Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Survey of Travel Rules, Land and Sea

I had the chance to compare different editions of D&D and compare how they advised the DM to handle travel.  The system in the BX / Rules Cyclopedia / Labyrinth Lord chain seems like it will work just fine, and was clearer than the 1E DMG.  Encumbrance amounts yield overland movement rates of 6, 12, 18, or 24 miles per day, for unencumbered people; on a riding horse it becomes 48 miles per day.  If I can get a 24 mile per hex scale to work for area maps of Europe, hex counting becomes easy for distance travel; I'm just not sure how well it breaks down into subhexes.

A typical day of travel can be reduced to a series of rolls; a daily chance to become lost if not following roads; a daytime encounter chance (1 out of 6) and a nighttime encounter chance (1 out of 12).  Note:  the Cyclopedia recommends using a d12 for the nighttime roll instead of a d6; the assumption is a camped party is less likely to run into trouble.

Does an average of 1 encounter every 6 days through settled areas make sense?  Here's how I look at it; every day, the group is passing through cleared lands, farms, through cross roads and little hamlets, into woods, and so on.  Lots and lots of mundane encounters occur as the group passes farmers, peddlers, merchants, goodwives and other ordinary folk; that 1 out of 6 chance per day just represents the opportunity to have an interesting or violent encounter with a potentially hostile force.  It seems like it will work, I just need to put together appropriate tables for settled lands.

Nighttime encounters are a bit different; villages and towns should be common in the Europe of 1650 so most of the time a traveling group would be staying at inns.  I’ll use the 1 out of 12 chance when the group is camping outside, and the nighttime encounter would use the standard outdoor tables.  Inns and taverns present excellent role playing opportunities and involve a concentration of similar travelers, so I'll need to come up with some kind of carousing / complications table for staying at inns.  There's a balance between keeping long distance travel colorful but not bogging it down with too much minutiae, either.

I've been scanning A Mighty Fortress for ideas; it's an AD&D 2E supplement for the Elizabethan and early 17th century, and has lots of ideas worth borrowing (including an approach to firearms). That book suggests using monthly living expenses and requiring all period characters to gamble; it's an interesting idea, but maybe it no longer fits in the 17th century once Calvinism and the Puritans have had an effect on European culture?

Moving on to the sea, all the BX series of games have similar rules for ocean travel; each day also begins with a handful of rolls - figuring out the wind and weather conditions and the wind direction, the chance for a random encounter, and a chance to be lost.  It seems to me like both ocean and land travel could be handled by a spreadsheet like my calendar and weather sheet, so days or weeks of rolls could be generated in advance, speeding the presentation of the narrative at the table.

I don't know how much wind direction actually varies over the ocean; would wind in the real world reverse 180 degrees from one day to the next?  I understand the importance of the trade winds, Coriolis force, and how ocean currents and the westerly's affected travel to and from the New World; trips that took 2 months to reach New England could be done in a few weeks catching the westerly wind and the gulf stream back to northern Europe.  Absolutely random wind directions don't make a lot of sense when seasonal winds are known, so maybe wind direction should only be a deviation from the norm.

Charlatan over on Mule Abides has posted a bit on play testing his saltbox; one of the proposed  rules he's calling "Blood in the Water"; on the open ocean, having one ocean encounter creates another encounter check.  The other idea was to have a chance for something else to happen; I'm thinking this includes all sorts of nutsy stuff you'd expect to happen on a long journey - ship damage, torn sails, broken masts, risks of scurvy, chances of mutiny, fire, all sorts of hazards.  So a sailing hazard table is in order, or some other way to loosely handle wear and tear on the ship; bad weather would increase the chance of a hazard or the severity of the hazard roll.

More things that go on the do-list:
  • Settled area encounter tables
  • Nighttime carousing encounters
  • Guidelines for monthly living expenses
  • Updated wind and weather rules
  • Ocean encounters
  • Ship hazards table
I had a funny thought for area maps - I'm wondering if a European atlas would work?  I'm not a fan of using hex overlays on transparency, but it would save a ton of time trying to track down maps; some atlases even have relief.  Anyway, it would pretty much eliminate area maps from the do-list and get me working on all these random tables right away.  I'd just make an assumption that major towns and cities were occupied since the 17th century, and highways and major roads were roads and trails, respectively.  I'd just need to use a highlighter or something and redraw various borders.