We talked about game changing spells way back here, and we already did teleportation shenanigans in this one. So rather than rehashing old talking points about not skipping the epic journey, what say we dig into the other half of this equation?

Overland travel is tough to do right. You’ll see the issue come up in pirate games with ships, Marco Polo style caravan treks, and any game that involves bouncing around a regional map. For me, the difficulty lies in the difference between dungeon delving and open world exploration. When you’re dealing with a dungeon you have narrow corridors, discreet chambers, and easy-to-compartmentalize encounters. It makes a certain amount of sense for the goblin guards to be next to the pendulum trap to be next to the fiendish dire bear which is the beloved pet of the local goblin king who’s waiting in the throne room. It’s all there in one convenient location. So if you’re going for the classic “deplete the party’s resources through multiple encounters” style of play, that setup works a treat. But when you’re outside of the dungeon, and when you’re in a big open landscape without convenient corridors to lead from Encounter A to Encounter B, it becomes a lot tougher to justify a series of encounters.

I mean, imagine a sequence of dungeon-like misadventures coupled with a normal day of travel. You’re just trying to make the trek from The Shire over to Bree for a nice mug of Prancing Pony’s finest, but your poor party of rosy-cheeked country squires gets waylaid by a griffin attack, then highwaymen, then a grove of angry treants, and finally (for the sake of variety) a dangerous thunderstorm. That mess defies belief. Unfortunately, in a resource management game like D&D, you have to include a high frequency of challenges to make the system “work as intended.”

Now that said, there are plenty of gamers out there who have no interest in the “working as intended” bit, and are more than willing to do one big encounter per day. That’s fine conceptually, but it’s a bitch to deal with for a GM. If you’re only throwing one encounter per day, then the PCs are always going to be at full strength and max resources. Suddenly those big spells and once-per-day abilities rain down all at once. No matter how fat your wandering hill giant’s hp pool happens to be, the big lug won’t be able to compete.

So here’s my take. You can put up with the exploding giant issue, invent a mini game like Jade Regent’s caravan system, or simply run more roleplay-centric encounters during travel. But for all the mechanical issues at play, I think the one thing you don’t want to do is handwave travel time. This is your big chance to make the world feel vast and lived-in. Mechanical headaches or no, it’s worth putting in the effort to make that happen.

So how about the rest of you guys? How do you like to handle overland travel in your games? Any hints or tips? Favorite encounters? Let’s hear it in the comments!