Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Frenzy Wilds: Running Games in the Beastlands

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Don’t let the apparent beauty fool you. The Beastlands is not the verdant green forests that race for the horizon like the sea. It is not the plains that stretch like fields of gold beneath a blue sky, nor the towering ice-capped mountains, the rushing rapids of the jungle, the swampy mires or the barren deserts.

No. The Beastlands is struggle. 

A sun-kissed glade explodes in a frenzy of swirling leaves, scattered dirt, paws moving, heart pounding, lungs pumping, the tooth, the nail,


The hunted gasps a dying breath as bones break and blood is spilled. The hunter slinks back to its den to close its eyes for the last time, lulled to sleep by the rumble of its empty belly. One struggles and lives, one struggles and dies. The heart of the Beastland is in life or death. 

Skip down to Running the Beastlands and Player Characters in the Beastlands for actual rules stuff.


The Beastlands

Take nature in all its unadultured glory, now dial it up to 11. It's wild, it's untamed, it actively resists being tamed. Of course we tried. Let me tell you of our attempts.

In the ancient days, three siblings, esteemed hunters and trappers all, set out into the woods in search of the endless forest where the trees grew tall and the beasts were plenty. Unbeknownst to them, they would find themselves hunted before they could lay a single trap. They never returned.

In the distant days, the last King of Mallowacre charged the realm’s heroes with investigating the rumors of the Night Huntsmen who haunted the swamplands within the swamp.’ The heroes never returned. The next season, the first were-people ravaged the lands.

In the days past, members of the enterprising Cartogropher’s Guild set out to map the lands beyond the anomaly in the Northern Plains. But their maps were always missing something. A landscape that should’ve been impossible to miss, or an entire section there when it wasn’t before. They spent years drawing and redrawing maps of an area as small as 5 miles a side. And perhaps it was paradise to them. To the outside world, however, the Cartogropher’s Guild never returned. 

Time in the Beastlands
No hunter finds the iris fox twice, so when it came across my path midday, I left everything in frenized pursuit, knowing that if I could not succeed before night fell, all would be lost. For hours, and hours, I chased, though the sun never left its position at the peak of the sky. Perhaps the lands themselves blessed me that day. Night finally came the moment I held my quarry in my grasp.
-Nujalik, Huntress

In the Beastlands, the sun rises then falls, and the moon does the same. Morning into Noon, Noon to Dusk, Dusk to Night, and back again. But whether time passes evenly between them is a mystery. Some say that each discreet time of day is actually a separate plane within the Beastlands, and one may wander between them as easily as stepping through a door-shaped opening between trees. But then, why does it always flow in the same pattern? Others say time passes slow some days, fast other days, but if two travelers to the realm were to count the nights they’d spent there, they might find they have different answers.

Natives to the Beastlands would merely explain it thus. The sun flees across the sky by day, and the moon hunts her by night. Some days the sun gains a lengthy lead, and tarries as she goes. But then there are days when the moon pounces from the cover of night, sending the sun’s light scattering as she retreats beneath the earth.


Running the Beastlands

Making Difficulty Checks 
In a d20 system where the challenge difficulty is 10, the base difficulty for any action taken in the Beastlands is 15. Base difficulty for checks is then modified by the region the players are in.

Time in the Beastlands is measured in 6-hour Watches. Each Watch contains 2 Turns, the amount of time it takes player characters to accomplish any wilderness actions, including traveling a stretch of land roughly equal to 4 miles at a normal pace, foraging for supplies, exploring an area, or tracking/hunting prey.

At the beginning of each Turn, the GM rolls on the Encounter Table to determine an encounter or effect that will take place sometime during the Turn.

At the end of each Watch during which characters took any Wilderness Actions, each character must consume one ration. Any character that does not consume a ration must spend an hour resting or suffer negative effects from exhaustion. If the party chooses to rest for an hour, the GM rolls on the Encounter Table, ignoring even rolls.

Encounter Table
1. Encounter
2. Traces
3. Hunted
4. Discovery
5. Weather
6. Time Advances

1. Encounter
Newcomers to the Beastlands see the endless rolling hills as homogenous, lifeless, unaware that over each hill a creature lies in wait, or a rare flower blooms, worth more than anything they carry. On a 1, the GM rolls on a region specific encounter table to determine what the party encounters. Example tables for Savannas, Deserts, and Jungles will be linked here in the near future.

2. Traces
On a 2, the party comes across traces of a creature. This could be spoor or an empty nest or lair. The GM rolls on the region’s creature table to determine what creature left the traces. The next Encounter Roll is done with a -3 penalty. Results below 1 are counted as 1.

3. Hunted
Everything in the Beastlands is hunted by something. It’s only a matter of time. On a 2, the party becomes hunted. When the party becomes Hunted, they gain a Pursuer(s). The Pursuer beings far away, then grows near, until their attack is imminent. Each time the party rests, or when another 2 is rolled while the party is being Pursued, the Pursuer grows one hunting range closer

When a Pursuer is near, detectable signs that they are being hunted may become apparent to the party. These signs should be communicated to the party by the GM as part of the natural scene description. When the Pursuer is near and grows closer again, the Pursuer catches up to the party and an attack is imminent. Another sign should be given, but by then it is likely too late. The Pursuer will attack according to the creature’s type at any moment. Choose or roll for a Predator that is active at the current time of day. If the party ever takes a long rest while being Hunted, the Pursuer attacks during the rest. The only way to gain distance from a stalker is to successfully travel at double-pace, which sets the stalker back one hunting range. An imminent attack cannot be escaped from in this way. If the party outpaces a far away Pursuer, the Pursuer is lost.

1d4 Signs a Pursuer is Near
1. This section of the forest seems quieter than others.
2. A large hare bursts out of a nearby tuft of grass, leaving a trail of trampled stalks as it runs into the distance.
3. You notice what looks like territorial markings on a nearby tree.
4. The faint scent of death wafts past the tip of your nose. You come across an old carcass stripped of its meat.

4. Discovery
On a 4, the party comes across something unusual, typically an interesting location. A good Discovery location will have an unusual geographical feature that can’t be found on the Material Plane, loot or potential resources like notable flora or water, and possibly an encounter. Example Discoveries include an Oasis in the Desert where the water glows blue at night, or a clearing in the forest where some artifact landed, radiating a sense of purpose, fallen from the neighboring plane of Arborea.

5. Weather
On a 5, the weather changes. If you are using a weather roll chart, begin rolling on it every Watch until another 5 is rolled. If not, choose a type of weather for each region or hex, determine at least one negative effect or challenge the weather will present, and have it activate on a roll of 5, and revert to normal conditions when the next 5 is rolled.

6. Time Advances
On a 6, time advances for the party. Roll another d6. On a 1-5, time advances normally by 1 stage. On a 6, however, night suddenly sneaks up on the party, and the time track advances instantly to night.


Player Characters in the Beastlands

There are no roads in the Beastlands. Traveling through the plane involves hacking through brush, fjording rapid rivers, and wading through slopes of sand that slip with every step. For each Turn that players spend traveling, they choose a travel speed and gain its benefits and penalties.

Slow: Travel 4 miles per Turn. Advantage to stay hidden. Advantage to notice danger.
Normal: Travel 6 miles per Turn.
Fast: Travel 8 miles per Turn. Disadvantage to stealth. Disadvantage to notice danger. Must consume ration AND make a Constitution-based check to avoid having to rest or taking exhaustion penalties at Watch’s end.

Even people with low appetites find themselves eating more than usual in the Beastlands. When rations run out and foraging is sparse, the players may choose to hunt. Players may hunt using any methods they can think of, but in general, hunts will be divided into three phases: the Seek, the Stalk, and the Kill.

To hunt, players must find prey or signs of the prey they wish to hunt. This could be as easy as getting the right encounter roll at the right time. Whether they’re moving, lying in wait, or performing some other wilderness action, the encounter tables contain chances of encountering prey, prey lairs, and prey spoor.

If the players are not so lucky, they may attempt to spend a turn searching for prey or signs of prey. The players make a survival check modified by the region’s difficulty modifier. On a success, players have a 1-in-6 chance of encountering the creature itself, otherwise they find traces. Players may search for specific prey at a one-step difficulty increase. They still find something if they exceed the original difficulty.

Once traces of a creature have been found, players can use it to find the creature. Based on their travel speed, players can gain ground on their quarry. They keep pace, neither gaining nor losing ground at Slow speed, gain ground at Normal speek, and gain double ground when traveling Fast. Players start at a distance of far off, then progress to near, then progress to a distance where their attack is imminent, at which point they move to the Kill.

Players may also choose to lie in wait, potentially setting up traps and hoping a creature wanders into them. For each thing they do that might increase their chances of a creature wandering into their trap, increase the chance of the creature appearing by 1-in-6. For example, if players find traces of a creature and lie in wait there, there is a 1-in-6 chance each turn the creature will return. If players also set some sort of bait or lure, the chance increases to 2-in-6 each turn.

The Kill is executed as a standard combat or chase sequence, oftentime times switching between both.

Beastland Mutations
Those who spend much time in the Beastlands are inevitably affected by its primal nature. Beastland mutations tend to disappear with time spent away from the plane, but mutations that persist for a year become permanent.

When you hunt or kill within the Beastlands, roll a d6. On a 1, gain a random Predator mutation.

When you flee or hide within the Beastlands, roll a d6. On a 1, gain a random Prey mutation.

Predator Mutations
1. Your pupils become slits. See in dim light as day light.
2. Your teeth sharpen and nails elongate. Gain d6 natural weapons, and advantage to grapple when using them.
3. Your nose is perpetually wet. Sense of smell increases.
4. You occasionally find yourself walking on four limbs. When you charge a target, make a free attack or grapple. Your target must save or fall prone.

Prey Mutations
1. You develop prey instincts, jumping at the slightest noises. 2-in-6 chance to sense when a stalker grows closer. 
2. Your eyes grow almost imperceptibly wider apart. When an attack is imminent, you immediately know.
3. Your skin changes faintly to match your surroundings. When staying still, gain advantage to hide.
4. A great prey spirit descends on you, and your companions find it hard to look you in the eye. Once per day, conjure psychic vision to try to scare away predators. Creatures your level or lower always flee.


Coming up next will be two related posts to help you run your adventures in untamed lands; one, example material from a session I ran featuring encounters and creatures for an adventure spanning Deserts, Savannas, and Jungles, and two, a ruleset for running epic hunts against a region's Apex Predator. Watch those cloaks, there are a lot of creatures out there who would love to get 'em all tangled.


  1. I have never had the chance to play an adventure in the Beastlands... hopefully a friend will volunteer to run a one-shot for my group. I'll point him out to this article ;)

    Thanks for joining the RPG Blog Carnival!

    1. And thank you for being our gracious host. Posting every day for a month was quite the feat!

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