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

Zardnaar

Legend
Hill in the distance are 500-750ish metres high.

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Can walk from my place nearby up there. Links up with several other trails and a 27 km loop with huts for staying overnight.

Every now and then search and rescue has to go bail people out to the weather.

Get caught out up there and might not be coming back.
 

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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?
Just from my experience, it has evolved over time. When I started as a kid (teen; Florida & North Carolina), it was all about this strange mixture of surviving in the wilderness, and the thrill of exploring. I'd hike through dense Florida woods just to find a sinkhole that might have a cave. I floated down a spring fed river full of gators just to see if I could and discover where it went. (On second thought, maybe I wasn't adventurous, but stupid. ;) )

Later (20's; Alaska), I did it for the endurance test. I discovered mountains and would take two-to-three-week treks. I think I hiked for the aloneness, but also the physical grind. It felt good. I still explored off trail, but a lot less. It was mostly just sticking to trails. Even later (30's; California, Oregon, Idaho), I got into the mental side. Loved the gear prep. Loved the map work. Started peak-bagging. It was a mixture of the physical, solitude, and gear/prep. More than later (40's; Colorado, Wyoming, etc.), I hiked for the companionship. I started to bring others out with me, and the trails and ruggedness were lessened. Now, it's to be with friends, appreciate being without a phone, and to explore. I like hearing a rumor and trying to find out if it's true. (My latest quest has been to find a hidden cave in Joshua Tree named Yurla-Burla. I have a quadrant, but it's sooooooooo mazy and full of levels. You could literally stand on it and never know it. ;):):oops:)

A common theme through all these reasons was being around nature made me appreciate the real world. It also made me focus on the little things and understand life better.

As far as gaming, I really believe it boils down to the DM. Yes, the rules are not expansive when it comes to hiking and exploring. But, I feel like if the DM makes it a focus, it can be a fun and interesting part of the game. But it will never take as much time as combat.
 

Ixal

Hero
Let me interrupt the story hour about hikes you all went on to post this link to the discussion about maps as it is kinda related.

One rather important part of hiking is knowing where you are and where you want to go. But with D&D tech level that is mostly not really a case as maps were very inaccurate if they were available at all.
That adds a lot of uncertaincy when you leave the roads and trails and you have to plan for having to search what you are looking for and also, if possible, overstock on supplies, which might alter the way you travel (pack mule, ect.)
At least if D&D would not consequently ignore supplies and carrying them.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think you can't entirely forget that its probable that D&D world maps, at least the ones in the editions of the game with moderately high magic levels, are much better than the real world ones of similar periods. That's because there are a lot more opportunities to get airborne views of the landscape, whether via clairvoyance, flight spells, or simply riding on a flying animal.
 

Ixal

Hero
I think you can't entirely forget that its probable that D&D world maps, at least the ones in the editions of the game with moderately high magic levels, are much better than the real world ones of similar periods. That's because there are a lot more opportunities to get airborne views of the landscape, whether via clairvoyance, flight spells, or simply riding on a flying animal.
Just because you can see it doesn't mean you can draw a good map of it. Otherwise every area around hills and mountains would have had perfect maps.
You need to measure it and also have enough skill to bring the measurement on paper and also be able to reproduce the map in the same quality.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Just because you can see it doesn't mean you can draw a good map of it. Otherwise every area around hills and mountains would have had perfect maps.
You need to measure it and also have enough skill to bring the measurement on paper and also be able to reproduce the map in the same quality.

You may not get the distances right, but with a proper eye you should at least be able to get the relationships right. And there's a big difference between being able to look down at an angle, and straight down, not to mention being able to have several angles of view.
 


talien

Community Supporter
True story: We were hiking in Cornwall and saw a McDonald's sign in the distance. So we decided to walk towards it. An hour later we gave up when we realized the sign was actually massive and we were miles away in rough terrain from ever getting there. Our urban experience never prepared us to estimate walking distances that far!
 


GuyBoy

Hero
Energy bars are so great for hikes; I always think lembas!
Back in the day, we had Kendal mint cake. Is that a thing in USA?
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Energy bars are so great for hikes; I always think lembas!
Back in the day, we had Kendal mint cake. Is that a thing in USA?
Might be, but I don't recognize it. After Googling it and seeing pictures, I don't believe I've ever seen it.

Edit: That said, a German coworker introduced me to Kinder Chocolates, which I'd never seen before and didn't think was a thing in the US and the next time I was in the grocery store, I saw it. So... 🤷‍♂️
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Might be, but I don't recognize it. After Googling it and seeing pictures, I don't believe I've ever seen it.

Edit: That said, a German coworker introduced me to Kinder Chocolates, which I'd never seen before and didn't think was a thing in the US and the next time I was in the grocery store, I saw it. So... 🤷‍♂️

Kinder chocolate is fine the kinder eggs are banned afaik due to the small toys inside (choking hazard).

Energy bars are oat bars really or muesli bars.

We also do scroggin which is usually a mix of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
We also do scroggin which is usually a mix of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate.
We call that GORP. "Good Old Raisins and Peanuts". Then people started throwing M&Ms in it. Now there are all kinds of fancy GORP (also call "trail mix") you can buy at your favorite coop, health food store, and increasingly in the more mainstream supermarkets. Common to have bins with different nuts, fruit, candies, etc. that you just scoop into bags to make your own mixes.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Also in my area of the world, the Native Americans had pemmican (or wasná in Lakota), made from finely pounded dried meat, tallow, and berries. It was widely adopted by early French fur traders. It can keep for 1 to 5 years depending on how it is prepared and, unlike hardtack, is high in calories. Not sure if it ever made its way to Europe.
 


Zardnaar

Legend
We call that GORP. "Good Old Raisins and Peanuts". Then people started throwing M&Ms in it. Now there are all kinds of fancy GORP (also call "trail mix") you can buy at your favorite coop, health food store, and increasingly in the more mainstream supermarkets. Common to have bins with different nuts, fruit, candies, etc. that you just scoop into bags to make your own mixes.

Something similar here but I haven't seen candy in it.

Usually chocolate chips. Bulk bin at supermarket.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Also in my area of the world, the Native Americans had pemmican (or wasná in Lakota), made from finely pounded dried meat, tallow, and berries. It was widely adopted by early French fur traders. It can keep for 1 to 5 years depending on how it is prepared and, unlike hardtack, is high in calories. Not sure if it ever made its way to Europe.
You can get pemmican in UK but only really in outdoor shops in the more “outdoorsy” areas of the country (Lake District, Highlands etc).
I loved Kendal mint cake as a teenager, but find it a bit too sweet nowadays.
 

Dioltach

Legend
My personal lembas are TUC crackers. Several times I've hiked with only half a dozen or so to sustain me all day - well, until I reach my destination and someone brings me wine and food.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
A9CF9535-15DE-46F5-974A-99900BC0CE74.jpeg
“ That’s the last of the mint cake,” said Sam, wistfully, as they huddled together on the stony mountain slopes of Mordor..
“Oh, Sam,” whispered Frodo, his drawn features breaking in a rare half-smile, “ how I wish we were back in Kendal.”
 


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