DM Riches: Walking the Trail

Dark Trail by Scott Hudson (License info below)

Recently I’ve read a number of books about people hiking the Appalachian Trail. The trail stretches approximately 2178 miles from Georgia to Maine and can take 6 months to complete.  Even with all the modern equipment, and with town stops every few days on the trail, the trip is long and fraught with trouble and danger.

Hikers must be wary of bears, snakes, bugs, and the weather.  They haul an average of 40 – 60 lbs of equipment and food, and that’s with modern clothing rather than the various armors worn by most characters.  They have to be careful of slips and falls on the trail.  And though they’re following a marked and maintained trail, they still have to deal with downed trees and washed out sections of trail on occasion.

These stories started me thinking about the difficulties characters might experience when traveling from place to place. While every trip your PCs take shouldn’t be as difficult, a session of wilderness travel could include some challenging encounters, especially if your world design embraces the points of light idea offering small areas of civilization seperated by wide areas of hostile territory.    

I’m not a huge fan of random encounters, but this is the perfect spot for them, replacing the mundane nuisances of bugs, snakes, and bears with more challenging equivilents.  Stirges replace mosquitos, owlbears replace black bears, deathrattle viper or viper swarms in place of rattlesnakes, giant rats replace the mice trying to steal the party’s food while they sleep.  Instead of finding bits of civilization every few days, characters might come upon villages of hostile humanoids, or a giant’s encampment. 

Then there is the simple act of survival.  While you don’t want to turn the trip into a daily combination of skill checks, the trip can be written up as a skill challenge.  Succeeding on early skill checks leaves you better able to handle the random encounters that come later.  For example failing an Endurance check might shift one of the character’s Encounter Powers into a Daily Power for 1d4 days.  Failing a Dungeoneering check might lead to damaged equipment, leaving a character with a penalty to damage or armor class until the equipment can be repaired. Difficult terrain could lead to a fall, injuring the character and decreasing their speed until they spend a full day resting.

Not every trip should be treated as a wilderness excursion, plenty of trips will be over trade routes or through other more well traveled paths, but sometimes how you get there is half the adventure.

Some of the books I’ve read on this topic:

Walking with Spring by Earl Shaffer
On the Beaten Path by Robert Alden Rubin
There Are Mountains to Climb by Jean Deeds

Photo: Dark Trail by Scott Hudson/NJScott is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.

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