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Dungeons & Dragons: Tracking


Basically, this is a detailed look at the art and craft of tracking, and the ways in which this skill can be used to enhance a game. It's intended for players and DMs alike, with the intention of providing both mechanics and ideas for using tracking skills in a variety of situations.

Chapter 1 is an analysis of what 'tracking' actually is and who does it. Generally, few people actually start out with the intention of being a tracker, but it's a skill that comes in handy for a number of professions and lifestyles - especially if you intend to hunt for whatever you are going to eat. Skills honed early on in life in pursuit of your dinner can be used to advantage by those who might want to scout in the employ of armies, or track criminals or serve as local guides to passing bands of adventurers. Many adventurers themselves acquire the skill or even use it as the basis of an adventuring career. However, while its use in the wilderness is what most people think of when they hear the word 'tracking,' it also applies to being able to follow people in an urban environment. And here's the first rules snippet, a way of determining how good that tracker who is bragging how easily he finds deer, or escaped prisoners or whatever - a competency rating based on his reputation for how well (or badly) he tracks his chosen target as a rule. It's used to determine how well you are paid or indeed if you are hired at all (or to inform your decisions if you are seeking the services of a professional).

The second chapter takes a closer look at woodland tracking. The art of wilderness tracking is broken down into two parts - the actual physical 'tracks' (footprints, broken twigs, crushed plants and the like) and 'sign' which is other clues to who or what you are following. Rules bits include a lot of detail on how environental conditions such as weather and ground type, elapsed time and so on can affect the quality of the tracks you are following; while sign is used in an interesting manner to allow a tracker to pick up on the trail after losing more conventional tracks (or flubbing the roll!). Sign can also be used to deduce more information than the mere "which way has he gone" that tracks deliver - looking at a campfire or (if you're not too squeamish) dung can tell you how far ahead your quarry is. There are a whole range of modifiers that can be applied to your base Survival skill check to see how well you are doing - even ones based on the nature of your quarry.

Next comes a discussion of the actual hunt - beginning with deciding what you are going after today, which is particularly relevant if you are hunting for your dinner: a wise hunter knows what manner of prey he will find in the locality. There are even rules for those who enlist the assistance of their animal companions, as well as a new Profession, Hunter, which indicates that you know what to do with an animal once you have bagged it - field dressing and skinning the remains; while if you are the quarry rather than the hunter, there are various things you can do to throw your pursuers off the trail.

Next, Chapter 3 looks at urban tracking, which is interpreted here as the art of finding someone - not so much by following his footprints but by asking around and otherwise using subtle and not-so-subtle clues as to where he might have gone. Naturally, then, the basis of your urban tracking talent is your Gather Information skill. Another aspect is the art of actually shadowing or following someone - prefeably without him realising that you are doing so. Rather than using the normal stealth skills such as Move Silently and Hide, this works by a Bluff check (tracker) opposed by a Spot one (the person being followed). Again, Bluff can be used if you have an urgent need to remove yourself from your current location without being noticed. For those running urban chase scenes on the fly, there's a table of 'Urban Set Dressing' to give a few things that may be encountered as the protagonists follow one another around the streets (over the rooftops...).

Chapter 4 seems to have escaped, because the next thing is Chapter 5 with a new base class, the Urban Hunter. Think of him as the urban equivalent of a ranger, with skills drawn from those of both fighters and rogues. They are normally born and bred in the city in which they ply their trade, and know it extremely well - usually from the seamier, poorer side. Class abilities include being able to move easily through crowds or urban terrain and being able to blend in with everyone else.

Chapter 6 is entitled New Items and is a list of things which a tracker might find useful. They include items to enable a trail to be left, or to cover your own scent when tracking prey or even a special 'scent buster' to put such as tracker dogs off your scent! There's even a handy magical item, a portable door which operates a bit like the cartoon standby of drawing a door on a wall you wish to pass through.

Chapter 7 contains some new spells and feats all aimed at enhancing your tracking skills (or hindering those who would pursue you). Next, Chapter 9 (Chapter 8 seems to have gone the way of Chapter 4!) gives random encounter tables for woodland and urban settings, which can be used on the fly or even as inspiration when planning the game.

Then follow several appendices: racial modifiers to tracking checks, wilderness tracking checks and modifiers, common environment animals and their value if you catch them, urban tracking checks and modifiers, and finally a section on skirmishes. This last deals with chaotic, free-for-all brawls such as those which can erupt without warning in a bar room or if you are caught in the middle of a riot. The intention is to abstract the fight to a level where you don't need to run every single combat that is taking place but can have a fast and furious scrap with everyone emerging a bit battered when it all grinds to a halt - accomplished by treating the skirmish itself as if it were a monster with attacks, hit points, etc. It's a neat idea and should work well for DMs who feel a bit inhibited by the complexity of handling such a multi-participant fight in more conventional manner.

This book has some interesting ideas for making the art of tracking in the wild (or at least, forests, other wild environs are ignored) or in a town. Unless you run a lot of city adventures, the Urban Tracker will probably make a better NPC than player option but there are clearly times in an urban setting where finding a fellow with these skills will come in useful. Overall, there is material here that will be of interest to any character wishing to hunt for food or to find their way around a city - or to DMs wishing to utilise this kind of situation in their game.

Return to Tracking page.

Reviewed: 28 May 2006