The rogue’s sticky fingers got them in trouble again. After nicking the lich’s orb, a constellation-like pattern started spreading all over their body. Remove Curse only stems the affliction for 24 hours, requiring a daily cast from the disgruntled cleric. With your successful religion roll of 19, you recall that a high priest should know of a ritual to cleanse this curse once and for all.
It will be a tenday journey to the castle town where the high priest resides. As you set off from the fishing village–
“Ten days? Can’t we cut that in half somehow?”
“Those villagers owe us for saving them. Can I roll persuasion to ask for horses?”
“With advantage because we’re local heroes!”
“My other group took five sessions to level up, so I wouldn’t mind skipping some travel.”
“Yeah, get us some horses bard! I’ll give you Guidance.”
“26 Persuasion with Guidance! What kind of horses do we get?”
Many Dungeon Masters, especially those starting out, follow the guidance of official modules with travel encounter tables. They hope to see their players react to a surprise dragon or silly traveling merchant whose accent they perfected. But players love finding ways to flip the script and skip obstacles. Travel is usually first on the chopping block, seen as a meaningless series of goblin encounters standing between them and more plot (and more loot).
Xem’s Guide to Exploration tackles this problem head-on by putting players in control of travel. There’s also player-facing rules like Extraordinary Actions and creating bonded NPCs. It all comes together to form an interesting product worth its $0.99 asking price, yet one that will serve most tables by being picked apart instead of used as a whole.
Put Some Crunch In That Travel
The core of Xem’s travel rules is Zones. A Zone is a type of landscape that comes with its own DC, increasing as biomes become harsher. Think simple farmlands vs Icewind Dale vs a layer of Hell. At the beginning of an adventuring day, the party chooses roles and the navigator makes a survival check against the Zone DC. Failure means getting lost. More rolls can then be made to get back on track or map the area to ease future travel.
Other roles can use their skills to find supplies, seek out hexes with secrets like lost tombs, or track dangerous creatures. Whether a travel day involves frequent combat or careful exploration is up to player decisions, and everyone gets a turn to be useful. Frequent sidebars advise DMs on how to accommodate certain abilities that break this system. For instance, a ranger who can’t get lost or roleplay-heavy characters who just ask for directions.
Communication and flexibility are the usual suggestions. Great tools for any DM to be sure, but also a very standard answer. When it comes to a ranger trivializing the threat of getting lost, the suggestion is to have them use Tasha’s version of ranger instead or negotiating advantage instead of never getting lost.
To be fair to the creators, they are attempting to fix a whole pillar of gameplay. Of course they’re going to contend with pre-established mechanics. They seem to know this, choosing to work with some 5E variant rules to enhance the experience. Long rests, for example, require seven days and rolling checks to build a fortified camp. It’s a cool idea, but one that my horse party in the earlier examples would still try to skip.
Which leads me to wonder who will want to use Xem’s Guide. There are certainly hex crawl fans who will appreciate the risk-reward aspect of charting mysterious zones while maintaining resources. But in my experience, players like to be powerful. I feel like many would just pick a ranger or outlander background in order to avoid the possibility of getting lost or starving.
Of greater use to most tables will be Extraordinary Actions and Connections. Extraordinary Actions give players a way to spend Hit Die to pull off a desperate move. This allows them to do things like make a full retreat or cast a second leveled spell. The drawback is one or more levels of exhaustion based on how hard you pushed. This is a great way to give more options in a deadly fight, but also raise the stakes once exhaustion is introduced as a consequence.
Connections allow players to build NPCs that factor into their backstory. They can spend points to give their Connections class levels or magic items, and even make them an ally or enemy. Parties can add points together to share a Connection. It’s a simple system, but one that empowers players to tie their backstory to the setting. They could even create their own BBEG.
Is it Worth?
One last note is that Xem’s Guide uses AI-generated art. A disclaimer does note that the AI images are placeholders until art can be sourced from human illustrators. Still, the use of AI-generated art can be a decisionmaker for some.
All said, Xem’s Guide To Everything is a great set of options for its price. It doesn’t revolutionize exploration in a way that will excite players who ask for fast travel, but it does offer a player-first hexcrawl experience. Extraordinary Actions and Connections will get more use at the average table. Check it out if you’re looking for some dramatic new combat rules or a way to build NPCs together.
A copy of Xem’s Guide To Everything was provided for this review. It can now be purchased for 50% off on DMs Guild.