RPGBOT.Podcast Episode 19 – Travel

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss how to make travel an interesting storytelling device in your game. We discuss popular fiction as both good and bad examples of how to use travel, and offer suggestions for how to adapt those ideas without taking away from the rest of your game.

Special thanks to Mike D for this week’s questions of the week.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, and I’m on the road again. And with me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody!

Randall 

And Random Powell.

Random 

Evening.

Randall 

All right, Tyler, what are we doing tonight?

Tyler 

Tonight we’re going to talk about travel. So travel is something that happens a lot in tabletop RPGs: between cities, between planets, between solar systems. And a lot of the time, it’s just this kind of thing where you say, “Okay, I travel from here to there, that is done. Let’s get on with the game.” And I want to explore what we can do with travel mechanically, and as a storytelling device to add more to your game than just as if there is some vague distance between places.

Randall 

Okay, yes. I think of travel in like D&D 5e, is that thing that we agree that we do, and then we do it, and then it’s done.

Tyler 

Yeah, that’s pretty common. Basically, every game I’ve ever been in has done some variation of that. A lot of games, the most you’ll get is maybe a random encounter if the DM decides that they want to make that a thing. But a lot of times, everyone will just say, “Okay, random encounters are a waste of time, we don’t want to spend two hours of a game session fighting bandits on the side of the road. That’s not going to add to the plot,” and then they’ll just skip those things.

Randall 

Okay. All right. I’m gonna hit pause. I want to go back out to maybe like, pop culture and good narration. Can you give me…let’s say, I don’t know a number. Four examples of travel exposition that don’t suck?

Random 

Yes, in fact, all you have to do is look at really kind of any pop culture. And this is sort of a point that I made back in Episode Zero, I think it might have been Episode One. Basically, story is not told during fights. And that’s by design. A fight can advance plot, and it absolutely does, particularly in these pre-written modules where the fights that you’re having, they are expected to be weaved into the narrative. In general, character growth isn’t going to happen while you’re swinging a sword. Character growth comes from dialogue. And you have dialogue during the moments where you’re traveling because that’s when you’re not doing anything more interesting than talking. So you know, if you look at things like… God, it was the recent Tom Hanks movie that’s on Apple TV. It’s literally just… Finch? Thank you. It’s literally just a movie about him traveling. Basically, that’s it, that’s travel. That’s the whole thing. Road trip movies are a thing. I’m going to slightly date myself, and also suggest something that is mildly inappropriate. Eurotrip is a hilarious movie that I will sit down to watch anytime you want me to.

Randall 

Yeah.

Random 

Which is, again, explicitly about a lot of travel. You could go on and on and on. You will find so many instances where travel is set as the backdrop because it affords so much time for both new experiences and dialogue, which is the core of telling a story.

Tyler 

So one of the things I really like about using travel as a storytelling device is it’s kind of a… it’s kind of a walled canyon that the characters are stuck in for some period of time. They need to get from A to B for whatever reason, and during that transition, you have them in a fixed location. And unless they turn around or something, you know where they’re going to go. So you have this very defined window for where to tell stories. Drawing on pop culture again, Lord of the Rings is a wonderful example of managing travel well. If you’ve seen movies or read books, like a lot of it is let’s cut to Frodo and Sam, what are they doing? “Walking sure sucks, Sam.” “Sure does. Mr. Frodo.”

Randall 

Yeah, no, that’s that’s a great example like that. The the entire novel and the movie series is, it’s like, well, I suppose we want to go there now. Except for half the people don’t actually want to go there because it’s gonna suck. Yeah, it can be summarized as “and then it got worse.”

Tyler 

Yes, but… so they cut a lot of out a lot of this out in the movies, but a lot of the traveling in the books like they, they’re going to a place, something weird happens on the way, and they must overcome some challenge to continue where they’re going. Like I remember one scene where they have to get down a cliff and it’s Sam, Frodo, and Gollum… like okay, how do we get down this cliff? Well we’ve got one rope. Do we try and keep the rope? And like they have this long, long ordeal just trying to figure out how to keep their rope while getting on the cliff. It seems like such a throwaway thing.

Randall 

But weren’t they using that to, like, build mistrust between Gollum and Sam? Like, wasn’t that the whole thing with a rope? Yeah.

Tyler 

Yeah, so stuff like that, like, those minor things create these really interesting story moments for your characters. And a lot of times, like, there’s no NPCs around. So it’s just intra-party roleplay. And a lot of times roleplay doesn’t… A lot of times the play acting aspect of roleplay happens when you’re surrounded by NPCs, when you’re talking to other people, and when you’re not necessarily just talking to your party. Again, that box canyon, walled canyon that travel creates can be really great for character development.

Randall 

So I guess across tabletop gaming, in… I guess I’ll say this, first of all, most teams, I think their initial instinct is, let’s just move to the action and the action is happening in the next town over, the next city over, wherever your destination is, that’s where the action picks up. And so I feel like the answer has to be that you have to create some kind of reward system for your players engaging in the RP that’s going to happen along the road. So what can we do?

Random 

So you certainly can. And I’m actually going to say, you don’t necessarily have to create a reward system, you just have to build engagement. Now, a reward system is one way to build engagement. And in fact, that’s certainly a thing that I have done in the long-running Rise of the Runelords campaign that Tyler talked about. I would at the end of the episode, ask the players to vote on who role played best and give them an XP bonus. Now, that works much less well in fifth edition, where fifth edition, especially I mean, if you’re reading any of the more recent modules, they are literally, explicitly saying we expect you to use milestone leveling. Giving someone an XP bonus didn’t really matter. But if you do come up with some kind of reward system, maybe it’s your characters’ deeds become more and more noteworthy. And you know, your legend gets told, and so when you arrive in town, yeah, the player with the most roleplay tally marks over the preceding campaign gets recognized and gets special treatment like “Oh, you, you get, you get the best meal.” And you get to say in the best room in the end, and the mayor comes and pays you a special visit and thanks you for showing up at you know, wherever you are, or something like that. So a reward system could work.

Randall 

Yeah, I guess I’ll offer a couple ideas that you do. So I think at some point, we’re going to talk about random tables. And that is to say that random tables are awesome for this. Just having some encounter or a set of encounters that possibly could happen, and then just a roll of dice for sometimes nothing happens. And sometimes something interesting happens. You could give players a choice. And so the idea is, yeah, you have to go from point A to point B. And in point B, you advanced a larger campaign that we’re playing, there are two paths you might take. One of them is a much easier path to take and in the other, they’ve been having some trouble, something keeps bothering travelers on the road, there’s a monster or there’s some bandits that keep attacking people. At this point, the players can make a choice, do they want to do that thing. And if they’re, you know, let’s say you have a bunch of lawful good, lawful good players, they might want to take that path in order to stop the bandit, which could open up another storyline, it could give an opportunity to give some loot. And if you like talking about how to build that reward system, the answer might be, yeah, when they do choose to divert themselves and to take on this activity, I make sure that they walk away with something that’s good.

Random 

I’m gonna take this moment to just interject for a second. And we’re going to get to this in a later episode as well when when we talk about playing at high levels. This largely only matters during the space of time when your characters are just walking. At the point where players start reliably flying or later, much worse, teleporting. None of this matters. If you’re going to have this, be aware that as the Rise of the Rune Lords Sourcebook, famously put it, your players may have exotic modes of transportation. Just be aware of that. And this is honestly one of the, the reasons why it is most important to stay on top of what your players are capable of. Because if you have all of this plot written up for this side campaign that you’re going to try and like steer people towards on the road to something and they just tree stride past it because they have a Ranger. Great. de doot, doot. Be aware that a lot of players particularly the sort of players who may be listening to this podcast, who are optimization focused, will be trying to skip the stuff that you put to challenge them in between things. Hit them with this early and/or try and build the expectation into your sessions. You’re like, hey, look, I know you guys can teleport. I know you guys can do this. We can do that. Or we can run the game where we try and actually have character involvement during travel. That’s a thing to keep in mind as you try and figure out, do I want to bother writing up this stuff for side campaigns? Because they may just ignore it.

Tyler 

So I want to draw another pop culture reference. So the Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim should be present in people’s mind, since it’s been released, how many times now? I think we’re into double digits.

Randall 

It came out on November 11, 2011. An easy day to remember.

Tyler 

Wow. Anyway. So Skyrim is a good example of how to do this both well and terribly at the same time. So Skyrim is, is really good about giving you a million different things to do along the way from point A to point B. So you start the plot somewhere on the way to the plot, you follow a side quest, and that side quest leads to side quests. And like 40 hours later, you haven’t gotten to the second step in the main plot, but you’re, you’re like the arch mage, and the leader of the fighter’s guild, or whatever, and all those things. So the travel in Skyrim is really good at presenting you with opportunities to explore, to kind of lead you off the direct path. But Skyrim; fun gameplay, not a ton of character development, because you know, there’s no one else to really talk to, your character’s personality is pretty undefined. It’s not really that sort of game. But the kind of fractal spreading quest system can be an interesting example of how to present side quests along the way during travel. But at the same time, Skyrim also has fast travel. So you can just skip all that. If you just want to do the main plot, you can do like, “Oh, I didn’t even realize there was a road between these two cities, because I only ever teleport back and forth between their front gates.”

Randall 

And I think that’s actually that’s a great analogy to something that could work well for your game. So in Skyrim, the first time you go somewhere, you actually have to travel to that place. But once you’ve discovered something, then the fast travel option becomes available to you. And that might be something you do with your players, which then means, look, we don’t spend half of every session and especially if you play in a session like I do, where there isn’t a lot of time for the game, you don’t want to spend half of every session just traveling back and forth. That would be obnoxious. And so that might be a good compromise is to give your players, like, “Hey, okay, look, you’re going here for the first time, it’s a new place that you’ve never been, you’re going to have to trudge through it. But from here on out, I’m going to give you some option, which is basically that we’ll just get there so that you can advance your plot.”

Random 

It’s interesting that you talk about that, because even in every pre written module that I’ve I’ve read, you know, when they talk about like wandering monsters, things that like tried to distract you from just walking from A to B. Every random encounter, it’s like, you only have a 20% chance of getting one per day. Now, obviously, that’s how much combinatorics do we want to do about how likely you are to actually hit one between various places. But realistically, I mean, that means that you’re going to go four days without hitting anything in a statistically ideal world…

Tyler 

Perfectly flat probability curve.

Random 

…the spherical cows in a frictionless vacuum. These are, particularly as you start getting more and more powerful. These are characters who are used to fighting demons, characters who are used to, you know, like dealing with these big, local, and then larger, you know, continent spanning challenges. What are they going to do just walking for four days? Are they just going to walk in silence? Admittedly, there can certainly be comfortable traveling silence between you know, these people who know each other. Realistically, most backstory is not our four people have known each other since childhood and the like, they’ve already had all the conversation they’re going to. A great example, if you want to look at some other pop culture is like 300. All of 300 is told as a story by one character like, recounting his experience. This sort of wartime like war stories swapping, this is the bread and butter of what fighty type characters would be doing in this sort of situation. Admittedly, some players are going to be or some characters are going to be statistically, based on the character’s stats, more likely to do this, that sort of storytelling, you know, if you have a Bard, absolutely, they’re the one telling stories around the campfire. They’re the one keeping people entertained. If you think about, you know what you have read what you do see in movies, when that quiet character comes out of their shell to tell their story, it makes it all that much more interesting because they’re so usually reserved. All of these things that you can do, to train, give players time. Maybe something says it’s only a day away, stretch that out to three, make it so that there is time make it so that even if you don’t ever hit a random encounter, you’re giving players this opportunity to run into this. And one thing that I did talk about in that first or second episode is this idea of timebox roleplay. So like, whenever you’re traveling between places, just say, three minutes, three minutes tonight, you are spending around the campfire, talk amongst yourselves. I don’t care what you talk about. But we’re not going to do anything, I’m not going to advance the story. Until you spend three minutes role playing, even if it’s great, I’m gonna go chop wood. If no one interacts, that’s fine. As long as you are getting players to invest in and think about what their character is doing, because getting players to think about how their character reaction during this sort of like travel and night setup is one of the fastest ways to get them involved in the characters thought process.

Randall 

I’m just imagining the Bard like writing in in their journal. It’s like, I can’t help but feel that something in the sky is making us.

Random 

You know, if we break the fourth wall, I’m fine with this.

Randall 

It’ll be great.

Tyler 

I’m gonna draw a really weird example. Left for Dead Two.

Random 

Yeah, that was weird.

Randall 

Weird example.

Tyler 

Okay, so the four characters in the campaigns in Left for Dead Two before they DLC’d in the characters from Left for Dead One. One of the characters is a country yokel, and his personality is he’s always got some goofy story to tell. It’s like every time you stop and rest, he tells some goofy story about just some weird like crazy country shenanigans that he’s gotten into. That is a great example. Like your party sits down around the campfire. And like your Bard or whoever is like, oh, man, this reminds me of that one time that’s such and such happened. And everyone just reacts to that strangeness. And opportunities like that. Like, even if you only have one character who’s super chatty, like that, how the rest of the party responds to that can define them just as much as telling the stories.

Randall 

Yeah, I think 100% And it kind of sucks. Like at least in in 5e, I feel like the best thing we can do is give that person inspiration for being awesome.

Tyler 

Yeah, metacurrencies are a great reward.

Randall 

It’s a part of the fun, but I guess my intuition is that you have to let the characters, or you have to let the players know that this is welcome. It’s encouraged and they’re not distracting from the game, because that is the game like this is the whole point of what we’re doing.

Tyler 

Absolutely.

Random 

Hey, if you have only been a player and have never run a game, and you don’t check through things like Reddit, looking at, you know, posts about people enjoying DMing. As a DM, one of the single most rewarding things is seeing your players engage with their characters. If I sit for 15 minutes, and that 15 minutes was supposed to be three minutes of you all talking around a campfire, I’m finally getting to watch the story that I started building be filled in. And that is the single most satisfying thing. That is a gift you can give your DM. Don’t think that you’re distracting from the story. Because remember, the only metric is the table having fun. And so if y’all are having fun role playing, believe me your DM is thrilled.

Randall 

Yeah, I think absolutely. You brought up a good point that as player characters get to a higher level, their modes of transportation available will be more exotic. And actually, I want to talk about that in a second. Because I think even the the modes of travel available to us are super interesting. Let’s focus maybe on the level that in the beginning of a campaign is the most likely time when they are going to have to do something as mundane as walk or ride a horse.

Tyler 

Frequently, yeah.

Randall 

I think this is a great time to use the fact that they have to go from point A to point B, to do your world building. You know, the environment isn’t just the city, you know, what little towns? What farmsteads? Do they pass through as they’re going from point A to point B? Is it clear plains? Is it mountains? Is it foothills? Do they have to go through a jungle? Are they in the desert? Like, all of these things are super interesting. And you can use getting from point A to point B with some idea of random encounters. And they don’t have to be combat encounters. Sometimes it might just, you know, if you meet a group of pilgrims that are heading to a holy site, and they’re all, you know, trying to give her to you and tell you how awesome their their faith is. That tells you something about the environment you’re in. If you meet people who are fleeing famine, because they’ve heard there’s food, you know, in the direction that they’re heading, that tells you about something about the scenario that you’re in.

Random 

While we’ve been bringing you a lot of pop culture into this. I want to take a minute to reference Amazon’s current interpretation of Wheel of Time. The entire, like, stated purpose at the outset was let’s go from where we are to this other place. And if you have watched that series, they don’t get there.

Tyler 

Oh.

Random 

It’s literally like eight episodes of them not getting there and being distracted. Like we got to this place and then this happened. And then we got to this place and this happened. And then we got to this place, and we all split up. And now we need to spend like an episode following these people and ad episode following these people. And that only happens because they’re walking. But it’s still great storytelling. I mean, Jordan is undeniably a master of his craft. You will look at this and while people are just on foot, you have that capacity to do great storytelling. And in fact, if you aren’t, while, of course, the trope of don’t slip the party. If you are writing your own content, if you are doing homebrew campaign, that can be a fascinating story of forcing players to choose like, two of you are going to get split off, you know, if we’re assuming our standard four to five person party. Now, in D&D, you’re probably going to not want to take the Jordan route, where they’re just like, separated for months at a time. And you know, instead of like, okay, here’s a session where like, we’re gonna swap back and forth between group A, group B.

Randall 

Right. I need a, I need Group A, you’re gonna come on Saturday, group B, you’re gonna come on Sunday, it’s going to be great!

Random 

And then nobody has a good time. I mean, don’t hesitate to use that sort of gimmick, as long as you’re using it for a short amount of time. People will enjoy novelty. You know, I’ve talked about this before. Humans love novelty. And having a novel session where like, it is, you know, an hour to each party split in like 15 minutes increments. So like, 15 minutes with you, 15 minutes with you back and forth, can be a great device.

Randall 

I think if you do that, though, one fantastic way to make that tolerable to the whole party is basically it like, hey, group A, your active group B or not. Group B, here is like a character sheet on an NPC that I need you to roleplay because we’re gonna party, like what dragged us off was this person says that Orcs are attacking her family and they’re locked down, you know, in the basement of their homestead and they need you to come rescue them. Great. Congratulations, you get to roleplay the damsel in distress who needs you to come help them. And that can be a lot of fun. Especially if that person chooses to get into the combat. They’re even getting to manage a character they maybe never played before. So they’re not bored. They’re participating fully actively and yet you do get the opportunity to tell these diverging stories.

Tyler 

Yeah, if I could, if I can draw another pop culture reference go back to Lord of the Rings. Fellowship of the Ring ends with the fellowship splitting up. Sam and Frodo go off one way, everybody else goes off one way, they take the hobbits to Isengard. You could very easily take that as an example. Sam and Frodo’s players, like, okay, Boromir’s character died, the same player brought in his brother Faramir.

Random 

Oh, no.

Tyler 

Sam and Frodo’s players play, I don’t know Aeowin and the captain of the guard or something? Wait, that was Boromir. Shoot. Anyway, yeah, you could very easily be like, Okay, we’re gonna jump back and forth between these groups of characters, depending on who’s playing today. And like, have the travel, do the things but that’s kind of a separate episode honestly, on just we could do an episode on splitting party, we should do that.

Randall 

So instead of don’t split the party, it’s like sometimes split the party. Actually. Okay, so you bring up something here that I want to hit on, that encompasses the entire idea of travel, and that is time management. All right. So something that we often don’t do is we don’t account for the fact that, yeah, when you’re gonna go from point A to point B, one day passes, two day passes, three day passes. There, there’s some content out there that every day that passes explicitly means something, but especially in your homebrew content where you have to manage it, it isn’t obvious how the rest of the world should be moving around you. I’m bringing it up specifically for the idea of, like you said if you split the party, you are creating these diverging paths with diverging dates, and there has to be some idea of like bringing everything together. Because you certainly can’t have like one party. It’s like what did you do? Well, we built an entire civilization and were established as deities, and the other group was like, we went fishing and we called three trout.

Random 

While we’ve referenced it in the past, if you do plan on ever incorporating something like that, even if you’re not playing 3.5. Even if you never plan on running this, I suggest at least reading Red Hand of Doom, because it does such a brilliant job of presenting like, here is the three month time span that this campaign runs. Here is every single event that’s going to happen, here is where we expect players to be, but also they might just bugger off and do something else. Like, cuz they’re players, you never know. That sort of narrative time can be a real trap and just be aware of that.

Tyler 

Random ran that game for me and a couple other people and we buggered off. I distinctly remember at one point we looked at the map and there was castle way on the north edge of the map and we’re like “What’s up with that castle?” And we looked at the time and thought, “we’ve got a few days. We could get to that castle, check it out and get back before the army gets here, it’ll be fine.” So, like, we left instructions with the town, march north, died at the first random encounter. The encounter started with a monster eating my horse, which was carrying the bag holding that had all of our money. Immediately went badly. And then it just got worse from there. Like, okay, well, I guess that’s the end of that game. Spoilers; forest is scary. To bring it back around. Again, Lord of the Rings, has a great example for this Tolkein, famously, he was very meticulous about tracking dates for travel time. And he had, he had notes on, like, where everyone was on any given date throughout the story, because he was absolutely convinced that readers would read the book and figure out that the dates lined up. So he was super worried about Reddit in 2021 going, reading his book, and you’re like, huh. Tolkein did a great job tracking the time and, like, made all the time sensible. Like, everything feels plausible. The travel distances all make sense. And he did a really good job on that. But then there’s also video game examples like Skyrim, where it’s like, yeah, I’m gonna take 700 days to go kill mud crabs, and the plot’s just gonna hang out.

Randall 

Even in the Skyrim right, like, if you, if you… the Skyrim, yeah. If you do, if you do fast travel, like it still consumes that amount of time to get from point A to point B, you know, based on some like Dijkstra solution, which actually, I guess to bring it up, I will say like, I think that might be the right answer. If you have… if you’re building your own fantasy world, sit down, and just chart out where the cities are. And then use some logic and maybe a ruler, perhaps a protractor, to estimate how long it takes to get from point A to point B. And then boom, there’s your time. And if somebody says that they want to go from not A to B, but A to B to C, you have an answer of basically, how long do you think this should take. It’s a super easy graphic that helps you understand how they ought to be accomplishing these things. It helps you build missions if you want to offer the multi path that we talked about earlier. And it allows you to offer consistent timing based on their mode of travel.

Random 

One other quick thing while we’re talking about how long we think things should take, be aware that players can in fact, choose to travel faster. And there are some costs associated with that. You know, you can forced march, basically you take exhaustion and walk faster than the rules would indicate. Although the rules include forced march but and you can also go slower, you know, if for instance, you are trying to, let’s say you don’t want your horse full of loot to be eaten as soon as you wander into the woods. You can travel stealthily and in the same way that that makes you move slower in combat movement, that makes you move slower in overland movement. All of these are things that as a player and a DM, you need to keep an eye on and if you’re trying to, particularly if you have built up this sort of calendar of things. You need to keep a real strict eye on are they moving faster trying ,you know, let’s let’s beat the army to that pass. Are they moving slower to, you know, let’s, let’s not get caught traveling on the ridge overwatching the army. Players will surprise you as a DM. That’s just a guarantee. And but the more prepared you can be, the better you’re going to be able to deal with whatever they do figure out to do to you.

Randall 

Yeah, I mean, you talk about sneaking. I’m absolutely imagining, like, you and your horse both doing the Scooby Doo walk, just you know. But in all seriousness, I think that that would be a great thing for a character to do if they were trying to avoid some dangerous random encounters. They stalk through a swamp.

Tyler 

The Scooby Doo walk?

Randall 

Well, the, the stump thing The Scooby Doo walk is a bonus. Yeah. But But choosing to stealth and go slower. Like why would you ever do that? You would do it because not stealthing is going to have consequences. And I’m saying that to say like, as a DM, you have this opportunity to, you know, create the framework and create expectations for like, hey, yeah, you do get attacked every time you go from point A to point B, because you’re, the Bard is singing and playing as you walk, you know, along the road. Maybe if you didn’t do that things would go better for you.

Tyler  

That’s definitely true. If you look at the rules in fifth edition, in Pathfinder, I think they have them in 3.5 as well. You can reduce your speed and make stealth checks as you travel to avoid random encounters essentially. So fifth edition, it reduces your speed, I think by a third, something like that. Check the tables. And if if you’re looking at the overland travel speed tables in fifth edition, they kind of just assume that every character has 30-foot move speed, which bonus if you’re a halfling. But if you’re on a horse, like, why did I buy this expensive horse? So I, if you’re playing fifth edition, I really recommend just steal the tables from Pathfinder second edition. They cover other moves speeds. So if your move speed is like 100 feet per second for some, sorry, 100 feet per round for whatever reason, then yeah, you’re gonna go way faster than someone with 30-foot move speed. So yeah, just steal the table from Pathfinder.

Randall 

Yeah, I guess actually, this is probably a great time for it. What, coarsely, and maybe we do five the first what are our available modes of transportation?

Tyler 

Many and varied. So walking, running, crawling.

Randall 

Okay. Uh… What?

Tyler 

You’re not going to crawl off distances. So there’s, there’s the obvious ones– walking horses. As you gain levels, you’ll get access to like magical transportation or better mounts. Like you, you might get a griffin or you might get the ability to summon a griffin or something. Brooms of flying are an awesome option. Carpets of flying. Think Aladdin, if you’re not familiar with magic item. Obviously teleportation at higher levels. And there are some options that aren’t, like, built into your character or an item that you have. Depending on your setting. You could have chariots that are chariots, wagons, whatever. They can hired to go between towns. Eberron has lightning trains, which are just… the phrase lightning trains is pretty great. You got it and it and and then there’s, you know, more magical stuff. There are boats. I guess that’s not really more magical, but there are boats.

Random 

Brilliant.

Randall 

We have flying carpets and lightning trains, but we also have these magical things likre boats!

Random 

To the, to the conversation about magic, right? It is fairly cheap to hire someone to just teleport you somewhere. And the range on that is enormous. And even long before you can cast teleportation yourself, you can walk into a town that has a sufficiently high-level Wizard and just say, Hey, bro, Magnamar please. Done. Right. And it’s relatively cheap. And you know, it, in my… I said relatively money in fifth edition.

Randall 

Yeah, well, okay. But as a DM, I would argue, like, it’s your choice if you make that option available.

Random 

It’s your choice if you make that available… to some extent. If you are playing a pre written module, which a lot of people do, there is a town that you’re in, and that town has rules written about it. Can you just decide to say yes, there aren’t any wizards available to you? You absolutely can. But be wary of that. Because when you’ve set the expectation, like, here is a town that’s the capital of the whole city state. This is a big deal. You can buy anything you want except teleportation, because I don’t want you to. That’s going to immediately feel terrible for the players.

Randall 

It’s a it’s a hell of a thing. There’s been a run on chalk. Nobody can draw the sigils. I don’t I don’t know.

Tyler 

Yeah, you could, you could come up with reasons why those faster modes of transportation aren’t available. You could say maybe maybe the highest level spellcasters in town aren’t the spellcasters who can cast teleport. Like maybe there’s a Cleric and they can Plane Shift you somewhere. But you’re on your own once you’re there. Maybe they’re willing to come with you for some exorbitant amounts of money because that entire day, they’re not here being paid to cast spells for someone. So you can come up with storytelling devices like that. Like, more pop culture examples, the Mandalorian there’s an episode where he has to take a frog lady and her eggs from from one planet to another planet and it has to do, has to do it at sublight speed. And we basically never see travel in Star Wars at below lightspeed. So he does this whole long thing it’s like, “Ah, this sucks.” It’s kind of hand-waved and they don’t explore it a whole lot. But the fact that they came up with a storytelling device for why he doesn’t just warp speed, functionally teleport between planets, you can come up with something that feels plausible.

Randall 

It really is the perfect analogy for what we’re trying to get at though. Because like every week, every episode is like, oh, we need to get from here to there. Boom. We’re there. It’s done. Let’s let’s get on the planet. And for this one episode, they’re like, Okay, we want to tell an in-transit story. Why would we ever do this? And of course, they give you the stick, you know, complete with baby Yoda eating frog lady eggs. Yeah. Anyway, spoilers.

Tyler 

You think she would have counted.

Randall 

Teah. That episode was… it was hard if you think about it. Anyway. I do actually want to, I want to say for a second I actually in D&D, especially when you’re trying to elicit role playing. I love the idea of an escort mission.

Tyler 

Yeah…

Randall 

If the idea is like, I have to get you from here to there, and pirates are going to show up and try to kidnap you or there’s going to be bandits or kidnappers or bears. Either way, I need to get you from here to there. It’s just forcing RP on it. I feel like you could have a lot of fun. You could be the voice of the DM is present as an NPC for it. I think it’s great.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

We’ve talked a little bit just NPCs are a great way to build that sense of… not dread the one before dread. Anxiety? no…

Tyler 

tension?

Random 

Yeah, anxiety, I think.

Randall 

Yeah, anxiety was the thing, yeah.

Random 

Because your NPCs are a thing that your, your players don’t have immediate control over. They can’t defend it as well. And there are, you know, real consequences if an NPC dies, you know, particularly if you’ve been tasked like, here’s a princess that you’re trying to get from point A to point B. If you let that princess die, god help you. And I say “god” here in whichever god your character happens to worship, because they’re all going to need to come help. So you know that yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of ways that you can turn that into a brilliant storytelling moment with very little prep work.

Tyler 

This might be a little bit of a spoiler for Curse of Strahd. And Tandom has probably already experienced this. I assume you’ve experienced this.

Random 

Leave her alone, damnit!

Tyler 

Yes, there was an escort mission in cursive Straud. If you mess up the escort mission, Strahd shows up. So very high stakes. Don’t mess that up. Like literally Final Boss shows up halfway through the games, like “I’m gonna kick your teeth in.”

Randall 

I wasn’t ready yet! I noticed you can’t…. We’ve been walking around for three days and I notice you don’t talk a lot.

Tyler 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yes. And like he I said, having a voice of the DM there to prompt storytelling and intra-party roleplay. Or even just having an outside voice to come in and be like, “Wow, you guys are weird and dysfunctional. Look at these weird interactions between all of you never speaking.” Like, stuff like that might, might work. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Okay, now now I’m going to ask a real world question. Randall, you’re a person who goes outside.

Randall 

I, I have.

Tyler 

When you go on, like backpacking trips, or long walks about in places where there’s not civilization, how much talking do you actually do between people, when you’re physically exerting yourself going up and down, like geological features?

Randall 

I hate to say this on the podcast. I am probably not as physically fit as my character is.

Tyler 

That’s fair.

Randall 

Yeah. No, but that being said, there is quite a good amount of talking. There’s a strong correlation, I believe, between the physical fitness of the person talking, versus the folks who maybe speak the less words. You know, like, if I looked at mile times and word spoken on a hiking trip, I think there’s a strong linear correlation there. That’s all that’s all I’m saying.

Random 

And in case you do try and use this as justification, this is more constitution thing. This is not a strength thing. This is not like, Yes, I’m going to be quiet because I’m physically scaling my cliff. This is like, I have the capacity to climb, run, jog for long distances.

Randall 

Yeah.

Random 

Just in case you’re trying to be like, Oh, no, I’m just a Wizard. Okay. Well, if you’re a a reasonably fortitudinous Wizard, no.

Randall 

Yeah, most of the wizards I had quit, don’t do a lot of talking. But no, I, oh, no. All jokes aside. Usually you are in a conversation. Especially early in the day or like right after meal when you’ve had a break. You do hit a point where it’s like, okay, I’m wearing my rain gear. It has started raining. We are at least two hours from the nearest campsite, where we can actually, like, pitch tents. And maybe if the rain has stopped, have a fire. If not, I’m just going to be trying to get dry in my tent. Usually around that time, like, not to say that people wouldn’t mind a conversation. Most people get quiet.

Tyler 

That makes sense. So yeah, quiet, quiet when it gets hard.

Randall 

Yeah, no 100% or when you’re tired when you’re exhausted. Definitely, definitely things get quiet. On the other hand, I laugh because it does actually feel like like the little vignettes that you see in like television series and movies where it’s like, oh, look, these two people who don’t talk often are standing here talking and look, they drove that conversation to an end. And then they all flip around and they find somebody else to talk to you for a second. And so you wind up like having these one-on-one conversations or maybe three way conversations, even if you’re hiking in like a group of six because you clump up and you kind of you know you manage your time that way for lack of a better way to put it.

Tyler 

That’s an interesting idea. I wonder if we, if we could come up with a mechanic to have like one on one conversations within the party. Roll two dice to have, like, to pick two random people in the party and they have some inter-character moment. The DM says you and you, three minutes, talk to each other, go.

Randall  

It’s like a scrap, scroungdrels, yeah. That’s a word, yeah. Scoundrelous rogue, light cleric, I’m gonna need you to spend some time together.

Tyler 

Hey, light Cleric is not necessarily moral light.

Random 

And so the thing is, because so often, a party does have a single “Face,” you can get a lot of players who are used to just not participating and talking. And something forcing them like that to engage. If that’s something that you have set the expectation, like, Hey, I know that you’ve built this eight wisdom, eight intelligence, eight charisma, gods help you Barbarian. And, you know, you’re basically showing up to be a pile of hit points and an axe. That’s a perfectly valid character. But if you set the expectation like, Yo, look, I know you made those choices, you’re still going to have to roleplay some. Be expecting that. Then that sort of forced interaction can be a good way to act to actually break new players into the game. This is one of the things, like, by far the most common anxiety that people are going to have is not the math. Particularly in fifth edition, the math is, relatively speaking, much simpler. You know that the anxiety is not Oh, God, I swung my axe and missed and people are going to die. That’s a consequence of the mechanics. And that feels very random. The anxiety is going to be I have brought this person to the table and I know what’s going on in their head, I know their struggles. No one else does. But I don’t think people are gonna find that interesting. They absolutely are. And trying to get someone to come out of that shell by saying, You and you, and maybe you, let’s have your three minutes of like, Oh God, my shoelace broke, and I don’t know how to re-, you know, re-tie it. Let’s have that. That can be a great way to get someone who doesn’t have the experience and making themselves heard, giving them the voice to be able to do that.

Randall 

I want to offer an idea that I think would really drag that out of folks. Similar to the escort mission, imagine, essentially, I’m gonna call it a diplomatic mission, I need to take these folks from point A to point B. I have a set time that it will take to travel. And in that amount of time, I either need to convince them of something, meaning that I have to use the soft character skills to like not just the princess but her guard too, and her handmaid too. or I have to learn some secret that I know they’re holding before we arrive because once we arrive, they’re no longer going to be available to me.

Random 

The Mulan 2 route: the sequel that never should have been.

Tyler 

What was it? Oh, yeah, the straight to straight to home video sequels. The 90s were a dark time.

Randall 

I don’t think we have to acknowledge that at all. But anyway, here we are. No, I think like this can be a lot of fun, because you can you still have the voice of the DM, you have the voice of the DM kind of driving potentially some of the conversation, or at least acting as opposition so that there’s some challenge in it, you can certainly still have your skill checks as part of this. But ultimately, you know, just like we have fixed rounds of combat, there are only going to be so many interaction times between point A and point B for the characters to solve the problem.

Tyler 

I like that idea and just setting up challenges to encounter along the way that cater to specific characters’ skills could be really interesting. If you have a party member who’s proficient in medicine or something along those lines, they’re your party’s doctor or whatever. Maybe you have some kind of challenge that forces them to do a bunch of role playing in a hurry. Like someone is bitten by a snake or a pipe bursts on your spaceship and spray somebody with steam and they’ve got horrible, horrible burns. Like Okay, doctor do your thing. And then you have a moment where they both have to apply skills and maybe roleplay with the other character. Like your burn victim. What do you guys talk about what you’re treating their wounds? Or you’re sucking snake venom out of somebody’s leg. Like what do they say while you’re doing that?

Randall 

Roll for bedside manner.

Tyler 

That’s actually not a bad idea. Just like a charisma role for bedside manner. See how everyone feels about the interaction, like, I am physically healed, I am emotionally scarred.

Randall 

I, um, I’m still in pain I also want you to leave.

Tyler 

So, so I want to draw a another really bizarre and random pop culture reference here. So if anyone has ever played the famous video game Oregon Trail, that’s a really good example of how to throw these sorts of problems into your story. So Oregon Trail is a game about travel. You are going from A to B and the entire story happens in those points in between. And, you know, everyone gets dysentery etc. This reference is going to keep getting dumber so just bear with me. So there was a Kickstartered Oregon Trail card game a while ago that I picked up and I forced Random to play with me once. And I have it right here and conveniently, I can just take these cards and just draw from them at random and just use these as plot points. Like, uh, cholera. Okay, someone in the party has some form of disease that they picked up while traveling. What does the party do? Broken wheel. You can apply that however you want, like, your ship’s engines burn out, your horse throws a shoe, something like that. Extreme cold, like you have some weird weather event. What does the party do? Do they hunker down in the blizzard? Do they all have cold resistance and they keep marching? But yeah, like I can keep going. Oh, dysentery. There’s a lot of dysentery.

Random 

Bring that purify water, please.

Tyler 

Yeah, no kidding. Yeah. Throwback to the food episode. Yes, but so just ripping off Oregon Trail is a great way to come up with challenges that would come up while traveling. All of those things are very real problems that still happen even in a modern game. Like, your your car gets a flat tire. A rock smashes your windshield. You run out of gas unexpectedly. You have some other like travel problem. Someone gets motion sick. Like, stuff like that. Just simple real world problems still happen to your high-level adventurers and maybe maybe they handle them with like is someone casts, I cast first level Dramamine on the person with motion sickness and you keep going. But exploring those challenges and how the party chooses to solve them still gives you some some fun story options. First level Dramamine, we’re gonna homebrew that.

Randall 

I’m just gonna say, uh, producer Dan brought up we can also borrow from National Lampoon’s Vacation. And I want to let that ride. Yeah, so… go ahead

Random 

And just I mean, it did to finish touching on that. So first of all, Dramamine hilarious, but realistically, this is an interesting way to give some of your characters a more plot-related thing to do with their cantrips you know, a lot of people choose things like prestidigitation, shape water, druidcraft, and then just, it’s on my sheet and I never get a chance to use it because I’m always using my leveled spells or just using my skills or whatever. Like mending. If I take mending and like oh, yes, my wagon wheel broke. Wo-lo-lo, it’s fixed. That gets to feel really good. Because you did give someone a chance to, to flex a choice that hardly ever comes up.

Randall 

Yeah, I mean, you say that. So we’re, Tyler and I are playing in a Rime of the Frostmaiden, Icewind Dale campaign where it is notoriously cold. And my character who has a saucer regularly castrate bonfire not to damage things but just because it is frickin cold and we have to solve that problem some way, right? So it comes up as often as an RP, an RP tactic as often as it does actually because Tyler’s character is holding somebody down and I’m lighting that space on fire.

Tyler 

I love grappling. Yeah, that, just using using the tools available to you is an awesome way to explore your character and yeah, Randall creating bonfires has solved so many problems. Like, you still need potable water even though you’re surrounded by snow, so Hey, convenient bonfire. All those things all of your characters skills and capabilities can still be put to use while traveling and even if it’s just a quick like okay, how do you solve this problem? The Sorcerer casts create bonfire. Great. It still feels rewarding like Random said.

Randall 

Incidentally, the inn that we have taken over has hot waterm Thank you. Alright, so I kind of want to do a recap, because we talked a lot, and I think more than a lot of episodes, we kind of rambled. But it was great. Um, so one, especially early in a campaign, leveraging travel to do world building and to do RP can be really powerful both for the characters and to build the environment that you’re playing in. Two, it can set expectations that travel can be fun with your player characters, so that even when they do have options that allow them to travel more quickly between point A to point B, they might still choose the slower option, just to engage in some of the activities that you’ve started to develop as a muscle. And then three, as a DM, you can’t be surprised as your characters get to higher levels, that they might leverage the tools available to spend less time traveling and spend more time, you know, basically bringing out the action of the actual campaign. All right. Tyler, do we have a question of the week this week?

Tyler 

We do. We have a question of the week that came by email from a while back. So this comes from… I’m gonna try to get the name right, Mike DiBenedetto. We got that awful, but you know, text is hard. The question is, what is the opportunity cost for feats in 5e? So this gets into the fundamental math of the game, and I’ll I’ll link an article about it that I wrote a while ago.

Randall 

I’m actually going to cut you off for a second. Okay, I’m gonna so I think for longtime listeners, you recognize that I’m the fella who’s basically mostly only spent 5e and branched out, but not quite as much as these folks. What is the opportunity cost for feats in 5e? From just reading the player’s handbook, I don’t think I could actually tell you what a feat is. And it wasn’t until Tyler gave me a great analogy about the Fallout game series. And then also, I bought a copy of Pathfinder 2.0 and read that that finally the distinction between like, my abilities, and these sort of things versus feats actually made sense. I say this to say, let’s let’s talk the listeners, like what is a feat? And how do we distinguish feats from the abilities that our players have Generally?

Random 

Feats are a holdover from previous editions, particularly 3.x, where feats were options available to any character who met a specific prerequisite. And you got, you know, in 3.x, there was a much more standard, like, you are going to get these feats, they are going to define how you build your character. In fifth edition, that’s much less important. Although still, you know, one or two feats can still be very critical and how your character functions.

Randall 

Well, actually, let me I want to talk for a second. So in 3.x, it didn’t really matter what race or what class you had chosen, you might still have these feats available to you and therefore multiple different classes could actually write the same feat tree?

Random 

Yeah, and so…

Randall 

Awesome

Random 

Feat trees, like you said, were actually a much more common thing in third edition. So if you want to look at some really common really popular ones, whirlwind attack is one that came from the player’s handbook, just the player’s handbook alone, where you would have to take dodge to take spring attack to take one other thing and then you could take whirlwind attack.

Tyler 

Dodge, mobility, spring attack, whirlwind attack.

Random 

Yeah, thank you. Yeah, if no one ever used the feet because like, plus four to AC only against opportunity attacks from moving. Great. Like, a lot of them were a little bit underpowered because they lead down this tree. So whirlwind attack as itself very powerful. If you optimize for it. Give up your attack to attack everything within reach. If you position yourself well, and you have something like a spiked chain, RIP in piece, you could suddenly make like 4, 5, 6, 8 attacks on one action, and that was great. Now in fifth edition, they’re much more I will say, well defined, you’re not going to have any feat that does something that doesn’t matter. You’re not going to have any mobility equivalents where like, plus four to AC against attacks opportunity generated by moving. Great because Okay, well that leads to spring attack, which then leads to something you actually care about. And so opportunity cost like Mike is asking about. in fifth edition, technically speaking, feats are an optional rule. Realistically speaking, I’ve never seen anyone not use them. I suppose you could, if you only have access to SRD, theoretically, you only have one feat, and so you probably don’t care to use them. So if no one has bought the books, then there you go. At every fourth level in a class, and then the math gets a little bit funky towards the end, you get your option to choose from either two plus ones to stats which can go to the same stat or a feat and the opportunity cost really scales depending on how MAD is a turn me you may have seen across the site or may have heard us talk about that’s “multi ability dependent.” How mad your character is. So something like a straight class caster, right? Something like a Wizard that stacks Int the sky and never cares about any other set as long as they can live. The opportunity cost for feats is pretty low. Because if you’ve optimized well and you’ve used point buy, at level eight, you have naturally capped your main set you care about and then everything else you can just stack on. But then you know if you choose to do something like a paladin, and like in in the guide that I wrote for the oath of conquest Paladin, which takes a two level dip in Warlock, they never actually take any feats beyond the one that you take because you so desperately want your strength capped. You want your charisma capped. And you want as much Constitution as you can get. It’s a huge sliding scale depending on your character.

Tyler 

Yeah, the the math here is pretty interesting, in my opinion, because I like math. The progression of enemy AC, the progression of monster AC assumes that you’re increasing your primary stat at levels four and eight. If you crack open the dungeon master’s guide, and look at the table for quick monster stats, you’ll see that the AC progresses to keep in pace with the ability score increases and proficiency bonus increases that you get as you gain levels. It keeps in lockstep with the expected character progression so that a character who is following that progression perfectly will always have a 65% chance of hitting an attack roll against an expected AC for that CR. And I’ll link the article where I explained this whole in more depth. If you take one feat instead of increasing your primary ability score, you are 5% below where you’re expected to be. So you go from 65% hit chance to 60% hit chance. So that 5%, like, that doesn’t sound like a lot. It’s the equivalent of a plus one on your attack rolles. Like, if you’ve made a plus one weapon, you’ll offset it just fine. But that can add up. If you’re, if you’re multiclassing, and you’re delaying your ability score increases, if you’re taking multiple feats, that math adds up and it can become a problem over time because that that 5% lower miss chance means you’re doing 5% less damage on your tackles or like your 5% less likely for your spells to succeed. So you need to make sure that when you take a feat, it’s going to provide a benefit which is going to offset that 5% reduction in your effectiveness. And then for those MAD classes, Barbarian to some degree, Monk, Paladin, classes that really need high ability scores in a lot of places, taking a feat means that you’re probably not going to max all of your ability scores and that can be fine. You just want to make sure that whatever you take instead is worth that cost.

Randall 

Okay.

Tyler 

I have one tiny bit of trivia, so so a lot of people don’t know this, but third edition was designed and released not long after the original Fallout game came out. And feats actually came from Fallout. Fallout one, like, the very first Fallout, or the character advancement system was based on second edition AD&D. And when they were designing third edition, they didn’t have feats, and like, you just you basically just got your class features as you leveled up. And they found that it was really unsatisfying to just have this straight progression with very little customization. So feats were added onto the system after they saw how much how much fun perks were in Fallout. It’s fun to see the ideas kind of go back and forth between sources like Fallout takes D&D’s level system, and then D&D takes fallouts perk system. It’s really cool. I like it.

Randall 

All right. Well, thank you for the question week. We do appreciate it. For our next episode, we are going to have a special holiday one shot. So hopefully you enjoyed the Halloween one shot. We’re going to do that again, but we’re gonna do it better, this time with more explosions. All right, I’m Randall James. You can find me at amateurjack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @JackAmateur

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net. On Twitter and Facebook RPGBOTDOTNET and patreon.com/rpgbot.

Random 

I’m Random Powell. Congratulations to the one of you who has found me so far. And if any of the rest of you are looking I am in places where people play games, often Hartlequint or Hartlequint. But mostly you’ll find me here contributing to the website and the podcast RPGBOT.net Alright, perfect. All hail the Leisure Illuminati.

All 

Hail!

Randall 

Thanks to producer Dan, we do appreciate it. You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes. Following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. This week in particular, special, we will have a link to Eurotrip. A fantastic film.

Random 

Sorry if we’re going to do that we also need to have the link to the XKCD episode that I use to reference why Eurotip is an important piece of pop culture. Carry on.

Randall 

Okay, no, absolutely done. Not fun for the whole family. We’re gonna stick that in. Now we’re gonna keep going. You’ll find our podcast wherever find podcasts are distributed. If you enjoy this podcast, please rate review and subscribe. And please please please share with your friends. If your question should be the question of the week next week, please email podcast@RPGBOT.net or message us on Twitter at RPGBOTDOTNET. Thanks folks. We do appreciate it. For the outro there, I really wanted to find some way to roll “shitters full” into “all hail the Leisure Illuminati.”

Random 

The Douchebag Dave “shitters full” meme?

Randall 

No, no, Christmas Vacation! Yeah, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. One of the Quaid brothers, the crazier Quaid brother comes out and he’s like in his RV and he’s like, “Ah!, shitter’s full” and then I think they dump it into the street, which is very illegal, you should do this. But here’s the deal. I could not imagine a world where I say “shitters full” and then everybody else says “Hail!”

Random 

Wonderful.

Randall 

So I abandoned it.

Tyler 

That was probably the best.

One Response

  1. Keovar January 22, 2022

Leave a Reply