Join us as we take a look at how we can maybe expand upon exploration pillar of D&D. If you’re a DM and you’re having trouble coming up with ideas to implement in order to make exploration and travel feel more engaging than this article can hopefully help out.
Passage of Time
For me, I found that including the passage of time, seemed to make a great deal of difference in my campaigns. Having time pass by makes it feel like a real adventure. Having time pass in the game can be done in a few ways.
You can make one for your own homebrew world or if you’re running a module you can use the calendar for Faerun (you can always rename the months and days to something that is easy to remember). Making my own calendar has worked wonders for my home campaign and helps capture things like seasons, holidays, and birthdays; all of which also help to expand upon the world.
Matt Coville recommended this one, and it’s pretty great, especially when paired with a Calendar. The idea is that you instead make every hex traveled on the world map count as 1 day of travel. You don’t cover every single day in game but instead say “4 days passed on the road uneventfully, but on the 5th day you’re attacked by-” this allows for the sense of time to feel like its passing without making travel feel like you’re trudging along. That means, you absolutely do not use random encounter tables for every single day that passes.
This also gives your players the rare ability to go all out with their abilities and spell usages, since they tend to recover everything at long rests. But beware of items that recharge at dawn or on long rests, too many of those could be really strong.
Traveling through deserts, forests, and mountains all count as difficult terrain which makes travel much slower, you know who can help prevent that? Rangers. Rangers can help mitigate this as they are masters of natural terrains. You can also give the world mounts. Traveling through a desert? Well there happens to be a small town just before the desert that sells or trades for camels. Snowy tundra? Wouldn’t a dog sled team make for the best mounts ever? Boom your world feels more alive and diversified now.
Player Choice & Paths
I have learned that one of the most important things in D&D is choice. When your players are making choices is when they feel the most involved. Whether they are presented with social situations or combat, the players are constantly making choices. Shouldn’t exploration be the same? But how does one give choice in exploration? Much easier than you think, my friend. Paths. Your players should quarrel with the dilemma of having to stand before two roads that diverge in a wood, quite literally however.
Does your party need to travel through a forest? Is there a road that leads to their objective? Then all you have to do is split it, that’s it. Now instead of their being one path riddled with enemies waiting to attack and people in need of assistance, there are two. One path can be faster but more dangerous while another can take longer but is safer. The dangerous path could have multiple bands of Orcs who are often transporting supplies with them while the safe path can just have one band of Orcs with a handful of copper pieces on them. However, always make it known what the choice is. The path that diverges makes all the difference and it will leave your players wondering whether or not the other path had the better claim. I can guarantee at some point one person will say “We should have gone the other way.”
You can litter the paths with enemies, situations or just plain old treasure. Think up of random things that your players can come across. There can be a cave that is not yet discovered. Maybe there is an old ruin that they can come across but they need a key to get inside; so they mark it on their maps and come back to it later after getting more information on the place. If you have a Ranger in the group make it so they can move around more stealthily around the dangers. Rather than have a band of Orcs surprise the group instead have the group able to surprise them now. Maybe the group tries to sneak around a whole camp of Orcs or maybe they try to take them out one by one with a leader that is getting more and more aware of his disappearing guards! Sorry, I got carried away there.
These few ideas combined together give a sense of time passing while traveling and make the world feel more inhabited; it gives it a sense of exploration and discovery, which in turn improves upon the pillar of exploration in D&D. This also gives a chance for your Rangers to excel as they direct the party pass the worst of the worst. This way even if we are running a campaign that doesn’t include a whole lot of exploration we now have a role that is essential for a Ranger while traveling, mitigating the paths. Finally, these are just some ideas that worked for me, they might not work for you but I hope you still give them a try. Thank you as always and go play some D&D Rangers and DMs alike.
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