Rewriting Travel

October 12, 2022 See All Posts


I've been game mastering since D&D in middle school circa the year 2000, starting with 3.5e. Throughout my GM career, I've made a lot of bad adventures, and run a lot of published modules. I think, especially when learning a new system, that it's good to understand how the veterans of that system use it to design adventures before going off and doing your own thing.

One of the things that kept me from trying out GURPS was the lack of lengthy published adventures and brimming bestiaries. Paizo, for instance, routinely publishes adventure paths that take players from the beginning of the game to max level, and they take most groups over a year to get through (if they ever do). Yet, you still need random encounters and wandering monsters and improvisation for when things get off the rails, and for that you need some sort of bestiary. As far as I could tell about GURPS, it didn't have either of those things.

Then I found saw an advert for the nordlond bestiary which, at a higher pledge level, included a whole slew of adventures, in the setting. Gaming Ballistic was stepping up and providing both answers to my fundamental problem. Sold.

My group picked up DFRPG, I tried to absorb the rules, and then ran I Smell a Rat, the included dungeon as a tutorial to the system. In the background, I began preparing Hall of Judgment, which is the adventure geared toward fresh 250-point characters.

The rest of the post will detail the prep that I did, and list out pain points I had in parsing the text. I provide this so that others can copy my work, and potentially know that you aren't alone in your confusion.

Note: I think it is of the utmost importance to point out that I highly respect Douglas Cole and the whole Gaming Ballistic crew. I've asked a ton of questions about the adventure and the setting and the kind folks over there have limitless patience. None of what follows is meant to be in any way insulting or a complaint.

Setting Out

The previous post dealt with fleshing out the Town session(s) for the adventure, which also meant we needed to get a good handle on history and plot as it pertains to the adventure itself.

This post will deal with the travel rules. We will do two main legs of traveling - from Isfjall to Logiheimli, and from Logiheimli to the Hall of Judgment.

The text overlays these routes on the player map:

Paths to the Hall

Green is for "Lowlands", Yellow is for "Hills and Valleys", Red is for "Frostharrow".

The text provides travel speed for each type. In "Lowlands", your speed is the party's (including animals) slowest Move * 0.75 in mph. Half it if it's raining. How many hours a day can they hike? Unclear. How far is it from Isfjall to Logiheimli or Logiheimli to the Hall? Not obvious. We have curvy arrows and the bottom right has a map legend, so we can use a hex mapping tool like to measure the distance of these curves. I uploaded the image of the paths above to owlbear, and then set the map dimensions to 129x163 with a hex type of vertical and a grid scale of 1 mile:

Owlbear Settings

You start with the dimensions that owlbear gives you, and then scale up both by 10x. Then, count the number of hexes that appear between the 0-mile mark and 10-mile mark of the legend in the bottom right. If it's 15, divide the columns and rows by 15 and multiply by 10. Keep doing this until there's about 10 hexes (which is 10 1-mile hexes) in the legend. Then check from 0 to 20. If there's 21 hexes there, divide both numbers by 21, multiply by 20. Repeat the process until you're happy with your grid sizing.

Now, we can measure distance!

I count ~42 miles from Isfjall to Logiheimli. If the party is moving at Move 4 (medium encumbered ponies), then they move 3 mph. Assuming we're using the rules from Getting There Quickly (DFE17) (otherwise, why did they invest points into navigation, weather sense, and hiking in what was billed as an outdoorsy adventure), it's easy enough to convert decreased travel time as increased travel rate. DF16 does the same thing, basically.

Successful navigation, weather sense, and the party's worst hiking, each give 10% bonus speed. Reroll daily. Say they get two successes: they're moving at 3.6 mph.

If they travel for 12 hours, they can make it to Logiheimli before camping. Weird.

DF16 gives much slower travel speeds: Plains (which is what this looks like) is Move/2. That would put our base mph at 2, and our modified mph at 2.4. They'd need to travel for 17.5 hours before arriving, which gives us two days of wilderness encounters (or 1 day if they push hard). Much better.

But how long can they travel for? HoJ:29 has a climate table (which we'll use to generate the weather each day, including the precipitation, which slows travel), and that climate table includes daylight hours by month. October is listed as having 11 daylight hours, and the internet says that in Iceland the sun rises on October 1st at ~8am and sets at ~7pm, if your players want to be specific (mine did).

That gets us 11 daylight hours, but can the party travel at night? Why not - they have continual light (daylight) and a few of them have so much Night Vision that they see just as well in moonlight as they do in daylight.

So, if daylight isn't a problem (for the players themselves), how long can they hike before they start suffering FP penalties?

DF16:23 gives guidance:

If even one person knows Survival (for huge groups, the GM may require one in 10 to have it), the group needs half an hour to strike camp; three hours for meals and so on; half an hour to pitch camp; and eight hours for sleep. 12 hours/day.

If racial traits, magic, etc. mean that nobody sleeps (including any beasts!), there’s no camping, either; the day consists of alternating travel and breaks. To calculate travel time, use the same fraction of the day not spent in camp (8/14 or 12/15), apply it to the day’s full 24 hours, and round to the nearest hour. 14 hours/day without Survival, 19 hours/day with Survival.

Okay, so as it turns out, you can hike indefinitely at no FP penalty; what you really need is precious sleep. We need 8 hours for sleep, and 4 hours for other stuff (eating, unpacking, packing, fetching water, etc).

Starting to come together. This means that a reasonably organized group with survival who is maximizing daylight to travel would:

This gives the party two hours of time at the end of their day for shenanigans like casting spells, and they're free to move that buffer to the beginning of their day (wake up at 4:30am, go to bed at 8:30pm) so their wizard has more time to get buffs up before sunrise.

This is GM facing. You don't need to tell the players the clock time of when they're getting up and going to bed. I write it in my session summaries so the players have something to anchor to, but the characters just know they're getting up before sunrise and going to bed after sunset, and that suits delvers just fine.

This also allows you to dunk on the party wizard when they complain that they should have more time in the morning to cast spells and rest without slowing everyone down. Feel free to show them this work exactly. Be proud. Note: this didn't happen to me... yet.

At any rate - 10 hours of daylight hiking, or 12 hours of total hiking if they don't care about daylight. As someone who previously knew nothing about hiking treks, if you're going to give your rates in miles/hour, you have to also give out hours and miles, otherwise the rate is useless. It would have been very nice to have guidance about how many hours the delvers can hike per day (and a blurb about what to do if they want to hike in the dark), as well as specific distances from Isfjall to Logiheimli to the Hall.

Forking Paths

Speaking of which, there are multiple paths from Isfjall to the Hall. Why?

There's a path that goes straight from Isfjall to the hall, a path that goes North from Logiheimli to the hall, and a path that goes west from Logiheimli to the hall.

In the original text, players can only find out how to get to the Hall one way: invoking the tiwstakn+map+oath ritual. The book says that "Logiheimli contains clues as to the Hall's location". Here are those clues:

For the first, that isn't how History works. History's first four levels of effect cost 3, 5, 8, and 10 FP respectively, and reveal an item's history going back one day, one week, one month, and 1 year respectively. I might let a Magery 5 Wizard cast History for 15 FP and learn the last 10 years of history of an item (Talent and Effect, DFS11). The items that this passage are referring to have been sitting dormant for 437 years. Their last year of History would be very boring.

Meanwhile, getting a Navigation bonus doesn't help. The characters don't know where the Hall is.

It feels like the intention is the following decision tree:

Yet, it's not clear how that decision is player-facing. They'll learn the path from the ritual, and they'll do that at Isfjall. They'll gain the knowledge of the straight-to-the-Hall path. If they decide to go to Logiheimli anyway, and then perform the ritual, they'll discover the western path.

In mshrm's very useful playthrough , they tweaked the Logiheimli Temple reward. Here's the polished stone slab from above, but in their campaign:

Taking a closer look around the room, now that the excitement of the moment was over, they discovered a large map of the area etched into stone. It revealed a secret shortcut through the mountains into the area of the Hall of Judgment, bearing west from Logiheimli, rather than north, as they had intended. It looked like this pass would cut quite a distance off their journey.

mshrm's blog doesn't detail how they figured out where the hall was: though I suspect they're playing with less detail than my group demands:

The plan is to head north, out of town, and keep to the lowlands for as long as possible. There appears to be a river that they plan to follow into the heart of the mountains, in the area where Tyrthegn believes the Hall to be located.

Geirolf telling my players "go northwest after the river ends, I think the hall is probably somewhere in this region" would be met with much hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth at my table. In ~2017 or so, we once spent a few hours figuring out just how long it would take them to explore a large forest to find a hidden plague cult entrance, given that all they knew was that it was somewhere in the forest. It takes bloody forever. Add that the Hall is also illusioned and the area is swarming with fae? Forget about it. Not going to fly.

So! We fixed the "Where is the Hall" problem in the first post. Geirolf knows exactly where it is. The party knows where it is too, and they either can cast Pathfinder or they have 4 scrolls of Pathfinder (and can buy more). All that's left is to decide whether or not to get rid of the northern path to reduce complexity or leave it in.

I think it's cool enough to keep, and we should steal mshrm's idea. We make the following changes:


HoJ:27-29 gives us higher resolution survival rules than the ones found in DFE70. Let's math some of this out for October.

Here are the probabilities for the temperature zones for the lowlands:

Zone Probability
Uncomfortably Hot 5%
Comfortable 69%
Uncomfortably Cold 26%

It precipitates 26% of the time. When it does, the temperature zone gets one worse. That means the effective probabilities (with the associated penalties and failure results) are:

Zone Probability HT Penalty Fail
Uncomfortably Hot 4% -4 1d+2 FP
Comfortable 53% None None
Uncomfortably Cold 36% -4 1d+2 FP
Lethally Cold 7% -10 1d+2 FP

Here's how we use the chart. We roll against HT (with the above penalty) in the following circumstances:

According to our travel schedule, we'll be rolling four times:

The HT rolls are modified by:

Okay so, Let's look at a Bog-standard 12-HT person. Assessing the modifiers for their 4 rolls:

So, they're camping HT+4 in Uncomfortably Cold weather (98% success) and HT-2 in Lethally Cold weather (50%). They're hiking at HT+1 in Uncomfortably Cold weather (84%) and HT-5 (16%) in Lethally Cold weather.

This means that on an Uncomfortably Cold day, Bog-Standard expects to lose (0.02 * 5.5)*2 + (0.16 * 5.5) * 2 = 1.98 FP.

On a Lethally Cold day, Bog-Standard expects to lose (0.5 * 5.5)*2 + (0.84 * 5.5)*2 = 14.74 FP. Ouch.

Bog-Standard probably ought to get themselves a few more layers of clothing for those lethally cold days.

Next question: what happens if you lose FP - how do you recover it? Unclear. It would be silly and mechanic-defeating if you just started recovering it immediately. The simpler rules for temperature on DFE70 state:

To recover from temperature fatigue, go someplace where no HT roll is required for cold or heat, as the case may be; then you’ll regain FP normally. Camp will do...

But here, that also makes little sense - it ends up invalidating most of our rolls. You fail your set-up-camp roll, and then just recover the lost FP immediately. You fail your wake-up roll, and then relight the fire and recover before setting out. This can't happen in the DFE70 rules since as soon as you leave the warmth, you need to reroll.

Additionally, I'm not jazzed about the weather rules only effectively mattering on lethally cold days - the FP penalties just aren't high enough or probable to matter on Uncomfortably Cold days. For Lethally Cold days, the PCs need the Warmth spell (Power Investiture 1, free to maintain, +3 to HT), and a few more layers.

Finally, this means that the Frostharrow doesn't mechanically get any colder than Isfjall. Lethally Cold is Lethally Cold. It's just that those days are more frequent. 26% of the time, they happen 84% of the time (rainy uncomfortably cold and up), and 76% of the time, they happen 16% of the time (dry lethally cold), for a total probability of 34%.

We ran into these corners for our first few sessions before I tossed it out.

What to do about it?

Let's revert back to the temperature rules on DFE70. They reference Winter Clothing, which still isn't defined, and Genuine Arctic Clothing, which isn't defined either, but otherwise the system is abstract, easy to run, and coherent.

As it happens, I think the reference to arctic/winter clothing is an error in DFRPG. Actic Clothing and Winter Clothing are defined on DF16:16, copied here for your convenience:

Everyone gets a set of Regular Clothing for free, so the idea is that player can upgrade at character creation to winter or arctic for $60 (and 3lbs) or $120 (and 8lbs) respectively. I think SJG forgot that arctic/winter clothing wasn't in DFA when they wrote DFE, since both books came after DF16.

Anyway, no harm in importing those, and it streamlines the whole thing.

The only thing we need to run the DFE70 Temperature rules is a HT penalty and whether or not folk's clothes are wet. Let's say the penalty is -2 in Isfjall and the Lowlands (in October), -4 in the Hills and Valleys, and -8 in the Frostharrow. How's Bog-Standard looking now?


Bog-Standard In the Lowlands

Hills and Valleys:

Bog-Standard In the Hills and Valleys


Bog-Standard In the Frostharrow

Now this is looking interesting! It provides a nice reward for the folks willing to pack arctic gear and prepare magic, while simultaneously giving a bell curve of penalties out to folks when it's narratively dramatic.

If you crave weather variance other than precipitation, use the above modifiers (-2 for lowlands, -4 for Hills and Valleys, -8 for Frostharrow) as the base modifiers, and then add 2dF. If you're not familiar with the notation, it's from FATE. To use regular 6-siders, treat a 1 or 2 as a -1, a 3 or 4 as a 0, and a 5 or 6 as a 1. Alternatively, roll 2d3-4; it's the same distribution.

Weather Variance

For instance, you're in the Hills and Valleys, so your base modifier is -4. You roll 2d, and the result is (2,3) That's interpreted as (-1, 0), which sums up to -1, which makes the total modifier -5.

To generate the graphs (and play with distributions) like above, the tool you're looking for is anydice. The syntax to inspect the FP penalty of an area is output [lowest of 0 and x-3d6] where x is the characters HT minus the penalty. For Bog-Standard's 12 HT, and the Hill and Valley's -4 penalty, it was output [lowest of 0 and 8-3d6]

Random Wilderness Encounters

The encounter rules state: "Each day, roll on the encounters table". The conflict columns are half as likely as the locations-and-weather columns, and are 1/3 as likely as the animals-and-men columns.

Rules as Written, our example group with Move 4, trekking ~10 hours a day makes it to Logiheimli in two days, so they'd get two encounters. Our group moves at (let's average and give them a 10% speed boost), 3.3 mph through lowlands, 1.47mph through the hills, and 0.73mph through the Frostharrow. Let's simulate out a trip log:

See the same sort of pacing/cadence problem that I do? Every day has an interesting event, never more, never less.

If you read the first few paragraphs of mshrm's group's journey to Logiheimli, you may note that they immediately tossed the concept of one encounter per day. On their first day out, mshrm gave his group a variation of the Circling Ravens encounter, then followed that up with the Ruined Hut, then Skeletons. Stringing these together into a sequence makes for a more compelling narrative than just following random encounter rules, which feel flat and oddly paced.

Take a gander at the above log and compare it to mshrm's group. There's a trivial fight against a solo wild boar on day 2 (first fight of the campaign).

Logiheimli should be exciting, then the next potential fight is Day 6 (No Campsite) if the party presses into the Thurs. Day 9 has the same No Campsite shindig. Day 10 has a trivial encounter in a solo mountain cat, then a very exciting encounter with a Mylja Ormur on day 11. No Campsite again on day 13.

There are a couple of design problems here, in my opinion. The first is that these encounters require prep. You're a much better GM than I am if you can read an encounter like "Cursed Hall", "Faerie Lady", "Hulder", "Death Valley", or "Drunk Warrior" and do it justice by reading it for the first time after rolling the dice at the table. So, if you have to prep them, you're probably making, like I just did, a pre-rolled list of what encounters the players will run into.

If you're not going to actually rolling encounters at the table in real time, then now you can fiddle with the list and improve the pacing. You might think it makes more sense for the players to encounter some Skeletons before Logiheimli. Or that after they leave, they get the Circling Ravens encounter as a good omen for cleaning Logiheimli.

If you're doing this to craft a cohesive travel narrative, I argue that this is work that folks with a much better understanding of the world can do better than you. The author can save 1000 GMs from doing this work 1000 times by doing it once and including it.

The second is that a lot of these encounters seemed to be designed to either drain fatigue or cause a few points of damage. In other words, they're fights against Fodder (DFE92). There's a great Kromm post about why healing has successive -3 penalties, relevant to game design in general.

If the party can heal fully after every battle, with the only cost being downtime to recover FP afterward, they'll turtle up after each clash until everyone has full HP and FP. Sitting around like that is boring; not having to ask "How many Healing spells can we safely cast?" and "How many healing potions can we afford?" (they aren't cheap) eliminates important decisions; and never having to enter battle wounded means there's no such thing as being worn down (which among other things makes fodder monsters pointless, as they can neither drain resources nor become dangerous in their own right to a sufficiently tired party). In short, the penalties serve the purposes of drama.

But as written, we're going to fight a monster and then go to bed and recover. 1 a day max. Fodder exists to wear players down, to build tension. If that tension is immediately released by healing up / recovering FP, it's pointless.

I think an encounter like "Howling Wolves" is the prime example of this.

They will circle the campsite, occasionally drawing near, and howl and make noise all night. They will not attack unless attacked first, but they’re loud and the characters will find no rest that night.

My players just casted silence on themselves and slept in peace. Say you didn't do that and everyone got no sleep; what's the penalty? 3 FP (DFE64). That 3 FP penalty is completely irrelevant unless there's some sort of encounter the next day where they'd really like to have those FP. Given that DFRPG doesn't use Extra Effort in Combat, this reduces to a caster tax.

Something like "Howling Wolves" works much better in a system where you have multiple encounters a day (potentially), and if they don't deal with the wolves one night, they're back the next night for the same shenanigans. Then, when everyone is nice and tired, there's a battle that is harder than it ought to be. Maybe some bandits taunt them for the rings under their eyes.

What to do about it?

There are a couple of paths here. The simplest, I think, is to hand-craft a travel log inspired by the random encounters and then flesh out the encounters more. Some days should have multiple things happen. Other days should pass with a simple montage over the breathtaking scenery.

As for fleshing out the random encounters themselves, the main thing I want to stress is to give everything a Lair. You want the party to run into bandits? Cool. Where do they live? That's where they keep their loot. If the party tracks them back to their bandit lair, they find a lot more bandits (risk), but a lot more loot than the pocket change the bandits had on them (reward). You want the party to run into Thurs? Again, where is the Thurs Lair. That's where they'll be keeping their little Thurs horde.

The more complex is what I went with. Full deep end. I ended up converting the whole thing to a hexcrawl, copying the rules wholesale from Charles Saeger. The main rules are found in urbancrawl, hexcrawl, and dungeoncrawl. He also has a central link repository which was ridiculously valuable. At a high level, the process looked like converting the Isfjall map to a hex map, and then filling in the hexes:

Isfjall Hexcrawl

In the format suggested by Roger Sorolla's One Page Wilderness System. The system in action.

One Page Wilderness System

Populating the hexes was a done by a combination of placing the encounters from text in reasonable places, using appropriate creatures from the Nordlond bestiary, and then using the "feature" generator from Filling in the Blanks.

I'm using 5-mile hexes, and each 25-mile hex (big hex) has 1d6 lairs and 1d6 features, randomly placed. Man-sized creatures should mostly have a range of 1. Maybe 2 in the mountains. Big monsters get a 2. Smaller monsters get a 0 unless they're especially mobile. Creatures like Dokkkapa (darkmantles) that don't roam at all get a range of L.

The other major advantage here is that all of the work remains valuable after they finish the quest. The next quest tells them to go some other place, and all the Lairs and features are still there. The world has a sense of permanency.

In either case, I can't recommend the Lair concept enough. Things live places, and that's where they keep their stuff. Players love killing things and taking their stuff. Even better if they get to track where it lives after killing it and loot it's stuff, or kill more like it. Super satisfying. Charles Saegler has a whole giant document on the concept - that will let you build lairs, roll for how many creatures are roaming out of those lairs (the encounter), and roll for how much stuff is in the lair (the loot). If you just want the loot charts, here you go.

Wrapping Up

"The Journey" chapter was well-structured and made a lot of sense. It gives rules for travel, splits the journey into 3 legs (Lowlands, Hills and Valleys, Frostharrow), and gives a speed calculation and encounter table for each leg.

I ran into trouble because I'm an inside kid that doesn't do a lot of hiking. I would have just said "Yeah you can probably hike for 15 hours a day; you're heroes" and been done with it. No clue. Does it take an hour to eat every meal? No clue. What even is a ration?

That said, when the text gives you a highly specific speed (Move * 0.75 in the Lowlands, Move/3 in the Hills/Valleys, Move/6 in the Frostharrow), in miles per hour, that metric isn't useful without knowing the relevant miles and the relevant hours. Sure, I can vaguely eyeball it, but then why are we being so precise about speed? Fuzzy number times precise number equals fuzzy number.

We could have pretty easily said "It takes you 2 days to get to Logiheimli and 14 more days to get to the Frostharrow". What do we gain with the extra resolution in speed if the miles or the hours aren't well specified? Well, now they're well specified!

As for the encounters, I think the non-combat ones are very flavorful, and the combat ones work well as world-building, or for if things get off-the-rails. I think fleshing them out and connecting them to the broader world would help a bunch. I also think there's something to be said for running less encounters on the way to the Hall (more "a few days pass by without incident, then..."), and running more well-fleshed out world-relevant encounters. Have them meet Elunad or members of Hringur Likklaedsins, the cult we made up in Rewriting Isfjall.

At any rate, same as last time, hopefully this helps. Hopefully it helps both GMs looking to run Hall of Judgment, as well as folks looking to write their own modules trying to understand how it looks from the side of someone trying to absorb your writing. One last post is planned on rewriting Logiheimli.