Dungeons & Dragons Online

Why does DnD make Exploration a supposed 1/3 of the game, yet provide so many lvl 1 “counters” to any challenge in exploration?

I'm working on a jungle hex-crawl campaign (similar to TOA but not the same) which is going to have a huge survival focus. Reliance on food, checks for getting lost, tracking water intake, etc. However, this can literally be completely broken down by so many level 1 abilities. Goodberry by RAW now makes food pointless. The Outlander Background now means you never get lost, and you always have tons of food/water (why does 3rd level Create Food and Water even exist???). Rangers will never ever get lost in Favored Terrain, if their terrain is "Jungle" then…well, that's the game. Nothing about improving their checks; these success just occur without any effort, interaction, or challenge. Or fun.

So now what is left? A series of encounters that, under normal conditions would be a total windfall (finding extra food, finding a safe cave to sleep in, finding a high vantage point to see the surrounding terrain), become wastes of time and "padding" between the droll fights that happen in every game. Now exploration went from 1/3 of the game to maybe 3%.

And the worst part is, it's not like the party is min-maxing or power-gaming it, or otherwise doing anything wrong. The designers made this system of exploration, and then handed out the skeleton key to all of it at level 1! It's insane! So now I end up having to nerf or change all these mechanics: Goodberry consumes components and eating it too many days in a row inflicts exhaustion since it's not real food; Outlander gives you advantage on foraging, not automatic success; Rangers have advantage or no penalties to navigating. And now I feel like I'm nerfing the players, and not the broken-ass rules that WOTC decided to start with. On top of this, it now means that any player who didn't take these abilities serves significantly less purpose to the party than the Ranger who is always going to be navigating. If the Fighter can't cast Goodberry, has low Survival, and didn't take the Outlander background, they're basically a walking meatbag that does nothing but maybe carry stuff (if you're following encumbrance).

No wonder most DMs just don't bother with travel and exploration being an aspect of the game, and instead narrate over it. The designers tell the DMs to do it and make the players solve problems creatively, then hand out catch-all solutions to the weakest of parties.

How have you all dealt with making exploration more interesting than "I cast Goodberry" and "My Outlander Background means I can't get lost"? Anyways sorry for the rant, it's just frustrating that WOTC did this. Even their modules rarely feature recommendations for travel and just say "they travel X days" and move to the next section.

Edit: to be clear, I'm focusing on the survival aspect of exploration. The game will not be 90% getting lost and looking for food, but it will be 10-15% most likely. Plus, placing value in things like food and shelter mean you can give the party meaningful rewards without any form of powercreep. I'm well aware of discovery. I just think that having survival be a major element of the game actually makes the discoveries more interesting and valuable, instead of them largely being handed to you. Finding 10 meals and a safe cave means a lot more when you can't just cast Goodberry and it's been 2 days since you last slept, and now I don't obligated to give out +1 swords or piles of gold all the time (since "reward inflation" is a real thing).

And re: "I think of exploration as exploring a dungeon", the game I want to create is where the entire jungle is a mega-dungeon. Your world doesn't need to be divided into "Dungeon and Non-Dungeon". Look at Dungeon of the Mad Mage – there are settlements WITHIN the dungeon. There is no Non-Dungeon. That's what I'm looking to have. Adding food, navigation, tracking, and other layers of survival create a more complex game than "I cast Goodberry" and that's what I'm after.

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