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I'm starting a campaign with a new group, most of whom have never played a tabletop RPG before. Typically, I'd start with a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, but due to the overarching plot I'm planning, the PCs will need to start with a 2 or 3 session-long journey.

Since these are new players who only have experience with MMORPGs, I want to include in these first session as many facets of roleplaying as I can, while avoiding the more boring travel I've both played and GM'd in the past.

What can I do to introduce lots of different mechanics (especially strong combat) into this first journey the party takes together? More importantly, how can I make travel feel "epic"?

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This has brilliant advice for travel: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10446/… –  derp Jul 11 at 20:18
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Yes, I've read that post many, many times. One of those upvotes is mine. :) –  Thane Brimhall Jul 11 at 20:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

History

One trick to making things feel epic is to highlight the history of the place as they travel. This is pretty much one of the big things Tolkien loved to do - he'd talk about some mountains, what they were named, what they were named before that, who lived there, who lived there before that, which ancient spirit shaped them, etc.

Of course, this kind of thing either excites players who love lore, and bores everyone else. I usually like to give some recent history (within a generation) or "folklore history" that, in a fantasy world, you're not entirely sure if it's literal or just a story. ("That's the Demon's Chasm. Long ago an angel threw down a demon and it gashed open the land. Now it's just great fishing in the river at the bottom.")

It can also tie to recent politics - if you point to abandoned villages from a few generations back, or a town that's half covered in a landslide, it can be interesting when the players encounter NPCs who have history from those places. "This town changed two generations ago when the refugees moved in. The mountain nearly fell on their home, so it's not like they could go back, but the old families really didn't like them coming in..."

Aim the history towards player characters who would mostly likely know it - make it a reward for history skills, or being elves, or druids, or whatever would mostly appropriately fit.

The People that you meet

Tying in with the history idea of the places, you can have NPCs comment when they find out about the journey. "Wait, you're going to travel all there way THERE? Just the five of you?!?".

Have characters ask about faraway places. Ask if rumors are true ("Do they REALLY all have wings and fly from mountains?") Have shopkeepers willing to buy relatively mundane things at a good price ("Is that rope woven from North Mountain vinery? I'll pay triple! We haven't seen that in years!").

If the journey is long and unusual, the players might go through it relatively quickly, but the NPCs will definitely comment on it.

Choices

Like anything in a tabletop rpg, the question is whether something produces fun choices or not. A lot of sandbox style rpgs use maps, because maps create a set of choices - where to go, how to get there, etc. That's one way to make travel more interesting.

There's always room for things like combat, or hazards - a blizzard, a crumbling bridge, etc. The trick to anything you add is to make it about hard choices - do you take the short, dangerous route, or the longer, safer route. Do you lose important supplies and get away safe, or do you try to get them even though you're being pursued? Do you go back and free the guide who got captured or do you leave them to their fate because in 2 days the snow will block the pass?

One of my favorite RPGs, Mouse Guard, makes every journey feel pretty epic because the challenges you face are difficult. On the other hand, there's not really any MMORPGs that do stuff like this, and players either find themselves going "Wow, I have to apply creativity to survive in brutal nature! Awesome!" or they go "Guh, this weather sucks. I feel like I'm being punished just to play." Knowing what your players want is critical to making travel work.

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I think you have several options available to you to make travel feel "Epic"

Core Rulebook

Ill start with the basic rules from the core rulebook. You can use weather and terrain variants to make travel VERY interesting. Environment. This gives you all sorts of weather and terrain based fun, like getting lost in the woods, to sandstorms and quick sand.

Next you can use random encounter tables like these To randomly run into monsters and all sorts of things along the way.

No Core material on hand

Some other things that i dont have direct access to, are tables for general random encounters. So instead of just beasts, you can encounter a traveling caravan, a cave entrance, all sorts of other things that may or may not have combat. You could choose to give this as many or as little sidequests as you want, but it makes "travel" itself fun and interesting.

Make the party roleplay at camp. Tell them its getting dark, let them set up camp..and then say..."What do you do?" Dont just skip the camp and dinner and/or breakfast in the morning. Make them talk about and describe how they spend their evenings, make them talk to each other over a dinner.

Sometimes, so its not all just silly, make stuff happen during the night, like they hear noises or voices, creatures stumble upon their campsite, etc.

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So I've never had a random encounter feel like it was interesting. They always feel... well, random. I certainly agree with using environment to make things feel epic though! –  Thane Brimhall Jul 11 at 20:33
    
The trick is to make a random encounter interesting :) If your rolling for them..and you roll 1-4 humans...make it an adventuring party..or a small carvan...just have to be creative, but use the tables to get an idea for what it is. –  MikeR Jul 11 at 20:35
    
Yeah, I can do that, but still, is that the right way to do things when trying to give new players a taste of several different mechanics in their first session(s)? –  Thane Brimhall Jul 11 at 20:41
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If your players are the analytic sort, you could make random encounters more interesting by turning them into a min-max problem. Hint to your players that smaller parties tend to attract random monsters with lower probability, but that larger parties are also more likely to defeat or scare away any random monsters they come across. Perhaps the local adventurers guild collects statistics on party survival, allowing players to calculate the optimal party size for surviving in the wilderness. :) –  RobertF Jul 12 at 4:32

One way to make travel feel truly epic, without resorting to mechanics, is to include epic scenery.

For starters, create an awesome color map of the lands the party will be traveling through. There are several mapmaking tools available for free.

Use visual references - share color pics of the vistas the party will see as they travel through your world. There are plenty of sites on our planet that could easily substitute for a fantasy setting, and with the Internet you can easily find pictures.

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Cool idea. Handouts are always awesome. –  Thane Brimhall Jul 11 at 20:54
    
There's a lot of unspoiled natural scenery in Spain (Pyrenees and Ciudad Encantanda!), Scotland, and Wales (check out Snowdonia Natural Park). Or the Sahara for desert locations. Google map with the Photos option & you'll find thousands of photos that can be copied into Paint. –  RobertF Jul 11 at 21:24

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