Most Dungeons & Dragons campaigns deal mostly with interesting locations (like dungeons) and with the monsters inside it (like dragons). The one element that every DM handles differently is how the adventurers get to those locations. There are a lot of ways you can handle overland travel in your D&D game and it is up to the Dungeon Master to choose which one fits best.
Skip it entirely
Although overland travel can be an awesome part of the game, there are enough reasons to skip straight to the destination. I mean, you and your friends took the time to get together and play in an intriguing narrative. You don’t want to waste time if you are not even sure if there is enough time to get through the whole adventure you have prepared. Especially if the travelling can be skipped for an simple reason. They could have travelled over safe roads, been in a secure caravan or been teleported to the destination. When you don’t have all the time in the world, don’t feel the need to get bogged down by extensive travelling mechanics.
Boil it down to a “cutscene”
One step up from skipping travel can be a short narration. You can paint them a word picture of the beautiful landscapes they come across so they know that there is more than only dark caves and filthy cities in the world. Or you can describe the devastation they see as they cross a decimated forest, caused by the creature they are sent to stop. You can also describe the changing scenery when they go from airid plains to a frosty mountain top to set the scene and get them thinking of what that terrain might mean for them and for the enemies. However you do it, a “cutscene” transports not only the adventurers, but also the players.
Roll encounters depending on the terrain
An interesting way of handling travel is by rolling on random encounter tables. This mechanic makes every trip a gamble. The party might come across a harmless, shy unicorn, but when a low level party suddenly comes across an Owlbear or a bunch of angry Centaurs. It’s up to the DM to make the possible encounters surprising but not too deadly. A TPK by a random encounter is an unsatisfying way to go. Dangerous creatures can be included, but they work best when the party has a way of getting out alive like bargaining or hiding.
Create choices with consequences
I find that giving the players options a nice midway between doing nothing and extensively going through every step. When they choose crossing a new terrain or if they choose to take the harder, but faster route you can roll encounters and let them discover this new path with the aid of the skills of their choosing. When they choose to take the guarded road across safe lands then it will take longer and you can narrate how that affects the story. Besides creating variation in the game you also give your players the liberty of creating their own narrative in which their personalities can truly shine.
How do you handle travel in your game? Any of the above or do you have your own way? Let me know in the comments below!
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