Today we're going to check out the new Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit. I wrote about this product a bit in a recent Dragon+ review, but now I actually have the screen in my hands. Let's check it out.
The whole thing comes in a folder, containing the screen and a bunch of laminated inserts. The folder is a bit flimsy.
The DM screen is four panels wide, made of a thick material. There are 4 images on the exterior:
- A white dragon perched on a snowy mountain.
- A green dragon flying over a forest.
- A castle on an island, menaced by massive tentacles rising from the water.
- The remain of a sailing ship sitting in a desert crater.
The art is good. A little too "real" for me, if that makes sense. The most interesting thing about the artwork is that it actually almost looks like a photo despite the fact that you can see the brush marks.
The inside of the screen contains reference material. The bulk of it is taken up with descriptions of conditions (poisoned, stunned, etc). It covers a lot of other ground:
- Setting a DC
- Damage by level
- Object HP and AC
- A list of skills and the abilities they are linked to
- Jumping Rules
- Concentration rules
- Weather, including extreme cold/heat
- Travel Pace
- Prices for services
- Encounter Distance
- Wilderness Navigation
- Audible distance (!)
- Obscured areas
- Vessel Speeds
- Food/Drink/Lodging Prices
- Foraging DCs
This looks like a good list, at least, at first glance, especially for a screen that focuses on "outdoor adventure."
I wrote a column long ago called the Forgotten Rules Index, which is a repository for me to refer to while running a game. It contains all of the rules that I can never remember.
Looking through it, I can see some stuff that I would have wanted included in this screen, particularly the surprise rules.
In addition to the screen, there are a bunch of sheets of other useful material.
Double-sided Laminated Hex Map: The idea here is that the DM has created a vast wilderness area. Each hex represents a section of the land, possibly a 6 mile stretch of forest. The heroes go from hex to hex, "hex-crawling" their way through the locale, exploring the land while looking for treasure and adventure.
There are 100 numbered hexes.
Hex Crawls: I've seen a few people wondering aloud online if anybody does hex crawls any more. I would assume some people do, at least on occasion.
In my opinion, a hex crawl is really great for kids just starting out playing D&D. The DM can write up what's in each area during the week, then the players can explore it on the weekend. It would probably start out simple, but then become more complex as the DM gets a grasp of how the game works.
I have been thinking recently about what a great book the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide is. When you pair it up with this product, I think you can create some great stuff. The DMG is overloaded with fun ideas.
Here are two of the essential things a DM should refer to when making a hex crawl with this product:
- DMG pg 108: "Wilderness" This section discusses things found in the wilderness, wilderness survival, and how "1 hex = 6 miles" on a kingdom-scale map.
- Xanathar's Guide to Everything: This book has relevant encounter charts. On page 97 are "Forest Encounters" charts for heroes of various levels.
Actions in Combat: A separate laminated sheet has another hex map on one side, and a reference for actions in combat on the other. It has info on Dash, Disengage, Dodge, Help, all that stuff. Very handy for any player to have. I always forget how the help and dodge actions work.
Supply Tracker: This laminated sheet has a hex grid on one side, and a supply tracker on the other. This allows the group to monitor how much food and water they have.
This kind of thing is tricky to run, but it could be fun if done right. My first instinct is to run an encounter where their food gets wiped out, but that might be too harsh. I do like the idea of the group constantly having to be mindful of their provisions - hanging up their food so a bear doesn't eat it while they are sleeping, that kind of thing.
It also brings to mind the age old issue of the DM needing to determine whether or not they are going to say that when a character falls a great height, the stuff in their backpack is shattered. When a dragon breathes fire on them, is their stuff scorched?
That "realistic" take can add a lot to the game, but you need to be careful not to be overly brutal or the players might find your game to be a miserable experience. Also, once you introduce that kind of complexity, it slows the game down because the group spends more time preparing for any sort of logical consequence, including stuff you the DM would never even think of.
I do think, though, that if you ran this hex crawl, you probably should keep the whole ration situation in mind and craft encounters that put their stuff in peril. You should also definitely have plenty of areas on the map where they can replenish their supplies and maybe even obtain some special magical provisions.
Wilderness Chases: This double-sided laminated sheet is all about the chase. I've always found chases to be difficult to run, especially when you have to choose how far away the group is from the target to start.
The complications are fun. I love the last one: "One or more creatures in the area chase after you.." Could be 2 brown bears!
Wilderness Journeys: This sheet is the go-to for the hex crawl. It lays out a way to handle the day-by-day journey. Each adventuring day, the routine goes like this:
- The DM rolls for weather.
- The players choose their pace.
- A check is made to see if the group gets lost.
- Check for Random Encounters (a chart is provided on this sheet)
- Expend food/water supplies.
- Track progress in miles.
Travel Pace: The DM Screen lists the travel paces. Traveling at "normal speed" means that the heroes can cover 24 miles in a day. If each hex covers 6 miles, that is 4 hexes per day.
Foraging: On the flip side of this sheet, we get very handy info on food and water - how much a character needs per day, how foraging works, and there are also tables for monuments and weird locales that the group might stumble on.
My favorite weird locales:
- Boulder carved with talking faces.
- Field of petrified soldiers.
- Floating earth mote with a tower on it.
Condition Cards: We get two sheets of cards containing information on all of the conditions, as well as stats on strong wind, extreme heat, and extreme cold. I've always thought that condition cards were extremely helpful.
Box: We get a box to hold the cards in. Love this thing. One of the best "DM Rewards" I ever got at the game store was a box to hold condition cards for 4th edition.
This particular box is slim and perfectly fits the cards. Very compact, very cool-looking. It was actually a lot of fun putting it together. Again, I think this is a great set to give to kids.
I am thoroughly charmed by this product. The idea of sitting down with your friends and letting them explore the weird forest that you made up sounds like a lot of fun. It seems like a laid-back, leisurely way to play D&D that puts the players in the driver's seat, which usually leads to a lot of hijinx and laughter.
You can pick up the Dungeon Master's Screen Wilderness Kit right here.