I'm Developing Wilderness and Dungeon Exploration Modules for Cairn 2e. Give me your feedback!

For the second edition of Cairn I’m expanding on the modular rules a bit, including Wilderness & Dungeon exploration.

Wilderness Exploration

You can see my WIP version here. I’d love feedback about the whole lot of it, but here is the TL;DR:

  • Days are broken up into three watches (morning, afternoon, and night)
  • A party of PCs can choose one Wilderness Action per turn. That means travel, explore, make camp, etc. Generally the entire party acts as a whole, but some actions can be taken independently (e.g. Supply or Explore).
  • Distance on a map is determined by how many travel turn are required to get there.
  • Stuff like terrain, weather, party conditions can affect travel. There are tables for indicating how this should work.

The GM has some duties to perform each day, and according to the actions taken. There are rules around how much sleep is required, what happens if the party gets lost, etc.
That’s about it.

I’d love to hear what folks think about this, how it might be improved/tweaked, but most of all I want to know how to make it clearer. My sense is that it just needs good layout/graphics (which will come later), but in the meantime I’d like to cut down on bullet points (3-4 max per section) and make the overall process more fluid. For instance, I cut out an entire table yesterday, collapsing down Terrain and Weather Difficulty. I might even collapse them further, combining the Weather Difficulty table with the Weather table the GM rolls on each day. I dunno, stuff like that!

Dungeon Exploration

Rules here.

The “gist”:

The Basics

  • A character can perform one action during a dungeon turn.
  • Actions are any extended activities, such as searching for traps or treasure, forcing open a door, listening for danger, disarming a trap, engaging an enemy in combat, etc.
  • The Warden and players follows a strict sequence of resolving actions and rolling encounters.

Thanks for your time folks!


I need to get into Cairn, haven’t had the time to yet. Looking over wilderness rules here are some quick hits:

  • three 8h phases is 24h, but should maybe be three 5h phases and a fourth for night?
  • getting lost should send the party to a random adjacent hex, or maybe chew up another phase?
  • in the prototyping might be useful to have a sketch or two of the travel maps you envision
  • like the party rolling to get lost, fates on them
  • supply action talks about “chance of success” and “eliminating rolls” but unclear what’s being tested how
  • make camp, what is the impact the three watches can’t be made (e.g. party of 1 or 2)?
  • found the example! Might be good to draw rough sections on the map, like an area movement boardgame. Could maybe even add number of phases to cross boundary x
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Hello! Thanks for the response.
Knowing Cairn would help a little bit, as the Fatigue rules play a huge part of this.

  • I’m dead-set on 3 partitions in a day. It’s worked well in playtests, and I find it easier to crunch personally (big surprise, I’m not a math person).
  • These rules are explicitly not for hexcrawling (though they can be adjusted some) which is why I don’t have a rue for what happens when you get lost, only the cost of getting back on track. In a hex crawl (as I note in the Hex Maps header) does send them to an adjacent hex, and has an implied cost.
  • I do have a table for “what direction/where did the PCs end up?” but I took it out for now. Too many tables as it is.
  • Ah good catch on the “chance of success.” I used to have it say there would only be a 2-in-6 chance of success but decided that wasn’t particularly interesting. I’m removing that sentence now. Thank you!
  • The impact of not Making Camp properly is described in Sleep but I suppose should be repeated in that section for clarity. Good call.
  • I think I’ll make a nicer map and draw on it, as you say.

Thank you for your comments! They were helpful.

(PS I have dungeon crawl rules as well that follow a similar pattern. I’ll post those next).

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I added the Dungeon Exploration rules to the initial post!

Regarding the 3 turn names, I think you have unclear phrasing. Reading dawn/midday/dusk made me think one turn spanned the middle of the day, noon midway through that turn. That would put “dawn” starting at midnight and ending after dawn.

The example makes it seem like you want one turn to start at dusk and end at dawn. Dawn and dusk are not 8 hours apart. Where I live, the gap is 9 hours at midsummer, 15 at midwinter. At no point in the year would the turn names you used make me think one of the three turns will be the night, so when to make camp would not be clear. (In practice, I suspect table would ignore your turn names and be fine, but I was confused by those.)

Regarding skipping sleep, I’m not a fan of the hard limit. My reading was that you can skip one night, but skipping 2 is literally impossible, but there’s no penalty if for some reason that second rest is denied, it just says “Party members can skip sleeping once before needing to rest fully again the next day.”

I would switch this to escalating fatigue, to allow desperate pushes of travel. Perhaps, “If you do not rest, double the fatigue in your inventory, or add one fatigue if you have none.” (I’ve not played Cairn, so I do not know if the fatigue design supports this.)

Regarding formatting, I think “The Basics” and “Wilderness Exploration Sequence” are both too long.

The Basics has extraneous bits in it, like a bullet point about mounts. I would want this to be more minimal of a summary.

Wilderness exploration sequence seemed circuitous and confusing, when it explained a fairly typical turn sequence in practice. Am I missing something, or is it basically, “The GM explains the terrain and weather, rolling on a table for the weather. The party can discuss with the GM to find out travel times and difficulties. The party / each character selects one wilderness action. Determine action results.”

Not sure why, but I found your wording hard to follow on that bit.

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I recently renamed the phases of the day (turns) to “dawn/midday/dusk” but they used to be morning, noon, night. Does that do anything different for you? I was considering changing them back. They are meant to indicate the three parts of the day; the time the Sun rises until it reaches its zenith (however long), from it zenith until it disappears, and then a period of Night. I was trying to figure out a way to incorporate other travel modes (e.g. night travel is better for desert terrain) while also doing away with any specific units of time. I’m not sure I was successful, even with explainers.

Skipping sleep: reading the Cairn rules on Fatigue would probably help a lot! I’ve actually playtested this bit quite a bit and it has worked out great.

Typically, not sleeping means you both don’t get rid of Fatigue (which stacks in inventory), and that you cannot overcome the deprived condition. I think the penalty is fairly automatic; any Fatigue they have gained after walking through the night as well as Fatigue they’re already carrying would make sleep a basic requirement. In a sense, it actually might make sense not to limit it all, or require a STR save of some kind. There is no precedent to “double” Fatigue in Cairn so I’m a bit hesitant to add that in there. I can think of a few other ways of doing it, though.

Formatting: totally agree, I am planning on editing it WAY down, but I wanted to make sure I had the mechanics correct, before editing and re-editing a million times.

But yeah your description is accurate, perhaps I’m spelling it out unneccessarily.

Thanks for your input!

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I edited the Basics, Wilderness Actions, Difficulty, and Fatigue according to some of your notes. I think it is simpler now, but I really need to do more editing.
Thanks again!

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Revisiting Wilderness Travel while working on a map and got to thinking about scale, travel speed, and distances. Is it safe to assume that you’re leaving it to the Warden to determine on the fly how far a party might travel at normal speed, i.e., how many watches it might take to get from one point to another? I’m imagining there’s some flexibility here and just want to make sure that’s the intent (as opposed to something like: normal speed covers X number of miles in a watch).

Oh, and I like the change to “morning, afternoon, and night,” which feels like a clearer division of spans of time. Was already imagining using those words, so I hope you’ll keep them!

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Yes, the Warden would determine the distance between two points, and try to stay consistent. But don’t think of it like distance, think of it like time. How many watches does it take to go from point A to point B? What is the difficulty?

Originally I had called the phases (watches) morning, noon, night. Then I changed it. Then I changed it back, but used afternoon instead of noon. So yeah, I’m keeping it.