When designing a campaign in which everything revolves around a single dominant theme, in this case the underworld of the Bleak Beyond, it is important to have motivations for the players and their characters to work outside of the central theme from time to time.
For a dungeon-centric campaign such as mine, this work outside of the theme would of course involve the wilderness around the Bleak Beyond. In OD&D the term “wilderness” refers to everything on the surface, so in this case it includes the starting town of Tenborough Hold as well as the whole of the Unbidden Lands in which the campaign is set.
While making notes for the Unbidden Lands, I wondered “Why would the players decide to explore the Wilderness?” Aside from being sent on a wild goose chase by an NPC, or to seek out a healing herb for their stricken party-mate or some other Ref-induced quest into the wilderness, was there a motivation for the party to set out, “into the hexes”, of their own accord?
For the Unbidden Lands, there is such motivation. The notion is that through exploration the characters have the opportunity to unlock game features by making Discoveries. Visiting the Town of Skinny Creek enables trade with the Hobbits there, and access to Hobbit Cuisine. Finding the Elves of the Worn-Wood enables trade and gives access to enchanted Elf Wine and other unique wares. Locating the Dwarven hold at Pinching Gorge likewise allows access to special works of craftsmanship.
Farther out in the Unbidden Lands, characters can discover more game material. Traveling to the Shrouded Mere will permit Aelfar as player characters. The same for unlocking playable character races with the Dvergar at Scrag Rock, the Doende at Lonely Crag, the Irklings at Itching Wood, and even the Troldekin, although the latter are only unlocked by entering the Supreme Citadel of the Morkevagten in the dungeon itself. Each area of discovery holds more game material, including access to such things as new spells and even more race specific resources for the adventurers.
In the end, the players have a chance to realize greater opportunities and resources by taking the initiative and going into the hexes. Ultimately such travels will pay-off for future plunges into the Bleak Beyond. Refs will likewise have the chance to flesh out the Unbidden Lands further, allowing groups who wish to feel the sun on their faces some time breathing fresh air for a change.
All of these Discoveries will be defined and described in greater detail as the whole project moves forward. For now I must continue to concentrate on the How to Play portion and finish up the various d00 tables which fuel the inner workings of the Bleak Beyond.