Over Land Travel
This month is March, and if you know much about the subtle ways of Duck and Roll you might not be surprised to find out this month's theme is: Travel!
Get it? March? Travelling? Cause marching is a form of travel. Shutup, I'm not forcing it, you're forcing it. Anyways, what better way to start off travel in March than to talk about Overland travel.
Whether you play a galaxy spanning space opera, a gritty struggle to understand eldritch forces, a sweeping fantasy, or just the tale of a few desperate survivors it is inevitable that sooner or later, someone will want to go somewhere. Overland travel is by far the most common type of travel since it's readily available to nearly all beings of sentience, and it can take many forms. So let's take a look at some of the aspects of overland travel:
Travel in the Narrative: Whenever someone is venturing from one point to another, it's important to consider the purpose of that travel in terms of the narrative, it's place in the story. This can be as grand as setting your campaign as a worldwide globe spanning journey as a way of representing the character's internal journey and development. It can also be as simple as a character crossing a room to come face to face with another, to take that moment of suspense, to let the players plan, or dread, or wonder whether they're about to be attacked, embraced, or threatened. Movement can be very symbolic, used to represent change, to show action or the intent to carry out action, to add emphasis. But just as important as why someone moves is HOW they move. Someone who "Slinks" is very different from someone who "Trudges", and someone who "Sashays" could never be mistake for someone who "Charges". Describing movement in keeping with the expected environment can establish a character who is logical, reasonable, lawful, or intelligent. Someone charging across the battlefield makes sense, urgency is needed and it's life or death. But someone who strolls casually across the battlefield lends a sense of wrongness, they are, or believe they are, different and askew from normal people. They may be insane, or lack regard for their life, they may be invulnerable, or simple confidant in themselves, but any which way it is very telling about their character.
The senses: Moving from one place to another entails a great deal of sensations and experiences. The crunching of gravel, the smell of offal as you enter the next room, the distant mountains carved with the faces of passed kings, the bumps and jostles of your carriage, the smooth purr of your sports car. While in combat one has to be careful not to break the pace with too much description, a little bit can give a solid feel for the surroundings. Meanwhile, when the players mount up and sally forth across country you have a great chance to help set up a nice in depth transition scene. Describe the lay of the land, the weather, the smells, the taste of their rations, the feel of the ride. One of the most important things you can do during a journey is to give the players a moment to breathe, to relax, to take things in, let them contemplate, let them sip the surroundings with all the senses let them feel the richness of your world before you plunge them back into chaos.
Events: Few journeys are truly uneventful, rarely in life does a trip go by without incident, without anything of note. In some games this could be a random encounter, a sudden injection of action, danger, combat, and XP, this usually follows the golden rule of 1 random encounter per trip. The main reason to limit such encounters is that they are basically padding, crunchy, exciting, but don't generally add to the story. In other games this might be a simple obstacle like a car engine breaking down. Or sometimes it may just be something for note. "During the trip your NPC friend won't stop humming that new pop song". I also quite enjoy asking the players what their characters will be doing during a trip. If they have a pastime, or who they spend time with, as a way for fleshing out the transportation and letting the players consider their activities when life or death isn't on the line.