The World of Xoth

Where cold iron meets non-Euclidean geometry!

13 February

Simple 5E Rules for Wilderness Travel

Illustration for “Queen of the Black Coast” by artist Aitor Prieto

Here are some simple rules for travel in the wilderness. It is assumed that the player characters are masters of their own expedition, but the rules can also work if the PCs are simply caravan members.

Design Goals: The purpose of these rules is to create a little mini-game when going from A to B, somewhere between just stating “you travel for X days and arrive at your destination” and having to play out a bunch of random encounter in detail. The problem with the former is that travel feels too easy (and does not carry any cost or risk), and the problem with the latter is that it takes a lot of time away from the main adventure.

A note about resting: These rules assume that long rests are not possible in the wilderness. Only short rests are possible in the wild. Long rests require a safe haven such as a city, castle or fortified village.

Roles: Each of the below roles can be assigned to a player character. No PC can have more than one role. If a role is not assigned to a PC, assume the role is held by a caravan member with a skill check bonus of +0 (or a +5 bonus if the PCs are merely members of someone else’s expedition).

  • Caravan Master: Is responsible for commanding the expedition and maintaining overall discipline and morale among the members. Skill check: Charisma (Intimidation) or Charisma (Persuasion).
  • Pathfinder: Is responsible for finding the way through the wilderness to the destination. Skill check: Wisdom (Survival).
  • Scout: Is responsible for scouting ahead to make sure the expedition is not ambushed. Skill check: Dexterity (Stealth).

Daily skill check: Once per day, each of the above roles roll a skill check against DC 15 (the GM may adjust the DC up or down depending on the area and environment, and/or may adjust the frequency from a daily roll to 5 or 3 rolls per week for an easier journey). Success gives a +1 modifier to the result of the Daily Event table. If the skill check fails by 5 or more, it gives a -1 modifier to the result of the Daily Event table (see below). Since there are three roles, the maximum modifier that can be gained is +3 and the minimum modifier that can be gained is -3. Note that this skill check represents a full day’s worth of effort; spells and magic items that provide bonuses to skill checks must have a minimum duration of 1 hour to be applicable (for example, Enhance Ability and Foresight do apply, but Guidance does not). Assistance or help from others does not apply to the daily skill checks.

After the skill checks have been rolled, roll on the Events table below and apply the modifier to the rolled value.

Repeat the skill checks and the event roll for each day of the voyage.

1 – Disaster (flood, violent storm, warband) – Add 2d6 days to travel time, all PCs suffer 3d10 damage, and 1d6 mounts killed
2 – Bandits, raiders or tax collectors – Pay 250 gp to avoid, or all PCs suffer 3d10 damage in battle
3 – Natural hazard (landslide, falling rocks, forest fire) – 1d4 mounts killed, and all PCs suffer 2d10 damage
4 – Monster attacks – All PCs suffer 2d10 damage, or 1d10 if the Scout makes a Stealth check (DC 15) to avoid ambush
5 – Snakebite or broken leg – 1 mount is lost
6 – Severe weather (storm) – Add 2 days to travel time, and all PCs suffer 1d10 damage
7 – Disease (plague, spoiled food, etc) – All PCs suffer poisoned condition for 1d6 days (Constitution DC 15 avoids)
8 – Stolen or forgotten item – One PC has a 50% chance to lose a random item somewhere along the way
9 – Getting lost – The pathfinder must make a Survival check (DC 15) to get back on track, or add 1d4 days to travel time
10 – Bad weather (fog, ill winds) – Add 1 day to travel time

11-15 – Nothing happens

16 – Meet friendly traveler or locals – Gain advantage on next day’s skill check
17 – Capture and tame wild horse – Gain 1 mount
18 – Discovery – Roll 1d20, on a 1-17 pick up trade goods or valuables worth 1d4 x 10 gp, on a 18-20 find a special item (potion, treasure map, dungeon entrance, etc)
19 – Favorable terrain – Reduce travel time by 1 day
20 – Natural shelter – Roll 1d20, on a 1-15 all PCs regain a spent Hit Dice, on a 16-20 it is possible to make a long rest

EXAMPLE: Our brave band of adventurers are setting out on a journey across the wilderness that will take 9 days. They have one camel each. The player character assigned as the Caravan Master has a Charisma (Intimidation) bonus of +5, the PC assigned as the Pathfinder has a Wisdom (Survival) bonus of +3, and the PC assigned as the Scout has a Dexterity (Stealth) bonus of +4.

On the first day of travel, the Caravan Master and the Scout succeed at their skill checks against DC 15. The Pathfinder fails, but not by 5 or more. The PCs gain a total bonus of +2 to the daily events table. A random PC rolls on the event table and gets a 3. With the +2 bonus, the result is adjusted to 5, which means a mount is lost. Since the PCs did not bring any extra mounts, one of the PCs now has to walk, and his baggage redistributed to the remaining mounts. The PCs are already off to a bad start, and there are eight days left of the journey!

The next day, all three PCs (Caravan Master, Pathfinder, and Scout) succeed in their skill checks, for a total bonus of +3 to the daily events table. A random PC rolls on the event table and gets a 10. With the +3 bonus, the result is adjusted to 13, which means that nothing happens.

The third day, two of the PCs make their skill checks, for a total bonus of +2 to the daily events table. A random PC rolls on the event table and gets a +2, which is adjusted to a 4. A monster attacks and deals 2d10 damage (roll damage separately for each PC). Note that the PCs may take a short rest and spend Hit Dice to restore lost hit points, but may not take a long rest (until they reach a safe haven such as a castle along the way).

And so it goes, day by day, until the PCs reach their destination… and then the main adventure can start!

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