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I'm planning a hexcrawl with the focus on travel in the perilous wilderness, clear group-roles definitions, and resources (time, rations) expenditure.

I'm wondering what should I do with spells that make travelling too easy (spells like Goodberry for example)?

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11 Answers 11

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Hard core resting rules

A short rest is 8 hours and a long rest is anything from 24 hours to a week in a safe place with access to food and water. That makes hit dice, and even lower level slots much more valuable. This way you aren't technically nerfing classes and they can use some of those powers today and maybe tomorrow, but the next long rest could be over a week away.

EDIT: This can be found in the DMG on page 267, but there is not much more than what I have said. (Thank you for reminding me, Ghostship). For the campaigns I'm involved with, a week for a long rest is too long, so we used a full 24 hours for long rests. It is also worth saying that D&D is not a "realistic" game, and other systems do survival better if you want that as a campaign focus. D&D is fine if you just want some survival elements in you campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 13 at 2:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ It could be interesting to use these rules while in harsh wilderness areas, and the default resting rules if the characters have returned to a safe, established settlement. That could emphasize the idea that the environs one travels through make survival difficult, as opposed to a more abstract change in the nature of the fictional world. \$\endgroup\$ – recognizer Mar 15 at 7:52
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Out of the box, as written, there isn't much to do to turn Dungeons and Dragons (5th edition) into a Wilderness Survival game; it's simply not the target playstyle.

These are mundane problems in a magical world full of Batmans (or at least Robins) Gandalfs, and Rataghasts. These are people that know how to get water and forage and hunt, or simply conjure sustenance out of thin air - by and large, a party with magic users and/or anyone trained in survival is going to have no problem eating, surviving in harsh climates, or navigating.

Normally, the only real threat to adventurers is

Adventuring

You can work in traps and hazards or punish players/characters for using class options, but personally? I don't play D&D (5e) for a "traveling is dangerous"experience? I wouldn't want to play a version geared towards that. If I did, I would just play Mouse Guard (side note, I love Mouse Guard).

In my opinion, monsters, dungeons, and wily npcs are the name of the game; lean into the skid.


All of that said: regardless of what advice you take for how to run your wilderness, make sure you and your players are all on the same page about how the game is going to go. Nobody wants to be surprised that the spell they took so that they could handwave travel has been nerfed into nonexistence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even the books indicate that survival only works if there is actually food and water to be had in the area the adventurers are. I admit that survival adventures are not everyone's cup of tea but they can exist in this game and can be fun if run "correctly". \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 11 at 3:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @goodguy5 There are many ways to make the travel "adventurous" in 5e or in a fantasy game in general, and even "Adventures in the middle-earth" proves this. Your answer is too superficial \$\endgroup\$ – Cosimo De gregorio Mar 11 at 3:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CosimoDegregorio The problem is that DnD is not just fantasy, it's a very specific kind of fantasy in many ways, and one of those is that conjuring ample sustenance from thin air is explicitly possible even for a relatively weak spellcaster. Therefore I think goodguy5 is right, DnD 5e is a poor fit for what you want. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Mar 11 at 8:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ (to clarify my comment above, I'm not saying it's impossible or anything, but that you will definitely need to hack things more than you would need in systems better suited for this particular purpose) \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Mar 11 at 8:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu Agreed, although I think the point that DnD 5e is not an easy system to fit to the playstyle is still valid. I think it should be articulated differently, though, based on your input. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Mar 11 at 10:01
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Goodberry and related spells do trivialise survival

As far as "roll-playing" goes, some aspects of survival are almost a given with the right spells. What you and your players need to remember is that this is actually a roleplaying game, and play the roles appropriately.

Real life example - when the initial elements of INTERFET deployed to East Timor, Australian logistics were barely up to the job of keeping them sufficiently supplied to remain alive and operational. One of the more notable problems regarded one element that was only supplied with 24-hour Combat Ration Packs for the first 6+ weeks of the deployment, with no fresh rations to supplement. Worse, all of the ration packs were the same flavour (there were 5 different flavours in those days). The diggers all had to eat the same flavour of preserved food for every main meal for every day of those weeks. Few of them could ever stomach that flavour of ration pack again. (For a fictitious but believable example, look at Mark Watney's attitude towards potatoes in the latter stages of the book The Martian.)

Encourage your players to roleplay their characters' reactions to the unvaried diet. Reward them for acting believably - if they are hiding from enemies then they will put up with a Goodberry diet, but if they have the opportunity and skills to hunt and forage then reward them for doing so with XP awards and/or useful information on local fauna or flora. You can also use sticks - eg disadvantage on rolls to detect threats because the characters are distracted looking for something edible that is not a Goodberry - but carrots both metaphorical and literal (foraged) are likely to get a better reaction from players.

Edit: It was pointed out by @daze413 that Prestidigitation allows food to be flavoured trivially. This would make sustained consumption of Goodberry a far more palatable activity than described above. However, the consistency may still be something that characters become tired of - for example, the gels that endurance athletes use are palatable for the first one or two, but I and other runners I have spoken with find that we cannot tolerate gels for more than a few hours, for anything longer we need solid food. Alternatively, a GM may choose to house-rule that Prestidigitation cannot be used to flavour magically-created food - this is a relatively minor weakening of Prestidigitation that should not significantly impact the utility of the spell (especially if the reasoning is explained).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting mildly related fact:The reason USA consumes less lamb on average than other countries today is because during WWII mutton was staple of US soldier's rations. It is cheaper than pork, it keeps better etc. Once those soldiers got back, they didn't want to see (let alone eat) anything like mutton, not even lamb. Beef on the other hand was rarely used in soldier's rations. In short, there is more to food than just nourishment, taste is important too. \$\endgroup\$ – jo1storm Mar 11 at 11:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ The flavor problem can be trivialized by using Prestidigitation on the goodberries to make it taste different. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Mar 13 at 20:39
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Simple answer: Ban them from providing nourishment.

Goodberry does two things. It restores 1 HP, which isn't very useful unless you are at 0 HP. It provides nourishment for 1 day. While there are still good reasons to prepare or use Goodberry, if you make a change that prevents it from providing nourishment, its value is greatly diminished.

Difficult answer: Exhaust resources in general, not just rations and water.

While banning Goodberry might be a good first step towards the type of campaign you would like to play, spells that create food like Create Food and Water and Heroes' Feast exist at higher levels as well.

Instead, consider exhausting all of the spell caster's resources through puzzles and encounters that occur during travel. Forcing the Druid, Ranger, or Cleric to decide between food for the day and continuing healing a party member, killing a well positioned enemy, or defeating some other obstacle can provide the same type of survival game you are looking for.

Think of the party's food supplies as another resource, right up there with HP, ammunition, etc. If an encounters drain one resource, such as HP, spells can restore a good portion of it. Similarly, one adventuring day requires rations, but spells can provide most of it. The survival part kicks in when the party needs to decide whether to roll the dice and forage or spend a spell slot that might provide other utility to guarantee food and water.

This type of encounter design is neither easy nor quick, but it may feel better for your players rather than cutting up spells/spell lists. However, only way to know what you and your party find fun is to play it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't need to ban Goodberry per se... The spell is a transmutation yet the description entails it is a conjuration. I simply turned it back to a transmutation as it has been since inception (as I recall). You have to have an edible berry to cast the spell on for it to work, no more out of thin air crap. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Mar 11 at 12:09
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Irrelevant; no. Easy; yes

Unless "You all die of starvation" is the campaign ending you are looking for.

D&D is a resource management game - encounters drain resources (hp, spell slots etc.) and rests replenish them. All wilderness travel does is add a resource tax, either in the form of the spell slots needed to cast the spells you are overly worried about or, alternatively, in a greater risk of useless encounters while foraging.

If this is the game experience you want to simulate - start from a game system other than D&D 5e.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's not useful. The problem is not about mechanical "optimization", but making the players think in-game on how to resolve problems, not getting around them. The question is about making the travel an experience, and not a nuisance. Spells as these take out the wanted experiences. \$\endgroup\$ – Cosimo De gregorio Mar 11 at 2:50
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Change the pacing and narrative of your campaign with Gritty Realism variant rules.

Whenever you consider changing the narrative of a campaign to emphasis survival as a non-trivial part of the adventuring day (DMG 84) you should consider the Resting Variant rules (DMG 267), specifically Gritty Realism:

This variant uses a short rest of 8 hours and a long rest of 7 days.

Whenever you try to change the pacing of the game by adjusting the resting length, you want to understand what resources the book assumes you to have. Note that this, like encounter balancing in general (see challenge rating, 82, 92, 274, 274- 275, 279, 306-309), is no exact science.

When you keep the pacing of an adventuring day intact, there is little to no difference in available resources. What changes is how you allocate those resources.

So an otherwise unchallenging overland journey now requires a more substantial part of your resources and thus becomes more challenging. When you do this, then also consider how you award experience points (DMG 260-261). In the standard D&D-5e experience combat encounters make for most of the experience gained, but you don't have to adhere to that standard. If you decide so you can entirely omit all combat encounters from your campaign and play, for example, a campaign based on survival, social relations and political intrigue.

D&D-5e tends to excel at a combat orientated narrative, but it also offers lore and material that goes far beyond its combat system. If you want to combine the combat narrative and the slower pacing of the Gritty Realism, then it works ideally. Almost all of my campaign by now use the Gritty Realism variant rest rules along with other options to change the pacing and narrative while still allowing for D&D5e's combat narrative to shine.

The Gritty Realism rules honour their name. They change the atmosphere of the game - the pacing and how players perceive danger in the world.

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Blatantly stealing from Zee Bashew

Zee Bashew actually has made a small video on how he tweaked the Goodberry spell, in order to enhance the immersiveness of his survival adventure. I definitely recommend this video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkHapG6kXUg

A very simple house ruling that won't disturb the spell effect

One very simple approach, is to implement a house rule on spells which affect the survival aspect of your adventure. Simply rule that such spells always expends their material components when cast. That way you can control when and where the players will come across those components, and thereby increase the difficulty of the survival aspect, without actually changing the effects of existing spells. You can likewise gain control to save them from death by starvation, by simply letting them find these components, when in most dire need.

Hopefully dirt, stone and branches aren't components for those types of spells, however if this is the case, get to know them now and make a house ruling that those also requires some sort of rare (yet not expensive) material component to cast.

Make sure to let your players know of this house ruling early on, so they won’t feel undermined by your changes.

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Resource management is important, but there are a few ways to moderate this. If its just a hike through the wilderness, then sure, spells to keep supplies in good order make travel easier, as it should. This is the strength of druids and rangers and to pass off this dims any spotlight on those class features.

To present they players with the hardship of a deep wilderness trek, increase chances of encounters. They do not have to be high CR difficulty, however it will drain on character resources. "Do I cast GoodBerry or keep that spell slot in case we run into that green dragon's mate ahead?" Encourage the characters to be smart. If they are pressing to fast for your story, thicken the forest and make it difficult terrain. Even if you do have a 'woodsy' type who easily passes, the party will only go as fast as its slowest character.

Another direction I have used before is to increase a time constraint. Something chasing the party or a deadline the party needs to hit to get somewhere can also get players to reserve some of their resources to deal with these external needs.

It may be tempting to change resting rules or effect of spells, but I find the players will be more engaged if you let the rules follow RAW and instead amplify the environment to challenge. It will feel less like they are trying to hit a moving target and more like they are pushing against a common goal.

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If all else fails, house-rule it

This is your world as GM; you are free to state, "spells that provide sustenance do not exist in this universe"... and thus it is so.

You're welcome to even keep certain spells that provide multiple benefits (such as the 1HP gain from Goodberry), but just rule that any spell provisions that provide nourishment or sustenance no longer apply. If all a spell does is provide nourishment, you can either remove it entirely from your universe, or rule it becomes a cantrip that just "gives the [caster or target] a satisfied feeling" with no mechanical effect in-game: so the character would feel full and/or quenched as appropriate, but would still suffer the ill effects of starvation/thirst/etc if they just tried to live off that spell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't really answer the question - houseruling is always on the table. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 11 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch If there are a few elements that break an idea for a campaign, the obvious first (or maybe second) consideration would just be to remove those elements. I don't see any evidence in the question to suggest that OP already considered this, so it seems like a perfectly appropriate answer. 2 of the current top 3 answers also suggest house rules. \$\endgroup\$ – NotThatGuy Mar 11 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch just because it's "always on the table" doesn't mean it's already been considered. I'm simply outlining a few possible variants that offer finer-grained control than just "that spell doesn't exist in my game". Further, by defining the rule as "spells with a nourishment component do not provide nourishment" it covers all spells, instead of running into a scenario where you say "Goodberry doesn't exist" then an enterprising player picks up Create Food and Water instead. \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Mar 11 at 18:03
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Talking for a friend, he just told me "reduce the effect".

From a setting-perspective it's coherent, since the resources are scarce, so reducing the effect of spells and abilities that get food/water by a d4 or by 1/2 from the start would not be absurd.

But i'm afraid this could put the players in a "i must optimize to get more resources" mentality. Also, it might seem a sort of punishment.

I wanted to share this thing on the matter.

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House rules

There are a lot of great solutions to this problem that can be minimally disruptive to the flow of an average D&D campaign, because this is the sort of thing that players generally resolve 'off-screen' or by invoking some of the fuzzier or more abstract systems that are less concerned with 'balance,' and more with reinforcing some overall narrative atmosphere.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Goodberries aren't food

The berries will stave off death from starvation, but your PCs still experience hunger pains and other affects (including exhaustion) from being malnourished.

  1. Where does this stuff even come from, anyway?

Like really, a wizard conjures up food from literally nowhere - That can't be natural. Sure, it's good for a meal every now and then, but if you eat literally nothing but magic food, what happens? Perhaps there is some strange effect or curse that overtakes your PCs from overconsumption of magically conjured foods.

  1. The spells conjure truly awful food

You need a pretty RP focused group for this to work, but it's certainly not hard to imagine that an adventuring party used to slaying terrifying monsters for wealth and gold would probably opt to try to go kill some deer to eat instead of settling for a bowl of gruel for the 18th day in a row.

  1. Food isn't the resource they need

Your setting involves a lot of getting poisoned or cursed and so it becomes important to manage a stock of some herb or other naturally gathered ingredient to be prepared with the cure. This introduces much the same sort of mechanical loop as gathering food would, and has the added benefit of allowing you to ramp up or down the urgency as needed by introducing different sorts of poisons, diseases, curses, or cures.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried these rules at a table or seen them tried? I could imagine a lot of players being upset that spells they thought worked one way all of a sudden didn't. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 12 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch And that is different than any other answer to this question how, exactly? Even in the case of picking from a published list of possible rule modifications, you are still changing the rules of the game - Those rules are no less house rules. You introduce house rules on your own discretion as a DM, to achieve a desired effect - generally it's best practice to discuss those changes with your players, but that depends on the nature of the effect you want. Surprised players may, or may not, be a bad thing depending. \$\endgroup\$ – Iron Gremlin Mar 12 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IronGremlin the difference, i think that NautArch means to say, is that the options you offer are mearly "punitive", instead of offering a constructive alternative for the players (for example, as per your last point, making them focus on a different kind of danger than that). Is not a wrong answer per se, is just that is the the wrong answer in this case. \$\endgroup\$ – Cosimo De gregorio Mar 12 at 20:08

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