The 5e Overland Travel Montage

Posted on March 9, 2015 by


One of the things I’ve had to deal with in the 5e game that takes place in the 2nd Ed. era of the Forgotten Realms is overland travel. That map is huge! And there are quite a few empty spots along the way (one of the reasons why I’m switching to the 3e map actually, but I digress). Overland travel can be a tricky thing to navigate through when you’re a new DM, and the DMG sort of tells you to hand wave it and make it a quick, but evocative couple of lines and move on to the destination. Older version of the game asked for tons of random encounter rolls, something that can be interesting if used sporadically, but ultimately work as filler to do something while you travel. That’s to say, it’s not very rewarding, but it will give you necessary XP. That’s not to say that they all have to be this way, you can come up with a list of interesting and useful things the players learn or find in these random encounters, but that requires a bit more planning.


I want to take a different approach. Page 106 of the 5e DMG talks about the Travel-Montage approach of exploring the wilderness, and basically it boils down to describing and hand-waving the trek quickly to get to the desired destination. The fantastic D&D variant 13th Age, takes this approach one step further in its organized play adventures, putting the task of narrating the montage in the hands of the players. I like that! i want to play with that and maybe add a bit of 5e mechanics along the way. Here’s what I’m thinking:

The way 13th Age does it (in a system devised by author Ash Law), the DM will describe the area the players are trekking through, and then ask a player to come up and narrate an obstacle that the party faced along the way. Then that player picks another player to determine how and what his or her character did to defeat the obstacle, and hopefully that player will make his or her character look like a complete badass in the process. It’s a neat reprieve from having to roll charts for wandering monsters and other random encounters, and allows players to get their creative juices flowing.

While I like the narrative approach, I want to add a bit of 5e’s new mechanics to it, namely Advantage/Disadvantage and Inspiration to give it just a bit of crunchiness to it. So it would go something like this:

GM: “Your journey across the barren, rocky wastelands of the Plain of Standing Stones in Anauroch will take you a few weeks,  The occasional vulture flies overhead, waiting for your demise, and it may just come, given how this land is frequented by hill giants, hobgoblins, and even the occasional blue dragon.  Ahkek, what obstacles did you and your companions come across the first few days of your journey?”

Ahkek: “Well, we’re in the desert, right? Rocky and barren? Lets tell the tale of how we fought that giant scorpion.”

GM: “Oh yeah? You mean the one that got a good couple of stings on you and your companions. Clarity how did you defeat this scorpion, what did you do?”

Clarity: “The giant scorpion had me locked in it’s claw, it was clamping down hard, stung me with the poison stinger. I prayed to Lothander, thinking I was slipping away, and from the heavens it rained down flames and killed the scorpion with my Flame Strike.”

GM: “Awesome. So it explodes in a flash of fire, with poison and scorpion flesh raining down on you, Now you all got hit with a nasty poisonous sting. Ahkek, give me a Constitution saving throw. You guys went head to head with a giant scorpion and got stung in the process while trekking through a harsh environment and I want to see what happens.”

Ahkek: “9. D’oh”

GM: So for three days you guys feel the effects of the poison. You’re sluggish, weak…..”

At this point the GM would ask another player to describe what other obstacle they faced along the way, and perhaps apply Disadvantage to the roll due to the lingering effects of the terrain and poisons…

By the end of the overland journey, each player would have narrated an obstacle, a way out of an obstacle, and the GM did minimal work in making the scenes come alive, as it would all be in the hands of the players.

If the situation warrants it, you can add Inspiration, you can take into account Bonds, Flaws, Ideals, etc, and apply Advantage or Disadvantage as you see fit. You can also award loot if it went well for them, so maybe had they faced bandits they could have found some coin, but if they would have failed the STR check to represent the fight, their weapons may have gotten damaged instead, or they might have lost some gold.

What do you think? You like?

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