In a comment on my answer to What qualifies exploration gaming?, Javafueled commented:

It almost begs me to ask the question: How do I get players to explore more? :) – javafueled

In order to create a lasting answer, I bring forward that question...

How does one get players to explore more?


9 Answers 9


There are two ways of doing this in my experience:

  • Exploration as a quest completion requirement: The PC's would have to travel through a jungle/desert/snowy mountain range/sea to get to their objective. In this instance, make sure the journey is as important, if not more, than the destination; Every type of overland terrain has different features, weather conditions that are most common, and possibly different encounters as well. Develop your own little ruleset if you have to. Choose a theme for each explorative journey and hint at it through everything you do.

    Example: The PC's have to travel through a desert to get to the ruins of a city that has mysteriously stopped all trade and has fallen silent, literally and figuratively. A common theme for desert terrain is desolation and isolation. Go with a theme, but don't make it too obvious. I don't have to mention, desert terrain is mostly flat. There is the odd dune here and there, but in general, compared to mountains or jungle, visibility and field of view is clear and wide. That hints on our isolation theme. Couple that with the only sound being wind and the dunes, and you're practically there. Don't just make a journey into a trip, make it an experience. Give them the option of protective clothes that will shield them from the heat. Balms to keep their skin hydrated. Have them clean their clothes of sand every now and then, which is desert trips is a must. Deserts are also not just hot, they are subjects to extreme temperatures, so boiling hot days and freezing nights. Do they have shelter for the night? If not, can they produce a makeshift one? Take advantage of the substance of sand to make encounters interesting: An ambush of creatures "swimming" in sand, who emerge from the sand to attack the PC's.

  • Exploration for the sake of exploration and as a side matter, an extra incentive: When you mention a far away land, planet, whatever the case may be depending on the setting, don't just say a name. Whether in-game or out-of-character, provide a short description to go with the name. It makes the difference between a name of a place that will fade into obscurity in the player's minds and an item in the player's "To Visit" checklist. Give them reason to travel, to explore. Promise them things they have never seen, heard, or experienced before through narration, in-game objects and NPC's. An exotic-looking species, a mysterious glowing cube, even library entries on the delicious Narrthak of the Jin'Khad plains. It doesn't need to be a huge description of something, in fact, it's better if it isn't. All you need do is to poke the bait with the hook, and the fish will come.

In short, the journey is more important than the destination.


Old D&D was exploration heavy not through any odd dodge, but because that was how you solved problems.

It's really deceptively simple. Present a fictional world to the PCs. Don't let them find things or solve problems via the roll of a die. Exploration relies on simulation. "I roll Search" is not an acceptable solution to finding a secret door; fiddling with the bookshelf you have described is. "I roll Diplomacy" is not an acceptable solution to finding something out from someone; actually researching them and talking to other people that know them and understanding them is.

Players in old D&D didn't explore the wilderness for the hell of it. They explored it because they were looking for a specific old ruin, and they didn't have a magical map leading them right to it or the ability to say "I roll Land Navigation" and the GM to tell them "Great, you're there." They didn't explore the dungeon for the hell of it, but because it was the way to advance themselves through it - if they didn't go up the hole in the ceiling to find the ladder, they were stuck permanently.

@OddCore has some good tips on how you implement that as a GM, but this is the core of "how to do exploration gaming." You don't "give a quest to explore" or "give XP for exploration," that's a bit of a weird approach. Exploration, and the planning to support living through that exploration, is simply a part of the game world as it is in the real world and it's necessary to achieve a lot of the things the PCs probably want to do.


From my experiences, you can't 'get' players to explore more. That's something they either have the drive to do or not. Placing a vast world in front of their nose that they've never seen before does little good when the player wants to play a homebody or some court mage or something. The character, and more so the player, needs to have the desire to explore the wild frontier and find things that no one has seen before or long lost ruins or the sort.

With that said, there are many ways you can make it more attractive or set up a campaign to be much more about the exploration and discovery part of adventure then the thrills and the action. While combat has a place in any game setting, it trivializes the way players interact with their environments and challenges. And, in some cases, makes it much more about the numbers and damage then it does about the discovery. Here are a few ideas I've been trying to get off the ground, but my current pool of players could care less about discovery and adventure, so they've been going to waste.

  • Create a world where most of civilization has been contained to a small environment and they have a whole world to discover. This can be for any number of reasons. Maybe they're long lost colonists and the rest of the world has grown old and died. Maybe a great tragedy hit many centuries ago and people have just now gotten strong and curious enough to explore outside of their safety zones. Whatever the case, make it a point that this is a 'New World', so to speak. Think about Magellan or Columbus and their discovery of different lands with different types of people.
  • The main arch of a quest is to uncover long-lost ruins and document the findings. Instead of finding the McGuffin or saving the princes or stopping the dark evil, maybe this is more of an archaeological search. There's a long-lost dwarven clan and the history and construction of this clan are scattered throughout the world. The PC's are paid a salary to explore the ruins, catalog the findings, chart where these ruins are, and bring the findings back to their employer. They are encouraged that the more they can uncover and the more spectacular the find, the more money they'll receive. Incentive base to get more people on board with the idea.
  • Give one or more of the players a personal quest based on their background. Maybe one of them is trying to find their master who disappeared years ago, and they have to trace back the steps of their master, embarking on quests and pilgrimages much like he did. Or maybe they find letters pointing to clues about their real parents and they have to sift through different places and ruins to find out the real truth. Focusing the discovery on one of the players might be enough to get them on board, and they'll ask for the party's help to continue.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure why this got a down vote? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Feb 2, 2012 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phil agreed. it answers the question and provides another perspective. \$\endgroup\$
    – javafueled
    Feb 3, 2012 at 1:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suspect because the downvoter felt "put the Plot Train on the rail line to Exploration Station" was not encouraging so much as mandating players to explore. However, the first suggestion—start with a tiny vestige of civilisation surrounded by The Unknown—is a great idea worth my upvote. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19, 2012 at 3:06

Prompt your players imagination. Consider for a moment the practical theories of GMing and Playing known as the Floodlight and the Flashlight.

GMs hold a Floodlight in the world, the Players a Flashlight. On what only can be seen with the flashlight will players act. GMs may sit and wonder, "Look at all this cool sh*t I got brewing over here. Why aren't they interested? Or wouldn't it be cool if they would only go chase that banshee rumored to be in the moors over here?" Besides the obvious question of whether the players have been told about the cool sh*t--in game!--or read about the banshee rumored to be haunting the moors, the Flashlight only focuses on a little bit of the otherwise dark world the GM holds sway over.

Then I remembered this very awesome narrative attributed to Clark Ashton Smith. I read these 140 words to my players before each session for about two months (about 4 sessions):

The nostalgia of things unknown, of lands forgotten or unfound, is upon me at times. Often I long for the gleam of yellow suns upon terraces of translucent azure marble, mocking the windless waters of lakes unfathomably calm; for lost, legendary palaces of serpentine, silver and ebony, whose columns are green stalactites; for the pillars of fallen temples, standing in the vast purpureal sunset of a land of lost and marvellous romance. I sigh for the dark-green depths of cedar forests, through whose fantastically woven boughs, one sees at intervals an unknown tropic ocean, like gleams of blue diamond; for isles of palm and coral, that fret an amber morning, somewhere beyond Cathay or Taprobane; for the strange and hidden cities of the desert, with burning brazen domes and slender pinnacles of gold and copper, that pierce a heaven of heated lazuli.

I really love how much that short piece evokes so much desire to explore the places in CAS' minds-eye.

And thus it dawned on me...prompt interest in exploration by your players by reading short, say 150-200 word, narratives about something else happening in the world.

The short narrative should be disconnected from current play goals, it can be a barker reading about the marriage of a distant king (maybe to an encountered NPC fading into the background), or maybe its just something about your world you want to let the players know. Be careful about the short reads becoming plot wagons or hooks. Just give your players an opportunity to see what the Floodlight reveals, it likely will spark their mind's eye and appetite for exploration. Add a touch of character background elements as well. And maybe, just maybe, you'll find them trekking to find that old well in the desert that leads to the lost temple...


It is a fact that players tend to explore in the easiest way possible their environment, especially when they know that nothing of interest (most times loot) exists. That means that you actually have to give a little boost to your player's exploring side of their character.

This can be achieved by a combination of good descriptions of their new surroundings, not detailed to the point they bleed from their ears after your one hour monologue on how exquisitely carved is the monolith they just found, you get the picture, and a little GM force.

Now, GM force can be applied to make your players explore, but how much force that takes depends on the nature of your players. Making them travel due to quests is a perfectly legitimate answer to your question, but what happens when (especialy in some settings and systems) the players can teleport with some form of magic? The answer to that is simple. Throw them to places they don't know. It may look harsh or easy, but it is not. The wizard will not be able to teleport without a teleportation circle for example, and less magic using classes will be stranded in vast, unknown land that they must actually walk through in order to survive.

There aramis's idea of making supplies count would be wonderfull, your players are exiled/stranded/trapped in a land they don't know, with less and less food everyday, and are forced to explore it in order to survive, and maybe a chance of getting to familiar grounds.

The general idea is that in most cases, due to mmo-like psychology, your players will go to their quest objectives, do what they must and leave, veni, vidi, vici style. It is your job to actually force circumstances on them that exploring is their best option (not the only one though, that could be frustrating).


One big difference between a supporting character and a hero is that the hero is more aware. That awareness manifests in a variety of ways, but there is an underlying curiosity that leads to exploration (physical, cognitive, or both), which leads to knowledge. That knowledge proves to be useful, often when the hero least expects it.

Think of all the times you've watched a scene in an action movie where the hero learns something. Instantly you know that knowledge is going to come into play later in the movie. Ex: Ripley in Aliens learns how to operate a power loader – later she winds up using it to survive. A hero's desire to explore and learn is rewarded, the lesson being that these impulses are intrinsically valuable.

When I'm running a game, whenever possible I try to find a way to reward PC exploration using in-world rewards, rather than game system rewards. It doesn't matter if they're exploring the inner workings of the clock on the magi's mantel, taking a hike in the hills around Apple Lane, or holding a competition with the other grunts to see who can properly identify every tank in the deck of "enemy vehicle" playing cards. Sooner or later I slip something into the flow of the game that rewards that knowledge. The magi complains aloud that he needs a leaf spring, but doesn't have any minions who even understand what that means. The PC can run the errand for him. The farmer mentions that he saw the broos coming down the draw just past Painted Rock. The PC knows the nomenclature of the enemy APC, so he can call in close air support armed with the appropriate munitions.

The rewards don't have to be big, and it's usually better to keep them small. Over time the players become conditioned that if they have their eyes and minds open as they move through the game world, that engagement will help their characters.


My experience says to reward them for exploring. Giving them XP for exploration is good in systems which include XP systems. In Burning Wheel or FATE, encourage them to take exploration based beliefs or aspects, and then reward them for playing them.

It also helps to have excellent stuff for them to explore. The trick is to not overdetail.

When writing dungeons, make certain that the requisite bodily needs can be met: food prep, body waste elimination, sleep, and if deep enough, food creation.

When creating overland settings, water, food, defensible terrain, interesting cultures and interesting places.

For both, rumors, patrons, or survivors help to lead them to the relevant places.


While the other answers look at this from a "big picture" perspective, I'd like to also add that "small scale exploration" is important to at times.

I still feel fairly new and have only played under 4 DMs, 2 5E, and 2 Original AD&D. But the small scale exploration can also be really fun and shouldn't be overlooked either.

I think this can really come down to the DM's descriptiveness and should be reinforced a few times through "forced exploration."

First off, what do I mean when I personally say Small scale exploration? I mean looking in specific areas of places for specific things as opposed to walking into a room and saying, "Hey I check for traps." or "I'm going to look for hidden passages."

For example there was a large stone chair behind an alter in a crypt. One player said, "I'm going to check all of that." where I said, "I light a torch and try to peer behind the alter for any secret passageways."

Neither method is wrong. I know the other player primarily enjoys combat where I primarily enjoy exploration and still others favor roleplaying. Its the job of the DM to steer how much description is needed to result in finding things to attempt to keep all players (and the DM) happy with the game. The only real way that can happen is either a meta discussion or better is through forced exploration. Say an NPC tells them, "I know there's a secret passageway in there, but I don't know where it is." then don't give it to them until they use the amount of description you're looking for.

Since I'm answering anyways, I'll add in a quick note about exploration in the large scale. I personally hate, "So do you all head to X?" some player says, "Yes." ... okay "Okay you all arrive at X, it looks like this and that."

As a player that enjoys the exploration I find that I almost have to interrupt or back the GM and other players up in order to do anything during the journey.

Something as simple as making a habit of asking each player, "Along the way what are you doing?" or perhaps even "During the first leg of the journey, what are you doing?"...."During the 2nd leg of the journey..." etc. until they get in the habit of describing it to begin with could be really beneficial in promoting exploration.


GM style plays a hand in it. Even a player who desperately wants to explore is going to tether themselves to the plot-rail if they tried to wander a bit & ran into walls or got so bogged down in the muck lining the ditch that they had no choice but to attach themselves firmly to the tether.

As a GM you pretty much have to have some kind of rail to keep yourself sane & avoid having to write a book of possibly useful notes for every session. The trick is to make it look like you aren't using it and don't try to guide them towards it when they wander off the lot's path.

THe method as a GM will vary somewhat depending on your chosen system & group makeup. If your players are all playing bloodthirsty psychopaths with no ability to be social, you are going to have to take a different approach than if they are all playing social butterflies to various extents. In a game like D&D where lots of classes are pretty much incapable of being social butterflies, consider houseruling in an extra skillpoint or two per kevel if & only if it goes towards one of [these] houseruled skills that work like a bardic lore version of XYZ skills if the situation is relevant to the skill (i.e. military protocol in place of diplomacy/disguise/etc & such if the other party in the conversation views you as at least neutral & also has a military background while the interaction remains relevant to his interests to let a fighter talk to city guards about dealing with a threat or something as an example). If your playing a fate based or similarly fluid system, that sort of thing is probably not necessary.

Don't use the traditional obvious hook where your all in a bar and a man rushes in yelling about a necromancer raising zombies outside of town. Instead tell the cleric that some if his holy brethren of lesser power/strength have noticed a lot of people getting sick, tell the rogue that some of the more powerful houses have been tightening their defenses. Tell the fighter that an oddly large chunk of the usual city guard types have been going into private service for the rich & powerful, tell the druid that the animals are scared and acting like a major storm is coming. All those hooks lead to the same conclusion... eventually. It's just a matter of how they get to the end of the line & where their lines cros . If they hit a dead end, you can always let/help them backtrack to one of those crossing points. You don't have to prepare four separate sessions and throw away three for that sort of thing, just think of some minor encounters & sprinkle them in wherever while winging the investigatory part. Let them make connections & find/talk to NPC's as they please, inevitably they will stir up trouble & friendships with one or more groups in the process allowing you to use them for future hooks.

In order to convincingly do this sort of thing, it helps to have a rough idea of the major factions in the area & how they interact with at least one NPC to represent them in a way the players are likely to interact with. A guard might know that his boss's boss's boss heading the keep might want something done about something, but he's probably not going to tell just anyone about everything he knows or waste his superior's time directing every tom dick & harry to his boss. The guard does know that his boss is having trouble with some black market smugglers making a fuss. Coincidentally perhaps the thieves guild is bothered by this new faction moving in on their turf & rocking the boat & maybe this faction of smugglers is also working for a necromancer to gather "materials" (letting you lay a tiny hook that you don't set till much much later & looking and looking like the most awesome GM ever who has plans within plans within plans). When the group manages to infiltrate or cause minor disruptions with the smugglers & finds some necromantic supplies in the mix of black market stuff you mention. Don't be afraid to mention anything that hits your brain as possible foreshadowing giblets for future plots or red herrings. Coincidentally they happen tostart digging into the most immediately important bit, the rest can be ignored or you use it way later as an NPC/faction plot long in the works

Sure the animals are probably not the most interesting hook to chase, but when the druid suggests finding out about their distress & you ask how, if it seems like his idea goes nowhere interesting for the group, don't hesitate to nip it in the bud by reminding him how the animals think there is a storm coming or something but aren't sure about it. don't feel bad about giving one of the other hooks a bit more shiny or remind folks of the urgency that certain other people/factions the group's players have to interact with regularly are in a bind because of their problem

As a GM, it's also important to keep in mind that most people/things are not interested in fighting to the death, if the players try to kill everyone morally grey, that in itself will cause problems as the criminal underworld is suddenly free to do anything it damn well pleases withoutsuperiors, or the superiors start assassinating people in legitimate power/authority out of self preservation leaving the kingdom in turmoil as the remaining factions squabble for control unrestrained. Lead by example, if they start a fight somewhere they should get their butts kicked, offer them a concession where they are behind the 8ball or under the victor's thumb/debt once things are clear , if they refuse & they are certain to lose, don't hesitate to really hurt them by taking their gear & such or outright kill them. The same holds true the other way around, offer them dramatic concessions in combat when they are cleasrly going to win. Once they realize that npc's want to survive as muxch as they do & that said npc's have their own goals/interests/assets/knowledge... The big bad probably doesn't tell his henchmen's henchmen's goons everything he has planned, but maybe said goons know their boss works for what they think is really the bigbad. Don't worry about making things up as you go based on changing situations, the players willbe having too much fun chasing down leads to care if some of them were just nonsense you mentioned just in case they chase it

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a lot in here about developing and foreshadowing plots, but I can't see what any of it has to do with encouraging players to explore the wilderness. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19, 2012 at 2:59

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