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Northern Reaches 07 – Overland Travel

I started writing this in April. It is now July. A prime example of why I want my game to be efficient. Sorry for the delay, I will be working on a few in the coming weeks.   

I am a father, husband, teacher, writer, podcaster, and like to play TTRPG’s.

That’s a lot of things that I like to do and I don’t have a lot of time to do them. This means that I can’t waste time. I literally have no time to waste. If I did have time to waste I would sleep more. Or write more. Or just hang out with the family.

But I don’t.

So, I need to be efficient. 

Especially with my game nights. It saddens me but I will not see all-night sessions for some time to come. So, when it comes time to plan for a West Marches session I need to take into account how many encounters the party will actually be able to complete in 3 to 4 hours.

This means that I do not want to get bogged down with overland travel if the party is looking to explore The Ancient Temple. I do not want to roll on a random table (that’s only fun for those rolling on it) and I waste time. So, I have been running to two main theories for this; travel is the adventure and skill challenges. 

Skill Challenges.

Skill challenges are a great little tool to create short cinematic montages for travel. They can be completed in about 10 mins and get the players into the action as quick as possible. I will briefly discuss how I use them but I will drop links to some good resources below as well. 
Essentially, the party needs to make skill checks with skills they are proficient with. As a party, they need to get 4 successes before they get 4 failures (this can be scaled up and down where needed). If a player uses a skill and fails the check they cannot reroll that same skill. They must only use each of their proficient skills once. 
The party will make it to their destination even if they fail all the checks, but there will be consequences. It is a tiered failure system. Matt Colville describes this as having many fail states. One failure might mean you don’t arrive at the time you meant to. Two might mean you lose some equipment along the way. Three might mean the enemy is alerted to your presence as soon as you arrive. Failing all of them might mean you got lost and the enemy knows you’re there and you have a level of exhaustion. 
I tell the players what the consequences are beforehand. I don’t want there to be any secrets about this step as it is setting up how the rest of the adventure is going to go. It can, sometimes, have extremely detrimental effects on them but it also lets them know the stakes before they go in and build tension.
This is the standard form of overland travel in our game. At the start of most sessions, we roll for travel skill challenge, and that sets the pace for the game. It works well in most scenarios. However, sometimes it is best to make the travel the adventure. 

Some Skill Challenge Resources;

Travel is The Adventure.

The Party needs to get to the Ancient Temple but according to the map that is at least 15 days travel through the forest. There is a lot they could possibly encounter on their way there and they’re headed in a new direction and I want to introduce some lore and I want to layout some plot hooks. 

That’s a lot and a skill challenge won’t cut it so the travel will have to be the adventure. They will spend the whole session getting to the destination but then the destination is ‘unlocked’ and they can ‘fast travel’ there in another session.

I have a bit of process for designing a Travel adventure because I usually want them to serve a purpose.

  • Random Tables. I like random tables when used for design and preparation. Not so much when used at the table. The tables in Xanathars work perfectly fine but I also use the Tome of Adventure Design. This helps to populate with monsters, traps, and items.
  • A fantastic location. Lazy DM is right about ensuring there are fantastic locations for the party to explore. For a travel adventure, I don’t usually make them too big. But think of it more like one room in a dungeon. A well, the remains of a small building, a rotted-out tree with mutated bugs. 
  • A faction encounter. There are factions in the forest and I want the adventurers to be building relationships with them, positive or not. Exploring the forest is a good way to have these factions come to the forefront.
  • The Forest is an NPC. I want the players to recognize the importance of the forest. It is old and untamable. So, whenever I can I include descriptions of it. This is also a good way to create thematic environmental encounters.
  • A hint of a new location. A castle in the distance, a ruined wall, a huge cave entrance. Something for them to plot on the map for later. 
A travel adventure is essentially a 5 room dungeon in the wilderness. Each element should serve a purpose, even if combat comes from a random table it should have a reason for being there.
This has been the best method to make travel engaging and meaningful. 
I’m sure none of this is new but it’s been helpful for me. I am in the process of planning a travel adventure and will share it here next week.
If you would like to support my work and follow me on my journey into game design and writing you can support me on Patreon.
Long days and pleasant nights.

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July 2021
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