Dumb DM needs your help

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Q: What do you do about running a campaign where a party has to explore a really large area which is pretty much featureless, and there are only encounters in a few specific places?

This question can apply to any version or D&D but specifically I am dealing with a problem I am having in my 2nd Ed campaign.

I am running an adventure which came out of an old dungeon magazine. In this adventure the party has to explore a large forest which is mapped out on a big hex grid (each hex is 1 mile across and the forest is roughly 70 hexes or so). This forest is really just a big circle with a river running through it. Most of the hexes are featureless, and a few (2 in total) have combat encounters on them. The problem is that the enemy NPCs are traveling a fixed course through this forest, so it is necessary to track the location of the PCs all the time because at set points in time there certain things will happen. Basically this adventure is a race against time to find the goal in the forest, but I can't think of much else to say when the players enter each hex besides "nope it's not here." I could try to describe a forest scene where there is... nothing there... but that gets old after the first few hexes. I guess this is a question of, how do you improvise to keep travel/exploration interesting and realistic.

In case you happen to have a lot of dungeon magazines sitting around, I'm talking about the "Alicorn" adventure in dungeon #33. I picked this thing up for 4.50 on ebay. But I don't think it's necessary to see this adventure to answer this question though.

Thanks in advance!
You're playing a version of D&D that I cut my teeth on back in the 90s. It doesn't require a grid tactically, and the hexes on that map are pretty much pointless. Just have them move from encounter area to encounter area with some narrative in between. This will mean the adventure is pretty linear, but that's not uncommon for published materials.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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A scenario like that looks good on paper, but in practice, is rarely any fun.

What I would do, is toss out the predefined aspects of the scenario. I would probably ask the Pc's how are you searching? Maybe then say "Your Ranger/Druid/whatever found a trail that leads to a small clearing...and you are face to face with your enemy, both groups startled!"

Essentially the DM should decribe the 'race against time' because letting the map and random searching handle it would be less fun.

I'd use the hexes to work out how long it takes the party to search as each hex normally is X miles across.
Ask the pc's what their route for searching is and get the more rangery characters to search for clues of the other party passing or if they have Secondary Skills, proficiencies for hunting then this would help the search.
Start with a narrative " You begin your search into the dark trees, hopefully you will come across their tracks or signs of passage..."
Have the searching characters make a check for each hex (they could come up with clever plans to keep their course like climbing trees to check their progress and need a climb check to succeed). Depending on how many checks they have to make to find the tracks will determine how long it takes to find the enemy forces.

Maybe throw in a randon(ish) encounter where they may capture orcs or goblins who have come across the enemy troops and could help if questioned.
That's the thing - unless you're having them make checks to get lost/lose the trail, then every hex that is not a trail is irrelevant. You could do up a random encounter chart old-school style, but again, without some work those will seem pretty tacked on and as irrelevant as the hexes themselves.

To make it interesting, you'd probably want to make this area a sandbox and allow people to explore as they wish, discovering locations and plots along the way. But as you said, the narrative has them chasing some other group and time is of the essence. So for that reason, don't worry about the hexes and just take them from encounter to encounter with some bridging material in the way, teased out through some open-ended questioning of your players as you go. Let them tell the story of what happens in between charged situations.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

You definetly want to provide a narrative between Encounters.  If you go hex by hex your party will get bored.
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