Narrator “And so it was that the group began to describe themselves walking. And as they described themselves walking so did Abed confirm they walked.”
Neil [whisper] “I walk with them.”
-Community, S2E14 “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
One of the things I love about that Community episode (and there’s lots of things) and that quote specifically is that it is an accurate representation of part of the role-playing game process. Role-playing games center on events. Often the events are a conflict, typically combat, but events can also be discoveries, conversations, etc. Connecting the events are the segues, the “I walk with them,” moments.
And the segues are one of those interesting “things-encountered-while-playing-D&D” things. Specifically, what is the best way, for a DM, to implement them?
Some different DM approaches to implementing the segues:
DM: You walk for four days and reach the town of Afradav.
DM: You walk for four days, along Lake Road, passing through various small hamlets and villages, until you reach the town of Afradav.
DM: You set out for the town of Afradav, a four day walk along Lake Road. With the lake on your left, the first day you pass through farmland and find rooms at a small inn. The second day, by noon, the farmland gives way to forested hills and the lake is still on your left. As the sun sets fish begin competing for low flying insects against the bats and small birds emerging from the forest. You find a waystation in the evening, a simple covered shelter that caravans use to keep their horses, goods, and drivers out of the rain but little more than that. On the third day…
DM: Your plan is to get to the town of Afradav, you can walk there via Lake Road which will take about four days or you can wait a week for the next boat to arrive in town to take you to Afradav (which will take about a day to get there via the lake) or you can head out overland through the forest but without a guide that could take longer than four days and you risk getting lost or you could choose not to head to Afradav and look for some work locally, which do you want to do?
The players: We’ll walk along Lake Road.
DM: [Insert one of the previous examples here].
And so on. Each version increases the amount of information (and choices) given to the players, but what is the Goldilocks region of the narrative? But because each addition of information added to the segue opens up choices for the players to take, the DM also risks information overload to the point of conjuring up a thick cloud of boredom.
On the flip side, adding information increases the chances of players exploring off the rails of the planned adventure, becoming engaged in the world. But there is such as thing as overly-engaged. This happens when players stop to investigate every thing mentioned by the DM or, worse, the players are paranoid and engage in gazebo-ing1.
One of the key motivations for looking at the segue is to make sure everyone is having fun by creating an immersive atmosphere without overwhelming or, worse, boring the players. One way to try this out is to limit segue descriptions such that, per segue, only one nature-element, one social-element, and one adventuring-element are described.
Using the four examples above, the DM would describe one nature-element, like the insect-feeders at sunset, one social-element like the economic state the farms they pass, and one adventuring-element like if a notable hero performed some deed on Lake Road. Limiting these descriptions to around one sentence each helps to keep things concise and moving but also helps to both make the segue feel less like a segue and allow for the players to find options to what they want to do; from acts as simple as declaring that their characters fish the lake every evening to they start talking to the farmers they meet along the way to finding out why the economic state is as it is to deciding to take a side-route and retrace the steps of the famous hero.
The three-element segue is, currently, just an idea, yet to be implemented so in-game testing is yet to come. Part of me wants to add that the three-element segue should be used for each day of travel, but I’m leaning towards favoring minimalism so one three-element segue between encounters/events (random or otherwise), largely because in the limited time frame of my current game there is only enough time for one combat.