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.

princess-4395983_960_720.jpg

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


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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.

"The 14 Bear Attack Statistics​

  1. On average, there are about 40 brown bear attacks that happen around the world every year.
  2. The odds of being attacked by a bear at Yellowstone National Park is 1 in 2.1 million.
  3. 2021 has shown an increase in the number of bear attacks in the US.
  4. So far, California has two high-profile cases of black bears breaking into homes in 2021.
  5. Appalachian Trail bear attack statistics reveal estimates of about one fatal black bear attack to occur every 8-10 years.
  6. The US state that has the most bear attacks is Alaska.
  7. The number of fatal black bear attacks per year in the US comes to about one fatal attack a year.
  8. Since 1979, there have been 44 grizzly bear attacks at Yellowstone National Park.
  9. The frequency of polar bear attacks is increasing in recent years as the Arctic temperatures have become warmer.
  10. Most bear attacks occur because the bear feels protective or threatened.
  11. About 50,000 wild bears are hunted by people in North America every year.
  12. A 3-year study of 92 bear attacks in North America saw that half of them involved a dog.
  13. Although many bear attacks involve dogs, bears rarely attack domestic cats.
  14. In 2020, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department received 162 reports of bears attacking backyard chickens."
So what's my takeaway from this information?

Don't be a chicken.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You know how to survive an encounter with bears? It's easy: Don't stop to take a selfie with it. They don't like that. That's pretty much it. You can otherwise (most of the time) just say "Hey, Bear!" and walk away.
About 15 years ago I went to Yellowstone with my mother and daughter. My mother paid for a tour guide and we were being bused around looking for wildlife. The bus came up to a line of cars on both sides of the road and the guide said, "When you see cars lined up like this, there's something interesting to see." So the bus stopped and we all got out.

I was at the very front of the bus and we were lining up to see what was happening. Across the road was a park ranger saying something to the people on the other side of the road. Right then we saw a black bear walking down the road towards the ranger who was oddly(to my perception) unconcerned with a bear walking down a crowded road. Right as the bear reached where our bus was parked, it decided it had enough of the road and turned directly towards me. I wasn't very concerned at this point because the ranger was still just calmly watching this bear walk directly towards me. I didn't move and as the bear passed right by me from about a foot and a half away, it just turned it's head towards me as if casually noting, "Oh hey, there's a human standing there." Then it turned it's head back to facing forward and continued its leisurely stroll into the wilderness. That was the moment I cursed at myself for taking so many pictures of neat things earlier and filling up my camera's memory. Oh, well.
 

but as i have stated before streamlining and combining skills has killed much of the complexity and fun of the game.
For many people, complexity takes away from the fun, it does not add to it.
Been playing 40 years and this edition handwaves what can be a fun part of the game.
I too have been playing that long, and I'm happy to handwave what can be, but rarely is, a fun part of the game at our tables.

The thing is @Vincent55 & @Stormdale, given all the rule sub-systems for wilderness travel that are available from so many decades of RPGs, it is very easy for DMs who want to add complexity to do so. But I think, as evidenced by the massive growth of 5E, that the designers got it right with this edition.
but I feel everyone at least has been on a day hike where they've experienced this type of terrain.
Crazy enough, that's not the case. I couldn't find the statistics I was looking for, but I feel strongly it is safe to say that most people never "hike" outside of a city or town park. And of those that do, the majority of them do so in a national park on a groomed trail. Very few people do what I would call orienteering; going off trail and finding your own way across country.

A possibly interesting related story: years ago I was flying from Phoenix to Charlotte, the young woman next to me had just graduated college. We got to talking, she had never been out of the neighborhood she grew up in (south Phoenix) and the university campus (ASU), and was going to visit her college roommate in Charlotte. ~ 23 years old, up to this point her world consisted of about 15 square miles, all urban.
Don't be a chicken.
Who said the chickens lost the encounters with the bears? G
 
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Dioltach

Legend
However to make journeys interesting I try to use the 5 room dungeon model to add 5 interesting elements to overland travel and make them a tad more interesting part of the adventure.
I like the idea of a 5-room-dungeon for making travel more interesting. Thanks for the tip!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Who said the chickens lost the encounters with the bears? G
You're absolutely right! There's no info there saying the chickens lost and...

 

Mad_Jack

Hero
You know how to survive an encounter with bears? It's easy: Don't stop to take a selfie with it. They don't like that. That's pretty much it. You can otherwise (most of the time) just say "Hey, Bear!" and walk away.

For most of the wildlife around here, when you encounter one the easiest thing to do is, stand still for a second to let it look at you, look back at it, then just casually go back to doing whatever you were doing. Usually, it'll just wander off.
Bear sightings in CT have become more common in the past two decades. Most of them seem to be fairly acclimated to humans, and the majority of them wandered off when someone raised their voice at them. I remember being told as a kid that you never interrupt a bear when it's eating or has its cubs with it, but otherwise making loud noises from a distance tends to drive them off.

I've encountered three different black bears over the years, and none of them were particularly frightening. On the other hand, I remember being out in the woods once during the winter, and coming face to face with a <bleep>ing bull moose... :oops:
I was on a trail, and it just stepped out in front of me about twenty feet away. Now that was scary - you don't really understand how big those things are until you see one in person.
Especially since I wasn't expecting to see a moose in CT since they're not native to the state. (Although apparently there's been a native population established in the past twenty years or so.)
 

Stormdale

Explorer
Lord entril wrote:
For many people, complexity takes away from the fun, it does not add to it.

I agree regaridng complexity- it is getting the balance and indeed in 5E they have overall done a good job by keeping skills more general and less "crunchy"

Lord entril wrote:
"The thing is @Vincent55 & @Stormdale, given all the rule sub-systems for wilderness travel that are available from so many decades of RPGs, it is very easy for DMs who want to add complexity to do so. But I think, as evidenced by the massive growth of 5E, that the designers got it right with this edition."

However, IMO it is poor game design to basically ignore one of the "three pillers" of the game and pretend its not important or impacts on how the game can be played. Keeping track of time has always been an important aspect of D&D, especially for the DM, for many and can impact on many aspects of the adventure. How do the bandits react to an incursion to their lair? In what time frame etc? I still refer to the 1E DMG for advice in this area (p104-105) to make living enviornments.

Saying I can look up older edition is a cop out though. I shouldn't have to resort to older edition to figure out basics, nor should I need to hunt through various chapters of the 5E PHB/DMG to try to glean how long it takes to search a room or disable a trap etc to be able to use a modicum of timekeeping to track how long a party has been in a dungeon. Hand waving is fine for many but the 8 encounters per day rules make a joke out of overland travel unless you use the "gritty" style of rest rules an for some of us this does matter and impacts on how the game is played.

I don't think one page of (optional rules/guidelines for assitsing in tracking time) in the DMG or PHB to address some basic questions of the "exploration piller" is too much to ask?

I don't think the lack of decent (any) exploration rules are the reason D&D has become so popular in recent years- streaming, youtube, tv shows, pandemics etc have all had a role. I seriously doubt people are going:
" I hear the new edition of D&D ignores exploration so we can get on with the kewl fun part of the adventure- killing monsters and stealing their stuff"
"Awesome I'm in. I have ignored playing D&D for years as they had those annoying exploration rules. I'll give it a shot now."

Stormdale
 

Yeah, at many of the trails I hike regularly here in Arkansas, if you're 66 yards away from me we're probably not within sight of one another. Or, at best, you get fleeting glances of me from time-to-time through heavy foliage or while I'm ascending a hill or something. And if you're traveling off the trail, you're in difficult terrain. There's a reason we're all following the trail (besides being in a state park and being required to stick to the trail).
Definitely. The hiking I have done in Arkansas is very foliage heavy, and in many parts, off-trail is steep and thick. Not to mention, the millions of slick leaves after rain. But the Buffalo River - what a gorgeous area.
 

Crazy enough, that's not the case. I couldn't find the statistics I was looking for, but I feel strongly it is safe to say that most people never "hike" outside of a city or town par. And of those that do, the majority of them do so in a national park on a groomed trail. Very few people do what I would call orienteering; going off trail and finding your own way across country.

A possibly interesting related story: years ago I was flying from Phoenix to Charlotte, the young woman next to me had just graduated college. We got to talking, she had never been out of the neighborhood she grew up in (south Phoenix) and the university campus (ASU), and was going to visit her college roommate in Charlotte. ~ 23 years old, up to this point her world consisted of about 15 square miles, all urban.
I know people's experiences are limited. But even limited experience, if you've tried to think about a D&D encounter, could clue you in to how tough or awkward terrain can be. I mean, even in Central Park there are hedges that literally block navigation. But I hear ya. I guess if you are not thinking about it, restricting long range movement seems like a petty DM move, not a nod to realism.
 
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MGibster

Legend
However, IMO it is poor game design to basically ignore one of the "three pillers" of the game and pretend its not important or impacts on how the game can be played. Keeping track of time has always been an important aspect of D&D, especially for the DM, for many and can impact on many aspects of the adventure.
For the most part, I've always glossed over travel in most RPGs unless travel was part and parcel of the adventure. And for the purposes of this thread, when I say travel, I mean an extended period of moving from point A to point B rather than half a day's walk to a dungeon or something. As has been mentioned, magic and special abilities kind of makes long term travel rather pointless and hazards become trvially easy to avoid.

I'm about to start a Cyberpunk Red campaign and I'm adapting Land of the Free from the 90s edition of the game. The whole point of that campaign is to travel from the east coast of the United States all the way to the west coat. It's probably going to be the first campaign that centers around getting from point A to point B that I've ever run. (There will likely be very little hiking in it though.)
 

Mad_Jack

Hero
Especially since I wasn't expecting to see a moose in CT since they're not native to the state. (Although apparently there's been a native population established in the past twenty years or so.)

Well, that's a hell of a coincidence, lol - there was an article just published about a moose caught in a fence over on the other side of the state. Apparently the state Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection has issued a general warning to be on the lookout for moose on the loose over the next month or so.
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
For the most part, I've always glossed over travel in most RPGs unless travel was part and parcel of the adventure. And for the purposes of this thread, when I say travel, I mean an extended period of moving from point A to point B rather than half a day's walk to a dungeon or something. As has been mentioned, magic and special abilities kind of makes long term travel rather pointless and hazards become trvially easy to avoid.

I don't mean this in any critical fashion, but that's an artifact of the games you've played I suspect. Very few post-apocalypse games trivialize travel, for example, and even a number of low fantasy games don't (the magic can help a little but only a little, and if there's special abilities they just put a thumb on the scale).

I'm about to start a Cyberpunk Red campaign and I'm adapting Land of the Free from the 90s edition of the game. The whole point of that campaign is to travel from the east coast of the United States all the way to the west coat. It's probably going to be the first campaign that centers around getting from point A to point B that I've ever run. (There will likely be very little hiking in it though.)

Well, modern or near-future non post-apoc games have too much transport technology for that to normally be an issue. In something like CPR, its more an issue of dealing with the human elements along the way...
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
For most of the wildlife around here, when you encounter one the easiest thing to do is, stand still for a second to let it look at you, look back at it, then just casually go back to doing whatever you were doing. Usually, it'll just wander off.
Bear sightings in CT have become more common in the past two decades. Most of them seem to be fairly acclimated to humans, and the majority of them wandered off when someone raised their voice at them. I remember being told as a kid that you never interrupt a bear when it's eating or has its cubs with it, but otherwise making loud noises from a distance tends to drive them off.

I've encountered three different black bears over the years, and none of them were particularly frightening. On the other hand, I remember being out in the woods once during the winter, and coming face to face with a <bleep>ing bull moose... :oops:
I was on a trail, and it just stepped out in front of me about twenty feet away. Now that was scary - you don't really understand how big those things are until you see one in person.
Especially since I wasn't expecting to see a moose in CT since they're not native to the state. (Although apparently there's been a native population established in the past twenty years or so.)
Yeah, I've run into a lot of black bears, including ones with cubs. They'll let you know what they want, if you pay attention. You just better give 'em what they want. I'll tip my hat to the Alaskans that grizzlies are a whole different story, though.

I've also run into bobcats, seen cougars (there's a difference between seeing a cougar and running into one...) and the only thing that's ever attacked me was a crow.
 

MGibster

Legend
I don't mean this in any critical fashion, but that's an artifact of the games you've played I suspect. Very few post-apocalypse games trivialize travel, for example, and even a number of low fantasy games don't (the magic can help a little but only a little, and if there's special abilities they just put a thumb on the scale).
Oh, that's fair. But this thread is titled D&D Tactics: Hikes, so any comments I make are about 5th edition unless otherwise specified.
 

For many people, complexity takes away from the fun, it does not add to it.

I too have been playing that long, and I'm happy to handwave what can be, but rarely is, a fun part of the game at our tables.

The thing is @Vincent55 & @Stormdale, given all the rule sub-systems for wilderness travel that are available from so many decades of RPGs, it is very easy for DMs who want to add complexity to do so. But I think, as evidenced by the massive growth of 5E, that the designers got it right with this edition.

Crazy enough, that's not the case. I couldn't find the statistics I was looking for, but I feel strongly it is safe to say that most people never "hike" outside of a city or town park. And of those that do, the majority of them do so in a national park on a groomed trail. Very few people do what I would call orienteering; going off trail and finding your own way across country.

A possibly interesting related story: years ago I was flying from Phoenix to Charlotte, the young woman next to me had just graduated college. We got to talking, she had never been out of the neighborhood she grew up in (south Phoenix) and the university campus (ASU), and was going to visit her college roommate in Charlotte. ~ 23 years old, up to this point her world consisted of about 15 square miles, all urban.

Who said the chickens lost the encounters with the bears? G
South Phoenix is not all urban. South Mountain Park is ridiculously huge, and is basically wilderness once you get a short way away from the parking lots...
 




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