Dozens and Dragons

Wilderness Travel and Random Encounters

a practical guide to wilderness travel and random encounters for beginners and other people


When I first started running Storm King’s Thunder, I stressed out a lot because I thought it would require a lot of overland wilderness travel, and I didn’t know how to do that. Turns out this was not actually the case: most of my players’ travel has been by road, boat, airship, etc. Not in the wilderness. But in the meantime, I read up a lot on the topic, and I learned a lot about building random encounters, and a little bit about wilderness travel.


  1. The Basics
  2. Hustling
  3. Terrain and getting lost
  4. Encounter Tables
  5. Mien
  6. Motives
  7. Complications
  8. Conclusion

The Basics

The Sword Coast, aka The Savage Frontier, is a massive area. Here’s how we handle traversing the continent.

The world map I use has a scale of roughly 8 miles per hex.

You can walk 3 miles per hour for 8 hours a day.

3 miles/hour * 8 hours/day = 24 miles/day
24 miles/day / 8 miles/hex = 3 hexes/day

Roll 4d20 per day:

A roll of 18 or higher is an encounter, which means A) rolling on a random encounter table, or B) running a prepared encounter.

I’m a fan of building “encounter pressure”. Every time the roll doesn’t result in an encounter, reduce the target number by two. The first DC is 18. Then 16, 14, and 12. Hopefully this way every day has some kind of encounter.


You can bump your pace up to a hustle and walk 32 miles per day–a whole extra hex!–instead of just 24 miles per day at the cost of rolling a constitution save for exhaustion.

Continue to build pressure here. The first DC can be 12. Then 14, 16, 18, and 20.

Terrain and getting lost

Traveling on a road suffers no penalty.

Wandering off the road suffers a 0.75 to 0.50 speed penalty depending on the terrain, and once per watch (i.e. every four hours) the navigator (the team must decide who is navigating) must roll a survival check determined by the difficulty of the terrain in order to not get lost. If you pass the check, you continue in the direction you intended. If you fail the check, you possibly become disoriented. DM rolls 1d10 to determine your veer.

1d10 Veer
1 - 4 Left
5 - 6 None
7 - 10 Right

Veer means you exit out the edge of the hex to the left or to the right of the one you intended to.

You remain lost until you pass your survival check or spot an obvious landmark. Repeated failures can increase veer but not decrease it.


Encounter Tables

  1. Roll 1d8+1d12 on the table below. This combination of dice creates a nice bell curve, the probabilities of which are shown below. So weight your options the way you want to.

  2. Tracks (optional): roll an additional dice of your choice (d2, d4, etc) to determine the chance of turning a combat encounter into an exploration encounter if you want to: you don’t encounter a band of orcs, but obvious orc tracks leading away from the path into the tall grass.

  3. Mien, Motives, and Complications: Roll on any/all of the appropriate tables below.

  4. Pillars: When stocking your tables, try to mix up the encounters and include equal-ish amounts of each of the following.

Road through tall grass, hills, and swamp

n | %  | description
02|1.04| deck of many things [S]
03|2.08| a crying, lovesick hill giant [S]
04|3.13| a crumbling, abandoned temple [E]
05|4.17| zentarim caravan [C/S]
06|5.21| satyr revelry [C/S]
07|6.25| xorn [C]
08|7.29| rival adventurers [S]
09|8.33| ruins, cairn, or standing stone [E]
10|8.33| zombies! [C]
11|8.33| stirge swarm [C]
12|8.33| bullywugs [C/S] 
13|8.33| potion seller [S]
14|7.29| troop of bards [S]
15|6.25| gargoyles [C]
16|5.21| shambling mound [C]
17|4.17| lizardmen [C/S]
18|3.13| gnolls [C]
19|2.08| green hag coven [C]
20|1.04| Tyrannosaurus Rex [C]

Here are some additional encounter ideas for putting into tables.


Attitude, personality, appearance, aspect

Roll 1d6 on this table. Consider making a small mien table for each possible encounter.

In a pinch roll 1d2 to determine weal or woe / friend or foe.

  1. Playful
  2. Confused
  3. Hungry
  4. Tired
  5. Evasive
  6. Aggressive

Idea for mein from Troika!


This is a d66 table. Roll 2d6 the same way you would percentile dice: one for the tens place and one for the ones place.

11. Food
12. Treasure
13. "Treasure" - something it finds valuable, but others may not
14. To collect a toll or fee
15. To find a mate
16. To protect its young
21. To find healing from injury or respite from pain
22. To release or express aggression
23. To attack from ambush
24. To trick the players in some manner (lure close for an ambush, steal some items, just for kicks, other)
25. To pass through to other area
26. To establish territorial primacy
31. An item in the players' possession
32. To capture slaves or servants
33. To reach a local monument/locale
34. To patrol its territory
35. Information
36. To tend to a food source
45. To set up a lair
46. To spy on the party
47. To follow the party in effort to get (roll again on this table)
48. To rescue one of its own
49. To retrieve one of its own
40. To collect a runaway fugitive/servant/slave/underling
51. An item believed to be in the players' possession
52. To enforce local laws or customs
53. To celebrate a victory or achievement
54. To care for the dead
55. To keep a mystery or secret hidden
56. Preparing for an upcoming seasonal event
61. Unrequited love
62. To create religious or political converts
63. Bored. Looking for something interesting to interact with
65. Lonely. Wants to make friends
66. Roll twice


Roll 1d20

  1. No complication
  2. Creature makes a plea for help
  3. Wounded
  4. Controlled by magical means
  5. Controlled by blackmail, stockholm syndrome, other non-magical means
  6. Madness
  7. Lost
  8. Fleeing an aggressor
  9. Has backups
  10. Add weather condition
  11. During the encounter, add an Environmental twist
  12. During the encounter, an additional unrelated Combatant arrives as a twist
  13. During the encounter, some Non-Combatants arrive as a twist
  14. Hostages
  15. Contagious disease
  16. Are already Deceased
  17. The actual being is a creature in disguise or impersonating
  18. The MOTIVE is a ruse, the actual drive is (roll on MOTIVES)
  19. Creature is cursed
  20. Roll twice on this table

Source for motives and complications:


These are the rules and tables I’ve been using for my campaign. Like I said, I’ve used the wilderness rules pretty much zero times. But I have them should I need them.

Much more useful have been the encounter rules, which exist primarily to make encounters much more likely to be not just combat, and to make encounters much more frequent.

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