Humphrey Carpenter's biography of the Inklings recounts one of my favorite anecdotes about those old dudes. It goes something like this:
C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams liked to go for hikes from one village to another. They'd start at one pub and end in another pub: stay the night, drink some beers. One time they made the mistake of inviting Tolkien. When they wanted to be walking Tolkien was fumbling into the underbrush off the track and pointing out interesting trees. Lewis and Williams did not invite him again.
I don't have the full text with me so maybe I fucked that up. The essential bits are there, though.
|from the Witcher comic|
Ever since the days of Mr. Spends-Too-Long-Looking-At-Trees wrote a trilogy about just waltzing into Mordor, journeys and travels have been a fantasy staple. As such, we have long tried to include this essential fantasy element in our role-playing games. Often, these RPG experiences fall flat.
Here is something I've noticed:
Most Travel Rules Suck
The State of Affairs
What are Travel Rules?
1. Movement Procedures
- How far can you travel each day?
- How many days of rations/water can you carry?
- What happens if you go hungry/thirsty?
- What if you have horses? Are on a boat?
- Can you get lost? How do you orient yourself?
2. Travel Encounters
- Encounters with the denizens of the wild: wild animals, wild people, monsters
- Natural hazards that challenge the characters' progress: snowstorms, avalanches, acid rains, thick fogs
- Misfortunes that befall travelers: broken wagon axels, rock in your shoe, leak in your water skin
- Fortunes that shine on travelers: edible mushrooms on the path, generous local shepherds, opportune logs across treacherous rivers
3. Player Actions
- "Can I hunt? Can I look for water?"
- "I want to keep an eye out for any rare herbs as we travel."
- "I want to make sure I'm always on the look out. I have my sword half drawn in case we come across those bandits I heard about."
- "If the forest spirit is angry, can I make a sacrifice to them before we enter the wood?
Good Movement Procedures
- I'm running Hot Springs Island right now. The book has exploration actions and timing rules with watches that I very much enjoy. Very worth checking out.
- Ben L recently posted some hex crawl rules for a project he's working on here. They're a good distillation of good best practices.
- Ava's work on Errant is also very good.
Bad Travel Encounters
|A grim example of Reddit advice|
|From The One Ring 1st ed supplement Journeys and Maps|
The similarity between "Walk past the same rock 5 times" and "Make a Corruption test as you think about home"? Neither encounter provides the player any choice nor any opportunity for input. The Referee could have played this game solo.
Good Travel Encounters
- Good travel encounters are broadcast clearly. Some part of the encounter should be visible. The head of this pimple should be able to be interacted with and interrogated.
- Good travel encounters have multiple possible solutions. There should be no obvious solution but there should be many ways to bypass the encounter. Testing a player's ability to make a character, roll a high number, or pack the single perfect item aren't as interesting as testing a player's ability to think through open-ended, difficult problems.
- Good travel encounters have consequences. There should be something lost or gained by successfully interacting with the encounter. These consequences do not need to be negative. If you lose your fiddle in the spring and you turn down the fiddle of gold that the fairy offers you, you can get the fairy's special reward for honesty.
- Obstacles that are "just off the path of the woods" that the PCs walk around aren't encounters, they're hex features. In the real world, there are situations where you can only go left or right. Consider Caradhras versus Moria. The players can't get past the mountains so they have to go under them.
- Cordage - Put this into your pack to tie up canvas to keep the rain off of you or pull your food into trees to deter bears. Useful for 100 other things.
- Scarecrow - Put this outside your tent to make sure undead scarecrows don't try and come in seeking shelter. Scarecrow are quite polite, so won't come into a tent they know another scarecrow is already occupying.
Rules for Common Actions
Spoor is a sign that this creature is near - a howl in the woods, claw marks on trees, scat on the trail. Successfully spotting spoor allows the PCs to avoid the creature this time. If this Encounter entry is drawn again, the PCs will definitely encounter the creature regardless of how many scouts are in the party.