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Wenin
Senior Scribe

579 Posts

Posted - 11 May 2019 :  00:06:41  Show Profile Send Wenin a Private Message  Reply with Quote  Delete Topic
I'm wanting to prepare a system that handles Underdark travel. I was wondering other GMs have tried and how it faired.


I'm thinking of fashioning it around a skill challenge. I would look to judge how difficult it is to travel in the various areas of the Underdark. This would translate into a DC for the challenge. The distance that the group wants to travel will then determine how many successes must be made before 3 failures. The check will be made by a single player using Survival.

That check can be "assisted" by each player. They just have to determine which skill of their own that they'd like to roll. The provide a viable scenario in which their skill could be use to make the trip successful. Approved by the GM, they roll a skill check with a DC that is lower than overall skill DC. This DC could be adjusted by the GM based on how viable the given scenario is for the area that is being travelled.

Each success on the assist check will provide a +2 bonus, while failures are ignored.

When the "lead" rolls their survival check, with the assist bonuses, a success gets them one closer to the required number of successes, while a failure will result in an "encounter".

The encounter could be anything from a monster encounter, to a challenging terrain that they must navigate. It could also result in the players becoming lost.


I'm wanting travel in the wilds of the Underdark to be dangerous, and difficult.

I would treat travel between major locations differently. Major locations would have established routes between them. Groups could choose to travel along the established routes, or go off into the "wilds". Travel along the established routes would lead to a different flavor of encounters. The encounters would be more of the interaction with other races, and nearly no "discoveries".


Session Reports posted at RPG Geek.
Stem the Tide Takes place in Mistledale.
Dark Curtains - Takes place in the Savage North, starting in Nesmé. I wrapped my campaign into the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, but it takes place in 1372 DR.

Cards77
Senior Scribe

USA
665 Posts

Posted - 11 May 2019 :  04:02:15  Show Profile Send Cards77 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Wenin

I'm wanting to prepare a system that handles Underdark travel. I was wondering other GMs have tried and how it faired.


I'm thinking of fashioning it around a skill challenge. I would look to judge how difficult it is to travel in the various areas of the Underdark. This would translate into a DC for the challenge. The distance that the group wants to travel will then determine how many successes must be made before 3 failures. The check will be made by a single player using Survival.

That check can be "assisted" by each player. They just have to determine which skill of their own that they'd like to roll. The provide a viable scenario in which their skill could be use to make the trip successful. Approved by the GM, they roll a skill check with a DC that is lower than overall skill DC. This DC could be adjusted by the GM based on how viable the given scenario is for the area that is being travelled.

Each success on the assist check will provide a +2 bonus, while failures are ignored.

When the "lead" rolls their survival check, with the assist bonuses, a success gets them one closer to the required number of successes, while a failure will result in an "encounter".

The encounter could be anything from a monster encounter, to a challenging terrain that they must navigate. It could also result in the players becoming lost.


I'm wanting travel in the wilds of the Underdark to be dangerous, and difficult.

I would treat travel between major locations differently. Major locations would have established routes between them. Groups could choose to travel along the established routes, or go off into the "wilds". Travel along the established routes would lead to a different flavor of encounters. The encounters would be more of the interaction with other races, and nearly no "discoveries".





My system is to have the scout roll survival at the beginning of each travel period. The DCs for me are set by the rules and based on environmental factors, subject to my discretion.

Then regardless if they take a wrong turn, or get lost I roll for random encounters.

I then role play the day based on the rolls and events and I adapt it to my needs as necessary to make an interesting and eventful travel time.

Some days nothing interesting will happen and I will just describe the caverns/tunnels and we will briefly role play what happens until the end of the day.

To me, dice rolling just to get from point A to point B without failure replaces the role play and story telling scenery part with just rolling dice.

But that's just one DMs opinion.
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Wenin
Senior Scribe

579 Posts

Posted - 11 May 2019 :  16:16:23  Show Profile Send Wenin a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I got the idea after reading one of RA Salvatore's books. He spent about a page on describing (nicely) the journey of the Companions of the Hall through the Underdark. They went 50 miles, and it was a journey for them.

I wouldn't be removing any of the descriptive parts of the journey. In fact I'd be infusing the travel with more descriptions, as the players would be adding their skill use descriptions to the travel. The passage of time would also be squishy.

With travel being at best 8 miles a day, you nor your group finds the day by day aspect a slow to the game? How often are you faced with combat encounters? What percentage of those encounters are tied into the overall story arc? Each encounter the group is likely facing it with all their strength. What level is your group? Do you storyboard any encounters, especially if they are low level, non-threatening (assuming your group is fairly high level)?

What DCs are you using? Out of the Abyss has Underdark navigation set at a DC of 10, granting a +5 if the party goes at a slow pace. That seems to easy, in fact by the rules I think it comes out to be an easy check. I always imagine the potential of getting lost in the Underdark, also the difficulty of the terrain itself. Then there are special areas of the Underdark, such as the Labyrinth, which is supposed to be especially difficult to navigate and not get lost. Travel in the Underdark has also been described as not being straight forward. This translates to me that not only can you not go in straight lines, but not even straight lines given a larger scale. Looking at the map in Out of the Abyss, page 19, travel from Gracklstugh to the Neverlight Grove may result in you having to travel west due to all the caverns filled with water since you're unable to roll a survival check high enough to find that route that allows you to go straight northwest.

PS: I bought the full resolution version of Mike Schley's regional map of the Underdark from his site. Well worth the $2.https://mikeschley.com/

Session Reports posted at RPG Geek.
Stem the Tide Takes place in Mistledale.
Dark Curtains - Takes place in the Savage North, starting in Nesmé. I wrapped my campaign into the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, but it takes place in 1372 DR.
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Cards77
Senior Scribe

USA
665 Posts

Posted - 12 May 2019 :  01:19:11  Show Profile Send Cards77 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Wenin

I got the idea after reading one of RA Salvatore's books. He spent about a page on describing (nicely) the journey of the Companions of the Hall through the Underdark. They went 50 miles, and it was a journey for them.

I wouldn't be removing any of the descriptive parts of the journey. In fact I'd be infusing the travel with more descriptions, as the players would be adding their skill use descriptions to the travel. The passage of time would also be squishy.

With travel being at best 8 miles a day, you nor your group finds the day by day aspect a slow to the game? How often are you faced with combat encounters? What percentage of those encounters are tied into the overall story arc? Each encounter the group is likely facing it with all their strength. What level is your group? Do you storyboard any encounters, especially if they are low level, non-threatening (assuming your group is fairly high level)?

What DCs are you using? Out of the Abyss has Underdark navigation set at a DC of 10, granting a +5 if the party goes at a slow pace. That seems to easy, in fact by the rules I think it comes out to be an easy check. I always imagine the potential of getting lost in the Underdark, also the difficulty of the terrain itself. Then there are special areas of the Underdark, such as the Labyrinth, which is supposed to be especially difficult to navigate and not get lost. Travel in the Underdark has also been described as not being straight forward. This translates to me that not only can you not go in straight lines, but not even straight lines given a larger scale. Looking at the map in Out of the Abyss, page 19, travel from Gracklstugh to the Neverlight Grove may result in you having to travel west due to all the caverns filled with water since you're unable to roll a survival check high enough to find that route that allows you to go straight northwest.

PS: I bought the full resolution version of Mike Schley's regional map of the Underdark from his site. Well worth the $2.https://mikeschley.com/



I agree with the DC issue. I forgot to mention that ONLY characters that do or would have Underdark experience even get to USE their Survival skills.

The DCs are usually 15+ unless there is a map or some other extenuating circumstances.

We are all level 11. We have very deep PCs with extensive back stories and our campaign is in it's 6th year.

So there is plenty to role play without needing combat encounters.

My players enjoy the slower pace and the role playing (think spending time in camp and talking to NPCs in RDR2).

But, encounters are about 30% of the time. If it's slow I will make an encounter.

I use "random encounters" basically as a springboard. I fully flesh out encounters on the fly. They usually are not tied to the overall story arc but I have many many arcs so it just depends on WHY we are in the Underdark at that time.


I also use examples like you're describing to make interesting non-combat encounters.

Like we traded with the gnomes for some air bladders, which we will use to get ourselves through some of the water filled caverns.

It will be challenging, interesting, use other skills that maybe some players were not feeling so engaged with just using survival, and it highlights the perils of the Underdark vs other terrain and accentuates the 3 dimensional feel.


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sleyvas
Great Reader

USA
8061 Posts

Posted - 12 May 2019 :  17:58:58  Show Profile Send sleyvas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I'll admit to never having really done a lot with travel in the underdark. I tended to gloss over it and head straight to encounters. I wish I hadn't though. That being said, one thing that might make for interesting descriptions is that we tend to think like surface worlders. Everything is either north/south/east/west. However, in the underdark, its also up and down. What appears as a simple mile jaunt on the map could easily be a 10 mile down trip that then opens on another cavern below, then travels a twisty mile and then opens on a similar entry that goes up 8 miles and continues on. And those up/down things may not even be straight. Flight might help immeasurably in these situations, along with things to allow breathing. Heck, it might be interesting if some underdark races use the equivalent of hang gliders to move about.

Alavairthae, may your skill prevail

Phillip aka Sleyvas
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Cards77
Senior Scribe

USA
665 Posts

Posted - 13 May 2019 :  15:38:29  Show Profile Send Cards77 a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by sleyvas

I'll admit to never having really done a lot with travel in the underdark. I tended to gloss over it and head straight to encounters. I wish I hadn't though. That being said, one thing that might make for interesting descriptions is that we tend to think like surface worlders. Everything is either north/south/east/west. However, in the underdark, its also up and down. What appears as a simple mile jaunt on the map could easily be a 10 mile down trip that then opens on another cavern below, then travels a twisty mile and then opens on a similar entry that goes up 8 miles and continues on. And those up/down things may not even be straight. Flight might help immeasurably in these situations, along with things to allow breathing. Heck, it might be interesting if some underdark races use the equivalent of hang gliders to move about.



The 3rd (and 4th) dimension(s) should be a source of fear for the PCs!

Flight may help but there is rarely enough room to fly especially if you're moving vertically.

Vertical movement means chimney pipes or steep tunnels.

I also play up the 4th dimension, no one really knows what time it is, or if it's day or night.

Breathing is the silent killer literally. You could wander into a cavern full of invisible, unscented gas and just pass out and die


I really want my PCs to FEAR the Underdark. There is a reason no one lives there, and a reason why only the most ruthless of races can survive.

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