Saturday, April 18, 2020

Unicorn Meat Featurette: Card-Based Expeditions

This is a system I developed for Unicorn Meat, to simplify and abstract expeditions into the swamps of the Backwoods: I didn't want to rely on a hex map or point crawl since the goal is a unicorn to hunt rather than reaching a set location, and wandering around in circles, while appropriate, isn't fun to actually play.

The format can easily be used for anywhere else that would benefit from abstraction: wilderness, city, or dungeon. You can easily whip up a table for different areas in the same region or complex.

An expedition consists of 5 cards (this can go up or down depending on the effects of other cards) drawn in sequence. it costs 1 ration per participant and takes up the bulk of the day. The full table has a column for each suit and unique entries, but it sticks to this pattern.
  • Ace - Unique treasure
  • 2 - Nothing
  • 3 - Nothing
  • 4 - Nothing
  • 5 - Encounter
  • 6 - Encounter
  • 7 - Unique encounter
  • 8 - Unique item
  • 9 - Supplies
  • 10 - Incident
  • Jack - Incident
  • Queen - Special location
  • King - Unicorn (Or whatever else is most important to find)
When an encounter is drawn, there's an accompanying d6 roll
  • 1 = Surprise encounter.
  • 2-3 = Encounter with warning.
  • 4-5 = Trackable creature traces.
  • 6 = You've got the drop on it.
When a unique treasure, monster, item or location is found, that card is removed from the deck for all future expeditions.

When a special location is drawn, the players now know how to find it: if they want to return to the place, they can substitute the card in exchange for the next card that would normally be played, which is set aside until the end of the expedition. Maybe you missed a deadly encounter, maybe you missed treasure.

And that's it - hack away!

Edit: Several people asked the difference between an encounter an an incident - encounters are beings you meet (crocodile, ghoul, etc), incidents are things that happen to you (bad weather, getting lost, twisting your ankle)


  1. I am really proud of this little system and definitely want to do more of it in the future - it could definitely work well in Lighthouse.

  2. You could probably even integrate your d6 roll into the card draw, using suit as determinant. Or you could use suit for something else.

  3. This is delightfully elegant! I love it.

  4. Using this with a tarot deck could also be really fun, using the Major Arcana either as encounters or unique locations.

  5. I might start using this in my own campaigns.

  6. I like this as an exploration system for a game that's not about exploration - it's simple enough to be a little side thing, but it's got enough variability to be interesting.

  7. What does an "incident" entail? General hazards, weather, or??

  8. What's the difference between an Encounter and an Incident?

    1. An encounter is with another being - a crocodile, a ghoul, along those lines.

      An incident is something that happens - bad weather, falling ill, twisting your ankle.