What to do between battles while traveling for 1 week with no gold?
I am writing a campaign in which the party will likely be traveling through a savanna over a distance that will take them a week. The characters in the party are each at level 1, and the only equipment they have is anything they may have been given at a farming village where they started. They start with no money.
(One of the puzzles early on is how to fight the boss at the end of this journey with very limited resources. Once they do and take the boss’s treasure, they will be able to afford “starting” equipment and then some when they get to a big city at the beginning of the next adventure.)
I’m wondering what kind of downtime activities to allow the players to participate in while they are on this week-long journey. I’ve read about downtime activities in the PHB and DMG, but it seems that they all require money, time (more than a week), a city to set up shop in, or resources to gather, and the adventurers won’t have access to any of these on this journey. I don’t want the players to get bored during that week, but I don’t want to skip it because I’m going to roll random events, including battles, during most of the 7 days.
I’ve never actually DM’d before, so is there a better way to go about this? I’m ultimately trying to set up a journey that will have a few events here and there but will mostly be just walking for 7 days. If downtime isn’t a good way to accomplish this, what is? Do I just fast-forward the story to the next battle or night?
- What kind of downtime activities can adventurers perform while traveling without crafting materials, money, or more than a week of time?
- How can a DM keep things interesting when the adventurers are on long journeys? How does he/she maintain the flow of the story while skipping over hours of time?
$begingroup$ More generally what items will the players have on them during this journey? $endgroup$
$begingroup$ Related (and all the posts mentioned below it in the comment from sevensideddie): rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/55406/… $endgroup$
$begingroup$ I should add that they will also have enough rations to make the journey. $endgroup$
$begingroup$ Is there a particular reason for the campaign to start like this — “you are travelling from A to B for days, blah blah..” — compared with this — “you’ve arrived to B, what do you do”? $endgroup$
$begingroup$ Those are two significantly different questions, and should probably be split into separate questions. Since the current answers focus on the second question (how to maintain story flow while skipping periods of time), you might want to edit out the first question (what can characters do while traveling in such a manner) and ask it as a separate question. $endgroup$
4 Answers 4
Skip (most of) it
Whenever I need to have my PCs travel, I simply skip the travel time and move directly to the point. In the past, I’ve tried to play through travel time, adding encounters and resource counting, but it’s always felt kind of pointless, because the challenges the PCs are facing aren’t directly related to the goal. The longer I kept it up, the more impatient my players got for “real plot”.
In this case, it looks like you’re just trying to fill up time. You’ve said they have enough rations to make the trip, and you don’t have a clear goal for the travel itself, beyond going to the location of interest. What’s more, you want the PCs to have zero progress during the travel, since you want the PCs to fight the boss with minimal resources. This means that if you play out random encounters, they will either gain levels (leveling up at level 1 is very easy) and resources, which defeats your intent, or they will gain nothing, and the challenges will feel pointless.
The key idea is that table time shouldn’t be pointless. You’ve stated that you want your players to experience combat while traveling, and that the time period is important. None of that requires that you play out the entire trip, though. Instead, only play out the parts that matter. For example, if they face bandits during their trip, you can just play that part, and then gloss over the uneventful days of walking. There’s no requirement that table time has to be proportional to in-game time: if something’s not interesting, you can simply skip over it.
Now, I’m not arguing that you should skip everything except major plot points. I’m only saying that you shouldn’t use filler to pad out in-game time, and that table time should be used intentionally, whether it’s for character interaction, exposition, or even a gameplay tutorial. However, if you’re looking only for something to fill up time, that’s a good indication that you should just skip over that time period.
$begingroup$ On that note, a commonly mentioned rule for writing fantasy: Don’t write about something unless it’s the most interesting thing going on. The same thing applies here. $endgroup$
$begingroup$ @DanielZastoupil: I am disappointed. I found that rule to be kind of a poor rule for writing fantasy. I found rather filling in enough details to make the world appear lived-in did wonders for things. Generally, the world changed because other people did things, and surprising the reader like that is no fair. $endgroup$
$begingroup$ Here’s something one of my DMs did. Tell your players they encounter a band of bandits doing some bad things (harass innocent old ladies, robbing farmers, whatever takes your fancy). And then tell them they vanquished the bandits. Then ask them to describe how they did it. Get the paladin to describe his mighty blow, or the rogue about her sneak attack. The poor old lady doesn’t have anything to repay them (except a future favour? Plot point), but the players get a feel of battle without actually going through an actual dice-rolling battle. $endgroup$
$begingroup$ @Joshua If your reader is bored, you likely just lost a reader. The rule isn’t that something vital to the plot must be happening for 100% of the writing, but that something interesting must be happening. If nothing interesting is happening, skip that part with some kind of transition. If a “boring” scene is vital to the plot, then add something interesting, even if only in the background. If your scene is just walking through a village, throw in an oddly marked dog barking at a treed squirrel, or a cat stealing a some unusual food item from a shopkeepers display. $endgroup$
$begingroup$ I somewhat agree with this answer, but I’d be very careful when deciding what’s is “important to the plot” and what not. At this early stage, you can’t even know what the plot will actually be. Even if you think you pull the strings, stories are about themes and ultimately about what players think are important events. Imagine you skipped most of what happens from the hobbits leaving Hobbiton to the Council of Elrond, where “The Story Really Starts”. just imagine. $endgroup$
Utilize “random” events
Fill up the time with seemingly random events that inflict penalties or rewards on your players without spending too much time on them.
Example: They see an oasis. It has a 25% chance of being real (only you know). They can attempt to see if it’s real (DC 15 investigation or perception), but if they believe it’s real and it’s not, they lose a lot of time and enough rations to impose 1 level of exhaustion on everyone who fails a DC 15 Constitution check.
If it IS real, everyone is overjoyed, gaining an extra day’s worth of rations and inspiration.
If it is fake, but they spotted it, the spotter gains inspiration and the day ends without interruption.
Fill out about 2-5 of these between each fight, and provide major rewards and resources after each fight, so that they’re equipped enough for the boss.
Interactions with merchants, runaway cattle, ruins, nomad orcs, a boulder on a spring, a giant scorpion killed by something much larger, all these things come to mind as meaningful encounters that don’t require much planning.
Since rations are a big deal in a desert, use them as a regular resource that increases and decreases each day, at least until they are properly equipped and wealthy.
The key things I have learned from utilizing this is that you can’t strictly rely on a random table. Dying due to ration loss is a huge problem, since players will feel like there was nothing that could have prevented it. Losing a fight from the same thing is just as bad.
But ALMOST losing a fight because you have been starving the last 2 days and your wizard is too weak to see is something very understandable and sometimes preventable.
A thing we implemented, for great effect, was the fact that I made Exhaustion not improve in standard conditions in a desert. You can prevent it via rations, but once you’re exhausted, it stayed that way without extra effort (more rations consumed for the day, or a decent place to rest such as an oasis).
An oasis or a caravan is coveted for the people who are desperate. If you give them unlimited food without the terror of dying, they will get bored and ignore the normally insignificant things in front of them. Let them go a day without food, and everyone but the Barbarian is starving, and THAT’S when they see an oasis.
Have a backup scenario in case they get stuck that they only get once, like if a hunting caravan stumbles upon them and provides food and water for assistance with a monster hunt.
Generally, your events should have major drawbacks on a failure and minor (or major temporary) benefits on a success, as they will succeed more often than not. If they need a major benefit (such as obtaining gear or temporary companions) have it cost them (requires a combat, healing from hit die requires a ration, etc).
The players should feel on edge (they’re in a DESERT), but don’t push it too far. Give them literal breaks(the players themselves will be a bit frustrated at times when they’re exhausted).
This will not work to the same effect if you have a Ranger or a Druid since they have means of making food, but you still can implement a similar effect that simple nourishment (such as Goodberries) are considered a single ration for the sake of the trek, so you still might be exhausted or require additional rations or water to remove exhaustion if it sets in. To get around the lack of risk of exhaustion, implement exhaustion into failed events themselves rather than relying on strictly ration use to manage exhaustion.
Six Ways to Make Fantasy Travel More Interesting
As a reader and writer of fantasy, I’ve found the travel aspect can be… tedious. Either it’s pages and pages of scenery with characters walking, walking, walking, or it’s one quick scene where nothing happens. If your story includes travel, try these tips for making it more entertaining.
1. Show Off Your World
Having your characters travel from point A to point B is the perfect opportunity to incorporate the unique aspects of your world. Consider sprinkling in some interesting and distinctive landmarks, incorporating the history of the region your characters are traveling through, and really taking the opportunity to show off your setting. Your characters might travel through an ancient forest that was twisted by a curse, so you can weave in the history of magic. Or maybe they travel through some old ruins that one character has read about. Doing so will add depth to your world and characters.
A book that does this beautifully is The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. In it, Frodo and Sam go on a long and dangerous journey and find themselves along the way. On each leg of their adventure, they stumble upon new and exciting places: Rivendell, Balin’s Tomb in the mines of Moria, and the Dead Marshes, to name a few. And in each new location, Frodo finds the courage to keep moving forward and make his footprint on the world – small in stature but large in heart. This blending of setting and character introspection makes the journey meaningful to readers.
2. Develop Characters and Relationships
Another aspect you can focus on while traveling is expanding on your characters and building (or breaking) their relationships. After all, the characters are stuck with each other during these trips, so something will happen between them – be that a deeper friendship or a falling out. The characters might bond after discussing their past or the reasons why they’re on this adventure. Or perhaps they fight over the best path to take. They could even come into conflict over their dueling morals.
Usually these character-building moments happen around a campfire after a long day of travel, but consider adding in these conversations while they’re walking. If the scenery stays much the same – for example, a rolling grassland or a seaside beach – people will often chat simply to give themselves something to do. As long as they aren’t galloping on horseback, they can carry on a conversation.
In my fantasy novel Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties, my main character Misti is on the road with her traveling party. They come across a wagon – a musical troupe – that is being attacked and decide to save them. After, Misti strikes up a conversation with one of the musicians. The musician asks why Misti’s companion animal is sunkissed (orange, red, yellow). None of her traveling party had asked her about it, and after the conversation, I was able to bring in the terrible history of those colors and the overall attitude toward them, and then contrast it with Misti’s point of view. That conversation allowed me to do some important character development.
3. Add a Fight
First, your characters could be ambushed! This works only if they’re using well-worn roads where travelers are expected. A known route is the perfect place for thieves, mercenaries, or even the main antagonist’s lackeys to get the jump on your protagonists.
If your characters are off-roading it, maybe taking a dangerous shortcut cross-country, you could also add a dragon fight! And no, this doesn’t have to be an actual dragon, it can be any kind of fantastical beast that you have in your world. Adding an interaction with a beast would give you the opportunity to show off your super cool fantasy creatures. Did you create your own mythical animals? Add a twist to the classic dragon? Maybe I’m biased, but one amazing element of fantasy is the creatures. So show them off!
No matter who the enemy is, fights are exciting! They force your characters to defend themselves, showing your readers if your protagonists are brave or scared. They also add a sense of urgency. Maybe the road isn’t as safe as the characters thought it would be. Just remember not to treat these fights as isolated incidents with no impact on your characters. Let them think on the moment after it’s over – maybe something significant happened during or after the scuffle. Or you could have another fight later in the story, and show your characters’ growth (or lack thereof).
K. D. Edwards’s The Hanged Man has a good instance of a struggle against a magic beast. His characters are traveling through a very tall tower – encountering different magical biomes along the way – when suddenly the main character Rune gets swept up by a flying creature called an ifrit. Edwards gives some awesome descriptions of the ifrit’s fleshy wings, furry body, and how it uses air magic. Not only is this a cool fight, but since the ifrit is an ancient, powerful being, the fight also shows just how formidable the antagonist must be if he sent this creature to thwart Rune. Two for one!
4. Make Travel Challenging
Traveling might entail a sudden injury, a wagon wheel shattering, horrible weather, or an inn that’s unexpectedly shuttered for the night. These events can show the characters’ reactions to small – or large – things that just happen. If they’re traveling with a group, this can also show how they work together as a team. Does one character stay calm throughout the whole ordeal while another gets really angry? Does a leader emerge? These annoying moments would add a sense of realism, too, because when you’re traveling in real life, you know at least one thing will go wrong.
In The Priory of the Orange Tree, Loth is traveling through the Spindles, a cold, windy, frozen place. He’s been traveling through this area for a few days. The weather is terrible, with the snow basically falling sideways, but Loth continues on. A lesser character might have turned back, and the fact that he doesn’t shows his determination and loyalty to his mission.
5. Use Unique Methods of Travel
You don’t need to have your characters travel by horseback, sail on a boat, or even walk everywhere. Try to think of novel ways your characters could journey through the land. Maybe the characters can fast-travel by magic but it demands a specific and steep price to do so. Maybe they have unique non-horse mounts that you’ve imagined and would like to show off, like a dragon. It all depends on the kind of world you’re building.
In Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost, the characters traverse through the bridges connecting nearly all the cities. The world is basically one big ocean with some smaller islands, so bridges are the way to go! In The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo, the protagonist travels through the otherworld, or spirit realm, trying to achieve her goals. In the story, a paper-horse burning funeral creates a life-size spirit horse for the main character to ride in the otherworld. Make whatever type of travel you choose stand out!
6. Just Summarize or Skip It
If nothing important happens during travel, you can skip forward. Just end one chapter or scene with the character starting their trip, and begin the next chapter or scene with them arriving at their destination, adding in a line or two about the journey. Skipping the actual walking part could be useful if what happens on the journey doesn’t move the story forward. So instead of a whole chapter of traveling, simply add a short paragraph about how long the traveling took. This would give the sense of passing time.
If you do use this technique, remember that while readers didn’t see the few days or weeks of travel, the characters lived it – had conversations, conflicts, maybe met some new people on the way. Be sure to reflect that in their attitudes. Perhaps they are really tired and that one character who doesn’t deal with stress well is really pissed. Their friendships might be stronger or cracks that were already there might have widened.
However, if you find your characters reflecting on something particular from the trip, maybe you should add that part of the trip into your story. That way, you can show it happen rather than having your characters just talk or think about it.
There are a ton of books that use this skipping forward idea, like Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief. During one brief skip, she simply writes, “After a quarter of a mile…” It gives the sense of time passing, but it does so in a succinct way. You can do the same!
Remember, not all who wander are lost. When done well, travel can add layers of worldbuilding, characterization, and quite frankly a unique spin to your story. Enjoy the adventure!
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Adventure Travel: 15 Must-Know Packing Tips
Perfect packing is possible, and we made a list for it. Check these off before gearing up for a faraway trip this year.
Here at GearJunkie, travel is an integral part of what we do. We culled these 15 packing tips from our experiences on the road, including mistakes we made over the years traveling to the Rocky Mountains or as far as Kathmandu.
15 Packing Tips for Travelers
1. Make a Master List
A few days before a trip, begin a list on paper or your phone. Write down items that are needed and obscure: passport, maps, sunglasses, hat, lip balm, water bottle, a book for the plane, etc. Keep the running list close at hand and add to it as things pop into your head. Keep it saved on your phone (or written on paper) for your next trip, and you’ll be ahead of the game.
2. Personal Documents & ID
Print out all important documents for a trip, including hotel reservations, rental car info, directions, and any contacts. (Don’t rely solely on digital copies on a phone.) Make a photocopy of your passport and store it in a different part of your luggage than your real passport; in a worst-case scenario, you’ll have a backup.
3. Wallet/Purse Dump & Scan
Before you leave, take all credit and ID cards from your wallet or purse, lay them on a table, and take a photo. Shoot the front and back of all the cards and IDs. You’ll then have a backup digital record in case your wallet goes missing on the road.
4. Pack Less
Overpacking clothes is a top violation of adventure travel. Before you start shoving everything into your bag, ask, “Do I really need three pairs of jeans?” Many travelers wear the same clothes multiple days in a row (we sure do), which significantly cuts down on pack/luggage weight and the hassle of managing a wardrobe on your trip.
5. Multi-Day Apparel
Avoid cotton, since it’s mostly wearable one or two days before needing a wash. We often bring shirts made of merino wool, as they’re wearable multiple days in a row and work across a range of temps. Another option is clothing treated with Polygeine, which doesn’t need to be washed as often.
6. Adventure Gear
A night hike, river tubing, or secret singletrack – you never know what adventure may arise while traveling. Don’t miss out because you don’t have the gear. Below are gear staples for us on any adventure:
- Rain jacket
- Water bottle
- Dry bag (waterproof)
- Bandana or Buff headwear
7. Backpack or Luggage?
Rolling luggage is de rigueur for air travelers. But if you’re hopping off an airplane to walk, bike, trek, or explore, then wheeled luggage quickly becomes a hassle. Use backpacks instead, including made-for-travel packs like the Eagle Creek Global Companion (photo above).
8. Breakables in Carry-On
Computers, cameras, and any breakables should not be packed in luggage going into the belly of the plane. Keep those items in the above-seat bin on a plane or in a pack stuffed under the seat so you can protect them on the go.
9. Check the Weather
Rainy days can ruin trips. Make the most out of each day by packing the right clothing, rain jackets included. Especially in the desert or high country, check the forecast to make sure you are covered.
10. Airplane Apparel
Long flights are requisite for many trips. Think ahead and dress for the occasion. Wear comfortable clothing and include layers to strip off or add, as the temperature in many planes is unpredictable from hot to cold. Also consider a hat, earplugs, eye mask, and a neck pillow on flights longer than a couple hours, where you can sleep.
11. Pack a Snack
Bringing food from home lets you avoid paying ridiculously high prices at the airport for processed junk. Be the envy of the aircraft with fresh food from home. When everyone else eats airline peanuts, pull out a fresh box of blueberries.
12. Buy a Phone
Most data plans don’t work or charge expensively when traveling internationally. Instead, buy a pre-paid SIM card or cheap phone at your destination. With a phone, you can worry less about losing your travel partner, use GPS, post photos and travel updates, and call for Uber or Lyft rides in cities.
13. Leave Room for Souvenirs
Will you have time to visit a gift shop or local market? If you’re a gift-giver, pack an empty, lightweight bag or pack within your luggage. Use this extra pack or bag if you can’t fit everything on the way home.
Odor from dirty clothes and shoes can seep into your clean clothes and have you spending time at a laundromat instead of adventuring. Use a product like a Shoe Sac, or even a plastic bag, to keep the clean separate from the dirty. Storing them in a separate bag or compartment of your pack is a simple hack to mitigate the funk.
Some travel-specific gear comes with an integrated rain jacket pocket or shoe container. Eagle Creek’s Global Companion 40 has two zippered storage pockets to separate the dirty from the clean.
15. Tiny Toiletries
Travel-size toiletries are sold at most drugstores or groceries. Stock up on 3-ounce (or smaller) shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, and other needed personal items. The made-for-travel sizes will pass through airline security and offer enough quantity to service a traveler for a week or more on the road.
–This article is sponsored by Eagle Creek. Check out the brand’s travel pack – the Global Companion 40L – to help perfect your packing.