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D&D: Exploration, Challenges, And Monster Signs In “Advanced” 5th Edition

4 Minute Read
Feb 22
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Level Up, the “Advanced” 5th Edition Ruleset unveiled rules for Exploration and Discovery in the game, including rewards that will keep giving.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is a game held aloft by three pillars: combat, social interaction, and exploration. And the game is held up in about that order too, give or take your individual playstyle–we’ve all had those sessions where you never roll dice and yet it’s somehow the most memorable one, after all. But there’s no denying that, when it comes to adventuring, Exploration tends to come up a bit short.

That has slowly been changing, with books like Mythic Odysseys of Theros and Ghosts of Saltmarsh focusing on the oft-underutilized pillar. The sea voyage rules and “through the underworld” treks are some of my personal favorite additions to 5E. But today we’re looking at what the folks behind Level Up, the “Advanced” 5th Edition Ruleset are working on in terms of Exploration.

We’ve seen a little from them before, we know that each class has their own set of “exploration knacks” which gives every class something different to do when it comes to the non-combat side of things. A warlord can use their expert navigation to add to distance traveled, a druid can use their expertise with all things natural to survive in even the most unnatural environments. But today we’re getting a look at the tools the DM has to use, which includes different ‘Exploration Challenges’ which are like encounters, but the idea is you’re dealing with an environmental or location-based obstacle, like a tornado or collapsing building; these are great for creating set-piece encounters.

If your player slay the evil demigod and the temple starts to collapse, an Exploration Challenge might be your go-to option. Here’s a taste of what you can expect in the finished product:

The final book will have around 75 Exploration Challenges ready to be inserted into your adventures, as well as guidelines on how to create your own. We’re still working on some awesome Tier 4 Exploration Challenges, such as the Hellish Pyroclasm!

It’s also an area of design space that we imagine fans and third party publishers might enjoy expanding. You can never have too many Exploration Challenges to choose (or roll) from!

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And with sample challenges that range from ‘Magical Overgrowth’ to ‘God Corpse’ there’s a lot of space to play around with here.

Let’s take a look at the Tornado option, which represents a quick CR 10 storm that characters might find themselves caught up in. It breaks down the overall threat and talks about what players can do to avoid it. It gives suggested skill and saving throw DCs, (a DC 25 Nature check lets adventurers know how to stay safe, a DC 18 Strength saving throw prevents getting swept up by the gusting winds), as well as listing options players might take to escape this threat:

  • With a DC 20 group Athletics check the party can stand its ground against the tornado and trudge forward.

  • Finding shelter along the way to take cover requires a group DC 24 Survival check and takes one day while the party waits for the storm to pass.

  • Success on a group DC 22 Nature check allows the party to avoid the tornado altogether; this costs them one day.

  • A casting of control weather immediately ends the tornado and counts as a Critical Success.

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Of course, Exploration is more than just “encounters against the weather.” And just like how sometimes when you run into the goblins, you end up talking to them, Level Up takes into account that players should feel more than just ‘in danger’ when exploring. They should feel excited or at least that there’s the possibility of a reward for doing so.

Enter Level Up’s ‘Boons & Discoveries’ which are potential rewards for exploring new areas or surpassing Exploration Challenges. A Boon or Discovery represents something beneficial that a player finds, and it could be anything from a copse of healing herbs that can be used to cure wounds, to an abandoned wagon with supplies, or even a friendly air elemental waiting to bestow a gift.

Finally, Level Up has their eye on making the world feel alive–one of the techniques used are Monster Signs. These are still in early drafts, but these are signs that you are near a dangerous creature, and might include:

  • Wraiths scout or deliver threatening ultimatums
  • Hundreds of skulls on spikes
  • The prints of many marching boots and skeletal feet
  • An aura of dread; chill winds and a pale, dim sun
  • Skeletal griffins circle overhead
  • Skeletons claw their way out of old graves and begin marching towards some distant rallying point

Which all point towards a single monster. Or another:

  • Toppled statue of a griffon with one leg missing
  • Statue of a basilisk with shoulder and tail missing
  • Nest containing stone birds
  • Big lizard footprints
  • Statue of a knight with sword raised
  • Heaped stone flagstones sheltering large eggs

Both of these suggest their attached monsters without having to break immersion to say “you see signs of a basilisk here and there.” But players can use their skills and abilities to learn more and act on these clues.

Happy Adventuring!

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