Epic Ideas #2: The Dungeon Trail

Around two years ago, I ran a Hobby Games and Computer Repair shop in one. I put in a lot of time there, and built up what is now known as my ‘core gaming group’ from there. We’ve been together over 3 years now and they can tell you; I’m an experimentalist. I love to try new things and see how they work. For several weeks, we ran D&D in two phases. First phase, world building and conquering. It was like D&D meets Risk, their actions through the week built their army and all that. Then after that 30 minutes or so were up, we went into normal D&D. I’ve used 3D hand-built props, art, all kinds of things. But, to this day, one of my favorites was both cheap, easy to use, and fun as hell. I present to you, The Dungeon Trail.

What is The Dungeon Trail?

Essentially it is the old dungeon, redesigned. It can be used in the form of a dungeon, or perhaps overland travel, even as an adventure itself. I used it for overland travel. It’s encounters written up, or drawn, on index cards, and then placed down in random order (or specified order) down on the table in front of the players. You can place it down in a straight line, or split it into forks, however you want! In any case, you may want to know the order they are in, so you can mark the back. Or if the player makes a skill check to see what’s up next (Perception, Knowledge Nature, etc…) Then you can take a quick peek to provide an example. Here are a few I just made to give you an example.
AmbushTrail safetrail Storm-Trail TrailForest

I like to have notes for myself as to what each means. For overland travel, players are going from point A to point B and I don’t have a major adventure planned, I want a relaxed adventure this time with a sense of real exploration.

How does it work?

It’s super simple. As I said before, you make the cards, and you put them down in front of your players. This can represent anything in the game. Chase scenes, investigation, dungeons, overland travel, etc. It’s a great dungeon map replacement if you’re low on space. In the above examples, they represent encounters during overland travel. Each card represented a single day of travel. When you pass a day up, have a player flip the next card over, or card at random if you want them to do that; you can even flip it over yourself. I’ll explain the cards in detail:

  • Ambush!: Players roll initiative first. I’ll explain the scenario, I like to keep a chart in my notebook “Roll a 1d6” and whatever it lands on is the scenario. In this case, I may have rolled night ambush. Ask who was keeping watch, have everyone roll perception. Based on the initiative and perception, we’ll see who acts in surprise round. Experience earned = normal xp from encounter +100xp for each player who acted in the surprise round.
  • Safe Travels: I love this one the most. Players can choose to move on, or explore the land since there isn’t anything slowing them down. It decreases your arrival time by 1 day if your just move on (remove a trail card from the end). Or you can spend your day searching about. Use a skill check and get a +10 bonus to it; such as survival to get extra food for the trip. Or if I roll on my chart and get something like “Rare wonder” they find a hidden waterfall and are refreshed. They might get inspired and get 100xp. I might just pick one of the card effects I have here. Roll a d3 out of the remaining, get heavy storms, dense forest, or ambush. If they get through that encounter it’s an extra 50% xp!
  • Heavy Storms: I love skill challenges, overland travel is a great place for them. In this case, heavy storms threaten to bog the players down. They can choose to push on, or hold here for a day and add a day to their travel (put another card at the end). If they push on they can do a skill of their choice. I don’t like telling the players what to roll, I’d rather them get creative and tell me why they want to roll X. I’m rolling Endurance to help keep the wagon out of the mud. I’m rolling Ride to keep the horse going the right way. I’m rolling Knowledge Nature to see if I can think a way out of this problem. Etc… If more than half the players fail, I add an extra trail card to the end. Experience earned on success = to encounter CR of party +100 for each successful action. 1/2 this for failure.
  • Dense Forest: The players risk getting lost in a dense part of the forest. This is another skill challenge like above, but it has a different effect. Getting lost doesn’t just add time, it risks going completely off course. Using the same reasoning as above. If the majority of players fail, the bad thing happens. I always assume they’ll figure out that they’re lost in a day or two; unless the adventure I have planned means for them to get lost (then I have to get creative with the results). Most often, for each player that failed, I’ll add another trail card.  Experience earned on success = to encounter CR of party +100 for each successful action. 1/2 this for failure.

As you can see, this is all about a sense of wonder and what’s next. The cards are a seemingly predetermined fate. But, depending on how players handle things; they can shave time off the trip… Or do poorly and add time to it. This is a great in-between when players MUST get to a destination within a certain amount of time or fail. They’ll feel the need to do well. It’s not a life or death adventure, it’s a get there in time or else! You’ll notice that you want extra cards too. You never know how much time they may add here. Four extra cards seems to work for me, after a while I just start recycling from the oldest two cards on the trail.

What makes this better?

This isn’t better! It’s new! It’s fresh! It’s a way to add a new sense of adventure to your campaigns. You don’t have to use this every single time, or for everything. It has as many uses as your normal D&D maps and tiles. This just acts as another way to change your game night up if things are feeling stale. Your players will think it’s genius, and love the new play style. Forking paths, never knowing for sure what’s on the next card, rewards for spending time exploring; it’s all awesome stuff.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed this Epic Idea! As always, check out our poll below; and I’d rather trust and regret, than doubt and regret. ~Vexar

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2 thoughts on “Epic Ideas #2: The Dungeon Trail

  1. For the poll: Smoke and mirrors. Give what could be perceived as the answer by the players without spoiling anything.

    As far as the article: I really like this idea of a dungeon trail. The visual aspect of it would be novel, a good way to shake up a game group. Might even be fun to sit down with your players and collaborate on some event cards to throw into the stack.

    1. The illusion of an answer xD! I never thought to ask for their ideas on event cards, mostly because I didn’t want to spoil possible surprises. But I totally love the fact that if their card came up they could be like “OH! MINE!” Or remain anonymous. Perhaps a hidden motive comes true from one of the players and something is stolen by another player.

      A card such as “So and so’s money pouch is missing!” xD

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