Getting Lost

Monsters, bandits, evil wizards, and villainous knights can all make travel in the wilderness dangerous. But none of these is the greatest hazard characters will have to face. Getting lost is equally dangerous and far more common. Once characters are lost, almost anything can happen.

There are two ways of getting lost: There's just lost and then there's hopelessly lost. Each is quite different from the other.

Just Lost

Sometimes, characters are lost because they do not know how to get to a specific place. They know where they have been (and how to get back there), but they don't know the correct route to reach their goal. This occurs most often when following a road, a trail, a map, a river, or a set of directions.

Under these circumstances, there is a reasonable certainty that the player characters will wind up somewhere. After all, roads go from place to place and rivers start and end somewhere. Whether this is where the player characters want to go is another matter entirely. No particular rules are needed to handle these situations, only some confusing forks in the road and the wit (or lack thereof) of the players.

For example, imagine the characters following a well-marked trail. Rounding the corner, they find the trail splits into two equally used trails. The directions they got in the last village said nothing about the trail branching. They must guess which way is the right way to go. In a sense, they are now lost. Once they choose a trail, they do not know if their guess was correct until they get to the end. But, they can always find their way back to the last village. So they are not hopelessly lost. This can also happen when following rivers, roads, or blaze markings.

Hopelessly Lost

Hopelessly lost is another matter altogether. This happens when player characters have no idea where they are, how exactly to get back to where they were, or which way to go to get to where they want to be.

Although it can happen, player characters seldom get hopelessly lost when following some obvious route (a road or river). Trails do not guarantee safety since they have a maddening habit of disappearing, branching, and crossing over things that look like they should be trails (but aren't).

The chance of getting hopelessly lost can be reduced by sighting on a landmark and keeping a bearing on it, or by hiring a guide. Darkness, overcast days, thick forests, and featureless wastes or plains all increase the chance of getting lost.

Checks for getting hopelessly lost should only be made when the player characters are not following a clear road, river, or trail. Checks should be made when following a little-used trail or when a river empties into a swamp, estuary, or delta. Checks should also be made when moving cross-country without the aid of a trail, river, or road. One check should be made per day.

To make the check, find the entry on
Table 81 that best matches the type of terrain the characters are in. This will give a percentage chance to become lost. From this, add or subtract any modifiers found on Table 82 . Roll percentile dice. If the die roll is less than the percentage, the characters are lost.

Dealing With Lost Characters

Once a group is lost, no further checks need be made--they're lost until they get themselves back in familiar territory (or until they get lucky and happen upon someone who can help them out.

Don't tell players when their characters are lost! Let them continue to think they are headed in the right direction. Gradually veer them away from their true direction. Player characters should realize for themselves that they're no longer heading in the right direction. This generally comes when they don't get to whatever point they hoped to reach.

For example, a group of player characters is following a poor trail through lightly wooded hills on their way to a village three days' march due west. On the first day, they sensibly set their sights on a large rock to the west as their landmark.

Their chance of getting lost is 15%--40 for being in wooded hills minus 15 because they've got a landmark minus 10 because they're on a trail (40 - 15 - 10 = 15). The DM checks to see if they become lost and rolls a 07. They're lost, but they don't know it!

The players announce that their characters are marching to the west (to follow the landmark), but, unknown to them, the path takes them somewhat southwest. As the characters get close to their landmark, they sight a new one in a straight line beyond it. They think they are still headed west, but their new course is now northwest.

The player characters are likely to realize that they are off course only when they don't find the village at the end of three days' marching. At that point, they don't know just when they got off course and so they are hopelessly lost.

Remember that the best defense against getting lost is not to try to go anywhere in particular. There is little point in checking to see if characters get lost if they don't have a goal. It is perfectly possible for characters just to strike out "to see what can be seen." If one has no place to be and no concern about ever getting back, one cannot get lost.

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