Traveling in DnD is bound to happen, and as tempting as it may be to roleplay your way through each and every travel sequence, it can sometimes seem like a mundane chore (although if you’re wanting to make travel a bit more spicy, here are 5 random encounters from my last article). As the DM, you set the tone for everything – travel being no exception – so in order to keep things from going stale you must decide when to fast travel and get to the juicy bits.
This Article Will Discuss:
- Why Fast Travel in DnD 5e?
- When to Avoid Fast Travel
- When to Include Fast Travel
- How to do Fast Travel Sequences
Why Fast Travel in DnD 5e?
As I just touched on, the main reason that you’d want to fast travel is because the events of travel have become boring, repetitive, or ‘everyday’. It’s lost its luster, so to speak. In a world of instant everything (you can see and talk with someone on the other side of the world in real time…whenever you want…just think about that for a minute. If ‘Sending’ is a 3rd-level spell, then video chatting someone has got to be at least a 5th-level spell) it’s hard to blame DMs and players alike for just wanting to get to “the good stuff”.
The second (related) reason is simply time and a lack thereof. If your group only meets up once every few weeks, nobody wants to take a few months of real life time acting out every little thing that happens on a 10-day not-super-note-worthy caravan trip in character. If time is a limiting factor (and lets face it, all of the scheduling memes exist for a reason) you should just jump right into the more exciting stuff.
If you’re unsure, just honestly ask the table. “Hey is it cool if we kind of fast-travel through the next XXX miles/days of the journey so that we can keep the momentum going?”. In my experience, I’ve found that players absolutely love fast traveling.
When to Avoid Fast Travel
With all that being said, there are definitely certain times and places where it’s worth “playing out” the travel and letting players experience it instead of just zooming through. In general, I think lower level players should be fast traveling infrequently until they level up a bit. Think about it, getting attacked by bandits is a waaaay bigger deal when the PCs are level 3 vs. when the PCs are level 10. Simple roadside encounters actually carry significance when the PCs are lower level, and a single nat 1 or nat 20 might determine whether the party loses a member or not. On the other hand, when the PCs are ballin’ at level 15, they are not worried about getting stopped by any random bandits and can easily dispatch the majority of creatures who would get in their way during routine travel. A general rule that I try to use is: as PCs level up, their ability to fast travel increases (due to them being significantly stronger, and also by having access to greater resources).
Another time when you should avoid fast traveling is if there is something truly unique, novel, or noteworthy about the specific journey. This could mean the PCs are traveling through a special environment, or with a new vehicle or animal companion. Basically if they’re doing something out of the ordinary that could be universally deemed “cool”, you want to be sure that the players get to experience it to some degree. Riding on the back of a dragon turtle while chasing versions of themselves from the future is a pretty cool and unique scenario. That’s exactly the sort of thing that you should be extrapolating on and playing out in increased detail. Sitting in the back of a cart, Skyrim style, and explaining a bunch of details that ultimately amount to nothing is time that could be better spent on other exposition and adventure scenes (although there is something to be said about the occasional ‘boring’ or mundane scene to help balance and contrast the exciting scenes, but this really depends on the group. Shopping episodes are great for this!)
When to Include Fast Travel
To figure out when to include fast travel sequences in DnD, take everything that I said in the last paragraph and think of the exact opposite. So if low level = embracing the journey and not necessarily the destination, then high level = let’s take our airship across the continent straight to the cult leader’s hideout and start fucking stuff up with the railgun. Likewise, if the PCs have gotten to experience a special environment or mode of transportation for a bit, then it may be time to consider fast traveling in those situations. Dealing with the sweltering heat of the jungle and needing to worry about finding clean parasite-free water to drink? Very fun for a session or two, but maybe not fun every single time the PCs want to travel anywhere.
Another reason you may want to fast travel is if the party is full of PCs who are entirely wishy-washy with their adventuring plans and schemes (but I mean, come on, PCs making a plan and then completely abandoning the plan to instead travel in the complete opposite direction never happens…). Including too many travel sequences can also give PCs too much time to change their mind about what they’re doing. By the time they get halfway towards where they need to be, it could be an entire session later (and up to a few weeks in real world time) and they may completely forget what their plan was, or why they were headed there in the first place. I say this out of guilt, as someone who has been an accomplice to this exact thing multiple times (but the new idea is SO MUCH BETTER than the last one… we have to try it). If you bring PCs straight to the action, they don’t have the time to consider every possible alternative and must face the music of their decisions.
How to do Fast Travel Sequences
Okay, so you’ve pulled the trigger and decided to start allowing a bit more fast travel in your DnD campaign. First, congratulations! Second, get ready for some improv! One of the downsides of having fast travel, particularly in a more open world setting, is that it can become very difficult – though not impossible – to plan ahead for certain sessions since the PCs can kind of end up anywhere. But enough worrying about that, it’s now time to get down to the nuts and bolts of actually describing the scene.
It’s pretty simple, you’re gonna need a montage!
Instead of actually going through and describing every single day or event in the journey, just summarize them succinctly through a montage-type of sequence. This is the sort of thing that might require a couple of minutes of you monologuing as the DM, but it doesn’t need to be very complicated at all.
Step 1: Describe the PCs leaving their current location
Step 2: Loosely and quickly describe a scene (or scenes) along the way and indicate the passage of time
Step 3: Describe the PCs arriving at their destination. Congratulations, you’ve done it!
And here’s a quick example for you
Step 1: You finish gathering any last minute supplies that you may have needed for the journey, pack the wagon, saddle up your horse, and begin down the road out of Exampletown.
Step 2: A few days go by, and the red rocky terrain gradually softens, cliffs turn to hills, and you start to see bits of greenery popping in here and there. It starts as a few cacti and bushes, but after a few more days you find yourself completely surrounded by tall lush grass and aspen groves.
Step 3: After winding through the forest, with skittering squirrels and nervous deer, you find a massive oak gate with guards that welcome you to Placeville.
Ta-da! It really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. I hope you enjoyed this article and found it to be useful!
A special thanks for my patrons for making this article possible!
- Rachel Alexandria
- Connor O’Keefe