Thursday, June 20, 2013

From the Sunken Lands to the Feral Shore

A couple of weeks ago I had the great fortune of scoring an affordable copy of a Holy Grail product I have been patiently searching for a good long while now: Midkemia Press's Heart of the Sunken Lands.

Though like many so-called Petalheads (thanks, Scott) I get my rage on for the Tekumel lifting by Raymond Feist, the setting's popularizer, I have a great love of the actual gaming products they put out with all their interesting sandbox subsystems (the encounters and down-time business in Cities in particular) and eye for nestling those systems in colorful setting specific ways.

With Rudy Kraft--co-designer of the gold standard for wilderness sandboxes, Griffin Mountain—listed as the author of Sunken Lands I figured it had to be a solid piece of work.

I wasn't disappointed.

The book lays out (with a nifty four-panel blank players' map) a first-class wilderness sandbox set in a large, mountain-ringed, jungle-choked depression. The product has a lot of depth with many pages being devoted to navigation/exploration of the unique range of terrains; inventive, non-standard creatures, plants, gems, extractable resources, and humanoids; an expeditions table (lifted from my favorite section of their Jonril books) that hardwires in an interesting range of incentives for player exploration; and a couple mysterious sites.

With my eponymous campaign now shifting for the moment to the exploration, clearing and possible colonization of a wilderness region called the Feral Shore (more about that later) what I found most intriguing were the subsystems for wilderness exploration (apparently planned for a never-published Midkemia wilderness supplement). I found them highly inspirational and instantly set down to custom fit them to the new mini-campaign.
What the Feral Shore looked like 500 years ago
before being wiped out of existence by the Turko-Fey
The outline of that system (redacted to not tip off the players over much) I share below.

Feral Shore Exploration and Movement
What's different from the typical D&D systems:
  1. Movement is calculated by the hour instead of by the day.
  2. Encounter checks are done by the hex rather than by time.
  3. Encounters cover a wider range of events than the typical wandering monster-like check. Interesting plants, mineral deposits, geographical features, run-in's with sentient beings, strange sites etc are included on tables specific to the terrain of the hex.
  4. Checks are also made on a Mishap table per hex (includes such things as getting lost, having a horse go lame, equipment break, inclement weather, etc.)
  5. Speed matters. A party moving at a slower speed will have an increased chance of hitting an encounter but a decreased chance of having a mishap.

Movement Speeds
Exploration 6 average hours/day
Cautious, Encumbered or Party over 50 8 average hours/day.
Normal 10 average hours/day.
Traveling Light or Forced March 12 average hours/day.

Assumption for Normal travel
Foot: STR 8-14 character can hump 25-40 lbs of gear in pack and pouches, armor of chain/half-plate or less, two weapons, shield. Weaker character -10 lbs, Stronger character +10 lbs
Mounted: Horse can hump 150-250 lbs normally (total includes rider and related gear). Mule 200-300 lbs.

Foot: Average Miles per Hour (includes breaks)
Terrain Road/Trail Overland
Grasslands, Fields 2.5 2
Light Woods, Scrub 2 1.5
Grassy Hills or Moor 2 1.5
Scrub or Rocky Hills 1.5 1
Deep Forest 1.5 1
Forested or Steep Hills 1 .5
Coastal Wetlands 1 .5
Swamp or Heath 1 .5
Badlands 1 .5
Mountain .75 .25


Terrain Road/Trail Overland
Grasslands, Fields 5 4
Light Woods, Scrub 4 3
Grassy Hills or Moor 4 3
Scrub or Rocky Hills 3 2
Deep Forest 2.5 .5
Forested or Steep Hills 1.5 .25
Coastal Wetlands 1.5 .25
Swamp or Heath 1.5 .25
Badlands 1.5 .25
Mountain 1.5 0

Encounter Chart example
Light Woods: Encounter on roll of 1 on a d10. +2 if moving at Exploration, +1 at Cautious, -1 at Fast.
Roll d10
1-3 Roll on standard D&D Wilderness Encounter
4 Human or Sentient Neutral
5-6 Normal Animal
7 Plant
8 Mineral
9 Site
10 Weird


  1. You have to love that cover. I have been generally pleased with all the Midkemia material, though I found some much more useful than others.

    1. Uneven is the best word for their work. Jonril has a few high points (the expeditions hiring hall and related chart; the vying merchant houses; ethnic divisions) and a number of mediocre to downright bad points (some of the worst, utterly mundane fantasy names ever).

      I really like the artwork of Richard Becker in their second generation products (who did some Chaosium Runequest work). Though some of it is wooden I dig the overall S&S aesthetic of his pieces.

  2. Hmm. That gives me some excellent ideas about how to improve my own encounter tables. Some of the non-combat encounter stuff I already use, but other stuff I hadn't thought of, like mineral deposits and geographical features. That is the stuff I'll need to create sub-tables for.

  3. Jealous. It's the one I didn't have from back in the late 80's when I discovered Carse and Tulan.