'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Travel Interludes in Sword & Sorcery

Welcome back to another exciting blog post!  Today I want to share the first pass of my ideas behind travel interludes.  Way less overhead than a hex crawl, way more story telling then waving your hands and bein at the end of the journey.  This represents my first pass at the idea with no real testing.

After a quick chat this afternoon, something I was aware of but had completely forgotten, was that this system was inspired by Savage Worlds as well.  

The Interlude

When characters travel from one location to another, a common question is often, “How do we resolve this?”.  Is it a hex crawl?  Do we just wave our hands and say it happens?  Both of these are valid and have their place, but both have weaknesses as well.

If your adventure is not focused on the outdoors, and you just need to move the PCs from one city to another, hex crawls introduce too much time, energy and wasted narrative that isn’t part of the sword and sorcery tale you and your players are telling.

On the other hand, simply waving your hands and saying it happens and you are not in Tarantia solves the logistic aspects of the hex crawl but it also removes ALL of the narrative qualities of a trip. 

This system is inspired by Sword & Sorcery films and a card mechanic that I first encountered created by Chris Hartigan, who took the idea from Savage Worlds and adopted it into his games.  It was a system I enjoyed and went on to adopt and modify into my narrative terrain cards system.  This is unsurprisingly a variation of that system.  It will utilize a standard deck of 52 cards, as the original system used for a chase mechanic.


The first part of this system is to determine how many phases of the interlude exist?  This answer is simply 1 phase per player.  This system will require each player to tell a short tale of the adventure with the cards steering the direction it goes.  The order the players go can be any that is desired.

If you know how the distance between the two points and the length it takes to travel between A and B, you can determine the time each phase actually takes, but it isn’t important to the overall system.

The Cards

As discussed above, the cards will denote the basic idea of the phase.

The suit will determine the overall classification, and the number how intense the encounter is.

Hearts - Interaction (Story teller, Bards, Village, Fortune Teller)

1982 Conan example - Witch/Subedei.

Diamond - Trade (Wandering sales, Hub city)

1982 Conan example - City with lizards on a stick, Zamora.

Clubs - Conflict

1982 Conan example - Dogs chasing him.

Spades - Environmental

examples - Storms, flash floods, earthquakes, tornado

Ie drawing a 10 of clubs would indicate that the party encountered some sort of major conflict along the way.  What story makes up that conflict, even what that conflict was, is up to the player.  These narrative phases will generally have no effect mechanically on the overall story.

Benefits of Travel (optional)

Players can come up with a sort of hook that might be helpful in the upcoming adventure.  This should be a minor advantage gained under a specific set of circumstances.  Since the players do not know what is coming up in the adventure it can be difficult to necessarily know what sort of advantage they might incur.

It should be sufficient for the players to specify they have found a piece of equipment or gained some information that might be useful later.

If you want the players to be more specific, you as the GM should be sure to present them with an opportunity to use it.

Some examples might be that the party encountered a wandering fortune teller who foretold them of some bad event. You could then allow the player to gain inspiration in 5e, or an extra die in Conan 2d20, when attempting to avoid something, ie an ambush, trap, etc.

Face Cards (optional)

If a face card is flipped up during the interlude you can provide the central player some sort of newly found equipment based on the story they tell.  An example of this from the 1982 Conan might be Conan finding the burial chamber of the Atlantean king when being chased by the wild dogs.  With this system he would have flipped a king of clubs, denoting a conflict, the dogs, and an upgrade, the sword. 

The level of the equipment should be tailored to the face card pulled with Jacks being a very minor upgrade to the king being a major piece of equipment.


Overall the drive of this mechanism is to quickly move players from one end of the map to the other with out. Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

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