GM’s Guide: Regions and Travel in a Wilderness Campaign

Building a Wilderness Campaign

A wilderness campaign is about steadily decreasing the danger of regions by completing quests in them. As the total number of available quests in a region goes down, the region becomes safer to travel through. This not only helps the party get around with less hassle, it also helps anyone trying to maintain law and order out because they send patrols out without getting them eaten by trolls. A wilderness campaign is primarily intended for clearing out a wilderness full of manticores and hydras and so forth and establishing a prosperous kingdom instead, but it can also be used for wars or warring states periods, where instead of making the land safer to travel through because there are fewer monsters in the wilderness, they instead become safer because there are fewer enemy armies stabbing your peasants for wearing the wrong color of hat.

Wilderness campaigns are about constantly pushing back against forces that want to swallow up what the characters hold dear. The wilderness contains quests that spawn other quests, making their home regions more and more dangerous, until eventually they fill up and the danger spills over into neighboring regions, and then the regions that neighbor the neighboring regions, and then the regions neighboring those regions, until eventually the entire map, including the characters’ homes, will be overrun. The party, for reasons base or noble, will push back against this overflow and eventually reach the sources and close them off, one by one. Wilderness campaigns are great not only for holding off the forces of a chaotic (and/or Chaotic) wilderness as well as extraplanar invasions. They also work reasonably well for war stories.

Regions and Journeys

Here’s how it works. The playable area is split up into a number of regions. Each region takes a static amount of time to move through on foot, so, for example, maybe every region takes one week to get through, or every region only takes a day. Whatever it is, it’s the same for everywhere, which means that some regions, like mountains or swamps, might be much smaller but have more difficult terrain, while others might be enormous because of how clear and open they are, like plains. The amount of time it takes to get from one place to another on foot is called the strategic turn. Being mounted cuts movement time in half, allowing the party to move through two regions in one strategic turn (this stacks with the buff for roads that we’ll discuss further down). Each region can hold between zero and four quests, becoming more or less dangerous according to the following chart:

Quests Danger Journey DC Random Encounter Modifier Journey Die
0 Peaceful 5 +0 d4
1 Restless 10 -2 d6
2 Border 15 -4 d8
3 Dangerous 20 -6 d10
4 Hostile 25 -8 d12

There are three different means of traveling from one region to another, depending on how involved you want travel to be.

Journey DC Travel

In this method, each character making the journey rolls a Constitution saving throw against the journey DC appropriate to whatever region they are traveling into (so, a DC 10 for traveling into a restless region, regardless of how dangerous the region they’re exiting is). If they succeed, they take no damage. If they fail, they lose one hit die, plus one more hit die for every five points they missed the DC by. If they run out of hit dice, roll the remaining hit dice as damage. For example, if a character has 2d6 hit dice and misses a journey DC by ten points, they lose their 2d6 hit dice and then take 1d6 damage.

This method is very quick and means that travel is over in a matter of minutes, which means that it’s possible to make long journeys across multiple regions without dedicating an entire session to it. It works well for campaigns where the party is expected to be running around the map putting out fires all across the realm. Using this method, long distances are only concerning if they’re also dangerous, and players will think nothing of traveling back and forth through many peaceful regions unless they’re on a time limit.

Random Encounter Travel

In random encounter travel, the party has exactly one random encounter whenever they journey into a region. Whatever region they are journeying into, they roll on the appropriate random encounter table (it’s perfectly fine to use the same table for similar areas) and add the random encounter modifier for the region’s level of threat. The random encounter tables are a d6 and normally contain beneficial or at least indifferent encounters. Maybe you find a merchant whose wagon has broken an axle, or you find a friendly Cleric who offers you a buff of some kind. Encounters of 0 and below, only possible when rolling at a penalty, are instead your more typical random encounters. Goblin ambushes, orc raids, beguilers posing as travelers in distress who try to make you into mind slaves, that kind of thing.

The encounters get nastier the further down the chart they go, until at -7 you get fire giants looking to enslave smaller creatures and the like. This example assumes a low- to mid-level campaign. At higher levels fire giants might be your standard encounter 0 mooks and encounter -7 is an ancient red dragon or something similarly epic. It’s perfectly acceptable to have some regions have low level encounter tables and others have high level encounter tables. Even when completely overrun and hostile, the Shire doesn’t serve up anything nastier than trolls, while the Elemental Plane of Fire could be preyed upon by efreeti or fire giants even when only restless. Because the encounter die is a d6, the friendly encounters that are ubiquitous in a peaceful region are entirely absent from a dangerous or hostile region.

This method means that traveling into or through dangerous areas is perilous, but only in the most dire of circumstances is it at all likely to be immediately lethal. Traveling through one region will likely take only twenty or thirty minutes, but traveling through several can easily take up an entire session, so this method will make characters more reluctant to travel long distances and helps build a feeling that places that are far away are far away, but still makes visiting a neighboring region fairly inconsequential.

Wilderness Journey Travel

In this variant, every journey from one region to another requires a wilderness journey adventure, as described in the Art of Adventures. The journey uses the appropriately sized Journey Die depending on the area’s threat level, with one end of the journey being stapled onto the top of the encounter table and the other being stapled onto the bottom. For example, let’s say a party wants to journey from Phlan to Zhentil Keep along the Iron Route. If the Iron Route region is currently restless, the appropriate die is a d6, so the GM makes an encounter table using the first six encounters of the Iron Route region, then makes Phlan encounter 0 and Zhentil Keep encounter 7. If the Iron Route becomes a border region, Zhentil Keep will be moved to position 9, two more encounters will be added to the encounter table for slots 7 and 8, and the journey now uses a d8 instead of a d6.

The advantage of this method is that it adds a lot of depth to the areas between major destinations. Since those first four encounters remain no matter how deadly the region gets, there will always be a few encounters that mainly serve to provide local flavor. The disadvantage is that places that are completely overrun with monsters or the forces of tyranny will still have those first four peaceful encounters, who continue going about their business more or less like nothing’s happened. If you’re willing to put in a bit of extra work, you can have these encounters change based on current threat level. For example, a farmstead at the side of the road might hail the adventurers and invite them in for dinner at peaceful, be shuttered and suspicious at border, and be a burned out wreck being picked over by a few stray goblins at hostile. This method also means that even short journeys through minimally threatening areas take a lot of time, and can easily be an entire session unto themselves, which can be either good or bad depending again on how much you want a feeling of distance in your campaign. Using this method, even neighboring regions will seem distant, which can help build a sense of isolation, that each region is largely on their own and can only count on help even from friendly neighbors in exceptional circumstances.

Regardless of which method you use, it is strongly recommended you use the gritty realism rest variant in the Dungeon Master’s Guide page 267. Requiring a full seven days of rest for a long rest means that the damage characters take from a random encounter or from failing a DC will actually matter, and without that the journeys become a hassle rather than a threat. With normal healing, random encounters are only threatening if they can kill you in one go, wilderness journeys are exhausting but inconsequential since almost none of the encounters in them are individually lethal, and journey DCs are incredibly pointless as soon as level 3 because it’s nearly impossible for a DC to kill you and the 8-hour long rest you get for free each night of your seven day journey will immediately erase all damage. With seven day long rests, shrugging off the effects of a journey requires time, which is often at a premium in a wilderness campaign. If you use the recommended week long strategic turn, then taking a long rest means spending one strategic turn to heal up, which is nice and neat and makes taking that long rest a difficult decision.

How Many Regions?

If you want to see a campaign through to completion, you need to keep a handle on how long it’s going to take, and in a wilderness campaign, that’s a function of how many regions there are. A region has 2.5 quests on average, and a quest takes 1.5 sessions to complete on average, so if we round up a little to get a nice whole number, each region is going to take about four sessions. Four regions is a pretty good number for the average campaign, since making it to sixteen sessions is usually pretty doable. Now, this is a rough estimate, and the more fancy quest types you use, the more that estimate will vary (usually in the direction of making things longer), which means two things. One, don’t use a wilderness campaign at all if you have a very strict number of sessions you need to keep to, and two, you probably want to avoid using too many special quests from the next session unless your group is stable enough that you can count on it lasting for a campaign that’s twice as long as you thought it would be.

Prosperity and Threat

Some quests spawn other quests. We’ll get into the details of that when we discuss quest types in a bit, but what’s important for now is that most of these quest spawners don’t stop just because their current region is full. When a new quest is about to be added to a region, check to see how many quests its neighbors already have. If there is a neighbor nearby who has two fewer quests than the region the new quest is about to be added to, that new quest instead spills over into the neighboring region. For example, let’s assume that Thar and the Iron Route are neighboring regions. The Iron Route is restless with one quest, and Thar is dangerous with three. A new quest is about to be added to Thar, but because the Iron Route has two fewer quests, the new quest instead spills over into the Iron Route. The Iron Route is now a border region with two quests, which means the next time a quest is added to Thar, it will stay there, giving Thar four quests, which makes it a hostile region.

If a region fills up with the maximum of four quests, any new quests added will automatically spill over to nearby regions, starting with whichever region has the fewest quests currently. If all neighboring regions are full, it will spill over to the neighbors’ neighbors, again starting with the least dangerous region. Eventually, the entire campaign realm will be filled up completely.

If a region remains peaceful for long enough, it will begin to prosper. Each region has a prosperity die. This is a d6 by default, but regions that are particularly rich with resources will be a d4, and regions that are particularly barren will be a d8. Each strategic turn, every region that is Peaceful rolls their prosperity die. If they roll the max value, they begin to prosper. An already prospering region rolls max on its prosperity die, it will begin flourishing, and an already flourishing region will begin booming. A region that was booming which becomes restless drops to flourishing, a flourishing or booming region that becomes a border drops to prospering, and a region that becomes dangerous or hostile ceases prospering altogether. Regardless of how prosperous a region is, it still cannot roll to become more prosperous until peaceful. Regions that are both prosperous and restless do not get to roll to become flourishing even though flourishing regions remain as such when they become restless.

The effects of flourishing and booming depend on what kind of region it is, but all prospering regions build roads. Traveling through a region with a road requires only half the time it would normally. This stacks with the buff for mounts discussed further up, so a party with mounts traveling entirely through regions with roads can cross four regions in one strategic turn. If a strategic turn is completed part of the way through a journey from one region to another due to fractions, treat the strategic turn as though it completed before the journey happened at all. For example, a mounted party journeys to a region without roads, taking 0.5 turns, then to a region with roads, taking 0.25 turns, and then to a region without roads again, taking 0.5 turns, for a total of 1.25 turns. The strategic turn ends after the party decides to make that third journey, but before the journey actually happens, which means the journey may be more dangerous than the party thought it would be going into it if, for example, a new quest has spawned in that region. On the other hand, the journey may go faster than expected if the region becomes prosperous and roads are added during their journey.

Adamantine/Mithral Mine

A region containing an adamantine or mithral mine can sell adamantine or mithral armor (respectively) when prosperous. The armor costs three times as much as regular armor. When the region is flourishing, adamantine or mithral armor costs only twice as much, and when booming, it costs only half again as much.

Farmland

Every region has some farmable area, but this region is covered in it, and it is abundant. When prosperous, food, lodging, and mounts cost 10% less, when flourishing, 20% less, and when booming, 30% less. Additionally, the region can support a large population and thus has large levies. Each strategic turn this region is prospering, whether the party is present or not, this region rolls a d6. On a 6, a quest of the party’s choice is cleared. When the region is flourishing, the range is expanded to 5-6, and when it is booming, it may clear quests in neighboring regions as well. Fortified quests cannot be cleared by this region’s levies. At the GM’s discretion, certain other, very dangerous quests (stereotypically, the local dragon) may be immune to being cleared by the levies as well.

Fortification

Every prospering region has a few watch towers and probably a castle or two to garrison the patrols who keep the roads clear of bandits. These fortifications go far beyond that, a network of defenses whether natural or manmade that sprawl all across the region, blanketing it in strongholds that require long sieges or costly stormings to capture, but which will serve as forward attack bases for incessant raids on supply trains if ignored. If this region is border prosperity or better, then whenever a quest is placed on it, it rolls a d4. On a 4, the quest is cleared automatically. If this region is prospering, the range is expanded to 3-4. If this region is flourishing, extend it to 2-4 as the fully repaired and Trojan-scale fortifications make it nearly immune to invasion and raiding. If this region is booming, its garrisons swell with levies. Whenever a quest spawns on a neighboring region, it can roll a d4 and clear that quest automatically on a 4.

Gold Mine

A region with a gold mine is much more likely to prosper. It is automatically a d4 prosperity region even when it’s not prospering, and when it is prospering it gives all neighboring regions a +1 bonus to their prosperity rolls. When flourishing, the gold mine’s neighbors receive a +2 bonus to prosperity rolls, and when booming, the gold mine’s neighbors’ neighbors receive a +1 bonus to prosperity rolls. Treat any prosperity rolls that get above max value as being max value.

Healing Herbs

A region with abundant healing herbs produces potions of greater healing for sale when prospering. The potions cost 500 gp a piece. Additionally, regular potions of healing cost only 40 gp. When flourishing, greater healing potions cost only 450 gp and potions of healing cost 35 gp, and when booming, greater healing potions cost 400 gp and potions of healing cost only 30 gp.

Iron Mine

A region with an iron mine produces smith goods cheaper when prospering. All blacksmith goods, including all heavy armors, medium armors except for hide, most weapons, and many tools, cost 10% less when prospering, 20% less when flourishing, and 30% less when booming.

Library

This library contains a vast repository of knowledge. Any knowledge checks made here gain advantage even if the region is not prospering (although if it is dangerous or hostile, the library may have unfriendly guests). When prospering, the library has a large repository of spells. When a character wants a scroll of any spell, they may roll a d20 with a penalty equal to three times the spell’s level (so a 1st level spell would be a d20-3, a 2nd level spell would be d20-6, and so on). If the result is at least 10, the library has a scroll of that spell. When flourishing, the roll is made with advantage, and when booming, the penalty is reduced to two times the spell’s level. If the library has one copy of the spell, the party may roll again immediately to see if they have another. If the library does not have a copy of the spell this turn, the party may return on another strategic turn and roll again to see if they’ve acquired one. Each scroll costs 200 gp times the spell’s level.

Monastery

This monastery can provide Clerical services whenever the region is border, restless, or peaceful, according to the price chart below. When prospering, the services cost 10% less, when flourishing, 20% less, and when booming, 30% less.

Cure wounds (1st level): 10 gp
Identify: 20 gp
Lesser restoration: 40 gp
Prayer of healing (2nd level): 40 gp
Remove curse: 90 gp
Speak with dead: 90 gp
Divination: 210 gp
Greater restoration: 450 gp
Raise dead: 1,250 gp

Port

This region has a port. This plugs it into a trade network that consists of every other region with a port that can access this region’s port by water and which is not dangerous or hostile as well as every region that it can access with roads (requiring roads in both the port itself and the destination region, as well as every intervening region). This region automatically has a d4 prosperity die, and when it is prospering, every other region part of the same trade network automatically has a d4 prosperity die. When this region is flourishing, every region in the trade network gains a +1 bonus to their prosperity die. When this region is booming, every region in the network that is prospering (or better) benefits from the prospering effect of every other region in the trade network that is flourishing or booming. For example, a flourishing iron mine region gains a 20% discount on all metal goods. If it were part of a booming port’s trade network, it would grant every other region in that network its prospering effect, a 10% discount on all metal goods.

If a wizard’s tower region is part of the trade network, the wizard in the tower will use the trade network to send his gifts to any other region in the trade network for pickup, however the total number of gifts he produces will not increase.

If a fortification region is part of the trade network, it does not grant any bonus to the rest of the trade network when flourishing. The fortified region’s prospering bonus is to increase the range of its quest clearing die roll to 3-4 on a d4, and other regions do not have that die roll (even farmlands use a different die and therefore do not benefit from having an expanded range on the d4, which they don’t roll).

If your wilderness campaign is landlocked but you want the effects of a port trade network (or if having a port as capital of the trade network doesn’t make sense for fluff reasons), you can have a trade capital that is identical to the port without actually being a port, and thus relies purely on roads to spread its trade network.

Reliquary

Unlike most region features, the reliquary gives no benefits at all when prospering or flourishing, however the first time the party visits the reliquary after the region begins booming, they will receive a single magic item rolled from magic item table H in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Wizard’s Tower

The wizard in this tower will give out gifts to heroes who make his backyard less troublesome. When the region is prosperous, roll on the table for a challenge 0-4 treasure hoard on the first week of each month if the heroes are present, or as soon as they arrive in the region if they are not. The wizard gifts the heroes with whatever magic items are rolled (which, on a roll of 28 or below, is none – wizards are fickle). Ignore the coins, gems, and art objects. When the region is flourishing, the wizard makes his gifts on the first and third week of the month. When the region is booming, the wizard gives out the magic items of a challenge 0-4 treasure hoard on the first week of the month and the magic items of a challenge 5-10 treasure hoard on the third week of the month. If the players do not visit the region for an extended period of time, they receive only the gifts of the last month when they arrive. Adjust weeks and months to suit the length of your strategic turn if it is not weekly.

 

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