"Wilderness is a dungeon", or wilderness levels

I've been toying around with the idea of wilderness levels for awhile now, and with the new Borderlands campaign I finally decided to try it out. Before I've had a house rule "no hex clearing until level 6 or 7" because of the wilderness dangers, which was added after lots of deaths and dismemberment in previous campaigns. Now it's just not needed. Wilderness isn't safe (it never should be), but now at least it's not so incidentally brutal and randomly deadly either and I personally think it's a good thing because it made wilderness adventures more accessible even to low-level players.

So, the idea itself is simple. Dungeon monsters become stronger as you go deeper, so players can choose their difficulty and reward level by deciding if they want to go deeper or stay on the current level (or get back one level if it's too hard). We can do the same with wilderness, but instead of actual physical levels it depends on the distance from the civilization border in 6-mile hexes. I did it in 3-hexes increment, so level 1 is 1-3 hexes from the border, level 2 is 4-6 hexes, level 3 is 7-9, level 4 is 10-12, level 5 is 13-15, and everything 16+ hexes from the border is level 6.

Now, table "Wandering Monster Table Guidelines" in ACKS (pg.243) shows suggested XP value for monsters in that dungeon level, which works just as well for wilderness levels. Sadly I can't share my tables with you, because it's not tables per se, it's a program I wrote which rolls everything I need, it's ugly and it doesn't use actual tables but rather generates them on the fly and I'm tweaking it all the time, but making your own tables is better anyway. You'd probably have different ideas about monster distribution than I have, especially because some levels for some terrains are very sparse or even completely empty, so it requires some creative tinkering.

Several things to keep in mind.

First, I think the best way is to slowly add stronger monsters to the mix instead of only using stronger monster, otherwise it'd be way too boring, and add a small chance of encountering something usually way too dangerous for this wilderness level. Personally I do it by automatically creating a huge internal table for every level/terrain combination with monster weights based on monster type, XP, and chance of encountering in base game tables, but I'm still not completely happy with the result, so I'd be glad to hear what others do with it. 

Second, humanoid villages have a huge swinginess in diffuculty depending on how many warbands you rolled, so you have to adjust that as well (so only 1 warband in level 1 wilderness, and close to max at level 6). I also change group size for non-humanoid monsters a bit depending on the monster/wilderness level difference, so if players encounter griffons, nominally level 4 monsters, right after leaving the civilization, it won't be 2d8 griffons but rather 1d4.

Third, monsters that can have different HDs will occupy different wilderness levels, dragons, hydra, remorhaz, etc...just be careful with your tables so distribution stays relatively same, or you'd have too many dragon spawns in level 2 wilderness for example.


So far it was pretty interesting in play, with definite West Marches vibes. We finished Sinister Stone, and given that Secrets of Nethercity are still not out I had to improvise and decided to try it out. Right now players are about 2-3 levels each but they're already clearing random hexes and making quick forays into deeper wilderness looking for juicy targets with nice loot, yet avoiding anything too dangerous or without treasure. What I really liked was a string of 3 kobold villages pointing to a hex with a very young dragon lair. Dragon was 9 hexes away from the border in the hex with a static burial site with a dungeon, it was completely random but very appropriate. Also players decided that goblins-goblins-hobgoblins-bugbears on the way to another static dungeon means that there must be a goblinoid nation, and now I just have to indulge them (by upping goblinoid frequency in the generator and creating a goblinoid domain 20 hexes away). Can't wait to see what happens when they go deeper and what they would find there.

This reminds me of the encounter areas in Isle of Dread, with different parts of the Isle having different encounter tables, but with areas closer to civilization having the easier tables. Makes sense.

Thinking about this a bit, I wonder if the best approach would be to divide the wildneress up into geographic areas based on distance from civilisation and terrain type. That way you get a set of encounter tables that combine all the variables for a region into one easy table.

Nice idea. I was actually thinking about something similar, less concern about specific 6-mile hex terrain and more about hexes around them, as in "it's a clear hex but lots of forest around so eh let's roll forest". And probably make just three "levels" instead of six. Six was taken because of the dungeon levels, but just three would allow to make actual tables which could be used at the actual table, instead of my monstrosity with lots of variables. Just filter our monsters that are too dangerous, add a one or two "roll full table" results, adjust warband amount on the fly and you're done.

Well shit, I haven’t checked the forums in ages and now I feel like a dirty plagiarist for having a blog post with a very similar title dated today ( http://wanderinggamist.blogspot.com/2019/09/ax-wilderness-level.html ). But seriously, it’s a good idea; we had the same problem with low-level parties getting absolutely wrecked trying to clear hexes.

Is your code in github?

My wilderness levels idea actually came in part from your own ideas of phases of play, so I wouldn't see it as plagiarism but rather as parallel thinking over the same problem. 

My two previous campaigns mostly ended because, I think, players were rushing to the next phase of play way too early (or maybe I've primed them for that?). Small domain aiming quite a bit higher than it should've in the previous game, and lots of casualties in hex-clearing phase in the game before that. I house-ruled that you can't start hex-clearing before having "restore life and limb" (and lots and lots of "neutralize poison"), and probably not even venture into the wilderness at all until you can handle it. Yet I was still thinking how I can enrich my low-level games with wilderness exploration without unnecessary players'  frustration, and that's basically what came out of it. So far I like it, even if it requires some more fine-tuning. It will always require more fine-tuning, come to think of it.

I liked your "d6 + wilderness level" idea, it's pretty clean, but it's still a hassle because wilderness monsters' "xp levels" don't map nicely to 6 wilderness levels, just try to map them and you'll see for yourself. Right now I think that less levels is more useful, and three is probably a good number, it gives more than enough distinction to be noticeable. "Easy/Normal/Hard". Although I wouldn't remove lower level monsters from the table completely, it's way better to, say, roll d4, d8 then d12 in different levels instead (but don't forget to adjust warbands amount after that, it IS important...and you could probably use the same dice, it fits).

About github. Heh. Well yes, but in a private repo which I use so I can edit the code from different places and track all the changes. I don't plan to open it because it's incredibly dirty, I'm adding to it almost on the fly every time I need something else, or have an interesting idea, or need to tweak something, sometimes right in the middle of a game (I once got hit by a pillow because I've got too engrossed in it). And it's incredibly campaign specific (sometimes even game specific, I still haven't finished cleaning up the remains of "goblinoid purge" stuff from the previous campaign). It's not even that useful if you only have a browser, it's all text-only and I also have a bunch of shell scripts that just curl several of the results and combine it into something specific for the current situation. It's not like it's a secret or anything, it's just way too much time to make it into something more generic and useful to someone other that myself, and honestly I'd rather just code something new and funny and even more campaign specific into it. And yes, it has changed a lot from the time I was writing the post at the top.

As an example, my treasure roller includes stuff from other games and removes some of the ACKS results, you still can get a legendary item from an A treasure, if only with a 1% chance, legendary treasure includes "Tomes of $ATTR" , cursed items are back with a vengeance so players have to identify them again, my monster roller includes lots of non-ACKS stuff as well, scrolls include additional spells and so on. And it's not in English. And it has rollers for adventurer's guild quests according to the market size and civilization level, bartenders/officials/random people personality, settlement traits, full list of items available for purchase, mercantile rules simulation, simulation of a venturer hench left in the town to sell all the loot, prisoners found as part of treasure in case players want to recruit some of them (and yes it checks if this monster type likes to keep slaves), it even rolls quick and dirty domains to help me with worldbuilding (chaotic too), including their rulers, also cavern types, simple dungeons/lairs, houses available for sale with specific floorplans and prices, my version of "medieval demographics" with additional details, monster raids over the border, encounter reactions, weather, getting lost, hench generator with stats, class, details and quirks, the whole kitchensink. It's a huge mish-mash of everything I've ever needed and was too lazy to actually throw some dice to roll for it, but not lazy enough for not writing code for it. To me writing code for my games is just as entertaining as writing its plot or NPCs, because every small change also changes the world itself, so to open it means to translate it and completely rewrite it without adding anything from myself, and, frankly, it'd be something very boring to do. 


I liked your "d6 + wilderness level" idea, it's pretty clean, but it's still a hassle because wilderness monsters' "xp levels" don't map nicely to 6 wilderness levels, just try to map them and you'll see for yourself.


In Abstract Wilderness, I solved this problem by using a two-tiered system; one for individual XPV of the constituent monsters, and one for total XPV of the encounter.

Because while two dragons might have the same total XPV as 50 orcs (PS - I didn't look these numbers up and thery're probably wrong, you know what I mean), the encounters would play out very differently becuase of the different individual XPVs of creatures involved in the encounter.

Oh, thanks for the idea ! Nice workaround, I like it !