Exciting journeys in 5th edition engage the party and give them meaningful actions as part of the adventure. Last week I posted Perilous Journey’s Part 1, which turns travel into a series of encounters like any other dungeon. This week, I’ll look at defining some ways that party members can take meaningful actions during journeys. These Journey Actions provide gameplay for the travel experience, as well as create dependencies between members of the party.
As with any rule or option, use when it add something to the game and move along when it doesn’t.
When traveling, a character may take one Journey Action as part of travel. Any actions taken during travel should be chosen prior to the start of travel. Multiple characters may attempt the same action and each roll separately. This has the same roll mechanic as advantage but they each apply their individual skill bonus. Additionally, The DM may want to consider the role of proficiency in these rules. Optionally, they may only allow a character to take a journey action if proficient in an indicated skills.
Terrain Pace and DC Table
|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.|
Foraging along the way for harvestable plants, or small game allows parties to eat hearty means. Rather than keeping track of day-to-day rations in a group, this form of foraging gathers ingredients for a Hearty Meal. As mentioned in, part 1 of Perilous Journeys, a hearty meal may allow characters to recover a single hit die from after sleeping for eight hours when unable to take a long rest.
Characters harvesting use the rules in Chapter 5 of the PHB and roll Wisdom (Survival), at +5 DC to the table presented there. Again, with this method assume the party has enough food to sustain themselves and recover exhaustion. Instead, this type of foraging focuses on higher quality food to help recover Hit Die as per the rules above.
Alternatively, someone foraging could opt to gather herbs or ingredients for potions instead. If so, have them roll Intelligence (Nature) at the same DC used for foraging above. Instead of pounds of good food, they recover the equivalent gold piece worth of ingredients. See the Summary of 5e Alchemy Rules for options.
Guiding a party involves combining your knowledge of an area’s geography, history, and conditions to choose a safe and sure route. At the start of a day’s journey, the guide decides the best route and rolls either an Intelligence (Nature) or Intelligence (History) check at the DC presented on the Terrain Pace table. This roll is made with disadvantage if the guide is unfamiliar with the terrain, has no maps, or has not gathered enough information prior to travel. On a failure, the chances of a random encounter or hazard are doubled for the travel period and the party has disadvantage on any stealth checks. Parties without a guide automatically fail this check.
Scouting involves moving ahead of the party and using your keen senses spot danger or stealth to avoid it. Scouts may always make active Wisdom (Perception) checks against hidden dangers. Additionally, they can use their Dexterity (Stealth) skill to allow the entire party to avoid an encounter if the scout spotted it first. Parties staging an ambush on foes discovered by a scout have advantage on checks to catch them unaware.
Warding uses prowess and awareness to protect the party from hazards and ambush. If a character in the party performing the warding action is not surprised during an ambush, the entire party gets advantage on their roll to avoid surprise.
Also, when encountering a natural hazard that requires a Strength or Dexterity save, the Warder may roll Strength (Athletics) and allow a character up to 10 feet away to use that roll instead of their own save. The warding character may allow a number of characters up to their proficiency bonus to use their roll in this way. Examples of the kinds of hazards might be falling, avoiding an avalanche, stepping into a pit or the like.
Spicing Things Up
These rules mix well with several other house rules. By themselves they are not any more deadly or gritty than any dungeon encounter. In fact, these rules only bring journey encounters in alignment with dungeons. You can think of the entire track of a journey like a node-based set of encounters in a dungeon.
Mixing in other rules such as slower hit point recovery, or failed death saves only clearing on a long rest, should be approached with caution with a system like this.
Additionally, consider adding more opportunities for players to interact with locals during travel. Perhaps a well to do farmer would allow the party to sleep in their comfortable barn with food or supplies, or the rules might drive the party to seek out more Inns. The goal is to spice up journeys with more meaningful actions and choices, so encourage players to lean into that.
These actions and rules imply a healthy variety of hazards and challenges during Journeys, but DMs should use their discretion. Not every journey need be a gripping adventure, and DMs may choose to pass several days at a time rather than going day by day. Choose the style that best fits the pacing and game in the moment. There are several wilderness encounter generators available on the DMs Guild, as well as sites like DnDSpeak.com that offer lots of encounter ideas and tables. I will eventually post systems here for journey-based encounters as well.
Now get out there and run some great games.