How do you narrate Travel?

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As a DM, I have a hard time narrating travel. My usual narration for travel is as follows:

(Team decides to walk trough a forest): "Okay, so you go through the forest. [at this point I roll a d4 to see if a random encounter happens]. Nothing interesting happens. You eventually come out the other side of the forest and see..."

Awful, right?

My towns are a little better: [Everyone rolls a streetwise if it's a new town] "You walk into town, and notice that the buildings are of a lower quality. The gaurds here seem to be using hand-me-down armor." [player to me:] "Is there a blacksmith?" [me after a quick d4 roll] "Yes." "Then we're headed  to the blacksmith." "Okay, you arrive."

Not much better. How do you guys do it? 
As a DM, I have a hard time narrating travel. My usual narration for travel is as follows:

(Team decides to walk trough a forest): "Okay, so you go through the forest. [at this point I roll a d4 to see if a random encounter happens]. Nothing interesting happens. You eventually come out the other side of the forest and see..."

Awful, right?

My towns are a little better: [Everyone rolls a streetwise if it's a new town] "You walk into town, and notice that the buildings are of a lower quality. The gaurds here seem to be using hand-me-down armor." [player to me:] "Is there a blacksmith?" [me after a quick d4 roll] "Yes." "Then we're headed  to the blacksmith." "Okay, you arrive."

Not much better. How do you guys do it? 



Actually I like this. It gives a good description of the town  without becoming bogged down in meaningless details. You could add a litltle more about the forest but it's the same otherwise. No need to talk for hours about the outside of the local bakery. 

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To paraphrase the Muppets ... "We travel by map!"

So, basically, unless I have something planned (since I hate random/wandering encounters and don't use them), the PCs travel for X days, then arrive at their destination.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Salla, I actually use a map. I have a sheet of graph paper that I draw the map on as I make it up. I inform the players how many squares their party can travel in a day (accounting for terrain such as mountains) and I also inform them that each square covers so much ground that they might never take the same path twice through. So I roll a d4 to see if an encounter happens each square. That allows me to make up the map as I go, but have character memory become part of the story. It also gives me a graphic to give the party.
When I narrate, I basically give sensory details. For example, i could say " The wind is softly blowing through the trees. The branches whisper to you a forgotten melody. You can smell the rotting logs and muddy earth from the fresh rain."



It usually helps paint the picture in my players' minds as we go through the game. Obviously, you don't need a whole lot of detail, but just enough to keep your players interested in the game.


(And a few combat encounters without dice rolling is fun too. Keeps them on their toes at all times Laughing)
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I'll sometimes describe real world, local weather patterns.  For instance, if it has drizzled off and on for the last two days in our real world town, I might narrate a trip where the PCs start out relatively dry and comfortable but end up soaked and miserable at the end of the day.  Heat, wind, snow, it's all fun ;).
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Unless it matters (i.e. is difficult, and therefore some sort of involved, skill-challenge type of dealy), I simply say 'you travel X days, and arrive without incident'.
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How do you guys do it? 

I don't address travel unless it is specifically part of the adventure. However, if your style is more about the journey than the destination, here is a list of some random travel fluff:
1 -    Unusually warm/cold day for season or brutally cold/hot day in accordance with season.
2 -    Extremely windy day. Light gear becomes difficult to keep strapped down.
3 -    Come across other travelers suffering from some problem. (Broken wagon, injured horse, etc.)
4 -    Site of recent natural disaster: flood, forest fire, lightning strike, etc.
5 -    Lost child who wandered too far from home/village or someone's lost pet.
6 -    Animal tracks or droppings.
7 -    Shepherd and his flock.
8 -    Lumberjacks.
9 -    PC discovers new hole in his boot, possibly via a mud puddle.
10 -    PC or horse gets rock in shoe/boot.
11 -    One of the PCs has a "bad day". Minor inconveniences plague him. (Trips over ruts in the road, gear difficulties, animal steals his lunch when he turns away for a moment. Etc.)
12 -    One of the PCs has a "good day". Minor perks all day. (Find a copper piece lying in the road. Figures out how to repair some damaged item, the inn they stay at that night has one of his favorite meals as a special, etc.)
13 -    Find an animal in a trap.  
14 -    Run into local 'recruiters'.
15 -    Find an empty cave.
16 -    Come across a way haven on the path.
17 -    Find an old marker/sign.
18 -    Bridge washed out/ river flooding.
19 -    They camped on/near a fire ant colony.
20 -    An army ant colony on the move.
21 -    Find a hive.
22 -    Someone stepped into a yellow jacket nest.
23 -    Raccoons invade camp (steal/ruin items and rations)
24 -    Spot a herd of deer or other food on the hoof.
25 -    Spot a herd of wild horses.
26 -    Run across wild young.
27 -    Stumble into a blessed glade.
28 -    Snowball fight or terrain/weather equivalent
29 -    Wild, non-dangerous animal approaches closer for an inspection
30 -    PC's must cross a rickety old bridge or ford a wide stream.
31 -    Rainbow spotted or other lucky omen
32 -    Break a wagon wheel or a horse throws a shoe
33 -    Black cat crosses path, or other unlucky omen
34 -    One PC start whistling or humming, then another, and then everyone joins in.
35 -    Food forgotten at bottom of pack goes bad and smells horrible
36 -    A PC gets a toothache, an earache, or a stomachache.
37 -    A PC realizes they are gaining/losing weight.
38 -    Find strange trash in the road, such as a wagon wheel or a chest of clothing
39 -    Strangely shaped clouds seen on the horizon
40 -    PC finds a hidden detail in recently acquired or purchased item, such as a
41 -    Hidden compartment.
42 -    Beautiful secluded beach and possibly a warm swim
43 -    PC has digestion problems (fill in your own details)
44 -    Minor piece of equipment is nearly worn out & should be replaced ASAP.
45 -    Stumble into Poison Ivy (just for kicks, dwarves are immune)
46 -    Find a fully ripe fruit tree or other easy food source
47 -    Find evidence of recent combat, possibly including decaying bodies.
48 -    The PC's have lost some very minor item, such as soap, a pot, or chalk.
49 -    Discover one of the horses is pregnant or ill
50 -    PC finds a tick or leech on their body.
51 -    Thick fog or dust storm blows in
52 -    Road kill: local animal dead in the road, natural causes, scavengers nearby
53 -    Pass a small shrine or holy grotto
54 -    Horse has a leg cramp, needs hour-long rubdown to continue.
55 -    Minor earthquake, small avalanche, or freak storm
56 -    PC gets a song stuck in his head all day
57 -    Mosquito swarm
58 -    It just really feels like today was a lot shorter/longer than a normal day.
59 -    PC awakes from sleep after vividly dreaming that the group was being scryed on
60 -    Someone has an allergic reaction to something in the area.
61 -    Toll station
62 -    Beautiful scene, such as waterfall or breathtaking view
63 -    A PC is getting shaggy and needs to get a haircut.
64 -    Pass the ruins of an old outpost or small tower, still 75% intact.
65 -    Pass a roadside grave or the site of a past execution
66 -    An eclipse occurs, a comet flies past, or other astronomical event.
67 -    Quicksand, sinkhole, or other natural ground hazard
68 -    The PC's find money or valuables left in the road.

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To paraphrase the Muppets ... "We travel by map!"

Win.

To the OP: Unless your adventure requires it, a scentence or two (if that) is all you need. And I like the sound of your town descriptions - brief, but full of flavor.

What you're talking about is a very particular style of D&D known as "hexploration." It went out of fashion many years ago but is making a resurgence in some circles. I think The Alexandrian blog (google it) has some articles on this recently that are pretty good. That may help you.

Try this though: Ask your players to tell you what the travel was like. "What made the dark forest so menacing? What did you encounter along the way? What happened?" They may have some really good ideas you can use right then or down the road. 

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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Travel is generally not worth describing, unless one is using it to highlight aspects of the game world. In other words, if the route they're taking offers interesting experiences and sights, mention those; otherwise, leave it out.

For instance, my players were walking through the Feywild, and I wanted to convey that they weren't in the world anymore. They came across the last rope of a giant rope bridge, which was now a bridge itself. Towering cliffs, inhabited by stinking harpies. Halfling guano-miners on their way down river to an eladrin city. Treants thundering past. Those were the important aspects of the trip. Those two sessions involved almost no dice rolling or combat, not because that's ideal, but because the sessions were much more about the description.

At a D&D Game Day, I ran a Dark Sun adventure that featured a skill challenge about travel. This was another example of focusing on what was interesting. I prompted (or tried to prompt) skill checks by describing interesting features of the world. A tribe of elves kicking up dust on the horizon, which challenged their Insight and Stealth. A journey through a field of strange spires, home to a psurlon that they heard but managed to avoid, again with Stealth. A storm of scathing obsidian dust, that challenged their Endurance. And the ever-present sun, of course.

In another recent game, I wasn't going to highlight the travel, but the PCs made a decision to shortcut through a kobold infested forest. I wanted to show why regular people don't travel in small groups and I made two skill concurrent skill challenges that were about navigating the forest and avoiding all the traps. The travel before and after the forest were only briefly narrated.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I regularly go hiking with a friend of mine.  He's an absolute encyclopaedia of local and regional plant life.  I learn a lot from him about the names of different trees and flowers, their seasonal growing habits, and historical migrations due both to climate and the influence of human populations.  I take a lot of what I've learned and use it in both my short stories and my narration of travel in game.

You probably don't have a resource like this, but you can find your own on the internet or even by browsing your local book store or library.  The point is that having something simple like a name and brief description can go a long way. 

"Low hanging hemlock brush the banks of the creek."

"Clusters of sycamore dominate the landscape, leaving wide bare patches around them from thick foliage that blocks the sun and litters the ground."

That kind of stuff.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1

I *cherish* every instance of travel in my campaign. It is generally the only time the players allow me the freedom to just talk. I use those precious instances to 1) add flavor and visual descriptions of the world and to differentiate different zones from each other and 2) to sneak in bits of lore or describe events that happen over a period of time in response to player actions. To keep players engaged, I also like to thrown in minor skill challenges. A long journey would thus go something like this:

"The caravan you are traveling with makes its way North at a steady pace. The umber hulks pulling the wagons, expertly driven by their dwarven handlers, need little in the way of food or rest. The vast golden plains of Indarr, beautiful in their own rugged way, slowly give way to hills and pine forests of the Northern regions. Your escort, the veteran horsemen of Indarr, know their land well and have a keen eye for trouble. More than once, you spot the white and gold of their cloaks out past the treeline as they scout for potential trouble. You feel safe in their presence and are making good time.

The fourth day of the journey brings an unexpected delay: a large column of Dumenor troops is moving South, back towards Indargrad, no doubt in response to the mysterious destruction of two of their cathedrals in that region. Without too much effort (medium in any two: Insight, Bluff, Streetwise, History or Religion) you feign ignorance of the reasons for their expedition. To the dismay of several merchants, the sheer size of the column forces you to disassemble to caravan and move off the road. The ground shakes as the heavy infantry, clad in their black plate and red cloaks marches past you, with great golems of fire and iron pulling supply wagons behind them. A crimson hammer adorns the shields, banners and hulls of their clockwork automatons. As usual, a small Imperial insignia, a jade dragon, can be seen painted beside the local crest.

The marching troops and your guards (easy Insight) exchange unfriendly glances. You also notice (hard Perception) that the troupe of Halfling performers traveling with you seems to have vanished in the presence of Dumenor troops. Perhaps you are not the only ones trying to avoid unwanted attention from the Builder Church.

You camp on the side of the road for the night, wealthy merchant and peasant alike huddling close in the gathering darkness. Ever alert (hard Perception), you notice gray shapes lurking in the gloom, just outside the ring of light cast by the fire. You cry out a warning, and the Outriders quickly respond to the alarm, driving off the pack of wolves, killing several in the process. There is something odd about these animals (medium Nature or Perception), their overly aggressive bevaiour, the way their corpses putrefy in mere hours (hard Nature or Heal). A bite sustained by one of the Outriders strangely proves beyond your abilities to mend (failed hard Heal skill challenge) and he is sent back to the nearest town. Slightly shaken by the encounter, and quietly cursing the Dumenor zealots, the caravan continues onward in the morning. 

The Indarri outriders provide you escort until you reach the border. They are tall hearty men of simple dress and simpler tastes; the inns and campsites bellow with sounds of their laughter and bawdy songs of conquest. Their friendship comes easy and (with a decent Streetwise check) you are able to learn much about the current state of affairs in Indarr and surrounding kingdoms. By contrast, the Imperial troops that inspect your caravan on the border are sullen and professional. A weak state, Kalima is unable to field its own army, or even secure its borders, leaving the Empire to fill the gaps with forts and special detachments. You can see why Adrei One-Eye sent you here, to the supposed "Capital of the Underworld" -- it isn't hard to escape the long arm of the law when its reach hardly extends past the royal halls.

On the ninth day of the your journey, you arrive at your destination. The town of Foghorn is every bit as decrepit and intimidating as Andrei had described it. Old wooden buildings, crammed around impossibly narrow alleys, reach for the gray sky like ancient crags. A worn and hostile-looking people populate the streets. The merchants instinctively clutch their purses, as the Imperial escort shoos off the street urchins and onlookers. The caravan will not loiter here for more than a day, eager to press to their final destination. You have until tomorrow to conclude whatever affairs you may have with the merchants before they continue on to Kalimburg.

Sore and with minds dulled by boredom you disembark the caravan. What is your next step?"



See? Travel doesn't have to be boring. In fact, it's the perfect time to have some skill challenges. For short hops between places you've been to before, though, "travel by map" work just as well: "The trip from Indargrad to the village of Vasilev takes just under two days. You make good time and encounter no hardship on your journey." 

As a final note, I would strongly advise against random encounters. Each encounter is a way to tell more of the story. If your party got jumped by wolves or bandits, have a reason why it's wolves or badits, specifically, and why they are attacking people that are clealy more than a match for them. Is it because the party ventured into deep wilderness where packs of animals or hostile fey creatures attack people at random? Was that expected and players forewarned of the danger by the locals? Or was it an unexpected event, and thus indicative of desperation or sinister influence at work? An encounter should be either introducing a problem/mystery or solving one; it should never be a chore to fill the time. 

 

Let your players decide how detailed you should be.  If a couple of sentences are OK for them i.e. they do not ask questions about the terrain and weather, then so be it.  If they do start asking questions about their travel time then "preempt" those questions by including the answers in your descriptions.

you start out with:

(Team decides to walk trough a forest): "Okay, so you go through the forest. [at this point I roll a d4 to see if a random encounter happens]. Nothing interesting happens. You eventually come out the other side of the forest and see..."



A player may ask:

- how dense is the forest; how tightly packed are the trees?
- is there a defined path in the forest?
- what types of trees, shrubs, and plants are there?
- what's the canopy (branches blocking out the light) like?
- are there any sounds around us?
- do we see any animals: in person or signs of?

Eventually you may get up to something like:

You are walking through a densely populated deciduous forest via a well travelled cart path.  The sun burns through the canopy in places but it is otherwise dark.  It is unnervingly quiet and there are no signs of any animal having come near the road in a very long time.

 

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A player may ask:

- how dense is the forest; how tightly packed are the trees?
- is there a defined path in the forest?
- what types of trees, shrubs, and plants are there?
- what's the canopy (branches blocking out the light) like?
- are there any sounds around us?
- do we see any animals: in person or signs of?



Try this the other way around... with the DM asking the questions and the players answering them.

You might be pleasantly surprised by what they say. When you are, use it!

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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Try this the other way around... with the DM asking the questions and the players answering them.

You might be pleasantly surprised by what they say. When you are, use it!




What is the purpose of the DM at that point? I'm not being sacrastic; I'm curious what the separation between a DM and another player becomes in a completely collaborative story telling context you describe (in this and other posts). Especially if all of the players are D&D veterans with good grasp on the rules and principles -- are they not all DMing in that setup? 

What is the purpose of the DM at that point? I'm not being sacrastic; I'm curious what the separation between a DM and another player becomes in a completely collaborative story telling context you describe (in this and other posts). Especially if all of the players are D&D veterans with good grasp on the rules and principles -- are they not all DMing in that setup? 



The DM is just another player with a small measure of authority granted to him by consent of the group. We're all telling the story - I just get to control the falling rocks.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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Try this the other way around... with the DM asking the questions and the players answering them.

You might be pleasantly surprised by what they say. When you are, use it!

What is the purpose of the DM at that point? I'm not being sacrastic; I'm curious what the separation between a DM and another player becomes in a completely collaborative story telling context you describe (in this and other posts). Especially if all of the players are D&D veterans with good grasp on the rules and principles -- are they not all DMing in that setup?

Good question. Maybe there is no purpose for the DM at that point. The long-standing assumption is that the DM is like a movie director, or author, who creates everything for the players who are like actors or readers. The presumed ideal is that the players get to immerse themselves and never think about the fact that they're playing a game. That's fine, it's just terribly inefficient and unnecessarily stressful on the DM.

With this approach, the purpose of the DM is to ask questions. The questions can and should be "leading." Rather than "Is there a defined path?" the DM might say "You see a path. What does it look like made it?" The players then offer responses that provide inspiration to the DM. If it's humanoids, the players probably think an encounter with humanoids would be appropriate. If it's a creature, they think a creature encounter would be appropriate. The DM can still shape these in interesting ways (perhaps influenced by answers to other questions before and after this one), and even surprise the players.

But, ideally, the DM isn't required. The players have, combined, much more brainpower and creativity than the DM and could easily construct an adventure to their liking. But, for now, it's reasonable to expect to have someone who is running the monsters and NPCs, and setting up impartial or hostile challenges to inspire the players.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

What is the purpose of the DM at that point? I'm not being sacrastic; I'm curious what the separation between a DM and another player becomes in a completely collaborative story telling context you describe.

The point of the DM at this point is to say be the final arbiter. You ask how dense the forest is, and the fighter says that you can't see 20 ft in front of you, but the wizard says you can see the sun breaking through the trees with ease. The DM steps in and takes the suggestion that works the best. 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"                                                  "I'd recommend no one listed to Krusk's opinions about what games to play"

What is the purpose of the DM at that point? I'm not being sacrastic; I'm curious what the separation between a DM and another player becomes in a completely collaborative story telling context you describe.

The point of the DM at this point is to say be the final arbiter. You ask how dense the forest is, and the fighter says that you can't see 20 ft in front of you, but the wizard says you can see the sun breaking through the trees with ease. The DM steps in and takes the suggestion that works the best.

True, though the ideal here, as in an improv group, would be that everyone is listening to everyone else and no one presents contradictory descriptions or actions.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

True, though the ideal here, as in an improv group, would be that everyone is listening to everyone else and no one presents contradictory descriptions or actions.



Exactly... because if you think about it, if you're breaking down that barrier between DM and player, effectively everyone has a "Yes, and" and "Yes, but" responsibility. And when everyone does that, the game really goes into very interesting, often surprising directions. You see some very impressive character development really quickly and strong bonds between the PCs. Stuff that one person telling a story just wouldn't be able to do without a lot of (perhaps ultimately fruitless) effort. Everyone totally engaged makes for a better game, but I guess that goes without saying. I guess it's engagement at what level that makes the difference with this method.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

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Once in a while its good to add a little detail in describing a town, if the group will be there regularly, but too much detail bogs things down. PC's who work out of a particular town?You might try adding a little bit here and there, like 'the guard on duty is the same one you've seen several times at this gate.' Or 'you notice the sign at one of the buildings has been repainted.' Simple things that don't take away from what the PC's are really doing.

Travel outdoors is kinda the same thing. A little detail adds to the story, but too much makes people chase red herrings that weren't intended. Decide briefly what kind of forest each of your major forests in the campaign are (hardwood, evergreen, pine, mixed, etc.) so you can keep them consistent, especially when someone says they want to gather nuts or something. Otherwise it isn't really necessary to get too worked up about the descriptions.
Once in a while its good to add a little detail in describing a town, if the group will be there regularly, but too much detail bogs things down. PC's who work out of a particular town?You might try adding a little bit here and there, like 'the guard on duty is the same one you've seen several times at this gate.' Or 'you notice the sign at one of the buildings has been repainted.' Simple things that don't take away from what the PC's are really doing.

Travel outdoors is kinda the same thing. A little detail adds to the story, but too much makes people chase red herrings that weren't intended. Decide briefly what kind of forest each of your major forests in the campaign are (hardwood, evergreen, pine, mixed, etc.) so you can keep them consistent, especially when someone says they want to gather nuts or something. Otherwise it isn't really necessary to get too worked up about the descriptions.



Oh my yes.  And every DM has made this mistake .

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
Once in a while its good to add a little detail in describing a town, if the group will be there regularly, but too much detail bogs things down. PC's who work out of a particular town?You might try adding a little bit here and there, like 'the guard on duty is the same one you've seen several times at this gate.' Or 'you notice the sign at one of the buildings has been repainted.' Simple things that don't take away from what the PC's are really doing.

Travel outdoors is kinda the same thing. A little detail adds to the story, but too much makes people chase red herrings that weren't intended. Decide briefly what kind of forest each of your major forests in the campaign are (hardwood, evergreen, pine, mixed, etc.) so you can keep them consistent, especially when someone says they want to gather nuts or something. Otherwise it isn't really necessary to get too worked up about the descriptions.



Oh my yes.  And every DM has made this mistake .



Oh course, but then you simply tie that red herring back to the story thread  
A little detail adds to the story, but too much makes people chase red herrings that weren't intended.



I view that as a potential opportunity to play to find out what happens.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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A little detail adds to the story, but too much makes people chase red herrings that weren't intended.



I view that as a potential opportunity to play to find out what happens.

I would add that red herrings are only red herrings when the DM is more invested the the story HE has to tell than the story the PLAYERS have to tell.
A little detail adds to the story, but too much makes people chase red herrings that weren't intended.



I view that as a potential opportunity to play to find out what happens.

I would add that red herrings are only red herrings when the DM is more invested the the story HE has to tell than the story the PLAYERS have to tell.



good point

 

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Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
A player may ask:

- how dense is the forest; how tightly packed are the trees?
- is there a defined path in the forest?
- what types of trees, shrubs, and plants are there?
- what's the canopy (branches blocking out the light) like?
- are there any sounds around us?
- do we see any animals: in person or signs of?



Try this the other way around... with the DM asking the questions and the players answering them.

You might be pleasantly surprised by what they say. When you are, use it!




This reminds me of what I tell players if they ask me if their character can do something.

Example: Ryan, playing a rogue asks me, "Can I swim?" I just repeat the question back at him, "Can you?"

Most players answer their own questions. 
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