Perilous journeys are a mainstay of fantasy literature and adventure, yet 5e provides little game play in the way of travel and discovery. This is primarily because the system focuses on encounters per day, which limits long form narrative game elements. First, the long rest reset means encounters or delays seem little more than annoying distractions. Second, characters have little in the way of meaningful game play to engage them in travel. or interact with one another. These rules present a few simple modifications to add some game play spice back into your journeys to help make the exploration pillar exciting again.
Many of these rules draw inspiration from the very fine Journeys mechanic from Adventures in Middle Earth, which is unfortunately no longer published. While mechanically different in places the core themes remain, and I recommend reading those rules for further inspiration.
Havens & Rests
Characters may only gain the benefits of a Long Rest at a Haven or Base Camp. Havens are secure locations with strong shelter. enough supplies and room to rest and study. So manors, well-furnished houses, or Inn rooms rated Comfortable or above work well as Havens. While temporary camps, common rooms, or unsafe locations may allow sleep or recovery from exhaustion, they are not adequate to gain the benefits of a Long Rest. However, with the right supplies and skills, characters may be able to setup Base Camps in the field that allow a proper Long Rest. Meaning the core of game play on the road is managing your supplies, camps, and connecting with settlements in a region to travel in a way that allows you to either move freely or sustain operations, but not both.
Base camps are temporary locations that can be secured and setup to allow for long rests. Setting up a base camp requires a full workday, proper equipment and supplies, and a DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check. The check can be made by a single character on behalf of the party, or as a Group Check by the party. (See Chapter 7 of the PHB for more on Group Checks). A success means the location can be used to take long rests, or a failure means they may try again the next day. Also, a DM should ask the group for one major feature of their Base Camp they can invoke during encounters or play. This should be something that makes sense given the location and provides them flavor during play. Examples of features might be “Close to game”, “Protected on three sides by a stream”, “Hidden from sight”, “Shelter from storms”, “Warm (or cool)”, “Hard to reach”, or anything that adds interesting flavor.
Without proper equipment, or in hostile territory like a dungeon, a base camp can only be setup by someone proficient in the Survival skill and the roll is made with disadvantage.
After a major disruptive event like an attack or disaster, have the party immediately make the same roll to maintain the camp. On a failure, the camp or location is damaged or compromised in a way that means it must be rebuilt.
Sleep, Medical Care, & Hearty Meals.
Characters who rest for eight hours outside of a Haven or Basecamp may still gain a few benefits provided they have the right conditions, supplies and skills. Characters recover one level of exhaustion if able to properly sleep, meditate, or the equivalent for their race. Additionally, they may recover one spent Hit Die through either medical care, or a hearty meal. Medical care requires spending one use of a healing kit and succeeding on a DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check from someone proficient in Medicine. A hearty meal can be prepared by someone proficient in either Survival or with Cook’s Utensils by passing a DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check. Hearty meals also require fresh or high quality ingredients. This means rations, conjured food, or Goodberries will keep you fed but are not sufficient enough to recover a Hit Die. Characters may only recover a maximum of one spent Hit Die outside of a long rest.
With limited opportunities for long rests, the cumulative effects of life on the road become part of the adventure. Speed of travel depends mostly on the type of terrain being traversed, conditions along the way, chosen path, as well as the fickle nature of the environment. The normal movement pace depends on the type of terrain as referenced below.
|Fast||4 mph||32 mi||-||-|
|Normal||3 mph||24 mi||10||Grasslands, plains, wastes etc.|
|Slow||2 mph||16 mi||15||Forests, hills, tundra, sand desert, etc.|
|Crawl||1 mph||8 mi||20||Mountains, swamps, jungle, etc.|
Paved roads make terrain one level faster, with a maximum pace of Fast. Wagons make terrain one level slower and cannot travel in terrain that would slow to more than a crawl. Difficult terrain applies to these paces as normal in Chapter 8 of the PHB. Special movement types or mounts such as pegasus or griffon, are handled as appropriate with guidance from the DMG.
None of these elements interfere with the Rangers Natural Explorer ability. While pace effects the base movement speed, difficult terrain still applies.
Conclusion of Part 1
These rules are a simple way to turn what had been disjointed day by day travel into a continuous adventure about life on the road. It provides ways for players to engage with the environment and connects planning and travel to the greater story as it unfolds through meaningful actions and outcomes.
When writing this I decided to split it into two parts. This part deals with what is essentially, the pacing element of travel. In the next part I will talk about how the party can interact with each other the road, as well as some simple modifications to healing and recovery. So keep an eye out for that next week.
Now get out there and run some great games.