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In most of my group's campaigns, we spend a lot of time traveling. Unfortunately, this leans one of two ways:

  • Uninteresting or distracting obstacles. If you want to spend time but keep it fresh, adding challenges helps. But at the same time, every cave the group explores distracts more from the original goal.
  • Teleportation: Poof, you're there! For all intents and purposes, the play-time for the travel is 0. The clocks are different, but all the players see is origin-bam-destination.

What techniques can a GM use to keep travel expedient without breaking immersion?

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

Description, description, description. Give them a thirty second to three minute description of the travels. Skip the rolls (unless you want one to determine how long it took, etc) and just talk through it. It takes almost no time, but gives the players the impression time has passed.

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I have to say, we tried this and it worked really well. Even 30 seconds of describing the changing scenery helped. – user1637 Dec 10 '11 at 17:47
@user1637 Glad I could help! – C. Ross Dec 11 '11 at 1:30

Extract the first few plot points that are going to take place at the destination and put them on the road.

This strategy also helps you be less railroad-y because the players are out in the open and have more choices about where to go instead of being locked into a city/dungeon/what-have-you.

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This sounds really cool, but I'm not sure it would work in every situation. I think it's a great idea and an excellent tool in the toolbox (+1), but I accepted another answer that I will probably use as my default a lot. – user1637 Dec 10 '11 at 17:45

Outsourcing. Specifically, outsourcing to the players. Ask them to tell you about 1 month's worth of misadventure that happens while they're on the road. Bonus points if you take notes and reincorporate their material into the game later on.

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Or if you have a player with a story-telling character, that might be his chance, without him having to hijack the game session. – Jo Heymans Dec 9 '11 at 19:16
One variety of this is to let the characters converse. They have backstories to expand. – Vorac Oct 23 '12 at 14:12
@Vorac, I like this in theory but I've never been able to convince the players it's not just filler. Any suggestions? – valadil Oct 23 '12 at 14:24
I have had success with the following. I am the GM, the group is split. I alternate spotlight between the two halfs-groups at 10-15 min slices. During that time, the other group is encouraged to converse in character - on the problem at hand, on their characters, on local beverages and past heroic achievements. When I turn to them, I ask if something important happen and if there are conflicts with the rality as I see it, make adjustments. – Vorac Oct 23 '12 at 14:44
btw, I use another similar technique in yet another type of situation. When there are going to be missing players form a session, I ask them to tell me what are their characters going to do during the session. Generally the direction of the game is known and stating several actions for the future in-game week-or-so is not difficult. – Vorac Oct 23 '12 at 14:47

If there's no plot element tied to the travel, if it's unimportant, just fast forward. They're there. Tell them how much time has passed.

If you want an element of chance, have them make a check. On success, they're there. On failure, add a complication: the weather went bad, they lost their pack animals, bandits are trying to rob them, there's a mob of angry villagers, etc.

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Legends of Anglerre has a really good system for time in travel. It's set up as a sort-of 'meta character' that the GM places certain obstacles in the party's way. Dice are rolled, skills are checked and any damage that may be taken (like from a rock slide) is distributed randomly or based on the current in-game logic (the first character in the group takes damage as she tumbles down the rock slide).

In years past, I used to do either the 'poof you're there' setup, or the long slog of roleplaying the entire journey as well as the formal adventure at the end.

I much prefer LoA's method.

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Have the party's opponents rely on (and at times also be hampered by) terrain obstacles and weather phenomenon. Tie the traveling into the story. Don't just make up obstacles that have nothing to do with the story (aside from slowing down the plot) and don't simply distribute plot elements over terrain. Make the terrain and the weather part of the plot.

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Have the party work for the teleportation, with a minor sidequest. For instance they need to acquire the items for a ritual or convince a local wizard to help.

Further to that, there is no reason they couldn't be flung to a different dimension or even just waylaid, to break up what would otherwise be 'insta-travel'

It's the fourth day of travel and up until today everything has been quiet.However as you rise to set off for the day, you hear a rustling in the woods beside your camp...[insert encounter]

It means you don't need to describe every moment, nor does it take the fun out of travel. The players might learn taking one route will get them attacked by bandits, or another has weather hazards. If you provide multiple option as well the players get to pick and interact with their environment; Quick and easy route through the forest (one bandit encounter), long-harsh journey over the mountains (skill check for survival and penalties from the cold/wet/heat etc) or risky teleportation (leaving the character stunned or left with their guards down) making checking ahead important.

Hopefully whatever you do it'll shape the characters choices in the future. I'm never teleporting again!

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I like the idea here that the method of travel has impact and consequences. Even without spending a lot of time on the travel itself, the group will have to take time to weigh their options. That time will probably serve as a nice transition on its own. I am excited to try this! +1 – user1637 Dec 9 '11 at 20:06

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