Prove me wrong - PF1 does wilderness!


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


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Friends,

So I’m in the midst of running a campaign right now that has had elements of wilderness. And I was recently telling one of the players in that campaign that I have come to the conclusion that PF1 just doesn’t do wilderness well.

But now I’ve got this idea in my head to run a one-shot where the PCs are all rangers (well, actually a mix of a ranger or two, a hunter, maybe a wilderness-centric rogue...) fighting a guerrilla war against an incursion of hobgoblins.

I want to really stress-test the game a bit, and prove myself wrong.

Help me - guide me - inspire me. What products, Paizo or third-party, should I be looking at? What concepts and rules should I be playing with? Are there specific builds that will help tell this story and prove PF1 can do wilderness well?

I want chases through woods, LotR-style. I want fear of dark woods. I want players rewarded for using the terrain well.

PS - Incidentally, I’ve gone through ‘Ultimate Wilderness, and it is of limited utility...


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Kingmaker does wilderness as well as the GM does wilderness...

100% as great wilderness as you want, the AP begs for it...


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Sounds like you are looking for the Ironfang Invasion AP, where hobgoblins invade and the PCs start off in a woodsy area fighting guerilla raids against them. Can't remember how they handled the woods, though.


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If you are looking for a published AP or something similar that is the wrong way to go about it. Published AP’s are designed to be played with just about anything the players want. Narrowly focused adventures simply do not sell as well as those that are more open to different builds.

Restricting your party to a few classes is also a mistake. You can build a wilderness capable character with most classes, and even classes that have problems have their place in a wilderness adventure. Alchemists, barbarians, bloodragers, druids, hunters, inquisitors, rangers, skalds slayers are all good classes for a wilderness adventure. Almost all the other classes have archetypes that can raise them up to around the same level of competence. The only classes that may have a little trouble are arcanists, clerics and wizards. Oracle’s and sorcerers have mysteries and bloodlines that function very well in a wilderness campaign.

The other problem with restricting the party to all rangers is that it does not prove that Pathfinder cannot do wilderness well. If the party is made of experts at surviving in the wilderness they may not even notice the problems except to make an occasional roll for a skill. Without any characters not optimized for wilderness your players are going to think your adventure is too easy. Make sure there are a couple of wilderness focused characters, but not the whole party. Probably no more than half should be wilderness focused. Having at least one character that is more civilized is probably a good idea.

Hobgoblins tend to be somewhat militant so probably have decent amount of supplies and probably even supply lines. They are not really wilderness focused themselves. I would suggest instead of hobgoblins as your main villains use elves. Setup a war between the humans and elves as the reason for the conflict. Maybe the humans have been expanding into elven territory and the elves have declared war to stop it. Having the party go up against a group of elven rangers in a forest is certainly going to be a challenge. Throw in an elven druid as their leader and you have a good adventure.

The core rule book should have most of what you need in the wilderness section. Having a druid as the enemy spell caster will allow for even more wilderness challenges.


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Yeah, I'm not sure I get it. What do you mean it "doesn't do wilderness well"? Like, you aren't satisfied with the core and supplemental systems that simulate different aspects of "wilderness"? Or are you looking for a specific feel and tone that the game isn't providing?

This seems more like an issue of storytellibg/gamemastering/encounter design.

I recently ran a pretty complex encounter rusty involved bandits in the woods, and then a whole arctic nomadic hunter/gatherer campaign to significant success.

I think the biggest problem with a game like Pathfinder is how quickly it trivializes a lot of the major threats that make the wilderness a dangerous place; cold/heat/exposure/ hunger/thirst/getting lost.
Once you can spontaneously create food and water, ignore terrain/fly/teleport and all the other crazy stuff, the woods and the dungeon are just different grids with different types of foes on them.
What you need is a low-level game with limited magic. Severely limited.


Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:

Sounds like you are looking for the Ironfang Invasion AP, where hobgoblins invade and the PCs start off in a woodsy area fighting guerilla raids against them. Can't remember how they handled the woods, though.

Yes - I’ve been stealing liberally from ‘Ironfang...’ for my current campaign. My only problem is that the encounters seem to just ‘happen’ to PCs. How good they are in the woods doesn’t seem to matter. There is no discussion, for example, of what happens when the party screws up a Survival roll and gets lost.


CRB has some minimalist insight into that.

In short, once they become lost, they have no sense of direction until they can regain it somehow - and randomness controls their explorations. If they stealthed past some encounter, they might accidentally stumble into it because they got turned around.

And yes, you do need to put in some work establishing a few things about encounters.

- Where fixed encounters are; if the players stumble into an area with one of these, then they have the fixed encounter. (These may or may not be good for getting un-lost.)
- Where you want to check for random encounters.
- Where any trackers are - encounters that are pursuing the party (or trying, assuming the rangers are canny enough to cover their tracks) may or may not be successful in their Survival checks to track.

This is true of any environment, though. It could be hobgoblins in the woods, a thieves guild in a sprawling city, an undead horde in the tangled maze of caves between the surface and a dwarven citadel, and you can still feel like encounters "just happen."

In a way, they do. But by working out the relationship between encounters that happen because they're there, those that happen because of reaction to player actions, and those that happen because they can... the problem goes away on its own.


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Your problem does not seem to be with the game system, but rather with published adventures. Even published adventures are nothing more than a framework for the GM to build on. This type of things is the GM responsibility not the gaming company. No adventure including a GM built on designed specifically for the party is going to take everything the player do into account. The only thing a GM can count on the players doing is to do something that was not thought of. It does not matter the game or the adventure the players are going to come up with something unique. If you give the players only two choices they will find a third choice.

The rules for getting lost are in the core rule book. What is not in the rule book or adventure is how to get the plot back online after the players get lost.


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One thing with special environments (like wilderness) is that many GMs seem tempted to only add hindrances. This becomes especially annoying if there are no rewards for mastering these hindrances and opposed factions are never affected by them. It gets even worse if an hindrance is completely mastered by a single spell or check, but totally a pain in the *** if you don't manage that.

I'd go for something like this: The hobgoblins are intruders in the wilderness, so they have a hard time dealing with it. They get attacked by local animals, plants and fey, they occasionally get lost, they temporarily lose contact to the rest of the army and their war machines are restricted to few paths. Still, they are hobgoblins, ruthless (burning down wilderness), disciplined (marching, attacking and retreating in squads) and heavily armed. A straight-forward clash of armies should be shown as a desaster for the other (human?) side. These ideas are more or less from Ironfang Invasion.

Finally, it sounds like multiple sessions are necessary. I currently do a campaign where every session is supposed to be an one-shot (West Marshes style), and a) my players struggle a bit to adapt to the sudden style changes between sessions and b) we only get ~5 encounters done within 4 to 5 hours - at level 1.

Shadow Lodge

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I think the basic issue is that the authors generally can't be certain the party will have an 'outdoorsman' type character, so they're not going to set things up where the PCs absolutely need to succeed on these checks.

Once you've decided these checks aren't absolutely necessary, you start wondering if they are worth including at all: The space they take up on the page might be better used for other topics...

Personal gaming 'Survival' anecdotes:
Back in the early 90s, I was part of a D&D variant game where we quickly learned to avoid the wilderness because our GM was an outdoorsman and none of the players really were, so if we didn't specify the appropriate precautions we took when camped for the night, he'd throw multiple random encounters at us (Didn't think to put your food in a bag and hang it from a tree? Wandering hungry bear attack!).

In PF2e's Age of Ashes, there is a section of 'hexploration' in the jungle where the PCs are required to make a survival check when they set up camp, and if the roll wasn't high enough, everyone had to make fortitude saves against jungle disease which would pretty much slow the party progress to a crawl (treat disease is an 8 hour action): We had a ranger with a decent Survival skill, but the dice weren't always on our side and we'd have to stop every 5 days or so and deal with our latest cases of dysentery. Eventually, our GM just hand-waived the whole thing away because that whole section of the AP went on about twice as long as it should have even without the disease that was just dragging things out further...

Later in AoA, we lost our ranger to real-life issues and my halfling thief had to pick up the survival slack (I had one 'to be determined later' legendary skill and Survival was party consensus as the best choice since I already had a high wisdom score and we all remembered the jungle joy): I think I ended up rolling it once in the entire second half of the AP, and that was for a tracking check. Honestly, I was kinda disappointed when we would travel overland and there weren't any survival checks involved...


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[QUOTE="Taja the Barbarian" Eventually, our GM just hand-waived the whole thing away because that whole section of the AP went on about twice as long as it should have even without the disease that was just dragging things out further...

This is the biggest problem with wilderness adventures and a GM being picky about mundane issues in a game. Sure they are great if you are into that kind of stuff, but after a certain point all they do is bog a game down. Maybe do the set up camp/survival check type stuff once or twice, but after the party "learns their lesson" then just gloss over it.

Random encounters should be minimalized as well. They tend to just take up time and bog down the story. I get it if you need to fill some time or get the party a little extra XP, but in general, anything which does not progress the story should be minimal in how much game time it takes.


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The other thing to consider is that most wilderness challenges are mundane in nature. Mundane challenges only affect characters when they are low level. Once a character gets to mid to high level mundane challenges of any sort rarely affect them. Things like overland flight and teleport negate most travel problems. Rope Trick and other interdimensional resting places give the party a safe haven to rest. Finding food and water is meaning less with create food and water. Even exposure to extreme temperature can be negated at 1st level with endure elements.

If you want to run a game where wilderness is still challenging start it at 1st level and don’t let it progress much beyond 3rd level. Or ban spell casters and only allow the more mundane classes. After a few levels characters can start to put skill points into things besides class skills. Wizards and other INT based characters usually have plenty of point at mid to high level so can afford to waste some on non-class skills.


PF characters vs nature: 1 rank in Survival as a Class skill and a Wis of 12 means the character has a +5 to their check. To get along in the wilderness then, by themselves, with NO special tools to hunt/trap/fish/forage, this PC can by RAW find food and water enough for basic survival on a roll of FIVE or better on a D20.

That means a level 1, trained PC with slightly above average Wisdom has an 80% chance of survival in any environment on the planet. While some environments are harsh and the GM may arbitrarily add a Circumstance penalty to that roll, it still starts at that 80% chance.

The RAW on the Survival skill and around the Environments in the books do not paint a picture of a game where surviving in the wilderness is supposed to be the primary threat to the PCs.

If you're going to set up this kind of a challenge, I'd second the ban on casters. Consider the spells Expeditious Construction and Expeditious Excavation.

With two castings of Excavation, a caster can make a 5'x'10 pit, 5' deep, in 12 seconds. Following that with 3 castings of Construction, the PC can surround this pit in 3' high walls in another 18 seconds. That technically gives the PC the rough bones of an earthen survival shelter 5'x10', with 8' high walls. At this point the PC could simply plant a wooden stick in the floor about 8' tall with a "y" crook at the top, lay a crossbeam stick in the crook and across the back wall, and finally finish that with 2 more castings of Construction to place earthen "walls" slanted between crossbeam and the outer wall at ground level to act as the roof.

Blam. With the exception of the time it took the PC to find and retrieve the extra sticks, this extremely crude but permanent earthen, dugout survival shelter was created in 42 seconds. All the PC needs to do now is fill in any gaps with more sticks or debris, pile debris on the roof as a watershed and then lay in sleeping gear, more piled debris, or whatever for sleeping on the floor of the structure.

Also, folks don't often put a rank into Knowledge: Geography, but if they know they're going into a wilderness survival campaign they might want to.

With one rank in the skill and having it as a Class skill, a PC with an Int of 12 has a Knowledge: Geography +5. Recognizing regional terrain features, and therefore stopping yourself from being lost, requires a DC 15 check by RAW. So, a level 1 PC that isn't immediately being pursued by a monster or physical threat, could take 10 and INSTANTLY KNOW where they are, by RAW, with Knowledge: Geography +5.

Again, the GM can add difficulty to this if they'd like but that's the baseline by RAW.

If you want survival against nature to be a thing in your PF1 games, you as the GM have to be creating wilderness environments and scenarios that circumvent or augment the RAW baselines. If a party in this type of campaign starts off with a Ranger 1 that didn't tank their Wis or Int scores, it is entirely possible that this one PC alone can keep the party from ever being lost, keep themselves if not the rest of the party in food and water indefinitely, and potentially even hand out bonuses to Endurance checks the party makes, all from level 1.


Taja the Barbarian wrote:


Back in the early 90s, I was part of a D&D variant game where we quickly learned to avoid the wilderness because our GM was an outdoorsman and none of the players really were, so if we didn't specify the appropriate precautions we took when camped for the night, he'd throw multiple random encounters at us (Didn't think to put your food in a bag and hang it from a tree? Wandering hungry bear attack!).

As someone who grew up in a rural area and did a lot of camping as a kid, I find this hilarious! Although for you, at the time, I can see where it would not be.


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@the OP: you want fear of the dark woods right? Players fear their characters getting TPK'd sometimes, and individual role players who are REALLY inside their characters' heads may fear the unknown.

Use that.

In the Forest Terrain section on the PFSRD it notes that visibility is only 2d6 x10' in dense woods. You realize, that COULD be as little as visibility only extending 20', with something being 25' from the party being invisible?

Now, what if those multiple somethings are wolves, HUNGRY ones driven almost to the point of madness? The players can likely HEAR the pack of wolves howling in the distance to assemble the whole pack, stalking slowly towards them, slavering jaws growling through bared fangs, but they won't SEE them until the wolves are practically on top of them.

Difficult Terrain in the wilderness can be A LOT of different things. Could be light or heavy undergrowth, and those give their own tactical benefits; maybe it's an overturned log giving someone of Small size Cover if they use a Move action to Crouch in a square the log passes through; could be a 3.5' tall boulder that requires a Climb or Jump check and ALSO slows movement like Difficult Terrain, but it ALSO might give Higher Ground bonuses if something occupies the same space as it.

Remember that with smaller, thinner trees, a PC can occupy the same square as it and gain Partial Cover or Cover from the tree. Bigger trees act like pillars or walls and can even give Cover in melee if the angle is right.

Also... remember to MIX terrain. There are a LOT of forests here in MN that are primarily woods but there might suddenly be a wooded swamp or a vast marsh in the middle of it. In my opinion, it is rare for terrain to be purely homogenous to a single biome. If you've got the PCs in a forest, add squares of water or swamp terrain; raise the elevation with hills or mountains; make it a jungle at the edge of desert-riddled coasts or perhaps its light, scrub forest broken up by plunging rock badlands.

Finally, if your players are very experienced and knowledgeable of the mechanics of the game, add some supernatural hazards liberally to the terrain. At level 1 and with a party that likes to be cautious and sneaky, even just dropping squares full of shriekers around the trail they're using could be frightening. These things can sense and react to the players at 60' distance, but if the Dense Forest visibility is only 40' it is highly unlikely the PCs will even spot them off the trail before they begin emitting an ear-piercing alarm that every predator in a one mile radius can hone in on.

As your players level, up the stakes. Brown Mold or Russet Mold hidden in fungal patches near trails; spellblights by fey incursions playing havoc with localized arcane forces; a sudden flash flood carrying with it a dozen boggard berserkers!

Oh, and one other piece of advice from the Star Wars Prequels: there's ALWAYS a bigger fish.

So you've got the PCs as level 8 - not quite teleporting everywhere yet but certainly well beyond caring about mundane forest hazards right? Well, you drop the shriekers, the party can't see them and they go off. "Who cares?" the PCs think; they're so dang tough, nothing much they know of in the area is match for their might.

Suddenly as the shriekers' squeals begin to fade, the PCs notice there is NO animal or insect noise in the area. Then suddenly some Moss Trolls come brachiating out of the canopy. The party might engage them as a threat but by round 2 any trolls left alive are going to try and flee further into the woods. That's when the PCs smell the acidic stench of chlorine; they feel a wind buffeting towards them. With the canopy so dense they can barely see more than 40' but suddenly, and quite silently, a Huge sized, green-scaled dragon wings into view, its movement completely unimpeded by the trees as if were somehow ONE with the living forest around it!

4 level 8 PCs, a CR13 Mature Adult Green Dragon, a dense forest and lots of spots off the trail littered with green slime, spellblights, shrieker patches, not to mention the river in flood just a 60' run from here and, if the dragon were just to smash a few rocks into the right part of the river and divert the flow TOWARDS the PCs...


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:

Also, folks don't often put a rank into Knowledge: Geography, but if they know they're going into a wilderness survival campaign they might want to.

With one rank in the skill and having it as a Class skill, a PC with an Int of 12 has a Knowledge: Geography +5. Recognizing regional terrain features, and therefore stopping yourself from being lost, requires a DC 15 check by RAW. So, a level 1 PC that isn't immediately being pursued by a monster or physical threat, could take 10 and INSTANTLY KNOW where they are, by RAW, with Knowledge: Geography +5.

That doesn't tell them instantly where they are. First it requires that they can see the terrain feature, and as you note, visibility in a forest might be 20'. In daylight. When it's not foggy. And it assumes the presence of a notable terrain feature in the first place (imagine getting lost in Nebraska or the open ocean). And even then (having climbed a tall tree on a hill), you just know that that's the Sellen River over there, and it's something like 20 miles away. You're still stuck in a vast trackless forest, and it's not going to help if you want to get to Wispil.


This likely means the thread should be moved to the 3PP forum, but can anyone recommend quality third-party products that touch on what many of you have suggested (above and beyond that which is in the CRB, as many of you have reminded me)?


Well the complete campaign manual have a very good ideas for this kind of problem

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