Spice up your Travel
Every DM has been in this situation before: The adventure is planned, the villains dire plot and wicked motives are outlined, the monster encounters are balanced to the party’s level like a finely tuned machine, and the treasures to be gained have been selected and tucked away with the utmost care—but when it comes to describing the miles and miles of trackless wilderness the party must trek through, your mind hits a blank wall. How many different ways can you describe a forest, or a mountain, or a fetid, giant-rodent-infested swamp?
Try spicing up your travel monologues with some of these descriptions. Each is numbered, so you can easily pick one at random, or you can select one that catches fancy. While this article only features a few different terrain types with a few descriptions each, you can easily use these as inspiration for your own terrain descriptions.
Travling through Forests (1d8)
- The woods are preternaturally quiet, with only the occasional bird call breaking the silence. Dim sunlight, filtering through the canopy, dapples the leaf-covered ground, casting everything in a weird, greenish hue. A scent of wet earth hangs heavy on the air.
- A thick dampness permeates the forest, carrying the smell of rotting leaves. The rustle of something unseen occasionally stirs the undergrowth, and the leaves above you drip with water. The slightest touch soaks your clothing with chill rainwater.
- The great, hollow trunks of ancient trees rise high above the new growth, stately but gutted by some long-ago fire. A smell of smoke still seems to cling to the air, and the new undergrowth makes footing treacherous.
- Leaves of scarlet and gold carpet the ground and gust along on the breeze. А crisp chill gives the air a refreshing bite, and your footsteps are loud and sharp on the dry carpet of leaves.
- As the sun sinks behind the barren, skeletal trees, the temperature drops rapidly, frosting your breath on the air and making metal armor uncomfortably chilly. A thick layer of snow blankets the ground, muffling sounds and filling the air with an eerie quiet.
- The new spring blooms fill the air with a soft, sweet fragrance and a vibrant pastiche of color. Songbirds whistle and chirp in the branches, and all around you are signs of new growth and life.
- A bright, full moon casts the forest in a pale silvery glow, the light reflecting off of a nearby stream. The scent of night-blooming flowers wafts on the still air, and the occasional flicker of a firefly cuts through the darkness for an instant before vanishing again.
- A rich, red sunrise drenches the forest in hues of scarlet and crimson, casting long, spidery shadows along the ground. The morning dew gleams on the undergrowth as the first stirrings of diurnal animals rustle the brush.
Travling through Mountains (1d6)
- The clear, thin air stings your lungs with each breath, and a high, cold wind howls between the peaks. Here above the tree line, the ground is bare and rocky save for a blanket of snow that lies across the range. From somewhere high above, the piercing cry of an eagle sounds.
- High, steep rock walls rise on either side of the narrow pass, sheltering you from the sun until it is directly overhead. The ground is unnaturally smooth, and occasional, crumbling carvings on the walls hint that this was once a dwarf-road.
- The stars burn clear and bright in the pitch-black sky above, casting a faint illumination on the craggy peaks below. Without the sun’s warmth, it is bitterly cold at this altitude, but at least the night air is still and silent.
- Towering pine trees rise from the rocky soil of the mountains, the scent of their needles strong and pungent. A swift-flowing, icy cold stream of snowmelt babbles as it rushes swiftly over the rocks.
- The crumbling ruin of an ancient watchtower stands high on the peak above you, its hollow, empty arrow slits seeming to glare down at you. The air hangs eerily quiet, neither breeze nor animal sound reaching your ears.
- A deep gorge plunges between two high, snow-crowned peaks. The roar of the river that carved the gorge echoes from far below, the water crashing violently over sharp rocks. A precarious-looking bridge of rope and wood spans the gap, and a narrow, steep trail of switchbacks leads down to the riverbank.
Travling through Deserts (1d6)
- The sun blasts down with fiery intensity, glaring like the eye of a baleful god. A hot wind gusts across the dunes, kicking up sand devils and serving as a reminder of the constant threat of sandstorm.
- Heat makes the horizon seem to shimmer, casting doubt on the reality of everything you see. Sand crunches under your feet, and the smell of sage fills the air. The long, undulating dunes seem to stretch on to infinity, with neither relief nor respite in sight. A lake of cool, clear water, bordered by fragrant flowers and shady palm trees, rests incongruously in the blasted waste of the desert. Small waves lap enticingly at the shore, and a breeze rustles the palm fronds—but is the oasis real, or just another mirage?
- Error: When they originally published this, there was no 3 in the list.
- After the sun sets, the desert goes from blazingly hot to icy cold in a matter of minutes. The night is dark as sackcloth, with no moon to light the sands, and a freezing wind howls, stirring the sands into a roiling cloud.
- The wind shrieks with the fury of a demon, knifing across the desert and whipping the dunes into a vicious sandstorm. All other sounds are lost over the whistling of the wind, and the clouds of sand reduce visibility to just a few feet.
- A long, winding canyon provides you with some shelter from the sweltering heat, at least until midday. The rushing sound of the river that carved the canyon echoes off the walls, and the footing is slick with river water.
Travling through Swamp/ Wetlands (1d4)
- Adank, fetid smell rises from the miasma underfoot, and ripples in the water hint at unseen things slithering below the surface. The only sure footing comes from the small hillocks supporting small copse of gnarled, twisted trees.
- The sunlight filters through the willow trees, dappling the water with intricate, undulating patterns. A soft breeze carries the smell of hibiscus flowers, stirring the willow branches and creating small, lapping waves on the surface of the water.
- Crickets chirp incessantly, their constant nocturnal chorus joined by the occasional hoot of an owl. A gibbous moon hangs large and bright in the sky, shedding its silver light across the swamp as the smell of lilies fills the air.
- The bitter chill of winter has frozen the peat solid, making for unusually firm footing. Ice crusts at the edge of the water, and scattered chunks of ice drift along the waterways lazily. The air is crisp and clean-smelling, but quiet; most of the swamp’s inhabitants have either migrated to warmer climes or gone into hibernation.
BY TRAVIS STOUT