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Steal This System: Pathfinder’s Discovery Points

For years I’ve been kicking around a system in my head for simplifying hex crawls, point crawls, West Marches [1] style games, megadungeons, etc… Something that keeps but abstracts the process of wandering, searching, and eventually discovering points of interest without requiring the potential for entire sessions to end up as fruitless wandering and random encounters and without demanding ridiculously detailed maps. It would probably revolve around skill checks of some sort with a chance to discover points of interest and add them to the map. I even hinted at it in a prior article [2], but I never really firmed it up or got it to a state that I thought it would work quite right. So of course in the process of looking up overland movement in the Pathfinder system, I discover that last November they beat me to it, publishing a “Discovery Point system [3]” in their book: Ultimate Wilderness [4] that not only hits all the high points I would want to and is elegantly simple but is largely system neutral. It DOES make use of Pathfinder-based skill checks and DCs but it would be simple to swap them out for skills and DCs or an analog from another system. What’s more, it’s scalable and nestable in a way that means with appropriate scaling and adjustment you can use it or a variant for pretty much any exploration mechanic that you need in your game.


The basics of the system are simple:

The SRD explains the system as well as some subsystems and details target numbers and some other finer points. There is an example territory to illustrate, a small canyon with 3 points of interest and 4 defined waypoints, along with target numbers and a small random encounter table.¬†For a free system on the internet that’s easily portable into any number of other systems it’s surprisingly useful. While the book has no new material (on this system anyway. It has 250 pages of additional material on other things) the PDF is also pretty cheap and it’s on sale at the time I type this. Here are some additional thoughts I have on the system so far:

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "Steal This System: Pathfinder’s Discovery Points"

#1 Comment By WiggleDM On October 6, 2018 @ 8:28 am

While an interesting way to use the given system, I prefer to use it in the inverse: Set a number of Discovery points to find a location, then write that many reference clues for the PC’s to discover/figure out where it is, after setting the whole thing to a map. My way has the added benefit of letting the PC’s find the location with one or even no clues, letting them feel like they themselves found the location (rather than feeling like they were handed the answer after jumping the required number of hurdles, or worse things like getting screwed by luck giving out only 5’s and less [we’ve all had those games]).

I hadn’t tried to detail it as a nested map though, and that might make world building much easier for newbies or people who prefer to work from area to area.

Good read overall, even if the system discussed is flawed for how myself and my group plays

#2 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 8, 2018 @ 4:01 am

I was just having this discussion with another GM on twitter. He prefers the more old school hex method. And He’s right. And you’re right. (And not to get too cheeky but I’m right too!) It’s all about what you, your players and the tools you use will support.

I’m not quite clear I’m understanding your system though and it sounds pretty interesting. Could you give an example?

#3 Comment By Colubris On February 10, 2020 @ 7:34 pm

I can’t know for certain, but I think WiggleDM is combining Discovery points with Justin Alexander’s 3-Clue Rule. I don’t like the feel of buying discoveries for my campaign, so I’ve coded them into my overland encounter tables and rumor tables.

It seems like he’s creating one Clue for each Discovery Point that would normally be required to discover a… discovery. This would invert the Discovery Point system so that Points of Interest with many DPs are easier to find because they have more clues pointing the way.

Then you have clues listed under each POI for when the party goes looking for the specific POI and a rumor table made from all local clues for when the party just goes looking for something to do.