A lot of people ask about how to make travelling fun in TTRPGs. Sometimes I end up writing my thoughts on this question twice in the same day. I thought I’d repost one of my recent answers here for reference.
The journey must be as fun as the rest of the adventure. A problem arises when people plan their adventure, then decide it involves travel and something should happen during the travel right? Then every random encounter or travel system just seems to delay that good stuff.
There are two ways to solve this:
A) Make the journey part of the adventure
As an example, my players were once being transported as prisoners (they were framed) on an honorable and legendary captain’s ship. They spent the journey trying to win him over, worked hard to prove their quality, and ultimately saved his life during a storm. There were decisions to make, conflicts to explore, and challenges to overcome during the travel portion of the adventure that tied into the rest of the story (the journey took the middle two hours of a four hour session). This solution works but isn’t always possible.
B) Use Random Encounters as Micro-Adventures
This works for nearly every game. The problem is that most random encounter tables are boring or time-consuming. A great random encounter plays like a micro adventure. It has a miniature hook, at least one decision to make or challenge to overcome, and then a meaningful result. It’s like a short story in RPG form, a micro-adventure. Not “you see 2d4 wolves”. Rather, “As you wander through the forest, you see a gleaming sword set within a huge boulder. The sword glows with a magical light.”
The second is a clear hook, with a clearly interesting decision – should we draw the sword out? Then it needs a meaningful result. I usually reveal the boulder is the head of a sleeping earth elemental that the sword was keeping trapped in slumber. Normally this leads to a tense conversation and roleplaying challenge.
Travelers can run across all sorts of micro-adventures on the road. Sometimes I even offer macro-adventure hooks, whole dungeons they stumble across, or small requests that can lead to a grand adventure. Doing this every now and then make every journey feel like it could hold untold wonders, or seed future adventures. When I run west marches sandbox settings, I tend to have the future quest hooks come almost 100% from things the players discover by chance along their journeys.
If you’re curious, I recently recorded a podcast on how I design and run random encounters. I should do one on journeys in general.
It can also be helpful to let players choose their route while travelling, whether to go through the Glass Forest or the Crawling Hills to reach their destination. This gives them a sense of agency on which micro-adventures they experience as well.