The road runs crooked here, the braying radio long since turned off. My mind has retreated to that long contemplative place, a slower mode that is all about absorbing details of the countryside. Though the two tons of steel and fiberglass molding are hurtling through time/space at body-smashing velocity internally it feels slow and leisurely.
Old stoned piled fence set off against the gentle curve of a live-oak and cedar covered rise. Great leafy canopies of pecans and elms as the road drops alongside the white limestone banks of a muddy, engorged branch river. Riots of wildflowers bordering old barb-wired posts...and wait is that a herd of alpacas?
It's Conan Country too, this long Hill Country backroad runs 15-20 miles parallel with another that will take you to Cross Plains and Cimmeria. That strong sense of place in fantasy —my own that just has to happen to share part of Robert E. Howard's by the accident of birth—washes over me and, of course, I am thinking of things DnD.
Why is wilderness travel so damn dull in-game?
Maybe dull is over-strong. Why is it so consumed with what punctuates the traveling? The throw of a one and the sudden switch in mode to encounter. Or the mysterious appearance of a site of interest, the burned out, ivy-choked shell of a tower and the like. Granted these can be exciting, the stuff of great sessions.
But why is the land itself left so faceless? It's “forest” full stop, perhaps grudgingly modified by being evergreens or light/heavy? It's the brown dull little triangles of “mountains” arranged in hexagonally-bordered bands. The wildly-varying and satisfyingly-creepy real world spread of wetlands is rendered “swamp”.
I look at the posts of my blogging friends and wilderness is almost inevitably handled as an exercise of game mechanics, the nerdy little debates (granted that I often love overly-much too) about how many beancounting checks for encounters per day over how many beancounting hexes.
Over the years I have managed to both play and run in a score or more of different wilds in a campaign—on a rare occasion recently with people who literally in this game from the first play group—and I've yet to ever feel that you had a strong sense of the Land you traveled.
The terrain has no face, little nuance and rarely itself also becomes the adventure. It lacks adversity. It's tangles and mysteries become obscured by a simple “lost” check. A horse never dies exhausted of it. A party rarely finds a spot that “they can't get there from here.” Occasionally you'll get charts for rockfalls and other impediments, but there seems to achingly little of it.
I can understand why the stick got bent this way. Nothing bores a group of players more than waxing into purple prose for more than five minutes without allowing them to hear the sound of their own voices. To be sure, it's a game. We fidget impatiently at the person who spends an eternity agonizing over whether they build three houses or a hotel on Baltic Avenue. They are hogging the play experience after all.
Of course I exaggerate for polemical effect. Everyday we also have examples of Gms breathing life into that aspect of the game. Why here today is my friend, Michael, giving some evocative twists to trekking through Grot. So here's my opportunity to turn it back to the positive (crap, it's only Monday, I can grouse later).
How are you sexing up that wilderness crawl? Can you impart a feeling of something unique about that land without achieving eye glazing? How do you make the wilderness itself the adventure? What's your trick?