Prev: Chapter 4: Combat
Exploration is a type of scenario used to resolve a wide variety of traversal-based situations where the PCs face a variety of hazards and dangers. Compared to combat, exploration scenarios are at a much higher level of abstraction and a lower level of detail. This chapter will cover how to run the various types of exploration scenarios.
Exploration scenarios are unique in that they do not utilize initiative rolls. Instead, certain Challenges the DM controls that act first. Then, all players take their turns in whatever order they choose. Players can change their turn order from round to round as desired; they are not locked into the turn order chosen for the first round. After each player has had a turn, the DM then takes turns for each remaining Challenge in play that receives turns.
Note that it's often possible for players to extend beneficial effects through such behavior as acting early one round and late in the next. For instance, if a PC plays a Strategy that grants allies +1 to Inflict dice levels until the start of that PC's next turn, allies can get up to two turns' worth of benefit from that sort of turn order. That's using the rules as designed and intended; players are encouraged to wield their turn order as an effective tool to improve their chances of success!
Exploration scenarios make use of a map in a similar manner to combat scenarios. As with the battle map, the area map illustrates the layout of the terrain and provides positioning for entities. It is also divided into discrete components, called regions.
Unlike the sections of battle maps, however, regions aren't presented with borders that connect them. Rather, think of regions as individual nodes with specifically-defined connections to each other. They are typically much more “zoomed-out” than the battle map; as such, things like range rarely come into play. For cases where ranged Actions are possible, the presence of enemies in the occupied region does not restrict usage.
In most scenarios, the area map is not fully drawn out when play begins. Rather, only the starting region is drawn, along with any connections and connecting regions the PCs are able to see.
The objective of most exploration scenarios is to reach a goal. Finding this goal will require exploring the various regions to discover it. For example, if the PCs are navigating a treacherous wood, they only know that they need to find a way out the other side.
In some cases the goal's location is known, but the PCs may have a requirement to fulfill before passing through it. For example, consider the case of the PCs sneaking into a building in order to steal a particular item. The goal is likely in the region the PCs start in; however, leaving before acquiring the desired item would result in failure of the scenario.
You can Move once during the Strategy Phase or Action Phase of your turn or an ally's turn. Default movement speed is 1. Speed is rarely increased directly in exploration; instead, effects tend to specifically grant improvement, usually as a result of playing a Strategy or Action.
Movement occurs between regions using connections. Connections may be blocked by Obstacles, preventing movement; see the section on Challenges for more information about this.
In addition to the PCs, Creatures and Seekers can also Move. Other entity types cannot Move unless otherwise specified.
Assuming proper illumination, PCs can see into adjacent regions that are not currently blocked by Obstacles. The players may receive a general description of the region from the DM. PCs can see any Creatures and Seekers that are not Hidden. Environs, Obstacles, and Traps cannot be seen in adjacent regions. If the region has not yet been explored (occupied by a PC), its exits are not revealed (apart from the one PCs can see it through).
Regions can be lit or dark. Note that shadowy illumunation does not exist in exploration scenarios since long-range visibility is already severely restricted. As such, entities with Light Sensitivity simply treat lit regions as though they were dark. An entity with both Light Sensitivity and Darkvision reverses the normal rules for illumination in exploration.
PCs without Darkvision that occupy a dark region can only see exits and any Obstacles blocking progress. All other types of entities are not revealed. As with combat, entities that cannot see within their occupied region suffer -1 dice levels to Accuracy, Evasion, and Skill Dice.
Environs, Obstacles, and Traps ignore illumination and visibility. However, their targets still suffer any penalties as a result of being unable to see.
Some regions may be filled with water, requiring certain entities to swim through them. Swimming entities that lack the Aquatic keyword have their Inflict, Endure, Damage, Search, and Lockpick dice levels reduced by 1 unless otherwise specified. Flying entities can avoid these penalties whenever they are not playing an Action or Reaction against a swimming entity. Fully submerged regions prevent any entities from flying, however.
PCs, Creatures, and Seekers are affected by swimming. Obstacles, Environs, and Traps are unaffected and ignore all swim-related rules, penalties, and effects unless otherwise specified.
Light sources that require a flame, such as Torches and Oil Lanterns, cannot function in fully submerged regions. Submerged regions typically block all visibility into or out of the region regardless of the scenario type.
Entities that oppose the PCs in exploration scenarios are called Challenges. Challenges that get turns act at the end of the round, after all PCs have taken their turns, and in whatever order the DM chooses. The DM can change the turn order for Challenges each round as desired.
Unlike with Adversaries in combat or Opponents in interaction, there are no mini-boss or boss Challenges in exploration. That means the DM never has a deck of cards to draw from, and scenarios practically always involve multiple Challenges set against the PCs.
There are several types of Challenges, each with their own unique mechanics. They are described in the subsections below.
Environs represent various environmental hazards present in a region, whether natural, artificial, or magical. Environs act at the beginning of the Turn Phase (before the players) in whatever order the DM chooses.
Unless otherwise specified, Actions played by Environs target all enemies within their occupied region. Environs may occasionally have Strategies, Assists, or Interrupts; these follow normal rules for such things.
Environs have no EP total and cannot be defeated with damage. They can still be subject to Actions and are typically unable to play Reactions in return. Such PC Actions are often used to apply debuffs to limit the Environ's effectiveness.
Unless otherwise specified or judged by the DM, Environs are not subject to penalties from visibility or swimming.
Locked doorways, piles of rubble, and steep cliffs are examples of Obstacles, a type of challenge that blocks progress through region connections. Obstacles reside within those connections and thus are treated as occupying the region on both sides of the connection.
Obstacles do not typically take turns. Most Obstacles only play Reactions and are generally defeated by reducing their EP to 0. Once an Obstacle is defeated, it is removed from play, and the connection is no longer blocked.
Unless otherwise specified or judged by the DM, Obstacles are not subject to penalties from visibility or swimming.
Some Obstacles, representing various types of terrain difficulties that don't simply vanish once dealt with, have the Persists keyword. These special Obstacles typically have a much-reduced EP total; that EP total is applied individually to every PC instead of serving as a single pool. Each PC that wants to cross the connection blocked by the Persisting Obstacle must reduce their own set of the Obstacle's EP to 0. Once a PC leaves a region containing a Persisting Obstacle, their pool of EP for that Obstacle is restored to full. This occurs even if the PC crosses through the connection blocked by the Obstacle after reducing it to 0.
In order to play an Action against a Persisting Obstacle, a PC must attempt to Move through the blocked exit; this results in an immediate play of a valid Action. This does not cost the Action Phase, may occur out of turn, and may be attempted multiple times per round (so long as Move options exist). If the Obstacle is defeated, the PC passes through the exit (and may continue movement if Speed remains). If the Obstacle is not defeated, the Move is canceled regardless of Speed.
For example, consider a Rocky Wall that the PCs need to climb in order to proceed. It has 6 EP and the Persists keyword. Two PCs, Aerim and Lucin, spend their Moves attempting to go up the blocked exit, resulting in playing Actions against the Rocky Wall. Aerim goes first and deals 4 damage, leaving the Rocky Wall with 2 EP; Aerim's Move is canceled, though the next hit is likely to have a different result. Lucin goes next and deals 6 damage, enough to defeat the Rocky Wall. Lucin's Move then completes, passing through the Rocky Wall's connection and into a new region. The Rocky Wall now has 6 EP again for Lucin; if Lucin wants to return to the previous region, another 6 damage is required to pass the wall again. Meanwhile Aerim still needs to deal 2 more damage to proceed; this total is unaffected by Lucin's turn.
Another special keyword for Obstacles is the Climbing keyword (which would also apply to the Rocky Wall in the previous section). Climbing Obstacles usually Persist and have Height values associated with them, much like section borders in combat. Failing an Action against a Climbing Obstacle results in falling, suffering equivalent damage as in combat (1d6 per Height value), along with any other effect on the Reaction. If the PC was trying to climb down, the PC continues to the other side of the Obstacle as if they'd reduced its EP to 0.
Various Tools provide special benefits against Climbing Obstacles.
Swarms of biting insects, mischievous fae pranksters, and haunting spirits are examples of Creature challenges. Creatures behave similarly to PCs. They can Move and typically play normal Actions and Reactions, taking their turns at the end of the Turn Phase in whatever order the DM chooses. Many Creatures will pursue PCs, but they can be defeated by reducing their EP to 0.
It is common for Creatures to “respawn” after a period of time once defeated. This discourages PCs from finding safe places in exploration scenarios to sit and wait for many turns in a row. It's usually best in exploration scenarios to keep pushing forward, and Creatures often drive this motivation.
PCs may be considered as Creatures, for instance if a PC is forced to play a hostile Action against an ally. This only applies when there is intent to target a PC; an Action played voluntarily by a PC that targets “all Creatures” does not target the PC or their allies unless otherwise specified.
Similar to Creatures, Seekers are a unique Challenge found almost exclusively within stealth scenarios. They represent patrolling guards, slumbering beasts, and other things that the PCs are attempting to sneak past. Most Seekers do not deal damage, relying on special mechanics instead to function. They typically have a single EP but higher Endure dice and other dangerous consequences, permitting the classic “stealth kill” but at relatively high risk.
Seekers act at the end of the round in whatever order the DM chooses. They can move and normally follow a predetermined patrol route. However, Seekers become Alerted whenever they cause the PCs to lose a Stealth Token or from various other circumstances. Alerted Seekers gain +1 to their Inflict dice level and may deviate from their typical patrol routes at the DM's discretion as they go looking for the PCs.
You can find more information about Seekers and how they work in the stealth section later on in this chapter.
Traps are a special type of Challenge that often aren't revealed until they've been sprung. Traps rarely take turns; instead, most rely on Interrupts that generally grant them the ability to play Actions against a triggering PC. A common Trigger condition for these Interrupts is the PC entering the Trap's occupied region, but many others also exist.
Traps are similar to Environs in that they usually have no EP total, cannot typically be defeated through damage, and rarely play Reactions against PC Actions. Some Traps have special countermeasures built into the scenario, which may include such things as finding a hidden mechanism to disable them. PCs should not rely on this, however; a reliable countermeasure for Traps is a good set of Reactions to play against them.
Unless otherwise specified or judged by the DM, Traps are not subject to penalties from visibility or swimming.
Exploration scenarios are used to model a highly varied set of potential circumstances. To help deal with the high degree of variety, exploration scenarios are classified into various settings and types that can inform availability of abilities and make adjustments to the rules.
Settings primarily alter availability or power of various abilities. Many player cards or Gear have limitations regarding which settings they can or can't be used in, while others may gain additional capabilities when played in certain settings.
Some regions may differ in setting from the other regions. In some cases, players may even get to choose between multiple settings that they wish to consider a region to be. For instance, consider a set of ancient ruins classified as a dungeon. If one region is particularly overgrown with plantlife, PCs may be able to treat it as though it were wilderness instead if they want. This decision can be made freely and repeatedly at any point in which the setting matters, including multiple times within the resolution of a single play (assuming the decision points are discrete).
For example, let's say a PC is attacked by an enemy in the aforementioned overgrown ruins region. The player might choose to play an Interrupt that cannot be played in wilderness settings in order to penalize the enemy Action. Then, the player selects a Reaction that gains a bonus in wilderness settings; so, the PC then chooses to treat the setting as wilderness to apply the bonus. This is allowed even though the player treated the region as dungeon the moment before in order to play an Interrupt, all in response to a single enemy Action play.
The various types of settings are described in detail in the sections below.
Wilderness settings represent dangerous forests, deadly deserts, frigid tundra, or even long-distance travel through several types of terrain. At higher levels, wilderness settings may be cursed, magical, or extraplanar. Wilderness settings are almost always outdoors; a cavern, while natural, should be considered a dungeon instead.
Dungeon settings represent deep caverns, ancient ruins, mystic towers, and other largely indoor or interior locales separate from the comforts of civilization. Dungeon settings can be used to abstractly model exploration of an entire dungeon area or to represent a discrete set of individual rooms or chambers with specific features and hazards.
Civilization settings represent small villages, bustling cities, and everything in between. These scenarios are appropriate for exploring dangerous parts of town, such as a rogue-filled district with winding alleys and rival gangs, or for finding a specific place or person inside a large city. The key difference between interaction scenarios (common within towns and cities) and civilization exploration scenarios is that in civilization exploration, it is the location itself that presents the challenge. Exploring a heavily trapped mansion, running across the rooftops, or fleeing from an angry mob all fit well as civilization settings.
In addition to the setting, exploration scenarios also feature a type. While settings describe the place, types describe what kind of activity the PCs are engaging in. As such, types can make minor or substantial changes to the rules of play.
The various types are described in the sections below, including any special rules they use.
Normal scenarios represent typical exploration of dangerous local areas, such as ruins, forests, or sewers. This is the standard exploration scenario that other types are compared against for their special rules and exceptions.
Normal scenarios have no special rules.
Normal scenarios cannot end in failure unless the entire party is wiped out; as such the only threat is EP damage. A PC that is reduced to 0 EP suffers an Injury at the start of their next turn, then recovers to their new (Injury-modified) maximum EP value and takes their turn as normal. In this manner, a PC is not removed from play unless they reach the goal or are killed through Injury accumulation.
Whenever you're trying to sneak past something that might catch you, you're probably going to find yourself in a stealth scenario. Stealth scenarios are unique and make use of an alternative to EP damage for tracking failure. In addition, individual scenarios may impose additional rules for the challenges in play. For instance, if there's a locked door Obstacle blocking your path, you may find yourself unable to bash it open with Actions due to the noise this would make. In such a case you must instead pick the lock, find the key, or discover an alternate route.
EP damage is still a consideration in stealth scenarios, but the primary component is Stealth Tokens. Seekers function almost entirely around these tokens. Read the Special Rules section below for details on how to use Stealth Tokens.
At the beginning of the scenario, create a pool of Stealth Tokens for the PCs. Each Craft card has listed on it the number of Stealth Tokens it contributes to this pool. Crafts have a certain number of general Stealth Tokens, which are always contributed, and setting-specific Stealth Tokens that are only contributed in the proper setting. Stealth Tokens are combined into a single pool; they are not distinct for each PC.
Note that while Seekers can be defeated, this often results in leaving a body (dead, unconscious, bound, magically asleep, etc) behind to be found by other Seekers. If a Seeker locates another Seeker's body, the former becomes Alerted. A PC can spend an Action to hide or otherwise dispose of a defeated Seeker's body in a region, which is generally sufficient to get by until the end of the scenario. The DM may determine that there is no viable place to hide a body, in which case a PC may spend their Action Phase together with their Move to drag the body into an adjacent region. In general, players should check with the DM whenever they wish to attempt any of these things and explain their intended approach.
Many stealth scenarios also have unique rules to limit activities that would automatically result in the PCs getting caught. For instance, defeating doors through EP (bashing them down) may be disallowed, with lockpicks or keys being the only option for bypassing such Obstacles. Similarly, using light sources to illuminate dark regions usually results in immediate defeat (or at least loss of a Stealth Token) if a Seeker can see the light (from within the region or an adjacent unblocked region, for example). The DM should announce any special rules for a given scenario.
Seekers and some other Challenges attempt to cause players to lose Stealth Tokens as a result of Actions or other effects. If the PCs lose their last Stealth Token, the scenario ends in failure as the PCs are caught.
Whether you're fleeing for your lives from a collapsing building or running after an escaping adversary following a successful battle, you'll use a chase scene to play out these tense and exciting events. Though chase scenes typically don't actually depect any particular entities running away from or giving chase to you, the round limit replacement serves as a general abstract representation of this that brings the same sort of tension and risk to the scenario.
Chase scenarios feature a round limit. At the end of every round, after every entity's turn is complete, increment a counter.
If the round limit is reached (by the counter value being equivalent to the round limit), then the scenario ends in failure. This could result in an adversary getting away, the PCs being caught, or rarely even death as a structure collapses atop the PCs. If the PCs are giving chase, typically only one PC needs to reach the Goal for success. However, if the PCs are being chased, all PCs must reach the Goal within the time limit to succeed. Collapsing structures and similar circumstances can result in partial success as the PCs who make it out in time are unscathed, where Injury or worse can await PCs who do not.
Some chase scenarios have round limits on each region. In these scenarios, the PCs lose if any PC is in a region when its round limit is reached. For life-or-death scenarios (such as collapsing structures), this results in the death of any PC in a region when its round limit is reached; any remaining PCs continue the scenario.
Similarly, other designs include a round limit that is increased as PCs reach various regions. This is useful when shortcuts and similar features are included within region design (as opposed to routes that literally skip regions). In this case, each PC may have their own round limit depending on the route they take.
Exploration scenarios frequently feature hidden secrets scattered through various regions. These secrets can include hidden treasure, secret passages, mechanisms for bypassing or disarming Traps or Obstacles, and more.
A PC can Search as an Action; other entries may also grant Search rolls through other means. Searching results in an opposed roll, with the PC using the Search entry on their Craft card opposed by the Hidden entry or entries from any hidden secrets. Ties are in favor of the Search. Search entries are considered Skill Dice.
The DM performs the opposed Hidden rolls in secret; the size, number, and outcome of the DM's roll should all be kept from the players. If there is nothing to find, the DM should still roll dice so as to not give away when there is or isn't something hidden there. The DM declares whether the player succeeds or fails on the Search attempt without revealing the resulting Hidden roll's value (though it's okay to share the value if the player succeeds, just for fun).
Often the PC is able to interact with discovered secrets immediately upon succeeding on the roll. For instance, if the PC finds hidden treasure, they can pick it up immediately instead of waiting for their next Strategy Phase (though if it is Gear, it cannot be equipped until using a Strategy Phase). Discovering a hidden passage reveals the new connection immediately; if the PC has not yet Moved on this turn, they can then Move through said connection as normal (assuming no Obstacles) prior to discarding.
Fortunes are an optional component that add some randomness and excitement to exploration scenarios. Represented through either a deck of cards or a table, Fortunes provide random rewards (and occasionally penalties) from Searching a region. When you find a Fortune through a Search, either draw a Fortune card (if using decks) or roll 1d100 (if using the table) to see what you've found. Fortunes commonly result in acquisition of Valuables, detailed in a future chapter.
Some challenges, usually Obstacles, have a Lock entry present. Overcoming the Lock on a Challenge results in that Challenge being instantly defeated regardless of any EP total. Lock entries are opposed by Lockpick entries, which are often found on Actions. These function as normal opposed rolls with ties in favor of the Lockpick. Failure on a Lockpick attempt often has no effect, but sometimes there may be a penalty such as damage or other effects; these can be listed as entries beneath the Lock entry, or they could occur as a result of Interrupts.
Lockpick entries are not available by default like Searching. Typically Lockpick entries can be found on Gear such as Expertise, Tools, or Items. A PC without a Lockpick entry cannot attempt to pick a lock. Lockpick entries are considered Skill Dice.
Some features in regions, such as treasure chests, also have a Lock entry. These features can be targeted by Actions and other effects with Lockpick entries as though they were entities. Succeeding on the Lockpick results in a special benefit, such as treasure, that is described by the scenario. Valuables or Gear discovered in this manner can be picked up immediately upon succeeding on the Lockpick; however, Gear cannot be equipped until spending a Strategy Phase to do so unless otherwise specified.
Sometimes there may be a key hidden somewhere within the scenario (or even acquired prior to it) that can function as an alternative to picking the lock. A PC with the key can remove the Lock, instantly defeating the Challenge. This may be able to be done as part of a Move, or it could require the PC to play a Strategy or Action; the scenario will detail the specifics whenever it includes a key.
Some challenge Actions or other entries in exploration scenarios include the Disease keyword. Such entries have effects that are listed to last until the end of the scenario. However, they all have the potential to persist much longer than that.
If the scenario ends without the effect having been removed, the Disease carries over into every future scenario (any scenario, not just exploration).
Diseases are commonly found in Actions. Each Disease has a Stat Track and a number listed next to it in parentheses. Diseases reduce the base value of the listed Stat Track by the value provided. For instance, a Disease (Mind 1) will reduce base Mind values by 1 for anyone afflicted with the Disease. Unlike with most effects, these can reduce a Stat Track's base value up to -4.
Diseases should be applied last when computing Stat Track base values. For instance, if a PC has -1 Skill from their Background, -1 Skill from their Craft, -1 Skill from equipped Gear, and -1 Skill from a Disease, the final base Skill should be -3. The first three -1 penalties are applied first; however, the third is ignored because -2 is the usual minimum base value. After this, the -1 from the Disease is applied, bypassing the normal limit and resulting in a -3 base Skill value.
Any additional, unique consequences of the disease are listed in the Special entry of the imposing Action (or as a part of the Disease text if from some other effect). If the Special entry contains multiple effects, only effects listed as lasting until the end of the scenario are considered to be part of the Disease. Any remaining parts of the Special entry do not persist into future scenarios along with the Disease.
PCs can heal from a Disease in a place where such healing is provided (usually a town of sufficient size or similar locale). This usually costs 1 Valuable and further requires performing a rest. Healing is also possible from certain effects (often from Gear and powerful cards), and the DM may provide additional alternatives. If a Disease can be applied multiple times (such as cumulative damage), all instances of that Disease can be removed from a PC as though it were one instance, even if the cumulative effects were imposed by more than one source.
Next: Chapter 6: Interaction