The art of travel in Tabletop Roleplaying Games remains a perennial favorite in community discussions. Despite my earlier posts on constructing Perilous Journeys in D&D 5e, the conversation must go beyond mere obstacles and challenges. The true crux lies in the marriage of narrative and geography - a fusion that is underscored yet often lacks actionable guidance. So, how can we elevate the routine task of terrain description into a thrilling spark for player immersion? Let’s dive in.

Traditional narrative often falls into one of two traps: outlining the minutiae of geography or focusing heavily on terrain-oriented challenges. But both miss out on an essential element: potential adventure and side quests within the landscape. This bridge is exactly what we aim to build today.

A winding road through hills, headed towards mountains. Ruins and freshly cut logs by the roadside.

Landscape as a Gateway to Adventure

When narrating geography, it’s not just about describing the environment. The landscape is an entity in itself, teeming with tales of bygone eras, potential adventures, and hidden secrets. Incorporating these elements into your narrative can make your players’ journey far more compelling.

Let’s say your adventurers are heading to Phandalin. Instead of describing it as a simple pathway towards the mountains, through increasingly steep hills, we can breathe life into this journey. Imagine instead: “You follow a narrow yet well-trodden road, winding its way towards distant, hulking mountains, snaking through gentle, tree-speckled hills. Although the roadway seems relatively young, deep-set ruts hint at heavy carts traversing this route with surprising frequency. Fortified rest stops pepper the roadside, silent sentinels in the wild, several bearing the brutal scars of past attacks.”

Similarly, as your adventurers approach the Sword Mountains, don’t limit the description to facts. Try this: “The landscape transforms dramatically as towering, jagged peaks capped with virgin snow thrust upwards from the lush, chaotic hills below. A testament to a turbulent history, abandoned fortresses dot the mountainsides, while evidence of beast lairs and old encampments sprawl across their ancient ruins.”

Implied Encounters and More

Beyond the allure of detailed descriptions, these narratives hint at potential encounters that might lie ahead. They stoke curiosity, enticing players to delve deeper, exploring the whispers of hidden treasures or mysteries tucked away within the folds of the world.

The heavy usage of the roadway to Phandalin implies significant commerce, but why are these rest stops fortified, and who or what attacked them? Those abandoned fortresses in the Sword Mountains – who built them, and why were they deserted? What kinds of creatures might inhabit these mountains now? Builing off of this concept, there are any number of ways a thoughtful GM might be able to incorporate suggestive descriptions into their terrain.

Think about what a passing game trail that looks like a large creature barreled down it recently, was that creature chasing something or running from something? What about thin trails of smoke suggesting small camps in the miles of wilderness surrounding the players? Birds stirred up in the woods by something or absent altogether, a patch of landscape burned in the shape of a fan of flames or deep claw marks in a landing spot, fetishes hanging in the trees marking some territory or the remains of unfortunate travelers who might shared the parties fate? These are all great ways to imply a story to be had in the area, build tension or suggest help, and give players more to think about between encounters.

By leaving these narrative hooks, you provide the players with a world that reacts and evolves around them. They may decide to investigate the fortified rest stops or seek out help from local tribes to explore those abandoned fortresses. Your players are no longer simply crossing a landscape – they’re interacting with it, making decisions based on the environment and context you’ve provided.


Geography in TTRPGs is not merely a backdrop or obstacle course but a world ripe with potential adventures. Shifting our narrative focus from straightforward descriptions to providing context and implied adventures allows players to experience the landscape in a much more immersive and dynamic way. The key lies in treating the geography as an integral part of your world’s history and its future – a character in its own right with secrets to reveal, battles to recount, and adventures to offer. Your landscapes are not just set pieces; they’re a canvas for countless stories waiting to unfold.