Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wilderness Encounters on the AT

One of the things I noticed early on hiking the trail is that you spend a lot of time looking down, watching where you put your feet. Aside from the few really flat and gravel covered sections, the ground on the AT is scattered with rocks, uneven, and in spots muddy, which can make for treacherous footing. A little twist of the ankle, or a stubbed toe hurts, and can slow you down. Just stumbling on a loose rock with a pack on your back can throw you to the ground.

Remembering to look up and around is something that you find you have to remind yourself to do.

What does this have to do with encounters? It strongly impacts the distance at which the encounter happens!

This is a list of creatures I encountered on the trail:
  • Human, AT Thru-Hiker
  • Human, AT Lifer
  • Human, AT Section Hiker
  • Human, AT Day Hiker
  • Human, AT Volunteer
  • Human, Law Enforcement
  • Snake, Large Black
  • Snake, Ribbon
  • Turtle (not mutant or ninja that I could tell)
  • Deer
  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Goat, wild
  • Birds (various)
  • Bugs (various)

The various human encounters, when they didn’t happen at a shelter, usually happened at a distance of 5-15 yards.

Both snake encounters happened at 1-2 yards

The (non-human) mammalian encounters and the bird encounters ranged from about 2-15 yards.

Yes, that's a wild goat

Bug encounters usually happened at 0-1 yards.

Encounter distance in the Rules Cyclopedia is based entirely on light levels. I had good light the entire time, but the 4d6x10 yards range is ridiculous in the woods. Sure, in a field, or a grassy plain or something open like that, but there is no way I was spotting anyone at anything even half way approaching 240 yards away unless it was a marching band or something else similarly loud.

Might be a teenage turtle

While I don’t think I’ve ever used the encounter distance chart, since I usually base it on what’s happening directly at the table, but if I did, I would take the result as the maximum distance the PC’s would spot the counter on a featureless plain, and then start knocking it down to a more reasonable distance based on the terrain. I’d also be more likely to impose a penalty on surprise checks in situations where the footing is uneven.

Creatures Not Encountered:
  • Bears
  • Snake, Poisonous
  • Mountain Men
  • Cats, wild
  • Boars (generally only found further to the south)
  • Moose (generally only found further to the north)


  1. If there was a ninja turtle (teenage, mutant or both) it is expected that you didn't see it... ;P
    Nice to put game rules into a personal perspective. How big are the numbers in RC? I guess at the AD&D numbers, the encounter distance makes more sense. 30-300 orcs, anyone? :D

  2. Let's see, AD&D encounter distances in woods are 6d4-6" (that's a -1 on all numbers, equivalent to 6d4 each marked 0, 1, 2, 3; scrub would use d4s marked 1, 2, 2, 3, and marsh would use ones marked 1, 1, 2, 3). That's an average of 9" or 90 yards. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to change the outdoor inch to match the indoor one, so that the average encounter is 90 feet/30 yards in the woods. Still seems a bit far for your experience, though. Surprise affects AD&D encounter distances slightly, but not enough to make up the difference.

    Delta uses a scale of 1" = 5 feet, which would drop things back down closer to your encounter distances (average of 15 yards/45 feet using the AD&D dice with no surprise in woods).

  3. You rock my socks! I love the real world translations of D&D. Thank you so much for doing them.