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Low-Magic, High-Rollers, Ep 5

Pack your bags, we’re leaving: Put travel back in your games already.



In this series, I’ll be covering aspects and themes that continue to vex Dungeon Masters and Players with styles and tastes that often run on the darker and/or visceral end of how they enjoy their D & D. 

The characters are built, their equipment has been selected, they had fun losing gold playing cards in the tavern and punched out a drunk getting fresh with the bartender, things are going classically well. You set the through-line of the plot to get them on the road and they bite. Perfection, then!

The DM: The road is long to Nextown and you spend several days riding along the mores and the brooks that babble between them. Then on the third day, you arrive.

I’m usually not spicy here, but excuse me? We just casually glazed over THREE DAYS!? 

Now to preface this rant, I want to say that I’d never give criticism without a solution. That being said, glazing over travel in campaigns has led to one of the biggest slanders in Dungeons and Dragons class memification, and to be fair, it’s largely a DM problem and not a class problem. Rangers really don’t deserve the flak they get when campaigns don’t actually let their abilities for terrain and survival knowledge sing. I’m going to stop the Ranger rant there since that will be in the next article of Classpiration, but today we’re going to figure out how to add good grit by bringing back travel in a fun way.

The art in the D&D sourcebooks literally paints a wonderful picture of how the vibe of a campaign’s travel can manifest. A bard’s song before bed, planting traps around the encampment when in a dangerous forest, or woken up in the dead of night by the Ranger, being tasked with packing quickly and quietly to avoid something large they heard with their ear to the ground. Now granted, your party may be more of an “I am my character” and Roleplay light, but that doesn’t mean that travel wouldn’t be any less exciting because the roleplay would be predictable. Giving these opportunities to chat on the road or whilst setting up camp for the night builds a dynamic of cohesion so that when they do arrive at the castle ruins overrun by a beholder running a crime syndicate they fall into rank easily. 

Still not convinced this can help them work as a team quicker? Alright, try this.

Tell the party that on the road they have a handful of jobs and responsibilities whilst going through the wilderness, of course, if there are survival-heavy classes in the party they can take this almost completely themselves to really show their skills, but if not it can be divided into the following.

Forager/Hunter: searches for food or hunts it.

“Sticks”: The person who goes finding brush and logs or junk from inventory to burn for a fire (easier when there’s a fire caster around of course).

Camp-maker: Sets up tents and bedrolls.

Cook: Throws a pot on the fire and gets stewing on some stock if the hunter isn’t back yet.

Sentinel: Usually only at night when people are taking sleep shifts. A Guard over the camp.

Some of these roles can be roped together easily for smaller groups or a workflow rotation can be made between party members so that particular characters who don’t usually have time to chat with one another in private may do so out of necessity. This also puts into account the use of those bits of equipment most have a hard time roping into the narrative of play like mess kits, candles, incense, and pitons. 

Of course, this all works well if you have a group that enjoys a little roleplay, but let’s say they need more grit in the experience. Make sure to start worldbuilding seasonal temperatures and weather into your campaign. Are you a lazy DM? Alright, fine… do this. 

Of course, you could always make encounter tables, but how about weather ones? Here’s a rolling table for your classic temperate climate region, a-la Britain/mainland Western Europe.

Weather Rolling Table

Each day roll a d4. When darkness falls roll a d4. Roll a d100 for storm chances. Can you tell I love rolling dice?

Fall d4

  1. Crisp but comfortable, the sun is doing it’s job amidst scattered clouds.
  2. Not a cloud in the sky, but it’s cold and windy. Some flora still maintain the morning frost on them.
  3. Rainy, damp, and cold. When clouds part it’ll chill to the bone. Mud and cold puddles everywhere
  4. Rainy and damp followed by sun, but more rain to come later.

(Roll a 30% chance of a storm with a d100 each week/tenday, have fun with how this messes with their camp or need for shelter).

Winter d4

  1. Frosty but humid with large gentle flakes of snow.
  2. Ice rain turning every wet-touched surface into an icy sheen within hours.
  3. A clear sunny day with biting cold air, slowing the joints and making the air hurt with every breath.
  4. Snow, snow, and more snow. Will it ever end. 

(Roll a 30% chance of a Blizzard with a d100 each week/tenday, 1d4+1= how many feet fell from the blizzard. Have fun with how it hinders camp and travel, maybe they need to dig themselves out of camp).

Spring d4

  1. A balmy day. Too much armour when the hint of summer touches spring can really feel gross.
  2. Rainy and cool, warm after the rain. Clothes are heavy and gross from the rainwater warming them.
  3. Misty and humid, occasional slashing rain with spurts of sun between scattered clouds.
  4. Humid and sunny, the effects of storms make the ground muddy. Everything is blooming though. 

(Roll a 30% chance of one of the following: A Tornado, a lightning storm, or hail. Tear apart the surroundings, let lightning blast nearby trees or tall tents, and hail as big as golf balls with bludgeoning damage)

Summer d4

  1. High humidity and sweltering sun. Burns the skin and slakes most with sweat with little effort.
  2. Dry and intense sun, low humidity, drink up or you’ll collapse. Metal armour roasts wearers.
  3. A rare day of scattered clouds and mild warm breezes. Warm but manageable moments when the sun is covered.
  4. Wispy clouds building into larger ones over the day. Might have some warm rain later.

(Roll a 20% chance of a lightning storm with heavy rainfall and possible flooding. Have fun describing how beasts of burden react to the lightning, and if anything gets hit and catches fire.)

These complications use up resources in a way that most dungeons do with less subtlety. Moments like this add character to the arrival of parties when they come to an Inn they can finally shelter from the elements. Muddy, soaked in rain, sunburnt, exhausted, or a little shocked by the storm…literally. Encounter tables, Dungeons, and Cities don’t have to be the only fun in D&D. The flavour of the road and wilderness has its own weather and tempests to deal with. Happy travels, adventurers!

Written By:
Christian Petrozza
IG: L2S_Entertainment
Twitter: @Late2theShowEnt

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