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?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


log in or register to remove this ad

talien

Community Supporter
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.
One of the reasons I focus on overland terrain and difficult traveling environments is for this reason. I think the ranger class struggles so much because exploration has been minimized, at least as much due to magic as to adventures that just don't focus on it. I have a ranger and druid in my game, and the wild terrain makes them more valuable to the party when it comes to dealing with wildlife.

At any one point in time, one of my players can't play. The excuse for their character being out of commission? Something wilderness related: bug infestation, illness, not getting a good night's rest, etc. The druid and ranger are the ones who come up with antidotes, folk medicine poultices, and creatures to avoid.

There's a fine line between making barbarians, druids, and rangers useful in the wilderness and making it not fun for the cityfolk. I suspect there's usually more cityfolk classes than wilderness adventurers, so they win out when it comes to making the outdoors a challenge.
 




One of the reasons I focus on overland terrain and difficult traveling environments is for this reason. I think the ranger class struggles so much because exploration has been minimized, at least as much due to magic as to adventures that just don't focus on it. I have a ranger and druid in my game, and the wild terrain makes them more valuable to the party when it comes to dealing with wildlife.

At any one point in time, one of my players can't play. The excuse for their character being out of commission? Something wilderness related: bug infestation, illness, not getting a good night's rest, etc. The druid and ranger are the ones who come up with antidotes, folk medicine poultices, and creatures to avoid.
Disease and weather has been trivialized in 5e....and, maybe, in most games.

I'm playing a game that takes place in Chult and there is almost zero focus on survival. Just sleeping in a jungle at night should be a challenge with the bugs alone. It's difficult to add these to the game when you have to homebrew things. And diseases have no teeth. If you look at the spell 'contagion', the diseases listed there are barely an inconvenience.

And when you add these things, most magic trivializes the challenge: create food and water, create water, lesser restoration etc... I guess, at the very least, these things soak spell slots...
 

Disease and weather has been trivialized in 5e....and, maybe, in most games.

I'm playing a game that takes place in Chult and there is almost zero focus on survival. Just sleeping in a jungle at night should be a challenge with the bugs alone. It's difficult to add these to the game when you have to homebrew things. And diseases have no teeth. If you look at the spell 'contagion', the diseases listed there are barely an inconvenience.

And when you add these things, most magic trivializes the challenge: create food and water, create water, lesser restoration etc... I guess, at the very least, these things soak spell slots...
I did not DM Chult, but did play it. If I remember correctly, there was an ointment we had to buy to keep the bugs off, and there were con checks for exhaustion. But you are right, spells negate almost all travel side effects and outdoor exploration challenges. That said..

I truly believe it is a matter of the DM, not altering the rules, but making it a focus of the narrative. Narrative pieces, in my experience, are really good to detail travel hardships. It pulls the players in, gives them a rationale, and makes the rolls needed much more meaningful. But the narrative needs to have consistency: the same problem each day presented as serious, funny, laborious, etc. But the same problem.
 

MGibster

Legend
Disease and weather has been trivialized in 5e....and, maybe, in most games.

I'm playing a game that takes place in Chult and there is almost zero focus on survival. Just sleeping in a jungle at night should be a challenge with the bugs alone. It's difficult to add these to the game when you have to homebrew things. And diseases have no teeth. If you look at the spell 'contagion', the diseases listed there are barely an inconvenience.

And when you add these things, most magic trivializes the challenge: create food and water, create water, lesser restoration etc... I guess, at the very least, these things soak spell slots...
Dying from dysentery is a lot of fun when you're on the Oregon Trail, but not so much fun when you should be slaying dragons and rescuing princesses. I do have an amusing insect story, this was something I heard about a group of westerners, anthropology students perhaps, who were in southeast Asia (I wish I could remember the country). They were staying in a village and had to build their own shelter. The locals advised them to build their shelter off the ground but the students were satisfied with the structure they built at ground level. Everything was fine for a few weeks until the bugs started coming and they learned why the locals all built their houses above the ground.

It's probably not a true story, but it does illustrate the importance of paying attention to what the locals do because there's probably a good reason for it.
 

Dying from dysentery is a lot of fun when you're on the Oregon Trail, but not so much fun when you should be slaying dragons and rescuing princesses. I do have an amusing insect story, this was something I heard about a group of westerners, anthropology students perhaps, who were in southeast Asia (I wish I could remember the country). They were staying in a village and had to build their own shelter. The locals advised them to build their shelter off the ground but the students were satisfied with the structure they built at ground level. Everything was fine for a few weeks until the bugs started coming and they learned why the locals all built their houses above the ground.

It's probably not a true story, but it does illustrate the importance of paying attention to what the locals do because there's probably a good reason for it.
I played in a WWN game where we were hiking through the jungle and a big part of the challenge was how we were going to feed and keep our porters alive. Avoiding disease and infection after a fight was a huge factor for both our expedition (the more porters died, the less food and supplies we could carry) and the more the party got sick and disabled, the more difficult the challenge for future encounters. I don't think it took away from the 'fun' of killing giant spiders lurking in the trees but it certainly added an extra layer of challenge and depth to the game.

But WWN does not have the same amount of spells to overcome those kinds of challenges and, with their System Strain rules, it does a good job at slowly wearing down the party.
 

I played in a WWN game where we were hiking through the jungle and a big part of the challenge was how we were going to feed and keep our porters alive. Avoiding disease and infection after a fight was a huge factor for both our expedition (the more porters died, the less food and supplies we could carry) and the more the party got sick and disabled, the more difficult the challenge for future encounters. I don't think it took away from the 'fun' of killing giant spiders lurking in the trees but it certainly added an extra layer of challenge and depth to the game.

But WWN does not have the same amount of spells to overcome those kinds of challenges and, with their System Strain rules, it does a good job at slowly wearing down the party.
Sounds like an irreversible death spiral where the challenge it to see how long/far you last before everyone dies.
 



But

certainly sounds like it does.
I mean, when you have less hit points after a combat, it certainly makes the next combat more challenging. Also, getting rewarded for managing your resources (like not losing too many hit points or casting all of your spells) helps you get through future encounters more easily. But I certainly wouldn't call going into a combat without full HP a death spiral.
 



And it’s not a death spiral. I find it funny that you find adding environmental challenges not Related to combat a death spiral. That said, I’m happy to say we disagree on the issue. I feel this will become a cyclical argument.
It's not about adding environmental challenges. It is your description of how those work. That resources are used/lost (porters die), resulting in less resources being available (less food and supplies we could carry) resulting in more injury or reduction in resources (the more the party got sick and disabled).

That's a death spiral, i.e. the lose of resource results in fewer resources which results in increasing resource loss.

Now, maybe your description of what was happening was just off or poorly described?
 

It's not about adding environmental challenges. It is your description of how those work. That resources are used/lost (porters die), resulting in less resources being available (less food and supplies we could carry) resulting in more injury or reduction in resources (the more the party got sick and disabled).

That's a death spiral, i.e. the lose of resource results in fewer resources which results in increasing resource loss.

Now, maybe your description of what was happening was just off or poorly described?
Probably you are misinterpreting what I'm saying. It's the internet, after all. It wasn't a death spiral.

It was just a different type of challenge against the elements. It was harrowing and was fun.
 

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).
Hi, No, I do not remember, this was a while ago. We have browns and blacks in city limits so it could have been either.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I'd really like people to start adding things to travel and exploration to make them desirable to do.

Those of you to hike: do you do so for the beautiful scenery, the fresh air, the thrill of finding new places? Of because you really like all the prep and management and aches and puma attacks?

Is it the former? Then why is the later the only things that seem to get put into the game?
 


Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top