Recently, the perfect storm of perspective had me experiencing, in short succession:
- A family driving trip 1,500 miles from Western, NY to Texas
- Reading a book on Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, whose travels will make you realize complaining about driving on paved roads with air-conditioning makes you a weak little crybaby.
- the ending of the Malazan Crippled God series, which included, in the second book Deadhouse Gates, the most intense and electrifying flight of an army I have ever read.
So, let’s put them all together and suggest for all you gamesmiths, taking the journey and making it into an adventure itself.
Normally, the need for travel brings groans from the party and sends them scrambling for windwalk and teleport spells, off to the griffin dealership, or sifting through every bit of lore they can find to learn of the nearest portal. But for the sake of variety, at least once in your gaming why not make the travel part of a quest actually adventurous or even the focus of the campaign?
Several specific reasons can easily be brought up for the need for protracted travel. They might be commissioned to discover new lands and open new trade routes (ala Magellan) or escape from danger while being relentlessly pursued (ala Clotain’s in Deadhouse Gates). Delivery of delicates or simply important information could also warrant long expeditions, as well as a drive that demands the party visit several successive areas, cities, or even cultures.
Limiting the party’s magical options is a must when ‘getting there’ is supposed to be 1/2 the fun. Heavy cargo or large numbers preclude the use of the usual distance spells. People and items could be far too delicate to be moved using most magic. Maybe the magic itself could be a magnet for malevolent forces that are part of the pursuit. Even cultural taboos forbidding magical use could be employed to force the characters to take the long slow way.
Once the party is in fact out on the long road, the paradigm of adventuring is flipped, with the encounters randomly coming to them rather than the other way around. Unexpected ambushes happen, not to mention the known dangers that must be endured as the wilderness is crossed. Nightly watches are a lesson in large scale tactics, skills are passed to novices to assist with the expedition, and diplomacy is tested when spoiled nobles demand more protection.
Prolonged attacks test their endurance, with spellslingers forced to conserve their dwindling slots and sorties depleting both the strength and will of the defenders. Resources become critical. Clerics have to decide whether to prepare healing for the defenders or food for refugees. Potable water needs to be found, animals need care, and typical treasure become less valuable then food and shelter: you can’t eat GP and even the biggest gem won’t give sanctuary from a desert Sun.
With a bit of adjustment, what is looked at by your players as a dull necessity to get to the action can be turned into the action itself. A globe trotting campaign can be equally filled with combat and roleplay, where the PC’s are challenged just as much as during a normal dungeoncrawl. And all without having to do that door-kicking-in cliche.