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Single Encounters for Overland Travel

by Mike on 11 April 2022

How best to handle overland travel comes up often when DMs get together to talk about the hard parts of their game. Do you arrange a bunch of jobs the characters can do while traveling? Do you roll for random encounters? Do you set up a hex map or point crawls?

If you're lazy, like me, here's an easy trick. Run a single encounter in an interesting location along the journey. With this trick you don't have to set up a bunch of skill checks for the journey, you don't need to map anything, and you don't have to worry about the distance. Quickly describing the journey before and after the encounter covers the rest. Along the way the characters visit a fantastic location and face an interesting encounter.

Choosing Fantastic Locations

When seeking a fantastic location for your journey you can fall back to the "Monuments" and "Weird Locales" on pages 108 and 109 of the Dungeon Master's Guide, use the monument generator on page 12 of the Lazy DM's Workbook, or use the core adventure builder tables from the Lazy DM's Companion to generate your location.

When you're running an adventure or campaign in a particular world, write out a list of factions, gods, or historical organizations from that world. When building a fantastic location, roll on that list and tie the location that group.

Here are five example random monuments tied to Rime of the Frostmaiden using my Frostmaiden Random Monument Generator:

For the encounter itself you can use one of numerous random encounter tables. Xanathar's Guide to Everything has random encounter tables by environment and challenge rating which work well. Many published adventures likewise include random encounter tables. And, of course, the Lazy DM's Workbook and Lazy DM's Companion both have you covered.

Not all encounters need be combat encounters. Meeting some friendly travelers, apprehensive monsters, or the remains of a previous battle can be great fun. If they are combat encounters, they don't always need to be challenging encounters. Encounters in which your party of 7th level characters get jumped by two ambitious bandits can be loads of fun. Run easy battles.

Next time you're feeling overwhelmed trying to prepare meaningful overland travel, get lazy and try running a single encounter in a fantastic location.

Last Week's Lazy D&D Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:

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