Overland Movement and Exploration

The exploration map is divided into hexes. Hexes are given a number for easy reference. The first two digits denote column, the second two digits denote row. So 34.00 is the 34th column and 00th row of the map. (Sometimes also just written as 3400, assuming two digits per dimension). Keep track of the coordinates I give you on your maps, so I can match it up to my maps.


1 hex = 6 miles

Each day for 8 hours of travel/exploration you get 16 Action Points (AP). 1 AP does not equal 1/2 hour. There may be some things or abilities that give you extra AP per day of travel, that do not give you extra time. AP is just an abstraction meant to make keeping track of travel a bit easier.

(The 5e PHB, DMG, and earlier edition sources talk about miles and hours, but I don’t want to do lots of maths. We may tweak these rules as we learn. I’m not trying to make a video game system you can exploit. Just trying to make a simple system like a video game that illustrates how hard mountains are to cross and how heroic you are for doing it.)

Forced March: For every hour of travel after 8 hours, you must make a DC 10 + 1 per hour after 8 Constitution check or gain one level of exhaustion. See exhaustion PHB p 291. Note you should roll for your mounts as well. How much AP you gain depends upon the highest exhaustion level anyone in the party has. If that is level 0 or 1, then for every hour you do this you get 2 extra AP to spend that day. If that is level 2 – 4, they you get 1 extra AP per hour. At level 5, the party stops moving.

There are four rates at which you can travel:

Fast: This is running or galloping from point A to point B, perhaps plowing right into danger.

Normal: This is the rate you would go if you were a merchant on a road in civilization. You are not going so fast as to get tired, or so slow as to sneak or explore.

Slow: You are moving cautiously; looking out for danger, picking your way past obstacles, and perhaps sneaking. You are still going from point A to B but your path might wiggle a lot as you move with caution.

Survey (or Fully Explore): You are not trying to just move from point A to B, you are exploring. You might move in a search grid. Or you might set up a rendezvous point and split up to meet up later. (Please don’t actually split up the players. The players that are not present at a given session could be said to have split off to explore and meet up later. But having characters in the same session split up creates a logistical headache to be avoided in most circumstances even if it makes in game sense.)

It costs AP to enter a hex. The AP cost depends upon the party base speed and the rate they are travelling. The party base speed is the speed in feet that the slowest party member can move in 1 combat round.

AP cost by rate and party speed, to enter a hex:

AP cost modifiers for terrain:

Description of terrains for movement purposes:
Flat Terrain: Grassland/Tundra/Steppe/Light Forest/Highlands/Desert/Arctic For overland movement speed determination, these are all treated the same. These terrains might have small hills, large gently rolling hills, minor creeks, minor gullies, sparse trees, and such but they do not greatly affect movement.

Hills (rugged): These hills are rugged enough that you cannot just walk up them easily anywhere you want. You really have to work hard finding the best way or slog up steep terrain.

Dense Forest: This forest has enough undergrowth, thick roots, treacherous stream banks, and such that you cannot just head thru them where you want. You really have to work hard finding the best way or cut your way thru.

Mountains: These have tall cliffs, jagged ridges, treacherous scree slopes, deep snow, and such.

Swamps: More water than land, and what land there is sodden and covered in vegetation

Jungle: These have tons of vegetation that have to be hacked thru, and what animal trails there are wind and are beset by hostile wildlife.

Impassable: A thick black line to be drawn on hex borders. For the toughest of mountain terrain.

Settled: Friendly civilized people are living here, farming or herding. You can use their trails, signs, and ask for directions.

Road: A well maintained trail that takes the best path, has some signs, and perhaps bridges in the roughest terrain. Can exist outside of settled lands. Ancient decayed roads do not count unless they are fixed up. Because it just takes one path, a road does not help with Slow or Survey movement rates.

Highway: A really nice straight road paved with stone, with inns, mile markers, and bridges/tunnels over even minor inconveniences. (Rules TBD)

River: A sizable river that cannot easily be waded across on horseback. Drawn as a blue line on the edge of hexes.

Ford/Bridge: Aids crossing a river along on particular border of a hex.

Other modifiers:
A Ranger in the party can give the party +4 AP per day. This replaces the text in the PHB, which said “Difficulty terrain doesn’t slow your group’s travel.” (A 1st level ability which makes mountain ranges completely go away is too OP for an exploration campaign.)

Spells that last for several hours on the entire group may affect overland movement. Spells on a single person would only really have a movement effect if they take away penalties on the slowest party member. Effects to be determined and the rules updated when the party wants to learn such spells.

At the slowest rate in the toughest terrain it can take more than one day to travel from one hex to the next. Or you could have enough left over to almost make it to the next hex at the end of a day in flat terrain. Generally we will only track the position you are at the hex level. We won’t say you are 2 miles from the edge of the next hex. And we probably won’t track spare AP left over at the end of a day.

But for travelling into very rough terrain like this you can ‘spend’ AP to help you get in the next day. Heading into a jungle hex at Survey speed costs 30 AP. That is two about days worth, so we say it took you two days.

Dropping little spare bits left over at the end of the day isn’t ‘optimal’ use of your AP. But this is an abstraction meant to make the math easier not harder. In game there are plenty of other things the party is doing, like hunting, foraging, avoiding monsters, investigating ruins that don’t pan out, mapping, camping, tending mounts, etc. The campaign will also have plenty of down time in world, so if it takes you 5 years to fully explore the huge Shadow, that is fine.

If the party is involved in a race against time to get from point A to B, we might then stress about how far you are moving, and definitely travel longer than 8 hours a day.


For purposes of determining how hard something is to find when exploring, there are four different levels of things you can discover as you explore.

Terrain: This is very easy to discover. “Hey, look trees!” You can even discover this from a distance., as follows,

  • Mountains can be seen 5 hexes away if nothing else is in the way
  • When on a mountain you can see terrain 5 hexes away if nothing else is in the way
  • The ability to fly up to 1000’ high will also give you this 5 hex visibility
  • The ability to fly up to 200’ high will give you visibility on the terrain in adjacent hexes
  • Hills (rugged) may be over 200’ high but do not give you visibility on adjacent hexes, as the land is so rugged it is hard to see past the next few hills
  • Rain cuts visibility to 1 mile
  • Fog cuts visibility to 100-300 feet
  • When you have fully surveyed a hex, you get to know the terrain of all surrounding hexes.

Landmarks: These are very big obvious things that automatically you find as soon as you enter a hex.

Standard Sites: These are not particularly hard to find, but it is possible to miss.

Hidden Sites: These are hard to find, needing a skill check to find. Even if you are Surveying/Fully Exploring you might not find.

The Exploration Roll: Upon entering a hex an exploring party makes a single d20 die roll. That roll is used to find any standard or hidden site. Discovering a Hidden Site is dependent upon a specific skill. The skill bonus of the highest player in the party is used for the skill needed. The DM will not say what skill is needed, or even if there is a hidden site to be found. (I will ask the party for the highest bonus for each skill in the party to keep track of for these skills). The roll is for the entire party together, you cannot roll separately, or aid each other. The roll symbolizes you all working together already.

Every time you enter a hex while exploring what you can find with that roll depends upon the rate the party is moving.


A hex is considered ‘explored’ for purposes of making and selling maps only when you have entered it using the Survey/Full Exploration movement rate.

It is possible to Survey/Fully Explore a hex again. This can help you find Hidden Sites. (But if you keep exploring the same patch, the DM might throw some ‘random’ monsters at you.)

If you traveled to a hex at a faster speed but want to then explore it, that costs the same as the cost to enter at Survey speed.

Ranger Ability
At 3rd level, a UA Ranger gets the Primal Awareness ability that helps them find sites actively in use by their favored enemy. See UA Ranger and Edits
The UA Ranger ability works like this:

When you Survey a hex, you can automatically find a Hidden site that is actively being used. You also can automatically detect the presence of active Standard sites in all adjacent hexes, when you Survey a hex. When moving at Slow movement rate, you can automatically find a Standard site that is actively being used in that hex.

(This exploration system is adapted from a book I have for an earlier edition of D&D. The party just makes one roll per hex for the entire party to reduce the amount of die rolling. On mounts, in flat terrain, moving at a Normal speed, with a Ranger, the party could move thru 5 hexes a day looking for Standard sites. This system has that be 5 die rolls, not 50.)

Overland Movement and Exploration

Skarag's Shadow cwsterner cwsterner