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Rules, Regulations, Encounters, and Ideas: Long Distance Travel in Roleplaying Games

Travis Herring Rules Regulations Encounters and Ideas Leave a Comment

Every now and then I see a thread in an online group asking for ideas for this or that. Or, “how do you deal with X?” or “do you give out XP for THIS?,” or… Well, you get the idea.

In Rules, Regulations, Encounters, and Ideas, I hope to answer these questions or at least share the answers I offer to others who have asked the same question elsewhere. After all, what is good for one DM is likely good for all and none of us are getting paid for this. So, beg, borrow and literally steal my ideas. That’s what they’re here for.


Getting Started with Random Encounters

Recently, a new Dungeon Master (DM) asked, “How do you deal with random encounters? I tend to skip them to get to the more important parts of the story.” To which I replied: There are tons of ways to make traveling in your game more than “You go from X to Y. Nothing of import happens.

While you may want to rush the party from where they ARE to where you need them (or they want) to BE, ask yourself — does it promote the world they are in?

Is it immersive to just ignore the seven days’ worth of travel to get from point A to point B, where your next major element awaits their dice-rolling, story-destroying tendencies?

A lot can happen in seven days. Hell, a lot can happen in TWO days if you’re paying attention. Whether it is inter-character roleplay (sharing backstories, for instance) or just simple things that make your world feel more alive, there are lots of ways to put those seemingly useless “travel days” to use.

While your PCs are traveling that road or trail, think about who else might be out there and why. That alone will give you a few encounters for your party to run into and each of those can be a reason for some additional character building RP.


Example Travel Random Encounters

In no particular order, here are some encounters I have used in the past, and will likely use again in the future (plus a few I just thought up on the fly):


Other Travelers

The PCs aren’t the only folks that are trying to get from one place to another.

Farmers heading to market with their produce or livestock can often be found on the road. After all, it takes SOMEONE to get that food you’re eating in that town-based inn to where your ever-helpful, gossip-dispensing innkeeper awaits.

Caravans of merchants gathered together due to the old adage of safety in numbers.

On that idea, don’t forget gypsies. If your world sports gypsies (and the Pathfinder RPG default setting has an entire region devoted to them — Varisia for the Varisians, after all), you’ll find them all over the place. Whether they’re camped on the side of the road the party is traveling or are traveling the same road as they, there are plenty of opportunities for roleplay when gypsies are involved. Music, dancing, drinking, loose women… All of those stereotypes are there to use, so use them!

Is there a war going on somewhere? If so, refugees and immigrants might be on the road, trying to find safety.


The Environment

Don’t forget environmental “encounters” when on the road. Depending on how well-traveled that road or trail is, the path itself might become an encounter.

How often do you use random encounters while traveling between important locations?

    Has it been washed out by a flash flood recently?

    Is the bridge they were expecting still there, or has it been damaged and in need of repair before anyone can cross once more? Maybe something occurred, and the bridge is entirely GONE. Now the party has to figure out how to cross. (Hope you put some points in Swim.)

    Perhaps a wagon filled with produce has gotten stuck, and the poor farmer or merchant who owns it is trying desperately to get it unstuck? Similarly, wagon wheels break, horseshoes get thrown, and both of these cause full-stoppages of the transport going on.

    A nobleman and his squire standing by the side of the road running their hands through their hair as they decide what to do. Or a merchant with a desperately-late shipment that NEEDS to get to town in the NEXT DAY or he loses his commission to a competitor. Do the PCs help or hinder?

    Other environmental encounters could be fallen logs blocking the road (and needing to be cut up so wagons can get past or a way found around the obstacle).

    Perhaps a giant statue stands on a hill in the distance, its provenance lost to history.

    What about an abandoned castle with stories about the dragon that once lived there, or a mountain rumored to harbor a clan of cannibalistic ogres?

    That crystal blue lake shimmering in the distance sure looks inviting, doesn’t it?

    Or the occasional way shrine to the god or goddess of travel, and the flowers and food items left there by previous passersby. Will the previous visitors mind if your starving party eats the food and drinks the drink?

    What is that circle of stones on the rise just ahead? Does it have some story attached? Are the druids who overlook the area meeting there right now?

    Is that farmhouse in the fields over there still occupied, or dilapidated and abandoned, perhaps with ankhegs having burrowed into the ruined croplands?


    Combat Encounters

    And then there are always the “potential combat” encounters. But why make them typical? Yeah, bandits exist, but what if the group your party runs into are new at this and just desperate to eat? They don’t really want to hurt anyone and will run away when presented with a greater threat than they offer. Will the party help them? Kill them? Turn the survivors in for the bounty that surely must be out for their heads?

    Wild animals are always a threat, but they don’t have to be…

    Boar will charge, sure, but why? Mayhap there is a young boar in the bushes nearby and the charging beast is trying to protect its child.

    Those wolves that gather in the night could be drawn to a fresh carcass if the party killed something that day. They might not want anything to do with the party, but will stare from just beyond the firelight all night because they’re nearby and that convenient camping spot happens to be where the wolves meet every night.

    Is that a rattle in the bushes in the treeline?

    Are those deer? Quick, take a shot so we can have fresh meat tonight!


    Make the Unusual the Usual for Random Encounters

    If you use these ideas, your party’s travels will be more than just “You get to Town X” and more of an experience that brings your world to life. Give one or two of them a try. I promise, I can’t see and wouldn’t care if you straight up stole one of my ideas. After all, anything you found on the internet is yours, right?

    Good gaming!

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    Game master for over 30 years, father of one, author of a self-published novel ("Zero" - available at and several short stories/character pieces. I speak Japanese near-fluently, have lived in Japan and have a BA in Japanese Cultural Studies and an MBA focused in International Business. I am a fan of anime of all kinds, play Pathfinder weekly with a group of friends and play a lot of video games. Best known for my Halo 3 Master Chief, Halo: Reach Noble 6 and Warhammer 40K Space Marine cosplays. While I have a ton of experience, I am not always right, so if you bring an argument, back it up with facts and you might actually change my mind!

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