May 17

Hill Cantons: The Unbearable Dullness of DnD Wilderness

From Hill Cantons, an article on wilderness travel and how it’s not much fun:

Over the years I have managed to both play and run in a score or more of different wilds in a campaign—on a rare occasion recently with people who literally in this game from the first play group—and I’ve yet to ever feel that you had a strong sense of the Land you traveled.

The terrain has no face, little nuance and rarely itself also becomes the adventure. It lacks adversity. It’s tangles and mysteries become obscured by a simple “lost” check. A horse never dies exhausted of it. A party rarely finds a spot that “they can’t get there from here.” Occasionally you’ll get charts for rockfalls and other impediments, but there seems to achingly little of it.

It’s something I’ve struggled with when I’ve GM’ed, even – maybe especially – with worlds like Dark Sun’s Athas, where the landscape should be a character in and of itself.  How do you get that flavour of the travelogue without spending minutes orating at your players as their eyes glaze over?

Do you turn the travel from A to B into a mini-game of its own?  Or does that just become a mechanics-bash that takes your players out of the story?

Or do you simply say “it’s three weeks later, and you have arrived?”

There are many interesting ideas in the comments, but I shall throw my own small idea into the ring.

I think that each time an “encounter” happens, you set the scene, and each time you set the scene you have a chance to give a flavour of the land the characters have travelled over, and where they are just now.  That’s the time the players really want to hear what you have to say – what’s the situation right now?

So if your landscape is rolling hills with scattered woods, have something happen in the rolling hills, and something else in the scattered woods.  Make that little sub-landscape important to the encounter, and the players should remember it.

You can do the same with resting up for the night.  I’d say you don’t do this for every night of travel, just the ones where Something Happens, but you’ve got the chance to set up the place where the PCs bedded down for the night.  An old ruin?  A convenient inn?  A small clearing on a hill in an otherwise dense forest?  Use that to sell the setting, then let the monsters attack, or the merchants arrive to chat, or whatever happens.

How’s that sound?

Anyhoo, I’d recommend you head over and read the whole article, and see what you think.



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