How to Enjoy Hunting in Dungeons & Dragons
Updated: Nov 21, 2018
Congratulations! You and your party members have just defeated the lich!
You’ve uncovered the last of its hidden treasures, destroyed its phylactery, and cataloged all the worthwhile loot. But after all the gold and gems are safely tucked away in your coin purse, what’s next? Maybe you’ll want to eat. It’s only natural. Running around in full plate, swinging a greatsword, and leaping over pit traps can really build an appetite.
So let’s imagine that you open your backpack and dig past your clothes to find your rations… only to realize they’re gone. What’s a hungry adventurer to do?
The answer is: go hunting!
Hunting’s a good way for you and your party to gather the food you need to fuel up for your next adventure… and hunting can be an adventure in its own right.
More Than Survival
In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, the rules for hunting are outlined very, very quickly within the description of the Survival skill:
“Survival. The GM might ask you to make a Wisdom (Survival) check to follow tracks, hunt wild game, guide your group through frozen wastelands, identify signs that owlbears live nearby, predict the weather, or avoid quicksand and other natural hazards.”
The takeaway, here, is that the game provides rules for hunting and that those rules don’t really make for good hunting trips or expeditions. As written, they compress the whole matter to a single Survival check:
Got the tent? Yep. Got the bait? Yep. Knife sharpened? Sharp enough to shave a leaf. How about that bow? I restrung it, and it’s been truer than a Magic Missile. Sounds good. Got the map? Yep. Okay, make that survival check… Nine… Dammit. Well, guess we can start unpacking.
This compression may be convenient when you’re just looking for the Dungeons & Dragons equivalent of fast food. “Found something. Cooked it. Grub’s on!” But it’s not terribly exciting when your goal is to actually enjoy the act of hunting.
The Survival skill appears to address hunting as part of the whole “survival in the wilderness” idea. As such, hunting isn’t for enjoyment; it’s for food. It’s to make sure your party doesn’t starve. And just as most empathetic Dungeon Masters (we call them Quest Masters) don’t squander your time and energy on cataloging every item in your backpack, making you calculate the total weight, and balance that last pound of excess against your carrying capacity, the rules don’t dwell on whether or not your party starves.
Someone may have—at some point—written a fun and exciting adventure about fending off starvation, but the rules as written appear to suggest that starvation (or even just a profound, stomach-rumbling hunger) doesn’t make for exciting fantasy role-play.
But steer the focus of the hunt away from fending off hunger and toward the thrill of hunting large game, and you might have the kernel of a satisfying adventure.
There are other ideas, too:
Conduct your hunt as part of a coming of age ritual. As part of such a ritual, your hunt can take on a spiritual significance that could echo throughout the adventure.
Your hunt is a competition. You need to slay the largest beast—and return with clear proof—in order to win.
Hunt down the brigands or monsters that have been terrorizing the local village. Thinking in terms of “hunt” rather than “investigation” may lead you to think of traps, ambushes, covering your tracks, and stealth.
Move your hunt to the city and start tracking strange creatures through the sewers and alleyways.
You could also recreate The Most Dangerous Game with an adventure in which the hunters become the hunted.
In each of these cases, the point is that the hunt is more than a single Survival check; it’s literally the whole adventure.
Fleshing Out Your Hunt
There’s still plenty of room for Survival checks in your hunting adventure, but when you take the hunt and expand it as we are, you need to consider the different parts of a hunt and how many of these—and which—are going to factor into yours.
There’s planning and preparation. These might be fun and important in a hunting contest, or in an adventure in which the characters are told that they’re going to be hunted. Planning and preparation could also prove to be critical (and interesting) parts of an adventure in which the characters are hunting whatever brigands or monsters recently ambushed a caravan and ravaged a nearby town. The goal in this phase is to come to a clear understanding of the challenge (so far as you know it) and to ensure you enter the eventual encounter with every possible advantage.
Then you have the search. Following tracks. Enduring the weather. Navigating the city’s sewers. Wherever your hunt takes you, there’s a good chance you’ll need to make use of your Survival skill during this portion of the hunt. You want to find signs that you’re still following a clear trail. And there’s a good chance you could have to deal with random encounters, here, or the challenges presented by natural hazards, traps, or extreme weather.
In some instances, you might take time to set traps or set up an ambush. This is like the planning and preparation phase again, except that at this stage, you are limited to the resources you have on hand. You cannot simply buy more from the local shop. And that means you’ll need to do a good job with your traps if you want them to work. Or you could simply ignore the traps; this is definitely an optional stage and easily enough omitted.
At some point, you’ll get to the initial contact. Stealth and Perception could very well come into play as you first set eyes on your prey. Does it notice you as well? Does it bolt instantly out of sight and out of range? Did you fail to notice that you have placed yourself between the mother bear and her cub? Did you track one dire wolf—all the way back to its pack of eight? However you arrive at this moment, it’s a good opportunity to act cleverly and draw upon more of your skills.
Next, you have the attack. When the Player’s Handbook allows you to weigh the success or failure of your hunt against a single Survival check, it’s likely referring to a hunt for some small, innocuous creature that can’t hurt you. But if you’re hunting, say, the Tarrasque, you must absolutely roll out the whole fight. You can’t shortcut a fight with the Tarrasque by saying you managd to roll a DC 10 on your Survival check so the hunt was successful… At the end of this stage, though, you should have either hunted successfully or be dead.
Finally, you have the resolution. If you’re in a contest, you’ll likely need to collect the head or hide (or both) as a trophy. This could be another call for a Survival check—to use your knife carefully as you skin your prey. Or if you’re hunting as part of a coming of age ritual, you might return to your home in order to make sense of the things you’ve learned.
By expanding your hunt, you not only get to enjoy it longer, but you offer more characters the chance to contribute—even characters who are nothing like your druid or ranger.
All Kinds of Hunts
From monster hunting, to bounty hunting, and hunting for a spirit guide, there are plenty of ways to use hunting in your Dungeons & Dragons adventures. And there’s a lot more that your hunts can offer you than what can be described by a single Survival check.
The next time that your characters need to hunt for food or track down some wayward monsters, remember that there might be a whole adventure’s worth of excitement and surprises in a good hunting journey. See what you can do when you move beyond the Survival check!
What's the last exciting event that occurred while your character was out hunting? Let us know in the comments below!