Behind the Screen: Traveling…

2007 October 12
by Dante

This weekend the StupidRanger crew is heading out of town and that got me to thinking: how does everyone handle traveling long distances? I would like to recount one failed attempt on my part and open up the floor to obvious criticism and comments.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ (wheels, not dice!)

In one of our recent campaigns, the party was tasked with traveling across country to locate pieces of an important artifact. It was all fun and games for awhile, I had a few episodic encounters put together for them to experience along the way and I augmented that with a few random encounters.

Even though the encounters fit into the landscape (feral wildlife and whatnot), eventually both the players and I tired of the encounters. They still had a long way to travel, and having already established this as a “dangerous” territory it didn’t stand to reason that they would be able to travel unmolested for a week or more.

How not to see the coastal plains on just three gold pieces a day.

Eventually, I ended up giving up and in the best interest of the players I handwaved a fair portion of the rest of the travel. I wasn’t very satisfied with this as a DM, I felt as if I should have come up with a more interesting way to transport them across hill and dale without just nixing the “dangerous” aspect of the terrain. The group ended up getting from Point A to Point B and things quickly picked back up once they were wired back into the plot, I suppose a good solution would’ve been not to establish plot points half of the coastal lands away.

Has anyone else run into this difficulty before? If so, how do you quickly move your group without having a random wizard show up and teleport them where they need to be conveniently?

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Doug Hagler permalink
    October 12, 2007

    I’ve had the same problem…alot.

    I’ve always felt that D&D needs an intermediate conflict system – something simpler than the tactical combat that is the game’s default but more interesting than “you guys get attacked by a lion and fight it off”.

    In the past, I’ve done things like handle overland travel over email or some other electronic venue between sessions. That way I get the discription off my chest and they can have little side-scenes, and the next game can come right in at a point of conflict.

    I’ve also tried working up faster combat systems to handle fights that are still a little threatening, but aren’t worthy of full-fledged tactics. I can’t honestly say I’ve come up with a good method for doing this, though.

  2. ChattyDM permalink
    October 13, 2007

    I think it’s a question of modern expectations from a RPG. Fighting with no reason to advance the plot is not as acceptable as it was 20 years ago. In a dungeon, it’s expected because it’s an obstacle to get to the Macguffin (or whatever reason the party is in it).

    I think you could weave plot-related or trope-related encounters in traveling. The cliched Troll toll bridge, the Big Bad sending a group of Awakened Dire Animals, a Ravenous Good Dragon, a Rockfall (by Goblins!)…

    If you add a plot twist or a possible new plot hooks to each encounter and you handwaive the rest you may get yourself a more captive audience.

    Case in point: Lord of the Rings the Book (long travels peppered with short encounters) with the movie (Handwaived travel with focus on encounters)

    My 2 cents

  3. DNAphil permalink
    October 15, 2007

    My current Iron Heroes campaign is set in a land that is quite large, and the heroes spend a lot of time traveling from place to place, weeks at a time.

    I do not hit them with a lot of encounters during the travel. I typically will have a single encounter to show off some aspect of the area they are traveling in, such as an encounter with a native creature, or group of tribal creatures, etc.

    If one of the goals of the current story arc is to explore that part of the land, while traveling through it, then I will place a small side adventure in it, to showcase the land and its people.

    A few times I have had skill-based encounters that I throw in during the trip. These may be something like a freak storm, and the heroes have to make a Survival check to avoid some penalty. Or they may have to ride along some narrow paths that require a ride check or a delay in the trip.

    Other than that, I handwaive most if off, since it is not the focus of the story.

  4. Dante permalink
    October 15, 2007

    Phil, I like the skill based encounters, I haven’t done many of those but I really like the premise. It helps lend a feel of more realistic travel to the environment… good one.

  5. Jenette permalink
    October 22, 2007

    I found one of the best ways to enhance overland travel is to spice it up a bit with the weather rather than combat encounters, especially any unpleasantness that results from it.

    After all if the party just spent the better part of a week trudging through icy cold rain along a ankle deep (or knee deep in the case of dwarves and halfings) road they’re likely to greet even a run down flea infested inn as a golden oasis at the end of the journey.

    Also throwing in fun enoucnters, like trying to pitch a tent in a hail storm, or who gives the halfing a piggy back when the snow drifts are over her head can add a lot to the feeling of traveling across wild country far more than fighting off a random wilderness encounter for the umpteeth time.

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