Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wilderness Encounters as Attrition

Earlier this month, as I was contemplating running a public game focused on the dungeon, I was wondering how best to deal with the wilderness. For myself, though I'm glad to play in them, I have a tough time wanting to run a game in which the dungeon is right there in town (like Jeff Rients' Vyzor; or my own local friend's dungeon, the entrance to which is in the inn's basement). I have my own idiom, into which I've fallen every time I've started a new group--a long north-south corridor, bounded to west and east by mountains, with wilderness over the eastern mountains, and civilization back over the western mountains. The dungeon is near--not more than a week away--but still must lie somewhere in the eastern mountains, on the border between civilization's final frontier, and the beginning of the true wilderlands.

(and the drive in Idaho, between the poles of Boise and Moscow, definitely exerts a kind of of influence over this vision)

It's surprisingly hard to find Google images of the mountains rising on
either side, which is much of what one sees on the north-south drive
through Idaho; my D&D games have wider valleys, but a similar bifurcation

I use this both as a means of separation (the characters still must travel away from civilization to find adventure), and as a means to make sure time passes in-game (the local game run by my friend has maybe progressed a couple weeks, and we've been playing for months; for me, if I were refereeing, that would feel stultifying, in that I like a session to be a week at minimum, but his game is his game).

But if the game is dungeon-focused, wilderness encounters will draw attention away from that dungeon. Case-in-point, during the last session of the Greyhame Mountain Dungeon that I ran, perhaps a quarter of the session was spent just dealing with an orc warband encountered on the way to the dungeon. It wasn't a bad encounter (actually, the players took it quite in stride and shone in it); nevertheless, it took a lot of time that might have been differently spent inside the dungeon.

(and just for the record, that encounter occurred because I couldn't remember these very "attrition" rules I'd tried to formulate, and it was easier to just do a monster encounter; and yet for the dungeon-game, it could have been quicker into the dungeon if I'd had my "attrition" notes before me).

When I roll for encounters, I roll 3d6, one black, one white, one red:
black -- encounter chance
white -- party surprise chance
red -- monster surprise chance

I ignore the red and white dice if black comes up nothing.

For attrition in the wilderness, rather than rolling up a full encounter on a positive result from the black die, I look to the other dice:
If the red die comes up 1 or 2, there is still no encounter/attrition, because the "monster/encounter" was "surprised" by the party, and they can avoid it.
But the white die determines "attrition dice" inversely to the number rolled on the die, e.g. 1 is 6d6, 2 is 5d6, 3 is 4d6, 4 is 3d6, etc.

An "attrition die" is 1d6 of damage allocated to one party member, by lot or by choice. In any singular "encounter", an "attrition die" may be negated by breaking 1 shield, 1 suit of armor, 1 weapon, by losing 1 week of rations, or by expending 1 dozen ammunition (arrows, bolts, bullets, etc. via the commensurate missile weapon, e.g. bow, crossbow, sling), but no negation may be duplicated (i.e. once a shield is broken, no other shields may be used to negate "attrition dice" in a given "encounter").

You may note that a roll of 1 on the white die (6d6 "attrition") creates an absolute necessity of 1d6 damage somewhere in the party, volunteered or by lot (because a maximum of 5d6 "attrition" can be negated in any one "encounter"). I could further add that this damage may not be cured by clerics during the course of an adventure, representing instead of wounds, fatigue, starvation, mild disease, or what have you--or perhaps not, if I don't feel inclined.

I envision this option as a means to resolve wilderness encounters quickly, yet without simply bypassing the fact that the D&D wilderness can be dangerous. Stakes remain, even up to damage to characters or the possible destruction of equipment. And yet, the game will be allowed to move quickly to the dungeon that is its real focus without dwelling overlong on the wilderness chance encounter.

Given the abstraction, I wouldn't use rules like this at a "regular" game, where I would much rather just run a wilderness encounter as-is, and let the consequences be what they may. But games like that imply a continuity that extends beyond the dungeon; whereas if your pick-up game relies on getting to the dungeon--but wants to touch on the danger of the wilderness--"attrition" could be a fast way to convey that.

All said, you could just start the game "at the dungeon". I just ... still want the travel time, and the possibility of some minor disaster. And this is my rough draft for an "in-between" version.


  1. Break more PC equipment. A big proble with the real world is getting all your tools to the fun. Inn my experience players care more about the PCs stuff than they care about their PCs. Players can roll up a new PC but you can't roll up a new Orachalcum Myrmidon Blade. Having encounters in the wilderness being a risk to the PCs stuff will impact how players relate to the wilderness.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! And yes, I think breaking PC stuff is a good way to make them care.

    As of the session I played tonight (another Greyhame Dungeon expedition), I am going to increase the base chance of wilderness encounters (none happened on either leg, to or from the dungeon), and from there I'm going to see how much "stuff" actually gets broken. And if I feel it's not enough to "bite" I'll probably increase what needs to be broken to prevent "attrition"--a random number would probably work even better, actually.