Things You Might Want to Know When Planning An Overland Trip

Though the exact means change up depending on the setting, travel is still a universal in fiction; getting from Point A to Point B, and dealing with the challenges in between, can be an adventure regardless of time, place, or technology level. The biggest staple, particularly in fantasy, is the overland trip: something that it really does pay to have the characters actively consider preparing for. So what’s a character need to know when setting out?

  • Where are they going, and how are they getting there? A character who doesn’t know her destination isn’t going to have much luck planning for the rest of her journey—granted, if she’s got the skills to do her own foraging, this might not necessarily be a bad thing in some settings, but any trip is still going to be more comfortable if you knew what you needed and brought it ahead of time. Then there’s the means of travel; walking has the issue of limited carrying capacity, but using horses or wagons means you’re dependent on livestock, and cars have the issue of being limited to roads and of that whole dependence on gasoline—and there’s lots that can or can’t go wrong if you’re going over water rather than over land.
  • What route, exactly, are they taking? We may not have too many cities all roads lead to, but there are usually at least two or three ways to get from any given Point A to any given Point B, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. A traveler should look at all the trade-offs (this one’s shorter, but this one’s more crowded; this one has nicer scenery, but this one is more direct) before setting a course.
  • How long is it likely to take? Once the destination and method are clear, it’s a lot easier to determine travel time, but that’s not going to be the whole set of considerations. One has to budget in time for sleeping, and figure out whether they’re going to be eating on the road or stopping, and where the food is going to come from; if the travel is by some sort of vehicle, there’s still the question of who can sleep, and whether the people involved actually can keep going constantly if they switch turns operating it. And then there are the complications posed by the road itself—drivers, for instance, deal with rush hour traffic, while walkers or horseback riders need to take into account weather.
  • What sorts of supplies will be needed? This includes things like food and clothing for the expected duration, first aid kits, that sort of thing—for more modern settings and less fraught means of transport, this might include luxuries like the combination of audiobooks and podcasts to keep people awake on a long drive. If the trip involves some specialized traveling, that’s going to require specialized equipment; climbing a mountain without climbing gear, for instance, is generally a bad idea, as is trying to travel under the water without any sort of thought about getting enough oxygen. Then there’s gearing up for hazards and ill luck, which brings us to the next question….
  • What can go wrong? (And here is the part where those of us approaching from the creator’s side steeple our fingers and indulge in a bit of evil laughter.) Even if entities aren’t actively conspiring to interfere with a journey, there’s still a lot that can go wrong regardless of time period. Bad directions, spoiled food, thieves during a stop—lamed horses, flat tires, shoes that gave out to early…. Rarely is travel truly peaceful. A good traveler has a pretty good idea what sorts of things might interfere, and hopefully has a plan for dealing with them and/or the supplies most likely to handle them.

Knowing all of these things and planning ahead isn’t going to make the trip perfect, but it’ll certainly make it easier to recover when a setback does inevitably occur.

Stay tuned for more Things You Might Want To Know When!

4 comments

  1. Yeah, but as a GM, it is kinda fun when they forget some of the stuff and have to improvise.

  2. Michael says:

    Yes, but then the list’s still helpful in terms of pinpointing what they’ve forgotten. Same goes for the sequence I’m writing at the moment in RTH: my characters have had to leave in a hurry and haven’t had nearly enough time to think about preparations for the journey, so when things start to go wrong, it’s really bad news….

  3. Philo Pharynx says:

    Then there’s the meta-question. Is the journey important to the story? For some tales, the ourney is the adventure and they’ll be climbing up cliffs and encountering natives in the jungle. For other stories it’s better to cut to the map with the big red line going across it.

    I know I’ve had games where we get to our destination and the GM is the only person who still remembers why we came there and why it’s important. In some cases, playing out the journey takes weeks or months of realtime. This can kill the momentum for the main story.

  4. Ravyn says:

    Shorty: this, like everything else in this series, is partly also for your benefit as GM. If you don’t know what it is they need to bring, how are you going to know what they forgot–and thus what you can trip them up on?

    Michael: Yep, pretty much.

    Philo: Yes, yes, YES! If the journey doesn’t matter, definitely don’t do it. Took me ages to learn that one.

    I’ve got a post coming up inspired by the more time-condensed version of that. It was supposed to be the three-day return trip from a place we needed to go to a place we needed to get back to quickly. It ended up being a session full of random encounters. I was irritated.

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