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

Laurefindel

Legend
Do you know if they were browns? I've gotten some indications in things I've read that overall they tend to have a more questionable temperament than the blacks that are more common in the wilder areas nearest where I am (though getting near a female with cubs or between a bear and food is never the best plan ever).
I had a few run-ins with black bears and my experience, while anecdotal, matches the statistics that black bears are not nearly as dangerous as grizzly/kodiak/brown bears. Black bears can mess-up your camp pretty bad though, and steal your food even with the recommended tricks. So while your life is not (usually) in danger, they can be a huge setback to your excursion.
 

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Thomas Shey

Legend
Even though it's not the wilderness, here in Phoenix at least once a week during the summer there are news stories of people (almost always from out of town) who need to be rescued, or even found dead, trying to hike up Camelback Mountain. The mindset of "Well, it's already above 100 degrees F at 8 AM so it's the perfect time for a strenuous hike up a mountain with a small bottle of water" completely eludes me...

There's also always the happy cases of people who decide camping on dry stream beds because they're flat and the edges cut the rim with some frequency (and don't understand how fast "dry" can change in the summer in that area). (Lived out there for a year in my late teens).
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I had a few run-ins with black bears and my experience, while anecdotal, matches the statistics that black bears are not nearly as dangerous as grizzly/kodiak/brown bears. Black bears can mess-up your camp pretty bad though, and steal your food even with the recommended tricks. So while you life is not in danger, they can be a huge setback to your excursion.

Well, yeah, they've long since figured out the two-leggers have Good Stuff. Including, I might add, hot tubs...
 

Even though it's not the wilderness, here in Phoenix at least once a week during the summer there are news stories of people (almost always from out of town) who need to be rescued, or even found dead, trying to hike up Camelback Mountain. The mindset of "Well, it's already above 100 degrees F at 8 AM so it's the perfect time for a strenuous hike up a mountain with a small bottle of water" completely eludes me...
I always take an extra bottle of water, and half the time end up giving it to someone wearing flats or flip flops.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I live in Alaska. I knew four people who were killed by bears. A friend of my mothers ( a very experienced hiker) and her son-in law were killed by a bear in city limits. Apparently the bear had a moose kill near the trail, and when they unknowingly got to close to the kill it thought they were trying to steal its food, and it killed them. Fish & Game killed it. The other two were the father and step-mother of a childhood not quite friend. They were doing a wilderness float trip in north west Alaska. I am not sure how they were killed, but they likely unintentionally floated too close to a bear and it killed them. I am not sure what happened to that bear.

All of them may have also been partially eaten by the bears.

Yeah, Alaskan bears are psychotic. You just don't feed them enough.

(Less jokey answer: I am sorry to hear that.)
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Yeah. I find claims that wildlife isn't dangerous to be laughable. You need to treat the wilderness and wildlife with respect, and getting into the wrong situation can quickly lead to a bad injury or worse.
Oh, I wasn't trying to claim that bears aren't dangerous - if that's the take away, then I didn't make myself clear.

There are a LOT of people that are terrified of wildlife, though. There's a happy medium between being terrified (which could get you killed) and being stupid (which could get you killed) - RESPECT (as you say) IS that happy medium.

(Taking selfies is extremely disrespectful to bears. And a good way to get yourself mauled. The crazy thing is, a lot of people try to do it. A lot. It's nuts.)
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Oh, I wasn't trying to claim that bears aren't dangerous - if that's the take away, then I didn't make myself clear.

There are a LOT of people that are terrified of wildlife, though. There's a happy medium between being terrified (which could get you killed) and being stupid (which could get you killed) - RESPECT (as you say) IS that happy medium.

(Taking selfies is extremely disrespectful to bears. And a good way to get yourself mauled. The crazy thing is, a lot of people try to do it. A lot. It's nuts.)

We don't really have dangerous wildlife here. No land based mamnal predators no snakes.

Even as a kid though we were told to respect things like sea lions on the beach they're quite large.

Had an idiot here recently who decided to fight one with a surfboard. Probably got to close.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Oh, I wasn't trying to claim that bears aren't dangerous - if that's the take away, then I didn't make myself clear.

There are a LOT of people that are terrified of wildlife, though. There's a happy medium between being terrified (which could get you killed) and being stupid (which could get you killed) - RESPECT (as you say) IS that happy medium.

(Taking selfies is extremely disrespectful to bears. And a good way to get yourself mauled. The crazy thing is, a lot of people try to do it. A lot. It's nuts.)
He! The other day we had fun imagining adventurers with cell phones… and how artificers can take pictures and record sounds with their little gizmos…

Terrifying!
 

Ixal

Hero
Greetings. I come from a different world, so I wanted to offer my perspective on this issue:

I think it is a little bit sad that the majority of the replies in this thread consider hiking in the wilderness to be dangerous, threatening, and/or exhausting. It may be difficult, but it is not threatening. It's one of the best ways to get in shape.

Speaking from the perspective of an enthusiastic hiker and backpacker in the "bear-infested" Sierra Mountains (California and Nevada), I can attest to the fact that animal attacks are shockingly rare. In fact, Utah has recorded only one bear-related death in the state's entire history. Honestly, you have more chance of getting killed by a golf cart than you do of getting killed by a bear.

All in all, I just wanted to say that I'm not a believer that nature (in our world) is a threat. I have walked alongside grizzly bears in Alaska. I have been stalked by a cougar. I have never been attacked by any of them. Our culture informs us that we need to be afraid of wild animals. In reality, wild animals need to be afraid of us.

Owlbears are a different story, however...

BTW: If you are carrying a 100 pound pack, you're not doing it right (unless you're in the military and you need to carry weapons and ammo). I've seen people hiking hundreds of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail with 25 pound packs. They were outdoors for a week at a time. As a not-so-hardcore backpacker, I've been comfortable with a 35 pound pack for 4-5 day backpacking trips. When I was in my 20's, I sometimes walked about 18 miles in a day. At the end of a day of backpacking, all you really miss (from civilization) is a hot shower.

- Dr. Bull
And now imagine nit gaving a reliable map that shows more than a few landmarks ir even gaving no mao at all. So also no clue where to find water.

And no trails either other wgat animals make. Animals which are far mire common than they are now with less fear of humans. Not to mention "animals" (monsters) that can easily kill a human and are quite aggressive.

That would be mire like the hiking the typical D&D adventurer does one he leaves the road and civilization which is very different from leisurely hikes for fun people do today.
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
And now imagine nit gaving a reliable map that shows more than a few landmarks ir even gaving no mao at all. So also no clue where to find water.

And no trails either other wgat animals make. Animals which are far mire common than they are now with less fear of humans. Not to mention "animals" (monsters) that can easily kill a human and are quite aggressive.

That would be mire like the hiking the typical D&D adventurer does one he leaves the road and civilization which is very different from leisurely hikes for fun people do today.
Also: Humanoids in D&D worlds are NOT apex predators. They are being hunted by just about everything. Even the rocks, trees, and AIR might try to kill them at any given moment. Travelling in a D&D world would be outright TERRIFYING.

Had an idiot here recently who decided to fight one (sealion) with a surfboard. Probably got to close.

Never try to take away a sealion's surfboard. It ruins their chill.
 

Fresh waters not usually a massive problem hiking. Unless you're an idiot.
Depends where. In the southwestern US it is a major deal. i.e. you've seen those cowboy movies right?

And in much of the rest of the US like Colorado where there is plenty of water it is almost all contaminated with giardia. So yea, you can drink it, just have fun with the runs!
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Depends where. In the southwestern US it is a major deal. i.e. you've seen those cowboy movies right?

And in much of the rest of the US like Colorado where there is plenty of water it is almost all contaminated with giardia. So yea, you can drink it, just have fun with the runs!

Plenty here some of it's safe to drink raw. But you either take enough or know where it is to boil it.
 

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.
This perspective is one that I've thought a lot about over the years when trying to picture what an average person's strength would be in a fantasy world. When I think of someone with 10 Strength in the modern world, I think of the average office worker or post office clerk. But in a fantasy world, where 90%+ of the population would be farmers toiling in the fields all day long at hard labor, a 10 seems like it should be much more impressive, i.e., could walk 15 km to the next town with a 60 lb pack.

The fighting class, who would be wearing armor and practicing most of their days when not fighting, would be in the 12-13 range, with truly exceptionally strong martial types at 14-18. Those would be the guys everyone would remember because they were taller and bigger than even other fighters, who are already the big powerful types.

3.0 and 3.5 diluted that perspective when there were no limits to how high your strength could get. This summer I bought Old School Essentials, and it brought this topic back up in my mind, because you can't get any higher than 18, and you don't raise your stats after creation. If anything, I think my numbers are still too high, and that people with 12-13 are considered really strong individuals, with 14+ being truly outliers and highly memorable to the average villager if they came walking into town.
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
This perspective is one that I've thought a lot about over the years when trying to picture what an average person's strength would be in a fantasy world. When I think of someone with 10 Strength in the modern world, I think of the average office worker or post office clerk. But in a fantasy world, where 90%+ of the population would be farmers toiling in the fields all day long at hard labor, a 10 seems like it should be much more impressive, i.e., could walk 15 km to the next town with a 60 lb pack.

The fighting class, who would be wearing armor and practicing most of their days when not fighting, would be in the 12-13 range, with truly exceptionally strong martial types at 14-18. Those would be the guys everyone would remember because they were taller and bigger than even other fighters, who are already the big powerful types.

3.0 and 3.5 diluted that perspective when there were no limits to how high your strength could get. This summer I bought Old School Essentials, and it brought this topic back up in my mind, because you can't get any higher than 18, and you don't raise your stats after creation. If anything, I think my numbers are still too high, and that people with 12-13 are considered really strong individuals, with 14+ being truly outliers and highly memorable to the average villager if they came walking into town.

I'm not sure raw Strength is the best way to picture that; honestly learning to manage pack weight is partly strength, but partly endurance and partly just knowing how to manage it.
 


FreeTheSlaves

Adventurer
...
The other thing is travel time. In rough or mountainous terrain it's not unusual for 8 miles to take 8 hours.
Yes! 5E kind of alludes to the solution with difficult terrain costing +1' of speed and climbing costing +1' of speed in tactical movement.

So if the base travel speed is 24 miles a day, in rough mountains requiring periods of climbing, that drops to 8 miles.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Yes! 5E kind of alludes to the solution with difficult terrain costing +1' of speed and climbing costing +1' of speed in tactical movement.

So if the base travel speed is 24 miles a day, in rough mountains requiring periods of climbing, that drops to 8 miles.

That's actually somewhat realistic assuming you're not going up cliffs.

I've done 2.1km close to two hours.
 

My take-away is that a DM should not feel constrained to RAW when dealing with overland travel (Heck, I don't think RAW intends to be used rigorously at the table). That if the DM desires to set the atmosphere as such, then changing daily travel to 8 miles or 1 mile per day is acceptable. Or the availability of water. Or the danger of wild animals or wilderness hazards.

The DM just needs to set the scene, and make sure that in doing so, the objective of being a fun game is still maintained.
 

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