Friday, September 1, 2023

SotU Hack: Sojourners of the Unknown

Last month I didn't publish anything because I was flitting back and forth between three or four different things that might turn out to be major, trajectory-altering projects for me, or they might end up being nothing at all. It's hard to tell at this stage. But the tiny voice in my head that embodies all the passive-aggression of a YouTube commenter saying "you should really do X again" has gotten loud lately, so I decided to take a break from flitting and focus on finishing something small.

Incidentally I've recently learned about Searchers of the Unknown, another hackable 1-page OSR system that got its start in the late 2000s. It was inspired by the single-line, barebones monster stat blocks of old school modules. If that's good enough for the monsters, why not for PCs too? So asks the expressly minimalist SotU, before going about offering an answer. It has dozens of hacks now, and I see the charm in it. So I decided to give it a shot too.

To do that, I spent a day diving into the 2012 SotU collection. If there's a more recent edition, I couldn't find it, but even back then it offered plenty of hacks and version updates to study and compare. Most of the rules down below are tweaked or outright stolen from the various hacks found within.

The remaining rules are borrowed from D&D 4th Edition's skill challenge system, because there are no gods and no masters, and we must hasten entropy in all things.

The end result took a few turns away from the spirit of SotU, but then again that's the heart of hacking. It's a watered-down nomadic exploration flavor of game, somewhere in between my old Desolate Days idea and some of the house rules I've regurgitated in the past. It also works about as well for a cozy, nonviolent camping trip style of game. Go figure.

I did a much better job limiting myself to the right size this time than with previous 1-page projects. It still spills over a little bit in the original two-column Google Doc, but that doesn't matter so much here in Blogger because either the editor lacks the support for it, or I don't know the HTML sorcery to make it myself.

Sojourners of the Unknown


Another SotU hack that turns the minimalism toward trailblazing and discovery. Your tribe/village/community is migrating after being driven from its home by marauding adventurers. You are scouts sent ahead of the caravan to find safe passage through unfamiliar lands.
Or if possible, find a new home.

Build a Sojourner

PCs are not expert guides or hardened survivalists. They’re novices, apprentices, and surplus relatives. The only reason they’re out here instead of someone else is because the community could afford to let them go.
1) Choose a Background. Could be herder, tradesperson, musician, healer, etc. You receive +2 on all related checks.
2) Choose Traveling Gear. This gives your PC survival rate (SV) and movement rate (MV).

Gear Level






Traveling Light



Always Be Prepared



Complete Packrat



You get a backpack, walking stick, waterskin, etc. regardless of gear level.
The party also gets 1 pony/wagon/travois/etc.
3) Roll for Hardiness (or don’t). Roll 1 hardiness die (HD) per level, or take half the die’s value. Do the same for all future HD.
4) Finish up. Choose a name, a 1-line description, and a 1-line background for your PC if you're feeling extra fancy.
Example: Nergui (3HD SV 9 MV 8, househusband, apprentice shaman) is a ruddy, reedy fellow in search of snacks for the village kids during his cheerful self-exile.


Any discrete scenario that offers stiff resistance, like a perilous hike or a pack of angered animals, is an encounter.
You face an encounter by rolling checks. The referee determines how many successes an encounter requires to advance, and how many failures will thwart the party. Remember to fail forward and/or complicate victories.
The players are encouraged to get creative with checks, and the referee decides if their logic and applied bonuses fit the fiction.
Example: The party failed to avoid hostilities with a neighboring tribe, and decides to circumvent them by rafting down the nearby river. The referee decides 4 cumulative successes means they navigate without issue, while 3 failures whisk them far downriver, out of control on the strong current.


All checks are made by rolling 1d20 +½ level (rounded down) +other modifiers (background bonus, etc). A result of 20+ succeeds.
Survival Checks: Knowledge and grit. Treating an injury, following tracks, identifying (and surviving) poisonous plants, befriending strangers, etc. Roll +SV.
Movement Checks: Athletics and fine motor skills. Climbing, swimming, sneaking, avoiding mauling, etc. Roll +MV.
Hazards: Exploration is dangerous. Bad encounter outcomes deal 1HD to each PC from injury, stress, or loss of resources. Disastrous results deal 2HD. Certain dooms deal 4HD. PCs recover hardiness by setting camp and resting. PCs who run out of hardiness need to be brought back to the community for healing before they can rest.


The occasional scroll, potion, wand or runed piece of tree bark bearing a magic spell can be found by the party while exploring.
Spell names imply their effects, the dimensions and details of which should be described by the players when they cast them.
A spell lasts 1 encounter and counts as 1 or 2 successes without needing to roll checks, depending on how cleverly the player uses and roleplays it.


The PCs’ community starts at level 1 with 0 XP. Each time the party reports back with new discoveries or resources to share, the community gains XP.
The community requires an additional 1000 XP multiplied by its current level to advance to the next level. There is no level limit.
The community gains 1000 XP per major discovery. Discoveries include finding a landmark, meeting another community, making alliances, recruiting new people, facing a new foe for the first time, etc.
The community also gains 1 XP per GP worth of supplies or treasure donated (i.e. not spent by the party or on the party).
When a community levels up the party shares in the benefits, gaining better rolls and another Hardiness die (or half its value). Every 3rd level the PCs each gain a new background, or improve an old one by +1.

And now, for sure, wander on!

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