Generally adventurers have to adventure, this usually involves getting from point A to point B. These journeys can be a little bit boring or feel very staged. As a DM you have the problem with journeys that parties can go anywhere. You spent two months planning an amazing port town, only for the players to head into the mountains. You can of course cover this with some ‘fast travel’ (ie ‘After two days' journey you reach the orc stronghold’) and that’s totally valid. I like to cover it with a bit of narrative to add some flavour. ‘On day one you pass through farming communities where corn waves in the breeze and the sun warms your heart. You spend the night lying beneath the stars enjoying a well-earned rest. As day two wears on the farms give way to barren wastes and deserted buildings. Eventually you start to climb a rocky path and from the smell of filth and death you know the Orcs could be around the next corner.’
But why not make the journey the adventure? This season I’m running a six session long journey, ‘but how are you going to make it exciting?’ I hear you ask.
- A time limit. Every film you’ve ever seen has been or could have been made more exciting with a time limit. So tell your players, ‘The pass will be closed by heavy snow in 4 days’ or ‘The princess will be sailing away forever in a week.’ This adds pressure to your players. Suddenly they have to journey wisely, plan, buy maps, find a trusted guide or a form of transport.
- You’re being chased. The same as a time limit really, it puts pressure on your players to keep moving. Suddenly fording a fast flowing river has to be done quickly before the dire wolves catch up and once you’re across you might be safe.
- Interesting travelling companions. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful travellers out there on the roads. Is the old tinker a god travelling in disguise, a demon out to trick and deceive, a brigand leading you astray, a future powerful ally or does he just want to sell you a pan or two?
- Lost in the woods. Not every path is mapped. Create a map with paths on and several fun mini encounters, don’t show your players. When your players get to a junction ask ‘left or right?’ This will seem hugely significant to your players, particularly if they have no way of tracking.
- Exhaustion Isn't just for Barbarians. Your players might not find a safe place to make camp, so as they march on through icy mountains or scorching deserts without long rests, exhaustion sets in. They might want to run the whole way, that’s Ok but after x number of hours they will suffer one point of exhaustion.
- Random encounters. Create a large map of an area and cover it with Hexagons. Each Hexagon is about a mile square. Show this map to the player. Create an identical map, but on this one randomly fill half the squares with numbers 1-8. Make a list of eight small encounters or story points. Then let the players choose their route, hexagon to hexagon. Every so often they will stumble upon one of your encounters.
- Little combats and no rest. As players gain levels a well-rested player is a formidable foe, but a wizard with no spell slots or a barbarian who can’t rage is in a far more precarious position.
- Happy adventuring!
written by Paul Avery