The subject of making wilderness adventuring interesting popped up around the gaming blogs over the last week or so.
I spent the better part of twenty years working as a park ranger and resource manager, and more than thirty years travelling in backcountry for fun. I've hiked, ridden, skied, and paddled through mountains, deserts, and forests, patrolling trails, exploring cross-country routes, bagging peaks, constructing backcountry bridges, and packing stock. As such, my take on wilderness travel is heavily influenced by my own experiences. As such, I tend to think of wilderness travel as a lot of fun but rarely treacherous, unless I do something to make it so. When hazards or complications do arise, an experienced traveller is usually prepared for them, through redundancy and practice.
That said, sometimes situations occur for which one can be prepared but still pose a threat - high country lightning storms stand out in my mind. It's these situations which make wilderness travel 'interesting,' in my experience.
Source of the Nile is one of my all-time favorite board games, and in my experience the Event Cards of SotN capture the hazards of wilderness travel very well. Each time an explorer's expedition enters a hex on the game-board, the player draws an Event Card. Each event contains bolded keywords; if the keywords apply to the expedition, than the event occurs. For example, if an expedition is in a veldt hex and the Event Card describes an event in the jungle, then no event occurs; similarly, if an Event Card describes something happening to a camel and the expedition is travelling without camels, then once again the event doesn't occur.
I decided to adapt something like this for my Flashing Blades campaign. The interesting wrinkle for this is that the game-world is focused on 17th century France, and while there are certainly remote, wild areas of the country, they are not necessarily the focus of the adventurers' travels. What I need are events which occur in more settled areas, where the adventurers are more likely to be found, so I used the Flashing Blades encounter tables as my guide, making the different tables - Open Countryside, Woods, and King's Road - keywords for events.
Other keywords were put into events as well: the seasons (Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring), Servant (for body servant or lackey/maid), Coachman (for a driver or footman), Man (generically any person regardless of gender - this follows the convention used in the core rules), and Party (the equivalent of Expedition in SotN). Anytime there is more than one character, player or non-, animal, or carriage which can be affected by an event, the individual or conveyance should be determined randomly.
There are two main resources that the events here tend to deplete, time and hit points, both of which we track already when we play, so my events table doesn't create anything new that we need to account for during the game. To determine if an event occurs, roll d6,d6 and compare the keywords to the adventurers' situation.
Event Table (d6, d6) -
11. A Man falls into a stream in the Open Countryside. His powder is wet and will not discharge for 4D6 hours. 1D6 items carried by the Man are lost in the water.
12. The wheel of a Carriage travelling on a King's Road goes into a drainage ditch and the Carriage rolls over. All of the Men riding in the Carriage must save versus Dexterity or suffer 1D6+2 general damage.
13. A Horse becomes lame. The Horse is reduced to walking speed for the duration of the journey and may not carry a Man. The Horse may recover after one week's rest on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6.
14. Cheated by a crooked sutler, 1D6 days of Traveling Rations per Man are spolied.
15. A Horse bites a Man, causing 1-3 points of damage to a random location.
16. A Horse kicks a Man, causing 1D6 points of damage to a leg.
21. A sudden Spring downpour drenches the Men. Powder in firearms is wet for the next 1D6+3 hours; powder in a horn or other container is wet on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6.
22. A fallen tree blocks the King's Road through the Woods. The tree must be removed before Carriages can pass, resulting in a delay of 1D6+4 hours unless an axe is carried, in which case the delay is one hour. Men on Horses or on foot are unaffected.
23. A Man disturbs a viper resting under a rock in the Open Countryside. The viper strikes the Man on a roll of 1-8 on 1D20, causing 1 point of damage from the bite. Roll 1D6 for hit location: the bite strikes the left leg (1-2), right leg (3-4), left hand/arm (5), or right hand/arm (6). Armor protects from the bite. If the bite causes damage, the viper also injects venom on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Venom causes an additional 1-3 points of damage to the injured extremity each hour for 1D6 hours. A character with the Physician skill may prevent venom damage by rolling Wit/2 or less on 1D20.
24. A confraternity's saints' day procession blocks the King's Road. Carriages are delayed 1-3 hours by the procession and Gentlemen and Noblemen will be solicited for a donation of 4D6 livres on behalf of the confraternity.
25. A Coachman is badly bitten by a Horse and cannot drive the Carriage. A Man with the Horsemanship skill may drive the carriage in his stead.
26. The Horses are ill after receiving bad feed at a stable. A Horse dies on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6, otherwise it cannot continue for 1-3 days.
31. A drunk Coachman falls from his seat and breaks his neck, killing himself instantly. A Man with the Horsemanship skill may drive the Carriage in his stead.
32. The Coachmen and Servants are troubled by bad omens and will insist on a delay of 1-3 days so they can attend church or temple. A Priest (or Minister, if they are Huguenots) may convince them to continue on a successful Charm check, with a +1 bonus for the Oratory skill and a +2 bonus for the Theology skill.
33. The Carriage is mired in deep mud on the King's Road. A total of 50 Strength points are required to get the Carriage out of the mud. The clothing of any Man who assists in unsticking the carriage is irreparably damaged.
34. A Man with Tracking skill notices animal spoor in the Woods; roll on the Woods encounter table to determine which animal and how many, and on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6, the next random encounter will be with those animals.
35. A hunting hawk is seen in a field in the Open Countryside, eating a kill, but there is no falconer in sight. A Man may attempt to capture the hawk on a successful Wit check, with a +2 bonus for Falconry skill.
36. A Horse disturbs a wasps' nest, and an angry cloud of stinging insects immediately surrounds the Party. Horses will bolt on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Each round a Man must make a Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle, with a -3 penalty if in a Forest. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 2D6 general damage; succeeding at Dex/2 or less stops the Horse.
41. A fight breaks out between a Servant and a Coachman, and the latter knifes the former, killing the Servant. There is no chance to save him.
42. A Horse of Poor or Fair quality dies suddenly. The animal cannot be saved.
43. A bridge on the King's Road is in obvious disrepair. A Man on foot may cross safely. A Horse may fall through the bridge, rendering it impassable to any who follow, on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6. A Carriage falls through on a roll of 1-5 on 1D6. Anyone on a Horse or Carriage which falls through the bridge suffers 2D6 general damage. A Horse which falls is killed and a Carriage wrecked beyond repair.
44. A Servant in the Woods becomes separated from the Party. The Party may search for the Servant, finding him on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6 (-2 if one of the characters has Tracking skill) after 1D6 hours. If the Servant is not found during the search, he is never heard from again.
45. A Man on a Horse is struck by a low-hanging branch in the Woods. He must make a successful Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 1D6 general damage.
46. The Party follows the wrong path in the Woods and becomes lost for 4D6 hours.
51. An Autumn wildfire is burning in the Woods ahead of the Party. Each Horse will bolt on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Each round a Man must make a Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle, with a -3 penalty. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 2D6 general damage; succeeding at Dex/2 or less stops the Horse.
52. A bull escapes from a pasture and charges the Party in the Open Countryside. The bull hits on a roll 1-8 on 1D20 and causes 1D6+1 points of general damage on a successful attack and has 15 hit points. The bull will continue to charge until it is killed.
53. A bridge crossing a stream on the King's Road is out. Carriages must backtrack and find a different route, causing a delay of 5D6 hours. Men and Horses may attempt to cross the stream. Men on foot must make Strength and Dexterity checks; making both checks means the character crosses safely, while failing one check means the character must repeat both checks again. If both checks are failed at the same time, the Man falls in the water, his powder is wet and will not discharge for 4D6 hours and from 1-6 items carried by the Man are lost in the stream. A Horse crosses the stream successfully on a successful Horsemanship check; if two Horsemanship checks in a row are failed, however, the Horse falls and the rider suffers the same effects as a Man on foot.
54. Ticks infest the Men while travelling through the Woods. Each Man may contract a fever on a roll of 1 on 1D6 following an incubation of 1D6+2 days. A Man who contracts the fever is sick for 6D6 days and must remain in bed. The fever may be successfully treated by a character with the Physician skill on a roll of Wit/2 or less. If the fever isn't treated successfully, the Man dies on a roll of 1-9 on 1D20.
55. A Servant eats bad berries while travelling through the Woods. A character with the Physician skill may save him on a successful roll of Wit/2 or less, otherwise the servant expires in 1D6 days.
56. A Coachman says that a saint's shrine is nearby, and he won't continue without visiting the shrine to pray for a sick relative. The visit to the shrine consumes a day of travel. A Priest may convince the Coachman to continue on a successful Charm check, with a +1 bonus for the Oratory skill and a +2 bonus for the Theology skill
61. A Horse falls into a pit trap built for wolves in the Woods. On a roll of 1-3, the Horse breaks a leg and must be put down.
62. A Man walking through the Woods steps on a hunter's snap trap. The trap causes 1D6 points of damage to the Man's leg, with damage reduced for wearing boots only.
63. Lightning from a fierce Summer thunderstorm spooks the Horses. Each Horse will bolt on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Each round a Man must make a Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle, with a -3 penalty if in a Forest. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 2D6 general damage; succeeding at Dex/2 or less stops the Horse.
64. Peasants give poor directions to the Party crossing the Open Countryside. The Party is lost for 2D6 hours.
65. A Carriage wheel breaks. A Coachman can repair the wheel in 1D6 hours on a 1-3 on 1D6, otherwise there is a 1-3 day delay while the carriage is repaired.
66. A freezing Winter snowstorm envelops the Party. The snowstorm lasts 2D6 hours. If the Party stops travelling and rides out the storm, Men and Horses take 1 point of general damage from the cold each hour, 3 points if they are not dressed appropriately for the conditions. A Party in the Woods may attempt to build a fire, succeeding on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6; roll 1D6 each hour a fire is burning, and on a 6 the fire goes out and must be rekindled as before. A Party with a fire takes no damage from the cold. If the Party presses forward to find shelter, Men and Horses take 2 points of general damage each hour from the cold, but they locate shelter from the storm on a roll of 1 (1-3 on King's Roads) on 1D6 each hour.