I’ve created a set of encounter tables for Overland Travel, based on some thoughts from Dael Kingsmill’s video on overland travel. She took some inspiration, in turn, from a couple of other posts.
I read them too, and got some ideas. The NewbieDM shares an interesting method:
“Page 106 of the 5e DMG talks about the Travel-Montage approach of exploring the wilderness, and basically it boils down to describing and hand-waving the trek quickly to get to the desired destination. The fantastic D&D variant 13th Age, takes this approach one step further in its organized play adventures, putting the task of narrating the montage in the hands of the players. I like that! i want to play with that and maybe add a bit of 5e mechanics along the way.”
The Angry GM has a pretty long article about overland travel, and I like this part especially:
the whole idea of a fantasy world – especially one like D&D – is that civilization is constantly at war with the untamed, monster-filled wilderness. People don’t travel far because travel is dangerous. And part of the reason why no one has plundered the monster-filled ruins or challenged the witch-kings rule and why so few people visit the oracle who has all the answers is because the journey is simply BEYOND most people.
Getting There IS Half the Fun
The following tables are designed to assist you to prep your party for Overland Travel for multiple days. These prepped days can then be used for Hand-waving or Narrative descriptions of travel. Some of the Events or Encounters may become Action Points for PC interaction with the environment or each other. These tables are designed for travel through open terrain, with areas of hills and/or forested/wooded areas and possibly small patches of marshland. Extended swamp travel requires a different, dedicated set of encounter tables (because dinosaurs. And undead. And infections/diseases). Mountains and arctic areas will also have some specialized tables.
Creating an Encounter Log
On a blank sheet of paper, divide it into six horizontal sections. One day equals six Watches:
- Pre-dawn 2am – 6am
- Morning 6am – 10am
- Mid-day 10am – 2pm
- Afternoon 2pm – 6pm
- Evening 6pm – 10pm
- Midnight 10pm – 2am
There will be at least one monster encounter each day in the Wilderness. Maybe more, especially if the party encounters a water feature. Roll a d6, the result is the time slot/number of the Watch that a monster encounter should take place. A result of 3, for example, means there will be a monster encounter in the Mid-day Watch, between 10am and 2pm.
Types of Wilderness
In the World of Weirth campaign setting there are two kinds of wilderness:
- Wilderness – Unsettled lands within one (five mile) hex of a settlement (Yellow hexes in diagram below).
- Howling Wilderness – Unsettled lands more than one hex away from a settlement (green hexes in diagram below).
In Howling Wilderness areas, roll 2d6, for two monster encounters per day. The DM should decide how many of each creature/monster should be present in order to provide the appropriate challenge for the party.
In a Howling Wilderness hex with a water feature (lake/river/large stream/marsh) there will be a non-monster encounter, plus a 50% chance of a water table monster encounter when the party approaches/crosses the water feature. Hexes adjacent to water features (river or lake) may (40%) have a small stream (8-12 feet wide, 2-4 feet deep) that flows into the larger water feature. These adjacent-hex water features also have a 50% chance of water table monster encounter. In a Wilderness hex, within one hex of a settlement, there will be a 20% chance of a monster encounter.
Settlements near a water feature typically have a dedicated team of guards/watchmen to protect the settlement from monstrous incursions.
Open water features in the Howling Wilderness are dangerous.
Foraging, Navigating and Scouting
One PC will need to be designated as Forager, roll a d12 once per day for being able to hunt/gather some food to supplement any rations. In the absence of any rations, this activity can replace them, at the cost of ¼ day travel, as the PC needs to attempt a Foraging roll once per Watch.
The Forager will be successful on a roll of:
Open terrain 1-4
Light forest 1-6
Heavy forest 1-8
One PC will need to take on role of Navigator, roll a d12 once each morning for ability to stay on course. Roll again if the party flees any monster encounter or if it starts to rain (rain -2 to navigation roll). This roll can be modified by the Scouting roll (see below). Obviously parties will not become lost on a road/track, or while following a water feature, but an unexpected fork in the road could be cause for a roll.
The party will become lost on a roll of:
Open terrain 1-2
Light forest 1-3
Heavy forest 1-4
If a party becomes lost, roll a d12 for the direction:
1 90 degrees left
2-3 60 degrees left
4-6 30 degrees left
7-9 30 degrees right
10-11 60 degrees right
12 90 degrees right
One PC will need to take on the role of Scout, looking ahead at the terrain, keeping an eye out for danger, etc. Roll a d12, on 9-12 (5-12 for a Ranger) the scouting attempt is a success, add +2 to the Navigation roll (above). A Scout will make a critical error on a roll of 1, for a penalty of -1 to the Navigation roll.
Utterly uneventful travel is an oddity in Howling Wilderness areas. There will be some sort of notable occurrence during each Watch. Roll a d12 for each Watch and record the result in the Log for each day. Any ruined/abandoned stronghold encounters should be laid out according to the map, as all structures and settlements should be designated on the campaign map in advance.
- Fog rises – obscures vision for d4+2 hours. The fog burns off after sunrise. Beginning travel in fog is a -3 penalty to navigation roll.
- Discover ants in food packs! Lose ½ day rations.
- Herd Beasts ________ [3d4x10] move past the campsite (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Just before sunrise, two pair of large, blinking yellow eyes (at waist level) seen reflecting at the edge of fire-light (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Wind starts to pick up, fires and torches may go out (20%), and temperature drops 6 degrees.
- Discover that remaining wood gathered last night has dry rot, it burns up very quickly, making lots of smoke. This smoke is visible for miles, may attract unwanted attention.
- (first day only, otherwise re-roll) Discover you forgot to pack food seasoning.
- About an hour before sunrise, d4 meteors streak across the sky.
- Random PC awakens due to leg cramps, cannot get back to sleep.
- Sound of something large moving in the darkness, strong musky odor; horses/pack animals become skittish, snorting and whinnying.
- Odd birdcalls and clicking noises (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Random PC discovers cluster of harmless beetles in shoes upon getting dressed.
- While dressing, a random PC breaks a strap on their armor. -1 to AC, needs a professional to repair.
- If it is still Foggy (from Dawn table above), hear rumbles of thunder and see flickers of lightning (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West). If not Foggy, then dark clouds on the horizon with lightning. Beginning travel in fog is -3 to navigation roll.
- Breakfast rations taste a little “off”, 25% chance of food poisoning (CON check at -2, lose ½ day travel for sick PCs – vomiting and stomach pains, -2 STR -2 DEX for 24 hours)
- Scout discovers scat that likely belongs to large carnivore (plains lion, chimera, etc)
- Light sprinkling of rain for about 30 minutes, just enough to get things nice and wet.
- Flock of dark-colored birds fly over as PCs begin to travel (direction of travel: d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West).
- Random PC finds a small, harmless grass snake in boot.
- Random PC slept funny and (primary) shoulder is stiff and sore (-1 to hit until Mid-day Watch).
- When PCs begin to leave camp, find two large piles of dung (with grass in) about 20 yards from camp.
- Dark clouds begin to gather on the horizon (d4:1-North, 2-East, 3-South, 4-West) .
- Puffy cumulus clouds overhead, one looks like cleric’s holy symbol.
- Puffy cumulus clouds overhead, one looks like random PC’s animal companion.
- Random PC gets a rock in their shoe. When they sit down to remove it, they find a broken weapon on the ground (arrow shaft, dagger, hatchet, etc).
- D4+2 Vultures circling in the sky, ahead of the party’s direction of travel. Add 1d6 vultures per hour until midpoint of the next Watch, when party will arrive beneath. Discover corpses of d4 herd beasts.
- Wild birds are flushed out of grass near party’s path (pheasants, quail, partridge, etc)
- Herd beasts move across the party’s path, about ½ mile ahead, from right to left.
- Sounds of 2-3 jackals barking and howling back and forth, on either side of the party for 10-40 minutes.
- Discover a deposit of scat from a large creature (looks like bird??), with short pieces of bone and patches of fur.
- Line of dark clouds blow up, light rain for about 30 minutes.
- Party or Scout spot what looks like a lone horse and rider, silhouetted off in the distance on a rise.
- Lone dog sitting by the road/in the party’s path. Looks emaciated. The dog will take a liking to one of the PCs (especially if they feed it), following at their heels until this night’s camp. Attempts to chase it off will send it a short distance away, where it will wait a bit, then follow again. (this should only happen once. Replace this result with “Wild birds flushed out” after it occurs).
- A pair of dust devils, some 20’ tall, cross the party’s path, from left to right, full of leaves and gras and grit.
- Troop of 6d4 mounted shepherds with 3d4x10 sheep and 6 trained sheep dogs. Led by mounted (high-quality horse) L3 Ranger with studded leather armor, short bow, lance, short sword, Amulet of Protection, cartography kit. Troopers: L1 Fighters with leather armor, short bows, spears, short swords and equipped with rations for 4 days each, water skins, wine skins. One carries a musical instrument, two have horns of brandy, four have bucklers, all have assorted Amulets of Protection. The Ranger will have news/rumor/message for the party.
- The party’s path crosses two circles of mashed down grass, each 30 feet in diameter, 100 feet apart. In the very center of each circle is a one foot diameter circle of ash, where the grass has been burned and the circle seems to have been pressed down into the ground about an inch. (This result should only occur once per 25 mile campaign map hex.)
- The Scout’s horse throws a shoe.
- Line of dark, threatening storm clouds pass over, but no rain.
- Pack of Wild Dogs parallels the party’s course for about an hour, then moves off.
- Breeze dies down, bird and insect noises stop. The silence is deafening. After about an hour, a very cold breeze sweeps over the party (from the north). Shortly thereafter the insect noises start again.
- The party stumbles over the skeletons of two humans (or humanoids), headless, picked clean and bleached by the sun.
- The Scout spots a broken Orcish arrow with a blood-stained tip (old and dry).
- Light sprinkle of rain for a few minutes.
- Stand of d4+8 _______ trees ahead, in a straight line along the banks of a small stream (2 feet deep, 8 feet across ) Water table Monster Encounter
- Scout discovers the remains of a good-sized campfire, days old.
- Scout discovers body of disemboweled wild dog, signs of struggle, lots of blood. Tracks lead off to the west for 200 yards then peter out.
- Scout discovers a burial site, shallow grave-mound, partially covered with large clods of turf. Wooden staff/walking stick, carved with geometric designs marks the grave. A phylactery of protection from wolves is tied to the top of the staff. (DM to determine contents of grave, very negative consequences recommended)
- Party literally stumbles over cluster of large anthills, foot-tall mounds concealed in the tall grass.
- Random PC discovers a water skin has spoiled
- Random PC stumbles through a beetle nest, they burst into the air with a loud clattering.
- Plains lion prowls, growls on the edge of camp.
- Breeze picks up, temperature drops 10-12 degrees as the sun goes down.
- Herd beasts ________ move by camp at a rapid pace.
- Clouds & lightning on northern horizon at sunset.
- Light sprinkle of rain for one hour. Continued travel requires a navigation check at -3.
- First choice of campsite is overrun with ants, second choice poison ivy, 3rd choice is good, lose two hours.
- Orc or Gnoll hunting party (2d6+4) approaches camp. 25% chance PCs notice them before they move on. 50% chance the horses smell them and get skittish before they move on. Armed and armored as per Monster Manual. 25% chance the Scout will notice they stopped and left tracks in the morning before leaving camp.
- Party approaches small copse of Cedar trees in marshy area, just before making camp. Strong smell of decay. If party makes camp within view of the trees, they will see a Will-o-the-Wisp during the night. Water table Monster Encounter
- Scout discovers ruins of old motte & bailey/hamlet. Buildings burned years ago, overgrown with weeds and small trees. Lair of giant Trap Door Spider. (Once per 25-mile Campaign hex)
- Just after sunset wolves start howling to each other, carry on for an hour or so.
- The sound of large flapping wings overhead.
- Breeze picks up, becomes rather gusty. Brings smell of wood smoke and roasting meat.
- Random PC has a very vivid dream in the night, awakens with a start! (images of fire and toiling slaves, building an enormous black spire, high into the sky).
- A stray dog comes to the edge of the firelight, begs and whines for food (unless random dog encounter already happened, then bird screeches for a few minutes before going silent.
- Cries of alarm from herd beasts out in the dark, followed by the scream of a prairie cat.
- Bats swoop in and out of the shadows around the camp, beeping and clicking.
- The sound of riders on horseback, approaching then receding.
- Sentry thinks they see a procession of torches out in the distance (investigation reveals no trace).
- Ghostly image of woman in archaic peasant’s clothing enters the camp, beckons to the sentry, leads them away to a buried chest. (Chest contains: d6 – 1-2: woman’s smallclothes and ruby-pommeled dagger; 3-4: fine quality hose and leather tights, two small scraps of vellum with rumor/clue/etc; 5-6: cartography kit with two scrolls, one is rough sketch of _______, second is fairly accurate map of Kingdom of Keoland, somewhat elongated north to south, Standing Stones are clearly marked).
- Campfire goes out, someone forgot to bank it.
- Large owl with snake in its talons lands of edge of firelight and eats the snake.
- Sentry hears lute music from somewhere out in the dark, very soft and melancholy. Investigation turns up no clues, as music simply fades away.
Herd Beasts Table I – Plains d8
- Longhorn cattle
- White-tailed deer
- Prairie deer
- Pronghorn antelope
- Okapi Wild
- Wild horses
- Wild goats
- Wild sheep
Herd Beasts Table II – Hills d8
- White-tailed deer
- Mule deer
- Mountain goats
- Wild Boars
- Wooly tapirs
- Wild ponies
- Wild sheep
Trees Table d8
- Lime (or Mangrove if marshland)
- Flowering Dogwood
Wilderness Monster Encounters
In a Wilderness hex, re-roll any result of 7 or 8. For a Howling Wilderness hex use actual result.
Each Howling Wilderness five-mile local hex has a maximum population of the following creatures:
1 Ankheg per hex
1 Pride of Plains Lions per hex
1 Chimera per 18 hexes
2 Griffons per 25 hexes
- Bombardier Beetles
- Giant Spiders
- Giant Centipedes
- Brown Bear*
- Giant Badger
- Plains Lion ⱡ
- Giant Toad
- Giant Crayfish
- Giant Frog**
- Giant Lizard***
- Giant Lobe-finned Gar****
- Giant Leech ⱡⱡ
- Giant Centipedes
- Plains Lion
* Encounter has 25% chance of including a were-beast.
** Giant frogs are a dark grey color, mottled with brown; they have 4-6 prehensile tentacles around their mouth for grasping prey (swallow a man-sized creature whole on Bite attack roll of 18+).
*** Giant lizards are two-tone brown in color, with rows of black spots along the spine; they have oblong, blunt heads, wider than they are long with wide, pincer mouths for grasping prey (swallow a man-sized creature whole on Bite attack roll of 18+).
**** Giant Lobe-finned Gar will be able to attack creatures on the shore by lunging out of the water up to 16 feet. On an attack roll of 18+ the gar will be able to grasp its prey in its mouth and pull it back toward the water, six feet per round.
ⱡ Plains lions cause Fear (by smell and sound) in non-war-trained mounts and all pack animals (hose/mule/donkey/ox, etc) making the animals very difficult to control or prevent from fleeing. A party member attempting to calm a panicked pack animal must make a CHA check at -2 each round the lions are in contact, or the animal will break its traces and flee.
ⱡⱡ Giant leeches encounters will take place in the water or right at the shore (filling waterskins, fishing, etc) where they will attack with Surprise. Giant Leeches are pale green in color, mottled with cream stripes/spots, and have six dark green, two-foot long, spider-like legs ending in pincers for grasping prey. Any creature up to man-sized hit on 18+ will be grasped, pulled to the leech’s mouth, where a beaked proboscis will be used to puncture the prey’s body and begin draining fluids/soft organs – d10 HP damage/round. This is a Serious wound and will require magical healing. Even if leech is removed, prey continues to lose d6 HP/turn due to internal bleeding. Prey with two or more rounds of suction damage will be movement rate zero until magical healing is effected.