food, lives, and loss.
Having unique systems for unique terrain greatly enhances this mode of play.
(That link leads to the marvelous wilderness mini-games by Telecanter)

Exploratory Adventures: This is the process of discovering the lay of the land. This procedure is outlined in Volume 3.

"When players venture into this area they should have a blank hexagon map, and as they move over each hex the referee will inform them as to what kind of terrain is in that hex. This form of exploring will eventually enable players to know the lay of the land in their immediate area. . .  Scale: Assume the greatest distance across a hex is about 5 miles. Turn: Each move will constitute one day. Each day is considered a turn. At the end of each day, the referee will check to see if a monster has been encountered. "

This assumes, of course, that the Dungeon Master is using a map with already labeled castles/strongholds. If that's not the case, the essential CDD #4 Old School Encounters Reference places fortresses at about a 1 in 20 chance per hex.

Essentially this exploration allows the players to both identify the terrain of the hex and informs them as to an outstanding features of the hex—is there a castle? a lair? a tribe of humanoids? It seems like the type of adventure for 7th-8th level players to engage in.

Clearing a hex: This process is clarified on page 24 of ODD.
"Clearing the countryside of monsters is the first requirement. The player/character moves a force to the hex, the referee rolls a die to determine if there is a monster encountered, and if there is one the player/character's force must remove it. If no monster is encountered the hex is already cleared. Territory up to 20 miles distant from a stronghold must be kept clear of monsters once cleared—the inhibition of the stronghold being considered as sufficient to maintain the monster-free status."

What does this mean logistically? You have to clear the site of your castle, and out to four hexes in every direction (at 5 miles a hex). That's 95 hexes, for an average of 16 encounters. Here are the 8 encounter options presented for a forest hex:
1. Men (30-300)
2. Flyer (Ex. Rocs 1-20)
3. Giant (Ex. Orcs (30-300)
4. Lycs (2-20 werewolves)
5. Lycs. (2-20)
6. Men (30-300)
7. Anmls. (Ex. 10-100 pixes)
8. Dragon

So, you can see that clearing 20 miles may present a bit of a challenge.

This provides a core of wilderness play. It covers design, travel, discovery, and taming. A process for pushing back the frontier. acquiring territory, and moving into conflict with other fortresses and lords.

As complete as this is, there is still something missing.


What we have is not enough. We need more. What of the mythical unknown?

One of the stipulations that Victor notes in his search for when the wilderness encounter table is used is that even though those 20 miles may be cleared, the wilderness always encroaches. So from 0-5 miles you roll city encounters. From 6-10 miles you might have level 1 dungeon encounters on the list. From 11-15 miles you might have level 2 dungeon encounters on the list, and from 16-20 miles you might have level 3 encounters.

The other thing he notes is that dungeons, often, lie within civilized lands.

So what we are left with is the idea that "exploring" and "clearing" the hexes just addresses the proud nails. What's left is suitably wild, though perhaps not of particular interest to name level characters.

So in addition to having unexplored dungeons in civilized lands, and somewhat more controlled groups of monsters (maybe a gnoll raiding party numbering 20, versus the 220 gnolls the lords killed), you can also have pockets of mythical wilderness!

This is where pointcrawls and zones (to avoid the genericness of area) come into play. The general idea is, much like the dungeon is an area of high resistance, so is the mythical wilderness.

In each hex are four possible kinds of areas. Bastions of civilization, rolling terrain covered with wandering monsters—the local ecology—not power groups that are rolled for and cleared when clearing or exploring, point crawls which are mythical wilderness-style areas that are treated as areas of ineradicable wildness and magic. And finally zones, (usually at the many points of a pointcrawl) which are simply small maps (like dungeons and ruins) that are uncovered and cleared (though the possibility of restocking always exists). Zones are usually dungeons, but treating ruins, abandoned keeps, and small clearings, caves, and lairs as alternate zone types provides a lot of variety on the players end. Reference the video games Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 (or any of it's many spiritual descendants) for exceptional and creative use of zone wilderness design.

Hexes fail when applied to finer terrain. This is the key insight behind the development of pointcrawls as a middle point between Zone style play and hexploration. It is simple. The 6 mile-hex is our minimum structure. Our atom. You can't subdivide it into further atoms without serious issues. So instead, we deal with the hex as having an interior structure made up of structures, people, and sites. ("Citadels & Castles”, “Ruins & Relics”, “Idyllic Islands” and “Lurid Lairs”.) Once located within the hex, each represents a point, with the distance between covered by wandering monster checks, weather, and a specific one-line description of the terrain. VoilĂ ! It's game structures all the way down.

But how to maintain that sense of discovery? Where is the wonder and awe in exploring the wilderness. This idea must feed back into design.

We must assume that even though the hex is cleared, that this has only eliminated major threats. Smaller, hidden threats, can still be present. Secondly, in addition to many landmarks being visible on the hypothetical pointcrawl, many should not be, and should only be locatable by actually visiting the location. The fact that the landmarks visible are not sequential (they have more to do with their location and visibility in the hex) means the path through the pointcrawl to them, as well as other features remain hidden to be discovered by the players during exploration. Finally, there can be both obvious and unobvious paths, much like secret doors, requiring either foreknowledge or wilderness expertise to locate.

Further, this is what differentiates wilderness exploration from dungeon exploration. When you begin wilderness exploration, many landmarks are already visible, as opposed to all being obscured by the dungeon.

The above outlines the core of the adventure within wilderness exploration.
The following amazing resources are some of what I use in play and design.

CDD#4 Old School Encounters Reference
Telecanter's Wilderness Travel Mini-games and challenges
Telecanter's list of Geographic Wonders

*It's important to note here, that by no means did Gygax exclude the idea of chaos being inimical to civilization. He also postulated exploring cities as adventure, because there are types of chaos that can lie beneath a veneer of civilization. As noted in the possible city and castle encounters, he included the unknown city interior as wilderness. 

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Originally posted 2/2018
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