Dungeons & Dragons has a long history of different ways to play the game: the classic dungeon crawl is a staple of many older versions of the game, while the more cinematic and episodic story focused style of play has become the assumed default of the game in recent years. Yet there’s another style of play that often gets overlooked or glossed over; wilderness exploration.
Wilderness exploration games (or wilderness hex-crawls as they’re more often called) are all about packing up on supplies and venturing out into the unknown: blazing a trail through unknown territory and literally filling in a map for the benefit of later generations. Wilderness hex-crawls are often slow, randomly generated, and in the past have depended on a lot of minutia and math. Just the thought of calculating the carrying weight of ‘provisions’ is enough to make my eyes glaze over. It’s not surprising that it’s a style of D&D campaign that’s fallen by the wayside.
But in the times of COVID-19 and mandatory lockdowns, I find myself missing the great outdoors. Long walks in parks, hiking through woods, and activities like canoeing and trail hiking. If I can’t manage it in real life at the moment, I sure would love a fantastical escape version of it.
And so, the D&D Dungeon Master’s Screen: Wilderness Kit arrives at perhaps the perfect time!
What’s in the kit?
Inside this lush laminated folder of goodness is everything a dungeon master needs to send their home campaign deep into the woods (or tundra, swamp, mountains, and desert, as the case may be).
You get a new DM screen with perhaps the most beautiful and serene piece of art that’s ever graced a D&D product. The exterior of the screen’s art, provided by painter Grzegorz Rutkowski, features a quintet of landscapes ruled over by a different monster. The tranquility of it makes each landscape feel incredibly inviting, even when there are dragons flying overhead. The interior of the screen features much of the usual rules and references for D&D 5e. New additions include reference for extreme heat, extreme cold, strong wind, and DC’s for foraging, wilderness cover, and new outdoor encounter details. It’s all quite useful and well implemented.
You get three sheets of glossy cardstock cards for conditions and initiative tracking, as well as a foldable cardstock box to store them in. The art on these cards is provided by Richard Whitters, and they’re similar in style to the box provided in the D&D Essentials Kit.
You also get five laminated dry-erase pages with blank hex-maps on one side and a variety of new and old rules on the other. These rules include things like actions in combat, rules and complications for wilderness chases, food and water tracking charts, and new wilderness journey rules (detailed later).
It’s a robust set of gorgeously designed and laid out tools that should create a lot more wilderness options for dungeon masters to use.
Wilderness Journey Rules
These new rules and tables fit on a double-sided two column spread on a single page. They detail how best to lead player characters on a wilderness journey, from determining the weather and travel pace, to setting up navigation and how to get lost, and finally detailing how to better handle wilderness encounters and track journey progress.
It’s a nifty set of rules that makes trekking across the wilderness into a more dynamic event filled with random monuments, weird locales, and monsters that can impact the continuing narrative in interesting ways.
The only thing that feels lacking from these rules and this kit in general is information on how to create a hex map from scratch, and how to fill one out with symbols and details. Dungeon Masters new to the concept of wilderness exploration and hex-crawling might need the additional instruction and tools. It’s a small complaint on an otherwise very nice product.
Overall I was charmed by the Dungeon Master’s Screen: Wilderness Kit. Its art and its aesthetic builds on the groundwork laid by the D&D Essentials Kit, and it provides us with a style of play that’s rooted much more in the natural and the wild. I think it makes for a perfect pairing with the new weird locations and effects introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and it can easily be incorporated into an existing campaign, or provide the basis for a brand new exploration based campaign!
This wintertime, if you’re pining for the great outdoors like I am and want to better explore some wanderlust in D&D, the D&D Dungeon Master’s Screen: Wilderness Kit is a wonderful product to get you started.