One of the things I’ve always struggled with a bit is how to run travel and exploration. In some ways, the game of D&D, and other similar RPGs is about exploration – both of the world and of the character. I’ve always liked the idea that a fantasy world could hold anything, and in playing the role of a person exploring that world, your character could truly feel the wonder that I have felt when I traveled to places like Iguazu or Machu Picchu. Those places felt magical, and they exist today as places you could visit. Try to imagine a world where magic exists within nature as well. It takes a more accomplished GM than me to impart that sense of wonder to exploration at the tabletop.
I do try sometimes though. I’ll describe a sweeping vista, or make that trek up the mountain really feel realistic. At the same time, I sometimes feel like my effort to make travel feel significant ends up having the opposite effect. It slows the game down, leads to random encounters that aren’t as interesting to the story, and those in turn can lead to boredom and frustration. Sometimes, I think about “Fast Travel” from various computer-based RPGs, and wonder if I should incorporate more of it into my game, and in fact, whether there should be some discussion of it in the exploration rules. Maybe I should unlock “fast travel” to a location once you’ve found it, or explored the area.
To make a comparison to the creative process in literature, I feel sometimes like simplifying travel rules is like cutting weaker scenes from a novel or book. But should narrated travel, random encounters, and other travel rules get cut, like an author tightening up a good story? My main concern is that the game would lose something fundamental. I talked about, in my post on Experience, wanting to reward exploration as a player behavior – and now I’m talking about significantly removing the barriers to travel.
Should we remove those climb checks and random encounters? Without some good design, and honestly some re-skinning in the heat of the moment, random encounters can feel out-of-place, strange, and contrived. Sometimes though, those random encounters are the extra bit of chaos that really takes the game in directions that even the GM didn’t anticipate. Are random encounters important, or are they keeping us from getting to the good stuff? I wonder if the journey is really all that important to the players compared to the destination, or whether it could be important if handled differently. The truth of the matter is though that we have limited playing time, and so I wonder if travel should that be film sent to the cutting-room floor.