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.


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


I am late to the party and haven't read the whole thread, so I may be repeating points already made: "hiking" as we think of it today is just "traveling" in the pre-modern era, particularly in regions without well built roads. That 6 mile trail you took through the woods for fun WAS what the trail between towns looked like. The path may have been cleared but it remained primarily because it was well trod.
Now, add bandits, hungry monsters and encounters with grumpy fey.

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You can buy a chocolate-coated version, but the actual mint cake is pretty much just mint and caramelised sugar. Lots of energy and that “ clean teeth” feel, but pretty unhealthy.

Ah sounds similar to candy here. Just a Suger bomb.

I take water and oat bars pretty much. Filled roll was also good but needs a lunchbox or something.


So where I live there around 100 urban walking tracks. City is surrounded by old volcano cones and has 5 "peaks". You can run a marathon circuit that connects them.

You can start off down the flat and walk through a park they've planted.

Free gas BBQ, forest walk, duck pond.
That links up to a gully about half hour walk. The gully is 10 minute walk to 2 hours if you want to do the circuit. Full if ferns, native bush and a reservoir. Part if it is a pre colonial remnant of the old forest.

Waterfull in city limits 1:35. Rainforest, ferns, native bush, birdsong

That links up to a forest walk on the lower slopes of the hills.

Heading downhill 34:17 mark.

Links up to reservoir below. Took us almost two hours uphill, 45 minutes downhill.

Up the top.

You can hike around 12km along the ridge to get to Leith saddle hike.

That links to a 27 km circuit with huts in the Silver Peaks.

Silver Peaks

You're never really that fair from civilization as the crow flies but fairly rugged.

Pretty much hill country from the coast until you hit the Southern Alps or Fiordland.

Tracks there link up to walking the entire country if you have a spare 3 months and don't mind alpine areas and 3-4 days to cover 50km.

Oldest rocks in the country, the fern cover err kinda a last remnant of Gondwanaland.

To steep there's no soil. Plants grow on lichen and miss then fall into the sea. They filmed parts of Rings of Power over there.

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NZ sure is a beautiful country.
Planning to visit in a couple of years to marvel at the scenery, meet people, geek out at the LOTR stuff and take in some rugby.


For a few sessions after I go for a hike, the terrain is never flat and caves are always very oddly shaped with wildly undulating floors. It makes for great encounters, but a lot more effort on as the GM. I eventually get lazy and the world becomes 2D again, until I go for another hike.

Also, PCs with low con are not walking between cities like they often do. Players cannot feel pain or discomfort, so they ignore that in their PCs. Many years ago I added a modifier to XP based on how miserable or fulfilling a PCs life was. Walking everywhere and always buying the cheapest meals and accommodation led to miserable PCs who levelled slower. All of a sudden PCs started acting like real people, going to bathhouses after hard adventures, drinking, romancing, volunteering, meditating, all the things that real people do to stay sane after trauma and physical exhaustion.


26:00 mark approx.

Where I live shaped by an old volcano. My hometown gets a mention earlier and near the start it has the real life mount Doom if anyone's bored.
The organ pipes (basalt formations we can hike to) are very similar to ones I saw in a documentary on an old lake in USA that collapsed in a massive flood up in Washington state/Oregon area.

Said flood broke the basalt columns.

Think we're going to return to Orokanui ecosanctuary which has some trails through it. We took the easy one last time (1.5 hour) but there's a longer 3-4 hour one through native bush up a steep "trail".

Getting some ideas of a dragon's lair incorporating a whole lake and a fantasy version of the pink and white terraces.

Need some sort of swimming dragon with affinity for volcanic areas.
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Small hike today did the short version only an hour. How long it takes is up to you.

The entry right near the carpark. Looking north.


Heading south 30 minutes. The path.


The waterfall most direct path is 20 minutes if you don't mind wet feet. We took truncated loop for the hour.


The gully. Long way is about 1.5 hours from the carpark thus is roughly halfway point as crow flies. In a direct line the waterfall is nearby.

Behind there's another loop including up the hill which is around an hour but we can go down into the valley as well so a full trip would be around three hours.

You can just see thee last if the residential housing if the city urban area. Nearby street occasional lifestyle block/farm. Part of it was to steep to log in the colonial days so there's a remnant of precolonial forest.

Two hour hike up the hill gets you up the top of the ridge which links up to something hike a 67km loop.

So you could have breakfast at McDonald's, then walk to a park up the valley to here then a convenient 20km+ hike to the next down along the rifgline. 500-700metres high climbs up to 1100 meters elevation iirc.

Lots of birdsong chorus of Tui calls.

Ten minute drive from the house;)
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