D&D Tactics: Hikes

I go on a lot of Boy Scout hikes. If I were in an adventuring party in a fantasy world, I'd never make it.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Our hikes average anywhere from a half hour to several hours, depending on the terrain and season. We have one Scoutmaster who could easily qualify as a ranger, but for the rest of us, real life challenges make it clear that out-of-shape wizards are going to be in trouble if they have to walk to their next destination.

Weather Matters​

For obvious reasons, walking in the snow can be tough. We avoid hiking in winter, but we have hiked in Spring and Fall through rocky terrain. The toughest terrain we've encountered if after a recent rain with leaves on the ground. The combination makes it difficult to see a clear path (if there even is one). We've gotten lost in places we've hiked previously just because leaves covered everything. Wet leaves also make the ground slippery. More than one Scout has plunged their foot into an unseen puddle or slipped on a rock.

Adventurers in this sort of terrain will likely have challenges tracking, finding a path, and even just moving through it. This is one of the reasons I started using a walking stick, if only to test how to proceed. Characters familiar with the outdoors (barbarians, druids, ranger) will have an easier time of it than those who are unaccustomed to being outside the confines of their hometown.

Hikes Are Exhausting​

When the weather's nice, I try to walk every day in my neighborhood and when it's not I run on my treadmill. In both cases, the terrain is flat enough that I can turn off my brain. Not so when hiking, which requires constant vigilance as you determine your next step, avoid blundering into branches, and try to spot the path forward.

In unfamiliar terrain, a hike is not merely something you do while you do something else. Characters who want to perform most skills in difficult terrain will find it nearly impossible. Except maybe for singing, so the bards have something to do (the Scouts won't let me though for good reason).

Natural Hazards​

The outdoors can be beautiful but it isn't ordered to make life easier for anyone to pass through it. Woods are filled with dead branches and fallen trees that will have to be circumnavigated. The aforementioned leaves make everything slippery and conceal holes that can trip you up. And there is wildlife that can react poorly to intrusions -- my son was stung by a hornet just walking up rocky steps near a castle.

Characters who are uncoordinated or unaccustomed to traveling outdoors may well take damage just by trying to make their way, or end up exhausted in the process.

Leave No Trace​

In Scouts, we encourage the philosophy of "leave not trace," which means you leave the terrain how it was when you arrived. That means no picking up sticks or feathers or rocks to take with you. It also means essentially covering your tracks.

Cityfolk unaccustomed to the outdoors may be surprised how visible their blundering is to beasts and trackers. When cover your tracks, getting the wizard to stop leaving crumbs behind is as important as leaving fewer footprints.

Avoiding the Long Hike​

The modern solution to these challenges is to just take a car or walk on a paved road. In fantasy campaigns, there are rarely equivalents, but magic provides some solutions.

Find the path eliminates a lot of the guesswork of trying to find the easiest route through rough terrain (a bit like spotting trail markers even when there are none). And freedom of movement is like walking on a flat road. But the most magically economical solution is probably the fly spell. Flying over a forest is a significant advantage, and species with natural flight can get places much faster than their grounded companions.

Your Turn: How has your real life hiking experience influenced traveled in your games?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Your Turn: How has your real life hiking experience influenced traveled in your games?
Mostly, it colours my in-game descriptions. When I'm hiking, my mind wanders and I, often, think, "Man, this would be a cool locale for a goblin ambush."

I think, for the most part, DMs don't use terrain enough to make 'outback' travel as interesting as it could be.
 
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aco175

Legend
We do some hikes with the scouts as well and seem to only go as fast as the slowest person. I also recall one time in the Army when I wish I had a bag of holding since I had 130 pounds of gear for an assault on the island of Haiti.
 

When I was in scouts the hard part of a hike was determining how many D&D books to bring. Did we need the Fiend Folio? Two Players Handbooks? They all added weight and bulk. Things like the 1e DMG were essential but also heavy.

If we were smart we would have made photocopies of the key parts we actually used in the DMG. As sacrilegious as it sounds 90% of it was ignored by us. But we still packed it in and out.
 

A2Z

Explorer
I'm a Scouter in Canada, and I agree, I'd be hard pressed to hike between any towns more than 10-15km away carrying a 60lb. pack. However, if I'd spent my entire life walking places I'd probably be far more capable. This is how the majority of people used to travel, so we are capable of doing it, we just need to build up to it.
 

Dioltach

Legend
I've seen some gorgeous countryside on my various hikes, and I sometimes draw on the memories when preparing an adventure. A plateau in Spain that was cut through by a gorge - in the afternoon the sun hit the sides of the gorge and the vultures would fling themselves off and float up on the warm air. A river that formed the border between Luxembourg and Germany, which was particularly eerie because my Garmin satnav didn't have the map for the other side - it was just a blank. A mountain village that was maybe 100 feet from side to side, but 500 feet from top to bottom. And most of all, the immense sense of satisfaction when you top a rise about mid-afternoon and see your destination below. Particularly if you know there's food, wine, a shower and a bed waiting for you.

As an aside, I remember playing one of the modules set in the Forgotten Realms, where the party were supposed to walk something like 80 miles to the adventure site in a day. Clearly written by someone who has never covered any sizable distance on foot.
 

Fallen star

Explorer
Our troop has gone on multi-day backpacking trips. Two things spring to mind:

The first is the amount of weight carried. Most adventurers carry 80 pounds of gear on top of their armor. But even a 55 pound pack can exhaust you quickly.

The other thing is travel time. In rough or mountainous terrain it's not unusual for 8 miles to take 8 hours.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I did two summers with the Student Conservation Association in high school The second was an alumni program in the Frank Church Area of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. We did a mixture of making fire breaks, anti-erosion work on trails, re-vegetating old trails and making new one. All supplies were brought in by rangers with lamas. For "relaxation" we went on one to two day long hikes in the mountains. Living in the wilderness for weeks at a time, having to manage supplies, hiking in all kinds of terrain, made me find D&D wilderness rules rather silly and I tried to inject more realism into the game. Of course, for high-school me in the 80s that meant coming up with more rules and limitations.

I quickly learned that it is not fun. Much better to use the experience to evoke a certain flavor in your descriptions and abstract the challenges with group skill checks. In 5e, I find that wilderness challenges are only challenges in the very early levels. But I'm fine with that. Overcoming that because of powers and magic items gained feels like an accomplishment. I'm not sure it would be fun for most groups for the entire campaign to adhere to any kind of low-magic verisimilitude of the dangers and challenge of wilderness travel.

I have, however, never grown out of my distain for how torches are used in typical D&D games and depicted in fantasy and "historical" films. Happy to let magic allow me to handwave torches at low levels.
 



Thomas Shey

Legend
Related to this, one of the things that almost all games seem to understate is just how complicated it is almost certain to be fighting in a lot of outdoor environments. Besides visibility, footing is liable to be a massive issue in a lot of environments (just things like fighting on a slope are bound to be an issue) and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

But as someone upthread said, that isn't fun for most people so any time I get an urge to try and factor in what it'd be like just trying to fight in many environments in Southern California, I resist the urge.
 


Ixal

Hero
Now if only any of that would matter in D&D.
When was the last time the PCs cared about the weather? Does 5E even have rules for weather effects?
Exhaustion? Only under extreme circumstances as a one time effect and not as something the PCs need to care about.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad (he/him)
This seems like a good place to mention the RPG Sherpa which is an, "RPG that you can play outside - even while hiking. It uses a digital watch with a stopwatch feature as a randomizer and a character sheet fits on the back of a business card. Hence, you don't have to deal with full-size character sheets or dice while on a hike - just tell the story, which is fortunately easy to do while hiking. Oh, you don't have to hike - you can laze around the beach if you'd rather."
 

In general, travel feels a bit mechanically underdeveloped in many games. But I guess it's also hard to get it right (in the sense of being both plausible within the fantastic world and interesting for the players). Hex crawls are nice, but as discussed in another thread, they also leave things to be desired.
I might be a bit biased here, though, since I really like exploration in RPGs. Maybe a larger portion of the gaming population doesn't care too much about it.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
As soon as you choose a name for your horse, it gets eaten by an Owlbear.

I imagine that, if encumbrance was used more, pack animals would be a more popular choice.
My horse didn't get eaten by the owlbear because the griffin got to it first. By the time the owlbear arrived, there was only me left!

Seriously, hiking is both beautiful and hard work. The longest/toughest I've ever done personally was 25 miles per day for three days with 50lb packs on arduous training in the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Stunning scenery but really tough going on both fitness and feet. Luckily, our only random encounters were lots of sheep and rabbits as the only Welsh Dragon is the one on the flag.
Once did a ten mile hike in a team of five, with a stretcher and a rule that one person had to be a "casualty" at all times and be carried on the stretcher. The terrain wasn't as hilly, but it was pretty gruelling.
 

But don't the rules in 5E say that 24 miles a day is normal? And in rough terrain you can still do 12?

My experience as a teen we could pack 50+ pounds and do a consistent 10-12 miles a day, with time to "scout" (i.e. play) when we got to where we were going. Did that many summers at high adventure camps like Philmont.

24 miles day after day? Yea, whatever. I guess on prepared trails and if it was all that you were going to be doing. But, the realism, or lack of it, doesn't impact our fun.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
My closest use is backpacks since we use encumbrance rules. For even a 14 STR character, a full backpack with typical starting gear is enough, with armor on (because what good adventurer wouldn't wear full plate for a 12 hour hike through the wilderness?), to make them encumbered.

At higher levels (7+), I generally hand waive the impossible stuff.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
But don't the rules in 5E say that 24 miles a day is normal? And in rough terrain you can still do 12?

My experience as a teen we could pack 50+ pounds and do a consistent 10-12 miles a day, with time to "scout" (i.e. play) when we got to where we were going. Did that many summers at high adventure camps like Philmont.

24 miles day after day? Yea, whatever. I guess on prepared trails and if it was all that you were going to be doing. But, the realism, or lack of it, doesn't impact our fun.
I concur that even 12 miles (roughly 20 km) as the bird flies, over rough terrain, is a feat of strength and endurance. But that's also the thing; even in relatively easy terrain, 20 miles "as the crow flies" rarely translates in 20 miles "as the wolf runs". In mountainous areas, it can easily be a ratio of 4-to-1, that is, to reach a point 20 miles further on the map you actually have to travel 80 miles to get there. So in order to complete your 12-mile hike over rough terrain, you probably had to walk 18 at the very least.

Old(er) D&D maps used to have such terrain modifiers in addition to rough terrain penalties IIRC.
 

CharlesWallace

Explorer
I was actually thinking about a related topic earlier this summer. I went with some family to explore some lava tube caves in Flagstaff AZ. The cave floor is honestly about as smooth as one could expect for a natural cave floor, and even so- my goodness is it treacherous! You really have to be quite careful, or you'll twist an ankle.

All I could think was, if I had a flickering torch, some armor, and was being chased by an angry orc.... well, that would be the last anyone would hear from me.
 

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