Travel in gaming

This morning, as always, I went about 13 miles to work. It took me, from when I hugged my family to when I pushed “go” on my computer, about 30 minutes. That’s not bad.

This weekend, I will (again) travel from Minneapolis to Penang, Malaysia. That’s about 9,000 miles. It will, all told, take me about 36 hours from when I leave my home to when I arrive at my hotel.

Why do I mention this?

The car would normally be assumed to travel 40-60 miles per hour. The listed cruise speed of a 777-200 is 585mph. Raw math would tell you the trips should take about 16 minutes and 15.5 hours, respectively! That would be a pretty common gaming calculation for “how fast can I get there?”

The reality is about double that. It includes loading, waiting, forgetting your keys, switching between waypoints, traffic (hopefully not an issue at 37, 000 feet), and other obstacles.

The interesting thing (for me) here is that the inflation factor for trips of over two orders of magnitude different in length both take about twice as long as their cruise speed would indicate. That’s not a bad rule of thumb.

Want to take a trip from one fantasy town to another? They’re 100 miles apart? Your wagon team can usually manage about 3mph? Well, that trip will likely take closer to 66 hours rather than the 33 you’d expect. Now, that DOES include sleep and stuff! This is an all-in time, about three days.

If you want to go faster, you’re now adventuring. It starts to look like the equivalent of a forced march, and will require some skill (and therefore some skill rolls) to execute. Might be Hiking, Riding, Animal Handling, or some professional or area knowledge skill that gets you from A to B. And that’s ONLY if you’re in control of the trip, because it might not work. My trip to Penang, at best, would be me walking out my door at 11am, departing at 1pm, and flying directly to STPG on a Boeing 777-200, Airbus A340-500 or A350-900R, or 787-9. All four of those platforms have a cruise speed of about 560mph, and more importantly, greater than 9,000 mile unrefueled range. So theoretically, they can make the trip in about 18 hours (40 minutes longer than the A340-500 trip I took direct from LA to Singapore! A long time in an aluminum tube). Then deplane and another hour to the hotel. That’s a total time of 21 hours instead of 36. But it requires you to be able to charter your own long-range jet, and nothing to interfere with getting from your home to the airport, airport to the hotel. So lots of luck, there.

Anyway, when considering travel times, I think a good rule of thumb is probably “twice as long as it would take to cover the distance as a straight-shot at cruising speed.”

2 thoughts on “Travel in gaming

  1. Talk about synchronicity. This is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind, and you're right; I often notice how travel times, around town and for long trips both, take about twice the amount of time you'd expect from raw cruising speed calculations. Funny how that ratio remains roughly accurate no matter the method of travel, though, isn't it?

  2. Over the last few years I've been running a modern urban horror campaign that takes place in an alternate Los Angeles, first in the 1920s and now the 1960s. I knew my players would be running all over the city, and that time would be a critical factor in some instances. When I began calculating driving times around LA using GURPS rules, I realized if I didn't add some realism, I'd have players getting from Long Beach to Burbank in much less time than it would take in reality.

    So I did some reading on LA traffic patterns, which is so much about freeways and lack of transit that it was almost irrelevant: one big difference with my alt-LA is that I keep the trains going after the 1930s. The existing data was enough for me to establish that traffic patterns are largely unpredictable and susceptible to random interference. The data was also enough for me to extrapolate on the interaction between traffic and cars: public transit does not speed up travel time for cars, but does provide a reliable conveyance less susceptible to randomness.

    I randomize traffic by time of day and don't bother to consider geography unless they leave the city limits. In order to reflect the realism of traffic lights, frequent stops, slow drivers, and other unavoidable nuisances, I made the additional time modifiers excessively brutal (based primarily on contemporary experience). (Should the players choose public transit, I roll 3d6 and on an 18 the train or bus is delayed by 2d6 minutes).

    To determine the automobile traffic level, roll 3d6 and alter the travel time as follows:

    RESULT TRAFFIC LEVEL ADD'L TIME
    3 None +0
    4-5 Low +5
    6-8 Medium +10
    9-11 Normal +15
    12-14 Busy +30
    15-17 Rush Hour x2
    18 Impossible x3

    So my players have a choice: hop on a train and get there on time, or hop in the car and increase the chance of delay. When they experience traffic delays, I call for Area Knowledge *and* Driving rolls to get out of it.

    Once they get their hands on a TeslaCorp air car, however, this is mostly moot.

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