Traveling (5e Variant Rule)

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This downtime activity is intended for more open-ended, long-ranging, simulationist-type games. It would not work well in official or highly structured play, such as campaigns composed of published adventures. The traveling downtime activity is intended as an alternative to the usual method of overworld travel. So, if your campaign does not make use of overworld travel, then this probably isn't for your game. If, however, you believe that characters need to actually play out their journeys for the sake of a meaningful and sincere experience, but often find that experience to be a massive distraction when the distance gets too long, then here is a middle ground for you!

Instead of trudging across the map, grinding your way through random encounters, and repeatedly dealing with the formalities of marching order, camps, and resting, a player may choose to travel between sessions using this downtime activity. Downtime traveling is done by hitching a ride with some other group of people who are traveling, and just going along for the ride. Think of it as a sort of off-screen taxi service, or tabletop reinvention of the fast-travel feature from many videogames. The obvious benefit to downtime traveling, is that it allows the party to skip meaningless travel- that time spent meandering a large hex-map with nothing to do but roll dice, get lost, and get attacked. It also justifies a significant change of setting from one session to the next, by accounting for the reality of the distance traveled. The downside, however, is that it costs coin, and time that could be spent on other downtime activities, and by bypassing random encounters, you are missing out on a sizable portion of xp which could have been earned. Now, in most campaigns, the party typically sticks together. If the party travels together, the total cost in days and money is divided as evenly as possible across the group. (If it is uneven, the person who instigated the activity has to pay the nearest whole value, absorbing everyone else's fractions.)

You can choose how much you want to pay, with higher prices allowing you to arrive sooner. So, in other words, the more you pay in coin, the less you spend in days. The DM can modulate how available these options are. For example, if you're out in the boonies visiting some unnamed thorp, your only option may be 5cp/day, if even that.

  • 5cp/day will get you 12 miles per day. This is akin to walking alongside a farmer and his wagon. This is slower than normal travel.
  • 5sp/day gets you 25 miles per day. This type of travel would be like riding on a cart with someone, probably an actual taxi. This is equal to normal travel.
  • 5gp/day has you riding in style, traveling 50 miles per day. This would be like riding with a caravan, where people work day and night shifts so they rarely if ever camp. This is a real shortcut, getting you to a destination in half the time you could have done it yourself in-play.
  • 5pp/day is the lap of luxury, where you are paying top dollar for specialist care. The people you travel with are taking every shortcut and loophole they can think of- flying mounts or vehicles, magic boots, secret portals, wizard circles, etc. You can travel 100 miles per day at this price point. This is a massive advantage, most characters could not dream of taking these kinds of spacetime bending shortcuts until they are incredibly high level.

For example, on a scale map of the Sword Coast, it would take a little over 3 days, and cost 18pp and 5gp, (or 185gp if you just don't carry platinum coins around) at the maximum price point, to travel from Neverwinter to Daggerford. (37 hex tiles, at 10 miles apiece, is 370 miles; /100 is 3.7 days; 3.7*5=18.7; that's in pp, so the decimal is in gp.)

Using the normal travel pace, assuming nothing goes wrong, the same journey would take a little over 15 in-game days of wandering around, making a map record, rolling checks to stay on track, foraging for food, setting up and taking down camp sites, and getting randomly attacked by the DM's encounter charts. That journey could take up a whole session, or at least a sizable portion of it, and contribute absolutely nothing to the adventure except some bonus xp to artificially pump the PCs so they can overcome some pre-planned challenge.

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