September 26, 2013
Traveling: The Longer Road
So, your players wish for their characters to travel. Why? Well, why do people want to travel in general? To see new places, to experience new things, or maybe because they want something they cannot get where they are. Gamemasters, do not fret. Your players have just handed to you a whole new adventure to put them through: travel. Sure, often we Gamemasters just hand-wave long journeys or turn them into a series of random encounters, but travel can be so much more than that in a role-playing game.
Over the last several sessions, my monthly Anima: Beyond Fantasy game has been centered on the characters traveling from one side of the Old Continent to the other. Why? Because I started the game in the principality of the wind riders in the north-western corner of the Old Continent and I have a player whose character is from the Coast of Commerce in the mid-eastern side, and he was feeling a little homesick. After the initial adventure was concluded, the characters packed up and set out, not knowing that I had no plans of hand-waving this trek of thousands of miles. All they had was a horse and cart, after all. Such a journey had to be meaningful, or the scope and size of Gaia would not mean anything.
So, for three sessions (three months, as this is only a once-a-month game) the characters made their way across the Old Continent. The first adventure took place in a city they stopped in to rest, the next one at a rest house along the way, and the final just as they had reached the character’s homeland, but not quite made it to his home city. What this did was give me inspiration enough to turn what could have been five minutes of narration into three full sessions wrought with adventure and danger. They fought a band of slavers, sealed up an ancient power in a cursed swamp, and helped track down an evil cult trying to spread plague and sickness among the people of a nearby city, all while letting them get a feeling for just how truly big the world their character’s lived in really was, which was the whole point of it all.
Unless magic is involved, characters should not have a “fast travel” option in game. Traveling takes time, and the more time you devote to it the more real your world can feel. Sure, no one wants to hear the Gamemaster drone on and on about “You travel across a small creek, then past some hills. You pass another group going the opposite way. They wave. You walk, and you walk, and you walk.” No, that is not good storytelling. Tell the tale about what happens during the journey to give your journey weight. What happens when your characters stop at that rest house? What interesting people do they meet on the road? What celebrations are happening in the small villages along the way? Snapshots of their journey is what you are aiming for.
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