The Journey...

Author: Andrew /

When you see a good fantasy story, one thing I've found that they all have in common is diversity in location. Travel! In just about every fantasy story I've read, the characters move from one interesting locale to the next, sometimes back and forth, moving the plot along as they go.

Now, here's something I've noticed in Pen 'n' Paper rpgs versus video games. Travel gets overlooked! I've seen so many games where the players say "Ok, we're going to travel to this place." (which is like 250 miles away across the country they're in) and as they start traveling, not much is going on, players don't really RP any banter going on between them, no talk on the road, so it ends up coming to "Ok, four days later, you guys get there." That really disappoints me (espescially because I know I've done that).

I think that something I'd like to see more is an emphasis put on travel; on going places instead of just being at places. When you read 4th edition's description, it's a "points-of-light" world, and a sparse one at that. What this means is that the world is dark and frought with peril, save perhaps a few cities, settlements and safe havens that are dimly-lit bright spots in all the danger (I mean this both literally and metaphorically because, in actuality, most monsters don't go about lighting torches so most of the wilderness is, in fact, dark).

So, really, when you think about it, as much adventure takes place in cities and settlements, look how big a settlement is versus the space you usually have to cross to get to it. Now, look at that size in comparisson to the amount of stuff that goes on once you get to your point-of-light. Seems disproportionate, doesn't it? You get to this place, which, compared to the area surrounding it, is a pin-prick, and yet it has all this stuff going on and hardly anything going on outside of it (save maybe a few wild animals). I think it should be the reverse, or rather, I think that the wilderness needs to be buffed up a bit.

To all us DMs out there, this is a challenge to us all (myself included). When designing an adventure, come up with plot points that could relate to travel. Have some stuff happen to your players! Have them be visited by a mysterious figure or get sidetracked by some interesting things they pass or something (I don't want to lay out a ton of ideas, just in case i end up using them later and my players go "Oh wait, I saw him write about this on The Take" lol).

Have you guys had any interesting ideas about how to make "the space between places" interesting? Any little games you like to throw in there or plot hooks you find work particularly well? Do you perhaps design the entire journey around the road itself and leave out most settlements altogether? Lets see some ideas, I'm very interested!

Thanks for reading as always!

~Andrew

12 comments:

Magus Stragus said...

I always keep track of all travelling my players do. If the trip is long enough, I just keep track of events per week or the like, but travels that take few days are rp'ed. But the travels aren't only random encounters. I detail them every little detail, and then I use some of the details to make interesting sidequests, or even plot locations.

In the end, travelling is interesting for my players because I put interesting environments (like the 3-day walk through the Bloody Plains) and random encounters (more xp and treasure); and it's interesting for me because it breaks the routine of following a plot.

Andrew said...

Good to hear. I think I want to start doing more of that. I know that running a game around a plot is easier but ad libbing and or creating some cool side plots while traveling seems like a super neat idea and like something that should be done more. Do you like to use campaign settings that are already in print (i.e. Forgotton Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, etc) or do you use your own? And if you use your own, how do you go about creating your own full blown campaign setting? I usually come up with a city or two, a continent layout and a pantheon but then I get stuck trying to figure out lore and details and which things need to be detailed and which don't, not to mention how to work in creatures in the Monster Manual so it can be compatible with D&D, etc. It gets to be a daunting task.

Magus Stragus said...

I've never tried a D&D published setting. I always stick with my own. I have two different worlds, and when I need to start a new campaign, I just pick a world, an open space, and start to create. I start in a small notebook, creating few maps, and as the players move, I create more and more. In general, this is what I do:

-Create rough world (not detailed, just a general thing I want, like technology, races, available classes, and such)
-Create rough cosmology (deities and anti-deities)
-General geography (number of continents, oceans, and moons)
-Create a start point. This is usually a city, be it small or large. I usually give it some detail, so players can stay in there for a while instead of just going out in some random adventure. This start point usually have a major plot point (some railroad, but well, I need some intro to my campaign), and a few minor quest hooks.
-Create the locations for the first adventure (this include space between locations, like forests, plains, deserts) with high detail (from the beginning I start tying lore to each location)
-And after this "intro" is over, I repeat the previous step as the players choose new destinations and quests.
-From time to time I create random interesting places, and try to include them in an empty location. For example, as the characters travel through the land to reach the next city, they arrive to a foggy woods, that hides a mysterious secret.

Well, that's mostly the process I do. I love -and I really mean it- creating worlds and settings, lore and deities, dungeons and cities, npcs and villains. For me, that's the best part of being a DM!

Andrew said...

I bet! Magus, I gotta say, that was an awesome outline; thanks for that. You do a great job of just breaking it down into manageable chunks instead of going "I MAKE AND DETAIL EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE!" This is one I'm going to be going back to for sure!

silent stone said...

The traveling scenes in my games tend to be glossed over ("You set out for Hiddeqel. It takes four days. You arrive at Hiddeqel."), because I've always worked under the idea that "getting there" was no fun at all...but now that I've read this post and the comments and thought about it a little, I can see that there's a lot of potential I'm just throwing away.

Now, certainly, as the PCs get into the higher levels, they tend to obtain various means for getting from A to B very quickly, but at least in heroic tier and early paragon, adventures that include a "travel" phase—or are almost completely comprised of travel—are viable, and if used frequently, then later when the PCs gain their teleportation spells and airships and whatnot, those things will seem a lot more special.

This will be something I keep in mind the next time I start thinking about getting a campaign going...

Magus Stragus said...

If you want, I can elaborate more about world creation. After all, it's the thing I love the most about DMing.

Andrew said...

Yeah, Silent, I'm with you on that one. I've just kinda discarded the idea because I didn't initially think it was worth making interesting when the next plot point was in the next town, instead of creating side quests and whatnot on the way there. You can even waylay them into a whole other plot-line and have them be diverted from the initial plot-line (that could be the whole idea!).

Andrew said...

Magus, that elaboration would be awesome. =]

Lincoln said...

Not much to say really... I agree with all of it... except that, I think that even when players get their air-ships and what-not, they can still come across things during travel, so really, travel things could happen WHENEVER travel takes place. I figure, so long as the trip for the players is longer than a day or two, put something in there for the players, because from personal experience, i get sort of bored/"sick of it" when i'm playing my character and, (unless my char thinks otherwise) we just get stuck in towns. So to all you DM's that read this, PLEASE PUT MORE TRAVEL ADVENTURES! They're fun! :D!!! ( I don't/haven't DM'd yet, so yeah, that's the reasoning for "all you dm's that read this")

Magus Stragus said...

It's nice to have the opinion of the player in this matter.

See? Travel = good!

Adam said...

Perhaps when thinking about running a campaign or even designing a character, someone might have difficulty knowing where exactly to begin. Locations are a great place to start or even define your subject. I've moslty used locations to define my game settings when running. Once, I ran a campaign which took place entirley in a drow city in the underdark and the party was made up of a drow house vying for supremecy and gain. Traveling in that case wasn't normally for city to city or continent to continent. For the most part travel took place between city districts or houses, or parts of the wilderness. Remember that although your characters are on a journey they do not need to necessarily travel too far. The real journey is the personal adventure of the heroes. The question, "where?" is defined by the answers to the questions, "why?" and "how?".
Another thing to keep in mind is that these locations need to have purpose first and foremost. For instance, the cantina in the star wars epics was the "watering hole" necessary for characters to make allies, enemies, gather information, and progress through the storylines. The death star for another example, was important not because it was a space station with a big gun but because it was the lair of the shadow, and a place of trail for the hero. Try to shy away from random towns which are simply there to provide inventory management and an Inn to rest in. When there is nothing to do except go to sleep, players will begin to try going on their own excurstions, which can be unfortunant to the flow of the game.

So yes, in short, its all about purpose.

Adam said...

sorry, thats "trial" not "trail".

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