Exploration Encounters

Character vs. Environment

Exploration challenges involve finding your way to something. Exploring a dungeon to find the treasure hoard can be an exploration encounter, as can finding the dungeon entrance in the trackless wilderness, finding the exit to a burning building, or getting to a desert oasis before you dehydrate. Exploration challenges might risk your party's life, but they generally do this slowly as you get lost and run out of supplies, or indirectly as you take more time and endure more combats. Exploration challenges that are especially deadly might cause you to blunder into some natural hazard (such as off a cliff during a blizzard), while ones that are less deadly will mostly just take more time (which can be important in missions where you're on a tight schedule). Exploration challenges can be used in place of a dungeon map when you don't have one available, or if you'd prefer to test the characters' abilities to find their way through a dungeon. It can also be used alongside a map, with the map representing a smaller, more contained area.

Exploration Menu

Exploration challenges use the following menu for PC's. The abilities are defined in the character's Job.

Endurance (A rating of your character's endurance)
Move Ability (Reduces Distance)
Survive Ability (Increases Endurance)
Special Ability (Various abilities, using MP)
Items (any Exploration items)

Exploration Statistics

An Exploration challenge has the following statistics:

Distance How far a character must Move to reach the end of the challenge (and their goal).
Hazard Ability Obstacles that reduce the characters' Endurance
Barrier Ability Obstacles that decrease the Move of a character (or increase the challenge's Distance).
Special Ability Various abilities that use the challenge's MP.
Basic Abilities Any basic abilities for the challenge.

Running the Challenge

An exploration encounter is declared when one side wants to move through some terrain that presents a threat to them. Victory happens when the initiator reaches their goal. Failure happens if the initiator does not reach their goal (at which point a new Exploration encounter is often called from some other location, after applying the penalty for failure). Like any other encounter, victory for the PC's will move them towards the adventure goals, and net them XP, AP, and treasure. Failure for the PC's will get them damaged or perhaps KO'd, and cost them gil and time.

When the encounter is declared, the initiating side declares their goal.

Wins and Losses

Any character can attempt to navigate by rolling an Athletics skill check (1d20+Vigor), opposed by the DC of the terrain. More difficult, impassible regions will have a higher DC than those that are easily navigated. A character trained in Athletics gains a +5 bonus and may apply a special effect in exchange for a lower score, if they choose. A character must beat the DC of the region a number of times equal to a number set by the GM. They can fail a number of times equal to their Vitality score. The final failure (when you fail with a number of failures equal to your Mind score) means that the group has failed the encounter.

In determining the DC and number of successes needed, the GM must take into account both the nature of the region itself (how easy is it to navigate?) and the needs of the party (do they HAVE to reach the other side in order to keep playing? Or can they fail and still keep moving forward?). In general, a group should need to succeed on about half of their Athletics checks in order to progress through a challenging terrain that is par for their level, but this rating should be in place regardless of when the attempt is made to pass it. The region may be more difficult to pass at lower levels (and thus lower skill bonuses), and become easier at higher levels (and with higher skill bonuses). Likewise, areas that people cross every day should be fairly low in DC and complexity (and thus appropriate for low-level characters), while places where even natives get lost should be fairly high in DC and complexity (and thus appropriate for high-level characters).

If one character fails to make their Athletics check, another character, instead of making an Athletics check, can attempt an Endurance check against the same DC. If successful, this check doesn't count as a success, but does erase that failure: it is as if the roll was never made. If the check is failed, it counts as a additional failure itself. Characters who are trained in Endurance may make use of one of the options below, trading a special effect for a lower roll.

In a given cycle of checks, a character cannot make both an Athletics check and an Endurance check: they must choose on their turn which to make. Endurance checks will never achieve victory, but a group that relies purely on Athletics checks may fail quite quickly. Characters cannot choose to make no checks.

The Vitality points are pooled for every character trying to make it through the region. When the initiating side achieves more successes than the region's complexity, or when they achieve more failures than their own Vitality points, the encounter is over.

Athletics Options

Pathfinding (-2)

You can blaze a trail for others. If you succeed, an ally receives a +2 bonus on their next Athletics check.

Safe Zone (-4)

You can find a region of temporary relief in the area. If you succeed, an ally can choose not to make their next check, opting instead to contribute no successes or failures.

Shortcut (-6)

By taking the road less traveled, you can find a way through what you may have originally needed to go around. If you succeed, the success counts as two successes.

Endurance Options

Shared Resources (-2)

You help an ally bear the elements. If you succeed, an ally recieves a +2 bonus on their next Endurance check.

Acclimation (-4)

You get used to the environment. If you succeed, you can assume that you roll a 10 on your next Endurance check.

Charge Through (-6)

You steel yourself and barrel through, trusting your toughness to overcome the environment. If you succeed, this Endurance check counts as a success (in addition to erasing a failure).

Succcess and Great Success

Normally, completing the encounter simply means reaching your destination with a minimum of fuss. You pick the right paths, eat the right mushrooms, ford the right rivers, march at the right pace, and climb the right trees.

If a member of the intiating party rolls a 20 on any check, they achieve a great success, and the reward for completing the encounter goes up by +10%. This can happen multiple times.

Abstractly, this represents finding extra treasure or information: you depart from the beaten path (or resist an especially rough failure) and manage to find a hidden cache of gil, or a scroll that teaches a rare technique.

Failure and Great Failure

Failing an exploration encounter is like failing a combat encounter: you return to the starting point worse for wear and perhaps somewhat less well-off. You can choose to go through the encounter again, or to take some other path.

If a member of the initiating party rolls a 1 on any check, one of two things happen at the DM's discretion.

The first is that the party stumbles onto some wild monsters, whom they fight, but the monsters have no reward. The second is that the party gets lost, and their next checks are at -5 (the penalty goes away once you make the check, but remains until you make a check).

DM's Corner: How Hard is It?

Exploration encounters are, fundamentally, encounters against the environment, and so the level and difficulty of the encounter is set by the DM and the DM alone. But how does a DM decide how hard a given exploration encounter should be?

Generally, exploration encounters should be linked to regions in the world: the Forest of Evil has an exploration encounter for navigating it, as does the Palace of Ultimate Evil, or the City of Ancients, or any other dangerous area. Not every region needs an exploration encounter, of course. The Tunnel of Doom is just a straight line from one end to the other, while the Newbie Fields are farmland traversed frequently by locals with plenty of signage. The entire Capitol City might not need an exploration encounter, but the dangerous Slumwarren section of the city might. The general rule is that where a PC party can get dangerously lost, there may be an exploration encounter involved in avoiding that fate.

The encounter level for a particular region shouldn't vary, generally (unless, of course, the region changes — burning the Forest of Evil to the ground may affect how hard it is to move through those ashes). The Slumwarren will always be a moderate level 5 encounter with a DC of 15 and requiring 8 successes to get to through, for instance. If the PC's are low-level they might not try to traverse it, but if the PC's are high level, it doesn't rise in difficulty to meet them: it just becomes easy for them to traverse. In order to face a encounter at a high level, they may have to go into the Mountains of No Return.

Similarly, the creatures that inhabit an area should have levels around the level of the encounter. Slumwarren creatures might be about level 5 — the combats are about level 5, and the NPC allies and townsfolk might be about that tough, too: you need to be tough to survive there. The Mountains of No Return might have higher-level threats.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, of course. It's entirely possible for player parties to meet exceptions to the rule (indeed, exceptions might be more normal for them to encounter), but the idea would be that a level 15 monster coming out of the Slumwarrens should be very powerful within its zone, while a level 15 monster in the Temple of Ultimate Evil might simply be a normal monster there. If that level 15 monster isn't having much of an effect on the surrounding Slumwarrens, the PC's will be right to regard that as unusual.

Below is a general chart for figuring out the exploration encounters of various levels. Generally speaking, the PC's should be expected to face those exploration encounters that hit around their level. You shouldn't expect level 5 PC's to go to the Mountains of No Return, and if they have to, you should create a special exception for them.

The DC for Encounters 10 + the Level of the encounter.

The number of Successes required should be approximately 3 per character for an average encounter, -1 for an easy encounter or +1 for a tougher encounter (usual number of successes needed should be 12 for a 4-person party)

DM's Advice: Combat Sprinkles

Combat encounters can spice up an exploration encounter quite a bit, and can lend a lot of local flavor to a region. A DM may introduce a combat encounter when the PC's fail an Athletics check, for instance, to add an extra consequence. However, aside from the "great failure" idea presented above, these combats should match the PC's abilties (or at least be level-approrpiate for the encounter of the region) and provide adequate reward for their encounter. Rather than punishments or penalties per se, these encounters are still full-fledged encounters on their own, and so should conform to the usual combat encounter guidelines.

DM's Advice: Player characters as Defenders?

Because Exploration encounters are blatantly against the environment, the player characters will almost always be the initiators: trying to get through the environment. NPC's may also initiate, but it usually isn't important to play out those results "on-screen," as it were. Unless, of course, the NPC's are coming to get the PC's.

You can think of a seige or an invasion scenario as a sort of "reverse exploration encounter" where the PC's will want to shore up the defenses of a region to make it more difficult for the goals of NPC's to be reached. This may also happen, if, for instance, the PC's run afoul of the law and start looking for them.

Initially, remember that the NPC's may have to go through the same process the PC's go through in order to get through a dangerous zone. The Evil Forest doesn't care which side you're on, if you're not a native, you will have trouble navigating it, so just as the PC's must use an exploration encounter to get in, so must any other outside force.

Secondarily, remember that a place that is sanctuary for the PC's may not be for invading NPC's. Chances are the residents of Capitol City won't just let the necromancer-kings zombies run all over the city.

In both of these cases, you can handle it abstractly. Generally, half of the creatures of the level of the region should make it through. Higher-level groups might have 75% (within 2 levels) or all of their creatures through, while lower-level groups might have 25% (within 2 levels) or none of the greatures through. The number of successes doesn't matter in this case as much, though it might make the "level range" a bit thinner (within 1 level up or down, rather than 2) or thicker (within 3 levels up or down), if you'd like to reflect its influence. The level of the region should represent the danger the region poses to invaders: military outposts and wild lands with barbarians might be higher level than cities and farms with laborers and commoners, but especially well-trained military forces might improve the level of a zone.

If the PC's want to contribute a more robust defense themselves — actively trying to raise the difficulty for their enemies — then you can treat it as a straightforward Puzzle encounter: if they win that encounter, then they can raise the level of the region to halfway between the default level and their own party level (so a level 10 party raising the Slumwarrens from level 5 might get it up to level 8), in addition to getting the usual rewards for completing that encounter.

Option: Maps

With time or inclination, you may want to draw a map of the region for the PC's to navigate rather than rely on abstract encounters. A basic map consists of several rooms, with paths between these rooms. The PC party decides on a direction, and that leads to another room, which is another choice. Some rooms may have treasure (representing a great success, or even just parts of normal success), while some might have monsters (representing random encounters, or great failures). Even wilderness areas and open fields can be represented in this way, as long as the abstraction of it is clear (there aren't literal "rooms" in an open field, but you do have a limited choice of direction and things lie in those directions).

Maps are especially useful in significant or difficult regions, setting those apart from normal exploration encounters. Maps can also be combined with exploration encounter mechanics, with decisions representing some (but not all) of the successes or failures.

It should be noted that maps are slightly more of a player encounter than a character encounter — a lucky or tactically-minded player might be able to dominate the encounter, even if it isn't entirely in-character. This may be fine for your group, but it is something that you should be aware of.

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