Monday, February 5, 2018

5 Tips For Travel in RPGs

There's a saying when it comes to RPGs. That a 5-day journey can be completed in seconds, but a 5-minute combat takes half the night to get through. However, as any experienced player can tell you, an average game gives you three to four times as much time traveling as it does slinking through dungeons, or battling dark forces.

Man... I am gonna stroll all OVER that thing...
So how do you make sure your players don't zone out when it comes to travel in your game? Especially if you're following the advice in For Tighter Games, Consider Nixing Random Encounters, and doing away with seeing how many wolves harass the party on their way from Point A to Point B?

Well, every game is going to have a unique solution. However, the following tips might make things a little easier on you as a DM, and more interesting for your table.

Tip #1: Sprinkle The Route With Lore

It's one thing to walk down a road for four days, but it's another thing to give your players a guided tour of the realm's history. For example, there might be an ancient stone highway made of colossal slabs of perfectly-planed granite. No one in the region knows who built the road, but there are wild tales of an empire of giants lost to history. Have the occasional statue on the path, or have the party rest at notable sites like the Countess's Crown; a ring of standing stones that's said to offer protection to those who sleep within them.

If you're going to go through the journey, actually give your players things to see, and let them roll a check from time to time to get more information. These things don't necessarily have to be connected to your campaign quest, but it helps if they are.

For a place to get started, you could check out A Baker's Dozen of Rumours (And The Truth Behind Them) as well as A Baker's Dozen Pieces of Lore.

Tip #2: Examine Alternative Transportation

If you're seeking the ruins of a forgotten fortress in the middle of the desert, chances are you have no option but to hoof it into the dunes. Maybe, if you're smart, you'll buy some camels. However, you can often spice up the rest of the journey by offering your party some alternative methods of travel.

For instance, rather than just making the journey from where you start to the center of the desert one long, hard ride, offer other options. Does the party take a ship, making their way around the coastline on the open ocean? Do they travel via river raft through the slower moving waterways? Do they take an airship? Or, if they're wealthy enough, can they afford to have a wizard simply teleport them to a pre-determined landing pad near where they wish to be?

If players are asked to participate in the planning process, and they have more options than, "we start walking," you get more opportunities for engagement. And to bring in fresh NPCs, since it won't just be the players walking alone through the forest until something happens.

Tip #3: Have Things Happen

I said no random encounters earlier, and I mean that. However, you should design regular old encounters and incidents for your party to get embroiled in as they travel. For example, did the party book passage on a clockpunk train trekking across the northlands? Well, have a murder happen onboard. The party can get involved in finding the killer, giving them a chance to use their abilities to clear themselves of any possible wrongdoing. If they're on a ship, run a small side scene where the captain attempts to sell his passengers into slavery. Now the party can smash the slavers, and continue their journey as heroes. It also sends up a flare to any shadowy villains who might be keeping track of their progress from afar. Even if the party opts to just ride down the King's Highway, have them meet up with patrols, exchange news, and hear about potential threats on the road. As long as something is happening, it keeps players involved. It also has the added benefit of making the journey feel like it took time, which can be helpful if you don't just want to fast travel all over the map.

If you're looking for encounters to use as inspiration here, you should take a look at:
- 100 Pieces of Flotsam and Jetsam to Find on a Beach
- 100 Encounters in a Fey Forest
- 100 Random Encounters For on The Road or in The Wilderness

Tip #4: Make It A Challenge (If Players Wish)

Travel is usually hand-waved away because if there's no potential threat to the party as they go, then why spend time on pure narration? However, if you have the sort of group that watches how much weight PCs carry, and keeps track of how many arrows the archer brings with, then making travel through the wilderness a potentially hazardous thing might increase player involvement. While magic can make environmental penalties and dangers trivial after low levels, the potential of getting lost, running out of food, or dying of exposure can be thrilling for the right group. This tip has a chance to backfire, though, so make sure your group is down for it before insisting they count their daily calories, and carry enough water.

Tip #5: Don't Linger If There's No Point

Presenting side quests and additional RP, as well as getting the players wrist-deep in the lore of the world, are all well and good. However, sometimes it can feel more like a burden than an opportunity. Just like how it's possible to create unique NPC merchants, to name their stores, and decide what inventory they do or don't have can turn shopping for gear into a fun experience, but there are going to be some tables who just want to buy fresh bolts and alchemist fire before getting back on the trail.

If that's what your group wants, let them do that. It will save everyone frustration down the road.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully some folks out there find my advice useful. If you're looking for more content by yours truly, then check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I work with other talented gamers to bring the world of Evora to life. To keep up on my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support Improved Initiative so I can keep making fresh content just for you, consider heading to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron. Or just Buy Me A Coffee! Either way, there's some sweet gaming swag in it as a thank you for your support.


  1. Outstanding! I have a long journey set up for the PCs in my 5E game. This article couldnt have come at a better time! :D

  2. I really like this. I have been looking for just this kind of thing to enhance my PCs' experience.

  3. Great article as usual. I tend to use #5 in lieu of random encounters, and my group just recently latched onto the idea of flying carpets to cross a desert. I want to try and add more lore to the journey though; I know there's plenty written about Golarion and its various sights.