D&D General Travel In Medieval Europe


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Hussar

Legend
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And it may very well be a major undertaking with guards, and nobody has claimed it isn't. Literally nobody has said that some 0th-level peasant can walk that distance unarmed and alone and never be harmed.

Didn’t you claim exactly that by saying an overland trader could travel and forage? Doesn’t sound like a caravan to me.

But in any case we actually all agree on the main point in that travel isn’t very easy. So cool.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Didn’t you claim exactly that by saying an overland trader could travel and forage? Doesn’t sound like a caravan to me.

But in any case we actually all agree on the main point in that travel isn’t very easy. So cool.
How is a trader traveling and having beasts of burden (or beasts up for sale) not sounding like activities a caravan could engage in? Or that it wouldn't involve guards?
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Most people probably traveled less than 50 miles from home for much of history. But there have always been exceptions.
Why? Its certainly not true for the real world in history.
Many professions required travel. Traders, couriers, in central Europe also craftsmen, etc.
Then there were all the religious travels. Small local pilgrimages for special events like weddings, births, etc. which might or might not be within 50 miles. And once in a lifetime travels people undertook like going to the Holy Land, Rome, Santiago or Mecca for example.
 
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Oofta

Legend
Why? Its certainly not true for the real world in history.
Many professions required travel. Traders, couriers, in central Europe also craftsmen, etc.
Then there were all the religious travels. Small local pilgrimages for special events like weddings, births, etc. which might or might not be within 50 miles. And once in a lifetime travels people undertook like going to the Holy Land, Rome, Santiago or Mecca for example.

A lot of people even now rarely travel more than 50 miles from home. When I lived in Folsom CA (outside of Sacramento) we were about an hour's drive from Tahoe, the world famous ski resort. Some of the people in my D&D group had never seen snow. I grew up in a family that took regular road trips across the country, but many people simply don't have the means, opportunity or desire.

Did a significant percentage travel? Sure. More than 50%? That's what I doubt. The head of a family may take that once in a lifetime trip, but did they take their wife? Did every head of a household make that trip? Much like today I'm sure some people traveled widely. Some people did a once in a lifetime trip. Many people never left their home town or city.

Or take Otzi the Iceman. I happened to read an article about him and based on analysis, odds are he never traveled much more than 30 miles from home. It's not that people didn't visit nearby villages, just that to get more than 50 miles for most people would likely take at least a couple weeks of travel. A lot of people couldn't do that.

Even if people are only visiting and trading with nearby villages, they still need roads to get to that next village which establishes a network of road. It's just probably not that common that someone would traipse the entire trade route.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
A lot of people even now rarely travel more than 50 miles from home. When I lived in Folsom CA (outside of Sacramento) we were about an hour's drive from Tahoe, the world famous ski resort. Some of the people in my D&D group had never seen snow. I grew up in a family that took regular road trips across the country, but many people simply don't have the means, opportunity or desire.

Did a significant percentage travel? Sure. More than 50%? That's what I doubt. The head of a family may take that once in a lifetime trip, but did they take their wife? Did every head of a household make that trip? Much like today I'm sure some people traveled widely. Some people did a once in a lifetime trip. Many people never left their home town or city.

Or take Otzi the Iceman. I happened to read an article about him and based on analysis, odds are he never traveled much more than 30 miles from home. It's not that people didn't visit nearby villages, just that to get more than 50 miles for most people would likely take at least a couple weeks of travel. A lot of people couldn't do that.

Even if people are only visiting and trading with nearby villages, they still need roads to get to that next village which establishes a network of road. It's just probably not that common that someone would traipse the entire trade route.
In the US maybe, but in other countries travelling is much more common.
Also, don't forget that you can't really compare todays society. Religious pilgrimages were much more important in the past, even when they were only performed to go on sort of a holiday.

Many professions had to travel, either regularly like merchants, envoys, nobles or mercenaries, or occasionally like priests needing to be blessed by higher priests, ect.
In central Europe it was law that most craftsmen had to travel around for 2-3 years to collect experiences before they can become a master (a tradition still alive today, but not required by law anymore). That why the term journeymen has the word journey in it.
If a pilgrimage site was "nearby" (which does not have to mean within 50 miles) people travelled there close to annually for special events (marriages, births, ect.). And yes, long range pilgrimages were also undertaken by all kinds of people and not only the rich elite as least once in their life. For Muslims the pilgrimage to Mecca is one of their pillars and every muslim is supposed to do it once. Which is why the roads and infrastructure there were created to handle thousands of pilgrims.
Christians too had big pilgrimage destinations, not only Jerusalem but also Santiago and Rome which were frequented often enough for pilgrimage to be a economic factor in those areas.
 

Oofta

Legend
In the US maybe, but in other countries travelling is much more common.
Also, don't forget that you can't really compare todays society. Religious pilgrimages were much more important in the past, even when they were only performed to go on sort of a holiday.

Many professions had to travel, either regularly like merchants, envoys, nobles or mercenaries, or occasionally like priests needing to be blessed by higher priests, ect.
In central Europe it was law that most craftsmen had to travel around for 2-3 years to collect experiences before they can become a master (a tradition still alive today, but not required by law anymore).
If a pilgrimage site was "nearby" (which does not have to mean within 50 miles) people travelled there close to annually for special events (marriages, births, ect.). And yes, long range pilgrimages were also undertaken by all kinds of people and not only the rich elite as least once in their life. For Muslims the pilgrimage to Mecca is one of their pillars and every muslim is supposed to do it once. Which is why the roads and infrastructure there were created to handle thousands of pilgrims.
Christians too had big pilgrimage destinations, not only Jerusalem but also Santiago and Rome which were frequented often enough for pilgrimage to be a economic factor in those areas.
Record keeping is pretty iffy for much of history, so I make no claim of authority.

However, assume 30% of people went on pilgrimage in their lifetime. Another 5% were traders that went farther than a few villages over (for most of history 90% were farmers). It's a lot, but still less than the majority.

To get a majority you'd have to have more than half the adult men and women going on these long pilgrimages. I just don't see it happening, it's one of the reasons there are so many holy sites scattered around.

Even my Norse ancestors, many of whom traveled far and wide may not hit the majority because women rarely went along for the ride, or at least not as far as we know.

In any case, the simple fact is that we just don't know. It may also not be indicative of how many people travel in any given campaign world.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Why wouldn't it impact the nature of travel by road and footpath in a pseudo-late-medieval fantasy world?
Because most of the world doesn't have the geography of Ulster?
Even the discussion between the "realistic" travel considerations between Calimport and Water Deep. Almost nobody made that trip, those who did, almost nobody did the entire trip on foot or horseback, compared to those who travel between those by ship. Considering Forgotten Realms is a magical realm, the number of walkers or riders which is probably less than 1% of those who traveled between those cities, or probably significantly higher than the number of people who have "flown" or teleported between the two. Magic certainly exists in a fantasy setting, but unless it's gonzo magic that everyone has access, the likelihood of the number of people who travel via arcane means as immensely less than those who travel via mundane means. Thus what's the real difference between real world cultures, and those of the Forgotten Realms, at least for the majority of people?
I’m having trouble parsing some of this, but my point is that Dal Riata just isn’t indicative of general norms, pretty much anywhere.

There have always been well travelled roads with plenty of small trade (eg farmers taking goods to market, etc) by foot even along coastlines. If the city doesn’t make sure the road that leads to them is functional, they don’t get goods from the local farmers, and they’re screwed.

Also, who said anything about people walking from Waterdeep to Calimport? No one’s position relies on the idea of frequent trips across the entire length of the Trade Way.
Many people never left their home town or city.
A small quibble, I’ve heard from a few sources over the years that it wasn’t uncommon at all to go to the next town over in Medieval Europe, or most times and places. Including for women and children, depending on the social dynamics. (Women had a lot more freedom in pagan Northern and Western Europe than in Christian Europe or Hellenic Pagan Europe, for instance)

It’s just that the next town over was a day’s walk in good weather. Farmers often traveled to the nearest actual town to trade, or went a week out to several towns over, trading along the way, coming home just as laden but now with stuff they needed and didn’t grow/raise/make themselves.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Record keeping is pretty iffy for much of history, so I make no claim of authority.

However, assume 30% of people went on pilgrimage in their lifetime. Another 5% were traders that went farther than a few villages over (for most of history 90% were farmers). It's a lot, but still less than the majority.

While this thread has concentrated on pilgrimage, the most common reason for travel was in fact war with regular musters of normal folk being led north to fight the Scots, or south to fight the French. Its estimated there were maybe 15,000 English troops at the Battle of Crecy (and that was just one battle in the Hundred Years War).

We also see many mercenary ‘Free companies’ rising from the 11th century following the fall of feudalism, population increase and Muslim conquest of western mediterranean (Italy, Spain etc). The population increases meant that many younger sons of noble families were spare and pursued mercenary work to occupy their time.

War also lead to displacement of farmers who were forced to flee the warzones to the city and subsequent rise of bourgeoisie (both merchants and mercenaries) free from the landbased nobility and instead working in a market economy. IMHO DnD adventure parties are mercenary companies of this type, the idea that PCs are peasants another anachronism.

Also In England at least you have the meeting of Parliament and gathering of the House of Lords and their retinues. The Royal Court was also highly mobile (and still is)
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
While this thread has concentrated on pilgrimage, the most common reason for travel was in fact war with regular musters of normal folk being led north to fight the Scots, or south to fight the French. Its estimated there were maybe 15,000 English troops at the Battle of Crecy (and that was just one battle in the Hundred Years War).

We also see many mercenary ‘Free companies’ rising from the 11th century following the fall of feudalism, population increase and Muslim conquest of western mediterranean (Italy, Spain etc). The population increases meant that many younger sons of noble families were spare and pursued mercenary work to occupy their time.

War also lead to displacement of farmers who were forced to flee the warzones to the city and subsequent rise of bourgeoisie (both merchants and mercenaries) free from the landbased nobility and instead working in a market economy. IMHO DnD adventure parties are mercenary companies of this type, the idea that PCs are peasants another anachronism.

Also In England at least you have the meeting of Parliament and gathering of the House of Lords and their retinues. The Royal Court was also highly mobile (and still is)
While you can argue that war is the most common reason for travel, I think it ignores a lot of factors. Like, most farmers traveled short distances once or more a year, at some points in pre-modern history.

As in many aspects of history, war gets the headlines, but trade arguably has at least as much, if not vastly more, of an impact on how history plays out, and especially on how people live their lives and organize themselves.
 

Hussar

Legend
But, even then @Tonguez, 15000 men is hardly a majority in a population of around six MILLION.

That's the point I keep making. Sure, people traveled. No one is denying that. Heck, there were roads for a reason. What I'm arguing against, is that it was common or that the average person was doing extended travel. @Ixal points to European craftsmen. Fair enough. But, then you have @gamerprinter talking about Japan. A country where pilgrimages were extremely common.

But, the thing is, in Japan, you have pilgrimages to temples that are all within a day or so of where you lived because there are temples everywhere. I go to a festival every year at a temple that is well over a thousand years old. And every year that festival has been held. But, again, it was being held for people who lived near that temple.

Or take Shikoku. Beautiful island and famously 66 temples. There is a pilgrimage where you walk between all 66 temples. Been going on for centuries. Friend of mine did it and wrote a book about it. Really interesting. Took about three months to do. IIRC (been a while since I read it) he walked a bit over a thousand kilometers in that time. Most of it being up and down. :D

But, here's the trick. Historically and even into modern times, the overwhelming majority of people would only visit a couple of temples a year. Remember, this is an island only a couple of hundred miles across. Probably less. So, depending on where you lived, most of the temples are within a day's travel, just not within a day of all the others.

Again, just to be really, really clear, I'm not saying that no one travels. That would be silly. I am saying that, by and large, travel in a D&D world would be very, very different from the real world, simply because of the presence of dangerous creatures that want to eat you. And that fact is often ignored or at least glossed over when people do world building.

Think about it this way. If you know there's a chance that you will meet a manticore or a wyvern as you travel, do you really think spending three years as an itinerant journeyman is a good idea? Or, if you do travel around like that, won't it be considerably different than the real world? That's why I mentioned Africa earlier. That's probably a better model considering that there actually ARE dangerous animals (and still far less dangerous than a D&D world) wandering about.
 

MGibster

Legend
But, here's the trick. Historically and even into modern times, the overwhelming majority of people would only visit a couple of temples a year. Remember, this is an island only a couple of hundred miles across. Probably less. So, depending on where you lived, most of the temples are within a day's travel, just not within a day of all the others.
Wasn't travel heavily restricted throughout much of Japan's history?
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So, anyone got ideas about making travel fun, or is this just irreperably an "argue about worldbuilding" thread from which nothing useful at all will come.
 

MGibster

Legend
So, anyone got ideas about making travel fun, or is this just irreperably an "argue about worldbuilding" thread from which nothing useful at all will come.
I would greatly appreciate some ideas for how to make travel more fun. One of the difficulties I run into, is that my group tends to make a bee line for wherever their destination is. When their charactesr are traveling, they'll ignore whatever adventure hook I throw at them because "it's not the mission" and this will just delay them. For example, in a Deadlands Hell on Earth game, the PCs came across evidence that two of their rival factions were working together. I expected them to take an interest and find out what was going on, but they skipped over that in its entirety because that's not what their mission was.

Short of having interesting things happen or adventures to go on while traveling, I'm not quite sure how to make it fun. Perhaps set it up similar to a dungeon? Just focus on a day of travel where they have to surmount various obstacles such as hostile creatures, geographic features such as rivers, ravines, & rakes, or magical and mundane phenomena including gysers, magical wild zones, or the skeletal remains of giants.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I would greatly appreciate some ideas for how to make travel more fun. One of the difficulties I run into, is that my group tends to make a bee line for wherever their destination is. When their charactesr are traveling, they'll ignore whatever adventure hook I throw at them because "it's not the mission" and this will just delay them. For example, in a Deadlands Hell on Earth game, the PCs came across evidence that two of their rival factions were working together. I expected them to take an interest and find out what was going on, but they skipped over that in its entirety because that's not what their mission was.

Short of having interesting things happen or adventures to go on while traveling, I'm not quite sure how to make it fun. Perhaps set it up similar to a dungeon? Just focus on a day of travel where they have to surmount various obstacles such as hostile creatures, geographic features such as rivers, ravines, & rakes, or magical and mundane phenomena including gysers, magical wild zones, or the skeletal remains of giants.
Day by day can work in hostile territory, but so can breaking it into legs of travel and then treating travel a bit like more limited downtime.

Ask them what they’re working on, how they pass the time, what they do in the hours between sundown and sleep, etc, and make clear that they can do any downtime stuff that makes sense on the road, or one night at a time in the towns where they stop (when traveling in settled regions).

Remember that people didn’t just go right to bed when the sun went down. Even before widespread candles, folk burned rushes or used oil lanterns burning vegetable oils for light so that they could keep working for several hours after it got dark, usually making things, repairing clothes, etc. In D&D, light is much easier to come by, and PCs can get rather a lot out of regular use of the downtime activities, especially using tools, gambling in taverns, etc.

A lot of this, though, works better when you start a campaign doing this, I reckon. If they’re used to quickly moving past he particulars of travel, they may resist slowing travel down and zooming in. That’s part of why I suggest leveraging downtime. Especially, let them practice with tools or languages and mark off days toward gaining proficiency. Let the alchemist or herbalist gather while walking and make things at night. Use the Xanathar’s rules for cooking tools and cobbler’s tools.

IMO it is 100% okay to let travel through settled regions, and even most days of wilderness or frontier travel, be pretty safe and mostly a positive thing rather than something that drains resources and make “the mission” harder. Reward the things you want to see in the game, basically.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Another couple ideas I had to make travel engaging and worth caring about without raising the threat level.

Music and stories. Let PCs with relevant proficiencies give some kind of bonus by telling stories or singing songs. Music as an active thing people engaged in (rather than just listening) was a constant huge part of life in every era of history before the one we are in right now, basically. Work songs, traveling songs, and sharing news and stories, should have some manner of benefit, just like eating better and keeping your shoes in good repair. Keep it simple, could be you can give your companions back inspiration points (see below), or give them THP, or regain a spent hit die.

Inspiration Points. You have 5+1/2 points, and regain them all when you gain a level. You can also regain points by seeing new and wonderous sights, experiencing new things, and living at an above average level of quality of life. So, if your meals are made by a professional, and you stay in good inns with clean beds, and you bathe regularly, a week of travel gets you back 1 inspiration point.

You can spend an inspiration point to reroll any d20 roll. Alt, you can spend it to add 1d6 to a roll.
 

Hussar

Legend
I would greatly appreciate some ideas for how to make travel more fun. One of the difficulties I run into, is that my group tends to make a bee line for wherever their destination is. When their charactesr are traveling, they'll ignore whatever adventure hook I throw at them because "it's not the mission" and this will just delay them. For example, in a Deadlands Hell on Earth game, the PCs came across evidence that two of their rival factions were working together. I expected them to take an interest and find out what was going on, but they skipped over that in its entirety because that's not what their mission was.

Short of having interesting things happen or adventures to go on while traveling, I'm not quite sure how to make it fun. Perhaps set it up similar to a dungeon? Just focus on a day of travel where they have to surmount various obstacles such as hostile creatures, geographic features such as rivers, ravines, & rakes, or magical and mundane phenomena including gysers, magical wild zones, or the skeletal remains of giants.
I feel you here.

I think part of the problem is that anything that deviates from the main task tends to be seen as an obstacle. If they take the time to investigate something that isn't linked to whatever they are doing right now, the DM will see that as a fail condition and make things more difficult for them down the road. At the most basic, the whole resource management part of the game is telling them that spending resources on some side bit will only make the main bit more difficult.

And, for a lot of times, they're not entirely wrong. If they spend resources now, they won't have them later. It's fairly understandable.

How to fix it? I don't know. At a guess, I think the DM needs to make it clear that there is no negative cost to exploring stuff that isn't related to the main task. Yeah, I know that might stick in the craw a bit, but, again, we need to get around the hump of resource management. If doing the side task isn't going to make the main task more difficult, then it becomes a more viable option.

I suppose the other solution is to not have main tasks, but, that's not really plausible either.
 

Dioltach

Legend
Ask them what they’re working on, how they pass the time, what they do in the hours between sundown and sleep, etc, and make clear that they can do any downtime stuff that makes sense on the road, or one night at a time in the towns where they stop (when traveling in settled regions).

Remember that people didn’t just go right to bed when the sun went down. Even before widespread candles, folk burned rushes or used oil lanterns burning vegetable oils for light so that they could keep working for several hours after it got dark, usually making things, repairing clothes, etc. In D&D, light is much easier to come by, and PCs can get rather a lot out of regular use of the downtime activities, especially using tools, gambling in taverns, etc.

For an interesting variation: The forgotten medieval habit of 'two sleeps'
 

Dioltach

Legend
I would greatly appreciate some ideas for how to make travel more fun. One of the difficulties I run into, is that my group tends to make a bee line for wherever their destination is. When their charactesr are traveling, they'll ignore whatever adventure hook I throw at them because "it's not the mission" and this will just delay them. For example, in a Deadlands Hell on Earth game, the PCs came across evidence that two of their rival factions were working together. I expected them to take an interest and find out what was going on, but they skipped over that in its entirety because that's not what their mission was.

Short of having interesting things happen or adventures to go on while traveling, I'm not quite sure how to make it fun. Perhaps set it up similar to a dungeon? Just focus on a day of travel where they have to surmount various obstacles such as hostile creatures, geographic features such as rivers, ravines, & rakes, or magical and mundane phenomena including gysers, magical wild zones, or the skeletal remains of giants.
One possibility might be to incorporate the journey into the adventure: perhaps not the entire trip, but definitely as the party gets closer to their destination the effects of whatever challenge they're heading towards might become visible. They can't just walk up to the dragon's lair, they need to make their way through the desolated countryside and track it down. The local vampire lady has minions guarding her lands to stop random parties of heroes from showing up at her castle. The magical forces emanating from the evil temple have warped the local populace, but provide clues about the challenges within.

Otherwise just make an adventure that's all about the journey, rather than the destination. The road that they're following has become impassible, a bridge has been swept away, and now they need to make a detour. Find their way back to the road cross-country, encountering natural challenges, monsters and NPCs along the way. This will need to be set up as a proper adventure, though, with prepared encounters and appropriate rewards, otherwise the players will be justified in thinking it's just a waste of time.

But most importantly, if your players don't like the travel elements of the game, don't force them.
 

Hussar

Legend
I agree with what you're saying @Dioltach but there is a bit of a problem there. If there are various challenges to get to the "main challenge", then avoiding those challenges is a win condition. After all, if I avoid that vampire's minions on my way to stake the vampire, then I did a good job.

Honestly, I think probably the best solution is an out of game discussion. Just lay it on the table that the DM would like it better if the group was a bit less laser beam focused and a bit more willing to explore. And, make a point that exploring isn't punishment. That exploration won't automatically mean you are at a disadvantage later on down the road. It's okay to stop and smell the flowers, in other words.

Until it becomes really clear to the players that it's not only okay, but actually beneficial to wander around a bit, they simply won't because they've been trained by games - video games especially, but, movies and other media as well - that not focusing on the task is always a bad idea.
 

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