The Road Less TraveledNovember 30, 2018 Off By TK
Welcome back, adventurer! Last week we discussed encouraging your Wallflowers to come away from the sidelines and engage in more direct roleplaying with the rest of the group. This week, we’re focusing on the dangers of travel and how Dungeon Masters can use inclement weather and difficult terrain as deadly alternatives to random enemy encounters.
So grab your snow shovels and your water-resistant tunics and let’s get wandering!
No Rain nor Snow
It’s likely that most of you reading this article grew up with a love for adventure novels and films. We spent our adolescence curled up under a blanket, well after bedtime, with only a flashlight and a favorite toy to share exploits on the high seas or caravan chases through scorching deserts. There were mountains that touched the clouds and pierced the sun, snowy tundras that would freeze the nose off of a man’s face, and the fearless heroes who trekked through it all with absolutely no issues whatsoever.
That can’t be right, can it? That certainly isn’t the adventure that you remember! No, you remember murky forests that shifted in all sorts of magical ways, leading heroes through twisting labyrinths of giant trees and twitching undergrowth. You remember the wonder of damp caverns that seemed cursed with an otherworldly darkness, a chill that clung to the heroes as persistently as any vampiric creature that lurked in the gloom.
Sometimes, we forget that the world is a dangerous place all on its own, with no monsters necessary to ensure our downfall. If you find that your group is more narrative focused and less interested in exploring miniature and combat play, remind them that a trek through the wilderness SHOULD be difficult and, in many cases, deadly. Not only does this keep travel fresh and interesting for groups who have grown tired of batting away generated handfuls of wolves and ogres, but it allows a chance for non-combat optimized characters to really shine in their natural environment (if you’ll forgive the wordplay).
A sandstorm that overwhelms your party in the desert introduces challenges that they may never have considered: oppressive heat, merciless wind, lost food…where will they run? How will they protect themselves from the cold once the sun goes down? If they are caught in the plains, introduce a tornado or a wildfire, forcing your players to think on their feet to find shelter. Have they ever seen a tornado before? How do they react to suddenly being lifted off of the ground by an uncaring force of nature or hemmed in by a wall of fire with seemingly no end?
Ask yourself how the terrain or weather changes as your players approach a dragon’s cave—does your dragon live near an active volcano to regulate its body temperature? Is there smoke or ash in the air that prevents visibility or charred trees to mark the edges of the territory? Does sulfur in the air make it more difficult to breathe without assistance?
Think of ways that you can highlight the abilities of rangers and druids beyond “we need help moving ____”. Encourage creative solutions with ability checks that are underused in urban environments. How can these nature-themed support classes feel less like sidekicks to more combat-effective classes and more like heroes with their own skills to offer? It’s worth the time to find out.
About The Author
TK is a speculative fiction writer and part-time eldritch horror. They can be found as a cast member of The Demonplague, Unearthly Twilights, The Land Between Two Rivers, and Hell’s Belles on the Don’t Split the Podcast, WebDM, and Dungeons & Dragons networks, respectively. Their gothic and cosmic horror stories can be found at tkjwrites.com and very soon in print in a collaborative set of short stories and comics with artist Kayla Cline. TK themself can be found on Twitter @tkjoinsthefray.