Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Travelogues: Morale and Maintenance

Okay, so I've had an initial stab at the resting and foraging aspects of a travelogue, although I'm starting to think I planned on too small a scale. Never mind, onwards and upwards, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

There are four more broad submechanics I think are relevant here:

  1. Maintenance, in a broad sense: taking care of your animals, vehicles, gear and supplies en route. This is relatively straightforward on short journeys between towns or treks out to dungeons, but gets harder with long spells under constant strain and with little opportunity for professional care.
  2. Health. This isn't often considered in dungeoneering (because it wouldn't be much fun, presumably) but long journeys are very taxing, and wilderness journeys offer lots of opportunity for illness and accident. These are in the source material, so let's try to offer something along those lines. I'm not intending to make this a major feature, but more of a stick: plan your journey, take sensible precautions, otherwise you'll get ill. This should help encourage players to maintain food supplies, spend time searching for water, and shelter in poor weather.
  3. Morale. Journeys are tiring, and long treks across country can be dispiriting even for hardened warriors. If things are going well, morale is high; if things are going badly, morale is low. Taking steps to recover morale helps in the long run but can have short-term costs.
  4. Incidents on the journey, which are essentially random encounters, but expanded to fill a whole range of problems, challenges, hazards and opportunities. Incidents will be informed by at least the Maintenance and Morale subsystems, because it makes sense that (for example) your cart is more likely to lose a wheel if you haven't been keeping it in good repair.


Party Morale isn't something where I want built-in mechanics. This is going to be more of a tracker, and a fairly broad gone. It will inform other subsystems, and also serve as a roleplaying prompt.

At the moment I'm just envisioning a simple 3 to -3 scale, where +3 is "confident, optimistic and determined" and -3 is "doubtful, pessimistic and/or irritable". The following modifiers apply to the party as a whole, so if one member is ill, that penalty applies; each factor is worth 1. At the start of each day (or the end, if preferred) consult the following charts and adjust Morale accordingly.

Positive modifiers:

  • You achieved a significant success
  • You slept in optimal surroundings
  • You ate superior food in peace with adequate clean water
  • You had primarily enjoyable social encounters
  • You feel as clean, fresh and presentable as you wish to be
  • A party member was able to do something personally important, such as fulfilling a duty, participating in an important cultural practice, righting a wrong or learning something significant to them
  • The party demonstrated outstanding harmony or loyalty

Negative modifiers:

  • You suffered a significant setback recently (not necessarily today)
  • You slept poorly
  • You did not eat enough, ate spoiled food or drank bad water
  • The weather is severe
  • Your surroundings are oppressive, dangerous or unpleasant
  • A party member has poor Health
  • A party member is suffering from Exhaustion
  • A party member or close ally has been killed recently (not necessarily today)
  • You lack resources you believe to be necessary for your journey
  • You had primarily negative social encounters
  • You were robbed or cheated and did not recover what was lost
  • The party had a serious disagreement

Special Note: the Mood cannot increase above the day's positive factors, or decrease below the day's negative factors. Three straight days of bad weather don't leave the party at -3, but at -1. If the party mood is foul after days of hunger and a massive defeat, it will remain at -3 until the net score is positive, at which point it will begin to improve.

From a roleplaying standpoint, the expectation is that players take Morale as a cue for how they feel at present, but I don't want to add any mechanics to enforce it.

Obviously, as I haven't got the other mechanics working yet, the scale might need adjusting at some point.

So the idea is that the party sets off, probably in fairly high spirits (if they were staying somewhere comfortable, ate well, were lauded as the conquering heroes off to save the town, and so on). As the journey progresses, they can maintain a decent mood if they bring decent provisions, spend time looking for clean water, take it easy and things go well for them - though they can't easily achieve a very high mood out in the wild.

Once things start going badly, Morale will decrease. Bad weather and hard going makes people miserable. Lacking rest and bad food make people weary and quarrelsome. Setbacks may lead to plummeting Morale, although they shouldn't linger too long.

Basically the idea is that, as in stories, mood fluctuates. When all that happens is days of miserable trudging through marshes in the rain, people are sort of generically unhappy. If tragedy strikes, they plunge into despair, but are heartened by an unexpected success. Breaking the journey somewhere safe and welcoming gives them a much-needed boost (which I considered doing with rest mechanics, but now I'm not sure I need it).


This is a relatively straightforward thing, I think. Basically, you just spend some of your working time keeping your equipment in good condition.

A character can invest time in maintaining the party's equipment. It's assumed (for simplicity and adventure-supporting) that all characters know how to care for all common types of equipment, so they're capable of cleaning and sharpening their own weapons and so on.

I'm going to make this a straightforward Dexterity (Nature) roll, I think. Dexterity represents the precision and care needed to properly check, clean and maintain items, while Nature represents knowledge of the problems to look out for and how to deal with them. The character is doing things like:

  • drying off equipment that might rust or rot
  • checking and stitching seams
  • darning or patching holes
  • tightening screws and replacing lost nails
  • tinkering pots and pans, whittling new wooden parts in place of damaged ones, splicing ropes
  • reproofing fabrics, greasing joints, touching up paint
  • checking shoes on mounts and pack animals
  • oiling tack and checking for signs of damage
  • re-packing baggage, checking fastenings and looking for signs of damage
  • checking food supplies for spoilage or vermin

As usual, this is a DC 15 roll. Modifiers may apply in circumstances where doing maintenance would be particularly difficult, such as severe weather, or particularly easy (I can't think of any). I'm also inclined to rule that party Morale applies as a modifier on this roll. People do a more thorough job of maintenance when they're in good spirits and have the focus to work properly; when they're bickering, despairing or feeling sorry for themselves, their work suffers.

DC 15 is relatively hard, but that's because this will be a bonus, not a penalty. Passing a maintenance roll will reduce the risk of equipment failures in travel (rather than a failure increasing the risk). This is a "nice to have", is the idea, though it shouldn't cause a problem if a party manages it regularly.

A character proficient in the use of appropriate tools (leatherworker, tinker, woodworker, tentmaker, anything that would cover at least some of these duties) gains advantage on the roll.

In some circumstances, the party may be able to pay NPCs to do maintenance for them, saving time but not necessarily achieving as much as the PCs could. In some cases they receive free maintenance, especially when guests of powerful NPCs.

  • Highly skilled NPCs automatically pass maintenance for 10gp.
  • Average NPCs can make a roll with a +5 proficiency modifier for 5gp, giving a typical 50% chance of success.
  • Unskilled NPCs can make a roll for 1gp. If they roll a 1-5, they get something wrong and create a problem for the PCs, though it may not be immediately apparent.


  1. Something I possibly should have made clearer with Morale is that this is supposed to be a sort of catch-all tracker of how the party is doing. It's not supposed to dictate the actual feelings of any characters, or even the mood of any specific character.

    If there's a large expedition (which is common in fantasy fiction) then it can be assumed to cover the general mood of all those NPCs. If not, it can reflect things like how well the group is working together, how distracted they are, and a more granular level of tiredness that goes beyond the rather dramatic Exhaustion mechanic. Any of these things will tend to affect the likelihood of problems arising, which is basically all the Morale mechanic does.

    It's also partly supposed to be a representation of the narrative-cum-melodramatic device of the party being dogged by ill-luck, or things going from bad to worse, or simply a particular region being oppressive and causing things to go wrong. If the idea of Morale per se sticks in your craw, consider reskinning it as Fortunes or something.

    Or, of course, just don't use it. It's a modifier on a few dice rolls, that's all.

    1. This is going to vary by group, I think: I know some players who (in GURPS terms) will always layer on as much Strong Will/Unfazeable/etc. as they can afford, because they hate their characters being taken out of their hands by charms, fear, morale, and so on. Other players will put up with it, because their little paper guy is a person too, and he gets tired and dispirited and so on even if he will eventually win through.