Last week's discussion on in-game travel made me realize that the mechanics for handling travel in Swords of Infinity are light to nonexistent. Now this does not feel like a major problem to me, per se, but because travel has played such a big role in my life I feel like it would be a shame to omit it from the game I am designing. The following are my thoughts on how Swords of Infinity might handle travel.
The way I have seen RPGs handle travel is typically with encounter tables (I'm sure there are those that don't, as well), and having a certain percent chance of an encounter occurring every few miles or days. Now, I don't see anything wrong with encounter tables in general, in fact I've published several, but I do have a problem with the "5% chance of encounter every day". Based on my travel experience I know that the chance of having an encounter of any sort is really much closer to 100%, and whether or not I engage with that encounter is dependent on a couple of factors.
In some cases I am interested in the encounter, and I willingly engage with it and seek it out, while in other cases the encounter (usually a negative one like a delay) is forced upon me. In general I find that the travelers that encounter more of the first, and fewer of the latter, generally do so because they are experienced at travel. This leads me to think that Travel should be its own Skill in Swords of Infinity, governing whether the character is able to willingly engage with and select a specific kind of travel encounter or be forced to deal with one at the Storyteller's whim.
Clint brought up a good point when talking about how his Ragnarok RPG uses a series of "Scenes" and "Interludes" to handle travel. The crux of his point, as it is relevant to my own Swords of Infinity, was this (sorry if I'm oversimplifying here Clint), that players are given control over their travel encounters. Travel interludes become scenes (encounters) when they become interesting to the people at the table, and I like Clint's collaborative approach a lot, so I'm going to steal it. Should a player successfully use their travel skill, they gain the ability to determine what type of travel encounter they will run into, if any.
Giving players a choice over what sort of encounter they are going to run into is problematic for Storytellers, because they might find themselves having to improvise and that is not something that everyone is comfortable with. To address this the game needs to add some structure into the process, and I'm calling that structure "Travel Templates" until I come up with a sexier name for it. The gist of a Travel Template is this, if the Storyteller plans to include travel in their session, they will need to be prepared with a few varieties of encounter as dictated by the template, and the lands that the characters are traveling through. Here is an example "Travel Template"
Kos Travel Encounters
Guardian of the Roadways - Monk of Hermes
Players that successfully make their Travel skill check will be able to choose one of the three types of encounters, hostile, informative, or resource, and then whether or not they are interested in engaging with the encounter, while players that fail their checks are subject to the whim of the Storyteller's decisions. Now my encounter template is a little light on information, and the Storyteller will want to make sure that descriptions and appropriate game stats are ready, but I think it gets the point across.
I think addressing travel this way will make it enjoyable for everyone at the table by giving the act more depth, with potential rewards and consequences available to the characters involved.