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The problem: Overland travel spells and magic items disrupt the value of several fantasy elements that I don't want to sacrifice in a campaign, such as mounts (and the classes that make use of them), vehicles, the vastness and dangers of wilderness, the passage of time as a cost when players are making strategic decisions, and so on. Problem spells in particular include teleportation, wind walk and overland flight, but there are many more that I may not be aware of.*

My question: How can I preserve these fantasy elements essential to the game-play style I have in mind?

However, class balance matters to me: I want to offset the loss of these critical spells by some means. I think Pathfinder does a good job of class balance, and I want to keep it that way.

Do I have to do it the hard way and track down every such spell and ability and ban/nerf them individually? I am hoping there's a higher-level strategy to instead preserve both these elements and these class abilities.

* Combat duration spells like fly or relatively short distance overland spells like tree walk and air walk are not a problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Low level characters don't typically have access to magical transportation unless some benefactor who has access to that higher level magic provides it. So, what level are the characters in your campaign? \$\endgroup\$ – Ellesedil Dec 23 '15 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have party-sized flying mounts in your world? That's another hazard-bypass concern right there...(although it is possible to challenge a party traveling via air with unique hazards, it takes some outside-the-box thinking) \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Dec 24 '15 at 7:05
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PCs have an opportunity cost to use magical travel (a wizard who prepares teleport is using a high level spell slot, of which he probably has only a few -- possibly only one). If the group chooses to travel by overland flight, they won't be able to take their mounts, so if they get separated from their spellcaster, they'll be stuck on foot. Teleport has those pesky error chances -- etc. If they don't know precisely where they're going, teleport isn't even an available choice, and overland flight or wind walk would require landing short of their goal with spell slots spent and still time to be spent and hazards to be faced before they reach their destination.

I don't see the availability of travel magic eliminating ground or sea travel, only giving PCs a choice (and a choice that can very easily influence decision making, forcing them to spend resources on magic, if they're to save time otherwise needed for ground travel). That choice can become a tool for the DM, with a little care.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ And rmember you can only safetly teleport to places you know. \$\endgroup\$ – Duncan Dec 23 '15 at 23:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm just addressing PCs; roads and boats and wagons are the still the mainstay for most folks. And yes, making these spells riskier are one aspect of house-ruling that I'm considering, as well as reducing range and so on. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Hoyt Dec 24 '15 at 0:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 because this answer focuses on world building when the question is specifically about a playstyle and the PCs' options. Amend that misdirected focus and it could be a good answer though. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 24 '15 at 9:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie world building is playstyle, just at an overarching level. If I want to build a low-magic campaign, I need to build those assumptions into the world, not have a world where everything runs on magic but the PCs don't have access to it (though that's a valid alternative style for a certain type of game, it's not really a "low magic" world). \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Apr 14 '16 at 11:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is primarily looking for how to preserve them for the PCs, not just their existence for NPCs. This answer doesn't touch on that at all, while a good answer would focus on that. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 14 '16 at 14:09
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My solution for this problem is to not run campaigns with high-level characters in them (either PC or NPC). I plan for my plot to end when the characters hit level 9, and there are no level-9 NPCs, so all those spells you mention are simply not available.

There are still a few low-level travel spells, such as communal mount which summons fresh horses for the party, but I don't mind those as much.

If you want to run a higher-level game but not have travel spells, I recommend explicitly ruling: "travel magic doesn't work in this campaign". If you make any lesser ruling, the players will try to find a way to circumvent it -- for example if you ban teleport they will use transport via plants and you'll have to issue a spot houserule to ban that too.

I don't think you need to worry about game balance. High-level spellcasters are very powerful compared to fighter-types, and taking one or two spells off their vast spell list won't hurt them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Teleportation and wind walk won't help you transport the entire caravan to the next city. There is still a place for horses and wagons and roads. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Dec 23 '15 at 21:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are right that many groups would try to find a way around it, even though the intention was clear, and the PM would have to make an ad-hoc ruling. But I still think it's worth a shot. (Communal mount is fine with me, too.) \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Hoyt Dec 24 '15 at 0:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ My only gripe with this answer is that high-level characters may be part of the appeal to some people, but otherwise I like it. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Willey Apr 14 '16 at 4:29
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Overland travel spells and magic items disrupt the value of several fantasy elements that I don't want to sacrifice in a campaign

I'm going to be generous and assume that "I" above means "my players and I".

If that is the case and that where your group finds the fun in a the game is in "mounts, vehicles, the vastness and dangers of wilderness, the passage of time" then:

  1. It takes all kinds
  2. You don't have a problem because you simply agree that, since this is where the fun is, no one will do anything that will bypass this.

There is no game balance issue; a PC who is not using resources on travel magic is using it on kill things magic or heal things magic or divine things magic instead.

If "I" really does mean "I" then your first and most important step is to change that into "my players and I" or else you'll see another kind of travel magic when players stop travelling to your game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A lot of professional (psych, architectural, industrial design) hours stand behind the observation that just wanting to forego shortcuts is usually not enough to not use them, and so even for people who want to forego them, shortcuts usually need to be unavailable to avoid "just this once…" turning into all the time. Do you have experience with a group foregoing travel spells by willpower alone that would reassure readers that it's enough in this case? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 14 '16 at 14:47
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What is the nature of fantasy?

One thing to consider before we even begin is whether or not you really want to keep medieval transportation a thing in your campaign. One thing that I'd suggest doing is making sure that your players actually are willing to play in a campaign where they don't have access to all-action, all the time. If they want a high fantasy game where the world is their oyster and they don't want to worry about transit, that's something that making a GM decision about can backfire on you for.

Although that sounds kind of harsh, there is another thing you can do while talking to your players: ask them not to use teleportation magic of their own accord. Discussing the game with them and coming to a mutual agreement that there will be no teleportation or long-distance flight for the party because that way the campaign will be more interesting and it'll achieve the original feel can be just as good as a mandate from up above. You can even mention that you don't want it "in the setting", if you're not using a setting that has explicit teleportation and so forth.

The Myth of Diminished Utility

Your spellcasters aren't going to be useless if you end the existence of transportation magic. You can always make there be an onerous spell component or limit teleportation to magical hubs if you want to give your spellcasters some utility: they'll just have to hike one way, for instance, then recall back to the town. You can even limit these fast movement spells to individuals, making it impossible to move the whole party but leaving them open to the players in the case of need.

However, when you look in the vast levels of utility that Pathfinder provides, removing these transportation spells aren't going to make as much of a difference as you thought. I saw a GM complaining about how Wind Walk ruined his campaign the other day; Pathfinder has certain elements that often get patched out in individual groups for the sake of "feel" or "cohesion", and you should feel free to invoke rule zero on this matter if you absolutely desire.

Make it Impractical

As other answers have mentioned, it's not always practical to have teleportation magic. Traveling with a large group, mounts, plentiful gear, and even having to deal with spell preparation limitations can all prevent the use of magical travel. Make their destination somewhat uncertain, and they already cannot teleport, and make it hidden by air and they basically are stuck walking. Do this right, and the players won't even realize that you're trying to restrict such workarounds.

At very high levels, it may be possible to bypass all the barriers to travel-assisting magic, but at this point most of the wear and tear of travel is effectively incidental. It's not like they'll run out of gold chartering a wagon or staying in an inn, and potentially the amount of time they have between the world going into a crisis without them means that they can only accomplish one or two objectives, even with magical travel. Remember that anything they have can also be had by their enemies, and high-level characters may have made recurring enemies that are just as (if not more) powerful as they are.

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You could houserule in an exhaustion factor. Effects which teleport could tire out characters at a rate proportionate to walking/hustling/running the distance teleported in x number of minutes, and flight effects could exhaust characters as if they had actual wings they were having to pump (which would still mean that flying would be less exhausting than running the same distance due to being able to glide, but would make flying at full speed many miles exhausting). You could decide whether when teleporting the characters can arrive at the destination dead of dehydration, or if the effect dumps them however far they could go before they fall unconscious.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd be careful to impose any rules that could kill players too readily, especially in a game like Pathfinder that is generally averse to that. The downside of fatigue and exhaustion is that it puts a lot of bookkeeping on players and GMs, but also that it diminishes the effect of magic: magic that requires the same amount of effort as just doing the thing normally isn't really magic. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Willey Apr 14 '16 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KyleWilley I've suggested a penalty that isn't death, and the magical advantage is that you are still getting from one place to another instantly or via flying. If the group isn't tracking exhaustion then the GM can just estimate how far they can get before being forced to stop and rest, which really isn't that different from travelling normally (even if you aren't tracking exhaustion, the group presumably can't run full tilt all day as a form of travel). \$\endgroup\$ – IllusiveBrian Apr 14 '16 at 14:01
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Random Pockets of Antimagic... Go ahead, casually fly, fall hundreds of feet to your death. Also, in pathfinder, feather fall rather stupidly (raw) requires a DC21 concentration check, so.... Good luck.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume you mean that falling counts as "extremely violent motion"? This should be spelled out, and ideally defended a bit more; when you're falling, it's certainly no picnic but there's not much acceleration, just wind and the ground getting closer. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Apr 14 '16 at 3:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, keep in mind that killing players for attempting something they assume to be effective is generally frowned upon by players, if not some GMs. Flight is not the only traveling magic that can be difficult to work with. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Willey Apr 14 '16 at 4:31

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