From Here to There

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Travel for days, or teleport?

In many fantasy campaigns, especially those using D&D or related rules, characters will eventually get a spell or magical ability to teleport from one location to another location of their choosing. This is a spectaculair ability that shows off the character’s powerful magic, and is often seen as a milestone of magical ability. Teleportation is the reward for dedicated casters, who often worked towards it for a while. After all, at some point you are done with the tedium of travel, and just going from Here to There without the weeks of travel is liberating.

There is a flip-side to characters getting access to a new mode of travel that one-ups nearly all other modes of travel: there is less actual travel, to the point that it eventually becomes non-existent! Ready access to teleportation spell means that any trek that would have lasted several weeks and would have required extensive preparation now requires casting the Teleport spell.

(We’ll not be getting into the impact of the existence of teleportation on the game world. We’ll leave it at the observation that most countries have large amounts of money available, as well as an army, and that scroll of teleportation circle is a thing. In this post we focus on the impact of teleporation on the adventures and gameplay, not on the stability and consistency of the game world.)

Casting a spell normally takes about six seconds. So, travel now takes a total of 6 seconds for the casting of the spell — a whopping 12 seconds if you first need to Plane Shift. Of course, at first this is not as pronounced yet because only a single casting per day is available, so go to There on the first day, and return on the second day. But as the characters get more powerful, they will quickly have several teleportations available per day.

This might be fine, depending on your campaign and the atmosphere of the game!

However, if you like to have some places that feel ‘far away’, to have areas that are more difficult to get to due to environmental factors, or have a sense of exploration while going out into the world that teleport spell becomes a bit of a nuisance. On the one hand, you want players to feel a sense of accomplishment when the reach the teleportation milestone. On the other hand, the moment they do, the world will start to shift towards being a set of locations, each at six seconds distance from every other location, and without any further geographical relation.

We have tried a multitude of approaches to both keep the milestone and keep travel. Over the course of several campaigns we tried the extremes, and a few things in between. We’ve had campaigns with characters teleporting from Here to There and back again in under a minute just because they forgot to take their right wand with them. We’ve had campaigns where we simply removed any form of teleportation spell or effect. And we’ve had campaigns that tried things in between.

As for the things in between, we have tried the following solutions:

  • Teleportation is rare. This solution has had mixed success. The problem is that this is actually a fix for the impact on the world, not for player characters making travel a non-issue — it is harder to get access to teleportation, but this also means that the moment players do get the spell they are going to be using it all the time as it gives them a significant advantage.

  • Only short-range teleportation. If the only concern is keeping the travel aspect intact, a working solution is to make long-range teleportation effectively non-existent, and only have short-range teleportation is available. This means that the combat benefits of teleportation, and the utility of teleporting around a dungeon — regardless of the actual shape of said dungeon: castle, caves, dark forest, etc. — remains available, while travel and preparation remains relevant.

  • The gods have spoken against teleportation. Maybe because the gods deem teleportation a divine prerogative, or because teleportation inflicts long-term damage on the plane itself or event the souls of those teleported. In some settings, especially those with active gods, this solution might work out well. Keep in mind that, if teleportation effects are still available, this might turn into ‘Teleportation is rare’.

  • Teleportation has location restrictions. Another way to preserve a lot of travel is to restrict the locations to which (and/or from which) teleportation is possible. This can be in the form of a network of ‘travel nodes’ linked to each other with the Teleport spell being able to go from one node in the network to any other, or the Teleport spell might take you from anywhere to one of three predefined locations in the world, etc.

Of course, these solutions can be mixed to create a more complex scenario that better fits your game world or theme. For example, in the one of our campaigns we have a mix of ‘the gods have spoken’ and ‘location restrictions’: the gods have spoken against long range use of the Teleport family of spells leading to several interesting location restrictions due the extensive use of Transport via Plants (which the gods have not spoken against).

Hopefully some of these ideas and solutions can be of help to you if you want to preserve the sense of scale and travel in your campaign! If you have any additional solutions we would love to hear about it in the community forums!

And as always, we have this week’s changelog ready for you.