Exploring Structures

5E Exploring & Scavenging

The postapocalyptic environment is littered with the ruins of the age of civilization, and characters often enter these ruins as part of their adventures. Depending on the era of play, the extent of apocalyptic devastation, the climate and environment since the apocalypse, and the building’s type of construction, a structure may be virtually intact or reduced to a pile of rubble.

Obviously, the apocalypse itself can be a source of great destruction. A nuclear war, alien invasion, or environmental cataclysm can wreak terrible destruction, wiping entire cities from the face of the Earth. Even in a relatively nondestructive apocalypse, such as a biological disaster, short, sharp military conflicts and massive riots might characterize the last days of civilization.

Following the apocalypse, decay and neglect set in. With no one to maintain them, even the sturdiest of buildings eventually succumb to the forces of entropy. Wooden structures may be entirely destroyed within a few decades. Metal-framed buildings last a good deal longer, but even if their structures remain intact, their interiors become rotten, dangerous messes in much less time. Steel ships sink, and their tanks of oil and toxins leak. Bridges collapse, leaving only their concrete piers behind. The skeletons of the sturdiest buildings stand for centuries, but eventually they become little more than mysterious monuments surrounded by wilderness.

Of special note is fire. With no one to save it, a building struck by lightning quickly becomes a pyre, and nothing stands between the ruins of civilization and the natural wildfires that spring up in wilderness areas.

Condition Definitions

Use the table delow to determine the condition of a structure. Roll d%, consulting the column that corresponds to the postapocalyptic era of your campaign. Modify the roll for the type of structure, whether or not the structure is in an area of massive destruction, and the climate since the apocalypse. The resulting damage level affects the structure’s safety and the prospects for scavenging.

  • Aftermath: Shortly after the apocalypse. Most people alive recall the world prior to the apocalyptic event.
  • New Generation: Most people are the children of survivors and have no direct knowledge of the world prior to the apocalypse. A few elders may remain.
  • Dark Ages: Several generations after the apocalyptic event. No one alive recalls the world prior to the apocalypes. Most pre-apocalypse information and technologies are considered myths.
  • New World: Civilization, with everything that entails (community, statehood, strife) has begun to redevelop.
  • Undamaged: The structure has suffered only cosmetic damage: Windows are broken and shingles missing from the roof, but the building is essentially intact. With little more than a fresh coat of paint and a bit of elbow grease, the building can be brought back to preapocalypse conditions and used as it was originally intended.
  • Minor Damage: The structure has suffered significant damage, but is still essentially intact. The roof leaks and some of the plaster is crumbling from the walls, but the structural elements are sound. Although one should watch one’s step, the building is relatively safe to enter.
  • Major Damage: The structure is substantially damaged, with damage affecting nearly every part and function of the building. Entering the building is hazardous, but it can still be salvaged.
  • Severe Damage: Damage permeates the building. Areas of the roof have caved in, and floors are missing or dangerously rotten. Major structural elements still stand, but threaten to give way. Anyone entering the structure runs the risk of being buried in a collapse or falling through a floor. Salvaging the building would be more work than it’s worth.
  • Collapsed: The building has largely collapsed. Little if any of it can be entered, except perhaps by crawling through the rubble and debris. Entering the building is very hazardous.

After the apocalypse, many of the structures of humanity have been blasted, mangled, or burned out, or have slowly rotted and rusted due to the weathering of time. This fact makes entering buildings a dangerous affair. Heroes moving about in an old, decrepit building run the risk of having walls topple over, floors cave in, or even the entire structure falling on top of them!

A character entering a damaged building (any structure that has minor damage, major damage, severe damage, or is collapsed, as given on the Table) must make a Wisdom (Survival) check at the end of the first round in which he has moved into the building. A new check must be made when moving into a new section or area of the structure.

A character crawling or moving very carefully (half speed) gains Advantage on the Wisdom (Survival) check. A character moving at greater than normal speed is at Disadvantage on the check.

If a character succeeds on the Wisdom (Survival) check, he may move and act normally. Failure indicates a mishap. Consult the data below, modifying the d% roll by adding the amount by which the Wisdom (Survival) check was missed.

Survival Checks

Structure Condition Check DC
Minor Damage 5
Major Damage 10
Severe Damage 15
Collapsed 20

Building Mishaps

d% Roll Result
01–20 Floor punch-through
21–40 Debris fall
41–55 Wall collapse, minor
56–70 Ceiling collapse, minor
71–80 Wall collapse, major
81–90 Ceiling collapse, major
91–95 Floor collapse
96+ Structure collapse


  • Floor Punch-Through: A cracked or rotten portion of the floor gives way beneath the character, and his leg falls through. The character takes 1d4 points of damage (Dexterity Save DC 10 half). Extricating oneself from a floor punch-through is a full-round action.
  • Debris Fall: A plank, chunk of concrete, or similar piece of debris falls from above, dealing 1d6 points of damage (Dexterity Save DC 12 half).
  • Wall Collapse, Minor: A portion of a wall topples on the character, dealing 1d6 points of damage (Dexterity Save DC 13 half). The 5-foot square in which the character was standing is filled with debris and impassable. Extricating oneself from the debris is a full-round action. It takes 1d6 rounds to clear the debris from the 5-foot square to make it passable again.
  • Ceiling Collapse, Minor: Part of the ceiling above the character falls on him, dealing 1d6 points of damage (Dexterity Save DC 12 half). The DC for additional Survival checks made for exploring the building is increased by 2.
  • Wall Collapse, Major: A large portion of wall falls over on the character, dealing 2d6 points of damage (Dexterity Save DC 15 half), and the character becieves the restrained condition. The structure condition becomes one category worse (for example, if the structure had minor damage, it now has major damage).
  • Ceiling Collapse, Major: Huge chunks of the ceiling fall on the character, dealing 3d6 points of damage (Dexterity Save DC 15 half), and the character becieves the restrained condition. If the building is more than one story tall, the 5-foot square on the floor above the character is impassable (the floor of the upper story is missing).
  • Floor Collapse: The floor caves in beneath the character, and she plummets to the floor below. The character takes 1d6 points of damage per 10 feet fallen (in most buildings, the floors are roughly 10 feet apart), which can be mitigated by a Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) check as normal. When the character lands, she must make a Dexterity Save (DC 15) or suffer another mishap. Characters within 5 feet of the hole must also make Dexterity Save (DC 12) or fall into it when the floor around them shifts. Ignore this effect if the characters are on the building’s foundation floor.
  • Structure Collapse: The entire structure begins to fall apart. The collapse takes 1d4 rounds. Each round, the structure condition becomes one category worse (for example, if the structure began with major damage, after 1 round it has severe damage). The structure might not collapse completely; for example, if the structure began with minor damage and only collapses for 1 round, it ends up with major damage and does not collapse completely. Every character within the structure must make a Survival check every round during the collapse, facing additional mishaps with failed checks. As the structure’s condition worsens, the DCs for the Survival checks get higher (as shown on Table).

Structure Conditions Table

d% Aftermath New Generation Dark Ages New World
Less than 01 Severely Collapsed Collapsed Collapsed
01–05 Majorly Collapsed Collapsed Collapsed
06–10 Minorly Collapsed Collapsed Collapsed
11–15 Minorly Severely Collapsed Collapsed
16–20 Minorly Severely Collapsed Collapsed
21–25 Undamaged Severely Collapsed Collapsed
26–30 Undamaged Majorly Severely Collapsed
31–35 Undamaged Majorly Severely Collapsed
36–40 Undamaged Majorly Severely Collapsed
41–45 Undamaged Minorly Severely Collapsed
46–50 Undamaged Minorly Majorly Collapsed
51–55 Undamaged Minorly Majorly Collapsed
56–60 Undamaged Minorly Majorly Collapsed
61–65 Undamaged Undamaged Majorly Collapsed
66–70 Undamaged Undamaged Majorly Collapsed
71–75 Undamaged Undamaged Minorly Severely
76–80 Undamaged Undamaged Minorly Severely
81–85 Undamaged Undamaged Minorly Severely
86–90 Undamaged Undamaged Minorly Severely
91–95 Undamaged Undamaged Minorly Severely
96–100 Undamaged Undamaged Undamaged Majorly
101 or more Undamaged Undamaged Undamaged Majorly

Add to Modifiers d% Examples:

Structure Type Modifier
Wood frame +0
Light steel frame +5
Heavy steel frame +15
Concrete frame +25
Masonry/solid concrete +30
Underground +50

Located in area of massive destruction:

Zone Type Modifier
Damage zone –50
Destruction zone –75
Devastation zone –95


Climate/Environment Type Modifier
Temperate +0
Arid +10
Arctic +15
Tropical –10


Characters can attempt to scavenge abandoned buildings looking for food, fuel, ammunition, trade goods, and other useful items. Scavenging requires Wisdom (Survival) checks; the items found depend on the degree of success, the type of building searched, and whether or not scavengers have already stripped the building of its loot.

The condition of the building and whether or not it has been previously scavenged might have an effect on Wisdom (Survival) checks made when scavenging. In general, it’s assumed that a building to be scavenged is largely intact, and that it has been lightly scavenged in the past. (Perhaps previous passersby have checked it out, taking the most obvious items of value but not searching it in detail.)

To determine the result of the scavenging Wisdom (Survival) check, consult the Scavenging Results Table. The table gives results for several DCs. The results are cumulative; if the character succeeds at DC 25, she gets the results for DC 25, DC 20, DC 15, and DC 10.

Scavenging Table Definitions

These items are Widgets that are used to facilitate using skills and checks for the widget type. For classes where applicable, Widgets gained during a Short/Long Rest are Miscellaneous Widgets.

Using a Widget of the appropriate type gives Advantage on skills and checks for the widget type. Using Miscellaneous Widgets in place of the appropriate widget type is the default descibed in the core rules. Using a Widget of an inapproapriate type confers Disadvantage on skills and checks for the widget type.

  • Electrical: Electrical Widgets consist of miscellaneous materials needed to build and repair electrical devices. The actual scavenged items may be parts from old televisions, coffee makers, or power transformers, but they all count as parts.
  • Mechanical: Mechanical Widgets consist of miscellaneous materials needed to build and repair mechanical devices. The actual scavenged items may be parts from lawnmower or automobile engines, air conditioners, or other devices, but they all count as parts. See Making and Fixing Items, page 30.
  • Food: Scavenged food consists of canned goods from before the apocalypse.
  • Medicines: Medicines are antibiotics and other pharmaceutical Widgets. The number indicated refers to the number of additional uses for a Medical Kit.
  • Munitions: Functioning munitions are rare and valuable indeed. The number indicated is the number of Widgets used to craft Ammunition, Ordinance and Explosives.
  • Fuel: Fuel is the material needed to run many machines and vehicles. The number indicated is the quantity of Widgets needed to craft fuel.
  • Miscellaneous: Miscellaneous Widgets are just that: the miscellaneous leftovers of the age of civilization. The number indicated is the number of Widgets found. Miscellaneous Widgets can used for any task that require widgets.

Scavenging Results Table

Building Type 10 15 20 25
Office 1d4–1 Electrical 1d2–1 Mechanical 1d2–1 Food 1d2–1 Medicines
Restaurant 1d3–1 Electrical 1d10–1 Food 1d6–1 Food 1d6–1 Food
Arsenal 1d6–1 Mechanical 1d12–1 Ammo 1d8–1 Food
Single-family home 1d2–1 Electrical 1d6–1 Food 1d8–1 Gas 1d2–1 Medicines
Department store 1d4–1 Misc Items 1d2–1 Electrical 1d2–1 Mechanical 1d2–1 Food
Police station 1d2–1 Electrical 1d6–1 Ammo 1d3–1 Medicines
Hardware store 1d3–1 Misc Items 1d6–1 Mechanical 1d4–1 Electrical 1d6–1 Electrical
Gas station/garage 1d8–1 Mechanical 1d10–1 Gas 1d10–1 Gas 1d10–1 Gas
Convenience store 1d2–1 Misc Items 1d8–1 Food 1d10–1 Gas 1d10–1 Gas
Factory 1d6–1 Mechanical 1d4–1 Electrical 1d10–1 Gas 1d2–1 Medicines
Warehouse 1d2–1 Misc Items 1d2–1 Electrical 1d3–1 Mechanical 1d8–1 Gas
Hospital 1d4–1 Electrical 1d3–1 Medicines 1d4–1 Medicines 1d4–1 Medicines
Fire station 1d6–1 Mechanical 1d4–1 Medicines 1d10–1 Gas 1d4–1 Food
Specialty retail 1d2–1 Misc Items 1d2–1 Mechanical 1d2–1 Food 1d2–1 Electrical
Supermarket 1d2–1 Misc Items 1d8–1 Food 1d4–1 Medicines 1d8–1 Food
Drug store 1d2–1 Misc Items 1d4–1 Medicines 1d4–1 Food 1d4–1 Medicines

Circumstance Search Check Modifiers Tables

Structure Condition Modifier
Prestine +3
Undamaged +2
Very Minor damage +1
Minor damage +0
Major damage –1
Severe damage –2
Collapsed –3

Previous Scavenging

Previous Scavenging Modifier
Building has never been scavenged +2
Building has been very lightly scavenged +1
Building has been lightly scavenged +0
Building has been moderately scavenged –1
Building has been heavily scavenged –2

Working with Widgets

Recover Hit Points (Repair)

You can make an Intelligence (Engineering) check to recover the hit points of damaged items or vehicles. The number of hit points recovered is equal to the result of your skill check -10.

This value can be adjusted with an appropriate engineering kit. If the kit is more advanced than the item being repaired, add the difference to the hit points recovered. If the other way around, the recovered hit points are reduced (if repairing a TL2 item with a TL4 kit, you gain a +2 bonus to the hit points recovered—if reversed, it becomes a -2 penalty).

The repair cost in widgets is equal the number of hit points recovered x 5.

The amount of time required depends on the percentage of damage that you are attempting to repair.

Damage Time Required
25% or less Short Rest
50% or less Long Rest
Greater than 50% 24 Hours

Reverse Engineer

You can use the Intelligence (Engineering) skill to convert technology into widgets to be used in the creation of other technology. Each attempt to reverse engineer an item takes six hours. Reverse engineering destroys the item being selected. The end result is you acquire one-fifth of the item’s value in widgets.