#Marches23 Week 2 – Smolder Scrub

Across the Bay of Lost Souls from my week 1 region of The Bastweald is an area called Smolder Scrub. This 26mile x 18mile region was blasted by a large eruption from the nearby volcano, Grandpa Snurre, around 20 years ago. Thick ash fell across the region, killing nearly all the trees and plant life. The ground remains overly soft and difficult to travel upon, but plant life has returned. Dense scrub of variegated colors has sprouted up everywhere and proper trails are all but lost. Between volcanic smoke, moisture from the bay, and dirt kicked up by passing creatures, a persistent gray haze plagues the Smolder Scrub, lightly obscuring the terrain and reducing visibility to just 1 mile.

It’s a rough land but hides multiple secrets. An old military outpost was lost after being buried by the explosion and was said to be a storehouse for multiple magical armaments. Also a young halfling has a dark secret in the village of the Scrubfellows.

An Updated Time Tracker

For years I’ve been using a simple, yet key, tool in my GM campaign binder, a time tracker developed by olddungeonmaster.com:

DM Tool for Tracking Time Download your free copy here. I have tried several different ways to keep track of time in a dungeon. Years ago I even wrote a “Time Tender” software program. I was thinking of getting a toy clock, or a broken clock that I could turn the hands on. Thinking of […]D&D 5E – TIME TRACKING TOOL

It’s well designed and simple enough to do what I need without getting in the way. It’s quick and efficient and I love being able to shade in the little boxes. There’s tons of space for adding notes about anything else I deem to be relevant.

Keeping track of time improved my game in all sorts of ways, but as I’ve gotten more into West Marches style play I’ve found myself wanting a few small updates to this tracking tool.

First, I wanted an easier way to visually mark the 4hr divisions of the day’s watches, a sort of exploration turn used for overland travel, foraging, hunting, surveying, and other non-combat adventuring tasks. I changed the numeration around the outside of the tracker to better call out these 4hr chunks of time.

Second, I wanted a reminder to track the weather. Weather in ttrpgs is often either forgotten about entirely or used primarily as a plot device. In exploration heavy play the weather can become a key challenge for the party to overcome. Many GMs will randomly generate the weather either in the moment or ahead of time, and this puts that note on the weather in an easy to reference spot – right in the middle.

I enjoy using it so much I wanted to share this tool with others. Download the PDF and never not know what time it is again!

#Marches23 – A West Marches #Dungeon23 Challenge

In 2023 I’m diving into the #dungeon23 design challenge, a challenge to do just a bit of game design each day of the year and have a huge body of work at the end of the year. Since I’m exploring West Marches-style design lately, I’m going to take this challenge in a West Marches direction and I’m calling it #marches23.

Each week of the year I’ll focus on designing 1 region. Regions are complex areas with a lot of design bits, kind of like a group of thematically connected rooms in a dungeon. Each day I’ll work on designing a small part of the region I’m working on. I’ll start a new region every Sunday and will post the finished region here on my blog each Saturday. Daily updates will be posted on Mastodon (https://dice.camp/@TheDMPastor)

Design Days (in no particular order)

  1. Basic map, environment
  2. Entrance, defining features, landmarks, and/or modifier – first thing(s) you notice on entering
  3. Hazard or dungeon
  4. Primary inhabitants
  5. Legendary “boss” monster and their lair
  6. Secret loot or lore
  7. Random encounter chart

The Marches of Rodinia

Here’s the overall map that I will be filling in with 52 regions over the course of 2023.

We’ll set out from the town of Bastion to see what we can see.

The Return-to-Town Travel Montage

I started up a new West Marches style campaign last night (in preparation for the Blest Marches Retreat) and one of the challenges I have had with this style of game is figuring out how to make the obligatory “return to town” at the end of the mission something significant enough to deserve the table time and quick enough to not take too much of it.

Last night, in the last 5-10 minutes of the session, I instituted a “return to town montage”. I was pleased with how it played out, and am excited to try it some more. Here are the rules for how to run your own travel montage.

  • Step 1: GM divides journey up into 3 legs: beginning, middle, end.
    • Each leg will have 2 phases, navigation and challenge.
  • Step 2: GM describes the general landscape and weather of the 1st leg of the journey and asks the party, “How do you get through it?”
    • Phase 1: The party navigates either by landmarks or direction & memory.
      • Navigating by landmarks – party describe the landmarks they use to return home.
      • Navigating by direction or memory – one of the party members makes a Wisdom (survival) check with a DC = most difficult navigation DC of the regions they pass through on this leg.
      • Resolution:
        • Successfully passing the navigation check or accurately navigating by landmarks reduces the final group check DC by 1, a success by 5 or more reduces the end DC by 2.
        • Failing the navigation check or inaccurately navigating by landmarks increases the final group check DC by 1, a fail by 5 or more increases the end DC by 2.
    • Phase 2: The party faces a challenge.
      • The GM chooses a player to describe a challenge the party faces on that leg of the journey.
      • Another player describes what their PC did to help the group overcome that challenge.
      • Resolution:
        • The GM calls for the resolving player to make a d20 test appropriate to their PCs solution to the challenge. The DC of the check = 10 + region difficulty.
        • Successfully passing the d20 test reduces the final group check DC by 1, a success by 5 or more reduces the end DC by 2.
        • Failing the d20 test increases the final group check DC by 1, a fail by 5 or more increases the end DC by 2.
  • Steps 3 & 4: Repeat step 2 for the middle and end legs of the journey home.
  • Step 5: The party arrives at their destination.
    • The GM calls for a group Constitution (Survival) check. The DC of the check = 12 + the # of regions passed through. Adjust the DC further up or down based on the success and failure of the journey home.
    • Resolution:
      • If < 50% pass, the group returns exhausted, dispirited, and grumpy
      • If 50% pass, the group returns home
      • If > 50% pass, the group returns home full of tales to tell, PCs all gain inspiration to begin their next mission.