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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Halfling in the Playground
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    Default Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    So, there's a section of my next campaign where the PCs are going to be exploring and charting an unknown, uninhabited area (mostly forest, some mountains).

    How can I make this interesting?
    So far I have:
    -Monster encounters (of course this is going to happen, but I can't rely on this for more than a little bit. These have to be somewhat uncommon. )
    -Encounters with normal animals (hunting opportunities.)
    -A chasm to figure out how to cross.
    -Two ruins. (No more, and in a vast area.)
    -Bad weather
    -???
    -Profit!.....??

    What can I do with fairly normal terrain to make it interesting?
    Last edited by BBQ Pork; 2019-11-28 at 11:29 AM.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Easter Eggs.

    Not sure about your game, if it's a deep campaign world or just a game of "kill the orc" but I like to litter "explorable areas" with mundane loot that fills in details about the world. A journal of a lost explorer. Some coins with symbols the party doesn't recognize. Relics of an ancient kingdom.

    You'll need to know your player's tastes so that the items have some value to them, even if not monetary value.
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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Pixie in the Playground
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    I'm also working on a quest/story line like this. Based in a swamp, but same idea.

    I was planning on leaning in to the survival aspect a bit more - making them track rations at the very least, and make a point of describing how awful and uncomfortable it is.

    I'm definitely going to use ruins. An old castle makes a perfect dungeon crawl to break up the monotony.

    I was also thinking of using an "area boss," probably a hag, that will be slowly introduced but lead to an inevitable final encounter.

    The Vox Arcana podcast has an episode about exploration, and they all agreed that it's very difficult to do. Fundamentally, exploration is about seeing things, and "seeing" is just what the DM can describe. Pretty underwhelming.

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    Spamalot in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    So, there's a section of my next campaign where the PCs are going to be exploring and charting an unknown, uninhabited area (mostly forest, some mountains).
    Are they searching for something in particular? Just trying to get from point A to point B? Or are they trying to enjoy the outdoors for its own sake, and aren't looking for anything specific?

    Knowing what your players want out of the scene will help you make it interesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    But really, the important lesson here is this: Rather than making assumptions that don't fit with the text and then complaining about the text being wrong, why not just choose different assumptions that DO fit with the text?
    Quote Originally Posted by gogogome View Post
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Other people. The players see the smoke from a camp fire, do they investigate? A traveling party of elves show up at their camp fire, is the party friendly? A caravan is following the same road, is an armed party seen as a threat or extra safely?

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Halfling in the Playground
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Quote Originally Posted by Psyren View Post
    Are they searching for something in particular? Just trying to get from point A to point B? Or are they trying to enjoy the outdoors for its own sake, and aren't looking for anything specific?

    Knowing what your players want out of the scene will help you make it interesting.
    They are the first ones exploring this land. They are the mapmakers, the Lewis and Clark types before the settlers expand.

    They are looking for dangerous monsters and fertile land.
    The most important thing in being an adult is learning exactly what to give a <expletive> about, and exactly how many of those to give.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Troll in the Playground
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    What can I do with fairly normal terrain to make it interesting?
    So, first off, does the terrain have to be normal? Can it have areas where certain rocks float, places where time flows backwards, places where fires cannot occur?

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    -Monster encounters (of course this is going to happen, but I can't rely on this for more than a little bit. These have to be somewhat uncommon. )
    So, just time skip. "7 days later, you see…”

    Also, "monster" doesn't have to mean "combat encounter" any more than "human" does. Have them encounter ferrous flowers, dancing faeries, colossal ducklings, earth gliding sloths, undying cockroaches - your imagination's the limit!

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    -Two ruins. (No more, and in a vast area.)
    So, they're not really the first explorers here. OK, tell me about this/these previous civilization(s). Are they the ones who created the colossal ducklings? Are the colossal ducklings actually the descendants of an ancient, advanced duck race that built the ruins? If the area has a history, then give the area a history for the party to Explore.

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    -Profit
    Yes, that's probably a good thing to include. So, can they come back with the secret to creating giant animals, the ability to negate gravity, and hypnotizing dance moves? Or just gold, gems, and animal pelts?
    Last edited by Quertus; 2019-12-03 at 07:50 AM.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    What can I do with fairly normal terrain to make it interesting?
    This question makes me think that it has been asked by someone who maybe hasn't spent much quality time in the wilderness. The answer is, "promote childlike wonder." Every rock is a mystery. Every tree is its own universe. Characters will find themselves utterly surrounded by uninhibited, unspoiled life in forms that will still surprise people who study nature for a living hundreds of years from the present. The beauty and danger of it all should cause them to make grievous misinterpretations in their initial observations.

    Their base camp will repeatedly be destroyed by the native megafauna until they realize the clear table land they chose for its views and access to water is also these creatures' seasonal mating grounds. A fruit that the birds and primates seem to have no problems ingesting will cause the party to experience sensations of flight and a fever that feels as if their very bones are on fire. Measuring the topography may go well, indeed, until the discovery that the land's geological history is one of cataclysmic violence, and cyclical, and due to go pearshaped again next full moon.

    Every square mile ought to have a landmark, something of interest whether it's pertinent to the story or not. Describe a small cavern where snakes make dens, a natural spring that bubbles up from the roots of a small hill and makes a half acre of mucky marsh each spring, a large, lonely conifer out of place but reaching high above the dense deciduous canopy, and nearly everywhere is some sign that those ruins didn't just build (or destroy) themselves: arrowheads, pottery shards, a sculpture of a turtle with a fanged skull for a shell...

    Get detailed about the number of mushrooms on a fallen log, describe the amphibians chirping in terms of pitch and volume, give them the musty dampness of the morning mist to breathe in in words, get weird with the mundane things like the color of the clay on the banks of the steam where they bathe. Give them hints of the material wealth that this strange land provides, like a die made from phosphorescent insects, an insoluble glue from a combination of a particular vine sap and clam spit, or crystals that hum and can be tuned.

    Then there's the weather. When you say 'bad,' you may need to qualify that. Unbearable heat, frequent hail, winds that steal away their breath? "Bad" is pretty much everything to someone who doesn't enjoy the outdoors. Try forcing a ten-year-old to take a screen break on a nice day and watch them squint at the ground until they see a bug and then whine until they can go back inside - ten minutes of fresh air is apparently "bad" weather. Conversely, I knew a union pipe fitter who layed on his back on a roof for six hours when it was thirty below plus windchill to weld a perfect bead on a 6" elbow and whose only complaint was that his goggles frosted over, but a summer thunderstorm was "bad" weather to him. You may have to tailor your descriptions to the party is all I'm saying.

    A chasm is a great problem to try and solve. You have to let them consider multiple options, whether taking time and gathering resources to build a bridge, taking the much longer way around, or something insane like rerouting the river to fill it up to where they can swim across. It's the enemy without hit points that hopefully inspires them to work together to defeat, but also a recurring obstacle if they do much back and forth travel.

    Then you can do like an old school video game and after they explore the second ruin they discover a secret tunnel leading back to the first ruin on the other side of the chasm. Throw in a pool of magicka and a save point for good measure.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Don Qui Ho Tep's Avatar

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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Quote Originally Posted by Imbalance View Post
    Every square mile ought to have a landmark, something of interest whether it's pertinent to the story or not. Describe a small cavern where snakes make dens, a natural spring that bubbles up from the roots of a small hill and makes a half acre of mucky marsh each spring, a large, lonely conifer out of place but reaching high above the dense deciduous canopy, and nearly everywhere is some sign that those ruins didn't just build (or destroy) themselves: arrowheads, pottery shards, a sculpture of a turtle with a fanged skull for a shell..
    This is a very good suggestion. One idea I've been planning for an upcoming campaign is to have the players be responsible for making a map of an unexplored section of wilderness using consistent skill checks. Based on their success I'll give them accurate or inaccurate information, and following a revelation they'll have to trace back their steps under a time crunch. The intent is to underscore that this is completely unknown territory and that they are completely on their own.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Exciting stuff! Some thoughts I had:

    1) why is the land ‘unexplored/untouched’? Nobody found it? Some barrier preventing previous would-be discoverers? Haunted? Cursed?

    2) how did the group find it/get the mapping job? Arrive there?

    3)by boat? By Magic? By accident? Maybe they are trying to get back? Isekai? Or maybe they arrived at a town at the edge of the wilds and need some money?

    4)natural features can make nature really memorable. Any dramatic changes in heights? Mountains, cliffs, chasms. Water features? Rivers streams, ponds lakes, the sea? Marshes?

    5) mountains or hills are great because they can hide what’s behind from view, provide a good lookout, majestic view, hidden caves, etc.

    6)if the players are making maps based on potentially faulty observations, maybe it would be good to have a way for you as GM to track the party’s movement independently, so when the party decides to head north back to the large hollow log to camp, they end up in the marshes further east.

    7) regarding the idea of a hag hiding out somewhere, sounds good. Has the hag set up traps, magic arrays that confuse the senses, enslaved the local crows and other fauna?

    8)There could be other dangerous secrets hidden beneath the surface. A cult trying to summon some evil entity, a dragon or other legendary beast slumbering. Tribes of pixies, the local Druid who might try sabotaging efforts to tame the land.

    Sorry got carried away, hope some of it is helpful

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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    I don't remember who said it, but it's really important: Exploring is boring. Discovering is fun.
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  12. - Top - End - #12
    Spamalot in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Quote Originally Posted by BBQ Pork View Post
    They are the first ones exploring this land. They are the mapmakers, the Lewis and Clark types before the settlers expand.

    They are looking for dangerous monsters and fertile land.
    Yes, but why? Finding viable places to settle their people? Catalog everything, pokemon master style? Fame and fortune? Thrill of encountering danger? Answer that and you'll find ways to engage them, by giving them a mix of things they want and things they don't expect.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    But really, the important lesson here is this: Rather than making assumptions that don't fit with the text and then complaining about the text being wrong, why not just choose different assumptions that DO fit with the text?
    Quote Originally Posted by gogogome View Post
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  13. - Top - End - #13
    Troll in the Playground
     
    ElfPirate

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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    Have tribes of some indigenous intelligent race that are possibly, but not necessarily, hostile. Their reaction to the party should partly depend on how the party approaches them, and on how the party handled previous encounters with members of the same tribe. If they do attack, make it challenging by having them launch hit-and-run raids to steal mounts and equipment and slowly wear down the party rather than a straight up battle to the death.

    You can also throw in a rival party of explorers, who will try to beat the PCs to the profit and glory. They'll do things to delay the PCs, but won't want to actually harm them, and might even come to their rescue in an emergency.

    With both these groups, it'll help to give at least some of the NPCs names and distinctive personalities.

    I also suggest reading the journals of some 18th and 19th century explorers, such and Lewis & Clark, Benjamin Bonneville, or John Fremont to get a better feel for what they experienced. (Many of them are available online, either free or dirt cheap.)
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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Dr paradox's Avatar

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    Default Re: Making Exploration Fun/Challenging

    You can build certain sub-quests into the order of exploration, I imagine. The issue with general exploration is that, absent a destination, travel is just wandering with no stakes or anticipation.

    First of all, if they plan on mapping the area, they ought to get a good view of the territory from an elevated position. Provide a tall hill or mountain visible from their position, but many miles distant, and suggest that as an ideal spot to conduct a survey from. Provide an alternative or two (Clifftop bluffs, an out of place Redwood, whatever.) Having an initial goal to get to in the service of exploration will help center and focus them. Yes, I'm suggesting an Ubisoft tower-climb. Add some danger in scaling the mountain, maybe an encounter or two. Earth Elementals might be a good way of establishing the primeval nature of the unsettled world. Before they reach the foot of their vantage point, let them see another cool landmark or two. Establish a stream where they camp for a night, and wake to find a weasel regarding them with innocent curiosity from a rock.

    From the vantage point, let them spend a day laying out a general map of the features visible from here. Dead trees on that saddle, suggesting a fire. The arc of where that stream they crossed meets a larger river. A break in the trees where forest gives way to scattered meadows in which elk graze. An especially lush looking valley. The shadows of caves nestled in the foothills of the mountains. A few craggy, regular stones peering over the tops of the trees. Depending on their ultimate goal here, any or all of these could be potential hooks to draw them across the terrain to promising landmarks. If dangerous monsters are what they're looking for, perhaps they see signs of megafauna tracks on a distant silt-flat, or sight a wyvern on the wing circling that dead forest. If they want farmland, it would make sense to follow that river and see if it enters promising country downstream.

    You can encourage them to set up a base-camp on or near whatever vantage point they chose. Even if they're not back for weeks at a time, it's good to have a solid emotional anchor, not to mention a place to spend the winter and collate notes.

    Aside from that, I'll echo Imbalance's thoughts on the splendor of nature and the use of specific natural landmarks. I wouldn't advise going hog on the fantastical terrain. Spend any time in the real woods, you'll find enough that's spellbinding.
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